Birmingham Royal Ballet, installed under the ancestral roof-tree this week, covered itself with glory in a triple bill on Wednesday night. Three ballets, part of the family silver, were on view, and shown with an engaging understanding of their qualities. And how remarkable the insights these gave into the Royal Ballet’s identity.
Checkmate dates from 1937, just six years after Ninette de Valois established her company at the Wells, and yet she could command a score made by a major English composer (Arthur Bliss); had the wit to commission design from an important commercial artist (McKnight Kauffer); and could respond to the European political situation in presaging war and a triumph of evil, symbolised in a game of chess. The Birmingham artists did well by the ballet and, seen on the stage for which it was intended, the choreography’s manoeuvres were grandly effective.
And then Symphonic Variations, that declaration about classic dance as Ashton wanted it for our national ballet when the troupe took up residence on Covent Garden’s stage in 1946. Hand on heart, I must declare that I have never been so affected by this masterpiece since I saw its premiere. This performance, by Jenna Roberts, Arancha Baselga, Laura-Jane Gibson, Iain Mackay, Jamie Bond (exceptionally fine) and Tzu-Chao Chou, recaptured the work’s freshness, its sublime clarity. There have been more stellar casts, but in sweetness of performance, in honesty of dancing, this sextet told the truth about a great ballet, made it anew for us. Cheers. Gratitude.
To close a notable evening, John Cranko’s Pineapple Poll, buoyant on its adorable Sullivan melodies, done with infectious enthusiasm, and a comic masterpiece still. César Morales was the brightest-footed Belayes, with joyful and giddy playing from his crew and his admirers, and with a merry Poll from Elisha Willis. My compliments to Laura Purkiss as the ultimate Blanche, duck-footed in excelsis, the neatest Victorian Miss.
An evening to remind us of the identity of the Royal Ballet (and its Birmingham sibling), of what Dame Ninette called “the English ballet”, and of where it came from. We ignore history at our peril.