Pure Agony to perform, a pure delight to watch.
Stravinsky Triple Bill by Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sunderland Empire Theatre
The stage is bare. The backdrop is a bluer shade of pale. The lighting is flat. The costumes are black tights with white singlet for the men and a black chemise for the women.
This is how the first piece of the Stravinsky-Balanchine triptych begins and how the final work ends. In production terms, then, this is budget basement ballet.
But against this minimalist background, we witness the fruits of the most important and influential ballet pairing of the 20th Century.
When BRB decided to perform the ballets for which Igor Stravinsky provided the music ( part of Birmingham's ill-fated European Capital of Culture bid ( it also meant paying tribute to the choreographer with whom he is most closely linked, fellow Russian ex-pat George Balanchine.
And we get exactly what Messrs P & B intended. Since Balanchine's death, his legacy has been zealously guarded by a trust which is involved in every production before granting permission for it to be staged.
So when BRB dancers were working on Agon, Stravinsky Violin Concerto and Symphony in Three Movements, they did so with a Balanchine Trust representative bellowing instructions at them in a relentless search for perfection.
Little wonder, then, that dancers throughout the world approach Balanchine's ballets with a blend of anticipation and dread. Within BRB, Agon is known as Agony.
Yet such is Balanchine's extraordinary ability to combine the angular with the fluid that the dancers never look stressed.
Being Balanchine, Agon is, above all, an ensemble piece, but the pas de deux performed by Jenna Roberts and Tyrone Singleton will linger in memory.
While Agon is intense, measured and inward-looking, Stravinsky Violin Concerto is spirited, perky and even playful. The dancers perform with smiles on their faces. George did have a sense of humour after all.
Symphony In Three Movements involves the whole company in an extravaganza of well-drilled movement which would not have been out of place in a Thirties musical. It also features a slow-mo pas de deux of sublime eloquence. If I see anything more beautiful on a stage this year, I shall be mightily surprised.