Birmingham Royal Ballet
Powder | E=mc² | The Centre and its Opposite
Sadlers Wells, 10th November 2009
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s autumn season arrived in London this week and it is a chance to see this forward-thinking, powerhouse of a Company on top form. By nurturing its young dancers and giving them opportunities not available elsewhere, each visit is a treat for the audience and opens up endless possibilities.
Powder, a piece for seven couples choreographed by Stanton Welch and with the great Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major (though it opens in silence) is a mix of fun, drama and a hint of something more boudoir.
All of the cast were excellent but I have to mention Natasha Oughtred whose port de bras were exquisite, especially as she slowly lowered into a backbend, supported by waiting arms she could not see. The costumes, depicting a hint of modern underwear rather than the style of Mozart’s period, bring out a flavour of cheekiness in the way they are used throughout, especially for the ladies in sheer long, tiered skirts with a bustle at the back, picking them up and letting them go just so.
The stunning synchronization between the men is a joy to watch – whether it’s a jeté or a series of blisteringly fast turns, Birmingham Royal Ballet are the only UK Company who seem able to achieve such consistent sharpness and timing. At the close, Oughtred starts as she began, with her back to the audience, and a cloud of – what else – powder, blossoms around her.
The world’s most famous equation follows – E=mc² is divided into four – Energy (for the first symbol), Mass (the M symbol), both of which are linked by Celeritas (swiftness; the C symbol), and c² (the speed of light squared) potentially turns the mass into a vast amount of energy – the Manhattan Project.
Who would make a ballet based on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and would it work? The answer is that it does, though with a good deal of challenging light and sound along the way. You’ve got every kind of drama here – smoke, thundering clouds, light and shade, with atmosphere in spades.
E=mc² has been entirely funded by donations to the Director’s Appeal, an initiative which is keeping BRB at the forefront of classical ballet.
Energy is powerful and big, with Elisha Willis and Joseph Caley leading the ensemble. It’s contrasted by the dark Mass in which the dancers appear slower, heavier, and dance in shafts of light, in pairs of men who hold the women aloft. Special mention here to Jenna Roberts who seemed most at ease with the choreography.
Samara Downs, as a mock-Geisha (why couldn’t we have the real thing ?), opens a red fan and twists and turns in the manner of the Dying Swan, as a red square of light appears behind her. Most likely you’ve never experienced the explosive fallout from an atomic bomb detonating, and I certainly had energy squared as I was catapulted from my seat by the ear-splitting blast. Fortunately I wasn’t alone.
This rumbling bellow gradually subsides into the speed of light, and here Carol-Anne Millar and Alexander Campbell dazzled. The backdrop of rows of gradually brightening light bulbs (to incandescent levels) was a test on the eye after the darkness of the preceding sections and made it hard to focus on the dance for a while, but what a dance ! With a speed that would put Riverdance to shame, the relentless pace showed what athletes the dancers are. Callie Roberts had her own spotlight, as did Samara Downs, Arancha Baselga & Steven Monteith.
The belligerent The Centre and its Opposite showcases Dusty Button’s fast flashing legs and quick sharp turns. One false move and you sense there would be trouble. Robert Parker & Jonathan Caguioa were outstandingly good in a piece where Huey Benjamin’s synthesised music grated after a time but I’d concede went well with Garry Stewart’s choreography. Stewart is Artistic Director of Australian Dance Theatre, where the dancers are trained in ashanta yoga, gymnastics and martial arts, some of which I feel may have been lost by making a ballet on a classical company such as BRB. The grey & blue costumes by Georg Meyer-Wiel complimented the dancers and showed off their physicality.
Overall this triple bills shows off the tremendous strength of the Company and you will be richly rewarded for your support of Birmingham Royal Ballet.