Moving StatesideBirmingham Royal Ballet's latest programme combines Serenade, by George Balanchine, Lyric Piece, a Jessica Lang work and Twyla Tharp's In The Upper Room. It's a gem of an evening, of American works that travelled across the Atlantic, performed by the ever evolving, risk taking and hard-working Birmingham based company. Each choreographer's signature style was honoured through BRB's superb dancing and commitment to the works, the (bright) poetics of dance, the magnificent scope and the depth of the whole made for a wonderful Friday evening. 

Nao Sakuma in <i>Serenade</i> © Bill Cooper
Nao Sakuma in Serenade
© Bill Cooper

Serenade was the first ballet Balanchine choreographed in the United States ( on the School of American Ballet in 1934). It was influenced by Giselle and the Georgian Folk dance Khorumi. The piece used Tchaikovsky's score, played by here the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the direction of Philip Ellis. The powerful opening gesture of palms facing outward, raised slightly above the head, with rows of women standing in parallel lines wearing lavender-coloured dresses was met with an unadorned stage. Balanchine's choreography was clever, controlled, methodical and clean, and appreciation for the form supported by BRB's fine dancing. Serenade includes repetitive choreography, which allowed the audience to appreciate the rhythm of the movement, and having one dancer always breaking the pattern and moving in the opposite direction from the pack allows for an asymmetrical balance that makes the piece exciting to watch. As if the choreography wasn't exquisite enough, the dancer's breezy, numerous group waltzes, followed by a section where dancers weave in and out of lines designing the space and creating a patchwork of duets and group pieces painted a wonderful mosaic of movement.

Jessica Lang's Lyric Piece combines objects which crawled caterpillars-like with locomotor movements reminiscent of snakes. The black shapes fanned in and out, geometrically bordering the stage and giving the piece a live installation feel. The cream, eggshell toned floor decorated with odd circular blocks of paper that expanded out into various shapes complimented the simplicity of the clear technical movement. The undulating torsos played with the cylindric shapes in creative ways, which constantly redesigned the stage. Sometimes the dancers sat on the shapes, and other times they hid behind them. The majority of the time there was a balance between your eye admiring the black shapes and the dancers' limbs. As hypnotizing as the shapes were, the pas de deux between Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay was most wonderful. There was a striking moment where both dancers were in second position with arms extended in asymmetrical positions. One was entirely focused on the energy and the mood that they thus created. This section stood out more than the others and deserves praise.

<i>In the Upper Room</i> © Bill Cooper
In the Upper Room
© Bill Cooper
The finale, In the Upper Room, choreographed by Twyla Tharp in 1986, was both fascinating and exhausting to watch. There are so many elements to this piece! The complex movement phrases, loud costuming, Phillip Glass' layered scores and athletic bodies constantly moving or running onstage, create a chaos that's literally akin to organised madness. The masterpiece that is In The Upper Room has toured the world since 1992 and it still has a way of fascinating its audiences. Perhaps it is the sheer robustness of the piece, or the complexity of its eccentric music that makes it magical to watch. Tharp fed from a vivid dance culture and created her own aesthetic, one that still lives on today. BRB’s execution, conviction and vigorous dancing did more than justice to this now classic piece.

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Moving Stateside brings together three 'classics' of American dance. The dancers had buoyancy in their steps and a special spatial awareness, both of which were needed for each of these incredibly technical, athletic and aesthetically-pleasing pieces. 

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