"Take Five," "Lyric Pieces," "Grosse Fuge"
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
23 – 27 October, 2012
by Judith Cruikshank
copyright 2012 by Judith Cruikshank
Perhaps I’m slow but I can’t see why Birmingham Royal Ballet should have christened this programme Opposites Attract. It’s now accepted that marketing departments require everything to be packaged, but although I can understand say, All Ashton or All Tchaikovsky, I can’t see any kind of link, or even strong contrast, among the three pieces which made up the first of the two triple bills that Birmingham Royal Ballet showed in its week-long season at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
"Take Five," the first offering, was created by the company’s director, David Bintley, in 2007 as part of a jazz programme. The name comes from the album of the same name by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Yes, I was one of the million-plus purchasers of the record, and it was great to hear those cool, sophisticated sounds again, albeit transcribed by Colin Towns for the musicians of the company’s own orchestra.
Bintley has used six numbers from the album to make dances for his cast of five men and five women. On the whole the men come off best with a jazzy take on standard classical technique. The women fare less happily, apart from a perky little pas de trois danced to "Three to get Ready. " And while the men wear dark trousers and light tops the women are burdened with hideous costumes; dark coloured shirtwaist dresses with full skirts which end unflatteringly at mid-thigh. Things are not made better for them by Peter Mumford’s darkly atmospheric lighting which makes their underpinnings appear to be in dire need of a good white wash.
The dancers gave it their best shot but only Tyrone Singleton really made any kind of impression. Altogether I found the piece rather a damp squib, although it may have been more effective in its original context.
“Everyone knows what lyric means”, wrote Paul Taylor; “long arms”. "Lyric Pieces" is Jessica Lang’s first work for a European company. A former dancer with Twyla Tharp, for this piece Lang has used ten piano pieces by Edvard Grieg – sensitively played by company pianist Jonathan Higgins – and a cast of eight. Also prominent are a number of structures of various sizes made from folded black paper which can be extended, rolled, or stacked to form different shapes.
Like Bintley, Lang has composed a set of stand alone dances which are linked only by a general wispiness, highlighted by the floaty grey costuming. In fact the whole enterprise narrowly misses being insipid. What saves it is some excellent dancing, especially from Jenna Roberts (who does have very beautiful ports de bras) and Mathias Dingman, a jolly little number to the March of the Trolls, and some very effective groupings which almost entirely reconciled me to the paper elements.
Last on the bill was one of Hans van Manen’s most widely performed works, "Grosse Fuge," which entered the repertory of the Royal Ballet New Group – an ancestor of today’s Birmingham Royal Ballet – in 1972, just one year after its creation. The first part is danced to the great fuge which Beethoven wrote for his Opus 130 string quartet but then set aside in favour of the beautiful Cavatina, which Van Manen uses for the second, concluding section of his ballet.
Some observers object to the ballet on the grounds that Beethoven’s music is too fine, too great, indeed too sacred, to be used for dance. But as there doesn’t seem to be a similar objection to specifically sacred music, I can’t think that argument holds water. What I didn’t like about this performance was the way in which Van Manen’s ballet seems to have been transformed into a rather banal battle of the sexes.
To be sure the long dark trouser skirts worn by the men in the first part emphasise the strength and weight of their choreography, but I’d never previously thought their sharply angled arms were an opportunity for bicep worship. The ritualistic, somewhat abstract nature of their movements seemed to have vanished. The women’s movements are more passive to start with, bourreeing with raised arms and tiny steps, though in the duets which finish this movement they have moments of sharp aggression. But here again the dance becomes personal at moments as if they can’t resist making stories out of the steps.
The Cavatina was more successful, the couples seeming to
reach equilibrium in their relationships as the men support the women who in
turn cradle and watch over their partners.
Among the women I admired Victoria Marr for the straightforward nature
of her dancing, Momoko Hirata for her strength and delicacy. Mathew Lawrence stood out among the four men
for seemingly doing only what the chorographer intended and not,
metaphorically, beating his chest.
Koen Kessels conducted the Royal Ballet Sinfonia which, as usual, accompanied the dancers admirably as well as honoring the composer.
Photos, from top:
Jenna Roberts and Ian Mackay in the "Phantom" section of Jessica Lang's "Lyric Pieces." Photo by Bill Cooper.
Mathias Dingman and members of the company in "In Ballad Style" (from "Lyric Pieces"). Photo by Roy Smiljanic.
Ian Mackay in "Grosse Fuge." Photo by Roy Smiljanic.