Reviews of the Birmingham Royal Ballet in a triple bill.
The Evening Standard
First out of the bag is Ninette de Valois’ 1937 chess-inspired fantasia, Checkmate. Bright and colourful, this is an Alice in Wonderland-inspired ballet with a dark, vicious heart.
The war between the Reds and the Blacks is played out in huge set pieces, with spirited red pawns kicking off the action before the Black Queen enters to spoil the fun.
The exuberance of John Cranko's Pineapple Poll, created in 1951 to a selection of tunes by Arthur Sullivan, stands in polar opposition to Checkmate's sterile formalism. Carol-Anne Millar brings the sort of well-observed, square-shouldered indomitability to the role of Poll, a lovestruck harbour salesgirl, that makes her look like ballet's answer to Catherine Tate.
This pressure does show a little here on the three BRB girls, chiefly in a certain stiffness to their porte de bras. But, even so, the impression is a fine one. All three – with the fleet Natasha Oughtred at their centre – pour their hearts into the piece, never fudging Ashton’s exquisitely original and detailed choreography, and generally embracing its (and the César Franck score’s) serene lyricism.