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Birmingham Royal Ballet


Stravinsky! a celebration


Petrushka, La Baiser de la Fee, The Firebird

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Photo by Bill Cooper


Sadler’s Wells


28 October – 1 November, 2008

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

This trio of short ballets composed by Igor Stravinsky functions as a sort of history lesson about the composer’s earlier years leading up to The Firebird, which is the pinnacle of the threesome.


The evening opened with a performance of Petrushka, set in St. Petersburg circa 1830, a mime-influenced ballet about an evil puppeteer and his three puppets of whom the Punch like Petrushka is the least favoured. Although the score may seem rather traditional by today’s standards, in some ways, the ballet’s subject matter is not, as despite its more formal stage settings and costumes, for its storyline proposes that Petrushka possesses a soul. The ballet’s mime-influenced movements are a departure from tradition as well and Alexander Campbell made the most of them in the title role, inspiring pity in onlookers who, if they’re familiar with the ballet, either through experience or programme notes, already know of his upcoming tragic ending. Ambra Vallo whom we also had seen performing the role of Belle in BRB’s splendid production of Beauty and the Beast a couple of days before was convincingly wooden as the Ballerina too, though James Grundy’s Moor rang a rather sour note with his oh so politically incorrect blackened minstrel face, his character further emphasised via his bearish manners. And, if truth be told, Grundy movements seemed far too fluid to make him convincing as a puppet. As lavish as the staging of Petrushka was, for me, its Victorian postcard colouring and melodramatic artificiality also formed something of an obstacle to my enjoyment of it, apart from the performances cited.

 

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Photo by Bill Cooper


If interval chit-chat is anything to go on, I wasn’t the only audience member who found more to admire in La Baiser de la Fee a.k.a. The Ice Maiden, based on the fairytale of the same name by Hans Christian Anderson. The story of this ballet centres on a winter fairy who marks an abandoned infant boy at birth with a kiss, then comes back to reclaim him before he can wed his sweetheart at the age of twenty. The costumes by John MacFarlane were simply beautiful and the dancing, choreographed by Michael Corder, was much more pointedly artful and imaginatively synched with Stravinsky’s (in this instance) Tchaikovsky inspired music. Altogether, this piece shot its chill across the audience with its adventuresome storyline and choreography. During some moments when the fairies were dancing en masse it almost seemed as though they were fallen snowflakes from The Nutcracker, darting across the stage in their darkly icy outfits, complete with sprightly branches encircling their eyes which stuck out behind them when they danced like long strands of frozen hair. It’s no wonder that this piece is a very popular one which has been revised many times, given its wonderfully wintry atmosphere! In addition to being Stravinsky’s tribute to Tchaikovsky’s music, in its original format La Baiser de la Fee also commemorated the classical ballet of Imperial Russia which had been swept away by the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

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Photo by Bill Cooper


The last and judging by immediate audience response, favourite ballet of this trio, The Firebird, Stravinsky’s first ever to be performed outside of Russia, was also inspiring with its mythic cycle of capture, escape and rescue. Nao Sukuma made such a lovely Firebird, that one felt sad on her capture, and elevated by her subsequent release. Sukuma’s mincing, dainty steps, as choreographed by Mikhail Fokine, seemed just right for the role of the magical bird, as did the ballerina’s long graceful arms gently beating in desperate attempts to flee from her captor. Her male counterpart, Ivan Tsarevich, danced by Chi Cao on press night, was alternately adamant and merciful as the hunter who lets the Firebird go in exchange for a feather which will grant him a future favour from the magical bird. Again lavish stage settings threatened to bring this ballet over the top at times, but in this instance, one assumed that they were especially designed by Natalia Goncharova to demonstrate the differences between the hunter’s life pre and post meeting the Firebird. Having said that, I must admit that Goncharova’s earlier stage settings were my favourite with their shimmering sliver of silver moon and copper tinged apple trees. And of course, Stravinsky’s beloved score soaring over the ballet like a regal plumed creature added to this heady mix of fantastical fable and finely executed dancing.

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Photo by Bill Cooper


All in all this mixed programme formed a delightful production, especially as even it’s more traditional aspects played a vital role in reminding, and/or, informing one about the many sides of Igor Stravinsky.


I for one am already looking forward to Birmingham Royal Ballet’s upcoming programme of dance at London Coliseum in spring 2009!

 

For more information about Birmingham Royal Ballet go to:
www.brb.org.uk

 

 



 

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