Posts Tagged ‘Birmingham Royal Ballet’

Mini-review – Aladdin – Birmingham Royal Ballet at London Coliseum

March 22, 2013

A new, full-length ballet is always a cause for celebration in this age of fiscal cutbacks, so I was excited that Birmingham Royal Ballet was bringing its production of Aladdin to London for all of us Big Smoke dwellers to see. Whee! What would David Bintley have on offer?

Well, one thing we did get was some awesome costumes and some really awesome sets. For me, the best part of the whole evening was when my favorite set (the magic cave, complete with color changing, glowing stalactites) met the greatest variety of costumes, producing the best set of dances … a new set of “Jewels,” as dancers representing the treasures of the Djinn swirled and capered around the open-jawed Aladdin (and then dropped a few gifts into his turban). My favorite was gold and silver, the men (William Bracewell and Tom Rogers) looking like incarnations of Louis XIV, the women (Yvette Knight and Yijing Zhang) with silver half-moons on their heads reminding me of Renaissance paintings of Artemis. I also enjoyed the exoticism of the Rubies duet (Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley) – it had a nice feel of many of the Arabian/Coffee sequences from The Nutcracker.

Also a pleasure to watch was Tzu-Chao Chou as The Djinn of the Lamp, a role which gave him, not just the opportunity to fly around with smoke in the air, but lots of opportunity for spins and leaps and general displays of virtuousity. I don’t mean to sound too shallow, but I am in serious admiration of the very flattering costume he was wearing – the cut of the legs fluttered nicely, adding to the sense of motion.

While the plotting of the ballet was good and did not descend into Panto silliness (Aladdin meets evil magician; Aladdin is taken to cave and locked in; Aladdin escapes with help of lamp, marries local princess; princess inadvertently trades old lamp for new and is kidnapped by magician; Aladdin uses his wits to set everything right, unless you are the evil magician; triumphal scene in palace), I found the thing felt a bit like a pastiche of dance as well as music, and lacked a unifying driving force to it. I do enjoy spectacle, and we got both a lion dance and a dragon dance, as well as great animated puppets (showing the princess, Djinn and evil magician in the sky), but I wanted something more. Would a strong score have made a difference? Is Bintley’s strength in choreographing shorter ballets? I couldn’t make up my mind at the end of the night where the fault lie. I enjoyed myself enough, but I wanted greatness, and this was not achieved.

(This review is for a performance that took place on the night of Thursday, March 21st, 2013. It continues at the London Coliseum through March 24th; bargain seats might be found on the day at the TKTS booth; I got stalls seats for £25!)

Good deal – half price tickets for Opposites Attract and Autumn Celebration – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

October 22, 2012

I haven’t been putting a lot of theater deals on here lately but I had to point this out: the Metro has a half priced deal for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s two programs at Sadler’s Wells this week – “Opposites Attract” and “Autumn Celebration.” “Opposites Attract” is a pure mixed rep with choreography by Jessica Lang, Hans van Manen, and David Bintly (a Dave Brubeck tribute); “Autumn Celebration” has the much awaited Bintley Olympics inspired “Faster” and Ashton’s “The Dream” and a third piece.

Note that while Birmingham Royal Ballet is performing from Tuesday October 23rd through Saturday October 27th, the half priced deal is only good through Thursday the 25th (the first day of the Faster/Dream bill), so if you want to use it you’d better get moving. Either book only with code pcdcelebrate or call the box office and quote the “Celebrate the City” offer. It’s only available on top priced tickets, so from 40 quid to 20 (less for the Weds matinee). Good luck and enjoy!

Mini-review – Nutcracker – Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Hippodrome and the O2 Arena

December 26, 2011

I have three traditions every Christmas: I see a new version of a Christmas Carol, I see a panto, and I see a new version of the Nutcracker. This year, Birmingham Royal Ballet was the designated dance company, as I’d never seen the Peter Wright choreography and have really been enjoying the quality of this group’s work. They’re bringing it to the O2 arena in London as I write this, but I knew I wasn’t going to be around to see it then thanks to having Christmas plans that involved going back to the States. So on the first Saturday of December I headed out, bright and early, for my first ever trip to Birmingham – with tickets bought well in advance for a sold-out performance.

