Alex and I are in Birmingham. The trip was actually great. We saw my sister Wanda in the Philadelphia airport. She was departing on a flight to Frankfurt that left ten minutes before ours to Manchester. We spent an hour and a half at the Manchester Piccadilly railroad station waiting on the train to Birmingham. Alex ventured into the city and I continued stitching on another embroidery in the Elements of Architecture series. (I'm now working on my third one!)
Once in Birmingham, we walked to Mathias' flat. We brought the spare key. Inside, Mathias had left his cell phone and a note saying he had no food. He was at "work". (After so many years, it is still a little odd for me to refer to "ballet" as "work.") So, Alex and I went grocery shopping and walked around the neighborhood which is known as the Jewelry Quarter. Mathias called from a friend's phone and later we were all talking, eating, playing video games, and having fun.
On Friday, Alex made bacon and eggs for breakfast and Mathias left for work. Alex and I toured the downtown area, went to see the gorgeous Edward Burnes-Jones stained glass window in the cathedral, and walked through the vendors in the open market and the two covered markets. I went to a free recorder concert in the beautiful, stone church called St. Martins where I expected to hear renaissance tunes. The group was quite good but played melodies like Stephen Foster's Beautiful Dreamer and Sousa's Liberty Bell (better known around the world as the theme song to Monty Python). Alex went to make new friends, something he's enormously good at doing. I can safely say he has exchanged Internet addresses with at least a dozen local "scene kids" (followers of "hardcore" music).
I required Alex to visit the art museum while away from me. I expected to see him there as I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at art. But, the Birmingham Art Museum is quite big and very, very good. We were both there but never saw one another. The contemporary art from Great Britain extremely interesting.
At 4:30 we met Mathias in front of the Hippodrome Theater and went for a late lunch. Mathias returned for another rehearsal. Afterwards, we went to an Italian restaurant for dinner and talked about the upcoming choreographic performances. The more we discussed it, the more nervous I became but this isn't a new feeling at all.
The next day, Saturday, tension seemed to mount when Alex and I took our seats for the 2:30 matinee. I read the program until the lights were lowered. Applause started for the conductor and quickly the first of six Stravinsky works began. Much A-Dance About Nothing was set by BRB's Jenny Murphy to Suite No. 2. I was immediately taken by Carrie Johnson's dancing and smile. The second piece was The End of Winter to Four Etudes Opus 7. Kosuke Yamamoto set the piece for Nao Sakuma, Carol-Anne Miller, and Alexander Campbell. It was lovely. I just can't seem to peel my eyes from Nao; she is breath-taking to watch. Avec Moi Ce Soir also featured two girls and a guy: Kristen McGarrity, Jenna Roberts, and Tyrone Singleton. Mathias had "warned" me about Glyn Scott's choreography. I think he was worried that I would find it too sexually explicit but I didn't because it was well done. The costuming and gestures were enough to set the tone without bogging down the dancing with too many obscene moves. Later, after seeing the evening performance, I liked it even more.
Perhaps, during the matinee, I was simply growing more nervous. Next was All for a Kiss to Stravinsky's Tango. Set by Aonghus Hoole on Mathias and Dianne Gray, it began with a saturated red lit backdrop. Dianne took a few, slow, sex steps onto stage dragging a chair which she quickly abandoned in order to set the tone with a few very Latin inspired movements. The entire auditorium was hushed, watching, waiting. Mathias, dressed in a red shirt over tuxedo black trousers entered, spellbound by the girl in front of him. He took the seat, still holding his eyes on the girl. She approached him with a gaze that drew him to his feet. In unison, they snapped into the ballroom position for a tango. At that moment, the piano sounded the opening notes. Tangos are suppose to be strong, aggressive, flirtatious, and sexy. This was. Tears slid down my face. He turned well, jumped high, stayed in character, and together they took their curtain call.
I caught my breathe in time for Kit Holder's Small Worlds danced to Concerto in D. This piece is to be performed again in the coming month while the company tours. The set, dancing, and costumes were all inspired by Kandinsky's artwork. Mathias is an understudy for one of the three male parts and will likely have an opportunity to perform later in the summer. This was followed by a quick intermission.
The second part of the program opened with Ebony Concerto, choreographed by Samara Downs. Three couples are used, including Mathias with Angela Paul (Victoria Marr, on Sunday). The theme is jazzy and energetic. The dancing mirrored this feeling. Everything about the work was wonderful and I was less nervous since there were more people on stage. Mathias was dancing with his friends, Joe (Joseph Caley) and Ty (Tyrone Singleton). This was all once a dream; now it is a professional reality. The experience was almost overwhelming and the applause for the piece felt like the crowd knew so too.
The only really bad piece in the program was Unraveled to Piano Rag music. The costuming, although interesting and likely good for musical theater, was terrible for dance. There was so much material that the bodies beneath could hardly be seen. The choreography reminded me of too many amateurish attempts to do something novel without having the slightest idea how it might look to the people in the seats. It looked haphazard and ill-planned. Unfortunately, Mathias' friend Aaron was in this performance. Fortunately, it was short.
The final number was Danses Concertantes, a twenty-minute work set by four of the choreographers. I found the tutus very interesting but linear in design. Since the corps weren't particularly well rehearsed, they didn't keep their lines well. Also, since the girls in these parts are of vastly varying heights, the linear designs just didn't look good. I found it distracting when they were on stage with the other dancers. I also didn't like the color combinations and thought the simplicity of the males' tops made them look flat. Many parts of the dancing, especially when there were fewer dancers on stage, were quite good. Yet, most of the dancing, like in many of the works in the entire program, reminded me of Balanchine. I don't think it is quite possibly to escape his influence when the evening's music is all Stravinsky.
All in all, I was thrilled to be among the group assembled for this event. The cast was identical for the evening show. It gave me an opportunity to watch everything more closely and to enjoy Mathias again. Most of all, however, I was impressed at the high level of professionalism for what was really an educational outreach program. Each piece worked closely with a theater design student from the University of Central England. Each student's brief biography and an image from their design sketches were included in the program. I'm sure there were grants underwriting this program. I know the money was well spent; it was on the stage. This was truly a showcase of "accountability" and amazing opportunity. Professional dancers got opportunities to try choreography. Students got to work with real professionals to create real performances that were more than worth the price of admission. I left the theater feeling proud...proud of Mathias and proud that he is part of an organization with such high standards and willingness to work with the community at large in such a positive way.