Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet – Autumn Glory @ Sadler’s Wells
For Birmingham Royal Ballet, performing at Sadler’s Wells is rather like returning home after a long trip away. Originally the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet began its expansive career and influence in the heart of London, only later venturing up to the city of Birmingham.
Autumn Glory begins with Ninette de Valois’s Checkmate (1937), a dramatic weave between lust and betrayal, characterised stylistically by the dancers as chess pieces. Valois, founder of the Royal Ballet Companies and School, created nearly 200 ballets throughout her career. She believed that a ballet company’s repertoire should in some way reflect the spirit of its native land. It appears therefore slightly strange that she chose such a non-British concept as a game of chess, yet British sensibilities are on very much on show with the First Red Knight (Iain Mackay) chivalrously reluctant to slay the Black Queen (Victoria Marr) – even despite the fact this leads to the Knight’s own death and the tragic ending of the ballet, fought between Love and Death (Angela Paul and Rory Mackay).
Unfortunately the grand narrative was not matched by particularly dynamic or passionate performances. Max Westwell, following his recent move from English National Ballet, shone as a Black Knight however, both in precision and dedication.
The second piece to be performed, Symphonic Variations (1946), choreographed by Frederick Ashton, is in direct contrast to Checkmate. The six virtuosic dancers perform beautiful and awe-inspiring movement with ease, and, with a simplistic design, the audience are free to fully appreciate such expressive.
An injection of infectious humour emerges with the final piece in the programme, John Cranko’s Pineapple Poll (1951). Full of entertainment and emotion, the piece is set to a musical backdrop of Gilbert and Sullivan. Adapted from The Bumboat Woman’s Story from W.S. Gilbert’s collection of poems The Bab Ballads, Pineapple Poll provides a healthy dose of slapstick comedy, with a female heroine and more love interest than the original narrative.
When the handsome Captain Belaye (Robert Parker) arrives in a town, all the town’s women, including Poll (Carol-Anne Millar), fall for his charms. Pineapple Poll’s lively movement is engaging, appealing greatly to the audience’s wits. In particular, the Captain’s solos combined ballet with a hornpipe dance, helping to showcase the unique talents of each dancer involved in this story of jest and finding love.
With another eclectic programme, Birmingham Royal Ballet yet again set the bar with Autumn Glory with commendable talent and precision in their ability to provide the goods for their audiences.
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Autumn Glory plays at Sadler’s Wells until 22 October and tickets start at £10.
Jessica Wilson TheatreFix Reviewer