The concept behind "Powder", being that the muses that inspired Mozart to write the clarinet concerto (KV622), are given life each time the music is played, is a splendid device upon which to build a ballet. I am not sure if muses wear bra tops and long petticoats (for the girls) and short shorts (for the boys) however; it might look better if the ladies wore their hair down.
Of course it is the dancing that really matters and I reckon there is some excellent choreography in this, especially for the chaps. I really like the section the boys all do together at the start of the third movement. It is quite rare to see 7 chaps performing variations simultaneously, on some quite complicated steps.
It is well known that the muses float into the room, deliver their inspiration to the artist and quietly float away. The image of the girls running in the air as they are carried across the stage by the chaps conveys this perfectly.
The muses are also exceptionally passionate both physically and spiritually. Some of the embraces in this piece are quite smoldering. The piece opens in silence, which two muses sensually caressing each other. The mood was somewhat ruined by a loud "Would you mind not rustling sweets please!". Despite this false start, it did not take the superb BRB dancers to sweep me away.
The title of the work evades me; there is a physical embodiment of it in the last few seconds, but perhaps the meaning is best kept secret by Stanton Welch (choreography). We may be very disappointed if we discover the true meaning.
The set is very simple being a diorama in black and white; cutouts of some classical looking columns with lions head fountains painted on. It looks a little like an etching of a Roman piazza.The dancers all have equal roles, so it would be unfair to single any out. I extend an open invitation for these muses to come and inspire me at anytime convenient to themselves!
The second part of the bill was Carmina Burana. I am afraid that this is one of those pieces of music that is played far too often, especially "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi". For those who don't recognise these words it is the opening section; the bit that we all know so well. I don't rate this as the best tune in the work.
Turning Carmina Burana into a ballet is not an easy task; do you represent the text literally or do you present it as an allegory? David Bintley seems to have done bits of both, as indeed have other choreographers that have interpreted the work. I largely found this version quite silly in a lot of it's imagery. This choreography is no better or worse than any other version of Carmina Burana that I have seen. I am still waiting, perhaps in vain, for a truly excellent version.
Dance-wise, one could not have wished for a better cast. Leticia Muller as Fortuna, Dorcas Walters as the Lover Girl, Nao Sakuma as Roast Swan, and Timothy Cross, Robert Parker and Iain Mackay as the three Seminarians. All gave there usual sterling performances, as did the rest of the BRB.
Scenes in this ballet that I consider to be silly are the seven priests dancing below the crosses; this is just too obvious. I did like the idea of the priests dog collar becoming a bird however. The use of chairs as horses looked to me like an idea straight out of Monty Python. I grew out of Python years ago, but clearly I am out of step with the rest of the world as the audience loved it. The girls costumes are very bright, if a little odd. Not as odd as the previous scene featuring the pregnant women. Again an obvious metaphor, as the text is Primo Vere (In Springtime). Mind you the text describes an idyllic scene with Flora reigning in the woods, lots of flowers and nightingales and the warmth of the sun. No mention of pregnant ladies in translucent spotty outfits with strange little pouches underneath. "Ah!" says Trog as he realises this is an alegory.
The scenes whereby the priest (the ever superb Robert Parker) joins the thugs is danced to Estuans interius (Burning Inside). This is a literal interpretation of the text: "Burning inside with violent anger, bitterly I speak to my heart:...". The next scene with Roast Swan is a literal interpretation too, as the text is "Once I lived on lakes, once I looked beautiful when I was a swan. Misery me! Now black and roasting fiercely!" The swan's costume is absolutely stunning, although I found the five fat waiters quite disturbing.
The choir was Birmingham's own Ex Cathedra I spotted their AD and usual conductor, Jeffrey Skidmore watching proceedings from one of the boxes, leaving them in the capable hands of Barry Wordsworth. It isn't every day you see more voices in the pit than instruments and it was interesting to see the conductor directing sections of the choir in the same manor has he would directed the parts of the orchestra. He was even singing along.
There was more literal interpretation of the text in the section which is danced to Ego sum abbas (I am the abbot). "...whoever searches me out at the tavern in the morning, after Vespers he will leave naked, and thus stripped of his clothes he will call out: Woe! Woe!...". Well we don't get to see Iain Mackay quite naked, a G string preserving his modesty.
The boxing match is quite silly but in the overall scheme of things works well. A few more quotes from the text "A girl stood in a red tunic..."; "...like the rays of the sun, like the flashing of lightening..."; "This is the joyful time, O maidens, rejoice with them, young men!" You can clearly see where Bintley gained his inspiration.
If you clink onto the BRB web site (www.brb.org.uk) and follow the link to the repertoire there is a 10 second video clip of Fortuna. Many felt this bit was the highlight of the night. For me it was Powder.