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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For more from the Birmingham Hippodrome, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit

BPREVIEW: Notorious – 20th Anniversary Finale @ Town Hall 25.11.17

BPREVIEW: Notorious - 20th Anniversary Finale @ Symphony Hall 25.11.17

Words by  Damien Russell

2017 marks the 20th year of Notorious, Birmingham’s own alternative non-audition choir. Notorious have been celebrating with an impressive tour that reaches its peak at the Town Hall on Saturday 25th November.

Tickets are priced at £18.00 (premium) or £12.00 (standard) with the standard booking fees. For direct event info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

Notorious. A great name for a group that prides itself on doing things differently to the ‘norm’. They’re a group known for adventurous live performances including a ‘water-themed concert in a cave with the audience on barges’, a Halloween-themed concert in a coffin factory, and joining the Bishop of Birmingham at Lifford Lane tip ‘to promote not being wasteful at Christmas’. Notorious are also known for their unusual choral song choices, such as ‘Paranoid Android’ by Radiohead and ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion to name but two. Notorious also actively support new work and new composers and have even performed four works commissioned specifically for them – including ‘Mistletoe’ by Ēriks Ešenvalds.

Yet in a perhaps surprising move, the culmination of this year’s excitement is to be their most traditional-styled show to date. Town Hall is a natural choice for choral music with its marvelous acoustics and the pieces Notorious will perform are both Catholic in origin with one, ‘The Magnificat’ by John Rutter, being a musical setting of a biblical canticle and the other, ‘Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem’, the shortened Catholic Mass for the Dead in Latin.

Despite their cheery-sounding nature both pieces are recognised as being uplifting, with ‘The Magnificat’ described as ‘an outpouring of joy’ and, as Fauré himself said of Requiem, “it is thus that I see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above” so the (still early) lead-in to the holiday spirit seems sure not to be dampened here.

For those who have seen Notorious before and are now thinking ‘I know those pieces, I know the artists, I know what to expect’, there is one more twist for the event. The typically 35-strong choir will be bursting at the seams with its biggest ensemble of 75 members. I’m not sure where they’ll all fit on the Town Hall stage but where there’s Notorious, there’s a way. Something this creative choir have proven time and time again.

Founded by Clare Edwards back in 1997, the Birmingham-based choir set out to make ‘high-quality choral music that is accessible and can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of background or previous experience’. Under Edwards’ musical direction, Notorious has grown from a tentative group of 15 singers to a 35-strong choir, performing more than 120 concerts in 65 different venues.

So, whether it’s because you love choral music and want to see it in a traditional setting, you love Notorious and want to celebrate their 20th year in style, or you just want to find out what it might all be about, all are welcome to help this unique Birmingham choir blow out their 20 candles.

Do you think we should all sing them ‘Happy Birthday’ at the end? “And many more….”

‘Mistletoe’ – Notorious (performed at St John’s and St Peter’s Church 10.12.16)

‘Mistletoe’ was composed by Ēriks Ešenvalds with text from poem by Walter de la Mare – commissioned by Notorious to mark the choir’s 20th anniversary. Conducted by Clare Edwards.

Notorious end their 20th year celebrations with a special performance at Birmingham’s Town Hall on Saturday 25th November. For direct event info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

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OPINION: Contemporary music is bigger, broader and weirder than you thought

Disgruntled Garden Owner - Sam James / By Reuben Penny

Words by Sam James / Pics courtesy of Reuben Penny

Last week, Ed wrote about his journey to overcoming what he called the ‘Michael Nyman Syndrome’. The piece was a call to arms – composers are still writing music and you should listen. He’s right, you should. But there’s more to the story than the film score/concert hall dichotomy he describes. For starters, let’s talk about the purpose music serves, has served and can serve.

In many cultures, the words ‘music’ and ‘dance’ are synonymous; you can’t have one without the other. And elsewhere across the world there is no divide between performer and audience – this is arguably a western construct, and a recent one at that.

