Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Ignite Shows a Promising Legacy for Dance

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Fire & Fury: The King Dances/Ignite: Dancers of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet Sinfonia / Jonathan Lo (The King Dances) and Martin Georgiev (Ignite) (conductors), Sadler’s Wells, London, 31.10.2018. (JO’D)

Delia Mathews (River) and Dancers of BRB in Ignite (c) Andrew Ross

The King Dances

Dancers: Yasuo Atsuji, Lachlan Monaghan, Yvette Knight and Soloists and Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet

Choreography – David Bintley
Music – Stephen Montague
Designs – Katrina Lindsay
Lighting – Peter Mumford


Dancers – Mathias Dingman, Delia Mathews, Céline Gittens, Brandon Lawrence, Max Maslen, Miki Mizutani, Tzu-Chao Chou and Soloists and Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet

Choreography – Juanjo Arqués
Music – Kate Whitley
Dramaturg and Libretto – Fabienne Vegt
Designs – Tatyana van Walsum
Lighting – Bert Dalhuysen

The past and the future of the ballet are present on the stage during this double-bill. David Bintley’s The King Dances (2015) looks back to the figure of Louis XIV, ‘the grandfather of all Ballet’. Juanjo Arqués’s Ignite (2018) is the second work in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘Ballet Now’ programme, launched last October to commission ten new works by ten new choreographers.

With its darkness and its flambeaux and its scene of male rape, The King Dances, ‘freely based’ on Le Ballet de la nuit (1653), is an unrelievedly gloomy thirty minutes or so of courtly dance. In 2015, the gloom was illuminated by William Bracewell’s beautiful arabesque. As a physically stronger dancer, Lachlan Monaghan’s Louis XIV is more earthbound, more robust. This could be said to heighten the character’s psychological vulnerability in his duets with the controlling First Minister, Cardinal Mazarin. And Yasuo Atsuji, in contrast, is a slighter, more androgynous Mazarin than Tyrone Singleton in the role.

Stephen Montague’s music creates suspense like the Bernard Herrmann score to a Hitchcock film, but the rape scene has been made less explicit and the climax of the ballet is fudged. Louis’s appearance as The Sun King in the final scene has less effect than it had three years ago. For all that David Bintley brought to this ballet (about ballet, about Louis XIV as a Christ-figure), its outstanding feature this year is the carriage of head and arms and Mona Lisa smile of Tim Dutson as a court Monsieur.

It is not necessary to know that Ignite is a ‘choreographic unfolding’ of Turner’s painting The Burning of The Houses of Lords and Commons to find it an impressive piece of dance. It is not necessary to know that Mathias Dingman is Sky, Delia Mathews River, Céline Gittens and Brandon Lawrence Fire. Even before Max Maslen, Miki Mizutani and Tzu-Chao Chou run on to the stage in grey body suits and flowing yellow shirts, as Ignition, designer Tatyana van Walsum’s set of grey floor and mirrored panels suggests an overall confidence of artistic vision.

Choreographer Juanjo Arqués works the history of movement that principal dancers carry in their bodies, contrasting solos for Dingman and Mathews with ensembles for the younger and less experienced dancers. He understands the power of stillness. Delia Mathews stands at the front of the stage with her back to the audience. As River, she passively watches the conflagration. As a dancer, she is the spectator of other women in dance: those who drift by as water; those who are brought on in a dramatic presage like Tatiana in John Cranko’s Onegin. Céline Gittens returns Mathew’s gaze with a defiant stare of her own as she rises en pointe in plié a la seconde.

BRB’s ‘Ballet Now’ programme opened with George Williamson’s Embrace in June of this year. In its intelligence and craft, and in Kate Whitley’s music, Ignite confirms that when David Bintley steps down as Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Director in July 2019, a post he has held for twenty-four years, he will leave a promising legacy for dance.

John O’Dwyer

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