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Jan McNulty

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Lyric Pieces, Sense of Time, Peter and the Wolf - June 2019

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I saw both performances yesterday and I have to say that it is the most unbalanced mixed programme that I have ever sat through!  The performance just does not flow.

 

When the programme was first announced I was disappointed that BRB had chosen Jessica Lang's Lyric Pieces rather than her Wink.  I had forgotten just what a sublime work it is and I am so glad to have seen it again.

 

Performed to Grieg's piano music ( what an outstanding performance by Jonathan Higgins - it was a real pleasure to listen to his performance) this piece is just so ... lyrical!  Jessica Lang includes touches of humour and touches of pathos in her combination of dances and dancers and her choreography flows beautifully with the music.  In the afternoon Tzu-Chao Chou, Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence were utterly sublime.  If I was stressed after a horrendous drive to Birmingham by the end of this piece I was just happy and relaxed!

 

I hadn't read the programme before I saw Sense of Time, the new commission by Didy Veldman.  To me it seemed to be about refugees trying to escape to a new life but apparently it is about city living.  The stage is a black box with an enormous wall of suitcases in the middle.  This wall is rotated around by a stage hand.  The dancers are dressed in white with some black patterns in places.

 

Dancers are rushing around and clambering over the wall.  There are a couple of duets - for Delia Matthews and Tyrone Singleton (who was on blistering form) and a witty one for Brandon Lawrence and Celine Gittens.  I was absolutely shocked when part of the wall was dismantled and I spent the rest of the performance alternating between how much those suitcases would get at auction (having seen a similar one on Bargain Hunt being sold for over £60 this week!) and wondering how the dancers managed to clamber safely over the structure.

 

I enjoyed the piece much more on second viewing (when I was further back) when I noticed that there is really some rather gorgeous choreography in the mix.  Overall though it is a bit muddled for my taste.

 

The final piece was Ruth Brill's Peter and the Wolf which is huge fun.  I was lucky to see both casts and I must say that Alex Yap was absolutely terrifying as the Wolf!  Peter and the Wolf can be enjoyed by children and adults alike but I really do not feel it fitted into this programme.

 

So. I really think BRB need to look at how they structure their mixed programmes ... I hope this one is not the shape of things to come in terms of balance rather than the quality of the works.

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On 14/06/2019 at 18:58, Jan McNulty said:

it is the most unbalanced mixed programme that I have ever sat through!

 

I think I know what you mean, but I have to say I do like an element of compare and contrast in mixed bills, seeing how the dancers tackle different sets of problems within the same performance.  Having said that, although I loved each of the three pieces, Peter and the Wolf did feel as though it didn't quite belong, much as I felt that it was utterly charming.  The ostensible reason given for the programme was of course that all the works were by female choreographers, which shouldn't need to be a reason for grouping works together, but sadly has to be, as with the recent ENB She Persisted, a similar mish-mash of choreographic styles that nonetheless to me proved a satisfying whole.

 

The real problem for me was the pitifully poor attendance for a Saturday matinee, with the stalls only about a third full (if that).  This is the third mixed bill in a row that I've been too at the Hippodrome that's been afflicted in this way, and one can only conclude that outside of London mixed bills simply don't sell.  Last night I was at a packed Covent Garden for the stupendous RB Firebird mixed bill, and I couldn't help wishing the wonderful BRB dancers had similar audience pulling powers when they do repertoire out of the norm.  That was the day after I'd been to the Lowry for the Matthew Bourne Romeo and Juliet (it's been a busy week with the cinema R&J relay on Tuesday as well!).  That had no trouble getting an audience for a matinee and yet I felt it had a fraction of the choreographic inspiration that I saw in the two mixed bills - a huge disappointment in my humble opinion but a reminder that name recognition is what really sells seats.

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21 hours ago, ChrisG said:

The real problem for me was the pitifully poor attendance for a Saturday matinee, with the stalls only about a third full (if that).  This is the third mixed bill in a row that I've been too at the Hippodrome that's been afflicted in this way, and one can only conclude that outside of London mixed bills simply don't sell. 

 

I’ve never been to a mixed bill at the Birmingham Hippodrome so know nothing about attendance patterns, but I wonder how much of it is down to the ballets programmed. I think it’s admirable that BRB is committed to commissioning new works (and presumably there’s some funding involved, if I may be vulgar about it), but - speaking bluntly - I don’t see many BRB mixed bill programmes which I can feel confident will justify the expense and trouble of travelling for them.

 

To be clear, I feel the same way about some of the RB’s mixed bills - but maybe BRB should take a leaf out of their book and offer one “new/new-ish work” bill and one “classic” bill each season, and see if that works out better.

 

I travelled to Shrewsbury a couple of years ago for a well-sold midscale programme of MacMillan’s Solitaire, van Manen’s Five Tangos and Pineapple Poll: something along similar lines would definitely get me to Birmingham.

 

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I quite agree.  If a BRB bill is sufficiently tempting, I'm perfectly happy to travel to Birmingham to see it.  It's just that a lot of them in recent years haven't been :(  And it's not just at the Hippodrome - audiences have been disappointing for the same or similar bills at Sadler's Wells, too.

 

(And why couldn't we have Wink again?  I'd far rather see it again than Lyric Pieces.)

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Alison, I thought that about Wink too but actually I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed Lyric Pieces.  It certainly made more of an impact on me on Thursday than I remember from last time around.

 

BRB don't do mixed programmes "Up North" anymore and haven't for some years now.  This year, they are not doing the mixed programme in Plymouth either.

 

In fairness, Northern Ballet can't sell mixed bills on main scale either so their production of them in smaller venues such as Quarry Hill, The Linbury and Northern Stage seems to work better.

