England, 26 April 2000 - Approaching the Birmingham Hippodrome from
the Ring Road, a spaghetti junction of appalling complexity, a maze of
modern buildings looming above dark Victorian relics unfolded with
frightening indifference. But it was here, in the heart of Britain's
industrial centre, that the far-seeing municipal authorities invited
Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, perhaps better known as the Royal Ballet's
" second company",to establish themselves permanently ten
But the world outside vanished the instant I set
foot inside the theatre. Here was light and warmth in addition to
enormous excitement, and the magic began to work even before the curtain
went up. Elbowing her way through the expectant jostling crowds, eager
for their tickets, programmes, coffee, sandwiches, and show, the
harassed usherette showed me to my seat with a wry smile, "Ah,"
she said, "it's just one of them days, luv ", which it
certainly was. The anticipation of the capacity crowd was at its height
for the matinée performance of David Bintley's new ballet, Arthur
Part 1, before the closure of the theatre for renovation. Arthur
Part II is being planned for the re-opening of the building next
Since his appointment as artistic director of Birmingham
Royal Ballet in August 1995, Bintley and his dancers have won the
devotion of their public by staging works which not only stimulate and
challenge the audience, but also entertain.
"I 'm a maker
of ballets, and I want them to reach out to people and make their lives
happier", Bintley, an outgoing and approachable person, told me
backstage after the performance." I'm interested in what dance can
relate, and my ballets always have something to say. I do what I want to
do, and luckily it's what people want to see.......most of them anyway."
director with the instinctive sense of what will please his audience was
born in the north of England just over forty years ago, and trained at
the Royal Ballet school in the golden days of Fonteyn and Nureyev,
Sibley and Dowell. More importantly, he grew up familiar with the works
of Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan.
"I was with
this company for ten years when it was Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet based
in London", Bintley said, "but when I was first asked to take
over the troupe, I refused. It was only after a few years freelancing, I
realised that the only way to get what I really wanted, the dancers I
wanted to work with and the repertoire within which to place my own
work, was to be a director. I wanted to take control of my career
myself, and although the first year was quite scary, I learned fast."
the dancers are of many nationalities, the common factor is that
approximately seventy percent of them trained at the Royal Ballet
school, and those who were not are people who had enjoyed working with
Bintley before he took over the company when illness forced Peter Wright
"When I arrived, the troupe was a little
run-down because there was no director, and vacancies had been left at
the top that the younger dancers weren't ready to fill. Since I'd been
choreographing abroad for many years and had made many contacts, I
brought principal dancers with me for immediate impact, to show the
troupe the standard I wanted.
result is that most of the company are here because I asked them, and
because they want to be, so a very special atmosphere which can't be
manufactured has developed over the years. I feel right here, it's a
very supportive company, and despite speculation in the press, that's
one of the reasons I'm not in the running for the directorship of Covent
David Bintley's approach to dance is essentially
British in the sense that he likes to tell a story and convey an
emotion, creating works around subjects which reflect the culture he
knows and understands best.
"I've been inspired by Hardy's
novels and works like King Arthur, Edward II, Hobson's Choice.
We have a fascinating history, but I'm virtually the only choreographer
coming out of the Royal Ballet who is continuing the tradition of
Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan. My roots go back to John Cranko
whose style remained typically English, even when he was working in
Germany , and I'm carrying on because dance here is fairly unique and
can't be compared to what is happening elsewhere. I think things have
gone a little off-track today, with a drive towards homogeneity, and too
many choreographers creating modern works because that's what the
critics seem to be clamouring for."
Bintley is not afraid of
challenges, and favours bold sagas inspired by stories, myths, and
legends, as well as by his dancers, pieces of music, and everyday life,
and while his company still perform the nineteenth century classics,
these tend to serve more as yardsticks for technique and style.
are a classical company working on pointe, using a classical language,
and very strong on style, but we don't do endless Nutcrackers'
and « Swan Lakes any more , preferring works which have
been handed down to us by Ashton, Balanchine, Cranko, de Valois,
MacMillan, Robbins and Tudor, together with new productions we mount
here", he said. "I always have a jumble of big long-term
projects turning around in my head but I've a pretty good idea of what
an audience wants, and am aware of how easy it is to bore them."
must be the last thing his audience suffers from ! Spectators were
delighted with Hobson's Choice (1989), based on a comedy by
Harold Brighthouse , the full-length dramatic work, Far from the
Madding Crowd (1996), the popular ballet, Edward II (1995)
adapted from Marlowe's play, and spoiled by his recent success, The
Nutcracker Sweeties which revolutionises the traditional Nutcracker,
using Duke Ellington's jazz version of the score.