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The Dance House
The Dance House
One of the things that makes David Bintley's Dance House unique is the fact that it originally started out as two completely different pieces. To begin with, Bintley had been keen to make a piece to Dmitri Shostakovich's first piano concerto, a piece of music which he admits is a challenging choice.
'It's a strange score,' says the Birmingham Royal Ballet Director, 'because there are some real extremes of emotion. There's some circus music, and then this fantastic, nostalgic middle movement, and that quite tough movement at the beginning. It's all over the place. At the same time it's very very danceable, but how do you reconcile all of those ideas?'
Completely independently of this, he had been garnering inspiration from a very different source. 'I was also listening to the Totentanz, the death dance by Liszt,' he reveals, 'because I had always been interested in doing the dance of death. At the time I had a piece in my head that I was thinking of as a concerto for dancers but influenced by the music video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller"!' The iconic 1983 music video is most famous for the largely instrumental finale of the song, where dozens of dancers, made up to look like zombies from a horror movie, perform a vast synchronised dance routine.
David remembers: 'I had been thinking, what would it be like presenting some sort of virtuoso dance, a pas de six or a pas de huit, or something, with eight corpses doing fantastically virtuoso dancing but with lumps of them dropping off?'
It was, he says, 'just a wild idea', and he never developed the idea further, until years later when he received a shocking phone call.
'These two ideas had been hanging around for a while,' he remembers. 'And gosh, I got a phone call from [former Birmingham Royal Ballet dancer] Stephen Wicks, saying that this guy who had been with the company, Nick, had died. And I was absolutely shell-shocked. And these two ideas for pieces just interlocked. I can remember it happening, suddenly thinking that this Shostakovich piece was saying everything that I wanted to say about Nick, but it was also all about the dance house - this metaphor for death - with death being a dance, or even a dancer.'
It was here that David began to develop his ideas further. 'What is it like when a dancer dies?' he remembers thinking. 'Why was death seen as a dance? And suddenly all the ideas I had had for the Totentanz reconciled themselves on the madness of this score.'
Between these ideas and his desire to create a tribute to his late friend, the Shostakovich fitted perfectly. 'I wanted to get across this nostalgia,' he explains, 'and this image of the friend that I knew. At the same time I wanted to get across something of his humour, which was anarchic, like the music.
'And death is always presented with a kind of macabre humour,' says David. 'If you think of Saint Saëns' Danse macabre, it's creepy but it's funny. Horror movies are funny, zombie movies are funny, that's how we view death, we can't always understand it so we have to laugh at it and look at it as being this hysterical thing.'
He admits that the process, with all of the ideas falling into place from such disparate sources, was an unusual one. 'I would never have dreamt of grafting an idea like that onto a piece of music. But it was absolutely there - I saw it in an instant'
The resulting piece is a deeply personal one, but at the same time accessible, with any mournfulness balanced by the celebration of the life and character of the choreographer's friend, and of course the unpredictability of the score. David has said of the forthcoming year that 'there isn't a piece in this season that doesn't have some kind of above and beyond meaning for me, and these pieces of mine were all important for me.' The personal nature of the season cannot be more apparent than in The Dance House.
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