LET THE GAMES BE­GIN

Soc­cer tragic and em­i­nent chore­og­ra­pher David Bintley has cre­ated a bal­let that cel­e­brates sport, writes Sharon Verghis

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

David Bintley is the Birm­ing­ham Royal Bal­let’s vet­eran artis­tic di­rec­tor, a sparkling for­mer char­ac­ter dancer nur­tured early by some of English bal­let’s great­est names — think Fred Ash­ton, Peter Wright and Ninette de Valois — and chore­og­ra­pher of bal­lets based on ev­ery­thing from Shake­speare and fairy­tales to physics, Kafka sto­ries and Egyp­tian em­balm­ing cer­e­monies.

He is also a soc­cer tragic and loyal sup­porter of hapless English soc­cer team As­ton Villa.

“Oh gawd, it’s been mis­er­able this year,” he groans in de­spair in a phone call to Re­view from the West Mid­lands city, where he has led the Birm­ing­ham Royal Bal­let for more than 20 years. “But that’s sport, in­nit? You can’t ap­pre­ci­ate the highs with­out the lows.”

His team’s grim match record aside, Bintley was keen to draw on the team­work, grace and spirit of soc­cer, among other things, for his sec­ond col­lab­o­ra­tion with Aus­tralian com­poser Matthew Hind­son, Faster. Cre­ated in 2012, it will fea­ture as part of a triple bill by the Aus­tralian Bal­let this month.

In an homage to ev­ery­thing from com­bat sports and fenc­ing to wrestling and syn­chro­nised swim­ming, it is built around high emo­tion — the joy and agony of com­pe­ti­tion — and set against Hind­son’s equally dra­matic com­mis­sioned score. Bintley says his first work with Hind­son,

in 2009, was such an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence it was in­evitable they would join forces again. The loom­ing Lon­don Olympics sparked the idea of a bal­let ded­i­cated to the el­e­gant ath­leti­cism and grace of ath­letes, re­volv­ing around the Olympic motto of “faster, higher, stronger’’.

They wanted to name the work af­ter the slo­gan but “we came in con­flict with the IOC [In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee],” he says rue­fully. “And hence the ti­tle of the work is Faster.’’ He says it with good-hu­moured res­ig­na­tion but at the time Bintley was scathing about the IOC’s “ab­surd and “quite non­sen­si­cal” ap­proach: “You’re lumped in along­side gift shops and peo­ple who want to trade off the move­ment, who set out to make eco­nomic gains from ev­ery­thing they make … yet this is a se­ri­ous work of art, in­spired by Olympic ideals.”

Dic­ta­to­rial in­ter­na­tional sport­ing tsars aside, he and Hind­son had a blast work­ing to­gether. The cre­ative process be­gan on op­po­site sides of the world, with Hind­son send­ing Bintley sound files spiked with ev­ery­thing from heavy metal to cer­e­mo­nial me­dieval touches.

“I love Matthew’s mu­sic and at one point I said to him, ‘Any­thing you write, I can chore­o­graph.’ So I pretty much left him up to his own de­vices. We would go through [what he sent me] and I sort of edited it along the way. I think it was quite a novel thing for Matthew, be­cause com­posers of­ten work in iso­la­tion. The fact that I could say — ‘maybe this is a bit too long, maybe this isn’t the first move­ment, maybe it’s the last’— I think he ap­pre­ci­ated that.”

Chore­o­graph­i­cally, Bintley was adamant there would be noth­ing lit­eral — dancers em­u­lat­ing ten­nis swings, for ex­am­ple: “I didn’t want to play ‘guess the sport’, you know ... it was more about the Olympic ideal of striv­ing for higher achieve­ment.

It was also a ki­netic byprod­uct of sport be­cause of­ten we talk about sports­men as beau­ti­ful in their move­ment, the way they hit or strike a ball, the way a par­tic­u­lar runner has a style of move­ment.”

Sport has in­spired a string of bal­let chore­og­ra­phers, from Ni­jin­sky with Jeux to Robert Help­mann with The Dis­play. In Faster, Bintley struc­tured dancers in groups rang­ing from ae­ri­als (“I was think­ing about ev­ery­thing that passes through the air, so ev­ery sort of jump­ing dis­ci­pline, div­ing”) to throw­ing (“that cov­ers ev­ery­thing from javelins and shot put and so on”), to a cat­e­gory of team sports in­clud­ing soc­cer, based on the el­e­gant me­chan­ics and bal­let of co-op­er­a­tion “when a team works to­gether, but also the team spirit you get in al­most ev­ery­thing from foot­ball to re­lay teams ... so that was the kind of raw ma­te­rial I was giv­ing Matthew”.

In­ter­est­ingly, in his sec­ond year as artis­tic di­rec­tor at Birm­ing­ham, Bintley gave an in­ter­view where he sav­aged the trend to­wards “ex­treme” phys­i­cal­ity and ugly con­tor­tions in dance at the ex­pense of nu­ance and artistry.

Fast for­ward to Faster, and here is a work that is an homage to phys­i­cal­ity. “Look, I never ceased to em­brace the new and the mod­ern,” Bintley says. “These are the times we live in. But I still think ex­treme move­ment for the pur­pose of ex­treme move­ment is ster­ile — it doesn’t in­ter­est me. If it has no spir­i­tual con­text, if it’s not about any­thing, if it’s not re­lat­ing a par­tic­u­lar cre­ator’s view of the world to me and chang­ing my view ... then to me it is just dull.”

Bintley was born in Septem­ber 1957 in Hon­ley near Hud­der­s­field, Eng­land, to par­ents who were both mu­sic teach­ers, seed­ing in their son a life­long love of mu­sic. At 16 he won a place at the Royal Bal­let Up­per School, with a con­tract at Sadler’s Wells Royal Bal­let, as it was then known, fol­low­ing in 1976.

He has mem­o­ries of danc­ing bare­foot at 17 in class un­der the ea­gle eye of the for­mi­da­ble “Madame” — the leg­endary bal­let star and com­pany founder de Valois, who took a lik­ing to him. He would go on to show a flair for char­ac­ter roles such as the Ugly Sis­ter in Cin­derella, Alain and Widow Si­mone in La Fille mal gardee, Bot­tom in The Dream and the lead in Petrushka, but early on, a love of chore­og­ra­phy took root.

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