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It is worth the boisterous railway fares and the rain-soaked delights of Birmingham’s centre to see Pineapple Poll again. It is that rarest of delights, a true balletic comedy. It is also a masterpiece, and 56 years old. It was made by young John Cranko for the one-time Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet (ancestor of Birmingham’s Royal Ballet who now stage it), adapts Sullivan (and Gilbert) dazzlingly to the stage, and is so English that it should be protected by the National Trust.
Once upon a time, our choreographers made light-hearted ballets, but now almost all is angst, introspection, sweaty unease and dedicated grudge-nursing. Poll is witty, mocking, as resourceful in comedy as Labiche, and almost fool-proof in playing, Birmingham Royal Ballet did it very well at Thursday’s matinee, and if a few effects have coarsened over the years, the general sense of gaiety about the irresistible Captain Belaye and his all-too-admiring crew, still makes me (and the rest of the audience, I’d venture) grin the whole time at the comic insouciance of the affair . . .
One note of sadness: the ever-admirable, ever-sure Robert Parker, who is a spiffing Belaye, retires at the end of this season to take up a new career. He has been a pleasure in everything he has danced, and he plays Belaye with a merry, fast-reaction wit. I fell completely under the spell of Carol-Ann Millar’s Poll from the moment she soared high on stage, airy and joyous as Plisetskaya or Osipova. She has the saucy charm the part demands, the bright steps and the heart: the role is safe (and enhanced) with her playing. Tremendous gratitude. For the rest, BRB’s artists enjoy what they do, show us they enjoy and are delightful.
It is, I repeat, a masterpiece, a word I cannot use for the other two pieces in this bill. Oliver Hindle has set Vivaldi’s interminable Four Seasons as a sporting exercise, and the trick palls all too soon. Twyla Tharp’s flimsy Nine Sinatra Songs uses saccharine ballads, all of which go on far too long, for choreography that gives social dance ideas above its station. The manner is slick, the emotions even slicker, Sinatra’s baying is frightful, and the Birmingham dancers are more at sea than in Poll. The women’s clothes, incidentally, have a decidedly Oxfam look.
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