He could have landed the biggest jobs in opera, but David Bintley has stayed in Birmingham for 21 years.
An avid Villa fan, he loves the city and loves how embedded the Birmingham Royal Ballet is in the cultural landscape. Better offers may well have been made, but Bintley is a proud, honorary Brummie.
The former dancer who graduated to become artistic director of BRB – and who received a CBE for his services to dance in the Queen’s 2001 Honours – has been working hard on his latest project, a production of The Tempest, which runs at the city’s Hippodrome from October 1 to 8.
It will conclude BRB’s 2016 Shakespeare season and was created with composer Sally Beammish, designer Rae Smith (War Horse) and lighting technician Bruno Poet (Miss Saigon).
“I’ve been thinking about doing The Tempest for more than 30 years,” confirms David. “I was really waiting for the right composer to come along. Four years ago I heard the music of Sally Beamish and that was it. Within a week we were in touch.
“I’m particularly pleased because it’s the first time a female composer has written a full-length ballet and I think it’s great. It’s absolutely terrific. I started choreographing it last August and now there’s a big push. It’s full steam ahead.”
Fans have an extra incentive to attend the opening night – The Tempest will receive its world premiere on October 1. Bintley will conjure Prospero’s magical isle from Shakespeare’s late masterpiece into a spellbinding new work of ballet theatre.
The Tempest is a powerful story of a man determined to right past wrongs by all means in his power. The creative collaboration with Beamish, Smith and Poet intertwines themes of love, loyalty, and loss, punctuated by a comic duo, more than one dastardly conspiracy and a spectacular danced masque featuring gods and spirits.
“I am particularly excited about working with composers,” Bintley adds. “I’ve been doing that since I was really young, since 1983. It’s really thrilling. Rather than just taking music off the CD shelf, working with a living composer is more exciting.
“We sort of took two years to write the music. Sally wrote it but I was consulted every step of the way, I was making suggestions as to length times or where there should be pauses so that we could introduce comedy.
“In terms of design we had Rae Smith, who is another lady, and whose most famous show was War Horse. She created wonderful designs rich in fantasy. I know I thought about this 30 years ago but sometimes you just have to wait that long. You have a very vague idea initially and that becomes more and more refined until the day you walk in the studio.”
Bintley is proud of his work with BRB and has been thrilled by its progress. He remains excited about its future and is delighted that it is internationally-renowned.
“I celebrated 20 years last year of being with the company and it doesn’t seem like two decades. It’s been such a thrill being here and seeing the company grow, seeing the quality improve and watching the reputation improve.
“It’s great being here, there’s room to breathe. Ballet is an art form that in some quarters is considered elitest and out of reach. But in Birmingham, it’s just another part of the city. We are about more than just putting on a show. There’s education work and connections with business and other arts. We’re part of the cultural landscape. That to me is fantastic.
“A company like this is continually evolving. We have more than 100 artists in terms of dancers and musicians and that’s to say nothing of the admin and back-up. It’s a big institution but it feels like a family.”
Bintley’s work spans many genres. He’s been responsible for huge, populist masterworks like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast as well as cutting edge, contemporary dance.
“Personally, I like the range,” he adds. “I don’t want to get trapped in one kind of piece. I like everything. But the thing I enjoy most is working with composers and making new things.
“It was wonderful to receive the CBE. It was recognition of the work I’ve done with everybody. It’s never one person, it’s always about the team. I just love being in this position and being able to develop other people’s careers.”
For a while, Bintley combined his BRB job with a similar role in Tokyo. It didn’t last. “I gave that up a couple of years ago. I did four years as artistic director and two years prior to that.
“I loved it. I love Japan. It was enormously eye-opening to direct two companies, particularly as I was doing the same thing at opposite ends of the world against the backdrop of such different cultural backgrounds.
“I gave it up because for six years I lived in jetlag land. In the end that was enough. I made six trips a year and it was a killer.”
He has big plans after The Tempest. “We have the usual excitements of the year with The Nutcracker coming back at Christmas. Then on the far horizon, we have a very exciting project surrounding what I would call new choreography. That’s something that will be announced in the autumn.”
Those exciting projects will be a continuation of Bintley’s marvellous work at BRB. He has enjoyed a stellar career, choreographing more full-length ballets than 20th century heavyweights Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth Macmillan.
“It’s peculiar how that shift has occurred. The advent of a new full-length ballet used to be such a major event: from Cinderella in the late 40s, through Sylvia and Ondine in the 50s and then Romeo and Juliet in the 60s.
“But now you have a company like Northern Ballet that can only perform full-length narrative work and does it very successfully with a great and loyal audience. And to do that you need to keep making full-length ballets, every year.”
By Andy Richardson