Birmingham Royal Ballet dedicates its opening Autumn/Winter season to a diverse and energetic triple bill of English masterpieces.
This is a celebratory programme featuring work from three of the most influential ballet choreographers of the 20th century.
Opening with Kenneth MacMillan's Solitaire, first premiered in 1956, this 'kind of game for one' is a playful story of a woman's loneliness and her imaginings of the friends she lacks.
Nao Sakuma, as The Girl, daintily floats on an intriguing score by Malcolm Arnold. Music is often reminiscent of folk tunes mixed in with a hint of Macmillian's Scottish influences.
The protagonist's childlike dance is light and dreamy and although expressive, her performance at times lacks lustre. In the middle of the piece, Ambra Vallo dances a quirky duet with Sakuma, and steals the performance with her zany flirtatiousness. The ambiguous backdrop designs and drab lighting, fade into insignificance.
Checkmate (1937), the centrepiece, is a revival of Ninette de Valois' dramatic battle of love and death played out on a chessboard. Just as in the game, the dancer's movements are rigid and symmetrical and the ensemble of pawns guard the board with military style precision. David Bintley's cameo appearance as the frail, old Red King was entertaining and complimented by the Red Queen. Checkmate is rich and intense in colour, design and costume, if not sometimes overwhelming. Best of all is Elisha Willis' powerful and domineering performance as Black Queen, who dances exquisitely throughout.
In the final piece the audience are treated to the vivacious, sugary and accessible narrative of John Cranko's The Lady and the Fool (1954), set against a wonderful score by Giuseppe Verdi. Not only a feast for the eyes, with Kate Ford's sumptuous designs and lavish costumes, but also a showcase for outstanding ballet technique packed with pirouettes, pointe work and arabesques - Willis shines once again.
The comical element of the two contrasting clown characters, danced by principal Iain Mackay and soloist Kosuke Yamamoto is amusing yet endearingly romantic. In the end, it's love that conquers all, and the Birmingham audience are sent on their way with a feelgood glow.
The BRB Triple Bill is an evening of balletic delight that promises to please old and new audiences. A superb opening night for the new cast of young and talented dancers accompanied by excellent music making by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.
Running Time: 3 hours. Until Saturday