Birmingham Royal Ballet at the London Coliseum – Serenade & Carmina burana

Serenade – ballet to choreography by George Balanchine
Carmina burana – ballet in five Parts to choreography by David Bintley


Dancers – Elisha Willis, Momoko Hirata, Céline Gittens, Chi Cao, Tyrone Singleton, Karla Doorbar, Ruth Brill, Yvette Knight, Delia Mathews, Miki Mizutani, Laura Purkiss, Alys Shee, Yijing Zhang, Brooke Ray, Laura Day, Reina Fuchigami, Jade Heusen, Anna Monleon, Maki Sekuzu, Leticia Dia Domingues, Emily Smith, Dana Stanciulescu, Jonathan Caguioa, Feargus Campbel, Brandon Lawrenc, Tom Rogers

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Music
Kaririska – Costumes
Peter Teigen – Lighting

Carmina burana
Fortuna – Samara Downs
Seminarians – Jamie Bond, Mathias Dingman, lain Mackay, Lewis Turner, Kit Holder, Feargus Campbell, Oliver Till

Women in Spring – Arancha Baselga, Reina Fuchigami, Yvette Knight, Maureya Lebowitz, Angela Paul, Laura Purkiss
Naive Boy – Jamie Bond

Lover Girl – Elisha Willis
Pony Tails – Maureya Lebowitz, Angela Paul, Laura Purkiss
Serenade – Kit Holder, Rory Mackay, Valentin Olovyannikov, Lewis Turner

Boiling Rage – Mathias Dingman
Roast Swan – Jenna Roberts
Gluttons – Yasuo Atsuji, Brandon Lawrence, Rory Mackay, Valentin Olovyannikov, Oliver Till

Sick with Love – lain Mackay
Tarts – Arancha Baselga, Ruth Brill, Reina Fuchigami, Jade Heusen, Yvette Knight, Delia Mathews, Karla Doorbar, Emily Smith, Alys Shee

Madeleine Pierard (soprano), Jeremy Budd (tenor), William Dazeley (baritone)

Ex Cathedra
Royal Ballet Sinfonia
Philip Ellis [Serenade]
Paul Murphy

Jeffrey Skidmore – Artistic Director
Carl Orff – Music [Carmina burana]
Philip Prowse – Designs
Peter Mumford – Lighting

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 21 March, 2015
Venue: The Coliseum, London

Carmina burana (Birmingham Royal Ballet)Photograph: Bill Cooper

In a welcome visit to the capital, Birmingham Royal Ballet took the London Coliseum for what proved to be a strange pairing of George Balanchine’s luminous 1934/5 Serenade and company Director David Bintley’s 1995 Carmina burana, a choreographic romp through Carl Orff’s rambunctious score.

Serenade was performed in lively fashion by this immensely likeable troupe, and while Elisha Willis seemed ill at ease with her movements, only getting into her stride in the final section, Céline Gittens demonstrated suitably long-limbed Balanchinean line even if she did not approach her choreography with the same ‘attack’ as the seraphic Momoko Hirata, who sailed impressively through every challenge and established a felicitous relationship with Tchaikovsky’s musical lyricism.

Carmina burana (Birmingham Royal Ballet)Photograph: Bill Cooper

The corps de ballet was impressive in its cohesion and unified approach to the music, and contributed to the impression of ‘sweep’ which characterises the first and third movements (Balanchine altered their order in creating this ballet, so the work closes with the ‘Élégie’). This final movement was particularly poignant, with an intensity of performance from the principals expressing unspecified loss or longing, and the requisite attainment of peace as Willis is carried away held aloft as the curtain drops. A spirited performance, too, of the Tchaikovsky by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Phillip Ellis, who maintained suitably brisk tempos throughout.

Carmina burana requires large forces, and it was luxury casting indeed to have the leading choir and Early Music ensemble Ex Cathedra giving life to Orff’s 1937 cantata as well as three impressive soloists, none more so than the authoritative William Dazeley. Paul Murphy held the musical performance together with aplomb and it was difficult not to be pulled along by this exciting musical experience.

Choreographically, Bintley offers more mixed fare; 65 minutes is a very long time in dance, and Orff does not always make the best of composers for choreography, given the degree of repetition as several verses of his text are worked through. At its best Carmina burana is thrilling, nowhere more so than in the opening section ‘Fortuna’: to the familiar choral explosion Samara Downs was alone centre stage, blindfolded, in a little Black Dress and high heels – her semaphore movements were mesmeric and made for the strongest of opening images. Bintley’s ‘narrative’ of three seminarians each finding their own road to perdition in a crisis-of-faith is sometimes too thin not to strain, and the punkish antics of the ensemble in ‘Boiling Rage’ now seem horribly passé.

Mathias Dingman, however, danced up a storm, explosive of movement, furious of character. Iain Mackay, stripped down to his underwear at the end of the ballet, brought his customary dignity and noble stage presence. Bintley’s movement palette is varied, bringing together Classical Dance with a more Mark Morris-style response to the music and even elements of tanztheater in ensemble work. Ultimately, it is the music which carries the dance along, aided only fitfully by some now quite outdated costumes – if there is anything less flattering to a ballet dancer than a tight-fitting ginger wig and baggy zoot suit, I have yet to see it.

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