Having been to the Royal Opera House many times to see the Royal Ballet perform, I was yet to experience a production by their sister company the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and so I jumped at the chance when I saw they were going to be at the London Coliseum for a brief period. Having never seen either of these ballets before, this was all going to be very new to me. For any Frederick Ashton fans this was the perfect afternoon out.
The double bill started with Daphnis and Chloë. The scene set is quite simple, as are the dancers costumes –the men in shirts and trousers, the women in simple, brightly coloured dresses. Daphnis and Chloë are lovers, but, alas, she is captured by a pirate, leaving Daphnis distraught. (The story is based on an ancient tale and is therefore somewhat fantastical). The highlight for me in the first scene was the nymphs that appear to Daphnis in a vision after Chloë has been captured. The lighting is low, an eerie blue light shines on the cave in the corner. Out of it glide three nymphs. Here the combination of costume and dance is mixed wonderfully. The dancers are covered in green, with a simple white dress (which is more like some material hanging down their front, tied, and then down their back, turning into a more substantial piece of clothing for the skirt which is attached to their wrists). Their movements and the corresponding floating movements of the dresses create really quite a haunting image.
A screen comes down with a picture of Pan (a mythical creature) on, and we wait. There is no music, nor any dancers on stage, only the scraping of scenery can be heard. I understand that for a short ballet with no interval it is difficult to have quite large scene changes without some disruption, but I’ve never been to a ballet where there is quite this delay. Eventually there is some eerie singing in the background, and finally the screen is lifted revealing a somewhat hellish set design. The happy choreography of the first scene is gone, replaced by much more sinister, stronger actions. It’s almost quite uncomfortable watching poor Chloë, her hands tied, unable to escape, the pirates with obvious sinister intentions. At the end of the scene Pan appears to rescue her, and the pirates go into a panic, dancing in what appears to be uncontrolled and spontaneous, but was no doubt choreographed carefully, and danced with great precision.
The final scene opens on a Greek island set. The dancers reappear with colourful outfits and scarves, and take part in a celebrationary dance. The colours and choreography make this quite a feast for the eye, moving away from traditional ballet into something that resembles a group dance you could imagine occurring at a wedding or some other celebration years ago.
This wasn’t my favourite ballet but it certainly had some high points, and a variety of different dance styles, and set designs. Technically well danced, and quite different to what you might expect from a ballet, I’m glad it’s part of the BRB’s repertory.
The Two Pigeons was rare in that it made the audience laugh. The set opens on a couple in a Parisian apartment (judging from the costumes I imagine it is set some time in the nineteenth century. The man is trying to paint his lover, but she is restless and playful, acting the part wonderfully. Two pigeons fly across the stage at the back, and the characters, intrigued, incorporate bird-like movements into their dance, something I imagine to be quite a challenge, to still be dancing with grace, and technical accuracy whilst bringing in these very different movements. By the end of the scene the young man had been seduced by a gypsy woman. Her dark costume, and provocative dancing contrasting with the pale costume of the young girl, and her innocent, playful movements. The two women have something of a dance-off vying for the attention of the young man.
The next scene is set in a gypsy encampment. The gypsy girl continues to taunt the young man with her obvious sexuality, and yet she has a lover that she has no intention of giving up. The young man is beaten up by the other gypsies, and eventually kicked out. This ballet is quite rare in that it is far more about the male protagonist than it is about the woman, and the male lead gets good opportunity to show of his considerable skill.
The pigeon returns to the stage, the young man takes it back to his lover, who is lying on the floor, distraught at having been left by him. A moving pas de deux follows (I admit I was distracted by the pigeon to begin with, but the dancing drew me back). The lovers are reunited, and finally, the second pigeon returns, mirroring the reunited couple.
An utterly fantastic ballet, edgy, but with a fair amount of soft romantic dancing (think black swan vs. white swan). Genuinely humourous in parts, a wonderful tribute to Ashton, why isn’t this piece performed more regularly?!