My bestest and I will oft differ over our opinions of pigeons – I see them as little more than rats with wings designed specifically to irritate me by divebombing my head at every given opportunity, she is the Queen of All Pidges and claims that the divebombing is their way of affectionately passing on her messages to me. I’m not so sure but the humble pigeon has been a good sterling basis for our friendship for the last eight years or so, maybe I therefore shouldn’t diss the pidge so much. Last night, however, I almost found myself swayed completely the other way over the genius that is Frederick Ashton and his ballet The Two Pigeons. Seriously, thought I when I first encountered mentions of this, how on earth can you come up with a decent ballet about pigeons? Jolly well it would transpire if you’ve ever had the good fortune to see this piece, I found myself borderline proper full on sobbing for the last ten minutes but managed to restrain myself to slightly misty eyes. Stiff upper lip and all that, chaps, what ho!
The Birmingham Royal Ballet are back in town, which is always a cause for great rejoicing because they always bring such joyous programmes with them. On that note, having seen what they’re bringing to the Wells this autumn, I am super-super excited (especially about Take Five). This week they’ve taken up residence at the Coliseum with a double bill of Ashton entitled ‘Spring Passions’ and Coppélia. Hurrah, say I.
Spring Passions kicks off with Daphnis and Chloe. Personally, I’m always a little wary of any short work that weighs in around the hour mark – essentially, is it going to be enough to hold my super short attention span? In fairness, Daphnis and Chloe has a lot to commend it – mostly the pirates and the faintly absurd bunting dance at the end, I confess. It’s a short work in three acts but has an overwhelming sense of ‘I’ve seen this somewhere before’. Sylvia, mostly, I feel. Except that Ashton’s Sylvia has a lot more gumption than his Chloe who is a little, well, wet in comparison. The first act is over long, the second act is over short and the third act slightly weird but overall it’s quite enjoyable and for the slow moments it’s entirely possible to close your eyes and give full attention to Ravel’s glorious score. I mentioned the pirates, didn’t I? This is one of those ballets where you should NOT TRUST THE MOUSTACHIOED MAN. Ahh, love me a good bit of splendid facial hair in a ballet.
The Two Pigeons on the other hand, is amazing. The plot is slightly contrived and borderline ridiculous but what it lacks there is more than made up for by the choreography and the realisation of it all. And the pigeons. Actual live pigeons there on stage. I confess, on that note, at the uber-tender moment of reunion between the Young Man and Young Girl where I was swallowing the lump in my throat, I was also fighting back the laughter as the pigeon swooped in and landed on them to cement their love. It was a pigeon! Daphnis and Chloe had pirates, The Two Pigeons has gypsies AND pigeons… 2-1?
Anyway, The Two Pigeons is delightful. Everything about it is delightful and it packs a pretty powerful emotional punch (see above re almost sobbing). Ambro Valla’s Young Girl is charming as she goes from bored, fidgety and flighty to defensively competitive for her man to utterly heartbroken to joyfully reunited with her lover. Chi Cao’s Young Man is equally charming starting out as the despairing, put upon, just-trying-to-do-his job painter then moving swiftly through looking for adventure, all consuming grande passion, fighting, defeated and finally realising that he’d always had everything he wanted right beside him. For me though the show was stolen by Carol-Ann Miller’s Gypsy Girl, bursting on to stage in a whirl of jangly costume, shimmying shoulders and lightning quick footwork, turning the world of the Young Girl and Young Man completely on its head and then seductively destroying them before returning to her lover as you always knew she would. She might not have had a moustache, but they should’ve known better than to trust her…
And then, you know, there were the pigeons.
I rest my glitter suitcase with the pigeons.