In the Upper Room and Embrace were part of a triple-bill programme by Birmingham Royal Ballet called Polarity & Proximity. Embrace, a new ballet commissioned from choreographer George Williamson as part of Ballet Now, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s five-year programme, run in conjunction with Sadler’s Wells, to develop choreographers, composers and designers to create new and innovative works for the world stage. Dasa Wharton went along to photograph the premiere.
He: Brandon Lawrence
She: Delia Mathews
Him: Max Maslen
Embrace by choreographer George Williamson is an intimate yet powerful exploration of what it means to break free of expectations and become who we are meant truly to be. Embrace is performed to a powerful new commission by established American composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, her first for ballet. Designs are by Madeline Girling, a young designer, also creating for dance for the first time. – Birmingham Royal Ballet
George Williamson’s Embrace is the first product of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s commissioning programme for new works, Ballet Now.
It makes for a dramatic opening piece to this contemporary triple bill. The company leap and spin, throwing their bodies off balance with gusto. Dancer Brandon Lawrence is singled out from the group, eventually finding refuge in a tenderly danced male duet with Max Maslen. – Rachel Elderkin, The Stage
There seems more than a touch of autobiography in Williamson’s concept of this ‘journey towards understanding and acceptance’, which embraces three major duets. Unsurprisingly for a work that fixes upon questions of sexuality these are mixed gender and the long, tender duet for Lawrence and Max Maslen had an exceptional and arresting quality. Delia Mathews portrayed the woman with whom a romantic connection is attempted without success; a subtle awkwardness that Williamson conveys choreographically, to good effect. Embrace is a promising work and a very good start for the Ballet Now enterprise but – in spite of the engagement of a dramaturg (Lou Cope) – it is a work that might have been improved with some judicial edits. – Graham Watts, Dance Tabs
George Williamson’s Embrace had its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells on Friday night. It’s a densely narrative conceptual piece to a specially commissioned score by Sarah Kirkland Snider, about the coming out of an anguished man (Brandon Lawrence, suitably tormented). He finally finds himself through the friendship of a good woman (Delia Mathews) and the love of a good man (Max Maslen). In the process, he deals with hostile throngs of people, and has a long and befuddling engagement with three alter egos in white face masks. – Teresa Guerreiro, Culture Whisper
Embrace is an earnest and heartfelt gay coming-out tale, with dramatic music (from Sarah Kirkland Snider, played live) and a clearly defined choreographic journey from confusion and confrontation to acceptance and reconciliation. It feels episodic and awkward, as if Williamson hadn’t thought through the work’s final shape, and much of the choreography lacks distinction, but it was well danced, especially by Brandon Lawrence as He and Max Maslen as Him. – Debra Craine, The Times
In The Upper Room
Stomper Women: Ruth Brill, Laura Purkiss, Jade Heusen
Stomper Men: Tzu-Chao Chou, Tyrone Singleton, Kit Holder
Principal Classical Couple: Delia Mathews, Yasuo Atsuji
Classical Women: Miki Mizutani, Momoko Hirata
Classical Men: Feargus Campbell, Max Maslen
Crossover: Céline Gittens
Quick-witted and even quicker footed, In the Upper Room by Twyla Tharp is an exhilarating, athletic ballet in which dancers in sneakers and striking red pointe shoes dominate the stage with power, flair and finesse. – Birmingham Royal Ballet
This 1986 work has always felt to me like Tharp’s answer to Balanchine’s Rubies. Like that New York classic it’s a paean to the glamour of the metropolis, yet courtesy of its ecstatic Philip Glass Score the choreography also transports us away from the clamour and rush of urban street life and up into clear blue sky. It’s a demanding ballet, with needle point classicism threaded through hunkered contemporary moves, yet if there are momentary lapses of stamina there are standout performances too, from ballerina Momoko Hirata to young Max Maslen, whose instinctive fusion of grace and slouch suggest a very bright future ahead. – Judith Mackrell, The Guardian
Layer upon layer of infectious music drives the surging movement. Despite the proliferation of smoke, In the Upper Room makes for an outstanding spectacle, enhanced by Norma Kamali’s vivid and sexy costumes. At almost 45 minutes, it presents non-stop waves of dance, which must be exhausting to perform (and it began to look a little rough around the edges by the later movements) and is certainly exhilarating to watch. – Graham Watts, Dance Tabs
Whatever their footwear, all are required to produce ballet, jazz and contemporary steps in fiendishly difficult combinations, at great speed and with death-defying lifts. The work requires fierce attack, electric energy, and split second coordination, combined with a cheeky shuffling insouciance.
This is the kind of combination that comes naturally to American companies, but is a big ask for BRB, their total commitment notwithstanding. On the night only three dancers seemed able to deal with the demands of In the Upper Room: Momoko Hirata and Miki Mizutani, in recurring duos notable for their vitality and needle-sharp precision; and tall, willowy and loose-limbed Yasuo Atsuji with his devil-may-care approach to demanding jumps and steps. – Teresa Guerreiro, Culture Whisper
Clever, sophisticated and playful, it posits two camps of dancers — the ballet crew and the modern dance crew — and lets rip in a dazzling marriage of the vernacular and the virtuosic. The BRB dancers ate it up. – Debra Craine, The Times
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.