David Bintley’s directorship of Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) is in the process of winding down (he leaves in July) and helping develop a new generation of choreographers has seemed to be increasingly on his mind. This bill, his last of all new works, is by young choreographers and very much driven by him and so rather in his image. This is both good and not so good. The good is that this is classical through and through (if not always in pointe shoes), with great music (including a new score) and interesting design. The less good is that it generally feels traditional and old in choreographic terms and not created by a new generation who are eager to take ballet and move it forward – at least not yet anyway. But Bintley feels strongly about tradition (much more so than most other directors) and the commissions are his way of saying what’s important and passing that baton on.
Seasons in our World “explores the relationship between the cycle of the seasons and individual human lives and communities.” The inspiration for Bintley was a poem by David Laing and a new score was commissioned from Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian. Three BRB dancers – Laura Day, Kit Holder and Lachlan Monaghan – were asked to collaborate on the 35-minute piece and David Mead has done a good article for the programme covering how they sorted themselves out and interacted with the others involved. It is, though, unfortunate that the programme does not contain the poem or a synopsis of what the episodes in each season might be.
Seasons has a breathless pace as each of the choreographers looks to cram in all their ideas, as well as be part of the bigger arc, in what amounts to a little over 10 minutes each. The pace is reflected in the cracking world music score, flecked with Jazz and Armenian folk music, that delivers stillness one moment and romping abandon at others. The design (Spike Kilburn) is simple, with projections on a floating panel at the back of the stage that picks up on each season, sometimes in abstract ways. Strong colour-wash lighting (Peter Teigen) compliments well. The costumes are taupe rather than showy and tend to recede, if the fabrics are fine and hang well. The Spring and Summer, Autumn sections are by Laura Day and Lachlan Monaghan and competently classical, if I couldn’t easily discern what they were trying to show – I wish it had been less frenetic in the ducking and diving of ideas. Kit Holder has more choreographic experience and it really showed in Winter and I particularly liked the way he had his dancers huddle for warmth and waddle like Penguins. There is a voice trying to do something different here and I think he could make something of the complete score which certainly deserves a longer life.
While a good looking and passable work has emerged, I don’t think less experienced choreographers are best served by having to juggle all the complications of working in a team and with a composer. One wants them to be really focused on steps in the context of music they are attracted to use and with simple staging. But all three choreographers merit doing more and I hope they can find the opportunities. It’s not yet clear what Carlos Acosta (the new director) will do to nurture and grow creative talent in BRB but I hope he encourages bold and brave choreographic experiment.
For Ruth Brill’s latest work David Bintley asked her to take on Peter and the Wolf and for Peter to be a girl! As scores go it’s about as prescriptive as it gets, with its narrated plot, and so it’s hard for anybody not to see exactly what’s going on. I like Brill’s personal enthusiasm and rather than do something twee she’s gone for a very modern urban telling – something that uses the tools of the past to speak to a new generation. That’s important in this commission which does double time in also being part of a short bill targeted at young children. The designs (as for Seasons) by Spike Kilburn are based on a huge scaffolding backdrop and the dancers’ costumes are colourful with no real attempt to show them as a Cat, Duck or whatever. The movement tends not to slavishly follow the animal stereotypes either, if Tzu-Chao Chou’s Bird is generally flighty, Brooke Ray’s Duck wanders around looking cool and Samara Down’s Cat, on occasion, is deliciously self-indulgent and hedonistic. And driving it all is Laura Day’s perky and punchy Peter – a very modern Miss. This isn’t a subtle story and Brill delivers robust, bold steps in abundance if perhaps I would have liked them keyed to the animal characteristics a little more. But the dancers and Brill sell the story well and it’s fun to be reminded of all the plots twists and turns.
Brill is leaving BRB this summer and working with London Children’s Ballet and National Youth Ballet where her passion and energy will surly rub off on future generations.