As with the northern mid-scale tour, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s southern tour presented an interesting mix of old and new. Also, rather neatly, in this case the middle part of a normal triple bill was actually given over to 3 gala tit-bits and included a piece I’d never seen before by company dancer Ruth Brill.
The evening however started with the work of another dancer starting to make his way as a choreographer – Kit Holder and his Quatrain. I don’t normally associate Astor Piazzolla with tough music but this arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov was a meaty affair, if lightened at times by Vivaldi passages. It wouldn’t automatically win lots of casual friends and Holder’s work for all 8 dancers made it all seem very busy and confused. On the positive side the dancers looked moodily and sleekly modern in Adam Wiltshire’s costumes (the men stripped to the waist) and Johnny Westall-Eyre’s subdued lighting. And things improved further when the number of instruments and dancers got pared right back with a particularly fine duet for Celine Gittens and Yasuo Atsuji where she mesmerises him, not least with her long legs. At 27 minutes Quatrain was the longest piece on the bill and something around 20 minutes would have felt better.
Ruth Brill’s Matryoshka showed a lot of sense and maturity I thought – she clearly thinks about entertaining the audience. To some jazzy Shostakovich, it’s a perky 10 minutes, split into 3 distinct sections, the middle of which has Celine Gittens as a femme fatale for two boys. Chuck in some larky stripped-down costumes, smooth partnering and you all feel uplifted and want to know what Brill is doing next. That was followed by a pdd from Bintley’s Beauty and the Beast using Karla Doorbar, Yasuo Atsuji and a heavy baronial chair. The lighting is dark, the emotions thick with a mix of despair and our hope that love wins through. It’s a pdd of endless turning and lifts, perhaps not one of Bintley’s finest, but it fits well after the earlier lightness. Closing out this section was the pas de quatre from Swan Lake. It’s notable for me because I bought one of the Courtesan’s costumes many years ago (at a BRB sale – this 1998 webpage says a little more) – mine is a green one and has Miyako Yoshida’s name in it. Happy memories, and nice designs by Philip Prowse. Tyrone Singleton was a noble Prince Siegfried – his dancing is always immaculate. Benno was danced by the often-mentioned Mathias Dingman (who notably guested with English National Ballet last Christmas in their Nutcracker) and he was not immaculate. He is, though, all heart and has a go-for-it mentality. This is not a bad attitude to have at all, but in Wycombe (where he also danced in Quatrain) it all looked a bit too ragged.
The night closed out with 21 minutes of Frederick Ashton’s Facade – such a great showcase for dancers. Here Dingman and Jamie Bond did the Popular Song section – all striped jackets, boaters and delicious 30’s seriousness. Well judged, including what to do when your partner’s boater falls to the floor. Ans: kick it to the wings and see him sweat more! I also liked Ruth Brill’s Milkmaid and the 4 Waltz girls – happily together in their steps. Momoko Hirata smiled much in the solo Polka, but it’s a part for a more knowing dancer and she is not a classic showgirl. But Facade always wins you over, not least when it closes out with a Dago (my goodness how un-pc that sounds these days) lasciviously handling his Debutante. Nice one Rory Mackay and Angela Paul. Nice one all – you sent me home happy and humming Walton’s charming tunes.