REVIEW: Still Life at the Penguin Café | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

REVIEW: Still Life at the Penguin Café

Culture Critic Bethan Lewis enjoys her time watching 'the polished and vivacious' performance of Still Life at the Penguin Café

Three performances by the Birmingham Royal Ballet in their Penguin Café Mixed Programme at the Birmingham Hippodrome combined a mix of emotions, from romance and sadness to joyful comedic scenes to brighten any mood.

‘Concerto’ was the first programme in the production, choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan and demonstrating the dancers’ classical technique. Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Piano Concerto No. 2 which split both the ballet and the music into three sections, beginning with an exuberant piece with multiple solos as well as many corps de ballet dancers. The middle section sparks a romantic emotion as it is much slower and shows controlled and elegant movements, which centres around a beautiful pas de deux performed by Yvette Knight and Yasuo Atsuji, contrasting to the upbeat nature of the first dance.

The last section is similar to the first as it’s more optimistic, overall making the whole performance light-hearted and joyful, including a fantastically executed solo from Delia Mathews. These emotions were reflected in the plain backcloth, which changed colour as the moods of the music varied. The simplicity of the brightly coloured leotards allowed the exquisite skill and precision of the dancers to be emphasised and focused on, as there were no elaborate costumes to take away from the artistry of the dancers. ‘Concerto’ showed such strong technique and unison co-ordination that it can hardly be criticised, starting the three-part performance off with an uplifting energy.

The second performance was easily the most impressive piece of the entire ballet

The second performance, ‘Still Life at the Penguin Café’, was easily the most impressive piece of the entire ballet, choreographed by David Bintley with music from Simon Jeffes. Based on David Day’s ‘The Doomsday Book of Animals’ (1981), this performance is essentially a cautionary tale, concentrating around several endangered species, using humour within the dancing as a way to educate the audience in a light-hearted way. The costuming was by far one of the best parts about the performance, as each dancers’ costume embodied the animal it was portraying, making it a spectacle from beginning to end.

Highlights from the performance included Ruth Brill, the Great Auk penguin, who was a centric part of the performance as the Great Auks were completely wiped out by natural disasters and hunting. Other animals included the lively Texas Kangaroo Rat, a graceful Ram, and an upbeat Brazilian Woolly Monkey. Although, not all the characters were so humorous, with the Rainforest People creating a more sombre tone, and the South Cape Zebra a key part in the performance as the audience watched its dramatic onstage slaughter. The ending to this performance left an open-ended conclusion, and its lively and energetic approach to promoting the issues surrounding endangered species makes it a performance everyone should watch.

An overall technically polished and vivacious performance

‘Elite Syncopations’, again choreographed by MacMillan, was the final section of the overall performance, set in the 1970s with extravagant costumes and upbeat music from Scott Joplin. Featuring several solos and group pieces, this dance perfectly collided comedy with ballet, lifting the room’s spirits and creating laughter and joy amongst the audience, which was a perfect way to end an overall technically polished and vivacious performance of ‘Still Life at the Penguin Café’.


Article by Bethan Lewis


7th October 2017 at 9:00 am

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