• Naomi Cockshutt

Birmingham Royal Ballet Polarity and Proximity

June, 15 2018 | Sadler's Wells

Delia Mathews and Brandon Lawrence in Embrace © Emma Kauldhar

Birmingham Royal Ballet returns to Sadler’s Wells to present its summer mixed programme: Polarity and Proximity, a triptych of modern work, including the first commission for Ballet Now. In partnership with Sadler’s Wells, the Company’s five-year programme will witness the creation of ten new ballets by emerging choreographers, composers and designers.

Opening the evening is former Birmingham Royal Ballet dancer Alexander Whitley’s Kin. An abbreviation of kinetic, Whitley, who now leads his own contemporary dance company, created the abstract piece for ten dancers in 2014 for the Birmingham International Dance Festival. Set to four movements of Phil Kline's The Blue Room and Other Stories, performed live by the strings of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Leader Robert Gibbs, conducted by Jonathan Lo, with designs from fellow Company alumnus Jean-Marc Puissant, vividly lit by Peter Teigen.

Principals Jenna Roberts and Joseph Caley (who both leave the Company at the end of the season) lead a sprightly ensemble in a series of solos, duets, trios and group numbers. Shifting within their own square, each dancer expresses their physicality and technical capability, whilst moving as one larger wave. Sharp turns and darting allegro to racing strings, lateral to daring partner work with expansive lifts - this is contemporary dance underpinned by a very classical technique.

For the middle section, Koen Kessels conducts Sarah Kirkland Snider’s inaugural ballet score in George Williamson’s world première Embrace, which features novel designs from Madeleine Girling. Working with dramaturg Lou Cope, the abstract narrative is centered around individual identity and “otherness”, a theme Williamson wishes to explore, but more importantly embrace, hence the title.

In this modern ballet, Soloist Brandon Lawrence powerfully portrays a man in crisis, unable to romantically connect with a woman, shown by a conflicting male-female pas de deux, then later a male-male pas de deux, however the score nor choreography struggle to take up pace - sadly a bland creation.

American duo choreographer Twyla Tharp and composer Philip Glass close the programme with In the Upper Room. Donning Norma Kamali’s original costume designs, the Stomper-cast (Principals Tzu-Chao Chou and Tyrone Singleton, Soloists Laura Purkiss, Kit Hodler and First Artists Ruth Brill and Jade Heusen) wear street trainers, whilst their Classical counterparts, staring Principal Delia Mathews who reaches every height and line in exactitude, dance in red pointe shoes. Athletic relevés and zippy temps liés are interspersed by jogging - a pedestrian ballet to a celestial synthesised soundscape. The 1986 nine-movement marathon is a test of physical endurance in which the Company transcend.

The summer mixed programme continues its tour to Birmingham Hippodrome from 20 to 23 June 2018 as part of the Birmingham International Dance Festival.

Momoko Hirata, Feargus Campbell, Miki Mizutani and Max Maslen in In The Upper Room © Emma Kauldhar