Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet - Opposites Attract - Sadler's Wells
Take Five / Lyric Pieces / Grosse Fugue
It must be catching. The theme of something new, something old and something borrowed that defined the programme for Rambert Dance Company’s programme at Sadler’s Wells last week, is replicated in this mixed bill from Birmingham Royal Ballet. Their line-up comprised a reprise of the company’s Take Five choreographed by artistic director, David Bintley, in 2007; a work made this year by a rising young American talent, Jessica Lang; and finally, a Hans van Manen masterpiece borrowed from Nederlands Dans Theater, which BRB first performed in 1998 – so its been a long term loan!
In terms of excitement and interest, this was a programme that got better as it progressed (a fact that had nothing to do with the quality of BRB’s hospitality in the two intervals).
At the end of Bintley’s opener, my companion – a third year dance student from London Contemporary Dance School – turned to me and said simply: “twee”. It summed up my own feelings exactly. Personally, I think this work sits better within the context of Bintley’s The Orpheus Suite – his jazz trilogy that preceded the creation of Take Five – rather than standing on its own account within a more diverse programme like this. It is essentially a loose collection of six dances, all made to the music of the Dave Brubeck Quartet – the ground-breaking jazz ensemble that made the crossover into middle-of-the-road mainstream “pop” music in the late ’50s – beginning with their most iconic number from which Bintley’s piece takes its title. In common with that ubiquitous, bouncy, insistent beat, his opening number seemed to involve a lot of skittish skipping. It is a light and frothy palette cleanser that might sit inoffensively between harder-hitting works but is way too bland in its cool vibes to open a programme such as this. It’s like going to the chill-out room before the party starts.
Lang’s Lyric Pieces took us up a gear. A former dancer with Twyla Tharp, Lang clearly has a talent – judging by what little of her choreography I have seen before – for bringing in fascinating visual devices on stage to seamlessly integrate with her dancers. Here, it is the rolls of concertinaed black Kraft paper – designed by Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen of molo design – that gives the work clarity of definition and several edges. It creates the set through the dancers themselves rolling and positioning the paper, to form screens, seats, steps and sundry structures that enclose or caress them: it provides for a remarkable panoply of options and never once interrupted the flow of activity across the ten segments of Lang’s work – which is set to a selection of Edvard Grieg’s short piano pieces that are collectively known by the same title. There were some vivid and memorable moments in the choreography for both the whole ensemble and in the highlight of all lyrical pieces, which came in a chilling, heartbreaking pas de deux for Iain Mackay and Jenna Roberts in the penultimate section. I’m already looking forward to seeing this work again.
The only thing missing from van Manen’s Grosse Fuge was a voiceover from Sir David Attenborough, since we often seemed to be witnessing matters of some zoological or ethological significance. This was especially the case when the four bare-chested males ripped off their long skirts to reveal (very) short, belted shorts and their four female consorts developed the seduction with a slinky, meandering dance of courtship. It was as if we were watching the mating ritual of Polynesian birds of paradise. Indeed, their dance led to strangely positioned coitus with the woman arched over her prostrate mate. Later the post-coital fun extended to the females being dragged around the stage as they clung, groin-facing, to their partner’s belt. All we needed was Attenborough to explain the significance of it all. Nonetheless, this was a work – made originally in 1971 – that demonstrated a timelessness in its modernity. It could easily have been made in 2012. Van Manen provides strong images of powerful virility and vulnerability (the four girls start by standing awkwardly in their inelegant, flesh-coloured garments at the back of the stage for an age before they begin to move) in a work that contained so much to challenge the audience. It is a monumental canvas of vibrant, sensual dance that provided the most effective contrast to the “twee” opening to this programme of opposites.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s second programme – Autumn Celebration – continues at Sadler’s Wells until Saturday 27 October:
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