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Subject: "Birminham Royal Ballet "Arthur", 26.01.2000" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #491
Reading Topic #491

30-01-00, 05:21 AM (GMT)
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"Birminham Royal Ballet "Arthur", 26.01.2000"
   Birmingham Royal Ballet Arthur (Part 1), Birmingham Hippodrome, 26 January 2000

"Armies are armies in any age: they pillage, rape and slaughter. By spear or bullet; by firebrand or napalm. Who inflicts the greater pain?; who is to measure the terror?"

This is powerful stuff, and might well turn out to be Bintley's masterpiece. It is the first of his I've seen since Cyrano, chreographed for the Royal Ballet in 1991, and in Arthur we certainly see a maturation of style. Not just the story of King Arthur, but also portrayal of the squalid aftermath of war in any age: mutilated bodies wrapped in filthy blankets; scattered munitions and supplies; rotting corpses in torn body bags. Armies at the same time bearing machine guns and spears brilliantly depicted the timelessness of war and by no means appeared incongruous.

The first act potrays the lusting of Uther Pendragon (David Justin) for Gorlois' wife, Igraine (Sabrinia Lenzi) and the deal with Merlin who agrees to tranmogrify Pendragon into the form of Gorlois in order to deceitfully bed her (the sex act is very explicit); in return, the product of the union must be surrendered to Merlin (Joseph Cipolla). The baby Arthur is duly surrendered and is raised by Sir Ector (David Morse).

In the Second Act Arthur is a young man and his true regal identity is revealed when he pulls Excalibur from the rock. He is reunited with his mother and three sisters, of which Morgan Le Fay (Leticia Müller) has magical powers. Before the reunion, Morgan seduces Arthur (the sex act is very explicit) and conceives. Merlin warns Arthur (David Beckham lookalike Robert Parker) that the product of the incestuous union will destroy Camelot. Arthur orders the destruction of all infant boys in the kingdom on the day of his marriage to Guinevere (Monica Zamora).

The storyline is quite complex and a thorough reading of the programme notes is adviceable as crucial points might be missed ("Why did he have to take the baby?" I overheard someone say in the interval).

I found the ballet engrossing rather than beautiful. The first couple of scenes I thought were a bit heavy going, and it didn't really take off for me until Pendragon was converted into Gorlois. But it certainly had an impact on the audience as a whole - the final moments of the ballet (the massacre of the young boys) resulted in a moment of stunned silence rather than the usual burst of applause at the fall of the curtain.

There were several charming epidodes. I liked the unicorn scene, and there was some nice dancing on pointe by the principals (though Guinevere only danced on pointe on her wedding day). The pas de deux were often brief, but effective.

The music, composed by John McCabe, was not exactly stuff to hum to, and didn't have the impact on me that other modern ballet composers (e.g. Philip Feeney) have had. It sometimes seemed a bit turgid.


Difficult - all the cast were committed, and Leticia Müller and Monica Zamora left lasting imprsessions. However, I award it to Sabrina Lenzi (Igraine) who maintained dignified continuity as lover, wife and mother.

Arthur Part II is due to be staged next year after the restoration of the Birmingham Hippodrome and I shall certainlt attempt to see it.

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  RE: Birminham Royal Ballet "Arthur", 26.01.2000 Terry Amos 31-01-00 1
     RE: Birminham Royal Ballet "Arthur", 26.01.2000 p.s.stammers 02-02-00 2

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Terry Amos

31-01-00, 10:51 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Birminham Royal Ballet "Arthur", 26.01.2000"
In response to message #0
   The Arthurian legend is more than just the Sword in the Stone and the Knights of the Round Table. The full tale is a dark one, encompassing lust, rape, revenge, incest and betrayal. Obviously, it was the complete story which David Bintley was attracted to but it was the complications involved in portraying all of this in a single ballet which led to the scheme of Arthur 1 and Arthur 2. Even spread over two evenings, there is a lot to fit in and not all of it is easy to depict through the dance medium. So how well does Bintley cope with this in Arthur 1?

Not very well, would have been my answer after the first night and I’m still somewhat inclined to that view. Much of the action is very confusing and anyone who doesn’t have some prior knowledge of all of the legend and hasn’t read the programme notes very closely will find it very difficult to grasp what is going on. A friend, after watching the Wednesday afternoon performance, said she was going home to re-read the story to try and make some sense of what she had seen. On the other hand, I have to say that, on second viewing, I found it was very much easier to follow and this was true for many repeaters. But how many people are going to watch it twice?

By last weekend, I understood the story pretty well, was able to ignore the parts which didn’t seem so important and concentrate on the good things of which there are many. I found myself really enjoying the later performances and I was not the only one to start off bitterly disappointed but then to have a change of mind. The good news therefore is that most people find Arthur improves on acquaintance. David Bintley has in the past often cut and reshaped his ballets and many of the reviewers in the newspapers hoped he would do the same with Arthur. I’m fairly sure that all of the choreography was created in five weeks, which is quite a rush and it shows in places, particularly in the first act.

