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Birmingham Royal Ballet.

David Bintley marked his first anniversary as director of Birmingham Royal Ballet with a triple bill encapsulating his artistic policy for the company. The program opened with a new production of Les Patineurs ("The Skaters"), created for Sadler's Wells ballet in 1937 by Frederick Ashton, whom Bintley regards as his mentor. it continued with two premieres: Le Baiser de la Fee ("The Fairy's Kiss") by National Ballet of Canada artistic director James Kudelka - Bintley's first commission to a choreographer outside the company - and Bintley's own The Nutcracker Sweeties, to Duke Ellington's jazz version of Tchaikovsky.

Bintley's aim is to continue the English tradition of Cecchetti-based ballet embodied in Ashton's work. Kudelka accepted his commission in that spirit, choreographing a narrative version of Le Baiser de la Fee in a style that pays homage to Cecchetti, just as Stravinsky's score pays homage to Tchaikovsky. Stravinsky reworked Tckaikovsky piano pieces into a ballet based on Hans Christian Andersen's story, The ice Maiden: a boy is kissed by a fairy of the snows, who returns to claim him just as the young man is about to marry his fiancee. Stravinsky equated the icy fairy with the composer's muse, thereby setting an impossible allegorical task for a choreographer: how to show that the amiable peasant hero is an artist, kissed by the fatal gift of inspiration.

The task defeats Kudelka (as it did Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan in Britain before him). He starts promisingly, with the Ice Maiden (Sabrina Lenzi) saving a boy who has fallen down a ravine. The avidity with which the frigid fairy clasps the worm body gives an insight into a barren woman's motive for abducting a child. The grasping embrace later becomes the Ice Maiden's choreographic motif, as she wraps her empty arms around her own body. So far, so good.

Kudelka then becomes trapped by the demands of the scenario. The young man (Michael O'Hare) dances with his sweet, pure bride-to-be (Leticia Moller). outbreaks of thigh-slapping Tyrolean merriment keep the village men busy while the hero is distracted by a flashing-eyed Gypsy woman (Monica Zamora). In MacMillan's Baiser, the Gypsy is the fairy in disguise; here, she is the Other Woman, whore versus virgin bride, Odile versus Odette. Yet there is no accounting for why this unremarkable young man should be sought after by no fewer than three women. The pas de deux for the hero and his rival earthly loves are unrevealing, either about the characters or the music - or, for that matter, the dancers, since casting is very much to type.

The ending poses the Usual dilemma. The Ice Maiden kisses the hero, pinioned in a cruciform position against the glacier down which he fell as a child: how con we tell whether he is dead or transfixed eternally in his muse's embracer? Stravinsky's music remains enigmatic, without a climax for the ballet's conclusion.

Bintley provided the hit of the evening with his Whitman Sampler assortment of dances to Ellington's syncopated Tchaikovsky, played live by an excellent jazz band. (The title, The Nutcracker Sweeties, is a pun on The Nutcracker Suite and sweeties, English for candies.) The costumes are confected by British fashion designer Jasper Conran in forties Hollywood style: Sugar Rum Cherry is a Rita Hayworth vamp; Candy Kane is an all-American majorette, tipping her topper to Balanchine. Jerome Robbins also gets a nod from the Fancy Free sailor who falls for the inscrutable Chinoiserie courtesan.

There's a fun finale for GIs in battle dress (the Peanut Brittle Brigade), parading aboard a ship firing a victory salute. The choreography is witty and sassy, a brightly wrapped assortment of candies to suit all tastes.
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Title Annotation:Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, England, September 26-28, 1996
Author:Parry, Jann
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Previous Article:Lyon Biennale de la Danse.
Next Article:La Tristeza Complice.

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