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Serenade/Carmina Burana

Serenade/Carmina Burana, Birmingham Royal Ballet. Photo: Tristram Kenton
Serenade/Carmina Burana, Birmingham Royal Ballet. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Oil meets water in this double bill from Birmingham Royal Ballet. And while it is pleasing to see the company on such good form, it is hard to swallow a programme so wilfully diverse. Balanchine’s Serenade is a marvel, deceptively simple yet infused with a feminine mystique that never fails to enthral. Made for students, it is not hard to dance but its symmetrical, Busby Berkeley-like patterns require absolute precision and the corps de ballet are in perfect unison here. Of the soloists, Momoko Hirata and Celine Gittens shine, especially when their tight coifs are unbound.

Carmina Burana was David Bintley’s first work as artistic director for BRB. Clearly, he wanted to make a bit of a splash. Working with designer Philip Prowse for the first time, he seems to have been a bit intimidated by the combination of religious imagery and all the bells and whistles of sets which suggest a diabolical funfair. Bintley’s gifts have always been as a narrative choreographer but the medieval texts on which Orff’s extraordinary musical work is based are too wild to be tamed into a coherent ballet. Three trainee priests go off the rails in a series of episodes that involve lust, gluttony and all the other fun things in life. Samara Downs channels Victoria Beckham in her opening solo - a thing of bony angularity. There are some compensations thereafter, notably the amazing choir, Ex Cathedra, who bring a stirring immediacy to Orff’s score. The giant crosses, Las Vegas lights and frolicking pregnant women in Louise Brooks wigs are more Alexander McQueen fashion show than real ballet. A triumph of style over content.

Dates: March 19-21

Verdict
George Balanchine’s cool elegance holds its own against David Bintley’s overheated shockfest
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