United Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Orff, Serenade/Carmina burana: Birmingham Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet Sinfonia / Philip Ellis Conductor – Serenade) and Paul Murphy (conductor) – Carmina burana), London Coliseum, 19.3.2015 (J.O’D)
Dancers: Elisha Willis, Momoko Hirata, Céline Gittens, Chi Cao, Tyrone Singleton, Karla Doorbar, Ruth Brill, Yvette Knight, Delia Mathews, Miki Mizutani, Laura Purkiss, Alys Shee, Yijing Zhang, Laura Day, Leticia Dias Domingues, Reina Fuchigami, Jade Heusen, Anna Monleon, Boooke Ray, Maki Sekuzu, Emily Smith, Daria Stanciulescu, Jonathan Caguioa, Feargus Campbell, Brandon Lawrence, Tom Rogers
Choreography: George Balanchine
Revival staged by: Desmond Kelly
Lighting: Peter Teigen
“Fortuna, Empress Of The World”
Fortuna: Samara Downs
Seminarians: Jamie Bond, Mathias Dingman, Iain Mackay, Lewis Turner, Kit Holder, Feargus Campbell, Oliver Till
Women in Spring: Arancha Baselga, Reina Fuchigami, Yvette Knight, Maureya Lebowitz, Angela Paul, Laura Purkiss
Naive Boy: Jamie Bond
On the Village Green
Lover Girl: Elisha WillsPony Tails: Maureya Lebowitz, Angela Paul, Laura Purkiss
Serenade: Kit Holder, Rory Mackay, Valentin Olovyannikov, Lewis Turner
In the Tavern
Boiling Rage: Mathias Dingman
Roast Swan: Jenna Roberts
Gluttons: Yauo Atsuji, Brandon Lawrence, Rory Mackay, Valentin Olovyannikov, Oliver Till
The Court of Love
Sick with Love: Iain Mackay
Tarts: Arancha Baselga, Ruth Brill, Reina Fuchigami, Jade Heusen, Yvette Knight, Delia Mathews, Karla Doorbar, Emily Smith Alys Shee
Soprano: Madeleine Pierard
Tenor: Jeremy Budd
Baritone: William Dazeley
Chorus: Ex Cathedra; Artistic Director: Jeffrey Skidmore
Choreography: David Bintley
Designs: Philip Prowse
Lighting: Peter Mumford
When I saw it performed by The Royal Ballet last year, the audience became distinctly fidgety as Balanchine’s ‘plotless’ Serenade unfolded. Birmingham Royal Ballet dances it with a watertight and ineluctable momentum. From Principal to Artist, the company seem to have an idea about the ballet and about the way that Balanchine, according to Martha Graham, ‘refracts music into dance’.
Graham watched the opening moments of this ‘ensemble’ work in 1934 with tears in her eyes. The seventeen women, revealed on the stage after the searing chords of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings have already begun to sound, turn their toes out into first position. For the writer Laura Jacobs, it is a moment at which ‘you feel as if the lock on eternity has sprung’.
It is seventeen women, at first, because the class from which Balanchine developed the ballet when he first arrived in America initially contained no male dancers. Other elements from the class were also incorporated. Elisha Willis is the woman who arrives late, the woman who falls (a fall that was met with a responsive sigh from a woman in the London Coliseum audience).
Chi Cao, the first man to appear, partners her with a remarkable delicacy before disappearing again altogether. Tyrone Singleton looks at her with deep and tender interest, even as another woman (Céline Gittens) has wrapped her arms around him from behind. Intensely present as these dancers are, they always convey a sense of being part of something greater, and more important, than themselves. Like the steps of the ballet (to Swan Lake, to Giselle), they refer.
Carmina burana, the first work David Bintley created for the Birmingham Royal Ballet when he became its Artistic Director in 1995, has fewer layers. Certain aspects of this ballet make it dated. Yet it is danced with the same level of all-round conviction as the Balanchine. It shares with other work I have seen by this choreographer a tendency to be danced at the audience, as if by hoofers in a chorus line. The characterisation given to individual dancers, though, gradually outweighs this.
Kit Holder, Mathias Dingman and Iain Mackay are three seminarians who lose their vocations. Each one is attracted by a different aspect of the secular world: romantic love; greed; sex. The opening scenes are stilted. Despite stylised movements of the arms that resemble those of the women in the White Mischief section of the choreographer’s earlier Still Life at the Penguin Café, Samara Downs, as Fortuna, stays at the back of the stage. She will not show her real dramatic power until later on.
It is Kit Holder who first makes the ballet come alive with his slim, flexible body and its hopeful, trusting gestures. Mathias Dingman’s running on the spot prefigures that of Jonathan Goddard in Mark Bruce’s Dracula (2013). Iain Mackay, in the final section, performs what is more or less a male striptease (not so common, perhaps, in 1995) before giving himself to a duet with the now prowling, strutting Samara Downs.