The title Into the Music initially seems an odd statement because isn’t every act of choreography creating movement that delves into the music? But, after seeing this Birmingham Royal Ballet triple bill, one understands the generic emphasis in this particular case, not only through the titanic compositions of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (for which ‘titanic’ seems a wholly inadequate adjective) but also in a new score by one of the hottest contemporary composers, Mikael Karlsson. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia managed this relentless marathon of intense music with enduring vitality while the conducting duties were shared: Thomas Jung brought in-depth clarity to the symphonic works and he had a mid-programme break when BRB music director, Koen Kessels, took the podium to conduct Karlsson’s Hotel for the first time. He apparently had little time to prepare with the orchestra but no-one in the audience would have been any the wiser (clearly the sign of a consummate conductor).

Riku Ito, Sofia Liñares and Javier Rojas in Morgann Runacre-Temple's Hotel
© Johan Persson

Forgotten Land is a miniature masterpiece with cool lines and fluid sculptural shapes that last long in the memory. Dancers are combined in six male/female pairs identified by different colours in costumes designed by John Macfarlane who was also responsible for the dark, atmospheric set and since the work was in some significant way influenced by the paintings of Edvard Munch, this was a mighty challenge that Macfarlane achieved – over 40 years’ ago – in a unique style that we can see carried forward to his more recent designs (such as the late lamented Liam Scarlett’s Swan Lake). All the dancers were confidently pleasing to the eye but a special mention should go to the central “black” couple of Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton on whom the main focus was accomplished with delightful assurance. I could happily have sat through this ballet again and again without rising from my seat.

Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton in Jiří Kylián's Forgotten Land
© Johan Persson

A dancer who once learned Forgotten Land elsewhere told me that every second in the movement has a precise meaning and Jiří Kylián’s work survives and travels largely due to the tireless precision of his network of assistants who make sure that his focus is never lost; so kudos to Cora Bos Kroese and Shirley Esseboom for achieving that translation onto the BRB ensemble.

The programme could have been subtitled “Out of Stuttgart”, since Kylián created Forgotten Land for Stuttgart Ballet in 1981 and Uwe Scholz made The Seventh Symphony on the same company in 1991, during an interlude between his directorships of the ballet companies in Zurich and Leipzig. Scholz – who died aged only 45 but nonetheless made over 100 ballets – was an accomplished musician and his intimate knowledge of musical structure and nuance shines through his alignment of movement to Beethoven’s monumental symphony, bringing it into a vivid visual reality through his choreography and designs. All the BRB dancers brought an impressive vitality to his neoclassical movement over this long ballet – they must have been gasping for air at the end – and I was impressed by the lyrical, featherlight classicism of César Morales and Momoko Hirata, both of whom shone in the repetitive motifs of the final movements; Gittens was again supreme, opening the first movement with the assuredness of Brandon Lawrence’s expert partnering; and Mathias Dingman and Yaoquian Shang handled the complexities of the second movement with ebullient panache.

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Uwe Scholz' Seventh Symphony
© Johan Persson

What pressure there must have been on Morgann Runacre-Temple and crew to create a new ballet to be enveloped by these masterpieces but they acquitted the task in their own quirky and surprising style with a work themed on dodgy happenings at a sinister hotel. To be frank, the choreography was the least of all the elements in this multi-media feast but their sense of theatre is profound and comes with a modern twist: theatrical motifs included the simple but unusual device of turning dancers into an alien form of ostrich by means of an outstretched arm with the hand shaped like a beak. The integration of real-time onstage and recorded film with human movement needed pinpoint precision in its delivery and I loved the element of deconstruction that had my mind racing to imagine what was happening behind closed hotel doors. Karlsson’s filmic score added to the feeling of dramatic suspense and it was clear that he must have been intimately engaged in the alignment of his music to each scenario.

Matilde Rodrigues in Morgann Runacre-Temple's Hotel
© Johan Persson

It was a clever directorial move to break up the two masterpieces of symphonic contemporary and neoclassical choreography with a forward-looking multi-media piece of today and it was noticeable that the numerous young people in the auditorium responded more enthusiastically to Hotel. Into the Music is a diverse programme with works of very different appeals and taken together they represent a strong affirmation of the forceful flexible direction that the company is taking under Carlos Acosta’s artistic leadership. One senses a company working hard and having fun.