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Arts Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet's Sylvia

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It was the vision of choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton to create ‘a grand ballet’ from the past, calling upon both myth and legend in order to craft a little piece of the Golden Age amongst our often less than lustrous lives. Wednesday saw the opening night of David Bintley’s 2009 revival for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, highlighting his unmatched skill for immersing ‘real people’ into a truly fantastical world.

Celine Gittens as Diana: Photo Bill Cooper

Moving between the world of Ancient Greece and Count Guiccioli’s Gatsby-style Garden Party, Bintley draws the classical world ever closer to the audience, having his 1930s guests play dress up with helmets and shields as both an introduction and ending to the ballet. This frame exposes tensions seen across both ages, as the lecherous Count is seen to be just as savage as his Grecian counterpart (Tyrone Singleton), whilst the fearless Diana (Celine Gittens) is just as fierce, scorning her husband as riding in on a horse the heroic hunter in Act III. It is the journey of servants Amynta and Sylvia however that proves the most rewarding, as romance is shown to act as an irresistible force that can conquer all nature.

If this is all sounding too sweet and fabled, then there are other important elements to be appreciated too. The music of Léo Delibes is a voyage in itself, taking dancers from the triumphant worship of Gods and Goddesses to the corruption of slave girls and pirates; with some iconic and memorable pieces along the way. Add to this the visual opulence of Sue Blane and Mark Jonathan’s designs and light, and any sickliness is soon washed away. Spangling tiaras and martini glasses give way to waterfalls and temples at sunset with ease, building a rich backdrop for characters to play out their lives.

Tyrone Singleton as Eros: Photo Bill Cooper

And play they do. Sylvia was not named ‘a time travelling romantic comedy’ for nothing, as the audience is swept along with a wealth of memorable figures. Act I sees Diana and her huntresses dominate with bows and arrows, followed by the alcoholic activites of Act II’s comedy duo Gog (Kit Holder) and Magog (Lachlan Monaghan) in Orion’s candlelit cave. Even Act III had surprises in store, as Eros (Mathias Dingman) disguises as a Captain, showing his fellow gang of pirates up with one legged fouettes and pirouettes that had spectators sniggering well after his ship eventually sailed.

Both Tyrone Singleton and Celine Gittens gave fiery performances, with jealousy and rage soaring as high as their grand jetés; tackling some often very complex choreography with bold skill. Nevertheless, it was a night for the underdogs, as the couples’ servants Amynta (Joseph Caley) and Sylvia (Momoko Hirata) stole the show. The pair tackled moments such as Amynta’s blindness with both technique and tenderness, flying into lifts thought impossible whilst remaining expressive and absorbed. A row behind whispered ‘they’re incredible’ perhaps more audibly than was right for the stunned silence, the pair held an audience in the palm of their hands.

Providing romance, history, comedy, athleticism and sheer artistry; for those wishing to time travel, Sylvia offers countless ways to escape.

Momoko Hirata as Sylvia and Joseph Caley as Amynta: Photo Billl Cooper

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Sylvia ran until 27th June at the Birmingham Hippodrome. For more information please visit www.brb.org.uk.

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