Ballet review: Fire and fury

The Birmingham Royal Ballet is back in London for a short visit


The Birmingham Royal Ballet is at Sadler’s Wells Theatre for a short season, with two very different programmes: the Fire & Fury mixed bill and Sir Frederick Ashton’s sunny, bucolic romp, La Fille mal Gardee.  

Fire & Fury begins with The King Dances by David Bintley, a work which journeys back to the birth of ballet. King Louis XIV of France is said to be the grandfather of classical dance: it was he who established lavish ballets at court and his portrayal as the sun god helped assert his authority over the French nobility.

The King Dances is a male-led piece, with the dancers moving slowly in courtly poses (this did drag at points). The only woman in the ballet is Selene, the moon goddess, danced with cool elegance at the performance I saw by Yijing Zhang.

It is an interesting work – more of a curiosity piece – with beautiful atmospheric lighting by Peter Mumford. It shows just how much male dancing has evolved over the centuries, from its origins in court dances, with their measured, careful steps and precise placement of arms. Praise to Max Maslen as the King, and Tyrone Singleton as his First Minister and mentor, Cardinal Mazarin, who assumes various guises throughout the piece in his power struggle with the young monarch.

William Turner’s painting, The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons provides the inspiration for Ignite, a new ballet by Juanjo Arqués, which makes up the second part of the Fire & Fury double bill.  

To a score by Kate Whitley, the large cast of dancers, dressed in an assortment of shades symbolising flames, water or sky move with passion and speed. Particularly powerful is the final scene, when the dancers face the audience, but move slowly backwards into darkness, as the sound of flames crackling fills the auditorium.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet is at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Rosebery Avenue, London EC1 until 3 November.

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