There was a gala feeling about this Birmingham Royal Ballet triple bill even before it began, a buzz of anticipation which proved to be spot on.
I always look forward to BRB’s Triple Bills, full of unexpected delights from their extensive heritage repertoire, but this programme exceeded all expectations.
At first sight La Fin du jour is a frivolous piece by Kenneth Macmillan about the history of design in perfect deco costumes, set to the music of Ravel. Sunbathing, la plage, leisure in general, calisthenics, athletics, in fact all sports following the doctrine of a healthy mind in a healthy body were part of the culture of the years between the wars.
But it ended badly as sunbathing gave way to sniping and the quest for perfection inherent in calisthenics became eugenics, evolving with horrifying swiftness into a holocaust of genocide. Here to an evocative score beautiful bodies paired, twisted, parted and pirouetted in the clinging, sexy and slightly gauche fashions that clothed the young bodies of nearly a century ago, making their future expectations all the more poignant in retrospect. We know only too well what was in store for them, making this evocation of their brief flowering all the more haunting, as science became a science fiction nightmare.
Miracle in the Gorbals is a legendary Robert Helpmann ballet, now rarely seen. in this World Premiere of Gillian Lynne’s powerful recreation, star dancer Ian Mackay plays the tortured Priest who is lured into sinning by the Prostitute (a transformed Elisha Willis who generally plays more ethereal roles), a Suicide (Delia Matthews) and a Stranger, a mysterious Christ–like figure powerfully evoked here by Cesar Morales.
Special mention must go to BRB veteran Michael O’Hare’s magical mime as the Beggar. Marvellously expressionist, this is a compelling dance-drama which it seems obvious is the forerunner of Bernstein’s West Side Story and deserves to be seen more often.
The evening’s final treat was BRB Director David Bintley’s Flowers of the Forest, a Scottish-themed ballet in two parts, Four Scottish Dances and Scottish Ballad.
The first half was lively featuring stereotypical and very vigorous versions of Scottish dancing, part two more sombre based on composer Britten’s pacifism, referring specifically to the deaths of the flower of Scottish youth on Flodden Field in 1513. I was surprised to notice Ian Mackay and Elisha Willis prominently featured here again in this very vigorous piece. I do hope they’re paying them enough!
This truly was a marvellous night, full of sophisticated surprises. The orchestra has never been better, seemingly entering a new era of tonal subtlety. Nor the costumes. Nor the lighting. What’s going on? They’ve always been great, but seriously, BRB seems even more assured, a Golden Age even for those who’ve been fans since they began.
This truly was a marvellous night, full of sophisticated surprises. If you want to treat yourself, buy a cheap seat, and if you don’t like it, well, you don’t have to go again. But trust me. You will.
Shadows of War runs at the Hippodrome until tomorrow (October 11). For tickets phone the box office on 0844 338 5000 or visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com.