Reviews

Birmingham Royal Ballet – Curated By Carlos: City of a Thousand Trades, Imminent, Chacona – Birmingham

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Miguel Altunaga's <I>City of a Thousand Trades</I>.<br />© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)
Birmingham Royal Ballet in Miguel Altunaga’s City of a Thousand Trades.
© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Curated By Carlos: City of a Thousand Trades, Imminent, Chacona

★★★✰✰
Birmingham, Repertory Theatre
10 June 2021
brb.org.uk
www.birmingham-rep.co.uk

Stream City of a Thousand Trades on 13 June 2021 at 7.30pm, 8.30pm and 9.30pm as part of Birmingham International Dance Festival.

A night of premieres for BRB this week with two World premieres and one British premiere in their latest triple bill – Curated By Carlos – all in the comfortable surroundings of the Birmingham Rep. An all-new triple is a very rare event and good to see local and London critics out in some force to cover it.

Miguel Altunaga’s City of a Thousand Trades, co-directed with The Rep’s Madeleine Kludje who also acted as dramaturg, proved an ambitious, warts-‘n-all, love letter to Brum. It featured a commissioned score by Mathias Coppens, led by drums and percussion played live and high up above the stage. Rather gloriously, some heavy metal riffs were also included, Birmingham being the home of Black Sabbath. Also featured were the words and voice of Birmingham’s current poet laureate Casey Bailey, briefly reminding us what makes the city great and giving a twist on the ballet title – yes, talk about the trades people are involved in, from jewellery to engineering, but also talk of the huge trades that people have made in life – trading life elsewhere in the world for a new one in Birmingham. The ballet starts with the cast of 12 manipulating scaffolding poles into bigger concrete/wooden assemblies that are in turn shoved around the stage – a lot of twirling of the set shows industriousness but not many dance steps as such. Hannah Rudd, guesting with the company and like Altunaga ex-Rambert, effortlessly capers around in contemporary noodling movement that BRB dancers are slightly less comfortable with. But wonderful to see lanky Brandon Lawrence effortlessly running with the flow.
 

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Miguel Altunaga's <I>City of a Thousand Trades</I>.<br />© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)
Birmingham Royal Ballet in Miguel Altunaga’s City of a Thousand Trades.
© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)

Later, bigger concrete assemblies appear and eventually, we see the reverse of them and people rather crammed in at home or possibly living on the street. And at one point we hear first-hand the unsanitised words of immigrants about their arrival and life in the city. These words are accompanied by short matching dances, but blink and you have missed it – we are on to the next one. There is also a touching duet for Rudd and Tyrone Singleton, but it ends all too soon. In general, I think I wanted the plethora of ideas boiled down into fewer sections danced at greater length and with less of the moving-the-set-around business. It doesn’t feel clear yet how good a choreographer Altenaga is BUT it is very clear that he (with Kludje and Acosta) know(s) how to bring a band of creatives together to deliver a thoughtful and interesting show about an unusual subject. Worth catching the streamed version if you can.
 

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Daniela Cardim's <I>Imminent</I>.<br />© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)
Birmingham Royal Ballet in Daniela Cardim’s Imminent.
© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)

From a world premiere with clear and easily-seen objectives to one without. Looked at as just abstract dance Daniela Cardim’s Imminent had some fine classical ballet moments as the dancers stretched, weaved and dueted across the stage. This was neoclassical movement infused with jazz at times and featured an interestingly deep custom score by Paul Englishby. But the elephant in the room was what looked like a huge glacier at the back of the stage and this piece had a narrative ark (created with dramaturg Lou Cope) about humanity dealing with major change… like climate change for one. The problem is I couldn’t really discern how the movement showed this worry (generically or specifically) and when a tall door opened in the glacier I lost any plot entirely. The piece ended with half the dancers slowly (very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very slowly) walking through the door as the curtain came down. Cue polite applause. Perhaps it’s as simple as when confronted by a huge worry (glacier object) don’t be afraid to walk through to the other side. But for me it felt frustratingly obtuse and I really wanted to concentrate on Cardim’s steps rather than trying to reconcile them with what had jumped out from a quick scan of the programme and general blurb.
 

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Goyo Montero's <I>Chacona</I>.<br />© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)
Birmingham Royal Ballet in Goyo Montero’s Chacona.
© Johan Persson. (Click image for larger version)

A couple of seconds after curtain up of Goyo Montero’s Chacona I gave an appreciative sigh – from the off you just knew this was from somebody who knows what they are about and how to grab an audience. To a Bach Partita, played progressively on violin, guitar and piano, Chacona starts and ends furiously with lots steps in canon and throbbing snaking lines of dancers cascading all over the stage. There are quieter moments in the 15-minute work, but everything remains sharply pacey and it’s a real test of endurance and timing for the 16 dancers involved. If the first two pieces of the night were thoughtful this was just simple, punchy, ballet exhilaration and the audience loved it. “Send’em home happy” never seemed more apt.
 
 

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