Saturday, 13 May 2017

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Northern Tour 2017

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Birmingham Royal Ballet, Solitaire, 5 Tangos and Pineapple Poll, York Theatre Royal, 12 May 2017, 19:30

As I mentioned in Doing the Splits 8 May 2017, the Birmingham Royal Ballet splits into two. One group of dancers visits theatres in the North of England and North Midlands which this year includes Durham, York and Nottingham while the other goes to Cheltenham, Poole and Truro. Yesterday, I caught the dancers on the Northern Tour at York Theatre Royal in a splendid triple bill consisting of MacMillan's Solitaire, van Manen's 5 Tangos and Cranko's Pineapple Poll.

Each of those works was created by one of the greatest 20th-century choreographers. John Cranko was only 24 when he staged Pineapple Poll in 1951. Kenneth MacMillan was slightly older in 1956 when Ninette de Valois asked him to create Solitaire at very short notice using sets and costumes that had been designed for The Angels by Cranko. While in retrospect in looks like an early work because his career has lasted so long, Hans van Manen had already been working for over 20 years when he made 5 Tangos for the Dutch National Ballet in 1977.

I had already seen 5 Tangos performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe 31 May 2015) and Scottish Ballet in Glasgow (see No Mean City - Accessible Dance and Ballet 26 April 2015). I had also seen two performances of Pineapple Poll, one of which was by the Birmingham Royal Ballet when it was still known as the Royal Ballet Touring Company at a matinee at Sadler's Wells together with Ashton's Les Rendezvous and Facade, and the other by the Chelmsford Ballet (see A Delight Indeed 27 March 2015). Solitaire, however, was new to me and what a treat it turned out to be.

According to the Kenneth MacMillan website, Solitaire was subtitled  "A kind of game for one".  The site describes it as  "a sequence of dances knit together by Malcolm Arnold’s Eight English Dances and by the continuity provided by Margaret Hill’s appearance in each one."  Margaret Hill danced the lead role in the original production.  Referred to only as "the girl", she opens and closes the work appearing in one capacity or another in every scene. The other dancers are her playmates though it is hinted that they may not be real. They enter the stage, dance a scene and disappear as suddenly as they came on. Yesterday "the girl" was danced delightfully by Arancha Baselga who was joined on stage by 16 other dancers in various scenes. My enjoyment of the ballet was greatly facilitated by Arnold's music which included much that was familiar including the signature tune to "What the Papers Say" on Radio 4 on Sunday night. I also enjoyed Desmond Heeley's gorgeous costumes - especially the red bodice of Baselga's tutu - and his draping golden sun backcloth design,

Yesterday, the Dutch National Ballet's online magazine ran a feature on van Manen entitled Hans van Manen: een levende legende the meaning of which is obvious. A link appeared on Facebook which has already attracted 426 likes, 29 shares and lots of comments including this one from me:
"Just seen Birmingham Royal Ballet dance van Manen's 5 Tangos in York this evening. It was great. Jenna Roberts, Matthias Dingman and Maureya Lebowitz were in the cast. They did the great man justice."
That just about says it all. I love this work, the designs and Piazzolla's music, the choreography, the vigorous and expressive dancing and all the connotations with Argentina, one of my favourite countries, and the Netherlands where van Manen is a national living treasure and the subject of a great deal of blogging by me.

Pineapple Poll with its synopsis based on W S Gilbert's ballad The Bumboat's Woman's Story, Charles Mackerras's arrangement of a selection of Gilbert and Sullivan's favourite tunes and Osbert Lancaster's intricate designs was a wonderful way to round off a wonderful evening. Yesterday it occurred to me that this work may well have inspired Ashton to create Fille and Balanchine to create Union Jack. There is certainly a link in Osbert Lancaster in that he created the designs for both Poll and Fille and the exuberance of Mackerras's arrangement finds resonance in Hershey Kay, Maybe my imagination but why not. Matthias Dingman was the gallant Captain (later Admiral) Belaye. Easy to see why the girls' hearts were aflutter. Laura Kay (who had earlier delighted the audience as a playmate in Solitaire) danced his sweetheart Blanche. Laura Purkiss was her interfering aunt, Mrs Dimple, who doubles as Britania at the end. Nao Sakuma danced Blanche's rival, Pineapple Poll.  Kit Holder was the hero of the piece rising from pot boy to naval officer and Poll's husband without even having time to remove his apron. There were lots of other favourites in the cast including the magnificent Valentin Olovyannikov who delighted me in The Taming of the Shrew last year (see Birmingham Royal Ballet performs my favourite ballet at last 23 June 2016).

Birmingham Royal Ballet are giving two more performances today plus a talk and they are also opening their company class to the public. Next week, they move on to Nottingham. I would have been back today had I not been dancing in my own ballet this evening. If you can get a ticket for the matinee or evening performance in York tonight or Nottingham next week I strongly recommend the show.

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