It was an easy walk to the theater, and I was pleased to see an outpost of my beloved Red Hot Szechuan restaurant practically next door – the Hippodrome is right next to Chinatown so lunch options are numerous. The theater was interesting – inside, a lovely old music hall era building, but the external audience services areas were all very modern, leading me to suspect an add-on at some point.

This review isn’t going to go into a lot of detail about the dancing as I didn’t take explicit notes, but is more a record of the differences between this Nutcracker and others. First, the role of Clara is played in both acts by an adult – in this case Carol-Anne Millar, whom I’ve taken a shine to since seeing her in “Pineapple Poll” last October. This means that the dancing in Act One is generally much better quality than any show relying on a child principal – so much better to put an adult in a girlish dress and let her dance skill show through! Interestingly, the focus of this ballet is much less on, as I call it, “Clara’s awakening to adulthood,” to the world of love instead of the love of dolls; a situation which means she does very little dancing with the prince in Act 2 and turns all of it into an extended dream sequence. I was also taken with the costuming for the party in Act 1 – the various mothers all have dresses which, despite having very modern colorings to them, are attractively cut in a Victorian way (circa 1870-1888) that I found very enjoyable for my inner geek.

Act one was actually not particularly memorable (rather a lack of some expected elements such as the clock, and little was made of Clara participating in the battle of the mice). Really, it never is, but I found the general tenor of the dance was enjoyable and the Harlequin and Columbine that Drosselmeier brought were a bit more “real people under an evil spell” than usual. Things started to crank up (as usual) when Clara is finally transported to Sugar Plum land, where instead of just having snowflakes dancing around the Snow Fairy (Yijing Zhang), we got four very yummy men getting in on the action and adding a lot of zest with powerful leaps – these being the “four winds.” Where the idea came from, I’ll never know, but in terms of taking some fairly “yeah I’ve seen this before” section of the ballet and giving it real freshness, this was a big success of Wright’s choreography. Go team BRB!

Act two was the suites and the waltz of the flowers. Each “suite” had a bit that allowed Clara to participate, whether following along, fanning herself, or wearing silly hats. Of the group, I was smitten with the Arabian dance, which had an odalisque (Celine Gittens) borne aloft by three male attendants (Brandon Lawrence, Bejamin Soerel, Tyrone Singleton) and dancing so very sensually that I was convinced the true potential of this music had finally been reached. Sadly, the effect was broken almost immediately by the Chinese dance, which was performed in yellow-face. I was mortified. Are there really so few East Asians in England that this can somehow seem acceptable? I would propose that, if BRB wants to put dancer who are clearly recognizable as being from, say, China, on stage, that perhaps they should look at using Chinese Opera makeup instead of this horrible racist slap that does no favors to the company, the dancers, or to the message it sends about racism. It’s 2011, guys, get with the program.

Clara’s non-romance means the grand pas de deux at the end of the Waltz of the Flowers lacks the kind of emotional punch it would have had if it had been Clara and her prince, but as it stands, the work as a whole is very enjoyable and I think a strong Nutcracker, less fluffy than the Royal Ballet’s although with less emotional impact than theirs. I’d consider it worth seeing again, and I hope it’s a grand success at the O2 when they make it there this week.

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 3rd, 2011. It will be performed at London’s O2 arena December 27-30, 2011.)

Great deal – Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutracker at the O2 arena – £55 tickets for £17

December 9, 2011

I travelled to Birmingham to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker (choreography by Peter Wright) and loved it. But you don’t have to because they’re bringing it to the O2 Arena in London. Per the email I got from Travelzoo, the details are:

•Save £38 on tickets to see Birmingham Royal Ballet perform this magical Christmas show
•Or, book seats worth £35 for just £12
•Perfomances take place at The O2 on 27-30 December
•The Former “X Factor” winner Joe McElderry will open the performance with Christmas songs

For full details, please go to the Travelzoo site.

Review – Autumn Glory (Checkmate, Symphonic Variations, Pineapple Poll) – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

October 21, 2011

The Birmingham Royal Ballet opened their fall visit to London with a series of ballets that were a treat of historical information – ballets by the great and the good of years gone by, that I’d mostly only ever known by images (“Ooh, look at those hats!”) or reputation (“What, you say there’s a ballet done to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan?”). I’ve seen a fair amount of Ashton (represented in this case by his “Symphonic Variations”), but I was burning with curiosity over Ninette de Valois’s “Checkmate,” which has some of the strangest costumes I’ve ever seen (excepting some of the Surrealist designed ones done for Diaghilev). And “Pineapple Poll,” well, I’d seen a version of it done by Spectrum Dance in 2004 (with choreography by Donald Byrd), but I anticipated that this one would also be a good time.

