Seeing Birmingham Royal Ballet is a rare treat. Luckily not too rare as they make regular visits to the Everyman in Cheltenham and their base, the Hippodrome in Birmingham, is not too far away. For their current visit they are performing three short pieces under the umbrella title of Les Rendezvous.
The evening opened with Les Rendezvous itself. With music by Daniel Auber and choreography by Frederick Ashton the piece is quite an old modern ballet. First performed in 1933 Les Rendezvous is set in a park, a French park I’m sure, with bright young things out for their sunny constitutionals and couples meeting for a bit of billing and cooing. It had a great deal of Seurat about it from the formal gardens on the backcloth to the spotty dresses worn by the girls. It was as though the action was taking place just off-camera in the painting La Grande Jatte. I don’t like the word ‘charming’ but that’s what Les Rendezvous was, and witty and spectacular as well.
The mood changed completely for the second piece. Kin, a brand new ballet which only received its premiere a couple of weeks ago, was dark and menacing. Set to the thrilling music of Phil Kline and choreography by Alexander Whitley, this was a superbly designed and lit short ballet with the dancers all in sombre black. In contrast to the other two pieces on the bill, Kin demonstrated that you don’t need to be pretty to be beautiful.
The evening finished with Elite Syncopations, Kenneth MacMillan’s good-time ballet to the jaunty music of Scott Joplin. Danced on a vast empty stage, the entire company sat around on wooden chairs taking it in turns to do their party pieces dressed in comical Victorian end-of-pier, music hall type costumes. The band was also on stage dressed up to the nines, entering into the spirit of things.
Elite Syncopations is an hilarious comedy which proves that ballet is not the twee, old-fashioned and … well, elitist entertainment that it is often thought to be.
For me, and I’m sure most of the packed audience, the high-spot was The Alaskan Rag number danced by Yvette Knight and James Barton. Heads were going where heads shouldn’t go and legs became potentially lethal weapons as Mr. Barton’s nerdy character demonstrated that to be a good dancer you need to do more than just look good in tights. This was a bit like watching a clown messing around on a high-wire – you’ve really got to know what you’re doing or someone is going to get hurt.
So, all in all a really spectacular evening. After seeing this nobody will ever say ‘ballet’s not for me’. Go and see Les Rendezvous, or any other Birmingham Royal Ballet modern dance programme, and see if I’m right. If I had six stars, that’s what I’d give it. I loved every minute ★★★★★ Michael Hasted