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Arts Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet's Moving Stateside Triple Bill

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It was American choreographer George Balanchine who believed that “dancing is music made visible”, and such an idea is realised across Birmingham Royal Ballet’s All American Triple Bill.

From early 20th century productions to recent in-company commissions, Beth Baker-Wyse uncovers how in moving stateside, we are exploring dance at its most ‘vivid and memorable’.

Serenade

Working with his much-loved theme ‘the glorification of woman as a ballerina’, George Balanchine’s first American production Serenade explores the lyrical artistry found in a community of women accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.

The group appear to associate strongly with the moon, after what began as a stage of seventeen dancers tracing soft arcs in unison unfolded into spirited activity. Styling was sleek and saw the corps de ballet move with all the poise of porcelain up top, followed by the fine powder of their skirts.

Lead by a principle cast of five, Balanchine set the fleeting fearlessness of Momoko Hirata’s infinite pirouettes against the calmed confidence of Céline Gittens’s arabesque turn, with the few male dancers lifting Elisha Willis as she ascends towards the moon and concludes the piece as ‘transformed into a goddess’.

A ballet of shape and sophistication, it comes as no surprise that Serenade sits on the repertoire of all major ballet companies worldwide.

Lyric Pieces

Tonight saw the original cast of eight reform for a tender performance to Grieg’s folkish piano works. Commissioned especially for Birmingham Royal Ballet, contemporary choreographer Jessica Lang professes to have created Lyric Pieces on “a wonderful group of talented and sensitive artists.”

On a stage awash with light and accompanied only by a solo Jonathan Higgins on piano, the cast carved out a narrative that ran like a landscape of its own, moving through the silence between each piece with a gentle effortlessness. The black ‘Molo Design’ kraft paper proved a valuable prop, creating bridges, brooks and walls as well as being used with playfulness in the charming ‘March of the Trolls’.

It was Lang’s intention to ‘develop a relationship with them early on’, an idea clearly realised whether through Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackays' ethereal pas de deux ‘Phantom’, or in the close knit appearance of the cast as a whole.

Paving the way for female choreographers and leaders in the arts, Jessica Lang delivers a stunning example ofacting as an ‘advocate for true change’.

In the Upper Room

Choreographer Twyla Tharp looks to Philip Glass to provide an urgency that removed the audience from the earlier mellow lyricism of the evening. Athletic, sharp, exhilarating, the performance saw dancers clad in striped trousers and bold red leotards, with clothing removed and added throughout in the form of scarlet pointe shoes, soft pumps, and bare male torsos.

Fighting against the limits of an oppressive interior, the cast appear to find this constant movement cathartic, weaving through a murky backdrop as if appearing from thin air. A show of institutional intimacy, partner work between dancers such as Delia Matthews and Yasuo Atsuju haunt just as much as Glass’s music; a series of hypnotic sounds set on a loop.

The piece has been popularly recognised as building ‘speed, power and rhythm while spinning out some dazzlingly unexpected ways for audiences to look at classical ballet’. As the performance came to a close and the cast ran in unison, borrowing choreography from jazz to gymnastics, martial arts to the pedestrian art of walking, audiences were left to reflect on whether classical ballet was as bound to tradition as initially thought.

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Moving Stateside has now finished its run at the Birmingham Hippodrome, and will be touring to the Theatre Royal Plymouth on 24th and 25th March. 

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