Gambit with all the right moves

AS DAVID Bintley sits in his Tokyo hotel room, the dancer-cum-artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet has lost none of the energy that has driven him over the past 30 years.

After a long, humid day rehearsing Carmina Burana with Japan's New National Theatre Ballet, Bintley's mind continues to race with ideas for the following day's teaching. His excitement is justified: not only will this be the first time that a Japanese company has used a piece from Bintley's repertoire, but the NNTB are hailing the choreographer's arrival in the east as "opening a new chapter" in the Japanese ballet company's history.

If the youthful 47-year-old is worried his work might get lost in translation, he shows little concern. "It's fantastic and I'm delighted to be here," he says. "I like the place, the people, the food, and it's just a lovely opportunity to work on a piece I enjoy."

Although Scottish audiences will miss out on this particular Bintley production, they will be able to indulge themselves with Birmingham Royal Ballet's forthcoming Brit-pack appearance in Edinburgh early next month. "I'm very pleased with the programme. It's very entertaining and it's very British," says Bintley.

"And I mean that not just by virtue of the fact it features British ballets, but also because each of the pieces is actually about something. That's the hallmark of British ballet for me, the idea of each story having this wonderful seam running through it, making it theatrical and understandable to an audience."

Bintley's back catalogue boasts a collection of works that are accessible, challenging and, more often than not, fun. The Olivier award-winning dancer (for his title role in Petrushka in 1984) is a graduate of the Royal Ballet School, where he was taught by the legendary Ninette de Valois, and his work to date shows the same imagination, passion and dexterity of his mentor.

With a CBE under his belt for services to the arts, his choreographies include The Nutcracker Sweeties, The Protecting Veil and The Shakespeare Suite, while other acclaimed works include the highly inventive Arthurian adventures, Arthur, Part One and Arthur, Part Two, and Edward II.

Having started to create works early in his career, Bintley has inherited the choreographic style of the Royal Ballet's Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan. The catalyst for the BRB's forthcoming programme, says Bintley, was another of his great inspirations, John Cranko, and his ballet The Lady and the Fool.

"I danced in Lady almost 20 years ago and have wanted to return to it but I knew there was a lot of redesign work I wanted to do. The piece was done initially in the 1950s, and looks a bit like a watercolour. I was keen to adapt that and make it look more like an oil painting."

Telling the story of a high-society girl who falls for a clown, and set to a Verdi score, Cranko's unsentimental piece sits easily with the other two works in the troupe's trilogy: MacMillan's delightfully melancholy Solitaire and de Valois' Checkmate, first premiered in Paris in 1937, and set on a chess board.

"Initially I wanted us to do a Cranko season and then suddenly I looked at the extraordinary works at our disposal and decided to make it an all-round British season, and use it as a wonderful opportunity to showcase some greats of the British ballet scene."

An additional treat for theatre-goers will be four performances of Bintley's own piece, Hobson's Choice, based on Harold Brighouse's 1915 comedy of life in the north of England. The ballet tells the rags-to-riches tale of a mild-mannered bootmaker named Will Mossop.

Originally created for Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet in 1989, Hobson's Choice has firmly established itself as a BRB favourite, combining as it does a tender love story with musical comedy. "Hobson was due for revival," says Bintley. "It's always nice going back to it, but this time around I'm particularly pleased because the dancers are so exceptional."

Bintley has plans to give Victorian England a contemporary spin, with musical accompaniment influenced by music hall, opera and brass bands.

Never one for a quiet life, Bintley will next mastermind his second revival of Beauty and the Beast, for a Christmas tour of England. "The company tries to remain as diverse as possible with it's three strands: our classical repertoire, our great heritage work, and our coverage of new works.

"I love the company and am immensely proud that I now run it, but you can never get complacent, you know," says Bintley. "All I can hope is that people enjoy watching the works we present as much as I enjoy imagining them."

Solitaire/Checkmate/The Lady and the Fool, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-529 6000), November 8 & 9; Hobson's Choice, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-529 6000), November 10-12


Back to the top of the page