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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BREVIEW: Coppélia @ Hippodrome 13-17.06.17

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and Michael O'Hare as Dr Coppélius / Andrew RossEd’s Note: Bethan has been attending free weekly ballet lessons at Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) as part of their Dance Track programme, after being selected when a team from BRB came to her school.

BRB has an ongoing agenda (with Dance Track and beyond) to reach children ‘who often wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to participate in dance’ and to ‘introduce the young participants and their families to ballet and to incite an interest in the art form’.

Having previously covered BRB’s production of Cinderella for us in February this year, I wanted to see what Bethan and her mum, Jenny, would make of Coppéliaa ‘comic ballet’ who’s folklore story line is often cited as a classic that’s accessible for a younger audience.

Birmingham Review, Bethan and Jenny would like to thank everyone at Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Hippodrome for their support with our coverage.


Words by Bethan & Jenny / Production pics by Andrew Ross

Topics for conversation on the way home from school usually include trying to extract what my seven year old daughter, Bethan, has spent the day doing. Usually “nothing”… but today she was abuzz with excitement telling me how she had been talking to her teachers about her impending visit to the ballet. “Mum, I have got to keep a tally chart of all the ballet moves I know when we see Coppélia tonight.”

As an attendee of the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Dance Track programme, Bethan was looking forward to being able to identify any of the moves she has learned, as she did when we saw their performance of Cinderella in February“I think it will help me a lot with my ballet”.

Upon arrival, we were ushered downstairs to the Qdos Lounge to collect our tickets. We found an apple juice and some chocolate buttons at the bar (and a glass of wine for Mum) and took our seats in the stalls. Bethan needed a booster seat to be able to see the stage properly, and, although there weren’t many children in the audience for this performance – which was quite understandable given that it was a school night – there was a stack of boosters at the door. The staff were helpful, asking if I needed more than one and if I would like help taking it to my seat.

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and Joseph Caley as Franz / Andrew RossAs we were waiting for the performance to begin, Bethan noticed that she could hear the Orchestra warming up. She went for a look by herself, and came back to me with very flushed cheeks – someone playing “a ginormous harp!” had smiled and waved at her. She also reported that she had seen “three or four violas, two double bass and lots of drums… It’s amazing how they can all play them together!” Not knowing a viola from my elbow, I took her word for it.

Unlike Cinderella the story of Coppélia has not been a firm favourite in our house, so neither Bethan nor myself knew the plot. We’d read the Birmingham Preview for Coppélia before getting to the Hippodrome and had a quick look on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Facebook page and website while we were waiting for the rest of the audience to take their seats, to remind ourselves of the basics of the story line.

We watched a short video and read a brief summary of the plot, both of which helped to give us a condensed understanding of the production we were about to see – this was so helpful because as soon as the key characters came on the stage Bethan knew their names and their roles. Without this she may have been a little bit lost (although she would still have certainly enjoyed the dancing).

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and Michael O'Hare as Dr Coppélius / Andrew RossActs I & II tell the story of Doctor Coppélius trying to bring his beautiful doll to life, of Franz’s infatuation with her and of his jealous lover Swanhilda. This story was delivered with a clever combination of dance, props, mime and lighting to make the character’s thoughts, feelings and intentions clear.

I checked in with Bethan regularly to ensure that she understood the story, and with some guidance she could explain it clearly to me. She loved the comedy that the dancers brought to their roles, laughing out loud on more than one occasion (and drawing turned heads from other ballet-goers to share her enjoyment).

During both intervals we were looked after very well by the staff at the Hippodrome. One of the ladies serving drinks in the Qdos Lounge was keen to talk to Bethan about her experience of the ballet, and she was more than happy to oblige. They spent quite some time discussing the Dance Track programme, Bethan’s future career hopes (perhaps a ballerina, but maybe an astronaut or an RSPCA inspector) and her take on Coppélia. Bethan was brought apple juice and biscuits, and I enjoyed a coffee while she chatted.

