As Birmingham Royal Ballet hits 20, director David Bintley is looking to the future, writes Diane Parkes.
It was 1990 when the then Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet made the move to Birmingham’s Hippodrome Theatre, changing its name and in many ways its identity in one step.
That decision has helped put BRB firmly on the map, says David Bintley who became artistic director in 1995 and gained a CBE in 2001.
“It gave us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves.
‘‘We had our own city and our own identity, rather than being just another company from London.
“It gave us a resident stage which really was physically big enough and grand enough for the kinds of productions we wanted to do.
“And we benefited from the support that was provided in Birmingham – support that the city has continued to give us during the past 20 years.
“It made us an important part of the cultural life of this city not only in terms of performances but also in terms of our involvement in community projects, education work and audience development. We take that name of Birmingham Royal Ballet very seriously and we are very aware of our role in the life of the city.”
As an ambassador for the city, BRB has taken the name of Birmingham not only across the UK with tours in a number of cities from Plymouth to York but also abroad with tours in Hong Kong, China, Japan, South Africa and the United States of America.
And the company will be waving the Birmingham flag when they perform Swan Lake at the Virginia Arts Festival this May.
The move from London to Birmingham could also be said to have kick-started a dance revolution in the city, with the Hippodrome now recognised as a national centre for dance.
‘‘Last month the city hosted the prestigious British Dance Edition conference and this spring sees the second International Dance Festival Birmingham with nearly 20 countries represented and productions staged across the city.
“I am not sure that was part of the city’s plan when we moved to Birmingham but it has certainly been part of the process,” admits David.
“Over the last 20 years we have seen Birmingham really develop as a dance centre and I think it would be fair to say that we now have the biggest UK dance scene outside of London.”
Which is why BRB is also closely involved in the city’s bid for the first UK City of Culture 2013.
‘‘With Birmingham in the final four along with Sheffield, Norwich and Derry, the announcement is due to be made this summer.
“It is all part and parcel of the push for Birmingham,” says David.
“While we are aware of the level of culture in the city it is important for it to be recognised elsewhere in the country. It is part of helping to raise the profile of the city and giving it maximum exposure.
“We have a history of being disappointed in these bids even when Birmingham has clearly been a forerunner, so we are hoping this time to be successful.”
The 20-year celebrations saw a series of galas this week and will culminate at Christmas when the city premieres the full length ballet of Cinderella.
Choreographed by David to music by Sergei Prokofiev and with designs by John Macfarlane, the new ballet is a birthday present for all and harks back to the BRB classic The Nutcracker, which was gifted to the city by former BRB director Sir Peter Wright in 1990 and has been a firm favourite ever since.
“We had it in our minds that Cinderella was a ballet we wanted in our repertoire but we didn’t know which version to take,” says David.
“In the end our chief executive, Christopher Barron, said ‘How about I do it?’. When I knew John Macfarlane was prepared to design it, that made my mind up for me.
“Then when I listened to the music I got really excited and thought I had something to say. In fact I have already done about half an hour of it.”
This year also sees David take on a new mantle as the artistic director of the New National Theatre Ballet Company in Tokyo, offering the possibility for exchanges with BRB.
“This first season will see a production of Carmina Burana in Japan and we have two dancers from BRB, Robert Parker and Victoria Marr, taking part in that.
We will also be staging Gallanteries. Other works include Romeo and Juliet, The Firebird and Still Life at the Penguin Cafe. We will also be looking at the possibility of production-sharing as that is increasingly the way for companies to work together.”
David has already created the full length ballet Aladdin for the Tokyo ballet company but so far it has proved too large-scale a production to bring to the UK. But he is hoping that situation will also change in the near future.
“Because the theatre in Japan is so large the sets are just too big to bring over here, but Birmingham Royal Ballet are now pursuing a co-production with a company in America to create a smaller set,” David says.
“That would probably be 2012-13. And we have some ambitious ideas around the 2012 Olympics. We would look to involve some of our dancers in choreography for that.
“This anniversary year is a very exciting for us and the important thing is that we then carry on that momentum.
“We don’t want to come to next year and just think now we are 21 we don’t need to do anything to keep it going.
‘‘We need to keep it going with lots of exciting plans for 2011, 2012 and so on.”