A ‘lost’ ballet featured in a recent BBC documentary is being re-created from memory for a return to the stage as part of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 2014-15 season.

Director David Bintley, who presented the acclaimed Dancing in the Blitz: How World War 2 Made British Ballet, said ‘We enjoyed a fantastic response to the programme, a response that is especially exciting given that we are currently working on bringing Miracle in the Gorbals back to the stage for the first time in half a century’.

With no archive recordings of the ballet, all that survives are a handful of designs and photos, the sheet music for Arthur Bliss’s score, and the memories of those involved in performances. One of these artists is Gillian Lynne, who is now working with the Company to re-create Robert Helpmann’s choreography, and last weekend tweeted to voice her excitement at the project.

Miracle in the Gorbals will be danced in autumn 2014, in Birmingham and on tour, and is one of the first pieces in the 2014-15 season so far revealed. To be among the first to hear about next year’s repertory, click here to subscribe to our monthly e-bulletins.

photo: Roy Smiljanic

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia will be performing a concert at Birmingham’s St. Philip’s Cathedral on the evening of Thursday 21 November, giving them a rare opportunity to get up out of the orchestra pit and take centre stage themselves.

The topic of leaving the pit came up in a recent interview with Music Director Koen Kessels and Principal Conductor Paul Murphy, who spoke to Christopher Morley. Koen explained:

‘The dynamic is completely different. In the pit, we don’t get to rehearse that much, and we play a lot. For a concert, we rehearse more, and we play only once! Playing on the concert platform gives the musicians a different focus.

‘Whereas the orchestra have to perform in the pit with three conductors, suddenly for a concert they rehearse with one conductor only, and they have to make decisions: do we play here, or do we play there?’ Koen demonstrates the various points of the conductor’s beat where the orchestra actually attacks its entries.

‘It comes down to these basic decisions and listening more to each other. And that’s the same with every orchestra that plays too much in the pit – they need to get out!’

Paul Murphy chips in, talking about the Sinfonia’s annual sellout concerts at Symphony Hall, which also involve some Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers, and how the orchestra feels coming up from underground, almost like liberated pit-ponies.

‘There’s a tremendous buzz about the Symphony Hall concert because it’s a magnificent venue. Even walking into it lifts your spirits – it’s a thrilling place to be in. As soon as the orchestra sits on the platform before the rehearsal, starts warming-up and tuning, even playing a few notes, there’s this tremendous ambience, and you can feel the excitement.

‘So it’s a great honour to have that venue though, sadly, only once a year, when the orchestra feels it’s riding the crest of a wave. As with the concerts at the Cathedral, their game is lifted tremendously.’

For details of this week’s Cathedral concert (Thursday 21 November, 7.30pm), click here.

The full version of this interview appeared in Entrechat, the magazine of the BRB Friends. Christopher Morley is a freelance writer on music and the Chief Music Critic of the Birmingham Mail.

On the Birmingham Royal Ballet Facebook page, we’ve been running through an alphabetical list of highlights from the forthcoming 2013-14 season, with a new item posted each day.

Here’s a run-through of some of the most recent entries on the list:


J is for Japanese Storytelling! David Bintley’s production of The Prince of the Pagodas is heavily influenced by the culture of the country where David has acted as part-time Artistic Director for a number of years. Click here to visit our Creating Pagodas blog and find out more about the production, which appears in the UK for the first time next spring!


We’re up to the letter ‘K’ in our alphabetical rundown of the forthcoming season, which is for ‘Kangaroo Rats’ – one of the scampering heroes from David Bintley’s well-loved ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café! Here’s a rehearsal video from last time we danced the piece:


“I’m not allowed to light the classics”, says Peter Mumford, Lighting Designer for David Bintley’s award-winning E=mc². Find out why, here.


M is for all of the Masks in The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe, all of which we perform this season! Click here for a Pinterest gallery of close up photos of all these and more!


It’s a new year which means new faces! So for ‘N’ in our alphabetical preview of the 2013-14 season, here’s a peek at the latest additions to the Company, with a warm welcome going out to each of them!


For O, we’re blowing the trumpet of our fantastic Orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia! With all of the amazing scores in the forthcoming season, we’re very much looking forward to them making sweet music together. Click here for links to a few samples of what you’ll hear them playing this year.


For our Principal Dancers’ headshots, we invite them to have their photos taken in their favourite location in the Midlands. With Momoko Hirata and Tyrone Singleton having been promoted at the end of the last season, where have they chosen for their photoshoots? Find out in the new season programme, and soon over at balletinbirmingham.co.uk.


