Birmingham Royal Ballet has been on sparkling form for the last few seasons. Since its move to the Midlands in 1990, BRB been a major force for innovation in the classical form, regularly adding brand-new works and creative productions of treasured classics to its ample repertory. London audiences will have an opportunity to see the company's Peter Wright-directed Sleeping Beauty later this week; the start of this run showcases the choreographic talents of BRB's Artistic Director David Bintley.
The evening opens with E=mc², a one-act ballet that (you guessed it) demonstrates the principles underlying Einstein's famous theory. A cluster of dancers stage centre begin as an explosion of energy, arms bursting out into space and retreating again, legs shooting up in scattered unison and lots and lots of leaping. A movement devoted to mass finds three female dancers skidding softly along the floor and falling into their partners; lines of dancers jogging gaily across the stage in pairs and fours show us celeritas (the speed of light).
A solo interlude juxtaposing a dancer in Japanese costume against a background of a huge bomb detonation puts a human face on the physics; other than this moment of reflection it's all joyful particles and fizzing energy. The company functions beautifully as a collective unit, executing unison sections near-flawlessly throughout.
Tombeaux was originally created for the Royal Ballet, and is a lament for both Bintley's choreographic idol Frederick Ashton and for the state of British ballet itself. With lush stage design by Jasper Conran, the piece is a respectful, carefully-crafted elegy to the Ashton style; those who love Ashton will therefore probably enjoy it.
The evening closes with the rush of delight that is Still Life At The Penguin Cafe, the world's favourite ballet about endangered species. Penguins dance the Charleston; a ram leads a twirling latin show-number; the Texan Kangaroo Rat skips through a merry hoe-down and the Southern Cape Zebra ripples his spine with Zulu-inspired vigour. There's a serious message to the piece, of course - all of the animals (and one human culture) are facing extinction - but it's presented with such joyful exuberance that even Clarkson himself would get on board.
Birmingham Royal Ballet are at Sadler's Wells until 19 October. Tickets £17-£42. For more information see the Sadler's Wells website. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.