In practice, Checkmate won the prize for weird classic ballet of the year. While the movements of the various chess pieces were supposed to be stylized versions of their actual allowed movements in the game, I was not able to see this. Instead, I was caught up in drama and metaphor, as the seductive Black Queen (Victoria Marr) went from terrorizing to enticing the Red Knights (Iain Mackay and Jamie Bond), dropping their guard enough that she was able to pull Iain in for a kill. The queen’s rattling of her daggers and bum-shaking was almost insect-like; she was certainly menacing and a most unique (ballet) character as a deadly female. Unfortunately I found myself spending more time thinking about what it all “meant” rather than enjoying the movement. (It seemed to me to be warning of the rise of the forces that would lead to World War II; I assumed the gentle but weak “reds” were supposed to be England.) The aesthetic pleasures were most certainly there, but I hadn’t actually come (I promise!) to ogle the very handsome male dancers. The use of poles was fascinating, however, from grills to put dead pieces on to traps (when surrounding the checked Red King (Jonathan Payn)) to simply the linear effect they had on stage (very good with the graphics of the drop) – it was a most unique effect. However, unfortunately, I don’t feel this piece reached me either through dance or generated emotion – it seemed very much like an intellectual effort and one that hadn’t aged well.

“Symphonic Variations,” by Ashton, failed to make almost any impression on me at all. Three men in white, toga-like half-shirts (phoar!) paired three women in white with pleated, short skirts (design Sophie Fedorovitch); and while I loved Cesar Franck’s piano music (thank you Jonathan Higgins!) I was only able to think of Balanchine’s “Apollo,” which I’ve frequently groused about for being too silly and male ego-centric. However, I felt Balanchine’s choreography glowed like a sun, and Ashton’s was a pale moon beside it – not Diana so much as Phobos. Chi Cao was a strong lead and great partner to Natasha Oughtred, but … I found the choreography forgettable even if I was having a bit of a Chippendale’s experience as I sat blushing in my chair.

Next up was “Pineapple Poll,” and as the curtain rose on a cartoony set painted to look like an 1830s port town, my heart sunk a bit; it looked like I was in for 45 minutes of twee. A bevy of ladies came in and danced with young men dressed as sailors; some drama developed as the pub lackey (Tzu-Chao Chou, officially credited as “Jasper the potboy”) showed clearly he was in love with Pineapple Poll (Carol-Anne Millar), a “bumboat woman” (this appears to be a person who makes a living selling stuff to people who live on ships). But then Captain Belaye (Robert Parker) showed up, the women started swooning over him … and Birmingham Royal Ballet exploded in a festival of fantastic dancing and expressive acting that made me completely lose track of my critic’s notebook. The girls were a series of faints and flutterings, the boat’s crewmen were angry and boisterous, the simpering fiancee, Blanche (Arancha Baselga), a hoot … at the time I thought it was just a case of good choreography but in fact it was the cast that took the structure and covered the whole thing with ribbons and fun. Just like in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, it’s not just one or two good leads that make the show, it’s everyone in the cast giving it 100% and acting like they, too, could be the full focus of someone’s attention at any given moment. Millar was amazing, a real comic genius, so expressive with her body. She owned the stage when she was on it and is now on my top list of ballerinas to arrange my show schedule around. But everyone was just so very good in this show and there’s no doubt for me it was the highlight of the night. Thanks, guys, for another marvellous evening out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 at Sadler’s Wells. It was repeated on October 19th. For a five star review of the alternate cast, see Clement Crisp; Mark Monahan’s less excited review is here.)

Half priced deal for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new Cinderella at London Coliseum – 2011

March 24, 2011

Today the Metro published a half priced deal for tickets to the Birmingham Royal Ballet‘s new production of Cinderella while it’s at the London Coliseum this spring (March 29- Saturday April 2nd, 2011). There isn’t a lot of availability on key dates (i.e. no stalls seats on Friday April 1st), but it is good for every evening show on every level of seats except for the £10 ones. This is really an outstanding value – an excellent company and no being forced to buy top priced seats!

