Birmingham Royal Ballet | Autumn Glory

Birmingham Royal Ballet | Autumn Glory

Sadlers Wells, London

Wednesday, October 19th 2011

ballet dancers in red pointe shoes

Checkmate Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet as Red Pawns Photograph : Graeme Braidwood

It was a night about pointe shoes. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Autumn Glory triple bill gives us Checkmate/Symphonic Variations and Pineapple Poll; we start with a strategy and finish with fun, and there’s a sandwich filling of pure dance and no plot.  Nowhere to hide, either.  For the six dancers, it’s a 20 minute full-on marathon, and they danced Frederick Ashton’s choreography beautifully. Sophie Fedorovich’s costumes are gorgeous for the girls; a little less so for the men but Iain Mackay is manly enough to handle it.  He and Jenna Roberts whisked up quite a souffle with their endless beaten jumps and quick turns, and the other four dancers were never left behind. One stray shoe ribbon betrayed the effort of those beaten jumps but was quickly restored from distraction.

Pineapple Poll is a bit of predictable fun, and danced with great characterization if a little less precision – which seems to happen when the dancers are playing ‘fun’ characters.  Callie Roberts, Jade Heusen and Laura Davenport along with Robert Gravenor and Kit Holder were by turns adorable and minxy, but the title role sits most comfortably (as do the costumes) on Elisha Willis.  The costumes.  Well, for the most part, vastly unflattering, though I guess they are meant to be.  César Morales, as Capyain Belaye is too slight for a sailor and his white trews swamped him, but my goodness what a pay-off when you see his fleet feet in action. Fast, accurate, light as you like, Morales embodies the spirit if not the body of a sailor.

The Pot Boy, Mathias Dingman, really got into his character from the first step, lugging a great heavy pot of water and scrubbing the walls of The Steam Packet. Dilligence pays off, and he gets his girl in the end. 

ballet dancers

Pineapple Poll Jade Heusen as a Sweetheart and Benjamin Soerel as a Sailor Photograph : Graeme Braidwood

Checkmate is a tricky one.  Balanching the ballet steps with the stragetic foresight of a chess game might work in theory; in practice only the Knights get to match the two together in a pleasingly visual way. Choreographed by Ninette de Valois, who did not play chess and had to be taught the moves, the pointe work for the Pawns and the accuracy needed overall make for a challenging ballet. Chi Cao, as the First Red Knight has some fiendish dancing and some, while Joe Caley as the Second Red Knight frames the action.

The two well syncronised (despite the height difference) Black Knights, Tom Rogers and Max Westwell (his first time on the London stage with BRB) seem altogether more powerful, like tightly coiled springs. They have tight, boxed in steps (requiring very neat feet) and serious faces with black lips. Their Queen, Samara Downs, lacked convincing seduction which rather lets down a key plank of the story (her seduction of the Red Knight who fails to kill her, only to be killed by her).

By contrast, the soft, caring Red Queen (Laëtitia Lo Sardo) brought sunshine to an otherwise dated, cardboard set-up, but she has little to do. And talking of little to do, whatever are the Castles doing, wafting about with dumbbells ?

Overall Checkmate is well danced by the company, who continually rehearse their men so that they are airborne on stage at the same time; a feat you might think de-facto in a ballet company but it’s rarely so and and area where BRB really do lead the field.

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