Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Cheltenham Everyman

Four-Scottish-Dances

In some ways I almost prefer ballet to plays. For someone who has been involved in the drama side of theatre, one way or another, since the age of sixteen, that may seem an odd thing to admit.

Between us at StageTalk Magazine we review in excess of 250 plays a year and I personally probably see fifty. Our mantra is “take the rough with the smooth” because, for every good play we see, we will have to sit through at least one that is not so good and, let’s be honest, often downright bad. It’s impossible to know in advance whether a performance will be good or bad, whatever its credentials.

However, there is an exception to the rule and that is dance. We regularly see half a dozen ballet companies and they are almost always consistent in their excellence. Foremost among these is the Birmingham Royal Ballet and last night’s performance at the Everyman demonstrated why this is so. I much prefer modern to classical ballet and, for me, this is where BRB excels.

Ballet is often, mistakenly, thought of as elitist, difficult and serious but, as last night showed, it can be a lot of fun too. The programme consisted of four short-ish pieces, two of which could be described as playful. First up was Kenneth MacMillan’s Solitaire, the first of Malcolm Arnold’s pieces for the evening. The whole thing was so resonant of the 1950s, from the backcloth, with its echoes of the Festival of Britain, to The Girl, beautifully danced by Arancha Baselga, who was almost like something out of a Fellini film or the French nouvelle vague. The other principals were all excellent, with the two pas de deux featuring James Barton and Tom Rogers and Laura Pukiss’s solo being the highspots of the piece.

Next up was the more reflective Monotones II to the familiar melancholic melodies of Eric Satie’s Trois gymnopédies, exquisitely danced by Jenna Roberts, Yauo Atsuji and Tom Rogers all in white. Jonathan Higgins played the piece beautifully on a grand piano in the pit.

It was back to fun for the start of the second half with Malcolm Arnold’s Four Scottish Dances, wittily choreographed by David Bintley. Reminiscent of Walton’s Façade it was full of humour, with the two be-kilted drunks being particularly hilarious. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was in superb form under the baton of Phillip Ellis.

The final piece was a much more sombre affair with the full company on stage for most of it, dressed all in black, save for a few bits of red on the girls’ frocks. To the haunting strains of Astor Piazzolla’s Argentinian music Tangos confirmed the strength of the ensemble, as well as featuring some fine solo work from Jenna Roberts and Mathias Dingman. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was on superb form throughout under the baton of Phillip Ellis.

My only criticism, and one I make reluctantly, is that the ensemble work was rather ragged at times and it is only this that stopped my giving the full 5 Stars. This did not really distract too much and Birmingham Royal Ballet is always a joy to watch. And, as I have said before, I look forward to seeing them with a sort of childish glee of which a man of my age should be ashamed. But I’m not, I love ‘em.    ★★★★☆     Michael Hasted      7th May 2016