Q is for the Queens and Kings in our fairytale ballets, and Queens and Jokers in John Cranko’s Card Game, which we dance as part of our Three of a Kind programme next spring, alongside Elite Syncopations and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue! Click here for details.

To keep up with the rest of the list, visit the Company’s Facebook page at www.brb.org.uk/facebook.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, will this year be performing a broad range of musical styles as part of the 2013-14 season.

Here are a few places where you can hear sneak previews of the types of music they’ll be playing:

1. The Penguin Café Orchestra/Simon Jeffes – ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café

You know the music of the Penguin Café Orchestra, even if you don’t think you do – just type ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ into YouTube to hear the most famous of their instantly recognisable instrumentals, commonly used on television adverts in the UK.

Founded in 1972 by classically trained British guitarist, composer and arranger Simon Jeffes, the band featured a rolling roster of musicians. They played together in one form or another for nearly a quarter of a century, recording and performing their trademark cyclical, often hypnotic pieces that fused folk and world music.

For David Bintley’s ballet ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café, Jeffes created new arrangements of a number of his pieces, utilising a full classical orchestra.

Their music is still played regularly on the radio, and you can hear some of their pieces here on the BBC website.

2. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker

One of the most beloved scores in classical ballet, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score has long been plundered for adverts, films and television.

The most famous use outside of the ballet is probably a toss-up between Disney’s Fantasia and an advert for a particular brand of fruit and nut chocolate bar, but the melodies are so prevalent throughout winter that they have arguably become the soundtrack to Christmas itself.

Click here to listen to a portion of the score in this trailer for our winter performances of The Nutcracker:

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia will be performing another of Tchaikovsky’s scores, for The Sleeping Beauty, this autumn. Click here for details.

3. Matthew Hindson – E=mc²

2009’s E=mc² marked the first collaboration between David Bintley and Australian composer Matthew Hindson, who returned in 2012 for the Olympics-inspired Faster.

“The key to this investigation of Einstein’s equation is Matthew Hindson’s brilliant orchestral score, to which Bintley responds with force fields of gleaming, pared-back dance”, said The Observer at the time, while The Times called it “a tremendously invigorating score”, and fittingly so, for such a vibrant and energetic ballet!


You can hear samples of his work here on Matthew Hindson’s website.

4. Benjamin Britten – The Prince of the Pagodas

David Bintley, choreographer of The Prince of the Pagodas, had been listening to Benjamin Britten’s score for pleasure for over thirty years before he made it into a ballet.

Influenced heavily by Balinese gamelan music, and with a heavily expanded percussion section, the score was commissioned by the Royal Ballet in 1957.

The resulting ballet, choreographed by John Cranko, was followed by another by Kenneth MacMillan in 1989, but neither received particularly positive responses from audiences and critics. David was adamant that the plot was the problem, not the music, and so made changes to the story for his 2011 version, which appears in the UK for the first time next Spring.

Some of the music is available to listen to in the media player here on the Britten 100 website.

5. Scott Joplin – Elite Syncopations

Having written some of the world’s most famous ragtime pieces (Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer) Scott Joplin’s toe-tapping music is instantly recognisable and, even if you don’t know the tunes, it is a style that you are guaranteed to be familiar with.

Nearly 100 years after the composer’s death, the music has endured through milestone movie movements (The Sting, 1973) and more recently a string of cat food adverts on British television.

For their use in Elite Syncopations, a ballet which depicts a music-hall dance competition, the arrangements are kept simple, with 12 members of the orchestra performing on stage alongside the dancers.

You can hear a solo piano arrangement of one of the Joplin rags used in Elite Syncopations in this studio rehearsal video:


Birmingham Royal Ballet is once again opening up its studios to young dancers of all abilities, with another programme of Insight Days preceded by some shorter “taster” sessions.

Natasha Massie, Ballet Training Officer for Birmingham Royal Ballet, said of the events:

We were delighted to receive such a positive response last time. These events are specifically aimed at providing support for the dancers of the future, and to open up the skills and resources that we have as a Company. The volume of applications that we received last time clearly showed that there are vast numbers of young artists in the region who enjoy ballet, and are keen to sharpen their abilities and understanding of performance. We look forward to meeting more new faces at these latest sessions.

Details of both the Taster sessions and the full Insight Days are outlined below:

Insight Taster sessions, Thursday 31 October/Friday 1 November

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to attend a ballet class in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s studios? Or wanted to meet and be taught by a professional dancer? Our one-off taster sessions offer you an opportunity to experience all of this and more. During your time with us you will get the chance to improve your technique, learn ballets from the Company’s repertoire, look at costumes, and give a small performance for your parents/guardians. We hope that these sessions will be inspirational to those taking part and continue your enjoyment and passion for dance.

