“The Grand Tour”, “Faster”, “The Dream”
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
by Judith Cruickshank
copyright 2012 by Judith Cruickshank
In most cases a ballet produced as a ‘piece d’occasion’ has a brief life beyond the occasion. Ashton’s “Birthday Offering” is one exception, but I can believe what I’ve often been told, that those exquisitely tailored variations have never looked so good as with the original cast. David Bintley’s “Faster” was produced as part of celebrations for this year’s London Olympics and although it’s unquestionably sporty, it deserves to be seen beyond 2012.
The ballet falls into three sections and is danced to a commissioned score by Mathew Hindson who was also the composer for Bintley’s much admired “E=mc²”. But here the three movements are played continuously and the mood of the piece changes seamlessly.
The middle part of the piece is a long, slow duet which also has hints of the problems caused by injury. The ballet ends with the entire cast as runners; the girls in the teeny-weeny bikini outfits currently favoured by women athletes, the men more modestly clad in unitards, but equally colourful, all wearing trainers. Bintley has the dancers running in groups, circling, turning, criss-crossing. It’s effective, inventive, but lasts perhaps a little too long.
“The Grand Tour,” which began the programme, was a popular hit when it was first staged some forty years ago. Danced to Hershy Kay’s arrangement of some of Noel Coward’s most popular songs, the slender plot involves a cruise liner, a group of celebrities from the ‘twenties and ‘thirties and an elderly American lady tourist. When the choreographer Joe Layton picked his first cast, observers who were of an age to have known at least some of the originals were struck by how accurately the dancers had caught their style. I imagine though, that Garry Sherwood who played Noel Coward must have had a moment of anxiety when The Master himself came to watch a performance.
But when the cast list for this revival went up I suspect the dancers reaction was “Who?”. We are now so remote from that period; style and manners have changed out of all recognition and despite the best efforts of the cast the soufflé failed to rise. Even John Conklin’s décor which used to be applauded at the rise of the curtain looked duller than I remember it, although I wonder if this was in part due to lighting. The glittering backcloth looked positively dull.
No doubts though about the final work on the programme; Frederick Ashton’s The Dream and congratulations must go to whoever rehearsed it. All too often dancers are unable to resist the temptation to embellish the comedy, which generally means it’s less funny. Here Ashton’s intentions were allowed to shine through clearly and the humour was subtle rather than coarse. Special mention should go to Brandon Lawrence as a faintly pompous Lysander, Feargus Campell as a peppery Demitrius and especially, Jonathan Caguioa; a sweetly rustic Bottom.
But the fairy quarrel is at the heart of the story and Momoko Hirata was a spirited Titania, albeit hampered by an unflattering blonde wig. I could have done with a little more languor in her torso, but Ashton would have been delighted by her pretty footwork. Oberon was César Morales. Again a little more sensuality in the final pas de deux would not have come amiss but otherwise there was a great deal to be admired in his performance. It’s only a pity that this season’s programming means this couple won’t have the opportunity of more performances.
The pairing of Morales with Mathias Dingman as Puck was more problematic, mainly because Dingman is almost as tall as Morales. But at the performance I saw they worked well together and although Dingman isn’t the sharp, nippy type usually cast in this role, it was a pleasure to see both the choreography and the mime so clearly laid out for us.
The fairy corps was on excellent form, as was the orchestra conducted by Dominic Grier. And a special mention should go to the girls of Birmingham Cathedral Choir who provided the vocal accompaniment to "The Dream."