When was the last time a ballet could be described as dark, sexy and controversial? The Coliseum is currently home to Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Carmina Burana, a morality tale from the Middle Ages which sees three seminarians led off the straight and the narrow. Their faith does battle with their desires and the results are about as sordid and fun as this art form gets.
Carmina Burana is twinned with another piece, Serenade. The latter is a far more sedate affair which lands the audience square into a Planet Of The Ballerinas scenario. Seventeen female dancers take to the stage for this poignant piece and dominate the minimalist stage design; male dancers, when they appear, are there to serve as love interests or to lift, catch or spin the ladies.
As charming as Serenade is, Carmina Burana is a riotous wake-up call. The powerful voices of Ex-Cathedra, a choir specialising in Early Music are an absolute boon to this production. They vividly bring to life Carl Orff’s eponymous masterpiece which has contributed to 1970s horror classic The Omen and the Old Spice ads.
The classical music, though, is often delightfully at odds with this highly contemporary staging of the medieval tale. The costumes and choreography are stylistically reminiscent of musical theatre. The brash outfits and expansive dance routines could lead to one thinking we were watching Guys And Dolls or West Side Story at times. Burlesque and cabaret seem to be an influence here too, especially the final segment which sees Iain Mackay strip down to nothing more than white briefs.
As Fortuna, Samara Downs is a long-limbed temptress drawing their poor boys to their doom. Pirouetting in high heels and a short cocktail dress takes some doing at the best of times so kudos to her for her fluent display of alluring balletics.
Phillip Prowse’s designs add depth and darkness to the story, handily demarcating the various scenes through physical definition. Large wooden crosses and washing lines are hung over the dancers, the former returning at the end dripping what appears to be blood (actually red beads). A tattooed heart surrounded by astrological signs hangs above the stage, pointing to the emotional, mystical and spiritual journeys that the wannabe priests are taking.
Both Serenade and Carmina Burana are gorgeous to watch and should appeal to those who like their ballet to be a little footloose and fancy-free.
Both productions are on today (21 March) only, with performances at 2.30pm and 7.30pm, at the Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane. Tickets £15-£69.50.