As a manifesto of the company's present strength, no fewer than five different casts danced the leads this past weekend at Birmingham Hippodrome, and two further pairs are scheduled to appear on the tour. Besides, all the small roles are shared by at least two or three performers, and the general standard, whichever cast you see, is impressively high.
Inevitably, there was special interest in the first appearance of Thomas Edur and Agnes Oaks, newly joined from English National Ballet. We knew that Edur is the best man any British company can offer for these big romantic roles, and he demonstrated it clearly with his courteous manner, fine partnering and brilliant solo work. The only possible complaint about his dancing is that, giving a pepped-up version of the main solo, he makes it all look so light and easy that the virtuosity could go unnoticed.
Oaks shows equally smooth technique and style, but is more bland in characterisation (I think I have always enjoyed her best in modern roles). At the risk of heresy, I wonder whether, for all their beautiful rapport, this couple are too much alike in their blond, slender looks and elegant manner to make an ideal partnership. Maybe each of them might be sparked off dramatically by appearing with someone else for more contrast.
There is certainly no lack of choice within BRB. The most moving performances of the run were those at Saturday's two shows. Monica Zamora (matinee) gives a rare clarity to the old-fashioned mime gestures, as well as to her dancing, phrasing everything beautifully to the music. Maybe Wolfgang Stollwitzer, her partner, looked a little self-conscious at times, but his tall, dark good looks and bold dancing make this excusable.
Theirs was the reticent, classic style, and excellent within it. If you prefer more intensity, Letitia Muller and Sergiu Pobereznic that evening had it, and to spare. Both of them went all out for every touch of emotion, firm, strong and vivid in their dancing individually and together. The weak point of this production is a somewhat skimped last act (until the radiant final apotheosis), but this couple pull it off best through sheer commitment.
In the supporting casts, I kept noticing bright, interesting faces and eager dancing from old hands and new recruits alike: so many that to name a few would be unfair. Better to note the quality of the whole, and to remark that the men, far from being "ballet boys", all look and dance like real men, which sets off the beguiling femininity of the women. A word, too, for the Royal Ballet Sinfonia's wholehearted playing under Peter Ernst Lassen and Anthony Twiner.
A footnote (literally): BRB used to insist on all the women wearing proper, shiny pink ballet shoes in the old classics, which made them look neaterthan other British companies.They no longer do this, and the resulting mixture of polished and matt detracts from their otherwise admirable corps work. Easy to put right - go for it.