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Beauty and the Beast
Raymonda Act III
'Still Life' at the Penguin Café
The Two Pigeons
The Dance House
The Two Pigeons
In programme notes written for Birmingham Royal Ballet's production of The Two Pigeons, the dance critic and writer John Percival pondered on the origins of the piece.
'I wonder whether Frederick Ashton ever saw the old French ballet Les Deux Pigeons?' he wrote. 'Probably not, but before deciding to create his own new version he certainly read accounts of it; and manifestly he made up his mind 'I could improve on that'. He was right. The most important thing he did was to give the leading characters more life and individuality, and while treating the story with a great deal of humour, he provided an underlying depth and humanity.'
Birmingham Royal Ballet's Director agrees strongly with the writer. In an interview for the 2008-09 season, he praised Ashton's characterisation, the believability of the characters, and the heart of the ballet.
'The Two Pigeons is a piece that can move me to tears even in a studio rehearsal,' he said. 'Unless you're being a dry-eyed old cynic, it's fantastic, a marvellous piece!'
The ballet's romantic story is one of forgiveness, with a French painter bored with his life at home and unappreciative of his devoted girlfriend. When he encounters a troupe of gypsies, he is bewitched by their unfamiliar and seemingly exotic lifestyle, and leaves his life behind to go travelling with them.
The two pigeons of the title form a metaphor for the young lovers at the centre of the ballet, a metaphor presented literally with cameo appearances from two trained birds. Seen together during the first act, while the artist and his lover dance together, the young man's dissatisfaction and temporary desertion of the girl are underlined by one pigeon flying alone across the stage before the interval.
Likewise, with the eventual reunion of the young lovers in the second act, the pigeons are also brought back together, with the errant bird joining its partner on stage.
While regarded a classic, The Two Pigeons is often overlooked as it is only little over an hour long. David Bintley, however sees this very much as a virtue, as it allows the piece to be presented alongside another work on the same bill. Audiences are then able to compare The Two Pigeons to another work by Ashton or by one of his peers.
Formerly, the ballet has been presented with Ashton's Dante Sonata, a far more dark and direct piece, a juxtaposition that David says went 'very well', highlighting the range of the choreographer's talent.
This year The Two Pigeons will be seen alongside Mozartiana, with the contrast between the two coming from the lack of narrative in George Balanchine's abstract ballet. The focus instead is on the movement of the dancers.
While the characterisation and narrative of The Two Pigeons are excellent, the movements themselves can be overlooked. David praises the 'masterful final pas de deux' as one of the reasons for the ballet's emotional impact, but also the impressive way in which Ashton references the pigeons again in the choreography.
'He uses the movements of the pigeons wonderfully,' he says, highlighting a moment at the beginning with a group of girls dancing together. 'It's really very clever because he takes all the pigeons' movements and uses them for the dancers. Who would have imagined that you could have done that? And he really gets some lovely movement from it.'
But while The Two Pigeons contains some brilliant steps, it is its heart that has enamoured it to audiences worldwide. The first shows since the ballet enjoyed a sell-out season in New York in 2004, be sure to catch these pigeons before they're gone again.
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