As a title, [Un]leashed is a very mixed message, hedging its bets over whether to cut loose or rein in; but it’s apt for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s current programme. Jessica Lang’s opening Lyric Pieces, from 2012, stays on balletic home turf – a solo piano, a suite of dances, elegant comportment, poetic sentiment – but does so with considerable assurance. Set to piano miniatures by Greig, the choreography initially seems a decorative extension to the music, but gradually opens up layers of mood and meaning through scenes that span lilting romanticism to funereal solemnity. The set, by Vancouver-based Molo Design, consists of large paper concertinas that the dancers construct into walls, paths or fans. Yet considering how visually striking and suggestive of movement these paper slinkies are, it’s curious how little the choreography addresses them directly, preferring instead to treat them as scenery.
Didy Veldman’s new Sense of Time is a world away in tone and temperament: dynamic, hurtling, high-contrast. Its opening sets one dancer in a slow motion run against a crowd of walkers; that feeling of intersecting space-times continues throughout. A wall of suitcases rotates centre stage like a giant dial, revealing then sweeping aside leaping flurries of dancers. Delia Mathews meanders in, her attention as fixated on her palm as on a smartphone yet with enough peripheral alertness to tangle through a complex yet distracted duet with Tyrone Singleton.
The work is driven by the multitasking music of Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of Sergei) – jazzily orchestral, with jangling textures and palpitating rhythms, like a latter-day West Side Story. Indeed in their central duet, Céline Gittens and Brandon Lawrence might almost be a version of Tony and Maria: uncertain, excited, reckless. A bold, imaginative work that loses some of its direction towards the end.
Ruth Brill’s closing Peter and the Wolf stages Sergei Prokofiev’s well-known score and story with urban trappings (graffiti, scaffolding), a literal approach and surprisingly bland characters: a tomboy Peter, a too-cool-for-school Duck, a hoodied Wolf. Even young children could handle more danger in the drama: there’s not much menace to the wolf, action to the adventure, or tragedy to the dead duck. Neither leashed nor unleashed, it is really quite tame.