Sleek and perfectly fashioned: Birmingham Royal Ballet in Stems by Kit Holder

July 1, 2020

David Mead

Short but beautifully formed. That just about sums up Kit Holder’s Stems, performed and filmed as part of the inaugural International Draft Works performances in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House in 2019.

Danced by two couples, Miki Mizutani and Max Maslen, and Delia Mathews and Brandon Lawrence, it’s a busy seven minutes of dance inspired by the two published movements (of three) of composer Oliver Davis’ Liberty Suite.

Brandon Lawrence and Delia Mathews in Stems by Kit HolderPhoto Bill Cooper
Brandon Lawrence and Delia Mathews
in Stems by Kit Holder
Photo Bill Cooper

The choreography shows Holder’s confidence in working within the neoclassical ballet vocabulary. The first movement is cool, sleek, and full of muscular long lines. Holder keeps things interesting by having the two couples sometimes come together, sometimes break into three dancers and one. Both movements also see the dancers flit in and out of the wings.

The second movement has a very different energy, brighter and more upbeat. This section has a nice connection between the dancers who constantly look at and acknowledge each other. I could have done with a little less sweeping and circling overhead of arms, however.

Davis’ music is intensely danceable and it’s easy to see why he has become a ‘go to’ composer for choreographers internationally. London audiences may recall it in Edwaard Liang’s The Infinite Ocean, performed by San Francisco Ballet at Sadler’s Wells in 2019.

Budget constraints meant that the costumes had to be relatively simple and off the peg. In fact, the close-fitting black does the dance a favour, never getting in the way and allowing everything to be seen.

It was unfortunate that a technical glitch prevented Davis from joining Holder for the planned post-screening conversation. Even so, it proved an interesting twenty minutes or so during which Holder gave some thoughtful responses to questions about the present situation from those watching. While acknowledging the value of free streaming in reaching new audiences, he said quite correctly that it’s no substitute for live performance. He also reminded those watching that it does cost, in doing so implying that it’s probably unsustainable in the long-term.

Stems can be watched on BRB’s Facebook page.