Lazuli Sky

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Birmingham Royal Ballet in Lazuli Sky. © Johan Persson

Mike Dixon sees Birmingham Royal Ballet return to the stage with a world premiere and two company premieres

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A world premiere and two company premieres on a single programme represents the ambitious and courageous approach we have come to expect of Carlos Acosta with his own itinerant companies. Under the duress of the current situation the artistic choices are dominated by practical rehearsal constraints, and overall this programme was not a choreographic feast but offered many opportunities to the dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet to shine. Our Waltzes by Vicente Nebrada is in the style of Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering, but minus the rich movement invention and subcutaneous narratives of the latter. With music by no less than seven Latin composers played adroitly by pianist Jonathan Higgins, five couples waltz and interact, change partners or dance as an ensemble. The Red Couple of Momoko Hirata and César Morales is a special partnership honed over the years: she has fluid lyricism; his partnering is exemplary and attentive; together, they create quiet sonnets of beauty. Yaoqian Shang and Mathias Dingman are a joyful Pink Couple, Dingman in particular bringing a positive energy to everything he does. Samara Downs has a dramatic presence and intelligent face that hints at something deeper in the proceedings, and she is paired with the fine Tyrone Singleton.

Liebestod by Valery Panov to the familiar Wagner music from Tristan and Isolde (minus voice) is a solo of pure theatrical hokum that is transmuted into shimmering gold by Brandon Lawrence. Initially lying in the foetal position, wearing skin-coloured trunks to create the effect of nudity, he stretches tentatively, shields his face against the light, rises to his feet to explore his new world and then explodes into glorious activity before returning to the original pose on the floor. It is the Circle of Life expressed in the simplest of terms, but Lawrence gives the ballet emotional integrity and an epic quality.  

As he stands centre stage with arms outstretched, his flawless muscularity resembles the ideal of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. In the manège of coupé jetés he unleashes one of the best jumps on the planet: arrow-straight, perfectly shaped and executed effortlessly. The audience cheers tell their own story.

Lazuli Sky by Will Tuckett is danced to the music of Shaker Loops by John Adams, featuring plangent strings and an almost hypnotic aural landscape that features undulating hills rather than mountains and valleys. As a consequence, Tuckett’s choreography is constrained somewhat by the lack of musical peaks. The cast of 12 initially stand in diagonal configurations on a stage featuring squares of light. A sequence of projections by Nina Dunn, of skies, minerals and geometric shapes, adds visual diversity to the changing moods. The highly atmospheric but subfusc lighting is by Peter Teigen and the imaginative costumes are by Samuel Wyer. Dressed in shorts and loose tops, the cast engage and interact before an interesting adage section for three couples emerges. Five figures emerge from the wings clad in open-fronted, stiff, fan-like white skirts which are manipulated to form parabolas or cone shapes. Recent recruit Ryan Felix dominates this section with his powerfully intense stage presence. Yu Kurihara and Tom Rogers form the important central pas de deux around which everything revolves, and they dance with great focus and lyricism. Damen Axtens and Gus Payne are paired to dance identical brisk virtuoso steps at opposite sides of the stage. Laura Day, Karla Doorbar, Haoliang Feng, Kit Holder, Emma Price, Eilis Small and Yuki Sugiura also do Tuckett proud in a philosophically reflective ballet for difficult times predicated on the intense blue of the mineral lapis lazuli.