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Spring Passions/Birmingham Royal Ballet
Photo credit - Daphnis and Chloë - Ambra Vallo as Lykanion and Iain Mackay as Daphnis- photo by Bill Cooper
FROM demure country maiden to sultry temptress, Venus to vixen and back again… this was Elisha Willis as you have never seen her before.
I’ve been following the principal dancer’s progress for years and must say that her star’s ascent to the ballet heavens seems to have been steady rather than meteoric.
But this double bill certainly places her right up there in the firmament. Never flagging for a single moment, she lays out a dazzling and diverse array of techniques on a stylistic stall that makes the absolute most of Frederick Ashton’s glorious choreography.
Jealousy and romantic rivalry underpin both tales. Daphnis and Chloe give us a foretaste for what will become the central themes of the evening, Willis presenting a measured but passionate approach to the role of the young shepherdess trapped in a tangled web of emotions.
Iain Mackay’s goat-herd nevertheless proves the equal of his coquettish opposite number, forging a bond that not even the gods can rent asunder.
However, Willis is only just starting her command of the Hippodrome’s stage, for she will soon come into her own as cautionary tale The Two Pigeons begins to unfold.
Or perhaps we should say unravel – for this is the heartbreaking reality endured by Nao Sakuma’s young girl who is spurned by her bored lover, played with the great sensitivity and feeling we always associate with Robert Parker.
Both deliver blistering performances, providing ample muted testimony to the fact that the roles require considerable acting ability. Sakuma oozes tragedy right from the start and Parker – whose head will soon be turned by Willis’s gipsy girl – dances as if it’s his last night on earth.
Intoxicated with the exotic, the foolish boy tastes the sweetness of a forbidden fruit soon become sour as it inevitably decays on the vine.
Both these performances are visually spectacular. Stunning displays of ensemble work are presented by bands of pirates, nymphs and onlookers wheeling and whirling to create maelstroms that provide apt metaphors for the lives of the main protagonists.
Spring Passions runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, March 3.