BREVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty @ Birmingham Hippodrome until 24.02.18

Momoko Hirata as Princess Aurora, Mathias Dingman as Prince Florimund and Jenna Roberts as the Lilac Fairy with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet / Bill Cooper

Words by Lucy Mounfield / Pics by Bill Cooper

Peter Wright has long been a dominating force in the world of ballet. His classic productions of Giselle, The Nutcracker, Coppélia, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty (the list goes on) have for decades been a mainstay of ballet companies all over the world.

His understanding of the importance of the classical repertoire, Russian tradition, and the public’s love of a magical fairy tale has seen him become one of the greatest choreographers of all time.

So, it’s no surprise that Birmingham Royal Ballet kicks off 2018 with a wonderous winter’s tale, The Sleeping Beauty. Having toured Peter Wright’s 1984 version of the classic earlier this year, the company has brought it back to home ground with a two-week long run at the Birmingham Hippodrome. This production is immensely satisfying for anyone who enjoys the classical tropes of glittery tutus, elaborate scenery, a weighty ensemble presence, an emotive Tchaikovsky score, and wonderful story-telling. Wright’s The Sleeping Beauty has it all, and I am thoroughly enchanted by not only the choreography, but also the production values.

Nao Sakuma as Carabosse with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet / Bill Cooper Transported to the courtly setting of the Ancien Régime, Philip Prowse’s staging evokes splendour and opulence, with a colour palette of gold, black, dark red and a burnt umber that is fantastically suggestive of the evil curse that befalls princess Aurora (Momoko Hirata) at the hands of the wicked fairy Carabosse (Nao Sakuma). At the beginning of the ballet, King Florestan XXIV and his queen celebrate the birth of their first child with a grand christening. Six fairies – there are too many to name but suffice to say they represent virtues such as beauty, honour, song and modesty – are invited to bring gifts.

These six fairies perform with skill and aplomb, each giving a virtuoso performance utilising Wright’s choreography to the fullest. I particularly enjoy Modesty (Yvette Knight) and Song’s (Karlar Doobar) solo performances, the bourreés communicating the joyful and celebratory atmosphere of the event. The fairies do well to convey personality, which many of the courtiers and suitors lack. The Master of Ceremonies (Michael O’Hare) adds a light-hearted tone to the proceedings as the forgetful organiser of the guestlist; it is he who receives the brunt of Carabosse’s camp anger at being left off the party’s invited roll call.

Nao Sakuma as Carabosse and Jenna Roberts as the Lilac Fairy / Bill Cooper Act One takes us forward to the birthday of Aurora and the arrival of her suitors. The role of Aurora is technically difficult and requires the dancer to build the role, adding layers of character development. Hirata does this well; from the beginning she projects confidence of a young girl who oozes charm and wit, but whose confidence turns to impish naivete when presented with her suitors. Hirata tackles the tricky Rose Adagio well; her balance is perfect. The arabesques en pointe were suggestive of Aurora’s girlish intensity. The solo routine is finely poised and the fouetté en tournant is a spectacular sight, taking our breath away in disbelief. Her joie de vivre makes her eventual sleep all the more poignant; the moment when Aurora pricks her finger is fantastic and, alongside the score, gives me chills which I feel ripple through the audience.

The crystal white tutus worn by Aurora and the pink and pearly gowns of the Lilac Fairy (Jenna Roberts) contrast well with the charred black of Carabosse, setting up the story of good versus evil. Carabosse’s minions stalk the stage, creeping and crawling with an animalistic intensity, wearing spiky headdresses and fractured masks. These costume touches work well in imparting characterisation and a sense of threat into the ballet, making up for the fact that the part of the evil fairy is a mime role with very little dance. The lack of dance for the scenes involving Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy is questionable. The mime works well when Carabosse discovers she has been missed off the guestlist for the ball at the start of Act One; her anger is easily identifiable and locates her as a possible threat to Aurora.

Mathias Dingman as Prince Florimund; photo: Bill Cooper However, the battle between good and evil would have been more obvious with a clash of movement between the Lilac Fairy and the evil fairy. Instead, the scene where Carabosse curses the young princess Aurora appears limpid and lacks the intensity of threat. And consequently, it is harder to take the evil fairy’s plans seriously, as the mime acting is a little staged and one-dimensional. Although this is somewhat redeemed by the Roberts’s unflappable presence and crystal-clear gestures, which push past the limitations of the role of character dancer.

