Jann Parry sees BRB2 during The Royal Opera House's Next Generation Festival
|Title||Carlos Acosta's Classical Selection|
|Venue||Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London|
|Date||13 June 2023|
In previous years, while he was still performing, Carlos Acosta mounted his ‘Classical Selection' programmes as a vehicle for himself, with starry guests in support. Now artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, he has repackaged the programme for the company's newly formed junior troupe, BRB2.
Like other junior companies, the aim is to provide a two-year transitional period for young dancers (18-22) from training into professional jobs. It is a way of taking dance into smaller theatres on tour in the hope of reaching new audiences. In this, its founding year, BRB2 is composed of six graduates from around the world and six recently joined members of the main company. Next year, the original apprentices will be joined a further six graduates.
On the present tour, audiences are seeing a mix of newbies and more experienced dancers in roles that Acosta chose for his earlier showcases. As before, the cast assembles at the rear of the stage, carrying dance kit and costumes, stretching muscles, and testing out pointe shoes. We seem to be watching youngsters preparing for a dress rehearsal, rather than elite dancers in informal mode. The actual performances, however, have to be the real thing.
BRB2's dancers did well enough in the first half of mainly classical excerpts. Then guest principal Momoko Hirata transformed the pleasant programme into a gala. In the wonderfully corny Diana and Actaeon pas de deux she and Riku Ito showed how to captivate an audience. Hirata has the elegant assurance and musicality that the juniors don't yet possess – she's been a treasured principal with BRB since 2013. Ito, still a first soloist, joined BRB in 2022 after eight years with Northern Ballet. He has learnt how to partner gallantly without interfering, and he has a formidable jump. Together, they treated the small Linbury stage as though it was the Mariinsky.
Best of the first half excerpts was the Act II pas de deux from Bournonville's La Sylphide in which the sylph (Olivia Chang Clarke) presents James (Eric Pinto Cata) with the delights of her forest domain. The mime must baffle those who don't know the full ballet, though both dancers are fully into their characters. She is fleet and mischievous, he overjoyed at being able to dance with her. A graduate of the Royal Ballet School, Cata understands the Bournonville style, deploying his upper body expressively as well as his flying feet (and swirling kilt). A joy to watch.
The drawback with the Swan Lake Act II pas de deux and one from Ashton's Rhapsody is that the male partner doesn't have a variation – or much of a role. It's a hard task for young graduates (Oscar Kempsey-Fagg and Mason King) to partner soulfully without dancing a step. Another graduate, Jack Easton, gets to be a Dying Swan alongside Regan Hutsell in Acosta's choreography to Saint-Saens' music. She carries on as if in Fokine's ‘iconic' choreography while he agonises beside her. They share the stage but don't interact. He expires in a headstand, legs beating. Bird flu should have seen them both off before BRB2's tour even started.
The second half of the programme gives all the men more to do. Kempsey-Fagg is able to express his regret that he and company member Lucy Waine are doomed to die as the last people on earth in Ben Stevenson's sombre End of Time duet (1984). Easton has fun being macho with Frieda Kaden in a balletic tango to Astor Piazzolla's music. Company member Enrique Bejarano Vidal is an entertaining caricature of a louche Frenchman in Ben Van Cauwenburgh's Le Bourgeois, a comical gala number previously danced by Acosta. It's a companion piece for the female solo to Piaf's Je ne regrette rien, also created by Van Cauwenburgh. Hutsell, the former dying swan, now has the chance to be a defiant survivor.
Lucy Waine, sorrowful in Stevenson's End of Time, is quirkily confident in Will Tuckett's Nisi Dominus, a solo originally made for Zenaida Yanowsky. Encased in a farthingale, a hooped structure to support a full skirt, the dancer tries to liberate her limbs while listening to Monteverdi's Vespers (1610). Tuckett's choice of title is inexplicable, as is the solo, despite Yanowsky's account of it representing a ballerina in a music box: zenaida-yanowsky-teaching-nisi-dominus.
After grappling with a pas de deux from Acosta's version of Carmen, undertaken by Clarke and Cata, comes the finale, Majisimo, by Cuban choreographer Jorge Garcia. The main company first performed it during lockdown in 2020 as part of a digital celebration of BRB's 30th anniversary. There's lots of fiery Spanish posturing for four couples, with virtuoso set pieces for the men and a frothy skirt dance; no wonder the Trocks enjoy parodying it in their Majisimas. The music (recorded, as in most of the programme) comes from Massenet's opera, Le Cid.
Once Majisimo is over, the dancers strip off their costumes, put on street clothes and retrieve their dance gear before leaving the stage. The last one out picks up the bottle used in Les Bourgeois and is ruefully disappointed to find it's empty.
BRB2's first tour finishes at the end of June; a new cohort will join the seasoned performers for next year's show.
Jann Parry, former dance critic of The Observer (1983-2004), has written for many publications as a freelance, and has contributed to radio and TV documentaries about dancers.
She is the author of the award-winning biography Different Drummer, the life of Kenneth MacMillan (2009).