Our autumn tour came to a close last week. Once more our Autumn Glory programme continued the triple-bill tradition of polarising opinion, with critics, bloggers and tweeters all picking a different one-act ballet as their favourite. And, like last year, we have once again gathered together a selection of your thoughts and opinions. Links through to the full reviews and posts appear where available.
Of the three individual pieces, Checkmate received the most mixed reviews. Zoë Anderson for the Independent wrote that it was ‘a strong revival, with clean technique and bold lines.’ Clement Crisp of the Financial Times wrote that ‘seen on the stage for which it was intended, the choreography’s manoeuvres were grandly effective’, awarding the whole programme five stars, while Graham Watts for Londondance.com reported: ‘It is always a pleasure to be reacquainted with this touchstone of British ballet, and a delight that this limited remnant of de Valois’ choreography (only 4 of her 200 works have survived since the 1950s) remains in such good condition.’
Some critics, however, felt that the piece itself had not stood the test of time. ‘If Symphonic and Poll still look as fresh as spring daisies, Checkmate …is more of an elegantly pressed flower these days.’ said Mark Monahan in the Telegraph, while Luke Jennings for the Observer described it as ‘a revered heritage piece. So revered, in fact, that its turgid pace and heavy-handed choreography tend to be overlooked’. Clifford Bishop for Thisislondon.co.uk even suggested that ‘Checkmate might be more impressive without the dancing’.
There was great praise for Symphonic Variations. ‘The complete lack of extraneous material or adornment made it an intensely moving experience’ wrote Maggie Watson for Oxford Dance Writers, while Clement Crisp declared ‘Hand on heart, I must declare that I have never been so affected by this masterpiece since I saw its premiere.’
‘Worth the whole Triple Bill’ wrote Mark Ronan on his own blog. ‘The six [dancers] must function perfectly together, almost as if they were a corps de ballet, though the choreography is not remotely corps de ballet material.’
‘twenty minutes of sheer bliss,’ wrote G.J.Dowler for The Classical Source. ‘…The six dancers delivered this fiendishly challenging choreography with real style and care. Yes, this work is precious and stands at the very pinnacle of the achievements of ballet in this country, but, like the most treasured Stradivarius, it must be played to come alive. It is not a museum piece, but a living dance work which requires the oxygen of performance.’
The stripped-back production – and the classical-Greece-influenced leotards – were not to everybody’s tastes, however. ‘I found the choreography forgettable even if I was having a bit of a Chippendale’s experience as I sat blushing in my chair,’ wrote webcowgirl on her own blog. However Clifford Bishop on Thisislondon.co.uk summarised it simply as: ‘a dance in which, strictly speaking, nothing happens, and doesn’t happen so beautifully that you wish it would never end.’
Pineapple Poll proved a suitably show-stopping conclusion to the programme. ‘A whirligig of colour and action’ wrote Neil Norman in the Stage, while his review for the Express added that it was ‘one of the maddest things I have ever seen.’ G.J.Dowler agreed with him: ‘Pineapple Poll is, quite simply, barking mad,’ he wrote, ‘a silly concoction to a silly story – but it is adorable, funny and highly enjoyable.’
‘Birmingham Royal Ballet exploded in a festival of fantastic dancing and expressive acting that made me completely lose track of my critic’s notebook’, wrote webcowgirl. ‘At the time I thought it was just a case of good choreography but in fact it was the cast that took the structure and covered the whole thing with ribbons and fun.’
The Telegraph’s Mark Monahan agreed (‘pitch-perfect. … precisely the sort of lively tale that you expect them to embrace, and embrace it they do’) as did Baker Bryony (‘a joyful end to the trio.’) and Mark Ronan (‘all huge fun’…’for sheer exhilaration and the ability to tell a story in dance this is as good as it gets.’)
Luke Jennings for the Observer, however, wasn’t keen, writing: ‘Presumably, like Checkmate, the piece has been revived for heritage reasons and although it’s an equally creaky vessel, and unlikely to appeal to anyone under 50, the dancers get solidly behind it.’
‘Overall Autumn Glory is evidence of a retrogressive, inward-facing artistic policy,’ he continued. ‘Time, surely, for a change of course.’
‘We ignore history at our peril,’ countered Clement Crisp, describing the programme as a whole as ‘an evening to remind us of the identity of the Royal Ballet (and its Birmingham sibling), of what Dame Ninette called “the English ballet”, and of where it came from.’
Graham Watts voiced similar feelings for Londondance.com: ‘Ninette de Valois believed that any national ballet company must maintain a repertoire that – amongst other qualities – reflects “the spirit of its native land” and I congratulate BRB for keeping this laudable intention alive and in such very good health.’
Falling between the two camps, Mark Monahan wrote: ‘I’d have chosen another work to start the evening, then, but it’s still a highly recommendable bill overall.’
Elsewhere the performances were praised by Zoë Anderson for the Independent (‘It’s a terrific programme, danced with care and confidence.’) and Jessica Wilson for TheatreFix (‘With another eclectic programme, Birmingham Royal Ballet yet again set the bar with Autumn Glory with commendable talent and precision’). The musicians were equally lauded for their performances, as were the designers of the three pieces. ‘I particularly mention the three designers,’ wrote Graham Watts, ‘since their timeless contribution to these three works is as vital to their ongoing longevity as the choreography itself.’ The Guardian’s Judith Mackrell also praised, ‘some of the repertory’s most stunning decors: the elegantly balanced, scintillating palette of E. McKnight Kauffer; the limpid visionary abstraction of Sophie Fedorovitch and the wickedly droll, cartooning energy of Osbert Lancaster.’
Thank you to everyone who took the time to support our shows by sharing your opinions on-line!