Quantum Leaps, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB at Sadler’s Wells, November 2009 — Powder, E=mc2, and The Centre and its Opposite


In this triple bill each work was a team effort, and the dancers performed superbly. The sequence of ballets was well-judged and made a great evening of dance.

The first item, Powder was a revival of a 1998 ballet by Stanton Welch, an Australian-born choreographer who is now artistic director of Houston Ballet. It’s a sensuous use of dance to accompany Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, completed shortly before his death. The seven couples were led by Natasha Oughtred and Robert Parker. She was beautifully musical, vulnerable and sexy, well supported by her partner, and by Victoria Marr and Ambra Vallo as the other principal girls. The costumes by Kandis Cook — tight shorts for the men, and long chiffon skirts with various satin bodices for the women — were admirably sensual, and the subtle lighting by Mark Jonathan was very effective. The long sweeping motions in the choreography made this work the gentlest of the three and the right one to start with.

The second ballet, named after Einstein’s equation E = mc2, was the main focus of the evening for me. It’s a new work by artistic director David Bintley, in four movements each with strongly rhythmic music specially commissioned from Australian composer Matthew Hindson. The first movement represents energy — the E in the equation — and was vibrantly physical. The energy represented here is the chaotic energy of the Big Bang, and I particularly liked the sextet of men, which showed immense power amid the rhythmic chaos. The second movement represents mass — the m in the equation — and is a complete contrast to the energy movement, reflecting the fact that we perceive mass and energy to be quite different, despite Einstein’s equation showing they are manifestations of the same thing. The sudden transformation of mass to energy informed the third movement, representing the dropping of two atomic bombs in World War II. This was demonstrated by powerful sound effects and a single white-faced dancer, Samara Downs in a kimono and with a large fan. Then came the fourth movement with a square array of lights on a screen at the back of the stage gradually becoming visible. This was the c2 of the equation — c being the speed of light. The choreography here was particularly inventive, extremely well performed, and fascinating to watch. There was no physical set, and changes of mood were signified by Peter Mumford’s clever lighting, with sudden shafts of light streaking across stage. Costumes by Kate Ford were different for each part, and I particularly liked those for the second movement with their sombre colours and black shorts for the men. Altogether this four-part ballet was a feast of ideas, and I look forward to seeing it again.

The final item on the programme — The Centre and its Opposite — was a new work by Garry Stewart, artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre. It was extremely physical with unusual movements not normally seen from a ballet company, and was performed to electronic music by another Australian, Huey Benjamin. There were unusual rhythmic elements in the music, as befits a composer who has performed widely as a drummer. The set comprised vertical light strips round the edges and horizontal ones above, designed by Michael Mannion, and the tight grey costumes with black hgihlights were cleverly designed by Georg Meyer-Wiel. The audience reaction to this last item of the evening was strongly positive, though I found the new ballet by David Bintley to be the most interesting item in the programme.

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