For dance fans, there’s the promise of some glittering Golden Week holiday reunions as David Bintley, long-time director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, returns here with that company for the first time since his four-year stint doubling up as artistic director of the National Ballet of Japan ended last June.
This time, he’s bringing two exciting productions — first, “Swan Lake,” a favorite of Tokyo audiences that ran April 25-27 at Bunka Kaikan, followed by the Japan premiere of the English choreographer’s version of “Cinderella,” being staged May 1-3 at the same venue.
As Bintley told The Japan Times recently, “We are genuinely excited to come to Japan. They are a young, vibrant company, and in particularly good form — we just played the Coliseum in London and had a big success there. I am thrilled to be showing the company off in Japan.”
BRB’s version of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” as revised by Peter Wright from Marius Petipa’s choreography, was first performed in 1981 — and in Tokyo last Saturday it fully lived up to its reputation for brilliance.
Unmarred by a change due to principal Jenna Roberts’ 11th-hour injury, a packed hall delighted in a wondrous production that revealed the incredible depth of this first-class company. Celine Gittens offered a stunningly controlled Odette/Odile — not so much a contrast of opposites as a melding of extremes: Odette charming with delicate beauty while Odile simmers with playfully contained passion, evoking Odette’s dignity.
The Royal Ballet’s Matthew Golding, originally slated to partner Roberts, delighted his fans by nonetheless dancing Act 1 before Tyrone Singleton took over as Prince Siegfried — his superb technique and understated dramatics perfectly complementing Gittens as the entire company shone in this lavish production.
After that glittering opening to the tour, next up is “Cinderella,” which has fans clamoring for a golden ticket and the chance to see a Bintley original.
Described by The Guardian as “a production of real emotional resonance” after it premiered in London in November 2010, this is a work of which its creator admits to being “particularly fond.”
As he explained, “Right from the word go, I was concerned with making Cinderella’s character authentic. I looked at many other productions, and in a lot of them she’s like a princess-in-waiting.
“However, I really wanted to stress that this was a girl whose mother has died, and in my production, her father also has died. So she is completely alone in this horrible family without love. Then the Fairy Godmother is a sort of mother figure who leads her to the Prince, and with him she finds love.”
While admitting this work has been called “dark,” Bintley explained, “I wanted to do that so the joy you felt when Cinderella did find love was genuine and not just a kind of ballet-generated happiness.”
The production showcases a choreographer at ease with his talents and an expert on his company; it garnered Bintley the 2011 Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for Best Classical Choreography, and was repeatedly televised by the BBC.
Now, with designs by John Macfarlane and music by Sergei Prokofiev, many of the original cast are taking the stage in Tokyo, including principals Elisha Willis as Cinderella, Iain Mackay as the Prince, and BRB ballet mistress Marion Tait as the wicked Stepmother.
Although grotesque humor cascades on-stage with the farcical step-sisters, Skinny and Dumpy, character reigns supreme again with Cinderella’s nemesis, Tait’s Stepmother. Bintley calls her “pure evil,” and Tait credits him with allowing her creative freedom in the role — while noting a key point of advice he gave her: “He told me she would have no need to shout to make her feelings felt — a simple cutting glance would be enough to completely destroy Cinderella’s soul.”
Even the Prince, usually an emotionally static role, is given depth, as Mackay explained, “In Bintley’s production, I also try to make the Prince slightly more modern in his interaction with the people around — especially in the Ball in Act 2. I like to feel he is not there solely to be on show, but also to enjoy himself in the hope he meets his true love.
“But I always try to bring something new to every performance. That’s the beauty of live theater — to try different things.”
Meanwhile, with so short a run in Tokyo before the clock ticks down to midnight, Bintley — who also has old friendships to renew —said, “I still miss the National Ballet company here in this city I know and love.
“I imagine many of the dancers will come to see the BRB shows, but I will also drop in on them in the studio.”
“Cinderella” runs May 1-3 at Tokyo’s Bunka Kaikan in Ueno. For details, visit www.nbs.or.jp (in Japanese or English).
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