United Kingdom Birmingham Royal Ballet – Arcadia; Le Baiser de la fée; ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café: Dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet Sinfonia / Paul Murphy (conductor), Sadler’s Wells, London, 3.11.2017. (J.O’D)
Pan – Brandon Lawrence
Pitys – Yvette Knight
Syrinx – Yijing Zhang
Echo – Delia Mathews
Selene – Céline Gittens
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet
Music – John Harle
Choreography – Ruth Brill
Designs – Atena Ameri
Lighting – Peter Teigen
Le Baiser de la fée
The Fairy – Jenna Roberts
The Young Man – Lachlan Monaghan
The Bride – Momoko Hirata
The Mother – Daria Stanciulescu
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet
Music – Igor Stravinsky
Choreography – Michael Corder
Designs – John F. Macfarlane
Lighting – Paule Constable
‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café
Cast includes: Ruth Brill, Maureya Lebowitz, Iain Mackay, Tzu-Chao Chou, Tyrone Singleton, Brandon Lawrence, Céline Gittens, Amber Cook, Mathias Dingman
Music – Simon Jeffers
Choreography – David Bintley
Designs – Hayden Griffin
Lighting – John B. Read
Birmingham Royal Ballet brings Michael Corder’s Le Baiser de la fée (created on the company in 2008) to Sadler’s Wells shortly after Scottish Ballet performed Kenneth MacMillan’s 1960 version at the Royal Opera House. Both are set to music by Igor Stravinsky, composed in 1928. Both tell the story, based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, of a young man kissed when a baby by a Fairy of snow or ice who returns to claim him on the eve of his wedding. John Macfarlane’s designs for the Corder version include a wood-lined interior with a double bed, of reddish gold, to show exactly what it is that The Young Man will have to forsake.
Jenna Roberts, as The Fairy, does not ‘change the air’ on her first appearance as she did in John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew at the Bristol Hippodrome two years ago, and in MacMillan’s Concerto, also at the Royal Opera House, last month. She dances her way into the role. Lachlan Monaghan gives The Young Man his own expansive gestures, but falters occasionally during a central solo. The surest of the three main performances is Momoko Hirata’s abandoned Bride. The Stravinsky score, evocative of Tchaikovsky, puts everyone in the ballet under a strain; scenes tend to go on for longer than they should.
The pas de deux in the MacMillan are more expressive and more daring, but Corder, who trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced with The Royal Ballet, is able to contrast The Young Man’s tender showcasing of his betrothed with encounters during which he and The Fairy mirror each other’s movements as equals. His use of the corps de ballet as The Bride’s Friends, Villagers and Sprites (especially the male Sprites) is also more effective than MacMillan’s. The endings of the two versions differ in interesting ways. For its echo of the beginning, Corder’s is the more obvious; it may also be the more powerful.
Arcadia is company dancer Ruth Brill’s first main-stage commission as choreographer. It makes much of Brandon Lawrence’s musicality and sensitive, supple body. At one point he moves more like a swimmer through water than a dancer through air. He has a pas de deux, as Pan, with Céline Gittens, as Selene, but the ballet comes alive when he divides his attention between the upright figures of Yvette Knight, Yijing Zhang and Delia Mathews (in green, blue and brown) as nymphs of woodland, water and earth.
‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café, choreographed for The Royal Ballet in 1988 by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Director, David Bintley, was last performed at Sadler’s Wells in 2013. An ensemble work, it mixes a range of dance styles with an ecological message: Maureya Lebowitz, her head covered by a Utah Longhorn Ram mask, dances as Ginger Rogers. Amusing, odd, at times relentless, it is a work much liked by audiences. It was liked by this audience, and its unexpected ending was more moving, now, even than four years ago.
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