Birmingham Royal Ballet
Theatre Royal, York
It's a real pleasure to welcome Birmingham Royal Ballet back to York. Their first appearance at the Theatre Royal last year must have won them many friends in the city - it isn't often that you get the opportunity to see classical ballet with full orchestra at a venue of this size, and BRB's repertoire makes a change from the interminable Swan Lakes and Nutcrackers toured by companies from the former USSR. This year's programme consists of three short works by Kenneth MacMillan (Solitaire) and John Cranko (Brouillards, Pineapple Poll).
The lyrical Solitaire will come as something of a surprise to those familiar with MacMillan's highly dramatic later works such as Manon and Mayerling. Described by the choreographer as "a kind of game for one", it depicts a lonely young girl (Viktoria Walton) who conjures up a host of imaginary friends. They dance with the girl, involve her in their games but eventually drift away, leaving her alone once more. Malcolm Arnold's folk-idiom score, an extended version of his English Dances, suggests an element of nostalgia for a lost rural past; Kim Beresford's backcloth, an ugly Victorian building behind a modern chain-link fence, is very much of the urban present. I must admit to being baffled by Lady MacMillan's approval of Beresford's new designs for the ballet, but Walton is an endearingly wistful heroine and the rest of the company is in fine form.
Brouillards (Fog) is danced to Debussy's piano preludes, beautifully played by Jonathan Higgins. This really is a ballet with something for everyone. It begins and ends with the company entering in a wonderfully writhing, serpentine line, between which we are treated to episodes of comedy, lyricism and drama. I particularly enjoyed the hilarious Cake Walk (Christopher Larsen, Nathaneal Skelton, Richard Smith), Feuilles mortes (Jenna Roberts, Dominic Antonucci) and the witty Hommage a S. Pickwick, Esq. (Valentin Olovyannikov, members of the Company).
The evening ends on a high note with the much-loved Pineapple Poll. First performed in 1951, Cranko's ballet is based - very loosely - on one of W.S. Gilbert's Bab Ballads and set to well-known tunes taken from the G & S operettas. Poll (Carol-Anne Millar) spurns the advances of lowly potboy Jasper (Christopher Larsen) and falls in love with the dashing Captain Belaye of HMS Hot Cross Bun (James Grundy). Alas, the Captain is already engaged to Blanche (Arancha Baselga), a young lady constantly chaperoned by her aunt Mrs Dimple (Marion Rainer). Poll, together with other equally besotted girls, dons male attire and sneaks on board the Hot Cross Bun. Despite being hampered by his strangely effeminate crew, Belaye is promoted to Admiral and Jasper appointed Captain in his place; all ends happily and Poll transfers her affections to her loyal suitor. Although the panto humour is a little overdone in places, it's impossible to dislike a ballet that combines Sullivan's music, Cranko's choreography and Osbert Lancaster's original designs.
BRB's split tour system, in which the company divides to visit smaller venues in different parts of the country, is made possible by the Touring Department of the Arts Council England. One can only hope that this initiative will continue to introduce classical ballet to new audiences, and that this fine company will be frequent visitors to the Theatre Royal.
Reviewer: J. D. Atkinson