David Bintley brings works of vivacity and joy to British dance
A white track shoe shot into the air as young British choreographer David Bintley demonstrated, in a tiny dressing room backstage at the Royal Opera House , the opening steps of his new ballet, ''Consort Lessons.''
The work is a forceful one-act ballet commissioned by the Royal Ballet Company and set to the music of Stravinsky's ''Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments.'' It has been widely praised by critics here for its depth and maturity of choreography, and for its original style and concept.
At age 26 Bintley, also a dancer with the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, is perhaps the most striking and impressive young choreographer in Britain today. He has now fashioned 10 ballets, all well received. Among them: the full-length ''The Swan of Tuonela,'' which opened in January.
In a recent 90-minute interview, Mr. Bintley told me with energy and flair how he creates a ballet - the difficulties and delights of matching movement to music.
''I'm very concerned with structure and form,'' he said. ''I've known this Stravinsky score for 10 years and could sing every note in it. The music tells me what to do - how to translate it.''
It takes him one to two hours to set each 10 seconds of dance.
An early question - how many dancers should he have?
''Twelve seemed a good number,'' he went on. ''The music opens with six strong beats. Did I want six girls partnered by six boys? No, there's no place then for the soloists. So I settled on eight girls and four boys.
''With the opening line of four dancers in a diagonal, the grand battement (the high kick demonstrated with his training shoe) goes from the front girl and is repeated down the line to the back and then is picked up by the second group of girls.
''The first movement of the score is the most rhythmical, the most complicated. There are six to seven minutes of toccata - that's physically exhausting to sustain, and the hardest to get right.
''The piano is going at one tempo, the orchestra at another.
''I've tried to show that with the steps, the soloists are following the dominant statement in the foreground and the other dancers the important canonic movement in the background.''
Then there was the title.
''Stravinsky has become like a musical god recently,'' he said. ''Balanchine used only titles of his music. But if using a great piece of music, you don't want to get away from the idea that you are creating ballet dancing to go with that music.''
To Bintley, ''consort'' means a lot of things.
''You can have a consort of viols - small groups of instruments harmonizing together. You can have a consort prince - a supporting partner.
''Stravinsky harks back to earlier models like Bach, but in 20th-century terms he has created music that can be adapted to movement.
''So my ballet is about partnering, about learning, about blending.''
David Bintley is also well known as a dancer, for his character roles such as Widow Simone in ''La Fille Mal Gardee.''
Bintley was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and started his stage career at the age of 6 with Sunday school concerts.
His sister took dancing lessons, and he saw them as the way to get on stage. He did weekly classes of ballet, tap, and musical comedy until he was 11 and began to concentrate on ballet alone.
At 16 he choreographed his first ballet, Stravinsky's ''A Soldier's Tale,'' with 51 dancers ranging in age from 6 to 16.
It was a ''tremendous undertaking,'' he said, smiling.
He came to London to join the Upper School of the Royal Ballet School and entered the Sadler's Wells Company in 1976. Two years later he became the youngest choreographer to work with the Royal Ballet Company since John Cranko 30 years before.
His range in music and styles has been amazingly varied. His first work was a dramatic production of ''the outsider,'' with music by the Czech composer Josef Bohac. Next a light composition, ''Meadow of Proverbs,'' to music by Milhaud.
Polish composer Panufnik provided scores for his next three: ''Homage to Chopin,'' ''Polonia,'' and ''Adieu.''
He turned to popular jazz and Dave Brubeck's ''Take Five'' for a gala solo; to English music from Benjamin Britten for ''Night Moves''; and to Sibelius for ''The Swan of Tuonela'' - a work full of mystery, excitement, and drama.
His first work as the newly appointed company choreographer of the Sadler's Wells Company, at the beginning of the 1983 season, was ''Choros,'' set in a gymnasium and showing the joys and exhilaration of movement.
My interview with him took place after the first night of ''Consort Lessons.'' Although he had stayed up until 3 a.m. (''The dancers gave me a surprise party,'' he said with a grin), he was full of life, dressed in blue jeans and a sweat shirt that pronounced Perth, Western Australia, to be ''bonza'' (great). The shirt was a present from the company from its tour there in 1982. Bintley in fact missed the tour - ''I had to stay home and work.''
Was he pleased with the press reaction to ''Consort Lessons''? I asked.
''Never read it,'' he replied, ''not even the good notices. . . . My parents go out and buy every paper and stick the clippings into a scrapbook, but I don't want to know. If I'm satisfied with the work, that's the most important thing. . . .''
If one day he does see the clippings, he will read comments on ''Consort Lessons'' that include '' . . . As rich in dynamic variety, as nuanced and full of inflections, as the score'' (Clement Crisp, the Financial Times) and '' . . . A style . . . with its combination of delicacy and assertiveness'' (Jann Parry, the Observer).
My own impression of the ballet (seen a few nights later when Bintley was back dancing with the Sadler's Wells in Plymouth) was one of joyous movement, beautiful and careful partnering, flowing sequences, and a delightful sense of fun, especially at the finale. When everyone is full circle with the music, back at the original diagonal line, Stravinsky and Bintley add a brief comic ending.
The dancers, led by Leslie Collier, Alessandra Ferri, Wayne Eagling, and Stephen Jeffries, were never still, yet untiring. Their happy faces expressed great enjoyment and their technical accomplishments showed off the vivacious choreography to its best.
Designer Terry Bartlett has created a lyric backdrop of an atrium, rather as though one was looking down on the interior of the Liberty Store in London from its topmost point inside.
Bintley's plans for the future include completing the ballet he hoped to show in 1983, a work to Britten's ''Young Apollo Suite'' with a further set of variations commissioned from Gordon Crosse and designs by Victor Pasmore.