I heard this programme on the radio series Musical
Moves. Bintley is the Artistic Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet
and arguably the most successful ballet choreographer working in the
UK today. Previously he was the resident choreographer at the Royal
Ballet, but left feeling that he was not given enough support. He is
achieving a great deal in his current role and some believe that BRB
has been the most consistently successful ballet company in the UK in
recent years. He has decided not to throw his hat into the ring as the
successor to Anthony Dowell, as AD of the RB.
The programme started with Bintley reminiscing about his
childhood and the importance of always being surrounded by live music,
as both his parents were keen amateur musicians. His early memories
are of jazz, as this was his father's speciality. Some of the tunes
mentioned were Take 5 and Stranger on the Shore, which
his father played. Nevertheless, by the age of 12, Bintley was captivated
by the music of Stravinsky, so it came as no surprise that the first
work that he choreographed at the age of 15 was The Soldier's Tale.
He told a story about how he did not know any ballroom dancing, which
he needed for part of the piece. So he went along, with the girl who
was to play the role, to an Arthur Murray School of Dancing and boldly
said that they wanted to learn the waltz, quickstep and tango in 1 hour
sadly we didn't hear the response.
One of his works for RB, Gallantries, was discussed
and Bintley told us that Mozart was his favourite composer. He was particularly
appreciative of the elegant dancing of Bruce Sansom in this work and
described how his solo
at one stroke threw out all the
Soviet male macho rubbish. Tombeau, to Variations on
a Theme by Hindemith, by Walton is also clearly an important work
for the choreographer. He described how he had always liked the music
and had been listening to it absent-mindedly one day when he suddenly
visualised the 'Fred step' with a halt in the middle and by the end
of the recording, he had sketched the entire ballet in his mind. It
is intended as a memorial to Ashton, the Royal Ballet and classicism.
Not in the sense of this being a dead tradition, but more an emotional
reaction to an artist, an institution and a form that he reveres so
The theme then turned to the fact that Bintley has always
been keen to commission new music for his ballets. He told us that the
manner of working with different composers varies greatly, but gave
as an example, Far from the Madding Crowd, where in Act III he
defined 11 musical sections and talked us through the final 4 scenes.
He gave the composer brief notes on the action and the length required.
There was then an iterative process where themes for the various characters
were discussed and at regular intervals the composer and choreographer
would get together to review progress.
Hobson's Choice was also discussed and Bintley
described it as a fantastic journey in musical styles. He gave as an
example, the passage that is a pastiche on Salvation Army tunes. In
preparation, they listened to some actual examples from the period,
which ... were so melodramatic that they were impossible to use.
William Mossop's clog dance is a reminder of old English dance styles
and comes at the end of a sequence where the different styles of dancing
reflect the type of shoe that Mossop is bringing out of his basket.
He then turned to his collaborations with John McCabe.
Bintley had been considering Edward II for some time, when he
captured by the sound world of McCabe. He told
us that the surprising thing is that McCabe is a nice, rather quiet
man and yet can produce all this angry, fiery music. He remarked that
it was a great shame that so little of McCabe's music is recorded and
in particular Bintley believes that the unrecorded Edward II
is the best music composed for ballet in this country since The Prince
of the Pagodas.
In more recent times, Bintley has turned to music reflecting
the spirit and religion, in works such as The Protecting Veil
and Carmina Burana, which arise naturally out of his own Catholic
faith. He told us about the renewal of interest in religious music by
composers such as Arvo Pärt and James MacMillan. He is planning
to meet Macmillan soon to discuss a possible collaboration.
The interview moved on to The Nutcracker Sweeties
to music by Ellington and how he hoped that American audiences would
understand the jokes about formation ballroom dancing. Finally, Bintley
mentioned Still Life at the Penguin Café, and how he relies
on his cultural memory of popular styles rather than researching them
in detail, as he feels that this does not benefit his creative process.
Overall, an interesting programme providing valuable insights
for ballet lovers into a key aspect of the choreographic process. Another
programme in the series featured Mark Morris and there were two that
I missed, with Jirí Kylián and the UK's Siobhan Davies.
(This is an adapted version of a piece
that was originally posted on www.ballet.co.uk)
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