DANCE Nothing to get historical over

Triple Bill Birmingham Royal Ballet Hippodrome, Birmingham

In 1942, when Antony Tudor created his one-act ballet psychodrama Pillar of Fire - now revived by Birmingham Royal Ballet - marriage was still the norm, and women who remained single were seen as either frigid old spinsters or wayward types who had fallen from grace.

Tudor presents both these models in Pillar of Fire. His central character is the emotionally messed-up Hagar (Marion Tait) who, having indulged in a sexually desperate liaison with the "young man from the house opposite" (the ridiculously tight-trousered Joseph Cipolla), not only brings shame upon herself (news travels fast in small-town New England circa 1900) but is left feeling even more wretched and lonely in the belief that she has destroyed all future hope of finding love with a man known only as the "Friend" (Kevin O'Hare).

To today's audience, the shock value of Tudor's storyline - based on a 19th-century German poem, which also inspired Schoenberg's Verklrte Nacht, the ballet's score - is negligible. But if Pillar of Fire is, essentially, a ballet of historical more than contemporary interest, it is also a work in which the dramatic weight and psychological charge of Tudor's movement- language remains undiminished. Tait, her small, compact body an agonised knot of repression, imprisoned jealousy and sexual frustration, conveys Hagar's self-hatred, fear of solitude and the paranoia she experiences when her pretty Young Sister (Simone Clarke) tries to wind herself into the Friend's affections. And in the concave shaping of the torso, and the pained stutters and twists of her movement, she leaves us in no doubt as to Hagar's suffering.

As part of Birmingham's "Towards the Millennium" celebrations, which this year focus on the 1940s, BRB has taken Ballanchine's 1947 Theme and Variations out of storage. And Oliver Hindle's new work, Libramenta, is linked to the Forties via its music, Bartok's Third Piano Concerto. That the Hippodrome audience is clearly more at home with the columns, drapes and electric candlelight of Peter Farmer's re-design for Theme, than with the damp and scabrous concrete-wall look of Lakis Yenethli's set for Libramenta, cannot justify BRB's decision to allow Hindle's ballet only one performance. It is his most substantial work to date, a mood piece laden with melting contrasts between closed and open movement.

It also boasts Sergiu Pobereznic as one of its two leading men. If only he, instead of Kevin O'Hare, could have partnered Margaret Tracey (guesting from New York City Ballet) in Theme. Watching O'Hare trying to keep up with the bold acceleration of Tchaikovsky's music, his stiff-shouldered toil laced with nervous, papery gestures, you weren't so much reminded of the fact that Ballanchine choreographed for women rather than men, as of the simple reality that Theme demands a better male dancer than O'Hare.

n `Theme and Variations', `Pillar of Fire' and Choreartium at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, 28, 29 March and `Copelia', 30,31 March and 1 April (Box-office: 01274 752 000)

Sophie Constanti

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