Birmingham Royal Ballet in Hobson’s Choice at the Birmingham Hippodrome
June 22, 2019
For David Bintley, rounding off his 24 years as artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, there was no big gala. No one-evening retrospective. Instead, he closed in the city with perhaps the most English of all his ballets: Hobson’s Choice. And by gum, it is a grand ballet.
At the end of the evening, flowers rained down as Bintley and former artistic director Sir Peter Wright joined the cast on stage. It was rather low key, however, with no speech from the man himself. Sir Peter however was fulsome in his praise, saying how lucky he and Birmingham was to have Bintley take over after his own retirement in 1995.
There have been 34 new or company premieres of Bintley ballets during his tenure as director, 12 of which were full-length affairs ranging from fairy tales through adaptations of literature, to historical dramas; and nearly always English in origin. He’s also commissioned a further 21 ballets by guest and company choreographers. Given increasing financial strictures, that’s quite an achievement. He’s kept the standards up too, with the company dancing as well as it has ever done.
Talking of dancing, this final Bintley night in Birmingham was a fine affair. He has never been afraid to cast non-principal dancers in leading roles, and in many ways it was entirely appropriate that it was Max Maslen and Beatrice Parma, still soloist and first artist respectively, that took on Maggie Hobson and Will Mossop on this special evening. I would be very surprised if they remain at those levels for too long because both made a super job of it.
There are lots of ways to play Will Mossop. Maslen’s take was of someone often not quite sure how he should feel. We soon learn that there’s a bit of a hidden free spirit, but Maslen has this lovely way of looking completely lost and in a daze. There were moments when he had more than a hint of Stan Laurel about him. He does figure things out eventually, of course; it just takes him a while to get there.
As the no-nonsense Maggie, Parma bustled around the stage, all straight-faced. While Will is initially simply a way out of her situation, watching her slowly and unexpectedly fall for him was a delight. Parma and Maslen’s dancing together was a pleasure too. Bintley’s pas de deux in Hobson’s Choice may not have the big lifts, but they demand speed and neatness as the steps skid across the floor; Lily of Laguna particularly so. They delivered in spades.
Bintley lightens up Henry Hobson considerably. He’s an alcoholic and a bully; quite frankly, not nice. Balancing that with a touch of comedy is tricky; and playing someone drunk even remotely convincingly seems to be even more difficult. But, and very obvious wig aside, Dominic Antonucci was persuasive. The supporting cast all came up trumps too.
This may have been David Bintley’s last performance in Birmingham and the company’s artistic director, but he still has shows at Sadler’s Wells next week and will be back to stage his Giselle in September.
While he may be leaving, Bintley’s influence will surely continue, not least through the David Bintley Future Fund that will champion his support for new choreography. And while not forgetting its past, the company must move on, as it is doing with the Ballet Now series of new commissions. There are already hints about the direction Carlos Acosta will take the company. It’s not the easiest of times, or the easiest of jobs. I’m sure things will change. I’m also sure we’re in for an interesting (and hopefully exciting) ride.
Birmingham Royal Ballet dance Hobson’s Choice at Sadler’s Wells on June 28 & 29, where they also perform the [Un]Leashed triple bill on June 26 & 27.