Sunday 21 June 2015

In Praise of Bintley

Yesterday was my first visit to the Hippodrome but it won't be the last

It seems only yesterday that I read in About the House or it may have been the Dancing Times that the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet would move to the Birmingham Hippodrome and be known as the "Birmingham Royal Ballet". I was bemused. As a Mancunian I have never had much time for Birmingham. "If they want to move out of London" I said to myself "there are far better cities. How about Manchester? The second city though we Mancunians say that honour actually belongs to London. Or if not Manchester another town with character, history and fine architecture with lovely countryside nearby. Edinburgh, perhaps, Bristol, Newcastle or even Liverpool which, despite a century of relative economic decline, still has the magnificent Pier Head as well as the Phil with its exquisite gents' loo. Mais pourquoi Birmingham!"

Although I have followed the Birmingham Royal Ballet ever since it was known as the touring company and never miss a season when it visits The Lowry I had never been to The Hippodrome before. I have been to opera houses  all over the world including The Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, the Sydney Opera House, the Semperoper in Dresden, Lincoln Center and, of course, Palais Garnier in Paris.  I had seen the Birmingham Royal Ballet on its trips to its old home at Sadler's Wells but it never occurred to me to visit the company in its new home until a year ago.

It was Ruth Brill who put me right. She gave a talk to the London Ballet Circle. She spoke about the Hippodrome and its audience and how they cherish the Birmingham Royal Ballet. I listen to her because I admire her dancing so. She is such fun. She loves to dance and she communicates her joy to her audience. So I made a mental note to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet in the Hippodrome one day.

That day arrived yesterday because it was the 25th anniversary of the company's move to Birmingham and the 20th anniversary of David Bintley's appointment as the company's artistic director. Earlier in the day I had been in Leeds watching the Northern Ballet in class and listening to a discussion on narrative ballet by a panel that included Christopher Hampson and Graham Watts (see Three into Two won't go 20 June 2015). Sadly I had to miss the choreographic sharing with new works  by Kenneth Tindall and Constant Vigier which I had expected to be (and Gita confirmed was) the best part of a very long day. But it was worth it for I would not have missed last night's show in Birmingham for the world.

The advertised performance was a double bill - The King Dances which I had discussed in my post of the 23 May 2015 and Carmina Burana which was Bintley's first work after his appointment as artistic director. I will review the performance of those works but not here because they each deserve a post of their own. The evening began with an unfamiliar overture which we learned was Prospero's theme. It is part of a new score by Sally Beamish for The Tempest and it had never been performed in public before. The curtain rose with Robert Parker standing by a lectern. "I wish I could say that that fanfare was for me" said Parker who flies aeroplanes as well as being artistic director of Elmhurst but it was for another. A photo of Bintley flashed on screen to thunderous applause. For the next few minutes Parker summarized Bintley's life and career with pictures of scenes from his ballets. The summary ended with a photo of the great man in Aston Villa's colours. Birmingham is where he has made his home and brought up his children, explained Parker, and it is where where he supports one of the city's great football teams.

There was a pause of a minute or so before the curtain rose on The King Dances and to say that that was special is an understatement.  It was one of the most enthralling performances I have ever experienced in the theatre. As I said above I will save the details of the review for another day but I don't think I have ever experienced anything more chilling than the images of hell conjured up in The Third Watch or anything more dazzling than the sight of William Bracewell glimmering in gold before the rising sun.

The evening continued with Carmina Burana and the company danced their hearts out. Although Bintley has made his home in Birmingham he comes from Honley which is almost the next village to mine (see My Home and Bintley's 22 May 2015). I long suspected that he had been influenced by the Choral. I actually asked about the artistic influences on his life when he visited the London Ballet Circle last month. Carmina Burana confirmed my suspicion for much of the glory of that ballet comes from the soaring voices to Orff's score.

After the curtain fell the crowd went wild. The applause was deafening. They yelled. They cheered.  They whooped. They clapped till their palms were sore. Several in the audience, including me, felt compelled to rise.  There was the usual reverence with its succession of curtain calls for the principals and then Michael Clarke, chair of the company's directors, walked on stage. He gestured to us to stop clapping. "That applause wasn't bad" he said "but the next round will be thunderous for I have found David Bintley," He beckoned Bintley onto the stage and the crowd erupted even louder than before. Bintley joined hands with the conductor and dancers and the applause exploded like a cannonade. Clarke told us that Peter Wright was in the audience. It was a very special moment.

I was a bit dazed after exiting the theatre. It is in the Chinese quarter of Birmingham which I think must be the fun part of town. There were crowds in the streets.  Everyone seemed to be having a great time. The Hippodrome is a lovely theatre. There are plenty of bars serving all kinds of refreshments. I ordered an espresso before the show and a very interesting soft drink consisting of squeezed apple juice and cinnamon for the interval and had plenty of change out of a fiver.  The seats were comfortable. The acoustics were good. The staff were courteous.  I found free street parking a few hundred yards from the theatre. Would you believe that they charge for parking on waste ground up to 22:00 in Leeds even on a Sunday. I can quite see why the Birmingham Royal Ballet made its home at the Hippodrome. Yesterday was my first visit to that theatre but it will certainly not be the last.

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