On Friday we continued this year's journey into dance by seeing Birmingham Royal Ballet's triple bill of one-act pieces at Sadler's Wells. It was down to Owen being a bit curious that we booked to see it - and I'm glad we did as I thought it was a perfectly-judged evening, each act being very different from the others. The good thing was that I had no idea what I was going to see - apart from some ballet!
The first act was choreographer George Balanchine's THEME AND VARIATIONS, danced to the final movement of Tchaikovsky's Suite no. 3. Balanchine, the 'father' of American ballet, trained at the Russian Imperial school and was Diaghilev's last choreographer for the Ballets Russes. THEME AND VARIATIONS is his tribute to the Imperial ballet style: romantic, formal and precise.
Comprising two principals, eight featured dancers and a corps of twelve, it was a sumptuous visual treat but also fascinating to watch as Balanchine's choreography showcased twisting turns and athletic prowess, echoing the 19th Century style with the elasticity of contemporary dance.
The principals - Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley - were very charismatic and Peter Teigen's lighting and Peter Farmer's set design added to the lavish feel of the piece.
Sadly a long day at work, the Edwardian weight of Elgar's ENIGMA VARIATIONS and the sepia, autumnal set had me nodding away. Frederick Ashton's choreography looked very elegiac but I am afraid I didn't see too much of it.
After a bracing lemon sorbet though I was fully awake for the last act which luckily enough just happened to be the best!
David Bintley's hypnotic THE KING DANCES slowly drew one in and echoed the earlier Balanchine of referencing past dance history to point the way to contemporary dance. THE KING DANCES takes us back to 23 February 1653 when the French King Louis XIV - aged only 15 - danced as Apollo in the ballet "Le Ballet de la Nuit" which gave him his historical name The Sun King and during his life, through his patronage, turned ballet from a court entertainment into a major art form.
Wonderfully realised by Katrina Lindsay's black and gold design and Peter Mumford's lighting, David Bintley's darkly thrilling work has four movements to celebrate the quarters of a single night: a threatening soloist appears on a darkened stage with eight dancers holding flaming torches, in the second movement the King dances with his court ladies and also with the elusive woman in the moon.
The third movement finds the King haunted by a nightmare populated by demons, magicians and hounds from Hell (though they looked quite fun!) until the mysterious, sinister soloist is revealed to be his powerful First Minister Cardinal Mazarin who intones a serious introduction to the King who suddenly appears as a burst of golden light, the dark backdrop splitting apart to reveal The Sun King in a glittering gold-sequined costume as Stephen Montague's score reaches a frenzied apotheosis.
It was utterly thrilling to watch and Bintley's excellent contemporary choreography was danced wonderfully by William Bracewell as the young King and Tyrone Singleton was the sinister soloist.
This triple bill was an utter delight, perfectly judged and a fitting tribute to the three choreographers. If you ever get a chance to see it I would fully recommend it.