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Shadows of War: Birmingham Royal Ballet - 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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Trio of ballets that express emotions of war
Birmingham Royal Ballet's latest venture is particularly timely with the 100th anniversary year of the First World War so much in people's minds.

Shadows of War features a trio of one-act ballets that have each been touched by war - La Fin du jour, Miracle in the Gorbals and Flowers of the Forest.

I caught it at Birmingham Hippodrome ahead of a UK tour.Birmingham Royal Ballet is performing the ballets at Birmingham Hippodrome for four nights from October 8, before the production moves on to Sadler's Wells Theatre in London and Theatre Royal Plymouth later in the month.

Shadows of War, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Hippodrome, theatre review
War-themed ballets from Birmingham Royal Ballet


Opening with La Fin du Jour (the end of the day), the stage is bright and extravagant with Art Deco architecture signifying the hedonistic lifestyle of the 1930s, where our sprightly dancers swim and motor around in carefree fashion to a Gershwin influenced soundtrack.

The outfits are delectable fancies - bright pink, blues and yellow swimsuits, coat tails and dresses - to match the frivoloty and coquettish dancing from our two leading ladies (an excellent Nao Sakuma and Maureya Lebowitz).

But there is also an impending doom in the air and the mood change in the music and dancing signifies that, with war approaching, the party will soon be over.

Kenneth Macmillan's choreography is playful and skilled. His widow Deborah Macmillan has said that the work has a "duality". "On the surface it appears to be very light-hearted with bright young things dashing around without a care in the world, but it's really about people's behaviour and how they fail to confront reality".

Shadows of War, la Fin du Jour, Birmingham Royal Ballet,
La Fin Du Jour is one of the trio of ballets in Shadows of War


After the interval, the timeline moves on to Glasgow during the Second World War in the world premiere of Miracle in the Gorbals.

This premiere is a recreation of Robert Helpmann's 1944 production, which is this time choreographed by celebrated Gillian Lynne and supported by The Bliss Trust. It is a much darker tale and seeps with all the emotions of residents in the tenement buildings.There's hope, despair, love and jealousy, all laid out bare on stage.

The dancing of Delia Mathews as Suicide is unbelievably expressive as her body bows over from the weight of her despair, while principals Iain Mackay and Elisha Willis are beguiling leads. Cesar Morales plays the mysterious stranger with a graceful dignity.

It's an emotive piece showing the effects of war at home that will sweep you up into its gritty storyline.

Shadows of war
A scene from Flowers of the Forest


The final ballet of the trio is an overall more uplifting piece - David Bintley's Flowers of the Forest. Set to music by Malcolm Arnold and featuring a score by Benjamin Britten, some of this work will be recognisable for its presence at Armistice Day services.

It moves between drunken leaping bonny Scotsmen doing the Highland fling to the sombre pas de deux of lovers ahead of a battle, when the fantastic painted backdrop of Scottish hills turns blood red. It's a reminder that the title of the piece is taken from the famous ballad for the flower of Scottish youth slain on Flodden Field.

Despite this, the score and choreography lifts the mood once more to end on a high note of optimism and hope.

The whole production weaves its way through the human spectrum of emotions before, during and after war and is another must-see from Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Rating: 9/10

Shadows of War - Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome - 8 - 11 October 2014
Tickets cost from 16 to 47 from the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Sadler's Wells Theatre, London - 17 - 18 October 2014
Tickets cost 12 to 45 from the Sadler's Wells website.

Theatre Royal Plymouth - 28 - 29 October 2014
Tickets cost from 15.20 to 37.70 from the Theatre Royal website.
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Why? See world class ballet
When: October 8 - 29
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome,Sadlers Wells and Plymouth
Cost: From 20
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