The general opinion is that it is the part of the first act dealing with the events leading to the birth of Arthur which is most in need of revision. To my mind a very serious error is made right at the start. The front cloth looks like an American marine at the battle of Iwa Jima. But the ballet is not about that, so why mislead the audience? When the action begins, we seem to be witnessing ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. But the ballet is not about that either, so why complicate things by putting it in. Since the essential things are going to be complex enough, I’d have thought the watchword should have been simplify, simplify and simplify. Quite the opposite has occurred. Another example of unnecessary elaboration is that Merlin starts off old (and, quite ridiculously, at the beginning is pushed around in a wheelchair) and then gets younger throughout the ballet. Merlin, incidentally, is dressed like a tramp in one of the worst of many dreadful costumes inflicted on the dancers. If I were Arthur, I wouldn’t trust a magician who can’t get himself a set of decent clothes.

Most of Act 1 is very dark and very much in the style of Edward II but with the appearance of Arthur, which is when the ballet came to life for many, the tone lightens. Act 2 is very much a white act, although some pretty rough stuff happens and the main characters end up far from being happy campers.

I think that so far the critics have undervalued the choreography. That for Act 2 seems to me totally successful, particularly the pas de deux between Guinevere and Lancelot and the very sexy one between Arthur and his half-sister Morgan Le Fay which ends up with her raping him. In Act 1, I liked the dances involving Igraine and Uther Pendragon, brief though they were. In fact, the relationship between those two characters was interesting but only sketched in. I’d have preferred to see more about that and less of the extraneous material.

So far we have seen two casts and both were excellent. Some (but not me) said they preferred the second cast but, whichever cast you see, you can expect very committed performances. There should be a word of praise for the young girl (I suppose a junior associate) who plays the young Morgan Le Fay but I’m afraid the scene which is supposed to show she has supernatural powers is a total failure and needs rethinking.

It will be interesting to see what changes if any are made during the tour to Bradford, Sunderland and Plymouth, although any spare time then might have to be spent in rehearsing the Ashton ballets for the season at the Rep. But I’m convinced that a very fine ballet can be made out of the material of Arthur 1 and hope that is what we see at the Opera House in the summer

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02-02-00, 08:59 AM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Birminham Royal Ballet "Arthur", 26.01.2000"
In response to message #1
   Sorry this has taken so long. The names are given first cast, than second cast on first introduction.
The two casts both use BRB principals,soloists and first artists in the main parts. They all have wide experience and acting ability.
The prologue scene, with its refuges, the death of the young man and rape of the girl are dramatic openings. The second cast rightly or wrongly made more of the abuse of the girl.
The main opening scene saw Wolfgang in the first cast and Lee Fisher in the second as Gorlios, Duke of Cornwall making some progress in uniting the petty British kings, until Uther Pendragon, (David Justin or Toby Norman-Wright) appear and by their personality take control. I would not like to split them at this stage.
Merlin (Joseph Cipolla or Kevin O'Hare) as the wheel chair bound enforces Uther's dominance. The power of both men as actors was displayed. Merlin is in control, not Uther, and this is reinforced through the ballet. The legend Bintley has used is that of Merlin and his domination of events.
The celebrations, with the wives appearing, leads to the first lyrical dance of the main ballet, with corp and pas du deux. Both Uther's made the audience believe he had fallen for Igraine, Gorlios's wife. Igraine was danced by Sabrina Lenzi, in the first cast, and Isabel McMeekan. Both showed their infatuation with Uther. Isabel, like Toby is a First Artist at present, but she is gaining in experience and skill all the time, a dancer to watch.
The appearance of Gorlios's children with Marian Tait as a wise woman acting as their nurse, tries to bring home the darker side of the events. However from the circle you can see the light effects, and from the stalls the faces, and to be truly effective both are needed.
Both casts made the rape of Igraine a significant event, with Morgan Le Fay's recognition of events occurring just before Gorlios is brought home dead. The two children who played Morgan in the first act did so with skill.
The birth of Arthur, with attendant nuns provides some light relief. The nuns being dressed as stylised Begums, an order not formed for another eight or so centuries.

There follows a scene which introduces us to Arthur and Kay, (Robert Parker and Michael O'Hare, as Arthur and Dominic Antonucci and James Grundy). For me Kevin as Merlin and Michael as Arthur worked better than Joseph and Robert, but I am biased. The scene where Arthur lifts Excalibur was dramatic and well staged.

The second act introduced us to the adult Morgan Le Fay in Leticia Muller and Molly Smolen. Both proved themselves capable of seducing their man and of some powerful dancing. Molly, who joined the company this summer, is a dancer to watch.
Lancelot, danced by Andrew Murphy and Chi Cao had some interesting situations to deal with in the summer kingdom whilst wooing Guinevere for Arthur. Guinevere was danced by Monica Zamora and Ambra Vallo with the hesitancy and innocence the part demands.
Both Arthur's displayed all their skills as actors and dancers, and a younger Merlin wove his way through the events directing them as he wished

Overall I think Bintley has done well, but it should be a three-ballet cycle. The first should have stopped when Excalibur was released and subtitled either Uther or Merlin. This would have allowed the characters to be developed and dance for the joy of it to be included in scenes like the petty kings gathering. I had a good grasp of the story before I saw the ballet, and kept track, but without that I would have been lost several times on the first visit. The second time I could enjoy it without worrying about what was to happen next. It was as draining as all tragic plays are, rather than uplifting as many ballets are.

I can not remember McCabe's music at all. Costumes and lighting left a positive impression, and Bintley's dance demonstrated that narrative can carry a ballet forward.

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