As revenge for being dismissed from the christening, Carabosse places a curse upon the child. However, instead of being cursed to die young at 16, as the evil fairy believes, the Lilac Fairy intervenes and invokes Aurora to sleep for 100 years. As everyone is put to sleep by the Lilac Fairy, the woodland scenery emerges and takes over every aspect of the opulent staging. It is a truly magical moment and one that lingers in my memory hours after watching the performance.

Act Two begins with a change of costume; a nice nod to the hundred years that have passed. We are greeted with a flamboyant Prince Florimund (Mathias Dingman) whose jetés announce him as the hero. Florimund dreams of dancing with Aurora and the fairies, which is a wonderful way to introduce the characters to each other. The awakening scene at the beginning of Act Two is performed with tenderness by both soloists. Hirata’s newly awakened princess is soft and delicate. The Entr’acte symphonique (Le Sommeil / The Sleep) pas de deux between Hirata and Dingman creates a delicately balanced scene announcing his love for her and allows Hirata to develop her reciprocal love. Her partnership with Dingman appears effortless; it is an intimate moment that contrasts well with the opulence and ensemble-led earlier scenes. Equally, the violin solo reflects the tenderness of the scene. As Act Two progresses into Act Three, Hirata presents Aurora as a defiant and enlightened princess who has grown up and fallen in love.

Ruth Brill as Red Riding Hood and Valentin Olovyannikov as the Wolf / Bill Cooper Act Three seems to break away from the plot and the battle between good and evil. Here, court dances take place and we are greeted with a series of magical creatures who dance and celebrate Florimund and Aurora’s wedding celebration. The pas de deux between Bluebird (Lachlan Monaghan) and the Enchanted Princess (Yaoqian Shang) is a wondrous foregrounding of the fairy tale and ramping up the theme of the power of love. Puss in Boots (Kit Holder) and the White Cat (Yvette Knight) are engaging if a little odd. Aurora is the titular Sleeping Beauty, but it is the beauty of the set, costumes and lighting that set this production apart from the likes of Coppélia. Each scene is beautifully lit by Mark Jonathan, who adds texture and layers to the story telling.

Having previously watched, and enjoyed Mathew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, and more recently his Cinderella at Birmingham Hippodrome, I must admit that I have a soft spot for the classical repertoire.

And although for me Wright’s production of The Sleeping Beauty misses the more cutting-edge choreography, a modern twist, a sultry Gothic setting, or dramatic acting clout, it maintains a firm place in the canon of ballet and deserves to continue touring well into the future.

Birmingham Royal Ballet presents The Sleeping Beauty at the Birmingham Hippodrome, running until Saturday 24th February. For direct show information, including venue details, production times and online ticket sales, visit

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BPREVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty @ Birmingham Hippodrome 13-24.02.18

Momoko Hirata as Princess Aurora, Mathias Dingman as Prince Florimund and Jenna Roberts as the Lilac Fairy with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet / Bill Cooper 

Words by Lucy Mounfield / Pics by Bill Cooper

On 13th February, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) will bring their production of the classical ballet The Sleeping Beauty to the Birmingham Hippodrome stage.

Evening performances will be held at 7:30pm from Tuesday to Saturday, with matinees held (after the opening night) each day except Wednesday and Friday. Ticket prices vary depending on the date and time of performance, as well as seat positioning.

In addition to the standard performances, and in common with many Hippodrome productions, great lengths have been taken to create accessible variants for BRB’s The Sleeping Beauty. There will be an audio described performance on Saturday 17th February at 2:30pm, preceded by a touch tour of the stage and props at 10:30am. A relaxed performance will also be held on Tuesday 20th February at 2pm.

For direct show information, including a full breakdown of show times, prices and online ticket sales, click here.

Momoko Hirata as Princess Aurora / Bill Cooper First performed in 1890 in St Petersburg, this staple of the classical repertoire was a collaboration between the famous composer Pyotr Illych Tchaikovsky and the Russian Imperial Ballet, by whom he was commissioned to compose a score.

Since then, The Sleeping Beauty has been widely performed and adapted, becoming part of the repertoire of ballet companies all over the world – past performances of it at the Hippodrome have included Matthew Bourne’s vibrant, modern take. Of the many dance adaptations of the classic fairytale, Peter Wright’s version arguably stands as the epitome of the opulent and spectacular ballet of the Russian tradition.

It’s no surprise then that Birmingham Royal Ballet have chosen to kick off 2018 with Peter Wright’s masterpiece which aims to be true to the classical style, featuring Tchaikovsky’s score performed by Royal Ballet Sinfonia along with original choreography by Marius Petipa.

