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The Orpheus Suite
An introduction to Ellington
David Bintley discusses the appeal of the jazz legend
Read about the legend of Orpheus
Read reviews of previous performances
Journalist Duncan Heining talks to the big band leader and composer of The Orpheus Suite
David Bintley on the attraction of jazz
The creator of Take Five talks about his love of jazz
See shots from the Company studios
An overview of the ballet
Read quotes from reviews of previous performances
Meet the characters portrayed in the ballet
Geoffrey Smith looks at Duke Ellington's relationship with dance
All that jazz
David Bintley, Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, last programmed a mixed bill of his own jazz ballets back at the beginning of the 2004-05 season. Entitled 'Such Sweet Thunder' it consisted of The Shakespeare Suite, The Nutcracker Sweeties and The Orpheus Suite, the latter making its debut for those performances. But watching all three pieces together on the same bill, David had misgivings. 'When I saw it, I realised it was too high powered', he remembers. 'So I thought Iíve got to streamline it, to give more of a contrast.'
Take Five is his solution, here replacing The Nutcracker Sweeties. A new work, to Dave Brubeck's well-known score, David began initial rehearsals in spring 2007, before the Company had even finished its first tour of his new production of Cyrano. When asked about moving straight from one piece to another, he smiles; 'I like doing that, because when you do a big piece that's taken you so long, you get almost a form of post-natal blues: you feel a bit bereft for a while, even when it's still being performed. So it's good to do something different. This uses a completely different language, I've only got ten dancers, thereís no props - thereís nothing but the music'.
The music itself helps to provide the first of the programme's contrasts; a work of understated simplicity in comparison with The Orpheus Suite's dramatic percussiveness and The Shakespeare Suite's big band vignettes and vibrant immediacy. 'The Brubeck is very clean' explains David. 'It's very classical, because Brubeck studied under Milhaud, who was a classical composer. It's very elegant, it's very cool, and the excitement in it is much more delicate - very different from the other two.'
Music for the other two pieces will be provided by a live jazz orchestra - Colin Town's Mask Orchestra, who last played with BRB for 'Such Sweet Thunder' (after Towns composed the score to The Orpheus Suite). Take Five, however, is far more minimal. 'It'll just be a quartet,' reveals David. 'Colin's getting them together, so it will probably be players who have been involved before, and it'll be players who play in the band for the other pieces in the jazz triple bill.'
So where does David's passion for jazz stem from?
'My Dad was always in a band when I was growing up', he explains. 'He played in a jazz band in the army, then he came out and he started his own, and they just used to rehearse in our front room. So that's when I heard this music, and on top of that my dad had loads of jazz records that he used to play. And Brubeck was one, and Ellington was another.'
Moving from the past to the future, however, he seems satisfied he has achieved what he set out to. 'Now I've done this programme of works together, I probably won't do any more jazz', he ponders, before adding 'at least not for a long time. I've specifically been trying to build this programme up, to make it almost like a full-length jazz programme with all the variety of one big ballet.'
If so, considering The Shakespeare Suite's 1999 debut, it'll be a creative process that has spanned almost a decade, and on the strength of previous jazz performances by BRB, should be well worth the wait.
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