Category Archives: ballet

Human Rites Movement


Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 28th March 2023

Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring received an uproarious reception when it opened in Paris in 1913.  The score went on to become one of the most influential pieces of modernist music, and the ballet has been re-choreographed and represented many times.  Now, choreographer-dancer-genius Dada Masilo takes her inspiration from the piece to create this new work, with a specially commissioned score, in which the aim is to retell the story through a fusion of contemporary and South African (specifically Tswana) dance.

A young woman, bare-chested moves across the stage, before an abstract backdrop that suggests landscape and sky.  She is agitated, repeating a sort of hand-washing gesture over and over.  She reaches for the sky, she bends to the ground – we don’t know it yet but this foreshadows what is to become of her.  The young woman is Dada Masilo herself, a striking stage presence with her bald head and regal posture.  Next, we meet her community, dancing with joy before a background of bare branches.  Their movements suggest animals, particularly birds.  There are moments of humour: the dancers stop to castigate the musicians.  They want something slower so they can catch their breath!  The mood changes – a solitary figure, a leader, implores the skies while the others are bowed in prayer.  There is something about the stamping feet and the jerky movements that has echoes of the original choreography by Nijinsky 110 years ago…

The young woman is selected.  She is the Chosen One.  It’s an honour she accepts with mixed feelings.  While the majority of the storytelling is accessible and invigorating, the latter half of the piece loses me a little until the moment of sacrifice comes.  The climactic lament, sung heartbreakingly live by Ann Masina, is absolutely stunning.  Indeed, the entire score is a garden of delights, performed by a downstage trio of musicians, who blow whistles, vocalise, wave things around their heads, to create the perfect soundtrack for this time-honoured tale.  They are: Leroy Mapholo (the sounds he coaxes from his violin are incredible!); percussionist Mpho Mothiba; and Nathi Shongwe on keyboard.  Together with Masina, these three are responsible for the excellently evocative score, which I could happily listen to on repeat.  Some of the irregular rhythms and percussive beats remind me a little of the Stravinsky…

It’s an absorbing, emotional entertainment performed by a stupendous company. The show has an uproarious reception too, but of a wholly positive nature! While some of the more esoteric elements escape me (and that’s on me), the rest is truly universal and totally human.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Dada Masilo (front and centre) and the company of The Sacrifice (Photo: Tristram Kenton)

Bourne Again


Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 11th February, 2020


Celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne adapts the legendary Powell-Pressburger film of 1948 for his own purposes, crafting the narrative into a spectacular evening of dance and emotion.

This is the story of Victoria Page, aspiring dancer, who gets her big break when the prima ballerina breaks her foot – it’s all a bit 42nd Street in this respect, especially with all the on-stage/off-stage drama.  Victoria becomes an overnight sensation but finds her affections torn between Julian the composer and Boris, the impresario.  It is this love triangle that forms the focus of the tale, with the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale taking a back seat.

I’m no dance expert but I recognise quality when I see it (and when someone hits the floor with a full shablam!).  What I can tell you this is a production of unadulterated beauty, brimming with romanticism and passion.  The dancing is flawless and enchanting; as we have come to expect from Matthew Bourne, the storytelling is clear and engaging, with well-defined characters/types and touches of humour.  The plot unfolds in episodic scenes, taking in a range of exotic locations: Paris, Monte Carlo, and, um, Covent Garden, with the set dominated by a false proscenium arch with majestic curtains, dividing the off-stage and the on-, swirling and twirling as part of the choreography, as part of the troupe!

At this performance, Victoria is played by Ashley Shaw, technically tight and powerfully expressive.  She is supported by Reece Causton’s suave but haughty Boris and Dominic North’s energised and passionate Julian.  The rest of the company is equally impressive but in a show in which no one speaks, it is difficult to identify characters; I can’t tell my Nadias from my Svetlanas.  Take it as read that everyone is at the top of their game.  Special mention goes to the two blokes who perform a sand dance in the style of music hall act Wilson and Keppel (what, no Betty?).

One of the biggest stars of the night is the score by film composer Bernard Herrmann (who later went on to score films like Psycho).  Herrmann’s music is stirring, sweeping and rich, with psychological undercurrents and disturbances.  It’s highly emotive and Bourne makes the most of it to support the action.

Totally accessible, Bourne’s blend of contemporary dance, classical ballet and period choreography, delivers an evening of enchantment that is performed with breath-taking skill by a talented company.  This is world-class stuff, powerful, entertaining and admirable.  By the time I finish clapping, my hands are as red as the shoes.


Put on your red shoes and dance the blues. Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page (Photo: Johan Persson)

Fresh Eyre


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Friday 10th June, 2016


Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel has been adapted by Northern Ballet for their own purposes and, intrigued to find out how you translate something that is entirely words into an art form that has no words at all, I settled into my seat.

Choreographer and director Cathy Marston blends classical moves with contemporary dance, creating some effective and succinct storytelling – although I will state that if you’re unfamiliar with the plot you might find some scenes baffling.  The synopsis in the programme will keep you up-to-speed, so don’t let lack of balletic knowledge (Guilty!) or ignorance of the book (Not guilty, but it’s been a while) put you off this excellent show.

All the highlights of the eponymous heroine’s story are here: her tormented schooldays, the death of her best friend, becoming a governess, meeting Mr Rochester and falling for him… The action moves on at quite a lick.

Antoinette Brooks-Daw is Young Jane, enduring ill treatment and grief – and expressing them beautifully.  Hannah Bateman takes over the role – and is no less graceful and expressive.  It is her scenes with Rochester (the strikingly handsome Javier Torres) that are the highlights and the beating heart of this production.  Torres is an electrifying presence.  Costume designer Patrick Kinmonth dresses him in a tall top hat and a full-length greatcoat.  Torres stalks around, whipping the stage with his riding crop.  He uses his leg to direct his servants and to keep Jane in her place.  It is an expression of power, emphasising his sleekness, at times equine, at others phallic.  Together, Rochester and Eyre are breath-taking.  He does a thing where his foot knocks against hers.  It’s a repeated gesture that crops up a couple of times.  Later (SPOILER ALERT!) when he is blind, Jane uses the foot-knock on him so he knows it is her.  It’s a touching and dramatically satisfying moment.

Victoria Sibson claws her way around as the deranged Bertha from the attic, and there is some amusing character-dancing from Pippa Moore as literal busybody Mrs Fairfax.

Doing a lot of the work is the music – compiled and composed by Philip Feeney – plenty of sinuous woodwinds, agitated strings and yearning horns.  Conducted by John Pryce Jones, the orchestra, provides the aural accompaniment to what is otherwise a purely visual show.  It is gorgeous stuff, complementing the action and augmenting the emotion.

Patrick Kinmouth’s set has a backdrop of a bleak landscape, crisscrossed by paths like scars.  Painted cloths are used as flats, giving loose impressions of place: buildings, countryside…  The monochrome of the set is foiled by instances of colour, in the costumes and the lighting (courtesy of Alastair West).

A treat to see and to hear, the production builds to a final scene that is moving and sweepingly romantic.  A show that gives us accessible, affecting ballet and a story well told; a triumph for Northern Ballet.


A well-deserved sit down. The magnificent Javier Torres as Mr Rochester (Photo: Emma Kauldhar)