 

I can't even remember the last time ENB did a mixed programme "Up North".

 

I think my "view" of the mixed programme may have been somewhat tarnished by my horrendous journey to Birmingham on Thursday (and let's not go there about the even worse journey home on Friday) as it's had favourable reviews in both Seeing Dance and The Observer - which can be read in Links.

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I must begin this posting by saying that I haven't seen this bill as it had no real appeal for me.  I have seen Lyric Pieces often enough and I was not gripped by the other works.  However, I did see the vintage suitcase on Bargain Hunt - oh the joys of retirement! - so I can imagine that thought would have struck me too.

 

Not only was i not gripped by the programme but someone else whose opinion i value highly was very unimpressed with the show so I was pleased I had stayed home.   

 

I share the concerns expressed above about the quality of the mixed bills in recent years.  I must stress that this is absolutely NO reflection on any of the dancers or their peformance but since the company has gone in for these rather gimmicky combinations with supposedly catchy titles the programmes have been somewhat hit or miss.

 

I also take on Alison's point about the poor attendance.  However, this does not always reflect poor programming.  the double bill we had a few years ago of the Dream and A Month in the Country was one of the finest bills I have seen in 40 years of ballet doing.  in the days of Sir Peter Wright, both SWRB and BRB had great mixed bills and there was always something to really enjoy.  I always say that my all time favourite was at the old Sadler's Wells and it was Les Rendezvous (in the proper costumes), the Dream and Facade.  spot the Ashton fan!  I often heard die hard RB fans say that the SWRB triple bills were far more attractive than some of those at the Opera House (I am talking the 80s here).  I would suggest that Kevin O'H has learnt from the master and his are pretty uniformally successful where as the BRB ones are going in the other direction.  Admittedly funding may have something to do with this.

 

Finally, may I say Janet, that when someone as utterly devoted to BRB as you and with your ability to always find something to appreciate in every performance mentions specifically that there is an increasing problem here it shows that all is very far from well in this respect.   Like you I hope that this is not a worrying sign for the future but I fear it may be.  New and modern is not always a guarantee of success and it is unfair to expect the excellence of the dancers to be relied on to carry less than successful work.

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2 hours ago, Two Pigeons said:

I the double bill we had a few years ago of the Dream and A Month in the Country was one of the finest bills I have seen in 40 years of ballet doing.

 

I think it was one of the worse :)

 

As to the Unleashed Triple; I don't know what was off the leash.

 

Lyric Pieces has always been a favourite. The movement of the cardboard is quite hypnotic at times and the choreography is wonderful. I thought Sense Of Time was really good. The wall of suitcases is a real surprise, although clearly the stage crew haven't quite got the hang of setting it all up, as the performance started about 5 minutes late. With delicious Delia Matthews, Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence on stage, I was very, very happy. I don't like Peter And The Wolf. I have seen it three times and it isn't growing on me. The decision to have Peter as a girl just doesn't work in my opinion.

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BRB have issued a new trailer for Didy Veldman's Sense of Time:

 

 

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I saw this bill at Sadler's Wells tonight.

 

I really enjoyed Lyric Pieces. It struck me in a way as very old-fashioned (and I mean that as a compliment) - just lovely, lyrical (of course!) classical choreography to quietly beautiful music. Nothing extreme, no great emoting, nothing hugely technical, and with simple, clever design. Nothing saying 'look at me'; just dancing to music. And danced very well, too, with a very nice pas de deux at the end for Céline Gittens and Brandon Lawrence. A very peaceful, very lovely work.

 

I mostly enjoyed Sense of Time too. I found the suitcase structure fascinating, and like Jan was concerned for the dancers' safety once it started coming apart! My friend said she thought that most of the cases would in fact have been secured, with only a selected few released to fall off. (I'd never have thought of that!). I wasn't at all sure what the piece was about (and I didn't buy a programme), but I gradually thought it might be about the precariousness and instability of modern life (or of all life, I suppose). The choreography became a bit repetitive after a while, and I began to lose patience when a dancer walked slowly across the stage with an open suitcase (with a light on inside it) over his head... but things looked up again after that and the ending was satisfying.

 

I was completely bemused by Peter and the Wolf. I'm afraid I didn't like it anyway - the sets, the choreography, the costumes, the whole conception really - but above all I had no idea why this was on a bill otherwise clearly aimed at adults. It would be OK for a children's matinée, but why on earth was it on this bill? The music is fun, of course, but the piece just didn't work for me in any way. So it was a very disappointing end to the evening, and as Jan said a very unbalanced bill.

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I was at Sadlers Wells last night too - and felt disappointment on behalf of BRB that so few of us were there (up in the 2nd circle, I reckon everyone would have fitted into the first 5-6 rows had the scattering of people behind me squashed up into the vacant seats in front). 

As for the bill itself - I really enjoyed Lyric Pieces (I had not seen it before), as 'bridiem' says above, lovely dancing to lovely music. A delight! Not sure what I made of 'Sense of Time'; I liked the two central pdd's (especially the Brandon Lawrence and Celine Gittens one) but not sure about the group dancing - seemed a bit 'west side story' at times. I'd probably need to see it again to get more out of it, as I found the wall of suitcases rather distracting. I rather enjoyed 'Peter and the Wolf' - thought the costumes a bit racy for children though! lol Personally, I had no problem with it being in the bill, as I don't mind stark contrasts between pieces, as long as I enjoy them. 

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22 minutes ago, zxDaveM said:

and felt disappointment on behalf of BRB that so few of us were there

 

I'm going tonight (as the concert I was originally going to has been cancelled).

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I fear I'm probably not going to make it :(   As long as I'm okay for Hobson's Choice, though, I probably won't mind too much.

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