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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
Duncan Heining talks to Colin Towns in an article originally published in the March 2008 issue of The Jazz Rag, reprinted here with the kind permission of all involved.
Britain's most adventurous big band tours England this spring but you won't catch them in the usual halls and clubs. From 27 February to 19 March, Colin Towns's Mask Orchestra performs three Jazz ballets with the Birmingham Royal Ballet in Birmingham, Oxford, Sunderland and Plymouth. It's the band's second outing with the ballet company and follows their acclaimed 2004 tour. Featuring Ellington's Shakespeare Suite, Take Five - a new work based on Brubeck's great quartet recordings - and (best of all) Towns' own Orpheus Suite, the tour offers both Jazz and dance fans a carnival for the senses as music, movement, costumes and lights combine to produce something new and special.
Towns and Birmingham Royal Ballet artistic director David Bintley share a desire to expand both the audience for and the range of their art forms. Also a film and TV composer, Towns is no stranger to the dramatic but how did this collaboration come about?
'A friend called Anne Bentley was playing bassoon with the company and she started feeding David Bintley my stuff,' Colin explains. 'It really came from that. It took about 15 years,' Colin laughs. 'I'd always wanted to do a ballet but wasn't sure how to go about it. The BRB don't commission very much and David treads very carefully because he has to be seen to be spending his Arts Council money very wisely and to be reaching out to all areas of the public. So, I was really chuffed when he rang.'
Orpheus takes the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice but gives it a modern twist – the Argonauts of the original tale are transformed into a Jazz band to great effect. 'Orpheus is not about snakes and poison in this show,' Colin tells me. 'It's about drugs and sex and inspired, by Miles Davis' early years, when he was supposedly a pimp and had a string of hookers. In our story, we have 'the moisturisers', who perform that role.' He laughs again, as he describes the costumes the female dancers wear, 'It's true to the spirit of the myth but brings it into a different world.'
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