FIRE AND FURY
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Reviewing ballet is rarely an easy experience mainly because one is usually torn between one’s assessment of the athleticism, agility, strength and effort that goes into the performance and its overall effect. I always say if the average person couldn’t do the feats of the professional dancers, then who am I to criticise them or their art. That said, as a critical one, one has to set muscles and endurance alongside the totality of the performance and ask if the effort match the effect?
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s latest two-set piece by David Bintley fuelled by power and politics, forms such a conundrum for this reviewer.
Fire and Fury (no, it’s not about Donald Trump) is a double bill made up of an ensemble of all-male dancers. It’s inspired by The King Dances and Ignite, a work by Juanjo Arqués. It’s a nice combination of two different forms of ballet – the flamboyant, French 17th-century style juxtaposed with the grace, sobriety and contemplation of modern dance.
If by ‘fire’ we mean energy, vitality and tempestuousness, then these were clearly visible in the first piece. It was powerful and decidedly sprightly both in the movement and the narrative. The effect was loud and vibrant, lending itself to the change of pace and rhythm that the movements and Stephen Montague’s music demanded. I was utterly enthralled by this bombastic piece, designed by Katrina Lindsay. I loved the dramatic, striking, costume, the array of colours and the lighting. I also enjoyed Bintley’s choreography, the drama, the passion and the exuberance that oozes from the dancers. The way he gets his players to move their bodies so that they transform from one form to another – in front of our very eyes – is magnetic and unnerving simultaneously. The dances are lavish and spectacular. I particularly enjoyed Mathias Dingman’s performance that displays balletic poise, style and elegance – it is quite breath-taking.
After the interval, the mood and atmosphere changes and takes on a subtle, sombre aspect. The second piece is less forthright, less theatrical. Don’t get me wrong: it’s graceful, all the same for there is a certain elegance and beauty defined by the principal dancers and I was moved by the narrative. The dance movements were excellent. Mathias Dingman and Delia Mathews play Sky and River with grace and beauty. They were a perfect match. I also loved the vibrant colours of the costume and the use of the mirrors to give the audience a sense of multiplicity on stage.
But there’s a striking contrast.
There was a certain disconnect, an odd fragmentation re the narrative and its connection with the first piece. The music and tempo are slow and perhaps laboured. Some of the movements are also faintly ponderous as if the whole piece lacks passion and urgency. Although I don’t claim to be a world-class expert in ballet so I can only go along with how the piece impacted on me. But I felt the energy is lacking in the second piece. Some might argue that it neither conveys fire nor fury. I detected that some of the male dancers were tired after giving an arousing performance in the first piece. With only a fifteen minute break – who can blame them?
Nevertheless, this is just a subjective account. For instance, whilst talking to a couple of women at the end of the performance, I was challenged rather vociferously when I hinted that the second piece didn’t move us to the same degree as the first. It was almost as if I had suggested that Donald Trump should be invited to give a running commentary.