Feature

Five on-stage horses

We love horses, best of all the animals. Here's a selection of stand-out steeds that appear in Birmingham Royal Ballet productions!

1. Fritz's hobby horse from The Nutcracker

Kicking off our list is the humble toy steed ridden around their parents' living room by Clara's little brother at the start of The Nutcracker. While Clara goes on to receive her magical Nutcracker doll for Christmas, Fritz has to make to with a bird whistle. Never mind Fritz, you've still got your hobby horse. We'd just have loved to have seen the Christmas when he first received it, and his parents had to somehow disguise it with wrapping paper to stop him guessing what his gift was was.

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2. The Shetland Pony from La Fille mal gardée

This one wins points for being a real animal, but sadly then loses most of them as that animal isn't, strictly speaking, actually a horse. But look how cute it is! Unfortunately, many of the ponies that have appeared in Fille have seemed to be all too aware of how cute they are, naughtily nipping dancers' fingers and stepping on toes, safe in the knowledge that they can easily charm their way to instant forgiveness!

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3. Arthur's iron horse

From our Director David Bintley's own take on the famous English legend, and like an artist's outline wrought in iron, King Arthur's amazing contoured cage-like charge can currently be seen in the Birmingham Hippodrome. You can take a look for yourself next time you visit the venue, alongside the stairs down to the level 1 stalls. There you can also see costumes from the ballet, designed by Jasper Conran.

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4. The red knights in Checkmate

Here we've got a role that demands a bit of horse-power, as one of the soldiers of De Valois' chess board-based ballet. You can see one of them performing a solo in this clip, recorded during stage rehearsals for the recent Autumn tour:

5. Far From the Madding Crowd's horse-cycle.

Top of our list is this fantastic contraption, which is ridden around the stage by one of the major characters during a victorian fairground scene in David Bintley's Far From the Madding Crowd. It's not quite a horse, it's not quite a bike, and its weighty frame offers only slightly more control to the rider than being fired out of a cannon. In fact the horse-cycle so difficult to ride that on more than one occasion the dancer playing the relevant role has had to employ a stunt-double for the pedalling parts, discreetly swicthing places out of sight of the audience.

But it never fails to raise a smile, or indeed its own tail, which moves up and down as you turn the pedals. Look out for it when the ballet returns to the stage in 2012!

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