While music for the concert hall has been pickled and preserved (and often taken wildly out of context – did you know a large quantity of Mozart and Haydn’s music was meant for dance?) most countries have had a vibrant culture of folk and traditional music. Oral traditions passed down ballads and jigs and epics that ordinary folk would sing and play and dance to.

And in the last hundred or so years, we’ve had an explosion of new music, predominantly in the guise of popular music (which, I would argue, has taken over the mantel of folk music). Much of this music has been music of the common man, by the common man.

Styles have come and gone, genres have arisen and died, and an entire industry has built itself around the mass-production of marketable three-minute chunks. Protest songs, gay anthems, a seemingly infinite supply of love songs; there appears to be no end to the scope of human expressiveness through sound.

But where in all this does ‘contemporary’ music fit – and not just when used as the emotive accompaniment to an Art House indie or Hollywood blockbuster? Contemporary music, broadly speaking, is the continuation of the western classical tradition. It is being written by living composers for all sorts of reasons and for all sorts of settings – from works for full on symphony orchestra, to intimate works for solo piano; from bizarr-o electro-acoustic music for enormous speaker arrays, to frogs playing potted plants.

The genre is more amorphous than world music, and more multi-faceted than jazz (There is a fascinating history that has brought us to this rather eclectic point, that is too long to go into here, but I can fully recommend Alex Ross’s book The Rest Is Noise if you are curious about the backstory).

All these disparate ways of producing sound has birthed an equally large number of ways to listen to it. Some composers prefer to stick to the safety and tradition of the concert hall, while others have transitioned to presenting their music almost solely digitally.

But by far the most exciting strand, to me at least, is the movement sometimes known as alt-classical; composers and ensembles out in the ‘real world’. Club nights like Nonclassical in London and Birmingham’s very own Night of the Unexpected bring the very best of music being written today and place it slap-bang in the middle of regular bars and coffee shops.

I hasten to add, this is not from some sort of contrived educate-the-masses-about-classical-music sentiment, but rather from a much more relatable we-like-bars-and-cool-music-let’s-mix-them sort of place.

In fact, it was at Night of the Unexpected that I first saw the aforementioned frog-playing-the-potted-plant, in the Yardbird (R.I.P.) of all places. The bill also included a ska band, a solo piano piece that involved the pianist being essentially molested on stage while playing, and a piece for a string quartet.

Eclecticism is the flavour of the day, and it tastes so good.

And while this movement is not a rejection of the old way – many of these composers would be over the moon to get ‘proper’ commissions – it is an embracing of the new. And perhaps of the very old.

Re-contextualising music opens up so many possibilities for how you get to experience it. You would never dream of getting up for a boogie in Symphony Hall, but you just might in The Actress and Bishop (Bach had his harpsichords, Leon Michener has his mental amplified, prepared techno-piano – you can totally dance to contemporary music if you want to).

We might not be at the point of exuberant, total body immersion in music that other cultures enjoy, but we are certainly poking our heads out of the concert hall and blinking in the bright light of day.

And I’m not saying that we should all start getting down to the sublime tones of Eva Maria-Houben; what I‘m getting at it, in a rather roundabout sort of way, is that music can have multiple purposes. It doesn’t end with its original function.

So it’s totally fine that THSH season ticket holders enjoy the works of the masters, in total silence, from the comfort of a plush red seat – just as it would also be totally fine to bust a move to the same jam if you heard it elsewhere (Mozart’s No40 anyone?).

And as a slight rebuttal to Ed’s Michael Nyman Syndrome, I believe it’s totally fine to enjoy a piece of music originally intended to accompany a movie or TV show; it may have been envisioned as part of a larger work of art, but that doesn’t make its expression any less valid.

Basically, everything’s just fine. Composers are still writing music and you should listen.

Sam James is a Birmingham based composer and musician. He has just released his debut album Sleep. Find him at or on twitter @SPJMusic