Birmingham Royal Ballet are definitely on a roll at the moment. Over twenty years I’ve seen them grow from the Royal Ballet’s potentially Cinderella sister into a truly national and international company with regular British tours as well as visits as far afield as Japan and the USA, all through the strong leadership of their inspirational Director David Bintley.
This double bill is an homage to one the major figures in The Royal Ballet’s own history. Frederick Ashton was himself a former Director who could trace his choreographic heritage back to the days of the Ballets Russes. Between them he and Ninette De Valois made ballet thrive in Britain throughout the middle years of the twentieth century.
Yet Ashton’s ballet Daphnis and Chloe seemed a surprising choice from his great body of works, picked presumably because it had some similarity of structure to the second piece on offer and shows Ashton’s choreographic range, but somehow it just didn’t work.
Set in ancient Greece and filled with references to ancient Greek dance, this is a tale of a young man (Iain Mackay) who falls in love with Chloe (Elisha Willis) who is captured by pirates but returned safely to her lover thanks to the intervention of the god Pan. Sadly the Mackay/Willis partnership never really caught fire, he not ballet’s greatest actor and she often seeming a coldish fish in this anodyne exploration of a preposterous tale. Despite Ravel’s sumptuous score full of mystery and magic the whole thing came over as silly and rather camp. As an homage to Royal Ballet history it may deserve an occasional airing but the muted audience response to this nearly-hour long piece proved it had missed its mark.
But its companion piece The Love of Two Pigeons, another Ashton ballet I have previously considered rather fey nearly raised the roof. This was principally due to the astonishing character dancer Robert Parker whose vitality infused the entire proceedings with his own brand of lyrical realism. Its a simple story about a painter living in a Parisian garret who is painting his lady love (Nao Sakuma, responding beautifully here) but when a passing troupe of gypsy dancers are invited upstairs to entertain the girls of a local academy who just happen to have come to visit things get a bit out of hand and our boy finds he is powerfully attracted to the gypsy princess (Miss Willis again) and her rather shall we say wild charms.
From the very outset Mr Parker (looking about sixteen, incredibly about a decade younger than he looked last week) was totally the laddish lad who we could believe fancied a wild oats outing. But his visit to the gypsy camp leads to trouble with the men of the encampment and he’s forced to come back to his first love, tail between his legs. It’s silly, but lively and rather beautiful if you have the right dancers. There are some cute real doves too on whose graceful movements Ashton’s endless dance variations are based. This was a performance to treasure, and shows BRB at the top of their game, proving the Royal Ballet tradition is still very much alive by featuring some of the great dancers who have grown up in this wonderful company.
Spring Pleasures continues until tomorrow (March 3). For tickets phone the box office on 0844 338 5000 or go online at www.birminghamhippodrome.com.