Birmingham Royal Ballet
Curated By Carlos: City of a Thousand Trades, Imminent, Chacona (Acosta/Ferri version)
London, Sadler’s Wells
4 November 2021
Gallery of Carlos Acosta and Alessandra Ferri pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
www.sadlerswells.com Available on Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage, 11-18 Nov 2021
Carlos Acosta took on the mantle of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s artistic director last year, and his galvanising influence is clear in this, his first programme of new commissions, which premiered in Birmingham in the summer. London audiences had an extra treat, however: an additional pas de deux added to Goyo Montero’s Chacona, for Acosta and Alessandra Ferri.
Accompanied by an on-stage pianist playing Bach’s Chorale Prelude No 3, and framed by the 16 other dancers on stage, these two extraordinary ballet stars (48 and 58 respectively) gave a masterclass in elegant partnering, Ferri precise on pointe and soaring in a demanding series of lifts, Acosta charismatic, graceful and gracious. Montero, the resident choreographer for Acosta Danza, has shaped this duet with exquisite care for the two performers – the result was scintillating.
The rest of the piece, performed to Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita No 2 in D minor, was a cascade of neoclassical geometries as the dancers weaved through movements based on lines forming and reforming, studded with breakout duets. Dressed in austere-chic all-black, sometimes picked out in golden spotlights, they resembled a flock of birds, or shoal of fish, surging with a taut energy, while the music was enveloped into the organic whole thanks to on-stage soloists, on piano, violin and classical guitar, who finally came together to see out this gently mesmerising work.
The night opened with City of a Thousand Trades, the former Rambert dancer Miguel Altunaga’s first commission for BRB. A love letter to Birmingham, it presented a dozen barefoot dancers, clad in denim and working-man’s blues and greys, shifting wooden blocks and metal poles around the stage in staccato synchronicity, a restless representation of the industrial labour the city is famed for.
Mathias Coppens’s score (his first for a ballet) utilised percussion instruments ranging from anvils and washing machine drums to bottles and a panoply of world drums (expertly bashed by percussionists hovering on a mezzanine over the stage), melded with strings and a burst of heavy metal guitar in a nod to Black Sabbath.
Slowly the workforce revealed its human components, as snatches of oral history and verses from Birmingham’s poet laureate Casey Bailey mused on what thousands of migrants traded for their opportunity in the big city, aching loneliness the price for a shot at prosperity. Despite the sombre pall, this was about workers as quiet heroes rather than exploited masses. Individual dancers moved to the oral testimonies with a Crystal Pite-like exaggerated embellishment of the words; guest artist Hannah Rudd and Tyrone Singleton offered a touching duet that emphasised the sense of mutual support. Altunaga worked with Madeleine Kludje, from Birmingham REP, on the dramaturgy of the piece, but it nonetheless felt rather diffuse, as though chasing after a narrative structure. Industrious, certainly, but not electrifying.
Imminent, meanwhile, had a definite message in mind, but didn’t know quite how to convey it. Brazilian choreographer Daniela Cardim is, understandably, exercised about climate change and extreme politics, and used 16 dancers to present a society dancing towards disaster. Plastered smiles and happy partnering faltered as a backdrop resembling an ice shelf started to disintegrate, with a fiery orange fissure/doorway opening up. Even as one group’s concern mounted, the rest danced blithely on. A sense of unease was well conveyed; you couldn’t help feeling, though, that the disconnect between Cardim’s demurely abstract movement and Paul Englishby’s swelling melodramatic score rather awkwardly emphasised a lack of actual dramatic jeopardy.