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The new ballet season’s under way at last and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s begun with a banging triple bill. Director David Bintley’s an expert at these taster sessions – if you’ve never been to the ballet before he’s determined to please every possible taste. He safeguards the precious Royal Ballet repertoire but always pushes ahead by giving masterclasses in world choreography.
So the first offering was prime Royal Ballet history, Kenneth Macmillan’s Concerto, set to Shostakovich – very chic at present (I’m desperately trying to catch up by listening to the symphonies in the car) in which a host of vibrant youngsters celebrate life dressed in a nostalgic palette of nasturtium colours, russet, glowing orange, egg-yolk yellow. Jonathan Higgins’ staccato piano made an astringent foil to the poignancy of this young exuberance, starting with a lovely march of joy and ending with the whole company gyrating in sheer celebration of the joy of living.
John Cranko’s The Lady and The Fool, next, was a sort of fifties pastiche – a mock-eighteenth century ball in which a lot of lovelies compete for a Prince Regent type, an oily foreign spiv and a dashing sergeant. Camp as next door’s curtains, (the net mills of Britain must have been on overtime to dress it), this froth was only partly redeemed by the star partnering of Nao Sakuma and Cia Cao.
But I’ve seen American Twyla Tharp’s 1992 ballet In The Upper Room before and just didn’t get it. Now I’m glad to admit I have somehow become sophisticated enough to begin to understand part of its true brilliance. To Philip Glass’s imminent, prescient minimalist score the young guns of the company in stripes (prison pyjamas?) jog, conjoin, react, interact, go away, reappear, make pairs and patterns, materialise and then disappear into fog. That’s all there is. They do this, then they do that. Stuff happens. Then they do that and then they do this. It is nothing, and everything, it’s life, hard to seize, obvious, speeded up, put on a stage for us recognize or not, to value or dismiss, brilliant, heartbreakingly beautiful, sublime. This is the single best thing I’ve seen so far this year. P.S. For fans, Robert Parker’s in it as well.
So if you’ re up for something good, something silly, new, astonishing, see the show, which runs until September 25.
For tickets phone the box office on 0844 338 5000 or go online at www.birminghamhippodrome.com.
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