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David Bintley, Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, last programmed a mixed bill of his own jazz ballets back at the beginning of the 2004-05 season. Entitled 'Such Sweet Thunder' it consisted of The Shakespeare Suite, The Nutcracker Sweeties and The Orpheus Suite, the latter making its debut for those performances. But watching all three pieces together on the same bill, David had misgivings. 'When I saw it, I realised it was too high powered', he remembers. 'So I thought I’ve got to streamline it, to give more of a contrast.'
Take Five is his solution, here replacing The Nutcracker Sweeties. A new work, to Dave Brubeck’s well-known score, David began initial rehearsals in spring 2007, before the Company had even finished its first tour of his new production of Cyrano. When asked about moving straight from one piece to another, he smiles; 'I like doing that, because when you do a big piece that's taken you so long, you get almost a form of post-natal blues: you feel a bit bereft for a while, even when it's still being performed. So it's good to do something different. This uses a completely different language, I've only got ten dancers, there’s no props - there’s nothing but the music'.
The music itself helps to provide the first of the programme's contrasts; a work of understated simplicity in comparison with The Orpheus Suite's dramatic percussiveness and The Shakespeare Suite's big band vignettes and vibrant immediacy. 'The Brubeck is very clean' explains David. 'It's very classical, because Brubeck studied under Milhaud, who was a classical composer. It's very elegant, it's very cool, and the excitement in it is much more delicate - very different from the other two.'
Music for the other two pieces will be provided by a live jazz orchestra - Colin Town's Mask Orchestra, who last played with BRB for 'Such Sweet Thunder' (after Towns composed the score to The Orpheus Suite). Take Five, however, is far more minimal. 'It'll just be a quartet,' reveals David. 'Colin's getting them together, so it will probably be players who have been involved before, and it'll be players who play in the band for the other pieces in the jazz triple bill.'
So where does David's passion for jazz stem from?
'My Dad was always in a band when I was growing up', he explains. 'He played in a jazz band in the army, then he came out and he started his own, and they just used to rehearse in our front room. So that's when I heard this music, and on top of that my dad had loads of jazz records that he used to play. And Brubeck was one, and Ellington was another.'
Moving from the past to the future, however, he seems satisfied he has achieved what he set out to. 'Now I've done this programme of works together, I probably won't do any more jazz', he ponders, before adding 'at least not for a long time. I’ve specifically been trying to build this programme up, to make it almost like a full-length jazz programme with all the variety of one big ballet.'
If so, considering The Shakespeare Suite's 1999 debut, it'll be a creative process that has spanned almost a decade, and on the strength of previous jazz performances by BRB, should be well worth the wait.
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BRB Ballet Mistress
Now this I'm very interested to see! David did a piece called Take Five years and years and years ago using Lynne Seymour and four men, and I remember it vividly; Lynne Seymour did it and June Highwood did it – tall girls – and I was always madly jealous. I always wanted to do it, and I'd go home and I'd do the steps in the mirror because I loved it so much. When I heard he was doing a new version I was going to say to David; 'Is that section going to be the same as before, because if you can't remember it then I can!' It may be something totally, totally different this time, but I shall be very interested to see it!'
BRB New Media Officer
'I always look forward to seeing the new jazz pieces we do. I remember when I first saw The Shakespeare Suite and there was that extra snap that a drum break added to a dancers' motions and I loved it - brilliant. The tune to Take Five is quite slinky though; it's got the rhythm but it's led by that clean lead saxophone that slides around all over the place. It's really well known too, so I'll be interested to see what new elements the dance brings to something so familiar to so many.
Click on the names for individual biographies
Music Dave Brubeck
Choreography David Bintley
Designs Jean-Marc Puissant
Lighting Peter Mumford
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