Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet in Strictly Dancing at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 9-13 Oct 07
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 11 October 2007

9 Oct 07

Whenever the Birmingham Royal Ballet visits Sadler’s Wells it’s sure to be a special occasion since the company is returning to its birthplace. This homecoming celebration was intensified by a reunion of past members of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet (its former name).

Dancing for an audience of past generations of dancers must be an especially nerve-wracking experience, knowing that your performance will be compared to so many that have gone before. Given this added piquancy, the ensemble coped admirably with a diverse mixed programme that went under the generic title of *Strictly Dancing* a blatant attempt to capitalise on the TV programme of almost the same name – hopefully none of the paying customers were disappointed at the absence of Bruce, Bruno, Arlene and co.

The three parts of the programme were cleverly constructed to show the company’s many talents, from the pure classicism of 19th Century Petipa (*in the sole surviving extracts of his ballet, Paquita), through the modern American choreography of *Twyla Tharp to *Nine Sinatra Songs* and concluding with a one Act dose of Frederick Ashton’s work in his 1951 ballet, *Daphnis and Chloë*, often seen at the Royal Ballet and now newly acquired for its Birmingham sibling.

The company’s collective confidence shone through the precise technique required for Paquita with Chinese Principal, Chi Cao, effortlessly on top of the virtuosity required for the lead man. He soared into the super-league of elevations with crisp, clean beats and entrechats.

Tharp’s choreography is frequently too embellished for the smoothness of Sinatra’s voice. If there’s a count, then she has to fill it with extra leg twists, an added lift, or passing one body across another just once too often. Here is certainly a case of less would be more as the cool, laziness of Sinatra’s voice is peppered by frenetic movement. Only in Somethin’ Stupid- where the fast, breathlessness of Nancy Sinatra seems more appropriate to the steps; All the Way; and the final reprise of ‘My Way’ does the choreography and music seem to sit in harmony. Having said this, the company excelled with the material and even made some of Tharp’s more incongruous steps and lifts fit the seamlessness of “The Voice”.

Finally to _*Daphnis and Chloë* _one of my favourite one-Act ballets – and a performance that was clean and competent without hitting many heights; Iain Mackay and Elisha Willis danced their title roles well but – when required – the passion and terror were in short supply; and Ambra Vallo showed little evidence of the temptress in Lykanion. In terms of characterisation, only Dominic Antonucci impressed as the envious Dorkon and his dance duel with Mackay was excellently done.

My biggest disappointment was that the final ensemble revelry to Ravel’s stirring conclusion to the musical text was not the accelerating climax that I’ve been used to seeing in Royal Ballet performances. Still, it’s taken them over 50 years to reach that standard, so one should make allowances for the fact that BRB has been performing it for just a week!

I’m sure that the verdict of the former dancers at the post-performance reunion will have applauded today’s casts for conquering each of these demanding challenges, despite Tharp’s often over-elaborate steps tending to make even the best dancers appear clumsy from time-to-time.

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