Feature

Five splashes of sunshine

In celebration of the summer, here once again are our five favourite summery moments from Birmingham Royal Ballet's recent and current repertory!

1. Beauty and the Beast - The finale

In this traditional fairy tale, both the title characters spend much of their stage time trapped in some way. Belle is held in the Beast's castle, while her captor is really a handsome Prince, bound in his hideous form by a curse which can only be broken if he wins her heart. In blocking up the windows of his castle so as to hide from the outside world, the Beast has filled his home with gothic gloom, with each scene vignetted by the darkness.

It is only at the story's emotional conclusion, when both characters are freed from their bonds, that windows are flung open and the sunlight floods in, filling the stage and lighting the way for the two to begin their new life together.

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2. The Four Seasons - Summer

'The strongest memory from my childhood must be from the heat wave of 1976,' explains Oliver Hindle, ex-Company dancer and choreographer of this production to Vivaldi's score. 'I seem to remember spending most of one summer at various swimming pools.'

These memories resulted in the ballet's most iconic movement, which sees dancers dive and spin into each other's arms as if in slow motion. Against a minimalist set that is part catwalk, part diving board, it's a fantastically languid splash of summer.

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3. The Seasons - Summer

Much like the rest of the country, Birmingham Royal Ballet is currently entering a period of austerity. It is comforting, therefore, to look back at the turn of the Millennium, when a delay to the refurbishment of the Birmingham Hippodrome and Birmingham Royal Ballet facilities resulted in the cancellation of our opening run of performances.

Remembers David Bintley, Company Director: 'The money that we stood to lose was considerable as it was our Nutcracker season. As a Company who had always prided itself on its fiscal prudence, this was a very worrying situation. And so the Chairman of the Board at that time made the decision that we had to cut back severely on our creative aspirations.'

Mindful not to sacrifice the Company's creativity altogether, David worked with the dancers to create a stripped- back production of The Seasons, to Verdi's ballet music. To keep costs to a minimum, it used lighting to dress the backdrop rather than physical sets, and saw the dancers wearing the plainest of pastel tutus and tunics.

As he said during the creation of the more ambitious Cinderella, however, the Choreographer thrives on restrictions, and the limitations did nothing to diminish the artistic strength of The Seasons, with the Guardian praising it as 'fluent, even brilliant, pure dance' and the Independent lauding it as 'one of Bintley's strongest works'.

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4. Cinderella - Summer

Amidst the snow that left toothmarks up and down the UK's road networks and the cold which punched holes in our water pipes, one beam of summer sunlight shone brightly in Birmingham Royal Ballet's new production of Cinderella. Summoned by the fairy godmother to help conjure up an outfit for the Prince's ball, the bright and languorous summer fairy was seen live by thirty thousand Birmingham Hippodrome attendees before being subsequently broadcast to almost 1M by the BBC. Despite the whole production garnering praise in the press, for David, the bitter weather we experienced over Christmas was exactly what he needed to measure the success of Cinderella.

'That only comes when the piece has had its ups and downs, and it’s been performed with the odds against you, in front of a damp, cold, snowed-on audience, who lost half their enthusiasm for a night out in the traffic jam on the way to the theatre', he said shortly after the piece's premiere in November 2010. 'It’s only at the very end of the season that I'll be able to go: "phew!"'

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5. La Fille mal gardée - ALL OF IT!

In the world of ballet, Christmas is traditionally a time for sparkling fairytale magic. However, we're also rather fond of a spot of knock-about pantomime fun. To satisfy our soft-spot for silliness, we have Frederick Ashton's comedy La Fille mal gardée, the simple summertime tale of a young country girl trying to escape her cantankerous mother's watchful eye long enough to respond to the cheeky affections of a handsome local farmworker. Christmas may be long over, but we've still got labourers leaping, ladies dancing, strutting French hens, two furtive lovers, and a pantomime dame in clogs!

Such are the sunny delights on offer, we could easily have populated this entire list with moments from this single story. But instead we'll condense it all into one and crown its characters the kings and queens of summer!

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