Friday, 13 November 2009

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Cyrano reviewed

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Sadlers Wells, 12th November 2009

Elisha Willis as Roxanne and Iain Mackay as Christian
Photo :  Bill Cooper

Romantic story ballets are always an audience favourite and Cyrano is no exception, mixing comedy and musical theatre with classical ballet. The sets are wonderful, beautifully lit by Mark Jonathan, and used to great effect – Cyrano climbing a tree or Christian climbing up the ivy-clad balcony to Roxanne.

Unusually, the curtain is up from the start, with the dancers gradually appearing on stage, the men testing their swords and the ladies chatting, and the action begins in the Hotel de Bourgogue in 1640 where a crowd have gathered to watch Montfleury (Jonathan Payn) act.

Elisha Willis as Roxanne and Robert Parker as Cyrano
Photo :  Bill Cooper

David Bintley engaged a Fight Director (Malcolm Ranson), and these scenes are realistic though also done with a dash of comedy – Cyrano battling away but simultaneously taking time to flirt with the crowd. There is much battling in the first act, and at 55 minutes I thought it was overlong. I also found the costuming over-the-top with millions of flowers, flounces and frills. It surely is just wrong to cover up your dancers in baggy trousers á la Dick Dastardly, though once again the Company surpassed themselves with their synchronised airborne men, flapping boots and all. Equally perfect were the nuns in the final act, in a lovely autumnal scene. I thought their black coloured pointe shoes showed off a beautiful delicacy and fluidity that can be missed when the feet are not highlighted in this way. Willis and the other ladies of the cast had the best costumes, in particular Willis’ black mourning dress which rippled and curled behind her like molten molasses as she spun.

The comedy moments are peppered throughout the dance, often poking fun at ballet itself, the dancers mocking the (usually feared) Rose Adage in Ragueneau’s bakery using baguettes instead of roses. The inherent difficulties of a ballet that is danced-through, where there are no breaks for curtain calls, makes for difficult scene transitions but Elisha Willis and Robert Parker are adept at staying in character and the slight lulls were quickly forgotten.

Parker is an exceptional dancer, but here, as Cyrano, he is required to act his way through a full length ballet, and act he does ! There may have been the odd technical hitch on the first night, but Parker is a professional. The scene where Cyrano delays the Comte de Guiche by pretending to have fallen from the moon was so funny & so well acted by Parker that I wanted to believe him. He has the same awareness of his surroundings, even in the midst of a difficult solo, which I’ve also seen in Carlos Acosta, saving his ballerina many a time from a misplaced haystack or wayward ribbon. In Cyrano the prop count is high with no shortage of flying feathered hats, swords, letters and pies, not forgetting the aforementioned baguettes, and this foresight by Parker is a great asset.

Elisha Willis as Roxanne and Iain Mackay as Christian
Photo :  Bill Cooper

Willis threw herself bodily into the dance with every step, showing a deep trust with her partners. With Parker this was breathtaking, sure and swift; less so her pas de deux with Guest Principal Iain Mackay, where a fumbled lift could have resulted in a serious injury. Christian isn’t an easy part to dance – sure he has the looks but he’s a bit short of adjacent brain cells and the dawning realisation that he couldn’t possibly have written all those letters to Roxanne is a bit clunky.

By the time Roxanne realises the truth in the final scene, that Cyrano’s words have filled her head and her heart and not Christian's, he is mortally wounded, and so little seems to pass between them in the choreography you can’t help feeling that had the first act been trimmed, there might have been more space to play with here - such great dance actors as these two surely deserve it.

It’s not easy to get across a play based on writing without using words, but the scenes where the prose is ‘read’ are very well done – again, with a suitable dash of humour. All credit to Willis and Parker, with special mention to Marion Tait as Roxanne’s Duenna, who reminded me of Lises' mother in Fille and had the same very watchable characterisation.

Cyrano is at Sadlers Wells until Saturday and yes the story is a bit mad, but you’d be mad to miss it !


  1. Oh how I would love to see this!

  2. Thanks for visiting me over at Pen And Paper. It was nice to meet you. Feel free to drop in any time.

  3. Hi Elise! Thanks for stopping by; it's always nice to 'meet' people who like reading. I love ballet but I don't have the chance to go to performances here. I went to 'Swan Lake' some years ago and loved it. I like the story of Cyrano and would love to watch it.

  4. Nice review - I wish I could go to see it, if it wasn't for my damn dissertation. Go to ballet is on top of me to do list.
    I also agree regarding interview, it should have been edited - a lot!!

  5. your ballet photos look gorgeous full screen

  6. Ciao, how are you? J'aime this style, thanks for sharing! Have a good weekend!

    "I've tried to find a new elegance. It's not easy because people want to be shocked. They want explosive fashion. But explosions don't last, they disappear immediately and leave nothing but ashes."- Giorgio Armani


  7. All these pictures are so beautiful. There's nothing like ballet performance pics!

  8. Oops a stumbling scene, hope she has a better partner for the next session. Would love to see the black points. That is really unusual

  9. those costumes are fantastic. sounds like a great show. wish I could see it :)

  10. Just seeing the pictures of the dancers gives me chills. Oh, I do love the ballet. I have ballet DVD's that I pop into the player once in a while when I have the TV to myself, just to lose myself in the dance and music! Thanks for dropping by and leaving comment now and then. Always a pleasure to see you there, Elise!! Have a good weekend. ~~ Debby

  11. Interesting and beautiful post as always! I really love Ur blog!


  12. Hi Elise!

    Thanks so much for reading my guest blog post and for your nice comments! Oh, I would love to see this ballet! will be going to the Nutcracker next month, though, cant wait!

    Michelle :)

  13. Ahhh the magic and romance of the ballet sigh!

  14. Great review! The first two photographs make me hope that reincarnation will grant me one life as a ballerina . . . if only. I'd also like a life as an author, a great artist, and a great scientist . . . please . . . But first a prima ballerina would be divine.

  15. Well, our Honolulu Symphony is bankrupt!

    Nutcracker with recorded music? Yikes!

    Aloha, Friend

    Comfort Spiral

  16. Your blog's as lovely as ever. =]
    I really want to see this ballet! It's too long since I went to a theatre- this needs to be corrected!

    Florrie x

  17. Just so beautiful! Lovely, peaceful pictures. I love seeing and learning about something I know nothing about. Such talent and wonder...

  18. pve design - I hope you manage to !

    Petty Witter - thank you

    Yiota - thank you

    Make Do Style - thank you; I hope you do get the time soon !

    robinthebruce - thank you

    Maison Chaplin - thank you

    janettaylor - thank you very much, it's kind of you to say so and much appreciated !

    The Pink Birdhouse - How lovely, thank you !

    Madeline - thank you ! It really is

    Mo - yes they were - and sometimes controversial - but they worked for me !

    Couture Cookie - I agree !

    Michelle - hope you enjoy the Nutcracker !

    Kimmie and Heartpoet - I know ! Thank you

    Bonnie - thankyou !

    Cloudia - better than nothing though !!

    Fifi Flowers - thank you so much

    Instrinsically Florrie - Fingers crossed you get to see ballet soon ! Thank you

    jenuinejems - thankyou so much, very kind of you to say so !

    BB - thank you - glad you enjoyed it !


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