Tag Archive: choreography

Short, sharp bursts

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s extensive 2010 performance schedule has meant that David has had to create choreography for Cinderella in short, intensive periods. These have been spread out between long months while the Company rehearses and dances other pieces. Between March and July, for example, there were just six weeks when the Company were not performing somewhere in the world.

These long gaps between work on the piece have not been unwelcome however. David has made regular recordings of the studio sessions, which he has been able to look back over during the quieter months.

‘About 20 years ago I worked with an artist named Victor Pasmore,’ he remembers. ‘He said that he kept his finished paintings around him for anything up to a couple of months, and would just keep looking at them every day. Some days he might make a small adjustment to one of them, or at some point he might decide to store a piece away and bring an older composition out to take its place. And he’d do the same thing all over again, constantly reviewing his work.

‘With Cinderella, production elements aside, I can watch the whole ballet from start to finish, because I’ve got recordings of every part of the choreography. This is proving really useful, because I can keep reviewing all this video material and keep thinking: “that’s not quite right” or “maybe a different arm position there”.

Happily, the periods when David has been able to get into the studio with the dancers have proven productive. Which is just as well, with the Company now back on the road for the autumn tour, David himself will spend the next few weeks nearly six thousand miles away, undertaking Artistic Director duties for the National Ballet of Japan.

‘The last few weeks went really well,’ he confirms. ‘I knew that I had to get as much done as possible, so that when I get back from Japan it’s not going to be this mad, frantic creative period. I also wanted to look back on everything that I’d done so far, and to give myself time to make alterations. I wanted to leave behind good, complete versions of all of the difficult solos and duets, so that even while I’m away, the dancers can think about the steps and continue working on them. And I managed to accomplish that, and I enjoyed it. Now when I come back in November, I’ll be able to turn my focus to production details.’

Corps de ballet work

Last month David Bintley was finally able to work on a number of the larger corps de ballet pieces for Cinderella.

‘I started earlier in the year with lots of solo and duet work,’ David explains, ‘because we were so busy preparing for our spring and summer seasons that I could only get hold of a handful of dancers. This of course meant that I left myself with a great deal of ensemble work to make. Which brought its own difficulties. When you’re on your third waltz or second mazurka within the space of two weeks, it can be difficult!’

However, David has also found benefits in working on large numbers of similar forms during these extensive periods of creation.

‘It’s interesting,’ he ponders, ‘because if you’re working on say, the solos, then as you choreograph each one, all of the others that you’ve already completed, or are due to work on later in the week, are still right at the forefront of your mind. You’re much more aware of what themes and motifs you’re already using at various other stages of the ballet. As a result it’s bringing out a more diverse set of steps, and a more diverse language.’

What of the shift from working with one or two of his title characters, to a studio full of the corps de ballet?

‘It’s a very different dynamic when you’ve got 40 people in a room, compared to just one or two.’ he nods. ‘As well as choreographing the piece you’re having to manage the room; motivating and maintaining the interest in people who are doing things that they’re perhaps slightly less interested in, compared with those who are doing a solo. But creatively, you’re going through a similar process. I’m still putting something out there and saying “what do you think?”

‘Then I’m looking round the room to see who is picking upon the idea and focus upon them. If I’m working with eight couples, for example, one couple will be more forthcoming, or do something slightly different, and I’ll tell the rest of the room to follow their lead.

‘When you’re working with just two people in the room you’re very focused on those people, and at the same time you’re much more reliant on them. Whereas with the corps, sometimes ideas get developed by different people in different corners of the room, even though they’ll all end up doing the same thing.

Structural work

While David Bintley is already an experienced creator of full-length narrative ballets, Cinderella still requires a new approach. ‘There is a very definite classical model to the ballet’, says David. It’s grown entirely out of the music, and so there is a variation for the Prince and a variation for Cinderella. There are set pas de deux, and group works, and classical forms to readdress, which I always enjoy doing. But previous full-length ballets that I’ve done have not had this form; Sylvia is the closest that I’ve ever come to it.’

The structure of the work has changed a few times over the past months, as David has resolved how the story will play out on stage. ‘At one point we thought it might be a very nice idea to run the second and third acts together’, he says, ‘because the third act tends to be a bit short. Narratively, and dramatically, it could have worked very well, but unfortunately it would have given us a first act of 35 minutes and a second act of over an hour, even with some cuts we looked at. That’s just an uncomfortable shape, so we reverted back to three acts, as is traditional.’

Designer John Macfarlane had originally designed the piece to be a two-act ballet, and so from a technical standpoint all the sets and costumes could be turned around in such a way. But David admits that it has given them some breathing space. ‘The stage crew, certainly, are very pleased that they get more time for that transition,’ he says, ‘and Cinderella herself gets a bit of a breather and a chance to get out of her finery and back into her rags after the ball.’

The Director has already revealed that he often looks ahead to his next project before a new ballet is completed, and enjoys the ‘cross pollination’ of ideas between contrasting works. However in this instance there is less scope for influence. ‘The next piece that I’ll do will probably have some similarities with Cinderella – it’s a full-length piece that I’m doing with the New National Ballet of Japan and it does recall the classic forms. So Cinderella will no doubt have some bearing on that, but both will be miles away from E=mc²!’

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