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With Beauty and the Beast touring to the Lowry, Salford in January 2012, following a week of performances at Birmingham Hippodrome, we’ve uncovered this interview with Choreographer David Bintley, originally published during the piece’s second season of performances in 2005.
When interviewed previously about Beauty and the Beast, creator of the piece and Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, David Bintley, has spoken a great deal about the story’s theme of how we see animals. ‘We have a funny way of viewing things,’ he says. While we pride ourselves on being a nation of animal lovers, David explained at the time of the ballet’s premiere, we use the term ‘beastly’ to describe someone who behaves with cruelty or arrogance – traits which are fairly unique to humans.
While it is a concept which he obviously enjoyed examining in the ballet, it is not what originally drew him to the work. ‘A good subject for a ballet has got to have both strong characters and strong events,’ he says. ‘The events are what keep things motoring along, and shape the characters, but you couldn’t do a ballet based purely on an event. Take the American civil war – that’s one hell of an event, but you couldn’t put that in a ballet!’
In Beauty and the Beast, the young girl Belle is sent to live with the terrifying Beast in penance for her father’s theft of a rose from the animal’s garden. Dragged from her home and denied access to her family, she is forced to grow up sharply, and confront the terrifying Beast on her own. Over time, she comes to see past his unfamiliar appearance, and is able to love him for the person he is underneath. By the end of the ballet she is a drastically different character from the one she was at the beginning.
Likewise, the Beast begins life as a handsome prince, but one who exhibits the cruelty and arrogance that David highlights as being particularly human faults. Transformed magically into a hideous beast as punishment for his sins, he must alter his character if he is to earn the true love that will break the spell.
The strength and contrast of these character arcs was attractive to David. ‘That’s very much what I look for in a subject for narrative dance,’ he says, ‘because I believe I have to have that outline, that choreographic feeling for the characters, the story and the period.’
Every element must be able to be conveyed in dance, otherwise the piece won’t work. And most importantly, the characters, like Belle and the Beast, must be figures that can be expressed through choreography.
‘Lots of people think that if you just take another great classic novel, it’ll work as a ballet,’ says David, ‘but no, it won’t necessarily. There are so many great stories out there and you could say “why don’t you do that one?” It’s because I have no feeling for it, no empathy. I don’t feel it, and those characters don’t say “movement”.’
Beauty and the Beast however, has proved a rich topic for a narrative work, with the ballet being one of David’s most successful pieces. ‘I knew that Beauty and the Beast would sell because it’s a known title and known titles always sell,’ he says, ‘but that’s not why I made it. I made the ballet because I was absolutely obsessed by it, and had been for 30 years.’
That people are likely to come and see a ballet based upon a familiar story does not guarantee its longevity, however. But with the ballet returning to tour major theatres around the UK, audiences have obviously enjoyed the sight of this Beast.
Our Director David Bintley flew out to Japan earlier this month, both to prepare for our forthcoming tour dates, and to continue his work with the New National Ballet of Japan.
The weekend before last he wrote to the Company to share with us his experiences out there. His letter is reprinted below:
At long last beautiful weather has returned to Tokyo after a wet and windy week. I have watched with envy the glorious sunshine you have all been enjoying in England and wondered once more why it always seems to happen during mid scale?
After un-seasonally cold temperatures and lowering skies, Sunday saw the clouds part and the sun finally put his hat on.
I celebrated Easter Mass at Saint Ignatius and a frisson went through the worshipers as a small aftershock interrupted the sermon. Since my arrival here it was one of only three, very small tremors, and another sign, after the almost constant ‘shiftings’ of several weeks ago, that things are almost completely back to normal in Tokyo.
Nothing is in short supply, no power cuts, restaurants all thriving, vegetables being sold in the streets and a most notable change in the mood of the people as the nation begins to count it’s losses and begin the return to normal life. The only sign of austerity at the moment is a conscious attempt to conserve power. But rather than ‘switching off’ unnecessary lights, Tokyo seems to have simply removed a third of it’s light bulbs! They can afford to!
The one telling sign that anything ever occurred however is the emptiness of the flights to Tokyo. My plane was a considerably smaller one than usual and still not full. More evidence that outside perceptions of the disaster and it’s after effects is far worse than the reality, and why our support of the Japanese and their economy and morale is so important.
I do hope that you all enjoyed [the recent split] tour. I hear reports that it was a great success, and simply want to assure you how completely normal life here in Tokyo is and, if the weather remains as glorious as it is now, what a fabulous and enriching experience awaits you all here in Japan.
Birmingham Royal Ballet has confirmed that it will go ahead with next month’s International tour to Japan, with an additional Benefit Performance at Tokyo’s U-port Hall venue for the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief.
Director David Bintley, who was in Japan during the disaster, said:
‘On the afternoon of 11 March 2011, I was rehearsing the dancers of the National Ballet of Japan in my ballet Take Five, part of the Company’s latest programme, due to premiere the following Saturday. The devastating earthquake and tsunami that occurred that day and the resulting tragic plight of the Japanese people echoed around the world. Music, singing and dancing, which can so often bring joy and happiness to the spirit, seemed inappropriate, and the New National along with most theatres in Tokyo closed its doors as the people of Japan began to count the cost of the tragedy visited upon them.
‘Two months later, with Japan facing its future with a bravery and stoicism that has become the admiration of the world, I am proud to be bringing Birmingham Royal Ballet to Japan as part of the cultural and spiritual healing of this great nation. We hope that our performances of Sir Peter Wright’s classic production of The Sleeping Beauty and Sir Frederick Ashton’s warm and wonderful masterpieces The Dream and Daphnis and Chloë will bring joy and light to our Japanese audiences and provide them with some respite from their current difficulties.’
Birmingham Royal Ballet will also welcome special two guests during the tour. Former Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet Principal Miyako Yoshida will dance alongside Company Principal César Morales in two performances of The Dream in Tokyo, 27 and 29 May. Tamara Rojo will guest in two performances of The Sleeping Beauty in Tokyo, 21 and 22 May, partnered by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Iain Mackay.
You can see a short clip of Miyako Yoshida in this video about Peter Wright’s work on our classical productions:
We’re splitting up again!
But just for one tour!
Birmingham Royal Ballet are once again splitting in two, to perform simultaneously in the North East and South West of England. The tour begins on 19 April in both Durham and Yeovil, with a programme including one-act ballets performed alongside excerpts from full-length classics.
To count down the week between now and the opening night, we’ll be posting daily updates here on the tour blog, featuring some of the different works being performed.
To start us off here’s a video clip in which David Bintley and Peter Wright discuss Peter’s production work on our classical pieces. Included in video is footage of Coppélia and The Sleeping Beauty, excerpts from which are included in the programme for both the Northern and Southern tour!
Birmingham Royal Ballet is touring two bills this autumn. As well as Cyrano, the acclaimed Quantum Leaps is being performed in Plymouth on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, with dates in Sunderland and London in early November.
Quantum Leaps features a new piece created by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Director, David Bintley. Entitled E=mc², the ballet explores the different elements in Einstein’s famous equation – Energy, Mass and Speed. David kept a video diary during the creation of the piece, and you can see a few excerpts below:
You can find out more about the Quantum Leaps bill by visiting www.brb.org.uk/quantum.
You can see all nine of David’s video diary entries – including one recorded after the premiere in which he shares his thoughts on the final piece – by clicking here.
In this clip, Director David Bintley and Principal Robert Parker discuss Cyrano’s prosthetic nose. Includes backstage footage and clips from the stage production.