Dance Triple Bill Birmingham Royal Ballet

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The Independent Culture
Mixed bills are usually cheaper than Swan Lakes. But not in Birmingham, where loyal audiences are happy to watch whatever Birmingham Royal Ballet are dancing. This is very largely due to David Bintley's shrewd but lively approach to programming. The triple bill playing this week was a deft mix of popular classics and innovation well calculated to appeal to the "ageing socialites" recently identified as Britain's core theatre-going audience.

You didn't have to be old enough to remember Fonteyn and Harold Turner to see that Frederick Ashton's Les Patineurs wasn't danced to perfection. The ballerina's delicious, gliding farewell after the pas de deux looked more as if the dancer had frozen solid and was being dragged off the ice. However, it is a measure of Ashton's genius that even a less than ideal presentation never obscures the greatness of the work or dulls its appeal. Ashton's jokes, the nuances of characterisation, didn't rest in the personalities of his dancers but were encoded in the choreography itself.

Sadly, this was not the case with James Kudelka's attempt at Le Baiser de la Fee. Stravinsky's 1928 homage to Tchaikovsky used Hans Christian Andersen's tale of the ice maiden as an allegory of musical inspiration. A young Swiss boy in a snow storm takes the fancy of an ice maiden who plants a fateful kiss on his brow. Years later, she interrupts his bucolic nuptial arrangements and finally claims him for her own. Nijinska, Balanchine, Ashton and MacMillan have all done versions of the story using the intricate score with its myriad echoes of Tchaikovskian themes to explore the notion of artistic inspiration.

What did James Kudelka make of it all? Not a great deal. Nadine Baylis's shimmering ice landscapes and chilly eau-de-nil chiffons were exquisite, the music was well played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the choreography consisted very largely of men in lederhosen slapping their thighs. Kudelka presumably settled on schuhplattler as the central choreographic motif in response to Andersen's alpine setting but as a response to Stravinsky it was woefully inadequate. We concluded with the young man (a miscast Michael O'Hare) pinned against a jumbo icicle in crucifixion pose by the embrace of the ice maiden - hardly the unleashing of inspiration promised in the preposterous programme note.

The evening ended with David Bintley's Nutcracker Sweeties, a delicious extravaganza that sidestepped any odious comparisons with Petipa / Ivanov by using Duke Ellington's version of Tchaikovsky. Bintley's choreography for the various confections and national dances was witty and varied but every scene was stolen by Jasper Conran's delectably detailed costumes. Monica Zamora's Sugar Rum Cherry wore a strapless red gown encrusted with beaded fruits; Agnes Oaks was a jitterbugging bobbysoxer in a crisply ruffled blue gingham tutu studded with smarties. Chenca Williams was licorice allsorts a-go-go in the Spanish dance but, for once, the personality was even louder than the dress. A gifted comic actress, she took her pratfalls with a fuzzy earnestness, her dignity soaked in gin.

LOUISE LEVENE

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