Tag Archive: The cast


In mid-2009, David Bintley discussed his dual responsibilities as both a Choreographer and Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. ‘I use my pieces to bring people along’, he said, ‘to support the dancers’ development.’

With Cinderella going on tour this month to Salford and Plymouth, we asked how he hopes his latest work has stimulated the Company.

‘It’s a ballet with a lot of roles for women, rather than the men,’ David says, ‘Cinderella herself is a nice role for the girls because it’s quite varied – not only technically, because they’re working barefoot and en pointe, and with big set pieces in the second act – but also because of the long passages where they’re just alone by themselves. They have to create and maintain a character that really endears itself to the audience, who have got to empathise with Cinderella, otherwise the show doesn’t work. It’s really carried on her shoulders.

‘Then there are a lot of subsidiary characters like the sisters, which are comedy roles, and there aren’t a lot of those for women in ballet. I feel that these characters work: there’s a freedom in them that allows the dancers to add their own personality, but there’s a good solid framework and the audience gets the jokes.

‘Then there are the Seasons, which are challenging solos full of difficult steps. They’re deliberately difficult, I didn’t want to make them easy. And I’ve tried to get a number of the girls into those roles from Principals to Artists. We’ve already had Nao [Sakuma] as Autumn, and Natasha [Oughtred] as Spring, and Elisha [Willis] as Winter. All three of these are also dancing Cinderella in other shows. But I’ve also cast Artists like Yvette [Knight] and Kristen [McGarrity] and Delia [Mathews], all of whom I wanted to challenge. And they’ve responded brilliantly.’

Mixing up partnerships

Five different pairs of dancers have taken on the roles of Cinderella and the Prince during the Birmingham season. But a number of well-established partnerships will not be appearing together, having been matched up with alternative opposites.

‘There are so many factors that you’ve got to take into consideration’, says Director David Bintley of casting Cinderella and the Prince.

‘Not all the Principals are dancing the role of Cinderella, and so their usual partners needed alternatives. Matt [Lawrence] dances with Gaylene [Cummerfield] a lot, but she was creating the part of one of Cinderella’s sisters, and so he needed putting with someone else.

‘As it was a new piece, I also felt it was an opportunity to experiment. While Cinderella and the Prince have a couple of very important pas de deux, for large portions of the story Cinderella is by herself. Because of this I felt we could take a risk and change some of the partnerships to avoid getting into a predictable area.

‘A lot of partnerships are based upon the fact that they have historically danced particular pieces together, and whenever those pieces come back into the repertory you’re hesitant to break up a successful pairing. Each time we do classical pieces like Romeo and Juliet, for instance, Chi [Cao] and Nao [Sakuma] dance together, because they have a similar temperament and a similar refinement of technique. In a narrative work however, there are other priorities, and so you need partnerships that will bring something new out of one another, to find a balance of technique and performance.’

Iain Mackay’s Cinderella diary

It’s been great being back in the studio with David and Elisha, and the work has been really positive. Elisha’s really easy to work with. She always knows what David wants and she never doubts an idea, she just gets on with it. Then if David doesn’t like it he’s able to say so and we move on, and it’s still a really relaxed atmosphere in the studio. It’s great.

I think David makes Cinderella quite relevant to today. The relationships between the characters are really natural, really well done. He moves with the times but at the same time it’s really classical and doesn’t step over the line of being it too modern.

Most Princes are pretty straight forward, but David’s really tried to give this one something extra – to give another dimension to the usual Princely role of standing around, looking good, and not really doing very much! David turns away from these stereotypical Princely gestures, where you’re in a tendu and you do a very classical ports de bras. Instead, he has always seen the role very much as a real man, much more natural than a one-dimensional fairytale character. He’s really tried to make him into more of a real person.

The Prince’s first entrance is kick-ass! In most of the ballets I’ve done, the character walks on from a Funeral, or you come on and do a polite Princely bow. Here though, David’s got this entrance for me that brings me straight on at 100-miles an hour! It’s such a great moment and hopefully I’ll do it justice.

