Curated by Carlos Triple Bill: City of a Thousand Trades / Imminent / Chacona

Choreography Miguel Altunaga, Daniela Cardim, Goyo Montero / music Mathias Coppens, Paul Englishby, Johan Sebastian Bach
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Sadler's Wells

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in City of a Thousand Trades Credit: Johan Persson
Yijing Zhang and Brandon Lawrence in City of a Thousand Trades Credit: Johan Persson
Tyrone Singleton in City of a Thousand Trades Credit: Johan Persson
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in City of a Thousand Trades Credit: Johan Persson
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in City of a Thousand Trades Credit: Johan Persson
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Imminent Credit: Johan Persson
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Imminent Credit: Johan Persson
Alessandra Ferri and Carlos Acosta in Chacona Credit: Johan Persson
Alessandra Ferri and Carlos Acosta in Chacona Credit: Johan Persson
Alessandra Ferri and Carlos Acosta in Chacona Credit: Johan Persson
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Chacona Credit: Johan Persson
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Chacona Credit: Johan Persson

Interrupted by COVID, here at last is Birmingham Royal Ballet’s impressive triple bill commissioned by artistic director Carlos Acosta. With a bonus—he is dancing in a new pas de deux (inserted into Chacona) created especially for him and Alessandra Ferri. Expectations are high and we are not disappointed. There is much to absorb. The dancers are committed and strong.

The whole company is on show in a tribute to Birmingham (City of a Thousand Trades), in a piece alluding to the climate crisis (Imminent) and in a beautiful explication to Bach’s Chorale Prelude No.3 (arranged by Ferruccio Busoni) and Chaconne from Partita No.2 in D Minor. An interesting and not undemanding mix: in theory abstract yet with a backbone of narrative. Programme notes and interviews indicate inspiration, but there is room for one’s own interpretations.

City of a Thousand Trades is a “love letter” to Birmingham and all who have made it what it is since the Industrial Revolution, the incomers, immigrants, the workers, who built and suffered, who came with expectations and met with racial abuse, but who nevertheless made it their home, as has Acosta in a sense. There’s much skin in play.

Birmingham Poet Laureate 2020–22 Casey Bailey’s voiceover poem to the city blends with Mathias Coppens’s industrial, heavy metal city soundscape score (referencing Birmingham boy Ozzy Osbourne). Drums from all over the world provide the beat; there’s electronica and a live orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Koen Kessels. Two towers behind the dancers hold two phenomenal drummers (Kevin Earley and Grahame King) under Michael Lee-Woolley’s ‘dark Satanic Mills’ lighting. A touch of Hofesh Shechter...

Havana-born Rambert dancer Miguel Altunaga’s contemporary choreography is powerful, and Giulia Scrimieri’s designs invoke Constructivism with a touch of Mondrian geometrics. Plinths, poles, boxes: turn them round and they are workers' homes with just room enough to swing a cat—or dance a touching pas de deux. My brain is swarming with references. I think Meyerholdian Biomechanics, heroic Soviet worker poses, man and machine as one. Man is the machine, grounded, jagged, and lyrical—grace under pressure. Tyrone Singleton, Hannah Rudd, Brandon Lawrence and Yijing Zhang stand out.

Daniela Cardim’s Imminent is about the now, about our climate crisis and, she says, unreliable politicians, but even though we fear we must have hope in our common cause. COVID has shown we are strong together. To that end, the stage swarms with sixteen dancers in pale beige leotards against a beige cliff or mountain—is this to signify we are as one with the earth? There is much floor work.

Is this an idyll about to be trashed? Is it the beginning of time, of Blakean innocence, or is it a rite of spring? I hear musical references. Are they fauns in a glade? Would Lermontov from the 1948 film The Red Shoes have liked it? I even think of H G Wells. And a bleached, calm version of Crystal Pite’s dark Flight Pattern

Peter Teigen’s lighting charts the danger—red and black—and Paul Englishby’s cinematic score is portentous. A door opens in the looming cliff and I think of the Pied Piper leading Hamelin’s children into a mountain cave never to be seen again. A gentle warning, perhaps?

And finally, what many have been waiting for: Acosta and Ferri together in Chacona. They are wonderful, graceful, sure, with years of experience not gone to waste: an inspiration at 48 and 58, respectively. Goyo Montero’s choreography plays to their strengths—her extensions, his powerful presence, the fabulous lifts.

Bu they are not alone: sixteen dancers’ (a guard of honour?) shifting arrangements frame, divide, and provide different setting for their elusive elegance. They are only in the first movement—then they are gone, though their imprint remains. Chess pieces perhaps on chessboard lighting by Nicolás Fischtel, Goyo Montero (additional lighting Peter Teigen). Squares of light (think Russell Maliphant and Michael Hulls) determine placements—mathematical, geometrical, like Bach’s music. Clean and pure.

Three musicians are on stage—Jonathan Higgins on grand piano at the back, Tom Ellis on classical guitar and Robert Gibbs on violin either side front stage—a concert in effect. Ferri said, "we always wanted to do more together but never had the opportunity. Really I think this is a dream come true for both of us." Not just for them…

Reviewer: Vera Liber