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Birmingham Royal Ballet - Midscale North 2016

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I saw this in the lovely Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury last night and what a splendid evening it was. Quite a good audience too - I think the theate was 3/4 full.

Opening with Wink, a new ballet by Jessica Lang, and with three of my favourite ladies (and my absolute current fav), what's not to like! Actually, there was one tiny bit that I didn't like, which is where the dancers are wrapped around each other - looked a bit fetishy to me. The set, with the spinning screens, is simple but effective. I guess you can read any meaning into these that you want, the obvious one being turning the pages in a book. It is a ballet that flows well and is one of those pieces that gently washes over you and draws you in. It is a ballet that certainly deserves a second and third viewing, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing it again. Alfie Jones, who read the sonnets has a lovely speaking voice and the costumes with the hand writing in the design are intriguing - what does it say?

After the interval, we had the reconciliation pas de deux from The Dream and the balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet. Neither are favourites of mine, although I will say that Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton really sold R&J. Miss Gittens WAS Juliet, the young girl experiencing her first (and last) true love. To end the second section, the pdd from Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew, with Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay turning in their usual sterling performance. Miss Willis really does looked jacked off at the start and mellows at the end. You really can't do wrong with a bit of Cranko.

After the second interval, The Moor's Pavane by José Limón, danced to music by Purcell. This was a perfect marriage of dance, music and costumes. I'm a bit of thicko when it comes to Othello and I couldn't follow the story, but that didn't matter. I watched some lovely dancing, which conjured images of a different age. This was the first time that I have ever seen the long period style frocks actually do the job for which they were designed, when in one glorious moment, Yijing Zhang glided around the room as if she was floating. With César Morales, Yvette Knight, Chi Cao and Yijing Zhang, one couldn't help but be captivated.

I must confess that I was a bit confused when I saw the casting sheet. I was expecting to see extracts from The Shakespeare Suite in the middle, and had they been included, I think they would have gone down a storm. On the train this morning, I saw a poster that says we are going to get The Shakespeare Suite, along with Wink and The Moor's Pavane, later in the year. I can't wait. :)

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I am a bit tardy with this as I was at the Wednesday matinee in Shrewsbury.  I really liked the Severn Theatre which had very comfortable seats and good leg room except for the front row which is a bit cramped.


For me the highlight of the day was the open class and it was great to see this in such an intimate atmosphere.  The class and the programme involved 4 male principals but no female.  This was instantly forgotten as I found extremely difficult to focus on anyone except Celine Gittens.  I always knew this girl had star quality but at one point in the centre work she was flanked by Brandon Lawrence and Tyrone Singleton, both down to t-shirt and shorts.  It comes to something when this red blooded woman could only watch Celine in the middle.   She really is something special.


The matinee was slightly disappointing and I do not share the general approval of Wink.  It has a great role for Brandon and a featured one for Delia Mathews with a supporting cast which included Tyrone again (I was getting my money's worth) and Iain Mackay.  However, I am not a fan of Ms Lang's habit of moving the scenery around when it seems that she has run out of ideas and there were times when the set reminded me of a municipal crematorium.  This is my pet hate with BRB these days that the lighting seems to go from obscure to almost black out.  I wanted to scream 'turn the lights up' a few times.   I tend to refer to Peter Teigen as Gizmo as he seems to be terrified by bright light.


I understand the the version of Wink which will go on at the Hippodrome and probably Sadler's Wells will be an expanded version on the bigger stages. There is also a fair bit of rolling around on the floor which will be lost to some of the audience sitting in the stalls I suspect.


We then had the pas de deux from the Dream with Chi Cao and Karla Doorbar.  They were very good individually but I did not feel that there was much of a connection between them.  Then it was the turn of the balcony pdd from Romeo with the always excellent Cesar Morales and Momoko Hirata who really impressed me with her acting.  Her dancing was never going to disappoint but her expressiveness really surprised me.


Needless to say both of these duets were danced in some sort of semi gloom but when the lights came up for the extract from Taming of the Shrew things were really looking up.  Tyrone and Maureya Lebowitz were great fun and clearly enjoying themselves which was infectious for the audience.  The stage was a little cramped and I look forward to seeing the full work on the Hippodrome stage.  Someone whose opinion I respect was very enthusiastic about the cast the night before of Iain Mackay and Elisha Willis so I look forward to seeing them as well.


We finished with the Moor's Pavane which I had not seen for a couple of decades.  I did not get to see Tyrone as Othello but I have no problems that the programme ended as it had begun with a stand out success for Brandon Lawrence.  His tremendous stage presence and forceful personality was exactly what the role needs and he was well match by Iain Mackay being so evil as Iago.  Yvette Knight was very suited to play Desdemona but it is not a showy role and all she needs to do is look beautiful and vulnerable which she did very well.  More effective was Yijing Zhang as Emilia but that again is a reflection of the part rather than the dancer.


It is not a work I would want to see that often and if I see it once more with Tyrone that will do me.  


I understand that the audiences in Shrewsbury for both performance and class were most encouraging and I would certainly return next year if I am able to do so.  The Theatre is right by the river and it was just a lovely day out in so many ways.  I think these split mini tours and a very valuable resource and long may they continue.

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