We’re starting to do full calls in the studio, and it’s great seeing the other pieces of the ballet. The Prince as a character is a really small part of such a huge show, and he’s not in a lot of the main story-telling scenes. So I know my pas de deux, but it’s only now that I can start to see the other parts and see how it all fits together. Yesterday watching rehearsals was great, as the Prince isn’t in Act I so I was able to sit back and watch it all.

At the moment Act I is one of my favourite parts of the ballet. I really like the sisters, and Marion Tait’s amazing as the Stepmother. She’s just incredible. And there’s a lot of comedy in the piece. I always think it’s really hard to do comedy in ballet; for me it’s never usually that funny. But David’s comic timing works really well and the girls playing the sisters are really great.

The corps, and the way David moves the waltzes around look really impressive already too. It s a demanding show for them, and I’m sure that when the costumes are on it’ll look even more amazing.

I’m excited, and it feels like there’s a buzz going on in the building. The Designer, John Macfarlane, has been in the studio having a look at the rehearsals too, as well as Lighting Designer David A Finn. You can see everybody’s starting to piece all the elements together in their minds, and it feels like we’re all part of something really big. It’s a huge show. And David seems really calm, he’s enjoying the ride by the looks of it!

David's video diary: One week to go!

Here’s a new video diary recorded by David Bintley earlier in the week!

Elisha Willis

Elisha Willis has spoken to us about working on Cinderella, and what she thinks of the lead role. ‘I really like the character as David has envisaged her’, she says. ‘It could have been easy to just present her as a vulnerable victim, as people have done so many times before. But in David’s mind she’s a much stronger character, because she’s endured so much hardship and survived. And I love that angle, I find it really interesting.’

‘I find it easy working with David. When he suggests something I feel that I understand what he’s looking for, and occasionally we even have exactly the same idea at the same time. And I love working with Iain. Everything’s just so easy for him physically, I feel as light as a feather when working with him, he’s amazing.’

The process steps up a gear this week, with the Company beginning stage rehearsals on Thursday. ‘It’s a really exciting time’, Elisha says. ‘Last week we began running all the acts in their entirety, and that’s always interesting – finding out if you’re physically capable of getting through the whole piece in one go! Thankfully it’s all good so far. And I’m looking forward to getting on stage later in the week and finally getting to see the sets and costumes and everything together.’

Having started work on the Principal solos and pas de deux as far back as January, this has been a lengthy process. ‘We did start it all a long time ago,’ nods Elisha. ‘I’m thankful that we recorded videos of everything, because I do suspect we could have forgotten quite a lot of it by now!’

David Bintley has commented on working with Marion Tait on the role of the Stepmother.

Speaking over the summer, he said:

‘Marion is a terrific actress. The great thing about working with her is that when you give her a role she really thinks about it and brings a lot to it. She makes a lot of suggestions, which is great for me!

‘It should be a very interesting role, because I really want this woman to be monstrous. Not in an obvious “Carabosse” way, but in much more of a mean and calculated way. There’s an element of Betty Davis and Joan Crawford – or Mrs Danvers, Miss Faversham, those monstrous literary creations. She should be the absolute fairytale stepmother, who of course in those original stories is an immensely powerful force.’

The Four Seasons

David has confirmed that all of the design work on Cinderella has been completed. ‘I think the last designs were the ones for the Seasons,’ he says. ‘I haven’t actually seen complete finished designs for Spring or Winter, but I really don’t need to.

‘I spoke with John [Macfarlane, Designer] about them and we both know what the other is after.

‘Funnily enough, over the whole production, the hardest costume for him seems to have been the Spring costume. In theory it will be the simplest, just a little slip of a dress, but he puts so much thought into every one of his creations, and this one just seems to have come the hardest.’

David has also revealed who will be performing the roles of each of the four seasons, who visit Cinderella in the kitchen before she is magically whisked off to the Prince’s ball.

‘Momoko Hirata is Spring, Lei Zhao is Summer, Angela Paul is Autumn and Delia Mathews is Winter.

‘The character of each role is entirely within the steps. You have to establish the roles in a very short space of time – Momoko’s Spring variation is less than a minute, for example.’

