Another year, and another Evening of Music and Dance by the Birmingham Royal Ballet hosted by its light-touch artistic director David Bintley. But was it my imagination, or was there less dancing this time?
Without exactly feeling short-changed – the five ‘pas des deux’ showed elegance and athleticism in abundance, and an ebullient nautical number from the boys of Elmhurst School for Dance was delightful – the six orchestral items seemed longer and more substantial.
Under its new music director Koen Kessels, a conductor of almost jack-in-the-box energy and an equally lively ear for detail, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia revelled in its lion’s share.
Shostakovich’s ‘Festive Overture’ erupted in glorious fashion after a slow-burn start, and Kessels brought a welcome edginess to Lehár’s ‘Gold and Silver Waltz’. Even better was his account of the Second ‘Daphnis et Chloé’ Suite, which revealed the colours and melodies of Ravel’s score with a painterly awareness and almost earthy relish.
Kessels’ support for the dancers was equally sympathetic. Extracts from Bliss’s ‘Checkmate’ (Victoria Marr and Iain Mackay) and Messager’s ‘The Two Pigeons’ (Jenna Roberts and Robert Parker) had a sensuousness both physical and musical, while in Paul Reade’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ military swagger (Iain Mackay) and the diaphanous grace of Elisha Willis culminated in thrillingly executed flourishes.
Not surprisingly the best was reserved for last, with a stunning display by Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao (Drigo’s ‘Le Corsaire’.) Yes, we’ve seen the same thing before, but such fluidity and machine-like precision, plus the ability to defy gravity, never fail to amaze – and once again the magic worked.