Ballet, dance, sex and all that jazz

Tap and die: The brilliant duo of Robert Parker and the remarkably lithe Céline Gittens setting Tenth Avenue alight. Picture: Bill Cooper

On Their Toes!

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

SEX, beauty and strippers with a bit of tap thrown in means there is something for everyone in Birmingham Royal Ballet's triple bill.

First up is Theme and Variations which brings together BRB favourites Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao in George Balanchine 1947 ballet set to music by Tchaikovsky in  a sumptuous set of glittering heavenly blue drapes.

This was a traditional Russian ballet with a dainty corps, a dashing price and a beautiful princess. It is rather a strange piece. It is almost as if you have just caught the last act of a ballet and have no idea what went on before.

Despite its undoubted beauty it was the weakest of the three pieces in that timing was a little out and perhaps the principles showed a little too much lateral movement in some solos and although pretty and more than competent it never quite found the spark it perhaps needed to lift it into the extraordinary.

In one sequence a line of four of the corps lifted legs in more of a Mexican wave than in unison and there was a similar problem towards the end when at times Chi was half a beat out from the 12 male dancers. Nit picking it might be but in its own way a compliment in that we have come to expect perfection, or as near as damn it,  from the BRB so any flaw, no matter how minor, stands out like a beacon.

Grosse Fuge, Hans van Manen's 1971 ballet set to Beethoven's music is a different animal. This is raw, raunchy, sexual modern dance with four bare chested men in large belts, long skirts-come-trousers and four women in body stockings.

Sensuality in movement with Chi Cao and Elisha Willis in  Hans van Manen's Grosse Fuge. Photo Andrew Ross

Here we had perfect precision and unison in movement on a glistening white stage which occasionally had a hint of colour with a pencil thin line of white light on the back wall which moved up slowly as the dance progressed providing the only relief.

The piece starts with the four men dancing with the four women stationary in a group. Then the women dance with the men in a corner in a static cluster. Slowly the groups start to dance together eventually pairing off into couples as the men remove their skirts to reveal black trunks . .  and those belts.

It is all about sexual attraction and exploration as well as movement  which at one point sees the men lifting their partners off the floor and dragging them around with just their belts - which should really have a warning not to try that at home with the missus or the belt might have to be replaced with a truss.

It is sensuous stuff and the eight dancers manage to fill the vast Hippodrome stage which is no mean feat.

Finally came the fun bit with the return of the superb Robert Parker as the hoofer in the jazz themed Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, an earlier Balanchine ballet which originally came in towards the end of Rodgers and Hart's 1936 Broadway musical comedy On Your Toes.

The musical involved a music teacher trying to get the Russian Ballet to perform Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. When he gets involved with the prima ballerina then her lover and dance partner hires local gangsters to take him out. 

Richard Rodger's music has been covered by everyone from The Shadows to Liberace so there is plenty to go at in the score and the mood is created by a 1940s night cub set with high-heeled skyscrapers and a roof of laddered nylon stockings and fishnets.

The ballet was integrated into the musical by the simple plot of having gangsters in the audience waiting to shoot the lead dancer at the end of his act - so the hoofer keeps the act going . . . and going  . . . and going until the police finally arrive for a happy if exhausted ending.

MODERN ANATOMY

Parker and the stripper Céline Gittens are just brilliant - how she manages to get her legs so high and so easily in any direction is a wonder of modern anatomy and with his easy charm, acting ability and fluid, flowing movement Parker resembles a modern day Gene Kelly.

With shootings, police raids and gangsters this is a lively and funny piece and highlight of the evening.

A mention to for the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Paul Murphy and Philip Ellis for Grosse Fuge, who were superb, particularly in the Rodger's jazz score.

To 19-06-10. Then Swan Lake  22-06-10 to 26-06-10

Roger Clarke

Pars de deux

 * * * * *

NO need to be a ballet lover to appreciate the latest offering from the superb BRB. This triple bill - Theme and Variations, Grosse Fuge and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue - contained something for most tastes.

There was the sheer beauty of traditional ballet, the imagination and invention of dancers performing bare foot with intricate movement, and finally a dramatic piece including striptease, tap dancing ad gun-toting gangsters.

Theme and Variations:  Birmingham Royal Ballet and the symphonic beauty of Tchaikovsky's music
bring their own grace to the Hippodrome stage.
Photo Bill Cooper 

How's that for a mixture. The programme had grace and pace, athleticism and humour, with stunning choreography by George Balanchine and Hans van Manen, plus the glorious music of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Richard Rodgers.

The ballet opened with Theme and Variations featuring Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao in the lead roles, and it was beautifully danced with the ballerinas is glittering tutus.

Then came the remarkable Grosse Fuge which had four bare-chested male dancers in long black trouser-skirts and thick leather belts at first dancing alone, watched by four women in flesh-coloured undergarments who hardly moved a muscle for a time.

Eventually they joined the men, with one remarkable scene when the ballerinas grasped the men's belts to be drawn around stage, slave fashion. Very sexy.

Finally the company performed Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, set in a night club, with Celine Gittens - dressed in a skin-tight net body stocking and little else - playing the stripper and Robert Parker the Hoofer. It involved shooting and a raid by three police officers who gave almost a Keystone Kops routine. Brilliant.

Paul Murphy and Philip Ellis conducted the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, and the final performance was on Saturday night.

Paul Marston

home Hippodrome