Well here are some longer thoughts. I don't cover details of teh production, which can be found in most other reviews.
Rightly or wrongly dramatic dance is what the public, in its broadest sense, enjoys. That, or 19th century classics (which are pretty dramatic as well of course). But to stop us all going barmy on endless Romeo and Juliet's we really need new works - actually I think we desperately need new works that will please the widest public. So full marks to BRB (for Arthur) and NBT (for Great Expectations - to be premiered on 14th February) for daring to go for the new and black stars to the others for not.
The problem with new works is that currently there are not many choreographers capable of producing full length dramatic ballets - or rather choreographers trusted to produce one. There are a number of producers who can rehash a classic or do another version of R&J, but new works are more difficult. Of course they also represent significant risk and many will not actually endure in the repertoire. But such is dance life and we have to accept that the winners we see today were actually the result of more than a few misses by the same choreographer. Much of Petipa's work is lost, and far from everything touched by Ashton and MacMillan has stood the longer test of time. And yet of course all are considered truly great choreographers.
Such were the thoughts going through my mind as I watched Arthur - on a first viewing it's not one of David Bintley's best. In fact I think it's the worst of all his full-length works (The Snow Queen, Cyrano, Sylvia, Hobson's Choice, Far from the Madding Crowd, Edward II). The main problem is simple - too little dance. Instead Bintley seems to have got immersed in telling the story with gesture, tableau and just about anything it seems but dance.
The other problem is that the legend of Arthur is only sketchily known by many of us... something about a sword, Merlin, Lancelot and Guinevere.... but that's about it for most folks. But the story, if Bintley follows it correctly, seems to feature far more characters of significance and of course characters have to interact and add 'their bit' to a story. But there seems far to much of it and one longs to end the confusion on stage, cut to the quick, and just get on with it!
It would be possible to mug-up on all things Arthurian and many fans might well do this, but the majority in the audience read the synopsis sketchily at best. Some might even remember enough of it and then hopefully go on to recognise the characters on stage. However the very best dramatic works make the plot abundantly obvious on stage and from a first seeing people - ordinary folks, rather than the ballet fans - know what is going on. On this occasion the two people behind me did not make it back after the interval and the chap in front dozed his way through much of the last act.
From a sales and marketing perspective it seems a great idea to close out the Birmingham Hippodrome's life with part 1 of a ballet and welcome it back, rebuilt and fresh, 14 months later with part 2, but it really means that Bintley has to stretch his material. I suspect making Arthur as a single piece would have made it all much more focussed and tight.
The work is sold as using the same team that delivered Edward II - a piece that was applauded by many. The designs (costumes from Jasper Conran and sets from Peter Davison) are pretty stunning and as with Edward are not strictly of their time. This suits Bintley's wider story telling and the 20th century creeps in with machine guns and video footage of screaming children. Peter Mumford's lighting deserves special mention, though I was less impressed by the John McCabe score, which really seemed to meander rather than provide strong support for dance.
I'm sad I didn't so much like Arthur - at least on this first viewing - but I applaud the fact that Bintley as Artistic Director and choreographer keeps doing new work and trying new things. He knows that in reality some things work better than others and that's the way it has always been.