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Beauty and the Beast
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The Dance House
David Bintley on the 2008-09 season
Part three: spring
part one | part two | part three | part four | part five | part six
As well as the classics, the new season sees some more recent works. Looking into 2009, the year begins with a reworking of one of David's own pieces from before he became Director of the Company. Having first presented Sylvia in 1993, his new appointment at Birmingham Royal Ballet initially halted its further development.
'I just wanted to throw new ideas down,' he remembers of his first year as Director. 'I didn't think there was a place for that kind of revival at the time, but it's been on my mind ever since and now's the time to go back to it.'
David's production of Sylvia has always been intended as a solution to all of the problems that have plagued the many versions of the ballet.
'Until I did my version I only knew of the original, some French derivations of it, and the Ashton one which was made in the 1950s. That one had played it pretty straight and enjoyed, at best, a mixed reception. Over time it petered out and disappeared.
David's version of the piece likewise enjoyed a mixed response, but he is confident he knows what needs to be done. Foremost among his amends is the characterisation. '[this reworking] should make all the characters a little bit more tangible,' he says. 'That's what I always felt was lacking in the piece as it stood, and I still find is lacking in the revived Ashton version. It's set in mythical Rome and I just don't feel for these people. I don't now who they are, I don't believe in them.
'In my pieces, the most important thing is understanding people, and being able to empathise with them, or even be revolted by them - as long as they're believable people, flesh and blood.'
In the same season as Sylvia is another of David's own pieces which presents the performers with particular challenges in connecting with the audience. 'Still Life' at the Penguin Café sees a cast of dancers playing the parts of different animals, wearing masks to transform them into rats, monkeys, fleas and the penguins of the title.
'It's a big challenge for a dancer,' considers David. 'But you know, a lot of people who disparage the notion of characters and of acting in ballets, they get the wrong idea. They get the idea that you do the steps and everything like that, and then you act with your face.'
He shakes his head firmly. 'No, you don't. Really, the great dance actors act with every part of their body. And the great narrative dance choreographers put that work into the body when they create their pieces. They sketch these outlines so that the character is there and as a performer you can push it here and there. It's not restrictive where you can't move out of a rigid choreographic framework.'
All of this continues to emphasise the importance that David places on believable characters.
'That's what I always took from Frederick Ashton's work. He's great because he gives you just enough so that the character is defined through the choreography and then you can imbue it with your own personality. That's what I love about him, and MacMillan and John Cranko, and De Valois did that as well. It's a very English trait, and is lacking when you see some of the narrative work done by other choreographers, otherwise great choreographers.'
Click here to read the fourth part of this interview
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