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Birmingham Royal Ballet - Triple Bill: Checkmate/Symphonic Variations/Pineapple Poll (Plymouth)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Birmingham Royal Ballet’s triple bill Autumn Glory draws introspectively on its talented heritage.

Opening with the Modernist Checkmate created by the Royal Ballet’s founder Ninette de Valois in 1937 and scored by Arthur Bliss, drama abounds as Love and Death play chess with fatal results.

Victoria Marr is beautifully spiky as the devious Black Queen with superb pointe work while Matthew Lawrence and Joseph Caley show precise technique as the Red Knights.

Leading Underground poster designer E McKnight Kauffer’s designs are stunning with red with orange slashes playing black and grey.

Jonathan Payn is doddering as the Red King and Jenna Roberts suitably attentive as his Queen although I did rather wish that the choreography mimicked chess moves and found the piece a little long and dated.

After a rather lengthy interval as the checkered flooring is lifted, is the short but beautifully fluid Symphonic Variations, Frederick Ashton’s signature work created in 1946. Danced to César Franck's score (with Jonathan Higgins in excellent form on the piano), six dancers take the stage for a deceptively simplistic classical ballet.

With no story line and no props, it is all about the dancers.

Jenna Roberts, Arancha Baselga and Laura-Jane Gibson are elegant and rise to the challenge while compact Tzu-Chao Chou’s grace eclipses the at times surprisingly awkward Iain Mackay and Jamie Bond.

Closing the bill and changing the pace is John Cranko’s 1951 romp Pineapple Poll.

The pantomimic piece with music by Arthur Sullivan arranged by Charles Mackerras, is witty, dynamic and colourful.

With Cesar Morales fleet of foot as the heartthrob Captain Belaye and Victoria Marr memorable as elderly chaperone Mrs Dimple, Pineapple Poll tells a tale of infatuation, hornpipes, cross dressing and happy endings.

Ambra Vallo is upbeat in the title role, Laura Purkiss delightfully daft as Belaye’s fiancee and James Barton suitably gawky as lovelorn Jasper.

Osbert Lancaster’s designs are cheerful and the ensemble enthusiastic. All in all a fun 40 minutes in which the story at times masks the technicality of the dance.

Philip Ellis conducts the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia with great command and energy throughout.


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