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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!
We’ve posted a gallery of images from Checkmate on the Company Facebook page. Members of the network can click here to take a look and here’s a sample in the meantime!
Checkmate, part of our Autumn Glory triple bill, sees a range of chess pieces do battle across the stage, with the Red side watched over by the frail and vulnerable king, and the Black side led by a fierce and dangerous queen.
Here you can see two clips of stage rehearsals for Checkmate, in which Iain Mackay dances a solo as the Red Knight, and Victoria Marr performs a solo as the Black Queen.
Birmingham Royal Ballet performs Autumn Glory at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, this Tuesday and Wednesday, and at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, next Tuesday and Wednesday. Click on each venue name for details.
The Ballet Bag have posted a preview of our Autumn Glory triple bill which we dance in London this week and Plymouth the week after.
Of Symphonic Variations, they say: ‘The purity of Sir Frederick Ashton‘s Symphonic Variations showcases technical brilliance from a master choreographer. Danced to César Franck‘s piece of the same name, the ballet is a real tour de force for its six dancers and is rightly hailed as a masterpiece.’
Click here to read the whole preview, which also features a gallery of production images from all three pieces in the programme.
Here you can see Robert Parker performing the role of Captain Belaye in the bubbly comedic ballet Pineapple Poll, which the Company performs in London this week.
In the ballet, all of the townswomen are besotted with the Captain, although he’s blissfully unaware. All he’s noticed is that his crew – who are also trying to win the hearts of the local girls – are becoming increasingly annoyed with him!
For details of all of our current performances of Pineapple Poll, which forms part of our Autumn Glory programme, click here.
Just before the season began, Principal Matthew Lawrence updated his blog on ballet.co.uk, touching upon the trials of the current repertory.
‘We’re kicking off the year with some hard ballets. It’s a test for bodies of all ages. Forget ‘Zumba’, this is the ultimate full body workout: for calves, the role of Colas in ‘La Fille’; for thighs, try the Red Knight in ‘Checkmate’; for cardio, dance ‘Symphonic Variations’…
‘…rest assured, when the season does get out of the blocks, you’ll be in for an eclectic mix of physically exhausting ballets; harder than complete box -set of ‘Zumba’ workouts.’
Here you can see a video of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia – the orchestra of Birmingham Royal Ballet – in rehearsal for the ballet Pineapple Poll!
Pineapple Poll is one of the ballets in our 2011 autumn triple bill, which is appropriately enough entitled Autumn Glory. The other pieces in the programme are Symphonic Variations and Checkmate. You can find out more about Autumn Glory by clicking here.
It’s nearly time to hit the road again!
We’re performing Autumn Glory at Birmingham Hippodrome this week before going back on the road, visiting Sunderland, London and Plymouth!
This autumn we perform a triple bill of one-act ballets at Birmingham Hippodrome, Sadler’s Wells Theatre and the Theatre Royal Plymouth. Entitled Autumn Glory, it features Checkmate, Symphonic Variations and Pineapple Poll.
You can watch the trailer for the programme here:
Birmingham Hippodrome, 6-8 October 2011
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 18-19 October 2011
Theatre Royal Plymouth, 25-26 October 2011