Wednesday, October 19, 2016

THE TEMPEST at Sadlers Wells - David Bintley's damp squib

Almost a year ago we went to Sadler's Wells to see a triple bill from Birmingham Royal Ballet, the works choreographed by the company's artistic director David Bintley.  There were all enjoyable in their own way with one, THE KING DANCES, being truly memorable, so when it was announced that Bintley's dance adaptation of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST was to appear at Sadler's Wells, we were keen to see it.

Sadly, although commendable in various areas of the production, it left you feeling that this TEMPEST had blown itself out somewhere between Birmingham and London.

I would have thought that you would want to stage a ballet of THE TEMPEST if you had an extra dimension to bring to the play but I sat there as one scene followed another from the play feeling more and more becalmed...yes there were nice moments but they were fleeting.

Ultimately it all felt a little too polite; as Virginia Woolf said of another female writer "It aimed to soar but agreed to perch".  There was no particular larger-than-life feel to it, no feeling that between them Prospero and Ariel could conjure up wonders.  Sally Beamish's score was interesting in spells (no pun intended) but ultimately for most of the first act was too wishy-washy to inspire much excitement.

The infuriating thing was that there were good things within it: Rae Smith's excellent set suggested the curves in the bottom of a boat and had a great reveal at the end when the ship was suddenly revealed as in burnished copper, ready to return the principals to Naples.  The opening image too showed great promise: the burnished, glittering ship seen in miniature hanging in mid-air only to be caught and held aloft by an airborne Ariel.

There were also likeable turns from Jenna Roberts as Miranda, Mathias Dingman as Ariel and Tyrone Singleton as Caliban but Iain Mackay's Prospero felt woefully undercharged and flashed around the stage more like a ballet version of Captain Jack Sparrow than as the vengeful deposed Duke of Milan.

Only in the last ten minutes or so did the production kick into life when Bruno Poet's lighting created a circle of magic in the darkness for Prospero to confront his enemies but Bintley's gesturing choreography could never match or even illustrate the haunting quality of a speech like Prospero's "Our revels now are ended..."

After the effortless magic of The Royal Ballet's LA FILLE MAL GARDÉE a few days earlier, this all felt... well, over to you Will Shakespeare... "like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind".

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