Into the Music: Forgotten Land / Hotel / Seventh Symphony

Choreography Jiří Kylián, Morgann Runacre-Temple, Uwe Scholz, music Benjamin Britten, Mikael Karlsson, Beethoven
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Sadler’s Wells

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Forgotten Land Credit: Johan Persson
Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton in Forgotten Land Credit: Johan Persson
Reina Fuchigami and Max Maslen in Forgotten Land Credit: Johan Persson
Hotel: Gus Payne, Riku Ito, Eric Pinto Cata Credit: Johan Persson
Hotel: Javier Rojas Credit: Johan Persson
Hotel: Javier Rojas, Sofia Liñares, Riku Ito Credit: Johan Persson
Artists of BRB in Seventh Symphony Credit: Johan Persson
Yaoqian Shang and Rachelle Pizzilo in Seventh Symphony Credit: Johan Persson
Artists of BRB in Seventh Symphony Credit: Johan Persson

What a glorious triple bill (curated by Carlos Acosta)—I nearly write tipple, and I wouldn't be far wrong, didn't someone say that Beethoven must have written his Seventh Symphony in a drunken state? Hotel is very trippy. And Forgotten Land, for me, it is the best tipple of the evening—music and dance in perfect mix. The Royal Ballet’s Symphonia is on great form, concert and dance potted in one.

All three pieces delve deep into the music. Jiří Kylián’s 1981 Forgotten Land, inspired by Edvard Munch’s 1899 / 1900 Dance of Life, to Benjamin Britten’s 1940 Sinfonia da Requiem, feels eternally fresh. John MacFarlane’s set is a work of art. His backcloth painting—seashore and darkening clouds—reminds me of Paul Nash’s Winter Sea. And I mustn’t forget the sound of the wind—a recording of Kylián’s breath. He is with them in this life and death memorial…

Six couples stand with their backs to us, facing that sea or mortality (Kylián says all his ballets are about love and death), arms ripple like birds about to take flight. Each pas de deux reveals fears, dreams, grief and joy, age, maturity and youth. Arabesques penchées, tight embraces, huddled figures, hopeful emotions, dead bodies, and finally resolution. The final image is of three women in embrace, three graces.

Twenty-five minutes pass too quickly. Outstanding dance from Céline Gittens, Tyrone Singleton (Black Couple), Yaoqian Shang, Lachlan Monaghan (Grey Couple), Miki Mizutani, Mathias Dingman (Red Couple), Reina Fuchigami, Max Maslen (Pink Couple), Eilis Small, Miles Gilliver (Beige Couple), Yijing Zhang, Brandon Lawrence (White Couple).

John Cranko’s influence and personal links are visible in both Jiří Kylián’s above work and Uwe Scholz’s forty-five minute visualisation of all four movements of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which closes the evening. Both are indebted to him. Here I will add Balanchine to Scholz’s vocabulary. Created in 1991 for Stuttgart Ballet it reflects Beethoven’s response to Napoleon’s 1811 / 12 military ambitions.

Scholz (died in 2004 aged only forty-five) had musical ambitions, played several instruments and wanted to be a conductor, but took a swerve into ballet. Who better to get under the skin and score of Beethoven’s “apotheosis of dance” (Wagner quote)?

Thirty or more dancers in white leotards defined in varying coloured stripes—his costume and stage designs inspired by Morris Louis’s expressionistic stripe paintings—leap solo, in pairs, fours and cohorts across the stage, the music their driving force. The company is on show, and do they come good… dazzling stamina…

Backs to us as in the first piece, salutes to the sun, military units in precision drill, and relentless tempi... There’s one curious moment in the third movement when they all stand still holding hands around a sunny spot on the floor as if in contemplation. Apparently Scholz had run out of time and ideas at that point, but it works. A pause and a moment to contemplate the music.

The music for the middle Hotel piece is contemporary and we have a change of conductor. Koen Kessels takes on Mikael Karlsson’s new creation; Thomas Jung the other two. Karlsson’s is an epic film score with jazzy and heavy drum and bass beats, which suit Morgann Runacre-Temple’s cinematic concept precisely. That’s the pleasure of the evening—how music infects and inflects dance.

Runacre-Temple’s (in collaboration with Jess and Morgs Films) Hotel is the fanciful filling in the neo-classical cake. Orwellian, Kafkaesque, Hitchcockian, Dorothea Tanning surreal: intrusive CCTV surveillance in a grey hotel, nothing is private, all is screened. Designer Sami Fendall mentions Gay Talese’s creepy The Voyeur’s Motel book.

Sinister staff in grey welcome guests, spy on them and adulterate their food – is this a mad house? Even the chef is filmed. Everyone is filmed. Strange dreams, dry ice, and transformation: at first only one transforms, a beak hand like a periscope reaching out of suit where the head should be. At the end they are all ostriches—why do I think of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros?

My companion loves the two neoclassical pieces and adores the orchestra, but this one is not for him, whilst I love it, it’s fun. It puts a smile on my face. Love the in-your-face camera work (Riku Ito, also a bellboy, on gimbal camera).

Manager, assistant manager, three bellboys, two guest couples and a solo traveller (Tzu-Chao Chou, Beatrice Parma, Riku Ito, Gus Payne, Eric Pinto Cata, Sofia Liñares, Javier Rojas, Lucy Waine, Gabriel Anderson, Haoliang Feng, and Matilde Rodrigues the ‘arm head’) are in a grisaille film projected on to two large screens. What is real and what fictitious—maybe we’re all fiction—as film and live action blur and blend?

Reviewer: Vera Liber