Dance Review








Spring Dance at London Coliseum

Presented by Askonas Holt, Raymond Gubbay and Sadler’s Wells.


Birmingham Royal Ballet


London Coliseum

14 - 18 April 2009








A review by David Hermann for EXTRA! EXTRA!


This is a review for people who love the theatre and know nothing about Ballet, written by one of their own. If you are a Ballet lover or a dance expert read no further, unless you want to snigger at the ignorance I am about to display so shamelessly. If you are a drama-person on the other hand, one who usually watches the type of theatre where people communicate with their vocal chords rather than their deltoids, this may persuade you to try something new. (And pssst: it’s a lot shorter than what we’re used to. You won’t get bored, even if you hate it.)

Before I detonate the praise-bomb, then, I will say this: To the theatre-goer with a predilection for drama, a classical ballet can seem a very silly thing indeed, especially when based on a pastoral comedy. To think that we’re watching a gaggle of humble but mysteriously gorgeous shepherds, dashing nobility and crotchety gods drift among impossibly lush landscapes along one solitary story-arc towards a predetermined, gratuitously chirpy happy ending will leave us disengaged and grumpy. We sit huffing and puffing and reminding ourselves over and over that even in the British, narrative tradition of Ballet there traditionally isn’t much of a narrative, and that we must love this thing instead for the beauty of its execution, for the lithesome bodies twirling to and fro in breathtaking unison and gliding athwart Arcadian settings in endless flux. Yes, we must love the Ballet for the relentless onslaught of celestial lightness, for the foregrounding of form, for its sheer sensual exuberance. What does any of it mean? Why is that girl with the golden breastplate doing that leg-thingy to the guy in the waiter’s outfit? Who is that man in the Mark Twain costume who shoots people with sparkly, golden arrows? Who is Sylvia? Who cares? We must love the ballet like a strongly scented, heavy wine, we must let it wash through us and submit to its frivolous charms without asking whence the potent grape.

Ah, yes! Now, my drama-loving, Ballet-mystified brothers and sisters, we have psyched ourselves up to the challenge. From here we may appreciate in relative sobriety David Bintley’s fine revival of his own 1993 three-act production of Sylvia (the ballet is sometimes presented in one or two acts.) According to the veritable tome of a programme, graciously informed by the praise and assessment of eminent Dance critic Nicholas Dromgoole, Bintley inherits his choreography from earlier British renditions and adds his own special touch, which displays a tongue-in-cheek awareness of the pastoral plot’s insufficiencies and places an emphasis on letting the characters appear ‘real’ and relevant to a modern audience, while retaining a traditional visual style overall.

Please note, fellow ballet-cretin, that I am here largely re-wording Dromgoole’s insights into Bintley’s work, - and his word is good enough for me - and that to you and me the interactions between the characters will inevitably seem stilted and often meaningless. But this is nothing to be ashamed of. You and I simply do not speak Ballet. We do not understand the language of Dance well enough to detect subtle irony etc. What makes this spellbinding production so invaluable, though, is that it forces people like us to regret their theatrical monoglossia and magically generates the will to learn the language of classical choreography. It makes me want to understand desperately what’s going on, because somehow I could glimpse the mark of perfection through the dense fog of filigree athletics and behold pure, distilled beauty, boundless and overwhelming.

I have on occasion been forced to watch Ballet - the way you might drink a glass of White at a party when there is no decent Red - and felt deeply violated. Let me assure you, dear lover of plots and plays, that the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Sylvia is in a league of its own. It has the power to charm you to bits ere it will seem worthy of your love. If you really want to try some Ballet, give yourself to Sylvia.


Box Office: 0871 911 0200

Tuesday and Wednesday 14th and 15th April at 7.30pm

London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES    

 Tickets; £15 - £60



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