Just four months after the success of Penguin Café, Birmingham Royal Ballet present another triple bill of favourite ballets. Previously, the celebration of David Bintley's award winning pieces and now the coming together of three comic ballets - Card Game, Slaughter On Tenth Avenue and Elite Syncopations.
The first ballet, Card Game, first performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1976 is perhaps the most visually simplistic I've seen from the company for there are no gimmicks - but it works perfectly. Here is a card table - a stage covered green with male dancers dressed in unitards, females in tutus - both decorated to represent a particular card in the pack. This piece focuses on the intricacies of poker and is split into three deals. Even for non-players the piece is easy enough to follow and is a witty, lively and collectively camp display of cards as they progress through the game. The fun begins when the Joker is dealt. Danced by Jamie Bond, the Joker tries to replace cards to sway the game with humours consequences. Bond has unrivalled speed and has a charming charisma despite villainous intentions. Cleverly between deals, other dancers, hidden behind the backs of human sized playing cards, enter and shuffle about to trade places with others. Throughout, the synchronicity is almost an impossible perfection.
Slaughter On Tenth Avenue is the crazy tale of gangsters, a high-kicking stripper girl and a happy go lucky hero who literally dances for his life. This lively piece is most unlike much else in Birmingham's repertoire. Beginning with dialogue, the scene is set with the pending disaster of gunfire in which the piece steadily builds towards... This is indeed a ballet, but so much more. An incredibly slick 26 minutes of more contemporary ballet that even features an exciting, intricate tap solo. Tyrone Singleton and Céline Gittens as the Hoofer and Striptease Girl command all attention and remain sensationally sexy, sassy and passionate. There is a great moment between the two bartenders (Kit Holder and Oliver Till) who use the choreography to light each other's cigarettes, striking matches across the bottom of their shoes. Slaughter On Tenth Avenue is received like a musical, there is very much a West Side Story feel to what is probably the stand-out act of the three.
Stripping back the stage to nothing more than lighting rigs and the bare back wall is perhaps a little underwhelming at first... What is most magical about Elite Syncopations is that despite the lack of scenic elements, this piece is in fact one of the most vibrant. It is nice that here the dancers are joined on stage by the band who play a delightful arrangement of Scott Joplin - whose ragtime moods inspired the ballet. Casually the dancers sit around the perimeter and take turns to present their routines. The costumes are a delightfully colourful exaggeration of the era paraded by dancers who are able to experiment with a less formal presentation. Jonathan Higgins conducts the band on piano who create a sufficient and merry soundtrack. This particular piece is your proof that talent is entertaining enough without the need for anything else.
The three succinct ballets are concentrated with pure delight. For an evening of lighthearted merriment, visit Birmingham Hippodrome until Sat 22 February. Book online here.
You can listen to dancer Lewis Turner talk about his roles in the triple bill and The Prince Of The Pagodas which plays from 25 February - 1 March. You can book tickets here.
Birmingham Royal Ballet Reviews