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ChrisG

Birmingham Royal Ballet, "Moving Stateside", Birmingham Hippodrome

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I'm not perhaps the best equipped technically to actually start a thread on a performance, but as no-one else has on BRB's latest mixed bill, here goes!  I saw the matinee performance at the Birmingham Hippodrome yesterday and the first thing that has to be said is what a terrible title it is.  Surely no-one says 'Stateside' these days?  It sounds awfully like '60s DJ-speak!  The good thing is, however, that the title was the only thing that was terrible about it.  What we saw were three ballets, totally different in character, but all with a vivid American sheen.  

 

First off was Balanchine's Serenade, set to Tchaikovsky's sublime Serenade for Strings.  I'd read lots about this work in my stumbling efforts at a ballet education, so I appreciated its iconic status in the history of American ballet.  The Telegraph review mentions occasional lapses of unity which my untutored eye picked up occasionally, but as an ensemble piece it worked wonderfully well, full of graceful neo-classicism but filled with the quirky little touches that came from the ad hoc way in which Balanchine created it.  Altogether lovely, as were the women's costumes, a feature of all three ballets.

 

The second piece was Jessica Lang's Lyric Pieces, premiered by the company in 2012 and being given a second outing.  The mood here again was classical, but with a modern twist in the black folded kraft paper props that the cast manipulated during the course of the piece.  At first these seemed a distraction, but as the dances stretched them, fanned them, sat on them and generally played with them they became increasingly an integral part of the piece. I particularly liked they formed the backdrop for a number of tableaux that from time to time interrupted the general movement of the piece.  The Grieg piano pieces, played expertly by Jonathan Higgins, were lovely in themselves, and the choreography captured the folk elements in the music in a number of the pieces, particularly in the well-known March of the Trolls.  The highlight though was the wonderful pas de deux by Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay that preceded the finale - simply gorgeous.

 

The final piece was Twyla Tharp's In The Upper Room.  I'd never seen any of her work (though she'd been on bucket list for a while), but I was surprised to see it listed as the final work in the programme given the far more well known Serenade was also on the bill.  When I saw the piece, however, I understood why - it's such a demanding piece to dance that it must almost impossible to follow it with something else.  It's hard to describe it except that it is a complete tour de force, a constant driving, pulsating dynamo of a piece that mixes just about every style you can thing of from contemporary through jazz, taking in a bit of aerobics on the way, to pure ballet steps.  It's also one of the sexiest ballets I've yet seen, and the red pointe shoes that four of the dancers wore will live long in my memory!  I'm guessing some might have found the smoke effects distracting but the way the groups of dancers emerged out of it was particularly affecting.  The work was set to a recorded score by Philip Glass.  Glass isn't one of my favourite composers - if I want minimalism I find much more depth and feel in composers like Steve Reich and John Adams.  I'm afraid this didn't make me any more of a fan of him, though it fulfilled its task of driving the piece forward relentlessly, if perhaps a bit too loudly at times.  A final thought: the title of the piece of course relates to the Last Supper and the programme notes make the point that there are no overt biblical references in the piece.  However, I did notice that there were 13 dancers, which of course is the same number that sat together at the Last Supper.  Maybe Tharp intended that to be significant or maybe it's just a coincidence!

 

All in all a wonderful afternoon out, though as with the WW1 programme I saw at the Hippodrome before Christmas there were a disappointing number of empty seats.  One final comment: it was refreshing to see a programme with two female choreographers, especially in the light of ENB's announcement of an all-female programme at Sadler's Wells next season.

 

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Thanks for starting the topic Chris and for giving us such a lovely review.

 

I saw 4 performances this week and really enjoyed them all.

 

I love the intense beauty of Serenade and thought the company danced it very well.  I believe Balanchine preferred passionate, committed dance to cold technical perfection and I believe that BRB achieved that in all the 4 performances I saw.  Yesterday afternoon's performance was just sublime.  Arancha Basalga was utterly exquisite and her duet with a magnificent Chi Cao was divine.  It was breath-taking and I was moved to tears by the end.

 

Lyric Pieces is the perfect piece to calm you down before the excitement of Upper Room.  Chris has described it beautifully above.  I find it lyrical and fun.  Jonathan Higgins is a wonderful pianist and BRB are so lucky to have him.

 

In the Upper Room continues to be a favourite.  Two casts have been on this week and both of them have been tremendous.  I must commend Laura Purkiss who danced a stomper in every performance and looked absolutely radiant to boot.  Brandon Lawrence is unmissable and a joy to watch too!  Both casts danced with verve and energy and I loved it!