The Sleeping BeautyNao Sakuma as Carabosse and Jenna Roberts as the Lilac Fairy / Bill Cooper is a fairy story based on a classic French fairy tale – most viewers will be familiar with it through the famous Disney film adaptation Sleeping Beauty. On the day of her birth, Princess Aurora is cursed to grow up to be beautiful but to die from a prick to her finger from a spindle by the evil fairy Carabosse as an act of petty vengeance. The good Lilac Fairy is unable to lift the curse, but manages to alter it so that the princess is subject to a 100 year sleep instead.

At its core, The Sleeping Beauty is a magical story of good versus evil set to spectacular dancing and an iconic score. With Mathew Bourne’s Cinderalla recently gracing the Hippodrome stage, taking another classic tale – this time transplanting it into London during the Blitz, it will be nice to get back to some good old fairy tale escapism. Perfect for anyone wanting to sweep away the February blues.

The Sleeping Beauty – Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet presents The Sleeping Beauty at the Birmingham Hippodrome, running from Tuesday 12th to Saturday 24th February. For direct show information, including venue details, production times and online ticket sales, visit

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ED’S PICK: February 2018

Words by Ed King

The shortest month of the year is here. Luckily it’s also the turning point, as life starts to push up through the thaw and Percy Thrower can start planning his planters. OK, bad example, but there’s a joke about daisies in the somewhere.

But luckily for us mortal coilers, the venues and promoters of this city are still packing a pretty heavy punch with February’s event calendar. If there truly is no rest for the wicked, then it seem incongruous that anyone got Christmas presents this year.

Comedy starts strong with the ‘queen of the acerbic broad smile’, or Katherine Ryan as she’s known in  other publications, bringing her Glitter Room tour to the Symphony Hall (2nd Feb) – a week before the Machynlleth Comedy Festival Showcase (9th Feb) comes to mac with Joe Lycett, Tom Parry, Mike Bubbins, Rachel Parris and Danny Clives. Then it’s back to the Glee Club for a little end of the month self help, as Lloyd Griffiths (23rd Feb) walks us through what it’s like to feel in:Undated in ‘a show about overcoming the overwhelming.’ I call them mornings, but we’ll see what he brings to the table.

Hurst Street is the home of dance this month, with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella coming to the Hippodrome (6th – 10th Feb) whilst round the corner DanceXchange and Mark Bruce Company present a reworking of Macbeth (8th-9th Feb). And no doubt making St Valentine’s Day less of a massacre for many in this city, see what I did there, Birmingham Royal Ballet present The Sleeping Beauty back at the Hippodrome (13th – 24th Feb).

Music has everyone from the soon to be great to the already good coming through the city, kicking off with a cross city battle between Peach Club at The Sunflower Lounge (6th Feb) and While She Sleeps at the O2 Institute (6th Feb). A week later we have Iron & Wine at Symphony Hall (13th Feb), followed by Bedford’s alt rockers Don Bronco at the O2 Academy (15th Feb) as Dermot Kennedy plays the O2 Institute (15th Feb). A day later there’s Mondo Royale spicing it up at the Actress & Bishop (16th Feb) bringing a few different strands of your music rainbow across our city. In the days after that, we see Cabbage at the Castle & Falcon (17th Feb), one not to be missed, The Ataris at The Asylum (17th Feb), Irit at the Glee Club (19th Feb), Laura Misch at the Hare & Hounds (20th Feb), Big Cat at the Indie Lounge in Selly Oak (23rd Feb) and Puma Blue at The Sunflower Lounge (24th Feb).

All the ‘big gigs’ this month are at the Genting Arena, in the shape of Imagine Dragons (24th Feb) and the man himself, or one of them at least, Morrissey (27th Feb). But there’s a few home grown releases this month worth saving your sheckles for too, as Amit Datani releases his debut solo album – Santiago (17th Feb) and Table Scraps send another fuzz monster into the world with their latest long player – Autonomy (23rd). Watch out for March’s listings for showcase gigs from both.

Exhibitions come from a multitude of angles this month, with the two blips on our radar being Factory Warhol at The Sunflower Lounge (10th Feb) and The Dekkan Trap from Sahej Rahal in mac’s First Floor Gallery (17th Feb) – with a few ancillary events to introduce both the artist and exhibition.