David has already created choreography based upon the four seasons for previous works, but these new roles will not be influenced by what has gone before.

‘All of the versions that I’ve done in previous ballets have really been dictated by how each season has been characterised by the composer. The Verdi Four Seasons that I did has really very little to do with the seasons at all, other than Spring wears green, for example. It’s just a response to the music. Althoughy admittedly, there are appropriate qualities to each movement – so you’ve got a brilliance in winter and a langour in summer which would indicate snow and ice, and the hot sun respectively.

With the Prokofiev, there are similar elements. Spring is fast and joyous, and autumn is like leaves being blown around, a little bit menacing with a hint of rain. Summer is beautiful and languorous with flutes, and winter is pizzicato, like walking on ice.

I have been putting a lot of thought into why Prokofiev included the seasons at all – why are they in this story?

‘There’s a constant theme of time passing throughout the story of Cinderella – the imagery of the clock, or the transition from loneliness to joy. In our version, the seasons precede Cinderella going to the ball. And we liked the idea from the original scenario that this was the moment when Cinderella got dressed up into all her finery, and that the seasons all bring her appropriate gifts which become elements of what she wears. So it’s a bit like a little girl dressing up.

‘We’re still talking about the scene at the moment, as we’re still not entirely decided. But the idea is that summer will perhaps bring her flowers for her hair, and winter will bring a cloak of frosted leaves, and so on. All of these elements will then combine into the outfit that Cinderella wears for the ball.’

The role of the Prince in Cinderella is being created by Iain Mackay.

Born in Glasgow, Iain Mackay trained as a Junior Associate of Scottish Ballet, before joining the Dance School of Scotland. He spent two years at the Royal Ballet Upper School, and joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1999. He was promoted to Soloist in 2001 and Principal in 2003. Introducing Iain in the dancer’s official company biography, Director David Bintley praises Iain’s ability to ‘take on everything from classical princes to intense dramatic roles’, and that ‘he has become one of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s most valued and versatile artists.’

Iain has extensive experience in leading narrative roles, with his repertory including Prince Florimund (The Sleeping Beauty), The Prince (The Nutcracker), Romeo (Romeo and Juliet), Siegfried (Swan Lake) and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast). He has worked with David Bintley before, having created the role of Christian, the love rival to Cyrano.

Speaking more recently, David explained his choice of Iain as his leading man:

‘I chose Iain mainly because he’s just great to work with – on duets, especially. He’s a very good partner, and I know he works with Elisha very well. It’s no accident that I made Cyrano on them, and at that time the pair of them worked very effectively together and the duets came very easily.

‘Iain’s very open to new ideas; he doesn’t always fall into the same sort of patterns of movement. The Prince is not the most complicated character, psychologically, but I’m going to try to make it a little more interesting for him.’

You can see a video clip of Iain and Elisha rehearsing the roles that they created in Cyrano here:

Elisha Willis has been confirmed as creating the title role in David Bintley’s forthcoming new production of Cinderella.

Born in Australia, Elisha Willis trained at the Australian Ballet School, joining Australian Ballet in 1999 where she was promoted to Soloist in 2001. She joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2003 and following a succession of accomplished debuts in many leading roles was promoted to Principal in 2004.

Introducing Elisha in her official Company biography, David Bintley noted: ‘One of the youngest of our Principal dancers, Elisha is blessed with a fearless technique and has already created a number of important roles in the recent repertory, most notably Roxane in Cyrano and Eurydice in The Orpheus Suite.’

Speaking more recently of his decision, David said:

‘I always like working with Elisha. As a choreographer, I find her very good to work with. She’s very responsive and she understands what I want very quickly so when I’ve made a new piece of material I can see if it’s right immediately.

For the role of Cinderella I wanted somebody that wasn’t obviously vulnerable – too obviously delicate and weak – but somebody that would be real and able to withstand the kind of punishment that the character has had to endure. And Elisha’s quite tough, which is exactly what I wanted. Plus she has a very good technique, she can do anything and do it quickly.

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