Birmingham Royal Ballet launch City’s International Dance Festival with Verve

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Three Short Works: Quatrain; Kin; Les Rendezvous: Artists of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet Sinfonia / Philip Ellis (Conductor). The Crescent, Birmingham, 24:4:2014 (GR).


Music: Astor Piazzolla; Choreography: Kit Holder
Music: Paul Kline; Choreography:Alexander Whitley
Les Rendezvous:
Music: Daniel Auber; Choreography:Sir Frederick Ashton

The reputation of the biennial International Dance Festival Birmingham (IDFB) is growing and judging by the opening performance of this year’s event on 24th April at the Crescent Theatre Birmingham, its future in the joint hands of DanceXchange and Birmingham Hippodrome looks secure. Scanning the programme of IDFB 2014 (number four since its debut in 2008) the festival justifies its claim to feature dance genre from around the globe, fostering collaborations between international choreographers and artists. At the same time it produces innovative participatory projects for people of all ages, in what is already one of the largest dance festivals in the world.

Birmingham Royal Ballet chosean exciting three-part programme of both contemporary and traditional works to begin the festivities: two modern dance premieres together with a more traditional Fred Ashton favourite. First up was Quatrain, choreographed by current BRB First Artist Kit Holder, inspired by the exciting and vibrant tango rhythms of Àstor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Argentinean composer Piazzolla (1921-92), a maestro exponent on the bandoneon (a South American concertina), is best known as the man who revolutionised the traditional tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music – the nueve tango.

Holder had used an arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov of Piazolla’s essentially tango rhythm, incorporating snatches from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. And like this iconic baroque piece the ballet score required a virtuosic solo display on the violin and Royal Ballet Sinfonia leader Robert Gibbs thoroughly earned his generous curtain call. Ostensibly divided into the natural four sections of ‘Spring’, ‘Summer’, Autumn’ and ‘Winter’ there was a clear pattern to Holder’s sequence depiction, thematically designed into a distinct urban rather than climatic evolvement. Whilst the downstage angular framework design of Adam Wiltshire suggested an inner-city environment, it was the movement and coordination of the eight dancers who provided the more positive image of Holder’s desired concept.

I particularly liked the means by which the male performers took their partners off stage, dragging them along on their backs, implying to me that they were exhausted and hacked off with their humdrum metropolitan existence. But conversely there were carefree moments too; these were not in the anticipated variations of open/closed embraces of a traditional tango but free, animated actions expressing a gay abandon and a zest for life. At times Piazzolla produces some haunting sounds to his music (such as may be found on his Oblivion) and they were here too, complimented by a mood of intoxication from the eight, not least with some bewitching interchanges between lead dancers Momoko Hirata and Mathias Dingman. One of the core objectives of IDFB is to ‘produce innovative world premiere productions made in Birmingham’: Holder must be congratulated on a mission accomplished.

The talent nurtured by BRB under the leadership of David Bintley was also evident in the second offering of the evening, Kin. Another world premiere, this one came from old boy Alexander Whitley and it was his turn to show the Crescent audience his choreographic credentials, fashioning an abstract routine to a creation by young American composer Phil Kline – The Blue Room and Other Stories. There is a double meaning to the title, referring to both the family ‘kin’ and an individualistic abbreviation for ‘kinetic energy’. The set design of Jean-Marc Puissant (who did the interesting Take Five of BRB, reviewed on this site in 2012) featured three doors rear stage, representative of openings into domestic habitats, but being static I thought they lost a certain impact. Again the piece had four movements. The initial one left me in a bit of a daze; it appeared with another of Kline’s compositions from 2009, Around the World in a Daze. The other three sections however went well with Whitley’s concept I thought. The interactive contortionsof Jenna Roberts and Joseph Caley in their pas de deux werefantastic, indicative to me of a deep and close relationship, on a wavelength perhaps akin to twins. And the finale incorporated eight dancers from the excellent BRB troupe, whose potential was energetically converted into some dazzling kinetics.

For those who like the world of ballet served up by the likes of Sir Frederick Ashton then the final work of this tripartite bill was for them: the thrilling and highly technical Les Rendezvous, over eighty years young and as sprightly as ever. Based upon a group of friends meeting in a park, the BRB corps de ballet were equal to the task, each of the eight divertissements taken in their stride. To the easy-listening music of Daniel Auber (orchestrated by Constant Lambert) it is based upon his opera L’Enfant prodigue, French in flavour but with a dash of English relish. Anthony Ward’s costumes revealed the delights of a summery 1930s bank holiday – striped blazers, flannels and boaters for the boys, flowery adornments on the dresses for the girls – matching a backdrop landscape of sun and trees. It set the scene perfectly although I did miss the park railings and gate of an earlier production. The corps beautifully established the merry mood of the whole piece with their Entrée des Promeneurs, while Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao showed their togetherness in the Adage des Amoureux, lovers who had only eyes for one another. This provided an ideal contrast for the Pas de Trois, Arancha Baselga playing off her suitors James Barton and Tzu-Chao Chou against one another – one of the many highlights of the show. Auber’s music finally enabled the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Philip Ellis to blossom in the sunshine.

Other core objectives of IDFB 2014 are to bring dance to the streets of Birmingham by engaging with communities through various projects including workshops, family activities and school performances, thereby expressing the youthful, diverse and energetic spirit of England’s second city. The festival runs for four weeks until May 25th and will surely inspire local pride within this diverse, vibrant and dynamically creative region. The action takes place around the various theatres and public spaces across the West Midlands, with full listings at If dance is your scene, there will be something for you.

Geoff Read 

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