Three Short Story Ballets/Birmingham Royal Ballet

THERE’S probably a bit of the old seadog lurking in many of us… if there’s the slightest opportunity of tapping our feet to a shanty or hornpipe, then shiver all our timbers, let’s climb the rigging and get set to singing like true Jack Tars.

Gilbert and Sullivan knew exactly what they were doing when they mined the salt running through our collective veins and that is why John Cranko’s soaring choreography in Pineapple Poll rides this particular ocean wave with style, panache and with all those bilges overflowing with nautically visual gags.

Admittedly, cliches run like a rip tide through the routines, but no one gives a powder monkey’s cuss, because when the decks are swept clear for action, it’s anchors aweigh for the inimitable Nao Sakuma playing the part of bumboat woman Pineapple Poll in the final item of this Birmingham Royal Ballet triple bill.

Pineapple Poll steers a clear course across the Hippodrome stage as Cranko’s creation gathers winds in its sails. Sakuma is a supremely talented all-rounder, and this character piece suits her right down to the ground… or perhaps that should read waves?

She partners Mathias Dingman who plays the redoubtable Captain Belaye with all the bang, crash and wallop of a British broadside. Nevertheless, it’s all hands on deck for everyone else, with a motley crew of scurvy knaves who know that their skipper’s commands must not be scuppered.

In fact, everything stays shipshape because like Britannia, Sakuma and Dingman most certainly rule the waves.

This being midsummer’s night, it was fitting that the preceding ballets were chosen to reflect all the magic, mischief and mayhem concurrently taking place in the wildwood.

The Forest of Arden around Birmingham might not be what it once was, but you’d never know it, because we were treated to a magnificent display by Brandon Lawrence playing the part of Pan in the world premiere of Arcadia, who emerges from his shady glade to try his luck with the local nymph population.

Sadly for him, they’re not all that bothered by all his pouting and strutting. They certainly don’t get their gossamer knickers in a twist as he prances about like some exotic bird of paradise in a David Attenborough wildlife telly programme.

Ruth Brill’s inspired choreography and John Harle’s occasional saxophone wanderings into the jazz avant garde bring an unearthly and compelling quality to this parallel universe.

However, just as Pan’s becoming decidedly deflated, along sashays Selene, goddess of the moon, a visual feast of enchantment and seductive allure. This vision of poise and beauty is played by Celine Gittens, the right and only choice for a role that involves teaching Pan some home truths about his flawed public relations technique. No pressure, then.

Gittens is a consistently beautiful, delicate and sensitive dancer and this reviewer believes she is sometimes overlooked. Why?

Le Baiser de la fee continues the theme of solstice magic being abroad with Michael Corder’s interpretation of that eternal folk theme of the foundling being abducted and brought up by fairies.

This electrifying ballet belongs to three key dancers – Jenna Roberts (The Fairy), Momoko Hirata (The Bride) and Joseph Caley as the young man who has been raised by the winged people ever since he was found with his dead mother in the snow.

Swept along by Igor Stravinski’s immortal score, Caley and Roberts provide yet another of the evening’s many highlights, their pas des deux sending up showers of sparks that lighten the sultry darkness of this hot and seemingly endless summer night.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s triple bill serves up a sumptuous banquet of dance and is thoroughly recommended. It runs until Saturday (June 24).

John Phillpott