Birmingham Royal Ballet (Birmingham Hippodrome)
Deirdre McMahon During the past ten years the French government has pursued an active policy of 'implantation' with regard to dance, re- locating established choreographers and their companies in various regional cen- tres. Artistically, the results have been variable but the policy of implantation has done much to stimulate new audiences for dance throughout France where previously the dance audience was largely confined to Paris.
But the biggest experiment in implanta- tion is now taking place in Britain, with the relocation of the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet to Birmingham. The city council has spent £4 million on spanking new facilities for the company and with the Arts Council is providing another £2 million in funding over three years. The new Birmingham base will give the dancers more stability in that the rigours of touring will be diminished (with a conse- quent decline in the injury rate). It will also help the company to build up an informed and educated audience, a policy which the sister company at Covent Garden no lon- ger pretends to achieve. Christopher Nourse, the administrative director, hopes that this will make the company less dependent on the classics, enabling it to offer more interesting and varied triple bills.
What remains to be seen is whether the Est-ce que vous avez le temps perdu?' dancers will rise to the challenge. 1 have often been irritated by the way this com- pany trades on its demi-caractere 'personal- ity' as an excuse for lax technical stan- dards. The productions of the classics have looked underpowered for years because there is no front-rank ballerina, nor male dancer for that matter. Established in its new base, the company plans to bring in guest teachers and it is to be hoped that this will help to improve standards.
The debut season opened appropriately with the grand Theme and Variations. This is one of the BRB's better Balanchine imports and the dancers seem to enjoy performing it, for all its technical hazards. In the ballerina role Miyako Yoshida moves more expansively in the pas de deux but her allegro work is still too bland and small-scaled. Her partner, Roland Price, looked distinctly strained and uncomfort- able. A week later the company premiered another Balanchine work, Symphony in Three Movements, but it does not suit the dancers. Performed by the New York City Ballet, it has an unsettling, sinister energy which hits the audience from the moment the curtain rises on that long diagonal of women clad in white leotards, their hair in swishing pony-tails. The second movement is a sinuous, spiky duet, danced with an understated wit. In this production the 'BRB dancers act as if they are at an aerobics class, dutifully going through the motions, plodding their way through the steps without any clear understanding of either Stravinsky's music or Balanchine's choreography. It is all too reminiscent of the way the company used to do The Four Temperaments years ago. I'm surprised BRB hasn't revived The Prodigal Son, a Balanchine work it used to perform ex- tremely well, notably with Desmond Kelly.
The dancers fared better with MacMil- lan's La Fin du Jour, made for the Covent Garden company in 1979. It is one of MacMillan's most stylish and assured crea- tions, a perfect evocation of Ravel's music (the G major Piano Concerto). But it is a difficult work. The partnering in the Ada- gio must look smooth and effortless, while the choreography for the two ballerinas is full of rippling point work. Here Marion Tate, in the Merle Park role, looked anything but comfortable. Miyako Yoshida had a more thankless task in the second ballerina role which was created for Jennif- er Penney's delicate and flexible physique. Penney is etched on every line of the choreography and Yoshida, a sturdier dan- cer, often looked strained — but then most ballerinas following in Penney's roles have found them difficult. It is a pity MacMillan could not adapt them for her successors.
This opening season has attracted huge audiences to the Hippodrome who re- sponded enthusiastically to the program- mes and to the company. The relocation to Birmingham is clearly a success, and sets an example that other cities might profit- ably follow.