Sir Fred and Mr B by the Birmingham Royal Ballet

THIS clash of the Titans takes it time to get going, but once battle is joined, the slow trickle of a skirmish swells into a torrent of action.

Basically, this is a dance to the death between BRB principals Elisha Willis and Nao Sakuma, the former seemingly making her bid for the latter’s crown.

And caught in the middle of all these balletic broadsides is the elfin Chi Cao, moving as if his life depended on it, which it probably does.

The first piece, George Balanchine’s Mozartiana showcases the Willis command and mastery of style, in which she is superbly partnered by Joseph Caley.

Both acquit themselves well in what is otherwise a rather dry exercise in pure technique rather than narrative ballet, thus allowing Tchaikovsky’s genius to dominate throughout.

Nevertheless, Willis has only just begun. For her subsequent portrayal of the gipsy girl in Frederick Ashton’s The Two Pigeons is simply breathtaking as she teases the hapless Chi into thinking that he will be cuddling up in the caravan come nightfall.

Her sashays across the stage are in stark contrast to the elegance and grace of the wronged Nao, her flittings and flutterings emulating the birds of the title.

The piece is based on a folk story that was given new life by the 19th Century composer Andre Messager. Like all good fables, this story is a cautionary tale packed with a punch.

In particular, the ensemble scenes are swirling extravaganzas of colour as the gipsies slowly move in on the doomed Chi, like a shoal of barracudas attacking a stricken seal. It is now that the final showdown arrives as love - and dance – rivals Willis and Sakuma challenge each other to fingernails at 40 paces.

This double bill named in honour of the two great men of ballet moves through the gears at a leisurely pace, but soon becomes an unstoppable force, and is well worth the wait.

Sir Fred and Mr B. runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday (June 20).

John Phillpott

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