The Grand Tour/ Faster/ The Dream, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Hippodrome | Dance reviews, news & interviews
The Grand Tour/ Faster/ The Dream, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Hippodrome
David Bintley loses the name battle but knocks the Olympics bullies into the park with an outstanding new ballet
Cafés, ballets, it’s all the same to the mighty petty bullyboys of the London Olympics, who have not only devised two of the most revolting mascots in Olympic history (the one-eyed slugs Wenlock and Mandeville) but also employed teams of apparatchiks in your name and mine to compel artists and small businesses not to infringe their entirely dubious copyright in the Olympic motto. David Bintley came out much the better of a last-minute squabble a fortnight ago about his new ballet’s name - he had to truncate it to Faster, from his original “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, so that LOCOG could keep every penny anyone might possibly want to make from Olympics associations, ancient and modern.
I suggest the Olympics crawl to Bintley fast and ask him to make his new ballet a big feature of their opening ceremony, expanded to arena size, because it’s a credit to a rather higher level of aspiration and imaginative collaboration than LOCOG appear capable of. This is a very good piece of work, fast, strong, theatrically clever and musically powerful, a smart use of athletics motifs in a balletic aesthetic, making riches of slender resources and a credit to British endeavour.
Faster fields dancers very fetchingly clothed in skin-tight sports outfits by the new young designer Becs Andrews, attractive takes on gymwear, swimwear, cycling bodysuits, basketball sweats and track athletes’ two-pieces, with a lot of long beautiful legs and washboard stomachs on view. It opens as the opening ceremony, athletes in ranks making the ancient salute to the crowds and the gods, while peremptory fanfares arrest our attention, and then Bintley breaks them into an intricate and richly woven carpet of top-speed movement. It has echoes of the multi-screen effects of American modern dance of Twyla Tharp and Merce Cunningham as your eye switches between groups of "athletes", but you keep spotting discreet motifs, the archer girls’ lovely bow-drawn ports de bras, the tae-kwondo’s kick becoming a swift ballet développé.
Teams suddenly break through the medley of individualists: the basketball boys bouncing and leaping, the synchro swim girls smoothly flowing. The impressive setting-out sharpens into a gorgeous trio for Ambra Vallo, Jamie Bond and William Bracewell, fusing with a delicate touch the elasticity and clarity of ballet into the outré physical marvels of gymnastics, the suspenseful lifts hanging in silence between blasts of horns. (There are shades there of the lovely Venus pas de trois lost in Bintley’s Planets ballet long ago.)
A slightly less magnetically devised duet comes amidships between male and female fighters, Iain Mackay and Elisha Willis, in which she is melodramatically “injured” and there's a dark night of the soul involving what may be physiotherapy and a shaky recovery (pictured left). This may well look better as the performers become braver in it. The finale floods the stage with runners, whose vim and mesmerisingly attractive bodies as revealed in their brief outfits makes a stunning sight.
It’s ballet, but it’s athletics too, and what makes it good art is that it is musical expression too - this is another confident step in the new renaissance of music-driven ballet, spearheaded by Bintley at BRB and by Mark Baldwin at Rambert. Bintley seems finally to be coming into a rich maturity in his talent for sheer balletic movement, more confident in recent years, working not with narratives (at which he's iffy) but with really exciting new scores. This one is again by the hugely impressive Matthew Hindson, the Australian composer who composed the music for Bintley’s 2010 ballet, e=mc2. What Hindson is doing with Bintley, as Julian Anderson and Gavin Higgins have done with Baldwin, is generating an exhilarating new revival of serious music in the dance theatre, fascinating for the audience and challenging to the dancers.
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