Posts Tagged ‘Victoria Marr’

BRB Triple: Checkmate, Symphonic Variations, Pineapple Poll, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, October 2011

20 October, 2011

The tranquil centre of this triple bill is Symphonic Variations, one of Frederick Ashton’s greatest ballets. He produced it in spring 1946 as something of an antidote to the recent war, providing a wonderful serenity to the mystical calm of César Franck’s music. Yet for the dancers this serenity is a great challenge. The six of them must function perfectly together, almost as if they were a corps de ballet, though the choreography is not remotely corps de ballet material. For instance those low lifts in which the girl performs flickering airborne beats are very hard, but the six dancers on Wednesday evening made it look easy. This is a triumph for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, which can now take this treasure around the country to audiences unfamiliar with it.

Symphonic Variations, different cast, photo Roy Smiljanic

The six dancers, with Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay in the centre, and Arancha Baselga, Laura-Jane Gibson, Jamie Bond and Tzu-Chao Chou on the sides, worked beautifully together. It is invidious to pick out any one dancer, since all were so good, but I do find it remarkable that the two side girls both danced red pawns in the previous ballet, Checkmate. Neither of them is yet a soloist, but they are obviously destined for greater things and Arancha Baselga’s musicality shone through among a very musical cast. The essence of this ballet is Franck’s music with its sublime blending of orchestra and piano, played here by Jonathan Higgins, and Ashton’s choreography shows his extraordinary ability to fit dance with music. This one piece is worth the whole Triple Bill, and is a lovely contrast to the first and last items, which are full of action.

Five of the red pawns in Checkmate, photo Terry Emment

The evening starts with Ninette de Valois’s Checkmate to music by Arthur Bliss, created in 1937 for the Vic-Wells Ballet, the progenitor of the Royal Ballet. Philip Ellis’s conducting gave the music a quietly mysterious feel at the start of the prologue, but it gradually built as the chess game commenced. Samara Downs was a prettily seductive black queen, and Chi Cao showed fine stage presence and a wonderfully firm line as the first red knight. The battle of chess pieces is an ideal precursor to Symphonic Variations, and the evening found a perfect ending in Pineapple Poll.

A couple in Pineapple Poll, photo Graeme Braidwood

Poll is based on W.S. Gilbert’s tale, ‘The Bumboat Woman’s Story’, as to some extent is the Gilbert and Sullivan opera HMS Pinafore. The ballet is John Cranko’s, using music by Sullivan arranged by Charles Mackerras, along with Osbert Lancaster’s glorious designs. Cranko’s story gives us a younger heroine, extra romance, and it’s all huge fun. The Bumboat woman, Pineapple Poll was delightfully danced by Elisha Willis, with César Morales as her adored Captain Belaye, superbly stylised and dancing his hornpipe with delightful panache. Laura Purkiss was charmingly sweet as his fiancée, with Victoria Marr as her absent-minded aunt who turns into Britannia wrapped in a union jack at the end, and Mathias Dingman was Jasper, who finally gets his girl, the lovely Poll. For sheer exhilaration and the ability to tell a story in dance this is as good as it gets.

This fine BRB triple bill opens an intriguing window on the development of British ballet in the mid-twentieth century. From Ninette de Valois’s Checkmate before the Second World War, to the Ashton’s Symphonic Variations immediately after it, and then to Cranko’s Pineapple Poll in 1951. All are creations of British choreographers and designers, and apart from Franck, so is the music.

Performances continue at the Theatre Royal Plymouth on October 25 and 26 — for more details click here.

Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), London Coliseum, March 2011

30 March, 2011

Stage versions of Cinderella are many and varied. In Rossini’s opera there’s a pompous stepfather, in Massenet’s a stepmother, and in Ashton’s classic ballet a father. But all agree that Cinderella’s mother has died, and in David Bintley’s new production we see a glimpse of her funeral during the overture. It’s a brief but poignant scene, well supported by Prokofiev’s music, as is much else in Bintley’s new creation — seen here in London for the first time.

The magic starts, all photos by Bill Cooper

The two stepsisters are played here as obnoxiously juvenile girls, their teasing easily turning to pushing and shoving, but they can also be funny and I loved the incidents at the ball with the major domo’s staff of office. Above all, however, is the nasty stepmother, brilliantly portrayed by Marion Tait. Her ball dress was stunning, and when the prince brings the slipper to the house she follows her awful daughters in trying it on . . . before Cinderella herself comes forward.

