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The Shakespeare Suite
The success of earlier work The Nutcracker Sweeties, to Ellington's treatment of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet score, prompted Bintley to revisit the the jazz icon's musical treasure chest. With its strong dramatic possibilities, the Ellington-Strayhorn foray into Shakespeare, 'Such Sweet Thunder', was an obvious choice, which Bintley has retitled The Shakespeare Suite. Inspiration for this work came from a very specific source, the Shakespearean Festival in Stratford, Ontario. Ellington and Strayhorn began the project following an appearance there in 1956; the Ellington band performed it in Stratford the next year.
For his ballet, Bintley has taken greater imaginative liberties with Ellington's interpretations than he did in The Nutcracker Sweeties. 'Such Sweet Thunder' contains 12 portraits; Bintley has reduced these to seven and added three other pieces from Ellington's output. In addition, the characters that Ellington and Strayhorn envisioned as subjects have occasionally been supplanted by others.
However, the ballet begins as the original score does, with 'Such Sweet Thunder', which serves as an overture. Though Ellington said it represents 'the sweet and swinging, very convincing story' by which Othello won Desdemona's hand, it can also express musical communication, with the brass emoting in plunger mutes. 'Up and Down, Up and Down' comes next, which Ellington, following Shakespeare, associated with the romantic confusion of A Midsummer Night's Dream; but Bintley uses the music to depict the squabbles of Petruchio and Kate in The Taming of the Shrew.
'The Telecasters' sets the scene for another ill-assorted courtship, when Richard III boldly woos Lady Anne after causing the death of her husband and father-in-law. Macbeth appears to the strains of 'Tymperturbably Blue', a percussion feature Ellington wrote in 1959. His Liberian Suite dates from 1947, and Bintley has borrowed its 'Dance No.2' to accompany the unlikely couple of Titania and Bottom (in his role as ass) from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
One of Ellington's earliest masterpieces, 'Black and Tan Fantasy', accompanies the tragic union of Othello and Desdemona. For the ill-fated liaison of Romeo and Juliet, Bintley uses the lovely melody Billy Strayhorn intended for them, 'Star-Crossed Lovers'. 'Madness in Great Ones' is an Ellingtonian tour de force, evoking Hamlet's feigned insanity with fractured rhythms and a stratospheric trumpet that ultimately soars from view. 'Half the Fun' supplies a rich finale; for Ellington it conjured up the romantic world of Antony and Cleopatra. And the cast bids a swinging farewell with 'Circle of Fourths', which, according to Ellington, refers to Shakespeare's fourfold achievement in tragedy, history, comedy and poetry.
Bintley's Shakespeare Suite was created as an appropriately swinging centenary tribute to Duke Ellington himself, embodying the wit, imagination and joy that marked everything he did - and the spirit of the dance from which he drew lifelong inspiration.
Click here for all BRB performances of this ballet currently on sale.
BRB Friends' Co-ordinator
'The first time we did this I thought it was just brilliant, and I loved it. There are lots of couples, but it really centres upon the heroines of the Shakespearan plays. Apart from Hamlet, all the men are kind of in the background a little, and it really shows you how powerful all of the women were in Shakespeare's mind. They're all different, but they go through all the emotions and traumas that life throws your way. And the pas de deux are really strong, and the costumes are fab and the music is astonishing, and to see and to hear it in that way; to tell the story of each of those characters through a jazz dance piece... I just really enjoyed it.'
BRB's Head of Scenic Presentation
'This is one of my favourites just because of the strength of all of the different characters in the piece. There's a particularly lovely pas de deux with Romeo and Juliet, and I'm especially looking forward to seeing the new dancers who have joined since we last performed it.
Click on the names for individual biographies
Music Duke Ellington
Choreography David Bintley
Sets and lighting Steve Scott
Costumes Jasper Conran
Supported (1999) by The Patrick Trust, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign
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