I have sometimes contemplated the theory of “ballet programming as suicide note”. Companies arrive in London, and for reasons of internal politics or directorial caprice rather than artistic merit, schedule lurching choreographic grotesques to introduce themselves to their public. There ensue sulks, self-justification, bitter words about about public incomprehension, about everything except the wrong choices.
So, alas, I felt about last week’s offering from Birmingham Royal Ballet. The initial triple bill I thought below the standards of the company’s valuable repertory, most persuasive performances. Thursday’s second bill began badly and continued too vehemently (and for too long) for my taste. Happiness came at the end. The revival of Joe Layton’s 40-year-old and pretty-leaden-when-it-was-new The Grand Tour, which offers the unlovely prospect of caricatured 1920s celebrities (from Mary Pickford to Alice B. Toklas) on a cruise and is the apotheosis of a cliché, defeats its cast, offers nothing to them except empty posing.
David Bintley’s new Faster is set to a boisterous, unrelenting score by Matthew Hindson, and is given amusing costumes – the gauzy T-shirts might be Piet Mondrian at M&S. It comments on every sort of recent Olympic activity, lasts for 37 energetic (and too long for its own good) minutes. The cast is tireless, and deserves medals.
And at last, Ashton’s The Dream, with Birmingham’s dancers on best form, playing with delightful enthusiasm, bring this masterpiece to happy life. César Morales is a fine Oberon, Momoko Hirato a delicate Titania, the quartet of lovers well done – I much admired Matthew Lawrence’s Demetrius as a military cliché – and Jonathan Caguioa was a nicely innocent Bottom, with pointes of steel. BRB’s artists gave the best of themselves, and this ravishing ballet lived with not a breath less delight than at Covent Garden. We rejoiced.
I rejoiced even more at the presence of the girls’ voices from Birmingham Cathedral Choir. Their account of Mendelssohn’s choruses was clear, true, sensitive, a welcome change from the usual tots pecking at top notes at the Royal Opera House. Covent Garden should employ these Birmingham voices for future performances.