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REVIEW: Penguin Café at the Birmingham Hippodrome

By Tamworth Herald  |  Posted: October 05, 2013

  • Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in 'Mass'. Photo courtesy of Roy Smiljanic

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Individually David Bintley’s Tombeaux, E=mc2 and Still Life at the Penguin Café are thought-provoking and visually spectacular. But when the three are combined, fireworks ensue.

Alongside preparing to deliver one of the oldest ballets and most well-known classic storytales of all time, The Sleeping Beauty, next week Birmingham’s resident ballet company, The Birmingham Royal Ballet, have also been working tirelessly to present a triple bill of the company director, David Bintley CBE’s creations on the Hippodrome stage – and the result was simply spell-binding.

Starting with E=mc2, the curtain rose on Thursday (October 3) to reveal a hazy stage. A small collection of dancers standing shoulder to shoulder, creating a small circle in the centre of the stage, quickly set the tone for the diverse choreography to come and the speed at which it would be delivered.

Striking, angular movements were contrasted with a soft, circling hand motif while the company sank towards the ground beneath them - all of which was presented against a variety of foggy light sequences.

The dancers bucked and contorted their bodies, stretching their limbs outwards before suddenly switching and turning in on themselves as discordant string sounds, steady rumbling drums and syncopated (off-beat) musical interludes reinforced the breathtaking speed of the piece – which is an exploration into Einstein’s celebrated ‘Special Theory of Relativity’.

After what seemed like a brief explosion of dramatic dance and mesmerizing music, it was time for the atmosphere to shift and the stage and dancers to undergo a costume change – which even included changing the flooring – to present Tombeaux.

Written by Bintley as a homage to classical ballet, the second of three one-act ballets immediately drew its captive audience in to a passionate and melancholic landscape, as promised.

Blue hues illuminated the stage as an army of ballerinas wearing similarly-coloured tutus created a dream-like atmosphere.

Sorrowful music was coupled with rousing segments during Bintley’s lament on the death of his great mentor, the great Frederick Ashton, which also seemed to me to be about the celebration of his life.

After stunning lifts which saw the principal female repeatedly twirled and held 180 degrees in the air, moving choreography set against a backdrop of romantic music, one dancer was left on stage pirouetting alone as the lights dimmed.

Next, hilarity and chaos arrived with Penguin Café. A "conservationist" piece in which a colourful host of endangered animals seek shelter from a storm, Penguin Café is an equally educating and entertaining work.

The company took on the roles of animals including a morris-dancing flea, a ballroom-dancing ram and a woolly monkey, presenting their chosen personalities and characteristics with precision and perfect timing.

A carnival-style party brings the celebratory atmosphere to an end and the animals are forced to seek shelter provided by the almost ever-present penguin as the audience are left to ponder on what the world would be like without such wildlife.

Overall, a wonderful evening of entertainment in which Bintley's trio of ballets took its audience on a whirlwind tour through different emotions, landscapes and styles of ballet.

The final performance of Penguin Café at the Birmingham Hippodrome is this evening (Saturday, October 5) at 7.30pm.

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