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Arts Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet: Variations Triple Bill


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What do seventeen tiara clad ballerinas; a cast of men in jeans and a bearded man on a tricycle have in common?

Precisely nothing. It is for this reason that Director David Bintley compiled three such diverse ballets for reprisal, suggesting that in order to make for an entertaining evening, variety really might be the spice of life.

Theme and Variations

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

Set to Tchaikovsky’s Suite No.3, George Balanchine’s nod to classical heritage set the evening off with an unashamed opulence.  The curtain opened to a stage brilliantly lit, as the tiaras of seventeen dancers glinted under chandeliers. Similarities have been drawn between the regal world of Sleeping Beauty and this dazzling though demanding showpiece.  It was like being present at a state ball in Vienna, as the corps de ballet quivered in powder blue, weaving in and out of each other on pointe as is characteristic of much of Balanchine’s work.

Despite the often dainty movements of principal couple Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley, emphasis lay on the clarity of line and finish; sharp technique was required in order to even begin to make it look remotely easy. Moving through an intimate pas de deux to the exhilarating ending of the entire cast on stage, Balanchine’s ‘love letter’ to the traditional Russian Ballet he knew and loved was welcomed with ecstatic applause.



Photo credit: Bill Cooper

A graduate of the Royal Ballet School, it was in fact Birmingham Royal Ballet that gave choreographer Alexander Whitley his first commissioned work for a classical company.

Now working with the Rambert, it was Whitley’s intention to craft ‘very much an abstract piece and a blend of contemporary and classical’, as in creating the title ‘Kin’ to refer to relations as well as kinetic movement, he has brought about a piece very much reliant on the connection between dancers. Sensual, sparse and brooding all at once, Kin opens with the strained strings of Philip Kline’s The Blue Room, set amongst the remnants of marble and gothic doors from which dancers enter and exit. Principle couple Elisha Willis and Joseph Caley put in a pained performance as examples of a relationship at odds, and are supported by a small cast whose attention is focused on the interconnection of limbs and loin. Special mention should go to Soloist Tzu-Chao Chou, whose spins were like lightning and added an energy occasionally lacking elsewhere.  A cast clad in simple black dresses or jeans, Whitley’s reflection on human relations is a distinctive addition to the company’s contemporary catalogue.


Enigma Variations

Photo credit: Goeff Slack 

A true character ballet; Frederick Ashton’s reimagining of the life of composer Edward Elgar formed the final part of a diverse evening of dance. Amongst the falling of autumn leaves lay a quaint meditation on Edwardian village life, as Elgar’s Enigma Variations acted as a musical backdrop against which he and his friends lived out their lives. There was a bearded man riding a tricycle, a group of babbling school children, an amorous couple on a hammock; a community living in harmony with one another.

Where at times Ashton appeared economical in employing balletic movement, this was more than made up for in atmosphere. ‘If anyone could be described as a poet of dance, then it would surely be Ashton’, a belief that is lived out in even the most minute of gestures. Claimed to be one of the few ballets that successful illustrates the nature of friendship, eccentric interactions between each character made for a memorable performance.  It is a ballet of pure escapism, of quaint country charm and that could only encourage anticipation for the next few months of festivity.


Birmingham Royal Ballet are touring nationally with the Variations Triple Bill, visiting Sadler’s Wells London, and the Theatre Royal, Plymouth. For more information and to book tickets, visit the production page at:


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