REVIEW: Penguin Café, Sunderland Empire

'Still Life' at the Penguin Caf�; BRB,  AIR � DANSER The Great Auk Ruth Brill PRELUDE AND YODEL Utah Longhorn Ram Samara Downs with Steven Monteith LONG DISTANCE Texan Kanagroo Rat Tzu-Chao Chou THE ECSTASY OF DANCING FLEAS Humboldt's Hog-nosed Skunk Flea Karla Doorbar Kit Holder, Max Maslen, Lachlan Monaghan, Benjamin Soerel, Lewis Turner WHITE MISCHIEF Southern Cape Zebra Tyrone Singleton with Laura-Jane Gibson, Anna Monleon, Mariko Sasaki, Yaoqian Shang, Alys Shee, Emily Smith, Yijing Zhang NOW NOTHING Ana Albutashvili, Brandon Lawrence, Eva Davies MUSIC BY NUMBERS  Brazilian Woolly Monkey Oliver Till with Laura Day, Miki Mizutani

'Still Life' at the Penguin Caf�; BRB, AIR � DANSER The Great Auk Ruth Brill PRELUDE AND YODEL Utah Longhorn Ram Samara Downs with Steven Monteith LONG DISTANCE Texan Kanagroo Rat Tzu-Chao Chou THE ECSTASY OF DANCING FLEAS Humboldt's Hog-nosed Skunk Flea Karla Doorbar Kit Holder, Max Maslen, Lachlan Monaghan, Benjamin Soerel, Lewis Turner WHITE MISCHIEF Southern Cape Zebra Tyrone Singleton with Laura-Jane Gibson, Anna Monleon, Mariko Sasaki, Yaoqian Shang, Alys Shee, Emily Smith, Yijing Zhang NOW NOTHING Ana Albutashvili, Brandon Lawrence, Eva Davies MUSIC BY NUMBERS Brazilian Woolly Monkey Oliver Till with Laura Day, Miki Mizutani

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Delightful animal antics meet plies and pirouettes in the unconventional Penguin Café.

The triple offering of one-act shows from the Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) impressively combined dance styles including jazz, tap, ballroom, and even Morris dancing with ballet.

The big-hitter was opening number Still Life at the Penguin Café.

With a clever score and choreography, dancers skilfully capture the nature of a host of animals including a flea, ram, zebra and penguins, interacting with mankind in settings from an African landscape to a café.

The hopeful finale, in which the company board an ark, silences the audience, then produces exclamations of “that was stunning.”

Slaughter on Tenth Avenue is next up.

The work is laugh-a-minute in parts and sometimes steamy, including sultry ballroom moves and risqué costumes not often seen in BRB.

George Balanchine, who was living in New York in the 1930s when he choreographed Slaughter, poured a love of American gangsters into the jazz-bar num-
ber.

Comedy and on-stage mayhem ensue as the leading man dances to keep an assassin at bay, leaving onlookers chuckling.

Last up, Elite Syncopations takes the audience back to the ragtime band era with dancers comically taking turns to show off their skills in brightly-coloured costumes.

The orchestra sits at the back of the bare stage to enhance the illusion of a New Orleans barrel house.

And the informality of the act is enhanced with the choreography, which is so clever the dances appear spontaneous, Inducing raucous laughter, the performers make farcical moves far removed from the traditionally rigorously choreographed discipline.

The humour and combination of dance styles in all three acts is a charming, fast-paced break from the mostly strict tradition of ballet.

The only hitch? The beauty and drama of Still Life at the Penguin Café, which had audiences in raptures, could have made a more dramatic ending to the sequence than the gentle comedy styling of Elite Syncopations.