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Beauty and the Beast

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The Firebird
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Serenade
Enigma Variations
'Still Life' at the Penguin Café

The Two Pigeons
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The Dream

David Bintley on the 2008-09 season


Part four: spring (continued)


part one | part two | part three | part four | part five | part six

'Still Life' at the Penguin Café forms part of the programme Pomp and Circumstances, alongside George Balanchine's Serenade and Ashton's Enigma Variations.

'This set of pieces doesn't have any particular links or themes, I just think it's a really good programme,' he explains. 'If I could take two choreographers to a desert island to chat with, it would be those two, it would be George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton, you just don't get better than that.'

David pays tribute to the two choreographers for much of the second half of the year, having carefully selected a series of his favourite works. As he talks about the pieces there is a genuine sense of anticipation and excitement.

'Serenade is an exquisite ballet,' he enthuses. 'You can say that it hints at death and love and things like that, but that was always in the Tchaikovsky music, and was always exactly what he intended. It's hard to say more without actually saying less, you have to just go and watch it. It's certainly one of my all-time favourite Balanchine pieces.'

If you've not seen Balanchine's work before, David can't recommend it enough. 'Don't be hankering for characters and scenery and costumes, that's not the point,' he explains. 'Somebody said something great about Balanchine, which is that he makes music visible, and I would say that that was what he was trying to do for most of his career. That was his forte and no-one, no-one's ever touched him for that.'

The other ballet in this programme, Enigma Variations, receives equal praise from Birmingham Royal Ballet's Director. 'I've been highly influenced by Sir Fred,' says David. 'Probably him and Balanchine more than anybody. I like Balanchine's energy, his expansiveness, whereas Fred's work was expansive, but in a much smaller framework. He didn't tend to eat up the space or make huge gestures as much as Balanchine does, but you've got this exquisite sense of sensibility. There's a sense of perfection in many of his works.'

Enigma Variations is set to the Elgar music of the same name; a piece which portrays the different personalities of the composer's closest friends. The ballet simply presents each of these individuals, illustrating the different characters inherent in the music.

'I don't imagine that there was any single moment when all of those friends were together,' ponders David, 'but you do get an amazing sense of stiff-upper-lip British companionship. You feel like you're in that world of repressed, buttoned down emotion, but really powerful emotion and friendship, and you have to say: that Britishness!

'I remember the first time I saw it. They showed it on television one Easter and I was staying in Bristol in a hotel and it was Good Friday. We had had the day off and I remember sitting and watching with tears coursing down my face, at this piece which I had never seen before, and I remember just thinking it was a great, great ballet.'

Click here to read the fifth part of this interview
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