First comes George Balanchine’s sublime Serenade. Choreographed on Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C major for string orchestra, it was one of the Russian choreographer’s first pieces in his adopted home, the United States.
On a bare stage with a blue lit backdrop, 16 women stand immobile, one arm raised, diaphanous white skirts like wispy clouds on sky-blue leotards. The tone is set. This is a neo-classical, academic work illustrating both technique and enjoyment of ballet from its simplest steps – feet start by turning into first position, arms execute a basic port-de-bras – to progressively more intricate sequences.
Balanchine created Serenade on his first students. Because they were predominantly women, men (just a few) only make a late entrance; and Balanchine incorporates into the choreography little real life incidents: a student who’s late for class; another who falls down.
BRB dance this piece in a professional and commendable way. Perhaps only the big Russian companies are capable of matching Balanchine’s own New York City Ballet in conveying the essence of the master’s style; but BRB’s performance is good, spirited and enjoyable.
Particularly impressive in the first cast were soloists Céline Gittens and Momoko Hirata. Gittens is tall and leggy with a supremely elegant line of arms and arabesque; Hirata is a small bundle of energy and joy with exuberant turns.
We advise you to make use of the interval to fortify yourself for what’s to come.
David Bintley’s own Carmina Burana is choreographed on Carl Orff’s “vibrant, rude, aggressive, but fun” (Bintley’s words) cantata of the same name.
Orff drew his inspiration from a set of bawdy and profane anti-clerical poems from 13th century Europe. Three seminarians succumb to Fortune – Fortuna - and abandon their studies: in Bintley’s reading this is symbolised by their ripping off their dog collars along with varying amounts of clothing.
They opt instead for the pleasures of the world: drinking, gambling and lust.
This modern-day morality play develops against garish and busily changing sets where designer Philip Prowse uses a number of loosely-interpreted medieval symbols to create a lusty, carefree bohemian atmosphere.
If you like your ballets brash, colourful, cartoonish and in-your-face, you’ll like Bintley’s Carmina Burana.
If, furthermore, you like more than just a touch of Weimar-style cabaret thrown in for good measure, you’ll love it. The first night audience appeared to.
David Bintley is clearly revelling in his 20th year as Artistic Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. This is an attention-grabbing double-bill designed to show dance at both its earthiest and its most spiritual.
It also shows the amazing range of a company which has come a long way in the 25 years since it moved to Birmingham and escaped the shadow of its big brother in Covent Garden.
Read our interview with Birmingham Royal Ballet Artistic Director David Bintley here.
|What||Birmingham Royal Ballet: Carmina Burana and Serenade, London Coliseum|
|Where||London Coliseum, WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
19 Mar 15 – 21 Mar 15, Also 14:30 on Saturday 21st
|Website||Click here to book via the ENO website|