Details are: either call the ENO box office (0871 472 0800) and quote the Metro offer or go to this page for details (basically use the code “buttons” on the page showing the seats you selected), pick your seats and off you go!

Review – Romeo and Juliet – Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

October 13, 2010

As the first ballet I’ve been able to see in London since the Bolshoi departed for pastures snowy in August, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet was very high on the excitement level. I consider this company very accomplished and had high expectations for their performance of a ballet I love, with its striking Prokofiev score and deeply emotional story.

Unfortunately, BRB failed to deliver, a problem which I’ll attribute greatly to the Kenneth Macmillan choreography, which I had not seen before*. It was full of over-dramatic movement: arms held high in grief a la Laurencia; women standing in heavily curved positions meant to look like Renaissance painting; the maneki-neko hands of the Capulet court ladies I found the gestures and posturing grating, unnatural, off-putting, and occasionally comic. The simplistic sword fighting was at least fun and active; but the mannerized, stiff choreography that filled most of the night left me flat and seemed an incredible waste of a great score. The “Dance of the Capulets” was forgettable – an outrage! – and while Romeo (Iain Mackay) and Tybalt (Robert Parker)’s power struggle during the second iteration of this bit of music was interesting, the dances themselves were … overly complex and indigestible.

On the positive side, our lead characters (Jenna Roberts as Juliet) had great chemistry, stage presence, and acting skills. Juliet was fluid and charming; her Romeo was utterly devoted and star-struck. However, Iain Mackay once again displayed a painful inability to manage overhead lifts, even in scene one, when he should have been at his strongest; he needs to be sent for remedial weight training stat.

My complaints end with a sort of sadness about the lack of emotional impact this ballet had on me. I remember seeing the bedroom scene – as done by Kent Stowell of Pacific Northwest Ballet, of all people – leaving me damp-eyed and reminding myself “These are dancers playing fictional characters! There is nothing to be sad about here!” but this Romeo and Juliet left me with none of that. Instead, I grew impatient for this very long ballet to simply end, hoping (at around 10 PM) that Romeo would make his appearance and get on with offing himself. Admittedly, Roberts was the floppiest dead “star-cross’d lover” I’d ever seen – but I felt no pain for her or Romeo in the final scene. And I really want that, a chance for a good weep, not just an opportunity to ooh-aah over lovely costumes; and, unfortunately, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production denied me this pleasure. Bah. On to “Pointes of View” on Friday, which I’m sure I will find far more satisfying.

*Seriously, why the hookers? It’s not in the original and it adds an unnecessary layer of smarm to the ballet. Prostitutes dancing with Montagues is one of the least attractive additions to a known story ballet I’ve ever seen.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, October 12, 2010. The show continues through Thursday, October 14th. For a different point of view, see Graham Watt’s review on LondonDance.com.)

Metro half-price offer: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at Coliseum

April 13, 2010

Another great dance deal today: half price tickets (£60/£50 tickets for £30/£25) for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at London Coliseum (April 20-24). Either call 0871 472 0800 and quote “Celebrate the City Offer,” or go to www.eno.org and enter “pcdcelebrate” when prompted.

£10 for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at the London Coliseum

April 1, 2010

Travelzoo brings a deal today for £10 for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty” at the London Coliseum: £10 for remaining Balcony seats (usual price £20-£25) for performances 20-24 April 2010, excluding the matinee on Saturday, 24 April. Book by 9 April. Full details here. (Quote “Ballet Offer” on the phone, use promotional code “pcdballet” on the Sadler’s Wells website.)

Best London theater, 2009

December 19, 2009

While I’ve still got three more shows before the season’s entirely over, I feel confident that I can now get the “what was the best” posts out of the way (complete list of shows here, grand total estimated to be 116). Best dance, best musical/drama are my categories, as well as a few special celebrations and a shaming here and there. Read on …

Discovery of the year: the Southwark Playhouse. A Midsummer Night’s Dream at this small and atmospheric venue blew me away; the shows I’ve seen since have been of mixed quality (the recent and continuing Christmas Carol was a treat to be sure) but never made me feel financially cheated. Generally worth going to “just for the heck of it.” Now, mind you, Royal Court has been crowned “The New Donmar” (affordable prices, adventurous programming) and I’m planning on buying something akin to the entire spring season there, but it was hardly a discovery; it just became noticeable for its greatness this year.

