Right from the start of Covid-19 lockdown Carlos Acosta, the Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) Director, has been determined to show the company in live work, and last Thursday the company presented a triple bill of all new works as if nothing had happened in the world. As Acosta put it in a few words before the show, “BRB is a company committed to finding solutions!” None of the other UK companies have yet danced (and toured to London as well) an all new evening and you have to commend him for it. If it makes any kind of economic sense I doubt much, but it allowed us all – creatives, dancers and fans alike – to enjoy live work again and put a finger up to Covid and I’m deeply appreciative of that.
It was my first outing to see live ballet since March and I felt very safe at the Birmingham Rep with good marshalling, lots of social distance room and the ticket telling you when to enter the auditorium. The downside was wearing a mask all the time, no bars and not being able to be a mayfly and flit all over seeing friends, even though it was still possible to have a few distanced words. The 800 seats had been savagely scythed to 100 or so, with 3 seats between bookings and empty rows – a real reminder of the cost of Covid. The show, though, will be streamed for 7 days starting on 1 November (£10 and more details) and I hope you see it, particularly for its title work.
Lazuli Sky is a new work by Will Tuckett and it looked a million, 21st century dollars. Two things stood out – the clever projections/lighting and the fact it was a work for the company as a corps – the BRB principals and other senior dancers had their chance to shine individually in other works. It’s a work inspired by space, sky and the things we perhaps value more in a closed world. But I saw it more as a thrill to the eyes for its all-enveloping world with stage wide projections to the floor and walls and groups of dancers whirling around in perfect synchronisation with those projections. It grabs you from the start, with John Adams Shaker Loops injecting adrenaline direct to the veins as the pyrotechnics take off. Jann Parry is down to review this fully in a few days (when BRB arrive at the Wells) and I’ll leave it for her to discuss in proper detail, but for me it felt like the company has acquired something different and a slice of the future rather than the past – hurrah for that.
The other hit of the night was seeing Brandon Lawrence in Valery Panov’s Liebestod. At 8 minutes it’s hardly a substantial work, but it packs a concentrated visual punch as Lawrence shows off his glorious body (in the briefest of pants) in testing movement – for the most part classical. To an excerpt from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde it’s a solid acquisition that will give the leading men in the company something to really stretch them both technically and dramatically in how to dominate a space.
The first piece on the bill I really didn’t warm to at all – Our Waltzes by Vicente Nebrada. It was a shame because this was for BRB’s higher ranks and essentially a romp for 6 couples with the pianist Jonathan Higgins on stage as well. It looked to be trying to channel the same vibe as Dances at a Gathering, if seemingly forever sunny with constantly turning dancers, usually cementing their love by collapsing to the floor in a warm embrace. Only Samara Downs and Tyrone Singleton raised the spirits with a more thoughtful dramatic interpretation of their relationship. Hum-drum classical choreography, old staging and costumes, this seemed a perplexing acquisition. The dancers did their admirable best, but deserved better really.
But, oh the relief and pleasure in seeing great dancers live on stage again, the thrill of seeing an evening of new works and… putting that finger up to Covid. It’s a terrific achievement by Acosta and the company – bravo, and see it if you can.