The Company Index
Huddersfield is not as famous in the world of classical dance as St Petersburg, Paris or London, but it was the birthplace of David Bintley - one of the most consistent and significant forces in British ballet.
At the age of four, he fell in love with the stage at a Sunday school concert, and from that point onwardsdance became 'a single-minded obsession' that led to him winning a place at the Royal Ballet Upper School at the age of 16.
It was 1973, and that meant that Bintley was directly influenced by the founders of British ballet - Dame Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton. He still cites 'Madam and Fred' as his heroes, and his love for the communicative style of English ballet that they forged springs from the training they gave him.
Even before he arrived at the school, Bintley knew he was interested in choreography and he made his first fledgling ballets there. But after he joined Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet in 1976, it was as a character dancer that he made his mark. His performances as Alain and Widow Simone in La Fille mal gardée, the smaller Ugly Sister in Cinderella, and Petrushka in Fokine's ballet of that name, set the benchmark for those roles at that time.
At the same time, his choreographic ambition was encouraged, beginning with The Outsider in 1978 and continuing through his first major narrative ballet The Swan of Tuonela in 1982. In 1983, he became resident choreographer of Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, but left three years later to take up the same position at The Royal Ballet. His period with the Covent Garden company was one of mixed success. Works such as 'Still Life' at the Penguin Café perfectly caught the mood of the late 1980s and has been enduringly popular. Hobson's Choice (1989), a deft, fluent transposition of Harold Brighouse's great Northern working-class comedy to the ballet stage, made for SWRB, was equally enduring. But ambitious pieces such as The Planets (1990) and Cyrano (1991) failed to win over the critics. Bintley resigned from the Royal Ballet in 1993, but not before he had bequeathed them the darkly beautiful Tombeaux.
For the next two years, he worked mainly abroad, but in 1995, he returned home as artistic director of his old company, now based in Birmingham and renamed Birmingham Royal Ballet. Since his appointment, he has shaped a company where the dancers share his philosophy of continuing to preserve the classical repertory while introducing new work made in the same idiom.
He has been a careful curator of the classics - preserving some in Peter Wright's sensitive revivals, but also choreographing his own productions, such as Sylvia (2009) and Cinderella (2010). Just as noticeably, he has also championed the works of de Valois, Ashton and MacMillan which provide the basis of the modern English repertory, giving them a safe and loving home.
At the same time, he has continued to be a prolific choreographer, with a natural impulse towards story telling that has made popular hits of works such as Carmina burana (1995), Far From the Madding Crowd (1996) and Beauty and the Beast (2003). The reworked Cyrano (2007) and Sylvia (2009) have also emerged as a durable and attractive works. Alongside such narrative pieces, he has tapped another more abstract vein with jazz-inflected creations such as The Shakespeare Suite (1999) and Take Five (2007) taking their place alongside the thrilling E= mc² (2009), a bright meditation on physics with a new score by Matthew Hindson, and Faster (2012), an Olympics inspired commission to the same composer. Such works reflect his instinct, throughout his career, to make work to new music. This ambition, combined with his narrative sophistication, has won him many awards and world-wide recognition. Although still firmly based in Birmingham, since 2010 Bintley has also been Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Japan, creating Aladdin (2008) and The Prince of Pagodas (2011).
SARAH CROMPTON Sarah Crompton is Arts Editor in Chief and Dance Critic of The Daily Telegraph
David Bintley; photo: Richard Battye
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Video: David Bintley on Hobson's Choice