National Ballet of Japan is currently performing David Bintley’s double bill of his works, Faster and Carmina Burana. The Japan premiere of his Carmina Burana in 2005 began his directorship of this company, which will close this June. It was a major turning point in the history of Japanese ballet – the first time that an internationally renowned choreographer has taken the reins of a major company, guiding them in a new direction and creating new works for them. Unfortunately, the next artistic director chose a very conservative, mediocre repertoire based on Petipa classics next season, contrary to Bintley’s innovative programs. Nonetheless, we could see from this double bill that his leverage improved the quality of the company and motivated the dancers, creating a very positive and proactive atmosphere.

Faster was created in 2012 as an homage to the London Olympics, with commissioned score by Australian composer Matthew Hindson. The title comes from the Olympic motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. In Faster, the dancers make movements inspired from sports, such as wrestling, synchronized swimming, marathon, basketball and cycling, not only capturing the essence of each sport but also reflecting the joy and agony of athletes. Hindson’s music was effective in his provoking approach, 20 different percussions playing complicated rhythms, creating a thrilling and edgy sense of athleticism with a mixture of medieval ceremonial music and heavy metal.

Transplanting sports movements into ballet sounds easy but in reality it isn’t – the Marathon part was expressed by slim stomached dancers just running around in racing shoes which was way too simple, although visually it was ecstatic. The Aerial pas de trois was stunning with the beautiful Miwa Motojima lifted high in a thrilling lift by two male dancers, making time standing still. And the dramatic part is touching when the female fighter is injured but recovers by treatment and stands back on her feet again. Bintley cleverly placed humor, beauty and strength in this ballet and the dancers made bold interpretations of this challenging choreography, with a striking result.

Carmina Burana (1995) is one of Bintley’s early works, but it still has his vibrant novelty and freshness with its large scale production, stylish designs and dark humor. Accompanied with the New National Theatre’s chorus, Carl Orff’s dramatic music magically matches Bintley’s adaptation of the satirical writings of medieval priests appearing in the lyrics of this choral masterpiece. Three seminarians, lured by lust and desire, learn  life lessons in an encounter of the goddess of fate, Fortuna. Fortuna appears as a masked lady in high heels and a little black dress, a seminarian falling in love with a blonde bombshell in a nightclub, a swan roasted and eaten by greedy gluttons, and prostitutes and nude men/women dancing in a whorehouse. Bintley is extremely skilled at integrating pop icons and symbolic features into his vibrant choreography. The devilish and ironic climax of this work, accelerated with the powerful chorus, was just overwhelming.

This work is also a good showcase for the brilliant dancers of the company. Mamiko Yukawa as the goddess Fortuna is a stunner, her strong, crystal-clear movements are full of charisma and glamour, devastating and conquering the whole stage. Hideo Sugano as the infatuated seminarian was great in showing his inner turmoil of lust and belief in his movements. The second seminarian Akimitsu Yahata’s virtuosic and acrobatic solo was eye-popping. Tyrone Singleton guesting from Birmingham Royal Ballet as the third seminarian showed excellence in his tricky pas de deux with Fortuna. Contrary to his wild and attractive looks, Singleton portrayed a youth tormented with his sexual suppressions sympathetically and added a human touch to this fable. A magnificent collaboration of music, choreography, production design and dancers, this double bill was a feast to both the eye and the other senses.

The Japanese audience were so lucky to have David Bintley’s leadership of the company, and such a shame that there is only one more production left till the end of his last season. One can only hope that his innovative sprit will remain in the company after his departure, as their next season has no apparent new challenges in its repertoire.

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