Autumn Celebration, Sadler’s Wells, London


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The Independent Culture

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Autumn Celebration is overpacked but full of energy. From the sprinting dancers of David Bintley’s Faster to the flitting Shakespearean fairies of The Dream, this is a company in exuberant form.

The evening opens with The Grand Tour, a period romp created by Broadway choreographer Joe Layton in 1971. A gaggle of 1920s celebrities – from Noël Coward and George Bernard Shaw to silent movie vamp Theda Bara – embark on an ocean liner, where they are observed by an excitable American tourist. The music is by Coward, adapted by Hershy Kay. It’s a slight work, but Jade Heusen is sweetly dignified as the overawed tourist.

Faster, created by BRB’s director David Bintley for the Olympic year, has a driving new score by Matthew Hindson and bold, athletic dancing that keeps pace with it. Sporty costumes by Becs Andrews underline the sports involved – some quilting on the dashing female fencers, two piece running costumes, stylised judo outfits. The synchronised swimmers announce themselves, sweeping on in formation, smiles at the ready.

There are too many false endings, but Bintley has fun, mixing observant comedy and demanding steps. The athletes’ twitchy preparations go from warm-up stretches to signs of nerves; quick gestures deftly establish which sport we’re watching. The Birmingham dancers race through it, with powerful dancing from Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton in a fierce martial arts duet.

The company dance The Dream with verve. Frederick Ashton’s 1964 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is airy but fiendishly difficult. I’ve never seen BRB look more at home in it: they whiz through Ashton’s steps, with quick footwork and relaxed upper bodies.

As Titania, Natasha Oughtred has windblown speed in her solos, darting into changes of direction. Her Oberon, William Bracewell, has regal authority in the mime scene. He dances with smooth line, steady turns and a clean jump. Tzu-Chao Chu’s Puck has spectacular technique, but lacks nuance as a performer: the whirring spins are let down by the permagrin.

The young lovers scamper through their quarrels, with particular swagger from Matthew Lawrence’s Demetrius. Feargus Campbell has an open innocence as Bottom, remembering his transformation into a donkey with endearing wonder. In the finale, the corps de ballet of fairies imitate him – in the most fairyish way imaginable, repeating his big hoofing step with bright delicacy.

Tour continues to Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 30-31 October. Box office 029 2063 6464.