There is a song in the musical “A Chorus Line” called ‘At The Ballet’ and following that subtle hint I went off to the London Coliseum where the Birmingham Royal Ballet were performing a double header in the shape of “Serenade and Carmina Burana”.
The evening opened with “Serenade” a dance using Tchaikovsky’s ‘Serenade for Strings’ and was the first piece put together by esteemed choreographer George Balanchine. It is soft and light with a very traditional ballet feel to it. The music, performed by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under conductor Philip Ellis, is everything that you would expect from Tchaikovsky, wonderfully melodious and when matched with the stunning choreography, a simply wonderful work. The dance is not complicated but relies heavily on the Corps de Ballet working as one unit to take the story starting with the beautiful opening tableau of 17 dancers,one arm raised towards the moon standing like statues to the final moment as a woman is carried aloft towards the moonlight and her final transformation to goddess. ”Serenade” is a short piece but full of everything that makes ballet such a wonderful art form.
My thoughts during the interval were, how will they follow that? Well as the lights went down and the opening bars of Carl Orff’s ‘Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna’ (probably one of the most recognised pieces of music in the world) started up, I found out. The stage, empty apart from Fortuna (Samara Downs) herself who opens this story of three seminarians (Jamie Bond, Mathias Dingman and Ian Mackay), who, frustrated with the rigours and deprivations of seminary life, abandon their calling for the quick thrills and sensual tastes of the darker and seedier side of reality. This they do in a series of diverse individual tales including a drunken lads out in a nightclub, hogs at a roast swan feast and a washing line strung garden where the age old question ‘can you still do ballet when pregnant?’ is well and truly answered. The final segment ‘The Court of Love’ was undoubtedly my favourite. Here we saw mankind stripped down to its rawest essentials as the third seminarian succumbs completely to desires of the flesh. Finding a group of prostitutes all offering him ‘love’ in exchange for money, he loses himself in their world and encounters Fortuna – now revealed to be less goddess and more lady of the night – able to exercise a terrible influence over her men as she leads them from the straight and narrow.
Choreographed by David Bintley, “Carmina Burana” is a hugely powerful story where figures seem to melt into existence and disappear the same way. Conductor Paul Murphy keeps the pace moving superbly and ensure the music never overwhelms the voices of Ex Cathedra and their fantastic soloists – Madeleine Pierard, Jeremy Budd and William Dazeley – delivery the lyrics of Orff’s work. This was such a stunning piece of ballet that I don’t think I took my eyes from the stage once during the performance. Hooked and mesmerised from the opening to the end I, like everyone else in the Coliseum clapped and cheered myself hoarse when the show finally ended and the performers took their bows.
So, my final thoughts on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s programme are very simple. “Serenade and Carmina Burana” is a truly stunning show where two highly contrasting pieces of music and choreography fit together perfectly and are delivered by a company that mesmerised their audience and held them spellbound for the entirety of the really awesome performance.
Review by Terry Eastham
2015 will be an auspicious year for BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET as it prepares to honour two important anniversaries: the 25th year of the company’s re-birth and move from Sadler’s Wells to Birmingham and David Bintley’s 20th anniversary as Director.
In honour of this dual birthday, the company presents an unmissable double bill during a limited season at the London Coliseum from March 19th to 21st. The eagerly anticipated programme will present Carmina burana, the revival of David Bintley’s highly acclaimed, large-scale production which was the first piece he made for the company in 1995, and Serenade the 1934 piece made for students of the School of American Ballet by one of Bintley’s personal heroes, George Balanchine.
Bintley’s breathtaking choreography for Carmina burana is inspired by the satirical writings of medieval priests, and underpinned by Carl Orff’s thrilling score. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia and English National Opera Chorus will perform along with the company giving audiences a rare opportunity to witness this most spectacular piece in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s repertoire.
“I’d been thinking about Carmina burana ever since I heard the music when I was 17,” says David Bintley. “When we were coming up to my opening night with Birmingham Royal Ballet, I didn’t want to just creep in and do something nice and pretty. I wanted to do something that was a landmark; I was the boss so I allowed myself to have a choir which was a first! I wanted to get everybody in the company onstage, to present something really big and ambitious and to get everyone involved in something really daring. Carmina burana was born!”
The production hasn’t been seen in the capital since its premiere at the Royal Opera House in 1996: “The nice thing about the Coliseum performances is that we have room for the full orchestra and choir. I’m very excited about bringing Carmina burana to the Coliseum in March – the public love it and it’s one of the most popular pieces that we do. In a sense it has become a modern signature piece.”