Frog coachman, lizard footmen and mouse pages

The business with the slippers is very cleverly done, starting in the kitchen scene of Act I. Cinderella brings out a red box containing a portrait of her mother, and two pretty bejewelled slippers. The stepsisters suddenly enter and grab them, until more urgent matters claim their attention and Cinders can hide them again. Then when everyone’s gone, and she’s alone again, the fire suddenly springs to life and a barefooted old crone appears from nowhere, seated next to it. Cinderella gives her the precious slippers, catalyzing the magic. Bintley uses the slippers very skilfully and when Cinders returns from the ball she fishes out the red box again, hiding her remaining slipper. Once again the wretched sisters burst in again and grab it, but this time they are interrupted by the arrival of the prince himself, and Cinderella, unable to hide the box in its usual place, sits by the fire holding it. This seems an awkward moment for her while the sisters and stepmother try on the slipper, but then shyly and slowly she comes forward with the matching slipper. There is no rush, and this important moment is given full focus, creating a sense of wonder, well supported by Prokofiev’s glorious music.

Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay, Act III

The music is well used, and Bintley’s production manages to insert magic into moments that are sometimes missed, greatly helped by Koen Kessels’ wonderfully sympathetic conducting. Designs by John Macfarlane express the dichotomy between the cold looking kitchen and the mysterious world beyond for the seasons and the stars, glimpsed in the distant background of the ball scene. I loved the way the coach came together at the end of Act I, taking Cinderella off to the ball, and I loved the clock, as it came together in Act II, with its inner workings showing the rapid passing of time. Lighting by David Finn was excellent and I particularly liked the gradual visibility of the ball scene at the start of Act II.

The corps de ballet and soloists danced beautifully and Elisha Willis was a lovely Cinderella, showing refinement and strength in reserve, well deserving her very handsome prince in the form of Iain Mackay. Victoria Marr was a gentle fairy godmother, and the sisters were very amusingly portrayed by Gaylene Cummerfield and Carol-Anne Millar — I particularly liked Ms. Cummerfield’s clumsiness at the ball, sickling her foot most horribly at one point. And throughout it all, Marion Tait as the stepmother, holds the stage with a nod and glance.

This production by David Bintley has moments of magic, and when you go you should buy a programme to read Neil Philip’s interesting essay on the myth of Cinderella, including a version connected with the folk tale aspect of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Performances at the London Coliseum continue until April 2 — for more information, and to book on-line, click here.

Review — Serenade, Enigma Variations, and Still Life at the Penguin Café, Birmingham Royal Ballet, April 2009

15 April, 2009

This triple bill, titled Pomp and Circumstances, was brilliantly danced by the company, with the music beautifully played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Philip Ellis, who showed great sympathy to both music and dancers.

Balanchine’s Serenade was very well done, though the ‘accidental’ fall towards the end looked a bit too contrived, particularly since the girl loosened her hair so carefully first. But the presentation was clean and Tchaikovsky’s music came over well.

Enigma Variations by Frederick Ashton was fun as usual, with Jonathan Payne and Victoria Marr as Elgar and his wife. The cast did an excellent job: Carol-Anne Millar was a fine Dorabella, with superb chainé turns at the end, James Grundy was very funny in his solo as WMB, and Matthew Lawrence and Natasha Oughtred were a lovely young couple as RPA and Ysobel, to say nothing of the other principals. Again the music was delightfully played under the baton of Philip Ellis.

Finally, Bintley’s  Still Life at the Penguin Café was a rip roaring success. The music by Simon Jeffes is wonderful fun, and the dancing was terrific. Laura Purkiss as the Great Auk started the show with aplomb, and Angela Paul was a beautifully musical Ram, well partnered by Robert Parker, giving us a cabaret act not to be missed. Christopher Larsen was equally musical in his wonderful solo as the Texan Kangaroo Rat, and Carol-Anne Millar was a superb Flea. Chi Cao was the zebra, very well supported by his ladies, including Angela Paul who had changed costumes from being the ram, and changed back again for the finale.

Altogether this was a marvellous triple bill with a great many dancers doing a great many things. Congratulations to the Birmingham Royal Ballet.