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Beauty and the Beast

Concerto
The Firebird
Raymonda Act III

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Sylvia

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'Still Life' at the Penguin Café

The Two Pigeons
Mozartiana

Galanteries
The Dance House
The Dream

David Bintley on the 2008-09 season


part five: summer (continued)


part one | part two | part three | part four | part five | part six

Again, it is apparent that David is very much looking forward to the coming year. It is evidently also a very personal season for him, as he describes the selection of his own works as all being particularly important.

Love and Loss, the final programme of the season, sees one of the most personal of his works, The Dance House, alongside another of his own ballets, Galanteries, and Frederick Ashton's The Dream.

Remembering the genesis of The Dance House, David reveals that he had previously toyed with the idea of creating a piece based upon the analogy of a dance with death, but had been unable to solidify the idea in his head. Following the shocking and unexpected death of one of his former fellow dancers, he returned to the idea, with the added motivation of trying to use the topic to pay tribute to his friend. Oddly, the score he chose – by Dmitri Shostakovich - was one that he had never before considered in this light.

'I had thought about the dance house, this metaphor for death, with death being a dance, or a dancer. What is it like when a dancer dies, and why was death seen as a dance? Suddenly this score by Shostakovich was saying everything that I wanted to say. There's this quite hard opening, then this nostalgic middle movement, and some anarchic circus music as well, and all of this was serving to get across something of my friend Nick's humour, which was quite anarchic as well. This provided another link in the development of the piece. '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.'

More than likely to raise laughs of its own, Frederick Ashton's final piece of the year The Dream, his reworking of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and returns to the stage after an absence of over a decade.

'I've wanted to bring The Dream back for a long time', says David, again looking at the list of Birmingham Royal Ballet performers. 'I think we've got some very interesting dancers in the Company right now. We haven't had it in the rep for a very long time, and in this particular programme, it's in the right place. In these mixed programmes, you're always trying to have a beginning, a middle and an end.'

'As a proponent of the full-length ballet, I maybe shouldn't really say this but it's sometimes mystifying that when you have such strong work in a mixed bill that you sometimes can't sell them.'

During our discussion David has regularly cited The Dream as an example of the skills he admires in Ashton's work, notably the characterisation.

'You watch this piece and you can't imagine Oberon or Titania or Puck any other way. It's like those moves were there from the beginning of time, they absolutely personify what one thinks of when you think of those characters. Perfection.

'If you're so unbelievably talented and fortunate enough to capture that essence in movement, then it's a great, great thing. Here, Ashton's completely faultless in what he's trying to do. You couldn't improve it, supplant that step with this step, because you couldn't find anything better.'

Before The Dream and The Dance House, however, Love and Loss features a third ballet, Galanteries, to music by Mozart. Another of David's own works, the ballet represents the culmination of David's tribute to Ashton and Balanchine.

'There's probably more of a mixture of my love for, and my admiration of Balanchine and Ashton than any other piece I've done. Their influence together is present, definitely. While as individuals they're contrasting, I would say that you can see my roots in this piece, in which they both lie, and in the response to the music.'

All of this concludes a new season for Birmingham Royal Ballet, unusually comprised entirely of existing works. But David is quick to dismiss the idea that this is a negative thing. 'Yes a lot of these are bringbacks,' says David, 'but then we have a repertory that is so rich that we can't perform everything in a time span shorter than ten years.

'For me personally, I'm glad to see all of these pieces back,' he says, glancing over a list of the forthcoming shows. 'There isn't a piece in there that doesn't have some kind of above and beyond meaning for me, or that I don't really love. Our repertory really is so deep that we can do a season like this, which is fantastic and exciting, even without any kind of major new piece, and a lot of people – notably most of the dancers! – won't have seen any of these pieces.'

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