Staging a high class attraction

Opposites Attract

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

****

The Hippodrome's new £1 million stage has been christened by perhaps the most demanding of the 10,000 or so musicians and performers who tread its boards each year – the dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet.

And with Opposites Attract BRB has produced a performance worthy of this latest landmark in the Hippodrome's history with three very different short ballets opening with Take Five set to the music of Dave Brubeck.

For audience members of a certain age this was a trip down memory lane with Brubeck's Take Five, along with the likes of Jacques Loussier and his interpretations of Bach, the epitome of cool jazz in the black polo neck beatnik days of the early 60s.

Carol-Anne Millar was the woman among the four men, presumably the five, in the opening piece of six short episodes featuring a cast of ten,  with Joseph Caley, who I suspect will always look like a sixth former allowed to stay up late on a school night by the head, producing some stunning footwork in Flying Solo. The lad is coming on, quite literally, in leaps and bounds and manages to catch the eye whenever he appears.

The piece, which was first performed in 2007, was choreographed by BRB director David Bintley.

Lyric Pieces, the second short ballet, choreographed by Jessica Lang, was commissioned for this year's International Dance Festival and had its premiere at The Crescent in May. It comprised 10 short pieces danced to the music of Edvard Grieg played quite beautifully by pianist Jonathan Higgins.

It is rare that ballet plays second fiddle to scenery but Molo Design have created the most fascinating props seen for many a year, walls and stools made out of black kraft paper, pleated like the bellows of an accordion which can expand to 6ft walls covering half the huge stage or compress to a round stool a foot high.

The pieces, changing shape with each piece of music, deserved applause just as much as the cast of eight.

The final set was the most incomprehensible, Grosse Fuge, set to the music of Beethoven with the full Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Koen Kessels.

Four bare chested men in long black skirts open the dance with four ballerinas standing in a fragile group at the back of the vast, empty, dazzling white stage with the only relief a white linear light slowly rising up the back wall.

The piece, choreographed by Hans van Manen, has sexual overtones and erotic imagery such as when the four women are lifted holding on to the belts of the men straddling them and there was a rustle of approval? anticipation? who knows? when the men took off their skirts to reveal short black trunks in a sort of up-market Chippendales move.

Opposites Attract runs until  29-09-12 with Swan Lake opening on 02-09-12 and running to 06-09-12.

Roger Clarke

And attracted opposite . . .

*****

WHAT better way to launch the Hippodrome's expensive new stage than host the BRB with their superb triple bill which is a visual and musical delight.

Perfect timing, you might think, and the immaculate surface seemed vast due to the lack of scenery as the dances, Take Five, Lyric Pieces and Grosse Fuge were performed with mainly the assistance of clever lighting and white drapes.

There was, however, one remarkable exception when, in Lyric Pieces, the dancers employed what might be called do-it-yourself scenery - fascinating black pleated 'walls' and 'pillars' that opened and closed like the bellows of my old granddad's concertina.

Smaller pieces of the equipment were even manipulated around and over the cast as they danced to Grieg's music and Jessica Lang's choreography.

The opening piece, Take Five, was choreographed by the BRB's director, David Bintley and beautifully danced to Dave Brubeck's music. The intricate movement of the dancers was a joy for the large audience.

Finally the company staged the hugely impressive Grosse Fuge, choreographed by Hans van Manen and danced to Beethoven's music, with the four bare chested men wearing black full-length skirts and leather belts and four, more traditionally attired, ballerians.

In the final scenes of this tastefully sexy piece, the men discarded their skirts, revealing tight black briefs beneath, and at one point the girls glided gracefully along clutching those strong leather belts.

Music was provided by the talented Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Koen Kessels. Opposites Attract runs to Saturday night (Sep 29), and the BRB then stage Swan Lake at the Hippodrome from October 2-6. Don't miss it.

Paul Marston 

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