Forgotten Land, Hotel, The Seventh Symphony on Sadler’s Wells
Photos: ©Johan Persson
Carlos Acosta’s Birmingham Royal Ballet has undergone a transformation since he’s been at the helm. Since his tenure began just before the pandemic, he’s had many obstacles to overcome but this triple bill is an indication of how he wants to shape the company. He is determined to bring in works from choreographers that are not often seen on these shores as well as commissioning pieces from young, up and coming talents. This triple bill ticks all the right boxes and as the collective title suggests, the music is the driver. This is as it should be.
Jiří Kylián is one of the most important choreographers of our time. Every time I see one of his ballets, mostly in Europe, I feel aggrieved and frustrated that we are rationed in the UK to the odd revival here and there. Forgotten Land, set to Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da requiem, with set designs by John Macfarlane and lighting by Kees Tjebbes is one of those ballets where all the elements create a tremendous sense of cohesion. It was first performed in Stuttgart in 1981 and displays exactly why Kylián’s choreography is so enduring – it is so relevant to today’s audiences. Inspired by Edvard Munch’s Dance of Life, it suggests a theme of love, death and the different stages of life. It is both reflective and dynamic and BRB’s dancers rise beautifully to the challenges of marrying the music with the choreography. Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton bring depth and drama to the couple in black whilst somehow provoking a feeling of exhilaration in the viewer.
Hotel is a Ballet Now commission by Morgann Runacre-Temple and Jessica Wright (Jess and Morgs Films) who are fast becoming the go to team if you want a creation that has moved well into the 21st century. As the title suggests, it is a slice of life at a rather drab hotel with more than a hint of darkness, voyeurism and some characters that look as if they’ve stepped straight off the set of the Bates Motel in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho. It’s as intriguing as it is sinister, yet there are also some really funny moments. Once again, it works because all the elements come together. Mikael Karlsson’s original score has jazzy undertones; Sami Fendall’s designs are clever and effective and Kieron Johnson’s lighting is weirdly atmospheric. However, it is the combination of projection and live filming which takes it to another level. It’s a surreal experience. One moment one is watching what is happening inside the hotel rooms (nothing too shocking), then the dancers are dancing with projections. Suddenly we get a close up of the chef at work (Eric Pinto Cata – a talent to watch) whose expression looks somewhat menacing. Tzu-Chao Chou and Beatrice Parma give chilling but brilliant performances as the Hotel Manager and Assistant Manager, while the arrival of a Salvador Dalí-esque Arm Head (Matilde Rodrigues) is the stuff of nightmares. This is a bold and memorable piece with Runacre-Temple creating just enough choreography to counter-balance the spooky scenario, though I won’t be booking a room there any time soon.
Uwe Scholz (1958 – 2004) was a prolific choreographer, renowned for his musicality, who in spite of creating works all over the world, is relatively unknown in the UK. The Seventh Symphony (Beethoven’s) is a fabulous, vibrant expression of this glorious music involving a huge cast. Dressed in white (with stripes) leotards and unitards (Scholz is also the designer) the stage is aglow with a sea of radiant dancers. There is no room for error as the choreography puts them through their paces at a fair lick. There is some repetition but that merely reflects the score. That the company is so collectively musical is a triumph. Gittens and Brandon Lawrence lead the way but the entire cast dance as if their lives depended on it. Thank goodness a British company has finally acquired a work by Scholz. This programme shows that BRB can find its feet in a repertoire that is both taxing and diverse. In a performance which focuses on the relationship between the music and the dance, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, under the batons of Thomas Jung and Koen Kessels, gives a rousing and exemplary performance.