If you find ballet overburdened by sylphs and Cinderellas, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s bracing Pointes of View programme – three pieces as different from each other as they are from Swan Lake – could be just your thing.
Kenneth MacMillan’s 1966 Concerto (to Shostakovich) eschews classical stories to extol classical dancing. In the outer sections, the dancers, colour-coded in hues of mango, lemon and cherry, are put through their paces, from dressage-style footwork through to zooming jumps and gyroscope spins. The middle section eulogises adagio ballet technique and the figure of the ballerina (exquisitely interpreted by Jenna Roberts). Using her partner as support and frame, the dancer seems to fade until you see only the dance. It’s a vision that brushes the sublime.
By contrast, you can slum it a little with George Balanchine’s Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, created in 1936 for the Broadway musical On Your Toes. The frontcloth – skyscrapers shaped like showgirls’ legs, windows like the mesh of fishnet stockings – sets up this rollicking if undemanding story of gangsters, hoofers and strippers. Robert Parker as the bit of rough has a Gene Kelly flair; Céline Gittens as his girl could do with a touch of Cyd Charisse mystery to temper the tease and sleaze.
A female duo start Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room (1986) with a little ripcord sequence that powers up this 40-minute dynamo of a piece. To Philip Glass’s propulsive score, two sets of dancers, one in ballet shoes, one in trainers, keep materialising out of the mists, their off-the-cuff virtuosity blithely busting all boundaries between ballet, modern dance, athletics, even cheerleading. Parker is again a standout, but the star is the choreography, a dazzling alloy of sophistication and brazen showmanship. If your pulse isn’t racing, check you have one.