Our one-off taster sessions offer a sample of our longer Insight series. They are open to vocational and non-vocational students, with sessions for Grade 1 and below , right up to Grade 6+/Intermediate/Advanced level. There is also an Adult Ballet class for those aged 18+ with some classical ballet training.

Click here for more information, and to download an application form.

Application deadline for the Taster sessions is 27 September.

Insight Days, series starts Sunday 6 October

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Insight Days are a series of full-day workshops that take place across the year in the Company’s Birmingham studios. The Insights aim to assist young dancers to achieve their full potential and offer an insight into life with a professional ballet company, at the same time as making Birmingham Royal Ballet’s current repertoire known and accessible. Ballet teachers are welcome to come and observe their students participation.

Applicants must be working at RAD Intermediate Foundation/Grade 6 and above (or equivalent syllabus), and must NOT be in full-time ballet training.

2013-14 Insight 1: Sunday 6 October 2013
Penguin Café Repertoire Insight Experience
Learn repertoire from ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café, and gain an understanding of the ballet.
Deadline for applications: 13 September 2013.

2013-14 Insight 2: Saturday 1 March 2014
Performance Insight Experience
Watch Company class, meet the dancers for a pre-show talk and attend the matinee of David Bintley’s The Prince of the Pagodas
Deadline for applications: four weeks before event.

2013-14 Insight 3: Sunday 2 March 2014
The Prince of The Pagodas Repertoire Insight Experience
Learn repertoire from The Prince of the Pagodas, and gain an understanding of the ballet.
Deadline for applications: four weeks before event.

2013-14 Insight 4: Sunday 1 June 2014
Stage Craft Insight Experience (based on La Fille mal gardée)
Learn repertoire from La Fille mal gardée and watch a dancer make up for a performance.
Deadline for applications: four weeks before event.

Applications must be in four weeks before each session, with discounts available for those booking for all four sessions at once.

Click here for more information on the Insight days, and to download an application form.

Building 1

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s building is 23 years old this year. Generously provided by Birmingham City Council for the Company’s move to Birmingham in 1990, construction began in 1989. It was a purpose-built home for a smaller company, administered from the Royal Opera House.

As well as breaking away from the Royal Opera House in 1996 to become wholly independent, the Company has changed a great deal in the last two decades. The current premises have gone longer without refurbishment than those of any of the major ballet companies in the UK.

As such, the building is now out of date and lacks the space and facilities elsewhere now considered to be normal or essential. The space is poorly organised – for example, our dancers have to take their ice-baths in the Jerwood Centre on the other side of the Birmingham Hippodrome building, rather than in their dressing rooms straight after a performance.

It’s expensive to run and inefficient by modern standards meaning that money is spent on bills rather than on great ballet! Even if you’ve never visited the building, you’ll probably have seen the studios in our many rehearsal videos. For example, here you can see studio rehearsals for Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, which we dance next year as part of Three of a Kind.

Overall the building is shabby and not particularly welcoming to members of the public who have access to the Company, and as such it isn’t in keeping with the quality of our work, performances and community programmes.

As a result, next summer we are aiming to begin work on a redevelopment of our building, funded by our Campaign for the Future. We want to create world-class studio facilities to attract the world’s best talent to Birmingham whilst improving access for local community groups. Dancers will rehearse and perform in surroundings specifically designed for their needs – specialist flooring that will minimise the risk of injury, medical equipment to aid in recovery, facilities to learn through digital media.

Studio 3

By making the best possible use of our space and our surroundings we’ll reduce our reliance on external facilities and building overheads. We’ll also be able to run learning workshops and other performance events from the building as we’ll be adding in bleacher seating. This will give young people the opportunity to get as close to the Company as possible and inspire them to perform to their full potential in a professional setting.

Studio 2

Through Arts Council England’s Capital Investment Programme we have secured £1.85m towards the redevelopment, which is due to start in summer 2014. The total cost of refurbishment will be £2.7m and Birmingham Royal Ballet will raise the remaining funds needed from private sources as part of its Campaign for the Future (see below). Once we raise the full project costs, this will bring our Campaign for the Future total to £11m within 12 months of launching. This will be an astonishing achievement and is an enthusiastic endorsement of how much Birmingham Royal Ballet means to audiences throughout the UK.

If you’re interested in supporting this capital project, please contact Development Director Geoff Sweeney at GeoffSweeney@brb.org.uk, and see the video below (or click here) to find out more about our Campaign for the Future.


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