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Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet Three of a Kind at Birmingham Hippodrome

Richard Edmonds reviews Birmingham Royal Ballet Three of a Kind at Birmingham Hippodrome.

Birmingham Royal Ballet Three of a Kind at Birmingham Hippodrome
****
Bill Cooper
Jamie Bond performs as the Joker in Card Game

BRB’s triple bill gave its faithful audience a chance to see old favourites, all of which had originally made their debut with the Royal Ballet.

Each piece was amusing, danced with due attention being paid to the original concept and it all kicked off with John Cranko’s Card Game which showed how funny and dangerous playing cards can be, something not unknown to those who may have lost their shirts when a hand of poker or blackjack has turned sour.

Apparently when Stravinsky first designed the score for George Balanchine he was delighted to set it around a card game, since he always claimed that the idea for “a ballet in three deals” popped into his celebrated head in a taxi. Cranko re-worked Balanchine’s original choreography and injected some wit and fun into a ballet some saw as mildly unfunny.

Doubtless Cranko would have been pleased with BRB’s whimsicalities as they rushed on and off costumed as hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds or whatever -all of them under the thumb of Jamie Bond’s Joker, the uncontrollable element in the pack, a character who disrupts the  proceedings at every opportunity, donning a tutu at one point.

There was a great deal of macho swaggering by the men in the various suites, which was droll and neatly executed with Elisha Willis seizing every opportunity to make her Queen of Hearts a personage to be reckoned with.

Richard Rogers wrote Slaughter on Tenth Avenue with an eye on 1930s gang warfare. Here Al Capone collides with sexual attraction in a sleazy big city bar set beneath the canyons of skyscrapers designed as female legs capped with high-heeled shoes where Balanchine’s exotic choreography makes things jell in a consistent and exciting way. Guns go off as the all-dancing, high-kicking gangster’s moll (the excellent Celine Gittens) switches her attention from the gang boss to a cruising hoofer (Tyrone Singleton) but Balanchine never intended all this to be taken seriously and it’s played for laughs, with bumbling police recalling the Keystone Cops, and the protagonists living to dance another day.

Tyrone Singleton rarely changed his expression during his performance and his tap-dancing solos were slow, Mr Singleton bleak interpretation of a delightful role reminded me of Lear’s line: “Nothing comes of nothing”. It seemed to be an opportunity lost.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations is a gift to any dance company looking for an excuse to let off steam, yet there seemed to be mechanical quality to the performance which dulled the undeniable comic edge to MacMillan’s wonderful choreography, set to ragtime numbers by the great Scott Joplin.

The bare stage mostly resembled a rehearsal studio with an onstage band. The dancers, meanwhile, flopped down on chairs after they’d finished their numbers in what was apparently a twenties dance competition.

The ballet has its share of  droll, po-faced bewilderment as person after person took centre stage, yet somehow this fool-proof piece, which I have relished on previous occasions, failed this time to provide us with that extra-edge which can transform the mundane and acceptable into the kind of dazzling performance piece demanding all the superlatives a journalist can devise.

Three of a Kind runs until February 22.

 
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