Birmingham Royal Ballet: Lazuli Sky review – a very welcome return

Sarah Crompton
·2 min read

“Ballet is back,” announced company friend Alan Titchmarsh, lending his star presence to the reopening of the Birmingham Repertory theatre and the return to the stage of Birmingham Royal Ballet. The cheer that greeted these three words sounded as if it had come from a full auditorium, not just the 100 or so scattered around its steep raked seating.

There is no doubting the hunger for live performance, or the love the city of Birmingham feels for its ballet company, now in the hands of artistic director Carlos Acosta, whose plans for his new baby have undergone endless replanning thanks to the pandemic in our midst. That he has managed to relaunch with a world premiere and two company premieres is another cause for cheer. That the new work, Will Tuckett’s Lazuli Sky, is such an elegant, propulsive piece that deals, however allusively, with our current state, puts the hat on all this celebration.

Set to John Adams’s Shaker Loops – thrillingly played by members of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia – its title comes from lapis lazuli, source of ultramarine, one of the most precious colours in the Renaissance painter’s palette, used for the vivid blue of the sky. Its theme suggests that being locked away from nature has made us recognise its value more.

Nina Dunn and Samuel Wyer’s designs, with their striking projections, evoke a moving natural world – of that bright sky, of thistledown, of shells and gulls. At one moment the dancers are swathed in huge white wings that define the space; at another, the ground beneath their feet seems painted with feathers. It looks glorious, and the choreography confidently sets the 12 dancers surging across the stage in swift unison, or separates them into groups, unfolding their bodies in expansive lines, suggesting their affinity with the world around them.

The dancers seem liberated, responding to the changing patterns. They also look terrific in the gently romantic Our Waltzes, by Vicente Nebrada, which opens the bill. And Brandon Lawrence gets an individual chance to shine in Valery Panov’s Liebestod, a very big, very Russian solo, set to Wagner. It all makes for a welcome return.