Some suitable love story based theatre starts treading the boards in this most Hallmark of months, with Penguins (1st –10th Feb) and Brief Encounter (2nd – 17th Feb) coming to the Birmingham REP, as The Last Five Years get played out at The Old Joint Stock (14th – 18th Feb). Then it’s the arguably less seductive A History of Heavy Metal with Andrew O’Neill & Band in mac’s Theatre (18th Feb), before the award winning Mental has a three day at The Old Joint Stock (21st – 23rd Feb) and Terence Rattigan’s The Windslow Boy begins it’s run at REP (21st Feb – 3rd Mar). And for one night only each, LEFTY SCUM: Josie Long, Jonny & The Baptists and Grace Petrie present a mix bag of ‘Music! Comedy! Revolutionary socialism’ again in mac’s Theatre (27th Feb) whilst back at The Old Joint Stock there is single An Act of Kindness (28th Feb) to round off the month. But don’t worry, it’ll be back in March.

So, enough to keep you lovebirds busy this month – or to distract the kings and queens of singledom on that depressing light letter box day. But whether you face this world alone or together there’s always Fight Club for £1 at The Mockingbird Kitchen & Cinema (12th Feb). Cheaper than a card, at least. 

For more on any of the events listed here, click on the highlighted hyperlink. Ed King is Editor-in-Chief of Review Publishing, which issues both the Birmingham Review and Birmingham Preview.

BREVIEW: Time in Motion @ Crescent Theatre 25.08.17

Time in Motion @ Crescent Theatre 25.08.17 / Image by Tim CrossWords by Lucy Mounfield / Pic by Tim Cross

On the 25th of August, the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain (NYB) celebrated their 30th anniversary by performing Time in Motion at the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham – a collection of seven short ballets based around the theme of time. A captivating programme of choreography and performances, Time in Motion is delivered by some of the UK’s most eminent professionals and rising dynamic protégées – not least from Elmhurst School of Dance in Edgbaston.

Time in Motion is an apt title in many ways. Firstly, it represents and celebrates the ethos behind the National Youth Ballet – that of an educative and talent fostering institution who have been bolstering young ballet protégées for 30 years. Secondly, the title and programme reference the ever changing world and dynamics of ballet.

Ballet is itself a physical movement, and over the last few years the way ballet is formed and shaped has changed dramatically; the classical syntax of gesticulation, partner work and extreme en-pointe footwork has been remoulded by a new wave of dramatists, choreographers and dancers.

Opening with Christopher Hampson’s abstract ballet Carnival, the evening started on a fun note, although ultimately the choreography lacked the emotional connection to make the piece truly stand out. Although I enjoyed the can–can sequence, where the company danced round in a circle whilst lifting their tutus to reveal a colourful under layer. This created a wonderful image of a large flower blowing in the wind and did portray the sense of colour and excitement felt at a carnival. Next, Jonathan Payn’s IKEN and Samira Saidi’s Aspirations referenced the more classical style with the corps de ballet and excellent partner work, but at the same time managing to appear completely fresh and new.

For the junior company, Louise Bennett’s Frosty Fable epitomised the confluence of styles well as she choreographed her piece to the Coppélia score by Leo Delibes. Marius Petipa’s Coppélia is a classic of the ballet canon and a mainstay in the repertoires of both Birmingham Royal Ballet and The Royal Ballet. Bennett told the story of two quarrelling siblings who find themselves segregated and taunted by other young children on a cold winter’s day. This ultimately brought the two siblings together. The young cast were fantastic.

The choreography for Steamboat Summer – a short ballet from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s First Artist Ruth Brill, expressed a connection with George Balanchine, who during the twentieth century took classicism and streamlined it with a heightened sense of musicality and muscular movement. Set aboard a transatlantic cruise liner, Steamboat Summer evokes the effervescent heady days of the roaring 20s with flapper dresses and art deco set; the sharp comedic choreography during the swimming and dancing sections reminded me of Kenneth Macmillan’s Elite Syncopations – bold taut lines with rhythmic comedic phrasing matching the jazz score.

Ruth Brill’s previous short ballet, Arcadia (her first main-stage commission premiered at Birmingham Hippodrome in June), told the story of Pan and his transition from God to ruler of Arcadia. Brill’s narrative driven choreography drew parallels with Frederick Ashton’s The Dream but was unable to fully express the emotional psychological transition of Pan and instead harked back to the tradition of Ashton’s romantic gesturing. Unlike Arcadia, Steamboat Summer’s loose narrative enabled Brill to set the scene and explore the comedic/romantic ideas of travelling aboard a cruise liner.

Etta Murfitt’s Oklahoma Dream – inspired by the ‘Dream Ballet’ from the musical Oklahoma! – collides ballet with a musical theatre troupe, in an all-dancing and no singing production number that reflects the themes of time and motion. Here the lines between ballet and musical theatre blur; dreams have no sense of time or reality and Murfitt’s ballet represents this disconnect, with the frenzied scene changes alluding to the dream like quality of the piece. Set in 1950s America, the dancers wore 50s style tea dresses and cowboy attire, resembling an American hoedown with female dancers being twirled like a merry-go-round.

