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REVIEW | Shakespeare Triple Bill | Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet continue their exploration of Shakespeare with a triple bill that is innovatively choreographed by three outstanding choreographers that display Birmingham Royal Ballet’s phenomenal technique, skill and versatility.

Choreographer Jessica Lang wanted to explore Shakespeare’s words, therefore drew upon his sonnets. She then pulled five sonnets that all have strong themes. The title of the piece, Wink, comes from the first line of sonnet 43, “When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see.”

The piece is simplistically stunning, opening with spoken word read by Alfie Jones, the beauty of Shakespeare is conveyed through his sonnets. It is a classical based piece that is performed in a contemporary way, with the use of a monochrome stage and skin coloured costumes. Tyrone Singleton takes centre stage an performs an expressive solo reflecting the spoken word of the sonnet as the dancers surround him. Each dancer had moments of connection with one another as the piece grew with intensity. Despite the distinct changes in sonnet, the fluidity is exceptional. Jessica Lang has created a poetic piece that is so compelling and incredibly entrancing that combines both the beauty of Shakespeare’s words with visually radiant modern ballet.

The second piece veers slightly closer towards the traditional elements of Shakespeare. The Moor’s Pavane, variations on the theme of Othello is choreographed by José Limón and has a cast of merely four. Limón didn’t wish to create a straight telling of Shakespeare’s complex tragedy, therefore he has brought its passion and grandeur to the stage with a smaller cast. All dressed in renaissance costumes, the piece has a formidably majestic feel.

It’s a stylistic performance that interjects the narrative of Othello into a high-quality crafted piece of ballet. The omnipresent white handkerchief provides a haunting image throughout the performance, foreshadowing the chilling murder in the final moment. The Moor’s Pavane is bursting with passion, jealously and rage with an evident power struggle that unites and divides the characters to create potent relationships that are portrayed superbly through ballet. Birmingham Royal Ballet are a dramatically bold company and taking on this timeless piece really shows that. With no set, it is all about the movement and each gesture expresses a powerful intention. The movement is grand and the interaction between the characters has heated chemistry, yet it is conveyed so fluidly which is highly effective.

The Shakespeare Suite is an astounding performance that showcases Birmingham Royal Ballet in a new light, with a swinging score inspired by David Bintley who was a keen jazz enthusiast, Bintley wanted to interpret Shakespeare through its emotion and dynamic. By bringing some of Shakespeare’s best-loved characters to life through pacy jazz, Shakespeare Suite introduces characters from Hamlet, Taming Of The Shrew, Richard the Third, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello and Romeo and Juliet.

The combination of characters are so different, with their own personalities that are accomplished excellently each play contrasts, but they all have one thing in common, a dysfunctional relationship. Dressed in all black, we are introduced to the characters through a jazz opening that exudes sass and highlights the sexual side to Shakespeare’s plays and the relationships involved.

The combination of characters work flawlessly, the music is a huge part in the piece and the orchestra provide the huge big band style numbers integrated with the more subtle wind instruments to create the more sultry and passionate duets. Céline Gittens’ Lady Macbeth is fierce, her movements are slick and utterly prepossessing. Similarly, Jenna Roberts and Jamie Bond’s Romeo and Juliet oozes flirtatious ardour, which contrasts remarkably with the comedic and playful Midsummer Night’s Dream duet with Kit Holder and Laura Purkiss. 

As a huge Birmingham Royal Ballet fan, it’s safe to say Shakespeare Suite is the best performance I’ve ever seen them do. It strays, but not too far, from their usual extravagance and elegance and brings a breath of fresh air to a company that continue to outshine themselves.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Shakespeare Triple Bill is on at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday the 25th of June and tickets can be found here.


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