Review – Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Quantum Leaps” Program – Sadler’s Wells


Last night’s Birmingam Royal Ballet “Quantum Leaps” program at Sadlers Wells was a real treat, delivering two knockouts after opening with a bit of a wiffle. “Powder,” a quasi-classical 1998 production featured dancers in jammies (bras and fluffy underskirts for girls, briefs for the men) carvorting to Mozart, opened the night. I found it dry and forgettable.

Far more exciting, and the real reason I’m trying to cram this review in today (so I can encourage perhaps one more person to go), is David Bintley’s “E=MC2,” and, to be perfectly honest, its twin (in terms of newness), Garry Stewart’s “The Centre and its Opposite.” I cheated and didn’t bother reading the program notes for E=MC2 (okay, I was gossiping so much that I didn’t have time), but simply the title was enough to be evocative for me. This is what I experienced, though I can’t guarantee it’s in perfect order as I was too excited to take notes very well:

First scene: the dancers, huddled in a ball under a low-hanging ceiling, have their arms extended a bit, their fingers twisting and turning like a flamenco dancer’s. Light slices across them; their costumes have blazes across their chests that catch the light. It’s like a primeval world; the dancers are like a big … I can’t help but think of an atom or a chunky molecule. The music is utterly modern but good, not too pretentiously atonal, really fresh sounding and exciting. The dancers break apart and shoot off around the stage, swirling around, sometimes bent over at the waist with their arms swinging from side to side, reminding me of the versions of “Rite of Spring” that have a ball of people enacting a ritual in the middle of the stage. A blonde woman and a man get to do a fair amount of duets and solos, and WOW can they move, very fleet of foot, very limber. At some point I realize I have stopped writing about the show in my head because I am completely caught up in the movement.

Second scene: six men, three women, moving together, generally slowly, sometimes doing a momement together, sometimes in sequence. The men handle the women very tenderly. I am amused by the women’s costumes, which remind me of the posters for Raquel Welch’s Two Million BC. I am imagining chemical processes taking place, expressed in the medium of dance.

Third scene: a bright red square in the sky, a woman in a white kimono holding a red fan. A deafening boom (this made me angry as I think it was at hearing damage level). Clear Hiroshima reference, the negatives of the secrets of the atom, the white referring to the Asian death colors. Unfortunately I’ve seen too much good and authentic Japanese dance to like this bit. Just a little more work with an expert choreographer (especially in relation to the movement of the sleeves) could have punched this way up as dance instead of being a pseudo-Oriental pastiche.

Fourth scene: atoms dancing in space! The back of the stage is covered with lights (round incandescent ones), and I can hardly see the dancers because of the glare – they are practically shadows, flitting and hard to focus on. The dancers run back and forth, they are beautiful, they are joyous. I am reminded of little atoms dancing on the surface of the sun – they can’t be concerned about morality, they are just pure existence, flicking electrons to each other, fusing, fissioning (?), arcing away from the glowing surface and back. A second blond woman takes the stage, lithe, quick-stepping, and she is smiling, they are all smiling, and as she catches her partner’s eyes and grins, I think, “My God, they are actually having fun.” And I was, too, utterly caught up in the moment. Who knows if my interpretations reflected the program notes, I was excited enough to see something so rich that it was able to spark all of those connections in my head!

WHEW. I figured after that was over, what really was left? But BRB returned with “The Centre and its Opposite,” another brand new piece. The choreographer (Garry Stewart, must make the effort to see his Australian Dance Theater now) said in his notes that it was about dancers fighting to be the center of attention, and, wow, I could barely decide where to look and I loved it. The whole thing was done to this awesome industrial music and performed against a set with florescent lights standing up in rows on the sides and back of the stage and hovering over the stage in a lowerable wall. If ever there was movement a ballerina or danseur could do to make himself noticed, in this piece they were doing it; legs flipped up to ears, leaps, twisting, flipping, every trick in the book was out. It wasn’t sloppy, though – the movement had focus and made sense. It had the wild electricity of the first time I saw “In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” and I wondered, is this what Forsythe would have created if he’d been a newish choreographer now instead of 20 years ago?

Overall, this night ended with two such power packed ballets that I was left gasping for air, my hair kind of standing on end like it did the first time I saw “Chroma” (and the first time I saw Forsythe). I have always thought BRB was a strong dance company, and this evening fully supported my decision to really make an effort to see them each and every opportunity I get. I am truly sorry I can’t go see this performance again, but I do have tickets for Cyrano, which they’re finishing out their turn at Sadler’s Wells; with half priced tickets available, there’s no reason not to go.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 10th 2009. The final performance of Quantum Leaps will be tonight, Wednesday October 11th. Birmingham Royal Ballet finishes at Sadler’s Wells with performances of “Cyrano,” ending on Saturday November 14th.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Quantum Leaps” Program – Sadler’s Wells”

  1. November Ballet Spectacular – Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty & Mixed Bill (Agon, Sphinx, Limen) « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] not? And with the highly touted presentation of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s newly choreographed “E=MC2″ (in their “Quantum Leaps” program) and the opportunity to see a fancy (and usually expensive) story ballet from the Opera House stalls […]

  2. Best London theater, 2009 « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] 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 […]

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