Review: On Their Toes! @ Birmingham Hippodrome

With this Triple Bill I realise that BRB Director David Bintley is trying to teach us a lesson. He can seem an enigmatic force who never spells anything out, but his message here is clear. Birmingham Royal Ballet is now a world-class outfit, and this show amply demonstrates that its performances are executed by some of the hottest players in world theatre today. The fact that BRB have just come back from a triumphant tour of North America and are off to China and Japan very soon only serves to underline this view.

The evening’s first offering showed just how far Balanchine could push classicism and also his fatal weakness, his plotless movement here appearing little more than a beautiful creative dead end. Theme and Variations, set to Tchaikovsky’s music is an endless finale for a great, unwritten nineteenth century ballet such as The Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake, but here Balanchine leaves us with only a regretful desire to see those masterpieces again. A sly opener, not really hitting the spot by relying on showy athleticism that seemed lovely if meaningless, whetting the appetite nonetheless.

But the second offering, Grosse Fuge to Beethoven’s powerful score woke me and everyone else in the audience up, big time. New to me, Hans van Manen’s choreography gave us a multiple take on the physicality of courtship rituals in which four fit young men posture before four nubile young charmers who then hold them to romantic ransom before acquiescing in what Mother Nature dictates they inevitably do. The (almost literal) climax of its triumphal third movement drew powerful applause and could have successfully ended there but perversely went on into a fourth which seemed somehow to lose focus, dissipating the exquisite tension previously built up. Less can be more, but van Manen is definitely one to watch. Some great new talent was showcased here too, although the almost identical torsos of the dancers hinted again at just how tyrannous the quest for balletic perfection can become.

But the last item of this triple bill was – well, stupendous, exhilarating? I’ve actually run out of words. Even as I write, it still seems to have been quite literally mind-blowing. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, again the work of choreographer George Balanchine, music by Richard Rogers, is a sort of balletic mini-Guys and Dolls and here the speed, the tension, the perfection of its artifice meant that it seemed to pass in one long exciting moment and at its end the audience quite literally would not let the curtain stay down.

But its real pinnacle of allure for regulars was that it starred the one and only Robert Parker who left to pursue an aviation career in the U.S. and just had to come back. BRB insiders tell me he is now considered too old for the biggest roles but the truth is blatantly obvious. His incomparable acting skill, his rhythmic elasticity, his blokey charm here recalling Gene Kelly, his effortless springbok tap combined here to make him simply one of the greatest living exponents of his art. Here we were treated to a master class in his exact, joyful, exuberant creativity. In short  – the King is Back, and Bintley has retrieved his secret muse. An evening of near-perfection, a show to treasure and remember, quite simply the best night I’ve had in the theatre so far this year.

On Their Toes! Runs until Saturday runs until June 19. For tickets phone the box office on 0844 338 5000 or go online at www.birminghamhippodrome.com.

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1 Comment

  1. Julie Kaine

    19th June, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Yes, a fabulous evening at the ballet. Three very diverse acts, each with their own mood and effects. The first could have been from Swan Lake, even 4 little swans coming to the front of the stage at one point to perform a pas-de-quatre. The second I liked the least but I brightened when the Speedos came out and the torsos rippled! The third was a joy, Copacabana crossed with Guys and Dolls and the 3 policemen who danced to Three Blind Mice were mesmerising! Great fun.