20 YEARS CELEBRATION:  Birmingham Royal Ballet, at Birmingham Hippodrome

It’s two decades since Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet moved lock, stock and barrel up the M1 and became The Birmingham Royal Ballet at a purpose-built home at the Hippodrome theatre.

And this week’s gala was a stunning celebration of the last 20 years of its repertory and history, in terms of different dance styles, choreographers, composers and costume designers.

The story unfolded through pieces from BRB’s rep interspersed with filmed interviews and footage of events – and from the moment the curtain rose on a hi-energy jazzy excerpt from The Orpheus Suite, the audience was on an emotional roll.

It was a journey that romped through a Gilbert and Sullivan-style pirates caper from Sylvia and Will Mossop’s stag night in Hobson’s Choice; through the gentle romance of The Two Pigeons, to the star-crossed love of Romeo and Juliet; and took in a sexy duet from Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and the simplicity of Concerto – breathtakingly danced by two students from The Royal Ballet School.

There wasn’t any tragedy on the programme, at least nothing as obvious as a dying swan or a jilted bride. The omission of several significant pieces might be considered an oversight – excerpts from director David Bintley’s remake of Cyrano, his controversial Edward II and the recent award-winning E=mc2 were all missing. Nor was there a piece from the choreographic CV of Ninette de Valois, who founded Sadler’s Wells in 1931.

Yet it must have been a hard task selecting 15 pieces for the celebration and the result was a sound balance between the traditional Russian, the quintessential English, the pure classical, the more contemporary, the past and the future. It also showcased home-grown talent as in Leamington Spa-born Kit Holder’s sharp choreography in Printer Jam, the designs of Wolverhampton-educated Sue Blane and University of Central England graduate Kate Ford, the local performers who participated in the fabulous Ballet Hoo! community project and the students from Elmhurst School for Dance down the road.

Bintley came on stage and made a heartfelt tribute to Birmingham. It was the council and theatre’s not-to-be-refused offer in 1987 that prompted the ballet company’s relocation.

“But my biggest thanks go to you the audience here, the audience in Birmingham that opened their arms to us, took us to their hearts and made us an immediate success,” he said.

It was a lump-in-the-throat moment because the gala was not just about 20 years in the life of BRB, it was 20 years in the life of many of those in audience, mine included.

Rating: 5/5