An Evening of Music and Dance with Birmingham Royal Ballet

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
February 11, 2023

After a couple of years away, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s annual night out at Symphony Hall returned in style with a gala-like programme of music and dance selected by artistic director Carlos Acosta and Royal Ballet Sinfonia principal conductor Paul Murphy, compered by local journalist and broadcaster Marverine Cole.

It was a very enjoyable evening, helped by the concert hall’s intimate feel, surprising given its 2,000-plus seats. Perhaps that’s due in part to the orchestra being sat on tiers behind the dancers, so bringing the latter much closer to the audience, but you often get the same feeling at music-only concerts.

The overture from Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville proved an excellent warm-up for the dance and music to follow, also setting the tone for the orchestral selections, which all had a Spanish flavour.

With the exception of a contribution from Elmhurst Ballet school, the dance selections were all pas de deux. First up, and by far the most recent, was the dynamic, strong, deeply expressive male pas de deux from Interlinked by Juliano Nunes. As Tzu-chao Chou and Brandon Lawrence wind around each other, its a dance that combines strength and grace, not so much gender neutral as gender fluid, the lead fluctuating easily between the pair.

Chou Tzu-chao and Brandon Lawrence
in a regular stage performance of Interlinked by Juliano Nunes
Photo Tristram Kenton

Much of Frederick Ashton’s choreography seems to have fallen out of favour in recent times. Beatrice Parma and Max Maslen in the pas de deux from Rhapsody, to Variations 17 and 18 of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, reminded us just how beautiful it can be. As Parma bourréed across the stage before being gently lifted, she seemed to float, as delicate as the music coming from Jeanette Wong’s piano. It was utterly sublime.

Sofia Liñares switched from the rock goddess of those stunning publicity shots for the forthcoming Black Sabbath – The Ballet to goddess of the hunt and the Moon for that old gala warhorse, Agrippa Vaganova’s Diana and Acteon pas de deux. She and Tyrone Singleton, he in the shortest of short leather skirts, delivered in spades giving it all the required power and panache, but it does feel rather old-fashioned.

After opening with España, a stirring orchestral showpiece by the largely unknown French composer Emmanuel Chabrier that was an instant hit when premiered in Paris in 1883, the second half of the evening returned to more familiar fare with the Black Swan Pas de deux from Sir Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s production of Swan Lake. It does lose something by being taken out of context, those missing little glances, unspoken asides made by Odile to the usually watching Rothbart actually count for rather a lot. But a flirtatious Céline Gittens and elegant Lawrence sparkled as much as their jet-black costumes, with her pin-point series of fouettés that remained glued to the spot the highlight.

In 2015, Acosta created a one-act Carmen for The Royal Ballet using Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s take on Georges Bizet’s original. He’s now recreated the pas de deux to Bizet’s original intermezzo that sits between the opera’s second and third act, danced here by the returning Liñares and Lachlan Monaghan. An easy watch, it’s slightly playful and teasing, definitely sensual and sexy, with lots of close-contact floorwork and long, lingering looks into each other’s eyes.

Throughout the evening, the dancers did wonders coping with the unusually wide but shallow space they had to perform in. Only the eagle-eyed or those very familiar with the choreography would spot the occasional change to make things run more side-to-side than diagonally or around the stage.

Yaoqian Shang in Le Corsaire pas de deux
Photo Caroline Holden

That it was danced by an ensemble brought space issues a little more into focus in Two Dances from Estancia. Devised by Denise Whiteman and created by Sonia Fajard to music extracted from a suite by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera, it was danced with much enthusiasm and spirit by students from Elmhurst Ballet School. Given it’s a take on traditional gaucho dance (lots of stomping and brushes of the feet), perhaps it was no surprise that it was the men who stood out, although the choreography never quite matches the brio of the score.

An Evening of Music and Dance rounded off in style with that gala favourite, the Corsaire pas de deux. It didn’t so much as fizz as explode in a marvellous display of fireworks. Yaoqian Shang delighted but this was all about Riku Ito. His prodigiously high leaps and fast turns deserved all the cheers they got, before he outdid himself with a fantastically clean, warp-speed series of pirouettes à la seconde.

Also played as purely orchestral numbers were Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance, Enrique Granados’ Intermezzo from his opera Goyescas, and a Matthew Arnold arrangement of a tango by Isaac Albéniz.

Birmingham Royal Ballet return to the Birmingham Hippodrome from February 15 to 25, 2023 with Sir Peter Wright and Galina Samsova’s Swan Lake.