Having mused lately about national ballet styles, thoughts naturally turn to the choreographers that continue to enrich and refine an English school. Richard Alston must be included, given the influence of Ashton on his work, although his classical form is also married to weightiness and transatlantic attachments; Liam Scarlett is most likely to become the holder of the flame; but the man who has kept it alight for several decades is surely David Bintley.

His choreography has been both prolific and consistent, emphasising purity and precision with minimal affectation or embellishment. It is also mostly a means of conveying narrative and Bintley’s choice of stories are often sourced from a book that happens to have been famously represented in film: Hobson’s Choice (1989), which makes a very welcome return later this year; Cyrano (made in 1991, reworked in 2007), and Far from the Madding Crowd (1996) are three prime examples. He has also adapted a trio of popular fairy tales that became Disney vehicles: Beauty and the Beast (2003); Cinderella (2010) and Aladdin (2013).

In his final year as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Bintley has returned to Beauty and the Beast for the third time: it was previously restaged with alterations in 2008 and 2014, although this revival seems little changed from five years’ ago. Mention of the Disney film merits a word of caution for parents who may mistakenly view it as a staged interpretation of Belle, Gaston, Lumière, Cogsworth, Mrs Potts and co, since only the first of these is present in Bintley’s ballet. In fact, there is little to connect the ballet and cartoon film other than the title and the two characters it represents.

Delia Mathews (Bell) and Tyrone Singleton (the Beast) © Bill Cooper
Delia Mathews (Bell) and Tyrone Singleton (the Beast)
© Bill Cooper

Bintley has instead returned to the original eighteenth-century fairy tale in an abridged form. Belle is the daughter of a merchant and she has two sisters (who bear more than a passing similarity to the Cinderella stepsisters, as indicated by being named Fière and Vanité); the Beast is an enchanted Prince, transformed by a Woodsman with magical powers for hunting a vixen.

The Beast’s castle is enchantingly described by Philip Prowse’s gothic designs, enhanced by the smoke and mirrors effect of Mark Jonathan’s shadowy lighting. These designs and their integration evoke decaying grandeur and significant avian and animal motifs litter the imagery. The sudden animatronic stretching and flapping of wings by the stuffed birds is a startling surprise. Emphasising this theme, Tzu-Chao Chou reprised his cameo as a dancing Raven with a strong suite of brief solos. There is a nod to the cartoon’s enchanted furniture in an armchair that wraps its arms around Belle’s father and candelabra that magically erupt into light.

The Ball Scene © Bill Cooper
The Ball Scene
© Bill Cooper

Delia Matthews proved a wistful, charming and bookish Belle, but the ballet’s central journey belongs to Tyrone Singleton in the triple role of heartless aristo, enchanted beast and romantic hero. In an excellent, well-honed characterisation, Singleton brought out each aspect of the multi-faceted role with expressive power. There are two appealing and well-constructed pas de deux and he captured the melting of the Beast’s heart endearingly in the duet that closes the first act. Praise is also due to Bintley’s exquisite work for the corps de ballet.

The character of Monsieur Cochon – a rich suitor for Belle’s sisters who rescues the father when his ships appear to be lost – is a pantomime highlight, the name reflected in his porcine appearance, which belies the lightness of regular flurries of petits battements; with both comedic and balletic elements being excellently articulated by James Barton. Reversing the Cinderella legend and substituting “Mr Pig” for a prince, he has to choose between the selfish daughters (Laura Purkiss and Samara Downs) for a bride but, understandably, is unable to decide between Pride or Vanity in marriage vows that could only be for worse!

Delia Mathews and Tyrone Singleton © Bill Cooper
Delia Mathews and Tyrone Singleton
© Bill Cooper

Those BRB doyens, Michael O’Hare and Marion Tait reprised the roles of Belle’s father and the decrepit-but-still-game Grandmère. Jonathan Payn brought authority to the moralistic and vengeful Woodsman and the dual role of the vixen and the enchanted flame-haired girl was portrayed respectively and with great charm by Beatrice Parma and Yaoquian Shang.

Glenn Buhr’s score is consistently effective as a simple illustration of the scènes d’action and provides serviceable – although unmemorable – melodies for the romantic pas de deux, all of which music was vigorously performed by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Paul Murphy’s direction. 


****1