Venue: Grand Opera House
Birmingham Royal Ballet graced York’s Grand Opera House stage with a varied triple bill of Sir Frederick Ashton’s classic heritage piece, Les Rendezvous, a darkly compelling new work by Alex Whitley, Kin, and the fun and energetic creation by Kenneth MacMillan, Elite Syncopations.
Opening with Les Rendezvous, everything was oozing Ashton’s cheery spirit with brightly coloured costumes, the women in tulle skirts with large polka dots and the men in pinstriped blazers, and the sprightly choreography. Though the male dancers initially struggled to be perfectly in synch to start with, their female partners were tighter as a group in the corps de ballet numbers. This was especially evident in the pas de quatre where the four dancers were wonderfully expressive with long, clean lines.
However, the male dancers did hit their stride, and in the pas de six, they managed to negotiate Ashton’s choreography, which is prone to getting messy, where they have to swap positions with the other dancers.
The pas de trois was particularly enjoyable as Ashton’s character work came through with Arancha Baselga holding her own against the two strong male dancers who were vying for her attention. Soloist and principal dancer, Chi Cao, also impressed with his strong variation and even managed to outshine the bubbly Elisha Willis with his tremendous stage presence.
Yet, Elisha Willis did give a truly powerful performance as principal and soloist in Kin. A personal favourite amongst the night’s repertoire, the dramatic beginning with only silhouettes lit giving way to a fluid solo by Willis transfixed the audience from the start. Showing off her impressive turnout, the choreography was slightly more contemporary with a lot of floor work, but never departed from its ballet roots. Though Willis’ first solo could have benefitted from dancing with more abandonment, her subsequent solos and pas de deux with Joseph Caley were darkly brilliant.
That said, the corps de ballet pieces were deliberately chaotic, different groups of people dancing to different choreography all at once. Timing was a shade off, but it was barely noticeable because of the cacophony; though this exaggerated the physical differences between dancers as they weren’t together.
Despite this, Brandon Lawrence was particularly exceptional in the corps de ballet pieces, giving an incredibly haunting performance with subtle expressive nuances that the others lacked in their movements. Once again, Chi Cao did not fail to amaze as he was able to take on a drastically different persona for his dynamic solo that was fierce and yet immensely graceful. His brilliant feel for the emotion of the choreography was evident in his musicality that matched the beautiful score by Phil Kline.
Alex Whitley’s choreography was compelling with its hypnotic, frenzied, yet ordered chaos.
Elite Syncopations was a lovely end to the wonderful evening. Exchanging the orchestra for a band on stage, Macmillan’s creation was brought to life with crazily colourful costumes and cutesy, comic choreography (alliteration not deliberate, but appreciated).
Here, the full strength of the corps de ballet was showcased as it was clear that the dancers enjoyed this piece as much as the audience did. Even through the united, patterned configurations, the individual personalities of each character still came through.
The audience’s favourite by far was the Alaskan Rag pas de deux with Yijing Zhang and James Barton. Brilliantly acted by both, it was filled with wonderful physical humour as Barton, the hapless partner at the town square’s dance, mangled the duet with Zhang who, with her beautiful extensions, had to act very patient with Barton.
The duo eclipsed the more traditionally competent pair after them. Although Yvette Knight and William Bracewell had beautiful long legs and Knight having fantastic, perfectly bevelled, feet, after the huge personalities of the duet before, their technique, however good, paled in comparison.
Ending with the strongest corps performance, Birmingham Royal Ballet certainly finished the night on a high note, their triple bill showing off their tremendous versatility as a touring company.