Edward II notes
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Music John McCabe
Choreographer David Bintley
Design Peter J. Davidson
Costume Jasper Conran
Lighting Peter Mumford
The return of Edward II
David Bintley first created Edward II for Stuttgart Ballet in 1995, while working as a choreographer for a series of international dance companies.
'I had been asked to do a piece in Munich,' he says, 'and I offered it to them, but they said "why should we do a piece in Germany about an English king?" But Stuttgart were great, and they knew that if somebody wanted to do something, then that's what they should do.'
With their support, David created one of his most celebrated works, one which he restaged on Birmingham Royal Ballet shortly after being appointed Director of the UK Company.
'When I first brought it to England, I made a few changes.' he explains. 'It had been slightly difficult working with Stuttgart, because while they were great, they could be very undisciplined and I had run out of time. Edward II has a very complicated score, and you've got to count all sorts of things, and I don't think they were very used to that. So when I got it to England for the first time it was great because I was able to really change the things I didn't like and tighten other things up. As a result that production was really terrific and when I returned to Stuttgart that's the version I took back.'
Since then David has been much happier with the ballet, making few changes over the past decade since BRB first danced the piece. 'This time around it'll be more or less the same version, but I always tinker a little bit with things as far as I think is necessary. There are a couple of areas - a couple of pas de deux - where I want to have another go, so we'll see when rehearsals start in the autumn.'
At the time of writing, the dancers are on their summer break - a five-week long rest from performances, class and rehearsals when many of them return to homes around the globe to see family and friends. But David has already begun his own preparations for the work. 'At the moment I more or less already know who'll be playing who,' he states thoughtfully. 'Whenever I think about bringing something like this back I think, "now, who have we got that can do that?" I wouldn't programme it if I didn't think we could do it.'
So it was not taken for granted that the Company could perform the ballet?
'It is a challenge,' states David, simply. 'It's a big piece for the men but big for the girl who plays Isabella as well. She's got a lot of duets, and she's got a massive solo in the second act that is a real killer.' Of the demands of the choreography, he explains. 'There's a very big dance in the first act which is the English civil war, and it's a huge men's dance, and in the second act there is a parallel movement. John McCabe, the composer, had said to me: 'I have to write this second big piece to balance out the score', and he wrote this invasion piece, when the French invade England. And it's a really nice number but I just didn't know what to do with it. And I got quite close to choreographing and I still hadn't thought of anything.'
Pausing for a moment, he elaborates: 'The opening of Carmina burana, which I did shortly after Edward II, was just the same. I remember thinking when I did that: 'how do you do something with that music, that music which is so well known and so big and so massive?' So I looked at it the other way and thought 'what is just the last thing that you would expect to see?'
'And the answer I came up with for that was: 'A girl's solo. In high heels. With a blindfold on!' - I just kind of piled it all on, and did the same sort of thing in Edward II. Basically the whole invasion of France is just one big girl's solo. Only it couldn't quite be - because the dancer would just die! - so every now and then I take her off and someone else fills in and then she just comes flying back on. And at the end she comes on with the biggest steps last, so the last manège is just massive.'
Has such formidable choreography ever proved too taxing? 'It's really been too much for some of the girls who have done it', he concedes with a slow nod. 'But while it'll be a massive challenge for them, I think that the girls who'll be doing it this time round will be really good in it.'
So ten years after the Company first staged the hugely successful ballet, and with a very different set of dancers since the last performances in 1999 - and with rehearsals not even begun yet - he's not worried the ballet won't live up to it's reputation? 'We're going to have some really good casts overall, I really think so', he nods confidently, 'and I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be good to see Edward back.'
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