BRB Triple: E=mc2, Tombeaux, Still Life at the Penguin Café, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, October 2013Posted on 16 October 2013
After a 20-minute delay caused by computer problems — oh, for the days when stage equipment at Sadler’s Wells could be operated by hand — this excellent triple bill of David Bintley ballets proved well worth the wait.
In the first, Bintley uses Einstein’s equation E=mc2, expressing the equivalence of energy E and mass m, as a base for a four-movement work, with the third slow movement representing the awful truth of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The vibrant energy of the first movement contrasts with the powerful physicality of the second, and in the last movement, where c (celeritas meaning swiftness) refers to the speed of light, the dancing exhibits a wonderfully light airy quality.
The green outline of a square on the stage, and the square appearing on the backdrop, can be seen as representing the square in c2 (c squared). This huge number implies that a small amount of mass is equivalent to a vast amount of energy, and this hugely energetic ballet, to specially commissioned music by Matthew Hindson, forms a terrific start to an evening, before continuing with two ballets Bintley created when he was resident choreographer with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden.
The first of these, Tombeaux is his homage to Ashton and the classical heritage of the Royal Ballet, born out of a lament at its gradual loss. The choreography beautifully matches the limpid clarity of William Walton’s Variations on a Theme by Hindemith as couples part and come together again, and Momoko Hirata was superb as the principal ballerina, ably partnered by Joseph Caley. The opening scene shows a lovely tableau before a screen that lifts to reveal a world behind, and the backdrops, with their clever designs by Jasper Conran, lift one by one towards the end. After the dead trees vanish, and the stone mouth disappears we are in a blue-green of verdant growth that lies behind, giving new hope to the disillusionment caused by a vanishing world.
To end the evening, Still Life at the Penguin Café is a bundle of fun, its music by Simon Jeffes drawing on an eclectic mix of Charleston, ballroom, jazz, folk and Latin American, all superbly played under the direction of BRB’s principal conductor Paul Murphy. Despite the ‘Still Life’ in the title, this is full of glorious movement expressing the life and energy of now extinct animals, left behind in a changing world.
Among the excellent dancers on stage the first night, Angela Paul was intensely musical as the Utah Longhorn Ram, performing a lovely pas-de-deux with Iain Mackey, and the later pas-de-deux for Laura Day’s excellent flea with Jamie Bond’s Brazilian Woolly Monkey was a delight, he showing wonderfully fluid movements in his solo. I love the inventive choreography for the Texas Kangaroo Rat, so well danced by Tzu-Chao Chou, and as the Southern Cape Zebra, Chi Cao showed lithe power, like some primitive god with his stylish ladies.
In the end a building opens to welcome the dancers who enter it two by two, and in a final tableau we see Ruth Brill left on stage as the Great Auk (an extinct species of penguin), while an ark is seen behind holding everyone else. A wonderful work, epitomising the attitude that we can all survive if the god of wisdom carries the day.
Performances of this excellent triple bill continue at Sadler’s Wells on October 16, followed by Sleeping Beauty on 17, 18, and 19; then at the Theatre Royal Plymouth on October 29 and 30, again followed by Sleeping Beauty.