Birmingham Royal Ballet
'Galanteries,' 'The Dance House' and 'The Dream'
by David Mead
June 24, 2009 -- Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK
George Balanchine said 12 was the best number for a ballet, because it could be divided so many ways. In “Galanteries”, a plotless ballet from 1986, Bintley certainly does that, presenting his cast of 12 in a series of delightful trios, duets and solos. The elegant, soft, almost silver-grey tunics of the men and similarly coloured flowing skirts of the women add to the grace and style of the work. The whole company was exemplary, but it was Delia Matthews and Tom Rogers who really stood out in the gloriously lyrical central duet.
The only question is why has Bintley kept “Galanteries” so hidden away? It is 25 minutes of beautifully constructed dance that fuses perfectly with interleaved selections from two Mozart works, the choreography reflecting the symmetry and phrasing of the music. Mozart’s divertimentos were originally composed as entertainment for the rich. And this ballet certainly entertains.
Second up was “The Dance House”, commissioned from Bintley in 1994 by San Francisco Ballet. Inspired by the death of his close friend Nicholas Millington from an AIDS-related disease, it is a modern day dance of death. But although there are many suggestions of loss -- including the blood red vertical stripes that dominate the front of many of the costumes (designed by the late Robert Heindel, a noted painter of dancers) and the figure of death that stalks through the whole work -- this work never reaches any great emotional heights.
Having said that, in the next ballet, Bintley shows just how good he is at putting steps to music, this time “Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.1”. Natasha Oughtred has truly blossomed since arriving in Birmingham in 2007. She and her partner Matthew Lawrence were supremely fluid and lyrical in the almost elegiac central duet, contrasting with the shocking energy of Kosuke Yamomoto in the ‘stripey’ solo.
As enjoyable and well-danced as these two ballets were, it seemed the whole audience was waiting for Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream”. They were not disappointed and lapped up Ashton’s simplified but entertaining version of Shakespeare’s hugely complicated plot involving misused potions, mixed-up lovers, and everyone’s favourite, Titania, queen of the fairies, falling in love with a donkey.
In many ways the ballet is pure Victoriana, with manners and gentle humour to match. From Robert Parker’s gloriously silly Demetrius, through James Grundy’s charming and innocent Bottom complete with donkey’s head and pointe shoes, to Matthew Lawrence’s Oberon and Nao Sakuma’s Titania, the company swept all before them. Best of all, however, was Alexander Campbell as Puck. High-spirited, he bounded around the stage with a mischievous glint in his eye. Of course, everything and everyone are eventually put back their place, and all is right with the world -- the perfect end to a hugely enjoyable evening.