Overdone gimmick of the year: “event” theater with movie or TV celebrities. Please, let’s have less of the classics being butchered by people who can’t act at extravagant prices. I realize this is probably singlehandedly responsible for the fantastic income London theater is experiencing this year, but good theater is not just about filling seats. I feel like seeing Jude Law/David Tennant/Keira Knightly on stage gets people to go just so they can say “ooh ah I was in the same room as INSERT NAME HERE” and does little to encourage the creation of good shows. The Donmar deserves an especial drubbing for going so mad for celebrity casting in their West End season – and what a horrible mistake to waste Judi Dench in that Mishima dog they put on.

Dance performance of the year: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “E=MC2” (full discussion here) I saw the Royal Ballet many times this year and they just weren’t doing anything this exciting – not really helping the cause of getting ballet into the 21st century and recruiting new audiences so much as sticking with tried and tried and tried and true (“Mayerling” twice in two years, please!). I also give BRB points for “best new story ballet of the year” even though I don’t think Cyrano was new and I don’t think I saw any other new story ballet this year (even though I do try to go see them when I can – well, okay, there was the Wuthering Heights ballet but it seemed more like a thought than a story).

Painful lesson of the year: modern opera, I really shouldn’t bother. Die Tote Stadt, Into the Little Hill, Grand Macabre; I really want to support new opera but unfortunately I think it’s almost entirely unmusical, like it’s designed by academics to adhere to certain structures and generally not to be musical in any way.

Musical of the year: the nominees were: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical*; Company; Forbidden Broadway; (the all male) Pirates of Penzance; Silence the Musical. After tossing and turning, debating the hysterical brilliance of Silence (full of hummable, if utterly rude, tunes) and the extravagant, seedy intensity of Pirates, I’ve decided the award goes to … Pirates, which made an arthritic script come to life in a way I truly did not think possible. Rumor has it it’s going to be reprised at Wilton’s Music Hall this spring, though unfortunately I can’t find any information about it on their calendar. That said, Silence: the Musical is going to be done again at the Above the Stag theater – don’t miss out as there’s really little reason for it to be staged again so soon and it really is a hoot.

Best theater blog: I’m not going to list the ones I read (mostly because it’s a short list), but once again the West End Whingers have proven to have the blog that gets me the right hot tips on what shows to see. Sometimes it was a show I’d unimaginatively rejected; sometimes it’s a show I never heard of; almost always it was a show that was on the verge of becoming unattainable. It’s even better now that they have a Twitter feed: getting a line from them to “buy your tickets for Jerusalem now” will send me immediately to my computer. Every now and then we utterly disagree on a show; but mostly they are like having my own private theatrical pimp. I like that.

Show of the year: the nominees were: Entertaining Mr Sloane; Kursk; The Mountaintop; Enron; Cock. (Note absolutely nothing from the Donmar this year, for shame). In a year in which great shows were thin on the ground in comparison to the volume of productions being cranked out, this wasn’t nearly as competitive as I was hoping it would be. Still, I’ve weighed the best of the year (that I saw), and it’s clear: not only as best production but also as best script, Mike Bartlett’s Cock blew me away. Each performance was perfect; the close confines made it all that more intense; the words were exactly what they should be. It’s a damned shame it sold out so fast, but such good theater should never experience a single unoccupied seat for even one night. I can’t imagine it being remounted elsewhere without watering down the impact of seeing this in the round in a tiny (80 person?) house, but this was really just a tiny drop of perfection in a year that was otherwise a bit of a desert.

Right, that’s it for me: 116 shows in one year was probably about thirty more than I should have seen. I don’t even think I’m capable of remembering who the best actor and actress even were anymore. Next year, I’m hanging up my hat and taking it easy; I want 2010 to be a year when I see less shows and more that I like. This will require waiting until the reviews come in so I can more easily identify the productions that will suit me, and might mean that I miss a few that sharper people snapped up sooner – but I think it’s probably the way to go. Even sticking to a budget like I try to do, this year was taxing on my wallet as well as my sleep schedule. See you in the second balcony …

*Actually, Priscilla was never a contender for me. I just put it in there because it seemed like it should have been, especially given how expensive it was.


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