Dance / Carmina Burana / Birthday Offering Birmingham Royal Ballet Birmingham Hippodrome

'Almost every variation in Birthday Offering trembled into shaky focus and then simply died. Horribly'
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The Independent Culture
Artistic directors of ballet companies are wont to spend years talking out their grand plans before eventually, but more often never, coming up with the goods. Yet David Bintley, the relatively young successor to Peter Wright at Birmingham Royal Ballet, has launched his inaugural season with a double bill - his new Carmina Burana and Ashton's Birthday Offering, created in 1956 - in which he appears to have unconsciously adopted a brave but somewhat foolhardy reversal of standard practice.

Whatever you think of Bintley's choreography - we're probably in for a lot more of it now that he has BRB at his disposal - and despite a risibly poor performance of Birthday Offering, there's much to be said for a man who attempts such immediate implementation of his policies and risks failure. Bintley isn't exactly treading a dangerous path: his aim is to present new works and revise pieces like Birthday Offering which were originally created for the company. But he does, at least, seem to be pursuing a logical route designed to enrich BRB's repertoire and challenge its dancers. With one eye on heritage - hence Birthday Offering - and the other on moderately modern creations of his own or others' making, Bintley spurns any drastic revision. But unless the shambles that was BRB's delivery of Birthday Offering can be attributed to first-night nerves, Bintley badly needs to bring the heritage side up to scratch.

Whereas BRB's dancers show us scene after scene of elegantly articulated phrasing and speedy brilliance in Carmina Burana, those same dancers inhabit Birthday Offering as though it were alien territory full of unexpected stumbling blocks.And while, to its young inheritors, this candelabra and drapes showpiece will always hang heavy with the ghosts of its illustrious first cast of six ballerinas and their partners, led by Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes, almost every variation (bar Sandra Madgwick's) trembled into shaky focus and then simply died. Horribly.

All this is particularly sad and worrying because, more than any other work by Ashton, Birthday Offering belongs to BRB. Ashton created it in honour of the then Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet's 25th anniversary. Bintley thrusts a recent recruit, the doll-like Jennifer Gelfand, under the spotlight. But Gelfand is a curious mix of battery-operated competence and vacuousness. Only in the pas de deux where Sergiu Pobereznic, BRB's most instantly loveable young man, leads her across the stage in a twisting promenade, does Gelfand relax her ballet face (the equivalent of a telephone voice) as the choreography grows more rapturous and bold.

Carmina Burana is Carl Orff's forerunner to the West End musical. First performed in 1937, it has all the necessary ingredients for today's audience. Catchy tunes, just enough contrast and lots of instant gratification. Bintley's contemporary reading of the score's 13th-century songs and poems is a cross between Tommy and A Chorus Line, featuring gluttons, neo-Nazi thugs and skimpily-clad temptresses among its group portraits. Joseph Cipolla's love-sick seminarian, who whips off his dog-collar (and more) at the sight of Catherine Batcheller's leggy Fortuna, gives a performance that is as searing as Batcheller's is coolly powerful. But as a comment of what is in store for those whose loss of face is symptomatic of modern times, Bintley's Carmina Burana has little psychological impact. It's a swiftly moving comedy, a peep show and an entertaining revue. And although its interpretation of senseless violence and a two-fingers-up attitude to everything is vividly conveyed, in the end Bintley merely documents what we all know anyway: that we gave up our souls to the Devil long ago.

n Birmingham Hippodrome, 3 and 4 Oct. Booking: 0121-622 7486. Then touring to Plymouth and Bristol

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