 

I think this has been a really terrific programme, very much to my taste!

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I have been meaning to submit my two penn'th worth for a couple of days and the previous postings have spurred me to get typing.

 

I saw this triple bill on Wednesday (Janet and I were sitting more or less together) and I was utterly blown away by most of it.  At the end of Serenade I said to Janet that sometimes I forget what an utter genius Balanchine was.  We had Elisha Willis (currently platinum blonde) with the great Cesar Morales in the pas de deuz and Momoko Hirata sailed through the virtuoso single girl part. However, my closest attention was paid to my favourite pairing in the company, Celine Gittens and Tyrone Singleton together with the utter marvel which is the choreography for the main company in the first movement.  My only irritation was with the lighting effect which seemed (yet again) to have gone for atmosphere over the audience actually having a clear view of the dancers.  I returned on the Friday to see the same cast but the lighting seemed to be even dimmer.

 

I am not a fan of Lyric Pieces, which I find too slight to be viewed as the main meat in the sandwich of a triple bill.  I also find the Ikea, flat pack fans a real disatraction.  However, the dancing was great and I must echo what has been said about about Iain Mackay and Jenna Roberts as the main leads.  Credit must also go to Mathias Dingman and Maureya Lebowitz.  It was great to see both James Barton and Lewis Turner have chances to shine in a plotless work and Will Bracewell always impresses.  The other person I must mention is the rapidly rising Brandon Lawrence who illuminates everything he does.

 

In the Upper Room was just terrific on Wednesday night and the finale with Tyrone, Iain and Jamie Bond all giving it their all made me just float home.  However, I have to say that the Friday night cast, with one glorious exception, was just not good enough.  the cast included dancers who were miscast and there were a number of fumblings with the partnering.  I did enjoy seeing Jenna Roberts really letting go and having a good time and credit should be given to Ruth Brill and Jade Heussen as the two girls in trainers who hold the whole thing together.  As I said, there was one glorious exception to this who held my attention every time he was on stage.  Please take a bow yet again, Brandon Lawrence, you stole the show for me.  May you continue to have many opportunities to shine.

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This sounds a great triple bill, I wish BRB were bringing it to the Coliseum in March, I can't find any enthusiasm for Carmina Burana.

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I saw three performances of "Moving Stateside" and the Dress Rehearsal. I enjoyed all performances and thought this a very balanced bill.

The Dancing was particularly good on Thursday night when a thin audience was rightly whipped into enthusiasm by the Tharp.

I could not agree more about the title given to the programme. Does someone really think that these triple bill titles attract audiences? We all know that Triples are often the best programmes and that they are difficult to sell. I suppose that these titles are meant to overcome audience reluctance, but I think they have the opposite effect.

Why is it assumed that the Triples should come before the full length ballets? Surely exposure to "Coppelia" might persuade some people to book or the Triple. It would also give more timefor the existence of the Triple programme to sink into potential audienceconsciousness, especially as BRB shows so little faith in its Triples in its advertising.

 

I fear the death of Triples outside London if something is not done. With dancing as good as that shown by BRB in this Triple this would be a tragedy.

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This is a brilliant triple bill and if my daughter had not been performing in her ballet school's shows this week I would have gone up to Birmingham to see it. I've never seen In the Upper Room and would love to see it. I don't mind the title of the bill. What would you have called it? It's difficult to attract occasional balletgoers to triple bills and, away from the ROH, you need to have some kind of title rather than just listing the individual ballets in the promotional material. American culture is a draw to many people and so it's not unreasonable to have some reference to America in the title.

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.

  However, I have to say that the Friday night cast, with one glorious exception, was just not good enough.  the cast included dancers who were miscast and there were a number of fumblings with the partnering.  I did enjoy seeing Jenna Roberts really letting go and having a good time and credit should be given to Ruth Brill and Jade Heussen as the two girls in trainers who hold the whole thing together.  As I said, there was one glorious exception to this who held my attention every time he was on stage.  Please take a bow yet again, Brandon Lawrence, you stole the show for me.  May you continue to have many opportunities to shin

 

Having made a 90 mile trip to Birmingham especially to see In The Upper Room, I wholeheartedly agree. The quality of the performance of this ballet was frankly disappointing. I counted at least six fumbled lifts and for a great part of this piece the energy was just not there. We had a spare ticket which I had posted up as free to anyone who wanted it. I am now relieved no-one took me up on the offer as I would have frankly been embarrassed.

