BRB finished their three-week tour of Bradford, Sunderland and Plymouth with Arthur I on Saturday. The week before that they took Edward II to Hong Kong. Tomorrow, they open the Ashton season at the Birmingham Rep. You would right to conclude from this that the company is very overworked at present and it hasnít helped that several dancers are injured.
To begin with Hong Kong, everyone was very pleased indeed with the reception they got there and I understand that they would be happy to return in a year or two, possibly for a longer time. One disappointment was that, because of injury, Chi Cao didnít make his debut as Gaveston in his home country. He was supposed to be in the cast when Robert Parker was Edward and Lee Fisher was Mortimer, both also for the first time. But there are likely to be performances later this year where I expect he will get to dance the part. Donít worry if you are a fan of Chi, he had recovered enough to do all his performances as Lancelot.
During the last three weeks, as well as performing Arthur in the evenings, the days have been taken up with rehearsals for the Ashton programmes. On these tours, members of the Friends of BRB usually get to watch the Friday afternoon run through of that weekís change of programme. This time, there being no change of programme, it was the rehearsals we saw; and what a privilege that turned out to be. As the weeks passed we watched as very raw first attempts turned into (nearly) finished articles. Itís said that some dancers hate to have the public present at rehearsals but they shouldnít worry. I donít believe anybody could have watched these without feeling the most profound respect for the sheer hard work and dedication of the dancers; and, not only them, the ballet staff and pianists work just as hard. BRB is said to be a very happy company who get on well together and this was very apparent from what we saw. I hadnít realised how much dancers helped each other in rehearsal or how often they worked things out among themselves.
Turning now to Arthur, the audiences were rather sparse at Bradford and they didnít seem to know what to make of it. The attendances were much better at the other two venues and the ballet was quite well received. To me, it seemed to have speeded up over the three weeks, which helped. I donít think any major changes were made during the tour although some (minor?) alterations are planned before the Covent Garden season. Because of the heavy work load, we never saw the third or fourth casts but David Justin did a couple of performances as Arthur and so did Monica Zamora and Victoria Marr as Morgan Le Fey. Because of Leticia Mullerís injury, that role was danced usually by Molly Smolen. She looks to be a fine acquisition to the company; in rehearsal, she was splendid in the Five Brahms Waltzes. The two casts who did the first run of performances of Arthur in Birmingham have deepened their characterisations and are dancing with total commitment to their roles. Some of the later shows were the best I had seen of this ballet.
So what are my views of it having seen it very many times. I wouldnít disagree at all with most of the critics (and, in fact, most of the public) who say (a) it is too complicated and (b) we are not given enough time to get to know and sympathise with the characters. That it is complicated can hardly be denied and I think Bintley has been affected by what one librettist called the poison of research. Bintley has read so much about the legend that he wants to tell all of it and the ballet would be much better if he told less. The unnecessary episodes, as I regard them, wouldnít matter if they didnít take so much time; time, which would be better, spent developing the characters. Several critics have said that the ballet only comes properly to life when Arthur himself appears. It is significant that he is the one person in the ballet who is changed by events and whom the audience can fully sympathise with. But even he almost vanishes for the last quarter of the ballet which mostly deals with Lancelot and Guinevere and they hardly change at all, spending two pas de deux and one solo showing how miserable they are.
None of these complaints is meant to suggest the ballet is not worth seeing but make sure you read a synopsis of the plot first. There is lots of excellent choreography and the pas de deux are superb. And there is great dancing and dance-acting on view from the talented casts. In some performances, I have been really moved by the fate of these people and it is the fact that I feel Bintley has gone half way to producing a really fine ballet which makes the parts which stand in the way so irritating.