David Bintley, Birmingham Royal Ballet's Artistic Director, has been left niggled by the International Olympic Committee. Fionnuala Bourke reports.
HE’S the director of one of the most prestigious dance companies in the world and choreographed a host of exhilarating ballets which have won acclaim across the globe.
Yet Birmingham Royal Ballet Artistic Director David Bintley has told how his latest work was given the cold shoulder by the International Olympic Committee – and treated like gift shop tat.
Inspired by the London 2012 Games and Cultural Olympiad, Mr Bintley’s new creation focused on parallels between the strength and agility of sportsmen and women and dancers.
It was originally named after the Olympic Games proud motto: Faster Higher Stronger.
But as soon as the International Olympic Committee, the body with the supreme authority of the Olympic Movement, heard about his plans they ordered him to change the name.
They did, however, award the work, which will be premiered at Birmingham Hippodrome on June 27, one of the 2,700 Inspire marks granted to projects across the country dedicated to using the Games to make “a real and lasting change”.
Mr Bintley said: “Faster is inspired by the Olympic motto, Faster, Higher, Stronger.
“My ballet originally had the full motto as its title, but the IOC said we couldn’t use it. We applied for the Inspire Mark, which they begrudgingly gave us. But they also said that we had to change the title.
“I was pretty peed off quite honestly. It was absurd. The rules surrounding it seem to be quite nonsensical. They are handled with an across the board clumsiness.
“You’re lumped in alongside gift shops and people who want to trade off the movement, who set out to make economic gains from everything they make.
“Yet this is a serious work of art, inspired by the Olympic ideals.
“They are not very subtle about how they handle that. Especially this year when we are talking about the Cultural Olympiad and being part of the whole circus, yet they don’t make it easy.
“We had a bit of a backwards and forwards dialogue. It comes from the top. I think it comes from the top, the IOC themselves, the governing body.”
The ban comes as the London 2012 organisers have been criticised for cheapening the Olympic torch procession through Britain by allowing the likes of Jedward and Voice judge Will.I.Am to carry the flame.
There has also been concern about the level of corporate sponsorship, with executives and staff from some of the major sponsors also given permission to carry the torch, including some shipped in from the USA.
The sale of Olympic torches on internet auction site ebay also whipped up a storm of controversy, forcing Games chiefs to crack down on sellers.
Mr Bintley took over the directorship of Birmingham Royal Ballet 17 years ago from Sir Peter Wright, who had seen the company move from its previous home in Sadlers Wells London.
Sir Peter became known for interpreting classical ballets for the company, including The Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia and Swan Lake.
His most successful production is The Nutcracker, which he dedicated to the city of Birmingham, his company’s new home in 1984.
On his arrival at BRB, Mr Bintley, awarded a CBE for services to the arts in 2001, set about building on his success in attracting regular Midland audiences and diversifying the company’s repertoire to include more experimental ballets.
He said: “Sir Peter had been very instrumental in building the core audience. He was very experienced. His great gift was in terms of the classics.
“My mission was to start being creative using very safe footing that Peter had given us. To persuade the audience that just because it’s new, it’s not entertaining. That’s very much the ethos of the company a mixture of old and new, forward looking and our heritage.”
As well as being BRB’s artistic director, Mr Bintley is also the co-artistic director of the New National Theatre Tokyo ballet company and spends three months a year in Japan.
BRB tours around the world extensively and has been credited with a great ambassador for Birmingham, aiding cultural and business links for the city around the world.
Co-productions between Birmingham and Tokyo has also saved BRB costs.
The company is currently looking to co-produce their Aladdin show with Houston ballet in Texas.
Mr Bintley said: “In Japan the name of BRB is extremely well known now. We do a lot of repertory sharing. This is good for BRB. Japan hire things from us. It puts it on the map.
“People come over here on business exchanges and vice versa we will start that happening now with Houston when Aladdin goes on next spring.”
Since moving to Birmingham from London, BRB has also done a lot of work in the community, educating people about dance and inspiring them to become creative.
This included a collaboration with local councils and TV to produce the Ballet Hoo! programme to help youngsters from all different backgrounds to train to become ballet dancers.
Mr Bintley said: “The company is not just here to put on shows. We are also here to help in the community, with education in mainstream schools and special needs schools.
“We’ve also done work with young offenders.
“The Ballet Hoo! series was a massive, possibly the biggest education project in dance in this country. We’ve also link up with schools in Chicago. it’s all very much from Birmingham going outwards.”
Originally from Huddersfield, Mr Bintley moved to London to become a dancer and trained at the Royal Ballet School in Covent Garden.
He saw the dancing of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell. Even more importantly, he saw Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan making some of their masterworks for a superb company, fine-tuned to perform their creations. But since moving to Birmingham 17 years ago, aged 37, he has taken the city to his heart.
He lives in Edgbaston with his wife Jenny, a former dancer, and the youngest of their two sons. His elder son works in a university.
An avid Aston Villa fan, he recently welcomed former Villa star Dion Dublin, who is in turn is a ballet fan, to the BRB board of directors.
* Birmingham Royal Ballet - Summer Celebration, is at Birmingham Hippodrome from June 27-30. For tickets, call the Box Office on 0844 338 5000.