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I wonder what went wrong on Friday evening. It's so unusual to read about a really below par performance by several dancers in one ballet. Perhaps there were a lot of last minute cast changes.

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The first two pieces were well danced Aileen. It was just In The Upper Room that failed to make the grade - disappointing if that was the piece you had travelled a distance to see.  Of course being the last piece, it is also what you take home with you. The people around us seemed happy enough.

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I saw this triple Saturday matinee (nice to chat to you Janet!). Serenade and Lyric Pieces were beautifully danced and very enjoyable. In the Upper Room for me was simply sensational. Never seen it before but have not been able to get it out of my head since the curtain came down at 5 pm yesterday. Mesmerizing, powerful and sheer intense joy to watch. I had tears streaming down my face by the end!! Loved the Philip Glass score, loved the way the dancers came and went in the mist, loved Brandon Lawrence! Certainly if the Friday performances was lacking in any way, yesterday afternoon's was not. I came out feeling elated and rarely has a ballet had me feeling quite like I felt yesterday.

 

I certainly would not like to see triples disappear from BRB's repertoire due to poor ticket sales. All of the one I have seen from BRB in the last couple of years have been excellent and they are bringing a triple to Nottingham on the split tour. Having said that, tickets not exactly flying for those shows, which is a shame.

 

Anyway, I'm off to watch youtube clips of In the Upper Room!!

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This is a brilliant triple bill and if my daughter had not been performing in her ballet school's shows this week I would have gone up to Birmingham to see it. I've never seen In the Upper Room and would love to see it. I don't mind the title of the bill. What would you have called it? It's difficult to attract occasional balletgoers to triple bills and, away from the ROH, you need to have some kind of title rather than just listing the individual ballets in the promotional material. American culture is a draw to many people and so it's not unreasonable to have some reference to America in the title.

 

Good question and i don't have an answer! I just thought that the word Stateside was very dated and maybe counter-productive.

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I have to agree with Barnes2 and I was thinking exactly the same thing about the fate of triple bills outside of London.  I first saw BRB (SWRB) in May 1979 and it was a triple ending in Pineapple Poll.  Over the years when have seen the company and the Schaufuss years at LFB/ENB I have seen some wonderful triple bills in and out of London.  I do not refer to the RB in this as they have always had a stable in-house audience and touring was never that big an issue.

 

Either way, the lack of an audience for these super occasions has always been an issue.  I remember going to a talk given by Peter Schaufuss in the mid 80s and he was asked this very question.  He made a point which has stayed with me all these years and one which I have passed on when I used to host talks for BRB.  If you go to see a full length ballet and you do not like the central couple you are stuffed.  If you go to see a triple you see a full range of dancers which may include nearly all the company's principal dancers.  At the moment BRB have 5 principal ladies, two of which are on maternity leave.  I got to see the remaining three on both nights.  They have 6 principal boys, I got to see 5 of them on Wednesday and 4 on Friday, including Joseph Cayley whom I have not seen for a while and Jamie Bond whom I do not see often enough.

 

Added to that there were a number of up and comings so in that respect I feel I really had my money's worth.  However, as was stated above, the audience numbers were very disappointing, as they were for Shadows of War in the Autumn and the Ashton triple in the Summer.  It will be a huge loss if we no longer have the real interest that triple bills bring.

 

I do think a large part of this is that there seems to be no end of an audience for full lengths, especially now with cinema relays. However, that word again, we have been told that the promoters of these showings will not touch triple bills.  How many of us would have loved to have seen the Ashton Mixed Bill from the Opera House but this was not given to us.  Another Nutcracker or Swan Lake, no problem, 5 masterpieces from our founder choreographer, not a chance.  How will we ever get to square this circle with that sort of attitude?

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I do think a large part of this is that there seems to be no end of an audience for full lengths, especially now with cinema relays. However, that word again, we have been told that the promoters of these showings will not touch triple bills.  How many of us would have loved to have seen the Ashton Mixed Bill from the Opera House but this was not given to us.  Another Nutcracker or Swan Lake, no problem, 5 masterpieces from our founder choreographer, not a chance.  How will we ever get to square this circle with that sort of attitude?

 

Three points: 

 

(i) Given that BRB know in advance that the house is going to be sadly empty ... might there not be a way to get people in for free that might not otherwise be exposed ... in that hope that few might in the future buy tickets to return? 