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and Michael O'Hare as Dr Coppélius / Andrew RossBack in our seats for Act III, Bethan was busy updating her tally chart before the curtain lifted. She was pleased that she has spotted 10 pliés, 5 spring points, some fifth position jumps and too many pirouettes to count. Although she eventually gave up on the tally chart as this was where the dancers really came in to their own; the story of Coppélia had been delivered and now we were on to the more serious stuff.

The portrayals of the seasons were beautiful – the costumes made it clear that this is what the dances were about, particularly Winter (the main dancer, who received a standing ovation from several of the audience for his tremendous performance). The only part we couldn’t quite fathom was the appearance of a bearded gentleman in a white cloak throughout these dances. Bethan said he looked as though he was from Harry Potter, and I must say I agreed with her.

On the way home, I asked a sleepy little girl if she had enjoyed herself. Bethan said that it had been “magical” and that she had loved it all – she couldn’t choose a favourite part. She fell asleep in the car, and struggled to wake up the next morning, but went skipping in to school clutching her program so that she could tell her teachers all about her special night out and another wonderful performance by Birmingham Royal Ballet.

CoppéliaBirmingham Royal Ballet 2017

Birmingham Royal Ballet brings its production of Coppélia to the Birmingham Hippodrome from 13th to 17th June. For direct gig info and online tickets sales, click here.

For more on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Coppélia, visitélia


For more from Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit

For more on BRB’s Dance Track programme, visit

For more from Birmingham Hippodrome, visit

BPREVIEW: Coppélia @ Hippodrome 13-17.06.17

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and Michael O'Hare as Dr Coppélius / Andrew Ross

Words by Ed King / Production pics by Andrew Ross

On Tuesday 13th June, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Coppélia opens at the Birmingham Hippodrome – running daily at 7:30pm until Saturday 17th June. Matinees will be held at 2:00pm on Thursday 15th and 2:30pm Saturday 17th June, with an audio described performance at 10:30am also on Saturday 17th June.

Tickets are priced between £11-59 depending performance date, time and seating. For direct details, including full performance times and online tickets sales, click here.

A ‘comic ballet’ in three Acts, Coppélia was first choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon to a libretto from Léo Delibes. Attributed as an adaptation of the German folklore short story Der Sandmann – E. T. A. Hoffmann’s macabre story of demonic alchemy and revenge, Coppélia premiered at the Théâtre Impérial l’Opéra in Paris on 25th May 1870.

Coppélia tells the old tale of man loves woman, professor builds doll, man falls in love with doll, woman pretends to be doll, man falls back in love with woman… we’ve all been there. Although I guess it’s slightly more plausible than being held prisoner in a house made of short crust pasty.

Elisha Willis as Swanilda and Joseph Caley as Franz / Andrew Ross

Coppélia, the eponymous life sized dancing doll, is the invention of the Dr Coppélius – a somewhat dubious man with an unhealthy habit of building companions and leaving them sitting on balconies. Franz, a young man in Dr Coppélius’ village, falls for the motionless Coppélia and attempts to woo her by climbing up to the aforementioned balcony and declaring his love.

Franz’s fiancé, the incredibly forgiving Swanhilda, breaks into Dr Coppélius’ house and pretends to be the life sized doll come alive – dancing her way back into Franz’s heart and down the aisle. All ends well, despite Dr Coppélius’ secret plan to kill Franz and steal his soul (I did say dubious) with the original end to Act III seeing the whole village dancing in celebration as Franz and Swanhilda are finally wed.

Since its debut Coppélia has been adapted and performed by companies across the globe, making it one of the cornerstones of Classical Ballet. A firm favourtie with family audiences, Birmingham Royal Ballet has performed Coppélia for many years with changes being made to the narrative in several new productions.

Last performed at the Birmingham Hippodrome in 2015, Peter Wright heads up the 2017 production with further choreography from Marius Petipa and Enrico Cecchetti.

CoppéliaBirmingham Royal Ballet 2017

Birmingham Royal Ballet brings its production of Coppélia to the Birmingham Hippodrome from 13th to 17th June. For direct gig info and online tickets sales, click here.


For more on Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Coppélia, visitélia

For more from Birmingham Royal Ballet, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit

For more from Birmingham Hippodrome, visit