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Arts Review: Birmingham Royal Ballet's The King Dances/Carmina Burana

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Like book-ends to a fantastic career, Wednesday 17th June marked the 20 year-long residency of Director David Bintley with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Tickets for the evening were in high demand, as dancers, directors and critics gathered from across the country to relive his earliest piece created on the company, as well as celebrate the world premiere of his latest work.

The King Dances

A King at just 14 years old, it was said of Louis XIV that ballet acted as the ‘only weapon’in his control of the court around him. Worshipping the light than can be found in dance, Bintley’s exploration of the early Le Ballet de la Nuit tells the tale of how one young man held both day and night in his arms.

The work is a regal feast for the eyes, offering a showcase of the grounded style of repeated patterning and flourishes so popular with a 17th Century court. With the exception of silvery  ‘Luna’, Bintley employs an all-male cast, transporting audiences to a world in which the inky night is lit only by flames, and beat out by an ever distant drum.

A worthy job is done of styling a slick group of the company’s men, who were led by Principle Iain Mackay as La Nuit and Soloist William Bracewell as the Sun-King. It was said to be imperative that ‘the beauty’ of dance was realised beyond mere shows of strength and skill so often representative of the male dancer; here the intricacies of male partnering were played out to great effect.

There was a real sense that drawing on the new would empower the old, an idea that was perhaps not always fully realised. The King is surrounded in the nightmare scene with a cartoon like selection of fabled monsters and gratuitous terror that appeared to tickle rather than terrify a bemused audience. Where Stephen Montague’s score successfully matched processional tradition with electronic zing, there were moments in which it felt like the atmosphere was being forced, making for a sense of the underwhelming.  Perhaps this was World-Premiere nerves or a glitch in the creation; nevertheless it was at times a piece lacking the punch to remain with you for the rest of the evening.

The final scene sees the young Louis re-enter the court now loudly proclai

med as the ‘Sun-King’ by La Nuit, triumphing over the evening in order to bring in a resplendent new day. Despite standing as an undeniably skilled tribute to the history of dance, only time will tell whether the legacy of Bintley’s new work will continue to captivate the modern audience.

Carmina Burana

If asked which ballet to save from a burning building, this would undoubtedly be the one. In any case, it was probably likely to have started the fire in the first place. Bintley’s first creation as company director, this unforgettable take on Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana brought the house to their feet on a scale never seen before.

When asked what he takes himself from the production, Bintley admits ‘I love the dirt that’s implied in it’. This is not dirt of an erotic or remotely distasteful kind (despite the scenes of stripping and prostitution), this is a dirt of the mind; a struggle with oneself that plays out in an on stage battle between faith and time.

Despite being composed in 1930, Orff’s score bases itself around Thirteenth century medieval tradition, an idea that Bintley transfers into his work via the ‘corporate thuggishness’ of atmosphere and arresting designs of Philip Prowse. Heavy wo

oden crosses hang from the ceiling whilst clown like men run around in neon pattered t-shirts. A positively biblical Tyrone Singleton stands only in cloth underwear, whilst unrelenting women dance around him in sharp black wigs and fishnet stockings. Bintley’s world is a one in which old and new combine to form a hybrid show of sin and sorrow.

Careful attention is paid to matching music with meaning, and the ballet stood equally as powerful in the delicate discoveries made between single couples as when the stage was filled with a full cast of dancers and a roaring ‘O Fortuna’.  Birmingham’s Ex Cathedra choir accompanied the cast throughout, bringing a buzz which embraced the whole audito

rium. Despite this ambitious sense of scale, the piece still manages to speak directly to the individual. Bintley reveals there to be ‘a lot of coded imagery’ interweaved into scenes, and these subtle signs transferred from dancer to spectator give the ballet one of its most enigmatic qualities. 

Carmina provides a fantastic opportunity for the company to perform across all levels, and the evening saw a stellar display of talent; from the nimble footed ‘Pony Tail’ girls to a circus style group of men trying to impress their ever dependent female counterparts. Women were defined by their bodies throughout, as the graphic like ‘drawn on parts’ emphasised a vice that continued to tempt these men of faith. The piece revolved around three principle men and their experiences surrounding such a vice, with Jamie Bond’s role as the young and foolish lover complemented by the delicate but deceptive ‘lover girl’ Elisha Willis. Mathias Dingman proved a truly gifted‘second seminarian’, whose control and command of a dizzying enraged young man appeared hard to beat when coupled with Daria Stanciulescu’s wily ‘Roasted Swan’.

This was until final scene ‘The Court of Love’ was reached; offering a chance for two of the company’s most outstanding dancers to shine. Tyrone Singleton and Céline Gittens proved stamina and sensitivity could work together to astounding effect; there’s was the most intimate duo which saw the Singleton laid bare, seduced and surrendering to the Empress Fortuna’s powers as ‘Eternal Woman’, winning rapturous applause.

The piece is savage and graceful, epic and intricate: essentially, life. Charged with an interconnected energy borne from pains just as relevant now as in the 13th Century, Bintley’s first creation with the company is as impressive now as it was 20 years ago, and judging by the amount of audience off seats by the curtain call, long is it likely to continue.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The King Dances and CarminaBurana ran until 20 June at the Birmingham Hippodrome. For more information please visit www.brb.org.uk.

 

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