"Agon”, “Stravinsky Violin Concerto”, “Symphony in Three Movements”
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome, Birmingham
14 – 17 February 2007
, and touring

by John Percival
copyright ©2007, John Percival

As if to show Birmingham Royal Ballet's range and versatlity, director David Bintley followed the premiere of his new three-act narrative “Cyrano” the next week with this year's contribution to the City of Birmingham's Stravinsky festival. The choice was a triple bill of Balanchine ballets: all plotless and without decor, but offering subtle contrasts of mood and manner.

Two of them had been danced before by BRB; the exception was “Stravinsky Violin Concerto”, newly staged by Karin von Aroldingen and Richard Tanner from NYCB. This was preceded by “Agon” and followed by “Symphony in Three Movements”, making a thoroughly satisfying programme of highly original dance to fascinating music. The opening night, a Wednesday, clashed with the opening of American Ballet Theatre in London, and helpfully for critics and others planning to visit, the management arranged for the Thursday matinee to repeat the first cast instead of introducing, as usual, the first of various alternate casts.

A London critic visiting Birmingham for the occasion remarked snidely that BRB has only seven listed principals. True, but not the put-down he imagined, since the company also has quite a few other soloists and even corps members who ably dance big roles, and is admired for the way Bintley and his staff quickly bring on new recruits. It's worth noting, too, that almost half the dancers have won various medals and other awards, including golds at various leading contests.

It's not surprising, therefore, that the all-round standard of performance is pretty high. On this occasion four of the principals took the leads in the “Violin Concerto”, Robert Parker showing an attractively warm joviality as he partnered Elisha Willis in the Aria I duet, while Iain Mackay and Nao Sakuma undetook Aria II with a cooler seriousness. I must say I thought BRB carried off this ballet better than the Covent Garden company did recently.

Parker was the only top-ranked dancer among the multiple soloists in “Agon”, excellently leading the first pas de trois, but first artists (what we used to call coryphées) Virginia de Gersigny leading the second pas de trois and Jenna Roberts and Tyrone Singleton in the pas de deux were all fine. In “Symphony in Three Movements”, first soloist Carol-Anne Millar perfectly matched principals Sakuma, Ambra Vallo, Dominic Antonucci and Chi Cao, and guest principal Robert Tewsley, leading the big ensembles, while the diagonal line of girls in white who begin the ballet received — and deserved — a round of applause all their own.

Even though my visit entailed an early start from home, and a cramped, packed train ride back to London to catch Ballet Theatre again that evening, it seemed to me entirely worth while, in fact a sheer pleasure. And there are further premieres and revivals to come from the company before it journeys to Virginia, USA, later this year.

Photos, both by Bill Cooper:
Symphony in 3 Movements - Nao Sakuma & Robert Tewsley
Stravinsky Violin Concerto - Nao Sakuma and Iain Mackay

Volume 5, No. 8
February 19, 2007

copyright ©2007 by John Percival

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