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Birmingham Royal Ballet pays a brief visit to its ancestral home at the Wells this week. An opening triple bill on Tuesday brought a happy addition to the company repertory: Ashton’s Daphnis and Chloe, that brilliant, ecstatic realisation of Ravel’s ecstatic score.
John Craxton’s designs, which effortlessly bridge the worlds of Attic Greece and modern ballet, remain wonderful as a setting for legend made new, and have been cleverly adapted for the smaller arena of the Sadler’s Wells stage. I thought the staging admirable in every way.
BRB’s dancers play with an entire naturalness and freshness – Iain Mackay’s Daphnis beautifully judged in dance as in emotion: this is a noteworthy reading – and the pirate scene has a bold energy. Elisha Willis was a pleasing Chloe (though I wish she could have seen how Fonteyn, the role’s original, struck hand to heel in her solo in the last scene with a delicious sophistication), and Ambra Vallo was teasingly sexy as Lykanion, and Dominic Antonucci a fine and brutish Dorkon. Here was a serious restoration of this masterpiece, finely adapted to a new stage, and admirably played by the Royal Ballet’s Sinfonia under Barry Wordsworth.
Rather less pleasure for the rest of the bill, which offered kittens pretending to be tigers. The Grand Pas from Petipa’s Paquita is one of the treasures of the Mariinsky repertory, a chain of solos and entries only to be done by Petersburg-trained artists – and not just artists but ballerine and first soloists. Each variation is a jewel to be worn by a Grand Duke’s mistress: there is a video recording that captures the miraculous dancing of Lyubov Kunakova in a valse lente solo (here omitted) which is one of the marvels of classic dance in our time. BRB’s young ladies trip happily through the piece according to their lights, very nice, very neat, and nearer Peterborough than Petersburg.
The other piece, Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs, is the Plague in Egypt that the Bible forgot to mention. Sinatra’s molto lento bayings, the idiot lyrics, the footling dances that just made sense when Baryshnikov led the pack, are now a vexation to the spirit. BRB’s dancers enjoy themselves, I suppose, not drowning but dancing, and only Tyrone Singleton looked as if he were grown-up enough to be on stage.
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