thu 25/07/2024

Quatrain/Kin /Les Rendezvous, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Crescent Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Quatrain/Kin./Les Rendezvous, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Crescent Theatre

Quatrain/Kin./Les Rendezvous, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Crescent Theatre

Ashton carries the honours in a trio of young men's ballets

The innovative lifts in Kit Holder's new piece, 'Quatrain' straddle the line between grace and awkwardness.Photo: Bill Cooper

It is proof, as if more were needed, of how very right-on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s director David Bintley is, that he chose to open the International Dance Festival currently taking place in that city with two specially commissioned ballets from emerging choreographers who started their dancing careers with the company: Quatrain by Kit Holder and Kin. by Alexander Whitley.

Finishing up the bill with an early Frederick Ashton piece – Les Rendezvous (1933) on Thursday and Friday; Façade (1931) on Saturday – completes a hat trick by choreographers not far off their 30th birthdays. These are young men’s ballets.

Now, some might say 30 is not that young, especially for dancers, whose professional careers start in their teens. But good choreography is about far more than technical command; it needs emotional intelligence and a sense of disciplinary history. Both are slower to acquire.

So Holder and Whitley are young for choreographers, and it shows. Both of their pieces are coherent, and competent, but they lack a certain something – a sense of a deeper purpose, a drive to tell some kind of story about either people or dance – that would hold them together. Without such an animating spirit, all the ingenious steps, the complicated, even laborious, floor and partner work in the world can’t fill 20 minutes without longueurs.

Ruth Brill and Jonathan Caguoia in Kit Holder's QuatrainQuatrain is the more distinguished of the two: Holder is clearly bubbling with ideas, and some of them are very good indeed – the eye-tricking ripple of a tango rhythm across the limbs of four men in the half light; the arch repetition by men of a flirty wiggle done moments before by their female partners; the spacious third position arms that were something of a leitmotif. Both design (Adam Wiltshire; a geometric metal set-piece) and music (Astor Piazzolla; tango+Vivaldi) were characterful, tasteful, and restrained, while the men’s tights were delicious; spirograph lines giving them square knees like comic-book superheroes (pictured above right). But pity the women, who had to wear long-sleeved leotards that made them look like teenage gymnasts, do frequent slides down into the splits that reinforced the same impression, and be thrown around in laboured partner work that only intermittently seemed to have an aesthetic point (pictured top: one of the better instances).

Similar partner-work issues spoiled Kin., Alexander Whitley’s piece, and without the mitigating factor of good design, the smoky faux-marble walls, gilded doors, and black leotards are a bit Interview With a Vampire (or grand French seaside hotel in the off-season, depending on your cultural reference points). It’s a shame, because Jenna Roberts and Joseph Caley are two of BRB’s top principals, but they look uncomfortable in their involved, inscrutable duets (pictured below left); it’s left to Tzu-Chao Chou to add pizzazz with his explosive solo, and to the final movement, with all five couples, to show off Whitley’s eye for pattern. It was too little, too late, but the final applause was enthusiastic  – a response at least partly, I suspect, to the sudden upsurge of both tunefulness and energy in Phil Kline’s modernist string quartet score

Joseph Caley and Jenna Roberts in Alexander Whitley's 'Kin'Les Rendezvous is a frothy little take on a walk in the park, originally created to show off Alicia Markova’s quickness and lent new visual delight by Anthony Ward’s 2000 redesign in polka dots and sorbet shades. Ashton’s talent shines through in its details – the tiny looks, gestures, pauses and double-takes that establish characters and provide laughs – but also in its pitch-perfect, light-touch classicism. Arnold Haskell once observed that Les Rendezvous is “dancer-proof: change the cast a dozen times and it remains first-class.” But no caveats are needed with the always engaging dancers of BRB on the job; they and the piece show each other off to best advantage. William Bracewell doing huge jumps in a pink braided blazer; compact, sparky Laura Day minxily flirting with both partners in the pas de trois; Jenna Roberts airy, graceful, collected. With the Royal Ballet Sinfonia on crisp form (as they were all evening), it’s 21 minutes of pure pleasure.

Despite my reservations about both newer works, this triple bill in its entirety is a very good thing. Not just nurturing but actively promoting home-grown talent in this way – with budgets, creative control, a festival première and a proper run on tour – is wholly laudable, and I look forward to seeing more, from Holder in particular. Can I also dare to hope that, as well as keeping up the good work with young men, David Bintley might see his way to putting on a trio of young women’s ballets at next year's International Dance Festival?!

  • The International Dance Festival Birmingham presents an exciting range of dance performances across the city until 25 May. The pieces from this triple bill form part of Birmingham Royal Ballet's spring tour until 21 May 
Without an animating spirit, all the ingenious steps, the complicated floor and partner work in the world can’t fill 20 minutes without longueurs


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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