BWW Review: BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET & BALLET BLACK MIXED BILL, Sadler's Wells
It's a particular treat when a triple bill allows programme space to showcase not one but two exciting companies. We should thank Birmingham Royal Ballet for the highly democratic move of inviting Ballet Black to share the Sadler's Wells stage with them in this latest autumnal offering.
When I first saw The Suit in early 2018, I felt underwhelmed by the straightforward story of a cuckolded husband and his promiscuous wife, but now, 18 months later, it feels like such a tour de force for the company. It sits comfortably, a jewel in their repertoire. Cathy Marston has crafted a ballet that is so raw and devastating to watch, with such clarity of narrative, the audience has no choice but to be engrossed in this story that covers so much in just 37 short minutes.
There is fine detail in the opening scenes that depict Philemon's (José Alves) typical day-to-day activities: face-washing, shaving and dressing. Cira Robinson is a flawless, slinky and seductive wife Matilda, until she becomes unstuck - after which her anguish descends into a painful despair and we live every moment with her.
Mthuthuzeli November emerges chirpily in his beige suit as the troublesome love interest for a brief but charismatic appearance, before disappearing back into the ensemble cast who hold together this work. They seamlessly manipulate the simply props into a bed, dinner table, a seat for that titular suit to perch on.
From a defined narrative to the more abstract. Queensland's Ballet's 25-year-old Jack Lister's work opens the bill with A Brief Nostalgia. Despite his youth, Lister already holds a fine sense of maturity and drama within his choreography. With heavy shades of film noir, Lister's work feature six couples who dance amongst two imposing high walls, reminiscent of the ones seen in Akram Khan's Giselle.
Programme notes describe the work as one which looks at "the many fragments of our lives that form us, crush us, create us". It would be a lie to say this was apparent on first viewing, but Lister's feel for the theatrical is undeniable.
Amongst Tom Harrold's heady score, full of chilling strings, and Alexander Berlage's startling lighting, the result is an intense experience. Couples rush on and off as large shadows loom across the stage. The number is rounded off nicely with a powerful pas de deux from Principals Delia Mathews and Brandon Lawrence, who both exude a commanding presence.
The evening is concluded with Twyla Tharp's classic gala fare, Nine Sinatra Songs from 1992. Strictly fans will rejoice as the work, featuring a revolving glitter ball hanging atop the stage, sees seven dance couples deliver glittering, crowd-pleasing ballroom numbers to Sinatra classics. As one might expect, the most successful of the numbers open and close the piece. Momoko Hirata and César Morales glide elegantly and with an easy musicality to "Softly As I Leave You" - Hirata one of the only female dancers it must be said to truly master dancing in ballroom heels.
The number does occasionally feel a little rough around the edges, and some of the choreography is clunky and uncomfortable. Céline Gittens and Yasuo Atsuji dance an acrobatic piece to "One for My Baby" that sees them have to adopt some ungainly positions that don't quite seem fitting.
Thankfully, we end on a high with Mathews returning, this time with Tyrone Singleton for a confident and poised number to "That's Life". Mathews slinks flirtatiously in a dazzling red cocktail dress whilst Singleton is an able partner. It's not a perfect number, but it's hard not to be enchanted by this graceful and glamorous final turn.