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  1. Birmingham Royal Ballet: Wink, Arcadia, The Moor's Pavane, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham (Saturday 6 May). BRB's South tour opened in Cheltenham last Friday and as I had never seen the company and was staying in Cirencester, my sister and I took her daughters (12 and 10, ballet fans but who have never learned) to the Saturday matinée. Of particular interest to me was that the programme included two works by female choreographers, plus the rarely-seen Limón piece. Not to mention that as a visitor from Australia I would see Tzu-Chao Chou dance for the first time since he left what the company insists be called The Australian Ballet (capital T please). I knew very little of the company but what I had read online, although former TAB dancers Elisha Willis, Matthew Lawrence and Gaylene Cummerfield spent large chunks of their careers there, and "we" now have Aussie Chris Rodgers-Wilson (RBS then BRB) back (I saw his Franz in Coppélia at Christmas and all that promise is coming to fruition). Was I impressed! I was able to do my favourite thing (watching class) before the show, which gave me some impressions of the dancers, and we then settled in to our seats in this lovely theatre, centre rear stalls (bang in front of the technical desk). Wink, by Jessica Lang, featured César Morales, with whose dancing I fell in love. The use of spoken word (Shakespeare sonnets) framed each section (solo, pdd, quintet of men, three pairs, etc). Tzu-Chao was in this and despite carrying a niggle is still one of my favourite dancers to watch. Company dancer Ruth Brill's Arcadia showcased Brandon Lawrence as Pan, and the piece was an instant hit with the nieces. He was magnetic, and Céline Gittens, in a small but featured role as the moon goddess Selene, was lovely. We were also treated to the presence of the composer, John Harles, in the pit as saxophone soloist. We were told Arcadia is to be included in the company's Sadler's Wells season later this year, and I do recommend it. Also, cheers to BRB for giving a female company member the opportunity of a main-stage commission, with all the support that ought to, but sometimes doesn't, go with that. The Moor's Pavane, danced by Morales, Chi Cao, Yvette Knight and Samara Downs, was one of the most beautiful short ballets I have ever seen. I was told afterwards that it has only entered the company's repertoire this year, and that the four we saw spent months working on the particular style required. It was stunning. The artistry of these four dancers was undeniable and of a very high standard, and even the nieces sighed happily and said it was beautiful. Nor did they need the story explained, it was presented so clearly. The very small stage (compressed further by the proscenium arch) forced some compromises in that some jumps were half-in, half-out of the wings, but no-one looked to be holding back. After the show the nieces begged to "get autographs and say thank you" (we train them well) and were delighted at the very generous response of the dancers, particularly Lachlan Monaghan, Brandon Lawrence, Ruth Brill, Chi Cao and César Morales. They were very amused to see one pair disappear into the next-door Italian restaurant - "pasta at four o'clock! They must work hard!" All in all, a delightful first experience of the company and one I will certainly repeat at the earliest opportunity.
  2. I've seen three performances of Birmingham Royal Ballet's Shakespeare's Triple Bill this week. Jessica Lang's Wink premiered on midscale and I very much enjoyed it. It looks much better on a bigger stage! We only saw a few of the revolving screens on midscale, on a bigger stage there are five screens at the back and five at the side. Brandon Lawrence is really spectacular as The Poet. I particularly like his duet with Lewis Turner. The choreography is lovely and lyrical with lots of different groupings of the dancers. Are the revolving screens symbolising winks? ... The Moor's Pavane also looks even better on the bigger stage. With so many midscale performances under their belts the dancers have really brought out the casts. Tyrone Singleton, Delia Matthews, Iain Mackay and Elisha Willis are all very powerful performers and bring out the nuances of the characters. The other cast I saw this week - Cesar Morales, Yvette Knight, Chi Cao and Samara Downs are more contained in their performance but give an equally valid performance. Chi, in particular, shows a very subtle touch, making Iago as slippery as a snake with his insinuations to Othello. The evening finished with David Bintley's exuberant Shakespeare Suite. I will never forget Robert Parker in the role of Hamlet but Mathias Dingman, Lewis Turner and particularly Lachlan Monaghan gave really good accounts of the role. Tyrone Singleton and Elisha Willis were outstanding as Othello and Desdemona. Jonathan Caguoia and Momoko Hirata were hilariously dotty as Bottom and Titania. The orchestras sounded wonderful - the first 2 pieces were played by the BRB Sinfonia and the third by Colin Towns Mask Orchestra. As well as Elisah Willis, Jonathan Caguoia is retiring from BRB after 14 years - the Birmingham stage will be a less bright place without him. I would like to wish Jonathan all the very best for the future. Here's a review from Redbrick: http://www.redbrick.me/culture/review-birmingham-royal-ballets-shakespeare-triple-bill/
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