A bold, risk-taking, heady mix: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Curated by Carlos

Sadler’s Wells, London
November 4 2021

Curated by Carlos is a programme that sees Birmingham Royal Ballet moving into the top league on the world stage. The dancers successfully tackled the diversity of styles in bold, risk-taking programming as Carlos Acosta defines what we can expect from the company under his leadership.

Goyo Montero’s Chacona is a ballet that captures the grandeur and spirit of J.S. Bach’s music. Superbly lit, (by Nicolás Fischtel), it has the spiritual reach of lofty Gothic cathedrals as light streams from on high onto the dark stage and also the raw vigour of human endeavour. And in London audiences savoured the pleasure of an additional pas de deux, written for Alessandra Ferri and BRB Director, Acosta. It was a treat of vintage quality. Ferri’s beauty permeates the stage like a heady perfume. The elegance of her exquisitely placed legs and feet and the empathy between two such stellar performers was pure joy.

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Chacona by Goyo Montero
Photo Johan Persson

Montero choreographs the large cast with military precision, making effective use of long lines stretching from front to back of the stage. The dancers move in canon and unison, dispersing and reassembling with an energy that surges in waves. The shapes and the lifts are unconventional and evocative, pointed elbows and prone bodies, but always finding the right move for the moment. The simple black tights and leotards often merge into the dark background leaving the bare arms, hands and faces to catch the light with dramatic intensity. The on stage musicians all became part of this intricately woven tapestry: Jonathan Higgins on piano centre back; with violin, Robert Gibbs, and guitar, Tom Ellis, in the downstage corners. It’s a work of great depth than lingers in the mind long after the curtain descended.

Miguel Altunaga’s premiere work for BRB, City of a Thousand Trades, shows him as one to watch. Everything about the show is of the moment. The choreography, the theme (worked together with co-director and dramaturg, Madeleine Kludje), Mathias Coppens’ music and the youthful passion of the dancers. It celebrates urban life with reference to Birmingham (this must be a first) and finds a poet, Casey Bailey, to voice it.

Birmingham Royal Ballet in City of a Thousand Trades
Photo Johan Persson

It is also a work of great skill and craftsmanship. The set (designs by Guilia Scrimieri) is constantly on the move. The compact individual blocks of three stairs with poles positioned on the side are a constant feature adding levels and variety to Altunaga’s amazingly inventive choreography. It’s an ensemble work and the versatility of these dancers has seldom been so challenged. Yijing Zhang, Tyrone Singleton and Brandon Lawrence stood out in an impressive cast. The buzz of multicultural urban life comes to life as dancers switch from acrobatic street dance, through a variety of contemporary styles and up to high flying ballet lifts.

Through it all there is a strong message of hope. Despite the dystopian opening, its about rebuilding a better city and a better life. The accent is on harmony rather than rivalry and the energy and drive are there in bucketloads. If ever we needed this it’s now, so thank you, Miguel.

Alexander Yap and Eilis Small in Imminent by Daniela Cardim
Photo Johan Persson

Daniela Cardim’s Imminent was another new commission and her first for BRB. It is also concerned with disaster, this time imminent rather than an aftermath. It proved a difficult subject to transfer to dance. The lone dancer who seemed something of a Cassandra had little drama to convey and the door that opened in the backcloth held no prescience of doom. The concept tended rather to interrupt what could have been a pleasant abstract ballet. The choreography in both ensemble and pas de deux had good moments, but Paul Englishby’s surprisingly quaint score and the undistinguished designs failed to provide either ballast or inspiration.

On balance, it was an impressive evening, not forgetting the sterling contribution of Koen Kessels and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.