Birmingham Royal Ballet: Autumn Glory, Sadler's Wells, London


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Birmingham Royal Ballet's latest triple bill goes from symbolic drama to nautical romp, with serene lyricism inbetween. Under the title Autumn Glory, it covers the era when British ballet came of age. It's a terrific programme, danced with care and confidence.

Created in 1937, Ninette de Valois' Checkmate shows love and death at war through a game of chess. E McKnight Kauffer, one of the leading designers of posters for the Underground, created brilliant geometrical costumes, one side in searing reds and oranges, the other in stark black and grey. De Valois' choreography has chess echoes – perky pawns, equestrian moves for the knights – and big confrontations.

This was a strong revival, with clean technique and bold lines. Victoria Marr made a hard-edged Black Queen, enjoying the power of her stabbing pointe work and seizing her daggers with relish. Iain Mackay was a vigorous Red Knight, with Jonathan Payne vulnerable as the frail Red King.

In Frederick Ashton's 1946 Symphonic Variations, six dancers move through the huge green space of Sophie Fedorovitch's designs. Danced to César Franck's score, it's a radiant classical ballet, full of flowing lines and gleaming footwork. It's one of the great challenges of the British repertory, needing soft grace in very demanding steps.

There's still a little tension in the Birmingham Royal Ballet revival; the women need more limpid repose in their shoulders. Yet this is a warm performance, with sparkle in the dances and a good sense of space. The men are more relaxed, with Chi Cao outstanding.

In John Cranko's Pineapple Poll it's all confident bounce. From the music – arranged by Charles Mackerras from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas – to Osbert Lancaster's exuberant designs, it's a thoroughly cheerful ballet. The lovesick heroine disguises herself as a sailor to chase after the impossibly handsome Captain Belaye. Hornpipes are danced, plots uncovered and happy endings firmly arranged.

As Poll, Carol-Anne Millar soars on stage, bounding high and beaming. Poll's indefatigable dances need strong feet, a big jump and immense energy: Millar sails through it with gusto. Robert Parker is a stylish Belaye, dashing and a little pompous in his big solos. Arancha Baselga gives his airheaded fiancée freshness and charm. Philip Ellis conducted the Royal Ballet Sinfonia with verve.

Theatre Royal, Plymouth (01752 267 222) Tuesday & Wednesday