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Arts Review: Carmina Burana/Serenade by the Birmingham Royal Ballet


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On the day of the Solar Eclipse, it was obvious that there was something primitive, sinister and dark in the air. Oozing in sin, Carmina Burana was revived for the first time in twenty years at the London Coliseum. It's David Bintley's living, breathing legacy showcased by the Birmingham Royal Ballet to Carl Orff's iconic music, sung by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and Ex Cathedra (commonly represented with Britain's Got Talent).

The evening opened with Balanchine's "Serenade". Having previously seen the BRB perform the piece a month before, it was nice to find familiarity in the repertoire. The moon drenched piece in hand with Tchaikovsky's strings was just as romantic and perfectly executed as before. The sold our evening reached out to those of all ages, which, honestly, was so encouraging to see. A subjective narrative blurred with distinguished differences between the active and the passive; somewhat the sweet and sour of ballet. The ethereality of it all however, was just a tease for what was to come. If "Serenade" was an angel, then "Carmina Burana" was the antichrist, Armageddon and burning church to follow. 

Carmina Burana opens with Celine Gittens on stage, blindfolded and in stilettos; a hooker. She is quintessentially the company's Crown Jewels and it's immediately obvious as to why. Gittens begins dancing to the RB Sinfonia performing the most memorable and infamous of Orff's piece, 'O, Fortuna'. She is simultaneously stripped of all identity, yet completely empowered and aware of who she is as crosses suspend from the stage. It's beautiful. Carmina breaks away from more classical forms of ballet but still managed to hold onto the strictness and the discipline they the BRB are so famous for. 

Gittens is replaced by what appear to be religious men, completely losing their faith through distortions while the choir devour everything with decibels. No matter how hard you try, it was faultless and caused a capacitated coliseum to surrender to temptation. Though the show seemed a little confusing at times, with three male principles it certainly raised eyebrows. ‘On The Village Green’ was clearly the result of too many Class A’s, shots, not enough sleep or all of the above; a feverish fusion in which every dancer was of utmost importance. Everyone had their place in Bintley’s impressive use of space.

The dances eased in and out of seriousness, balancing darkness with comedy. ‘In the Tavern’ played with gluttony and sin in which the “gluttons” were seen trying to roast Stanciulescu. It was Swan Lake gone wrong and was pretty receptive with the audience.

The show closed with “The Court of Love”; odd, but brilliant. A flirt with Satan and Gittens is reunited with Singleton. Having previously seen the two paired in the picturesque and eloquent setting of Coppélia , it was weird to see them in kinkier circumstances. The piece was overwhelmed with barriers of gender, only to be destroyed again. Ending how it started with ‘O, Fortuna’, dancers would materialise behind Gittens to completely enrapture the venue. It was one of the most powerful, decibel ridden, hauntingly empowering, sinful, seductive, sexy and decadent endings to have ever happened to ballet.

Carmina Burana returns in Birmingham 17th June with The King Dances.

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