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Review: Summer Celebration @ Birmingham Hippodrome

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s latest offering is one of their signature triple bills designed to display the company’s wide range of skills by reviving archive works from their repertoire and showcasing new creations. Summer Celebration turns out to be one of the most interesting programmes for some time.

The Grand Tour set to the music of Noel Coward was a sort of superior cabaret with an almost invisible storyline. Noel himself and a party of other ’twenties personalities (Gertrude Stein, George Bernard Shaw, Mary Pickford) share a transatlantic voyage on an art deco liner during the golden age of sail. Matthew Lawrence perfectly caught the languid elegance of Coward although Elisha Willis seemed a little too preoccupied and remote for his partner the fiery Gertrude Lawrence.

Joseph Caley was very funny as Douglas Fairbanks, Samara Downs hilarious as silent star Theda Bara in a spectacular Erte-inspired vamp outfit while Rory Mackay just about got away with a drag Gertrude Stein. But it was Victoria Marr as the shy American lady enjoying her one moment of glamour who really brought the piece alive. It’s a light-hearted soufflé of not too much but if this was your first time at the ballet its very lightness would leave you wanting more.

This was just as well because the world premiere of David Bintley’s new Olympic ballet Faster, (apparently he was banned from using the whole Olympic motto Faster Higher Stronger on commercial grounds) was rather more challenging. Featuring many of the company’s biggest stars it showed spectacularly physical ensemble work based on sporting activities from rugby to wrestling. The final sprinting section was almost exhausting to watch as the perfectly honed bodies of a couple of dozen A-list dancers visibly pushed themselves to the absolute limit. Like sport itself this was not at all about personalities, just bodies, but for newcomers especially it showed one more of the many faces of dance.

The evening’s final item, The Dream, was the longest (55 minutes) as well as the most effective. This is Frederick Ashton’s classical look at on the one of the bard’s most popular comedies and for once this midsummer night was actually hot as the opening sequence of blue tutu-clad dancers brought a cool moonlit magic to the stage. Mendelssohn’s famous score is witty and grand by turns and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia on top form made the very most of it. The big guns were pulled out as stylish favourites Chi Cao and Nao Sakuma danced their Oberon and Titania respectively while Matthias Dingman (definitely one to watch) was superb as the mischievous Puck. Jonathan Caguioa was hilarious as Bottom, at one point showing us a donkey dancing en pointe.

For me these triple bills are one of BRB’s greatest achievements, light, instructive, diverting – you’re always seeing something unexpected, so basically you get more bang for your buck.

Summer Celebration runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until tomorrow (June 30). For tickets phone 0844 338 5000 or go online at www.org.uk/Birmingham.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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