BRB Triple—Shadows of War: La Fin du Jour, Miracle in the Gorbals, Flowers of the Forest, Birmingham Royal Ballet, October 2014Posted on 9 October 2014
This triple bill is aptly titled, starting as it does with the bouncy laziness of a summer’s day in the 1930s before World War II, and ending with David Bintley’s excellent Flowers of the Forest, whose two parts contrast light with darkness, to music by Arnold and Britten.
The hedonism of La Fin du Jour to Ravel’s 1932 Piano Concerto in G major, well played by Jonathan Higgins, starts the evening with a slight buzz to the air, amply portrayed in Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography whose closing moments signify the end of an era. The sounds of war then greet us before the curtain rises on Miracle to show stylized images of a ship and cranes on the front drop. This is Glasgow’s Gorbals, a working area teeming with overcrowded tenements.
Miracle in the Gorbals, choreographed by Robert Helpmann in London in 1944, is now recreated 70 years later by Gillian Lynne who says, “there are very few of us left from that 1944 creation and not one of us remembers a step”. The original was a collaborative effort between Helpmann’s choreography, Michael Bentall’s scenario, Arthur Bliss’s music and Edward Burra’s designs followed here by Adam Wiltshire. Ms Lynne’s recreation, superbly lit by Peter Teigen, is wonderful. The atmospheric music by Bliss conducted by Paul Murphy gives added life to this dark tale involving a young woman’s suicide, a prostitute, a very nasty minister of religion, and a quietly charismatic stranger.
The Stranger, a Christ-like figure who brings the suicide back to life, excites extreme jealousy in the Minister who tries to set him up by describing the Prostitute as a sick woman needing help. The set-up initially incites the crowd against him until they see he has changed her life, and the defeated Minister is reduced to sending a gang of murderers, leaving the Stranger dying on the street with only the old beggar for company.
It all starts with an upbeat crowd scene showing boys playing and young women ready for a night out, but already the strong presence of Iain Mackay’s Minister holds the stage, showing his nasty streak as he kicks James Barton’s Evil Urchin in the shin. His attempts to ignore the poised earthiness of Elisha Willis’s Prostitute show him initially resisting a temptation he obviously feels strongly, though he succumbs later.
In a fine solo, Delia Mathews enters to exhibit the agony of depression before running off to drown herself in the river. Other vignettes follow, particularly with the excellent lovers Yvette Knight and William Bracewell, but eventually the limp body of the Suicide is carried back from the river, and the strikingly charismatic Stranger of César Morales appears. His presence and beautifully slow actions excite adoration from the crowd and intense jealousy from the Minister even before he brings the drowned young woman back to life. At the end the shawl that covered her apparently dead body, is laid on the murdered Stranger, and the curtain comes down.
The choreographic attention to detail and the array of outstanding individual performances, such as Michael O’Hare as the Beggar, make this a gripping recreation — why was it ever lost? Ballets created through a unity of musical composition and choreography are treasures to keep, and we are all indebted to Ms Lynne for her loving reincarnation of the original.
Performances continue in Birmingham until October 11; at Sadler’s Wells, Oct 17, 18; and Theatre Royal Plymouth, Oct 28, 29.