A Valentine’s Celebration of Music and Dance with Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
February 14, 2020

Phil Preece

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s annual Symphony Hall galas are always high-octane occasions, once-a-year opportunities to celebrate the superb achievements of one of the country’s most prestigious artistic companies, the Midlands’ very own Birmingham Royal Ballet. These nights have become a much-anticipated fixture in the artistic calendar of the entire region, and this year’s offering was no different, performed before a rammed Symphony Hall audience.

These evenings are special because not only do they showcase the sheer excellence of the dancers but also give the audience the pleasure of seeing as well as hearing Royal Ballet Sinfonia’s superb musicians, something most of the audience miss out on when they are performing in the Hippodrome orchestra pit. The final touch of magic on the evening was ensured by that most genial of presenters, popular midlands TV personality Nick Owen, who introduced Carlos Acosta. Greeted with much enthusiasm, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new director made all the right noises in response to Owen’s gentle questioning.

The evening gave a taste of music and dance from a wide range of sources, ancient and modern, from ballet to blues, big band and all, something for everyone maybe, and all with not a note or step, as far as I was concerned, out of place.

In a rich evening packed with so many golden nuggets only a few highlights can be listed but I personally loved the eclectic orchestral sessions that touched on every genre from The Merry Widow to the polonaise from Eugene Onegin for orchestra and virtuoso piano. Particularly memorable was an early selection from Oklahoma.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia at Symphony Hall, BirminghamPhoto Caroline Holden
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia at Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Photo Caroline Holden

Meanwhile, the dancers pulled out all the stops in a thrilling series of virtuoso solos, pas de deux and some truly impressive larger set pieces. The series of tasters went beyond any expectations. Samara Downs and Yasuo Atsuji kicked things off, dancing an exquisite Swan Lake Act II pas de deux. It was disappointing that the Swordplay pas de deux from David Bintley’s Far from the Madding Crowd (one of his best narrative ballets) was pulled due to injury, although Miki Mizutani and Tyrone Singleton were sublime in the replacement ballroom duet from Cinderella; and sublime they were too. The Reconciliation pas de deux from Frederick Ashton’s Two Pigeons featuring Maureya Lebowitz, Max Maslen and, guess what, two not quite perfectly behaved but charming birds.

After the break, Kit Holder’s new The Breath We Took received its world premiere with Céline Gittens and Brandon Lawrence taking the lead roles. It’s another impressive work from the company’s leading dancer-choreographer, this time to the second movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor Op 16. Yaquin Shang and César Morales gave us the balcony pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet before the set pieces reached a fiery crescendo with the big pas de deux from Don Quixote in which Momoko Hirata and Mathias Dingman quite literally had the audience shouting for more.

It was another of the marvellously popular Symphony Hall evenings exhibiting to the hilt the pure class for which Birmingham Royal Ballet is known. Perhaps most impressive, certainly beguiling, was the seeming effortlessness and modesty from all concerned. They almost made it seem truly informal. The final ecstatic applause for dancers and musicians was witness to a rare degree of audience warmth that reflects the company’s special place in Midlands hearts. Hurry on next year I say.

We apologise for the lack of pictures. Birmingham Royal Ballet did not have the evening photographed.