Amidst the crowd are two young dancers who fall in love and decide to marry, only for one jealous cowboy to steal one of them away to a drinking den. This latter sequence became darker and more sinister, with two strutting ballerinas clad in black leather, marching round her drinking and cavorting with the other male dancers. This scene was evocative of the dream sequence in Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse’s 1950s film The Band Wagon, where Astaire enters a seedy jazz den looking for Charisse who entices him with her raunchy dancing. In the end, as in The Band Wagon, a fight ensues and the dream is resolved with the girl getting her true love in the end.

By far the most abstract of all the ballets from Time in Motion, and my personal favourite, was Rambert graduate Arielle Smith’s T-Symmetry – a performance that looked boldly into the future with a human Vs robot theme. The black background and projections of oscillating shapes created a dark dystopian tone to the piece, whilst the fast-paced score made up of electronic clicks, squeaks and buzzes heightened the intensity of the theme.

The main protagonist jutted and jerked across the stage, with the corps de ballet fixed on the opposite side suggesting the principal was the odd one out. The robot versus the humans. The choreography was very athletic; working close to the floor dancers used every part of their body to produce interesting and bold images of the struggle of the human evolution.

All in all, the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain’s Time in Motion proved that time itself is fluid thing. With these contemporary ballets comes an understanding of the themes of the past; Time in Motion is therefore an apt survey of the influences upon contemporary ballet, as well as the changes ballet has incurred over the years.

For more on the National Youth Ballet, visit 

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BPREVIEW: Time in Motion @ Crescent Theatre 25-26.08.17

Words by Lucy Mounfield / Pics by Tim Cross

2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain (NYB) – a company that offers talented young dancers an opportunity to participate in the production and performance of ballet at a professional touring level.

For this 30th anniversary season the NYB will present Time in Motiona mixed programme of seven ballets choreographed by some of the UK’s most eminent professionals and rising talents, all performed by a company of young dancers aged 8-18yrs from across the UK.

Time in Motion comes to the Crescent Theatre on 25th to 26th August, marking NYB’s first performance on a Birmingham stage and following the company’s summer school programme at Elmhurst School of Dance in Edgbaston. These young dancers have been working with several professionals from Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), including soloist Jonathan Payn, first artist Ruth Brill and BRB’s director Sir David Bintley, who will guest judge the in-house choreographic competition at the end of the summer school. The young dancers from Birmingham’s Elmhurst School of Dance will perform in Time in Motion alongside a 105-strong ensemble of dancers from NYB’s season of events.

The artistic director of NYB, Mikah Smillie, sees the importance of their 2017 season as a platform for nurturing and encouraging young artistic talent from a variety of backgrounds, stating that ‘it not only provides our young dancers with a snapshot into how company life works but it also develops important learning skills, creative partnerships and most importantly, lifelong friendships which are at the beating heart of every dancer’s life.’

Across the production, Time in Motion will bring together seven short ballets from eminent choreographers in the dance world, taking us on an exploratory journey through time and space. Such a theme has been a source of inspiration for many choreographers during the evolution of ballet, and particularly in contemporary productions where the story becomes more abstract and instead themes can be explored through the movement of dance.

Furthermore, Time in Motion will encompass a wide variety of styles and choreography – from the more representational story-telling aspect of ballet, to the abstract contemporary world of modern dance. The evening will open with Christopher Hampson’s Carnival, followed by Jonathan Payn and Samira Saidi’s classical works, IKEN and Aspirations.

NYB’s Time in Motion will also feature Etta Murfitt’s character led piece – inspired by Dream Ballet from Oklahoma!, a new contemporary piece titled T-Symmetry by Rambert graduate Arielle Smith, as well as a playful short ballet by Louise Bennett set to Leo Delibes’ score of Coppélia. The production will be brought to a close with the ‘keenly anticipated’ premiere of Steamboat Summer from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s first artist and choreographer, Ruth Brill. This selection highlights NYB’s commitment to young artistic development by showcasing new original work as well as acknowledging the classical roots from which each dancer must learn to progress.

Time in Motion will not only mark the beginning of a professional career for many of the young dancers and choreographers who take to the Crescent Theatre’s stage, but is a fitting celebration of the National Youth Ballet of Great Britian’s time as a world leading youth dance company.

For more on National Youth Ballet, visit 

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