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Polarity and Proximity Ballet at Birmingham Hippodrome - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Trip Of Dances From Birmingham Royal Ballet
There wasn't a tutu in sight as the new season by Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) got underway with a modern dance triple bill, Polarity and Proximity.

Polarity and proximity, Birmingham Royal ballet, review
Summer delights from Birmingham Royal Ballet


Normally, the three performances are a balanced mix of classical ballet, narrative and modern creations, but this time around BRB took a leap at making the performance a repertoire of distinctively edgy and abstract pieces.

Polarity and Proximity opened at Birmingham Hippodrome on June 20, where it stays for four days until Saturday evening. This time around, there was the brand new emotive work of Embrace alongside the return of Kin and In The Upper Room.

First off in this Summer mixed programme is Kin - short for kinetic - so it is aptly full of energy and movement. It was created by Alexandra Whitley and some of you may remember its premiere in the much smaller Crescent Theatre in Birmingham four years ago as part of Birmingham's International Dance Festival.

Polarity and proximity, Birmingham Royal Ballet
BRB returns for the Summer season with new production Embrace


It suits the larger Hippodrome stage well and is vibrant, moving and hypnotising at varying moments. Its real forte is the beautifully sensitive pas de deux, which was performed by the outstanding pair of Jenna Roberts and Tyrone Singleton. Sadly, Jenna plans to move on to London from BRB soon so this is one of the final chances audiences will get to see of her with the company.

The set and designs are simple with the dancers dressed in all black throughout, but the simplicity is strikingly effective. A memorable soundtrack from The Blue Room and Other Stories works well with the dance and makes it even more memorable.

The second performance of the trio is the brand new piece of work Embrace, which got its world premiere by BRB last week at Sadler's Wells in London.

This is an exciting production but also unsettling. There's not a clear narrative but an abstract performance showing how it feels to be an outsider.

A cleverly designed set by Madeleine Girling uses strip lighting and clouded glass doors to create effective imagery and a claustrophic feel to sections of the work. She is a young designer, creating for dance for the first time, and is obviously a real talent.

The plot loosely seems to follow the male lead, who struggles with his feelings and with wider society over his love for another man.

George Williamson has choreographed the piece that includes a refreshing pas de deux between the male leads Brandon Lawrence, playing He, and Max Maslen, as Him. Dancer Delia Mathews, playing She, elegantly drops in to the stage at regular intervals too.

This new ballet may at times seem confusing, but many of the scenes are memorable and thought-provoking. There is also a raw emotion behind it.

It was commissioned as part of Ballet Now, Birmingham Royal Ballet's unique five-year programme, run in conjunction with Sadler's Wells. It's aimed at developing choreographers, composers and designers to create new and innovative works for the world stage and this has gone some way in creating something fresh and inventive.

Brb, polarity and proximity
In The Upper Room is a frenzy of movement.


Finishing off the triple bill is the iconic modern ballet of In the Upper Room. This was the creation of American dance phenomenon Twyla Tharp and is a frenetic piece of movement from start to finish. The dancers are literally dripping with sweat at the end of this breathless, distinctive production.

The ballet is so athletic that many of the dancers are in trainers instead of ballet shoes and it's a stylish looking set that has the monotones of black and white stripes alongside striking red.

Out of the foggy stage, two dancers emerge to start the piece and it gradually increases the tempo towards a rousing finale. There's a large cast involved and chance to see some of BRB's best, even if for a short while including Momoko Hirata, Tzu Chao Chou and Celine Gittens, who featured in Birmingham's Commonwealth Games live handover performance at Victoria Square.

Music is provided by the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia throughout and while this triple bill is more modern and different from the norm, it still provides a distinctive and interesting showcase of BRB's talents.

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Why? See a mix of eclectic ballet
When: June 20 - 23
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome
Cost: From 10
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