William Bracewell as The Roi Soleil, the Sun King, Pictures: Bill Cooper.

The King Dances/Carmina Burana

Birmingham Hippodrome


DAVID Bintley has marked his two decades as director of Birmingham Royal Ballet with a spectacle, an event as much as a new ballet, a world premiere full of drama, colour, dark, shade and life.

The King Dances might not be ballet as we have come to know it but it would certainly be recognisable, if a little moderne, to theIain Mackay 17th century court of Louis XIV.

The steps, the dress and Stephen Montague’s music all echoed the era of the dawn of ballet as it emerged as court entertainment in Paris in the late 1500s.

Bintley’s piece is based on Jean-Baptiste Lully's Le Ballet de la Nuit from 1653 when Louis XIV made his court debut at the age of 14 as Apollo, the sun god, earning the young ruler the sobriquet of The Sun King.

Iain Mackay as Le Diable, the Devil, summoning up demons in the dead of night

The ballet ran for 12 hours;  mercifully Bintley has dispensed with that element of authenticity, managing to get his message across in a little over four per cent of that, half an hour, but he still breaks the ballet down into four quarters, the first, second, third and fourth watches, which would have lasted three hours each from when the original ballet started at six pm. If nothing else 17th century court audiences, and dancers, had stamina.

We open with eight flaming torches as the sun disappears and night approaches in the shape of Iain Mackay as La Nuit. Mackay is back to his best after his crippling injury 18 months ago and makes the role look easy as he does with the more sinister Le Diable in the darkest hours of night, the witching hours after midnight when demons abound.

Between night and the devil enters Le Roi, danced by rising star William Bracewell, when we have a quite lovely, gentle pas de deux between the king and Selene, la Lune, danced delicately by Yijing Zhang.

After the lovers and then the demons comes the finale as night gives way to day and through a huge, golden orb enters the Sun God, announced in great ceremony by Cardinal Mazarin, danced by Mackay again. The light has returned with the dawn and Le Roi-Soleil has arrived.

Katrina Lindsay’s design is dark and sombre, as a royal palace would be in a 17th century lit by candles and burning torches, while Peter Mumford’s lighting accentuates that feel of a sumptuous royal residence at night, breaking into glorious light as the king enters as the sun.

The second part of this double bill is Bintley’s first ballet for BRB from 1995, Carmina burana, based on Carl Orff’s dramatic score opening with Céline Gittens as a cflamesommanding and powerful Fortuna.

The piece is based on satirical mediaeval poems which warn of the dangers of lust, gluttony, drinking to excess and the fickleness f fate and there is plenty of fun in the piece including almost a homage to Monty Python’s Mr Creosote as five enormously obese gluttons are set to eat a rather lively roast swan danced by Daria Stanciulescu while Mathias Dingman as Boiling Rage tries to save her. 

Lighting the way as day turns into night and the ballet begins

We had Naïve Boy Jamie Bond, who runs the gauntlet of washing lines and pregnant women before falling for Lover Girl Elisha Willis but the real passion comes when Tyrone Singleton, a man of the cloth, rejects his calling and strips to his underpants in the court of love where he dances a beautiful, slow and sensuous pas de deux with Gittens only to find fortune is a hard mistress and Fortuna returns alone for Orff’s dramatic finale.

There is plenty of humour in the piece and a huge cast as well as Birmingham Ex Cathedra choir with Katie Trethewey, soprano, Jeremy Budd, tenor and Grant Doyle, baritone.

The evening celebrating Bintley’s 20 years as director also saw two conductors for the always impressive Royal Ballet Sinfonia with Paul Murphy conducting The King Dances and Koen Kessels Carmina burana. Two very different ballets in two different styles, twenty years and perhaps three ahdna half centuries apart, and with not a tutu in sight.

Roger Clarke

The King Dances and Carina Burana runs to Saturday, 20 June BOOK

Sylvia runs from Wednesday, 24 June to Saturday 27, June. BOOK




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