 

(ii) I think that POB have been brave in putting mixed bills on line and allowing free access to such.  Here's hoping that just such a policy pays in building a very real audience for such in their two core POB venues, the Palais Garnier and the Bastille.  Certainly it can't hurt ...  I applaud their bravery certainly.

 

(iii) There's part of me that hopes that - at some point - in the future that pay-per-view may be the/an answer towards the filming/relaying of such wonderful triple bills.  Ms. Barr, Head of Media at NYCB, said that the costs of such were basically the same as for the cinema relays.  I hope - he says sincerely - that there is some creative way developed to tackle such.  I'm certain that over time (albeit probably a considerable time) these may well at least go some distance in answering the need; a very real one as related above.

 

It seems to be a given that there is a lack of very real audience for such triple bills throughout the world short of those occasions when many people come to witness for themselves a coveted brand, piece of architecture or special occasion.  Even All Balanchine bills at NYCB today do not seem to sell out unless there is some special event attached.  We all agree that something must be done; that a greater education should be served.  I assume that to ensure a greater exposure over time there is a need for core INTERNATIONAL/INDEPENDENT subsidy for such - be it public or private.  (It will almost certainly I think need to be private at its heart.)  Certainly this Lincoln Kirstein knew in underwriting and helping to frame the three goes that he and his wealth supported before what we know today as NYCB was eventually rooted.  Had he not been possessed of such genius of foresight, passion and cash there would not, I suppose, have been a Balanchine such as we know him today.  It is heartbreaking in the extreme to think that so many of the core masterworks of Ashton or Cranko or Ratmansky or Wheeldon or Peck are not being shared by as large an audience as today's technology might/should rightfully allow.  The same goes for the vital musical education that travels alongside such.  Perhaps such a fund could also support a special strand of triple bill work specifically created for dance on/through film, 

 

I, myself, have dared to think - at least when in a dream state - that such an enterprise might - and I stress MIGHT - be accomplished should just such an international/independent fund to support the relay/distribution of balletic triple bills be wrought.  It would, I think, have to be independent and certainly away from the hold/sway of any one specific company.  Could such an entity overcome international problems such as exist in our troubled world?  One can but pray that it might serve as a unit to inspire cohesion.  It would need - I should think - to function and survive as something like the Prix de Lausanne does/has.  It would also need to train, inspire and develop film makers in the art of shooting dance.  This might well be something that could be set up legally as an international fund - possibly in the USA given the long established tax benefits for international arts strictures that country allows for.  (It was on this basis that the Ford Foundation was initially advanced for example.)  To my mind, of course, that would serve our world. 

 

That is I think something that Jerome Robbins himself may well have envisioned in setting up the Jerome Robbins Dance Collection (free to all - no matter from where in the world you may hail) on the third floor of the LIncoln Center Library.  He knew that it is crucially important that this work - this education - be captured, cared for, cherished and shared for the greater edification of ALL.  The setting up of such an international distribution/relay tendril on behalf of balletic triple bills would I should think allow for our world's balletic garden to grow.  (Cue Leonard Bernstein).  It would be but a few more steps in the right direction.  Would it be commercial?  History suggests not.  'Of course it wouldn't' I murmur to myself.  That's why it would demand understanding support.  Would it be important?  Inevitably so. 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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This sounds a great triple bill, I wish BRB were bringing it to the Coliseum in March, I can't find any enthusiasm for Carmina Burana.

 

Nor can I, sadly.  But then, I think I've seen enough of Lyric Pieces, too.

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The real pi**er about this is that Carmina is one work which actually sells in Birmingham. Whether it's the tie with Ex-cathedra I cannot say but it seems obstinately popular. I am just hoping I get Tyrone and Celine who make the piece just about tolerable.

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I do not know what can have happened to "Upper Room" on the Friday evening. All performances I saw were sensational. I cannot share the dislike of "Carmina" which I always enjoy not least because it employs so many of the dancers. I shall be popping along to all of the Coliseum performances and look forward to them all. I can only wish the season was longer and that London could see "Upper Room" too.

 

The serous question now that the Coliseum is to be much less open to dance seasons and Sadler's Wells is not a friendly House for classical dance, is where will BRB and ENB perform regularly in the future. It is a major issue, especially as our "National" Press hardly notices any dance outside London. London audiences need to see and to know about, the great classical dance happening outside the Capital. I sometimes think that dance critics in most dailies think Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester can only be reached by mule train across mountains and desert.

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Yes, there's a lot of speculation about what's going to happen to ENO and, by extension, the Coliseum following the decision to place the company in 'special measures'. I wonder how much of the year the theatre is 'dark'.

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