In Daphnis and Chloë , the dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet wind in chain dances to Ravel’s shimmering score. As they twist and sway, there’s a sensuous ripple to their shoulders, as if they feel the warmth of the Mediterranean sun on their skin.
In this double bill of ballets by Frederick Ashton, the company dive into dances for shepherds, pirates and gypsies, with a nice sense of the different imagined worlds. The corps dances in Daphnis have real glow, while the gypsies of The Two Pigeons have bouncy operetta gusto.
Jamie Bond and Jenna Roberts make a gentle Daphnis and Chloë. He’s confident in Daphnis’s demanding competition solo, without showing the strain of its flowing steps. Roberts gives a clean account of her dance to a flute, as everyone celebrates Chloë’s escape from captivity. Feargus Campbell is pugnacious as rival shepherd Dorkon, while Mathias Dingman has a whale of a time as Bryaxis, the pirate chief.
The group dances are best of all, from the graceful friezes of the shepherds to the whirling, stamping dances for the pirates. Everyone looks at home in the vivid, sunbaked landscape of John Craxton’s designs, all strong colours and cubist trees. Koen Kessels conducts the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in a smooth performance of Ravel's score.
Created in 1961, The Two Pigeons is the story of a young artist and his girlfriend, quarrelling in their Parisian garret. He’s tempted away by a gypsy girl, only to come home sadder and wiser. Ashton has fun following the theatrical conventions for gypsies and artists, and those for ballet generally. The heroine’s friends keep surrounding the couple in mournful Swan Lake groupings, though their crooked elbows still suggest pigeons.
Ambra Vallo and Chi Cao dance cleanly as the young lovers, but these roles need bolder personalities. The characters are a tricky pair, both immature and given to strops; the ballet works better if they don’t get too sweet.
Both Vallo and Cao warm up in response to the challenge of Carol-Ann Millar’s brilliant gypsy girl. Millar is marvellous, bounding through the jumps and springy pointework, shaking her shoulders at lovers and rivals. Vallo’s heroine becomes punchier in response, working up to their shake-off, while Cao’s hero is swept eagerly along. Iain Mackay makes a swaggering gypsy lover. The Two Pigeons is a ballet with livestock: the birds were perfectly well behaved, arriving bang on cue.
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