Cyrano, Hippodrome, Birmingham
Tuesday 13 February 2007
I felt some morbid curiosity about this Cyrano. David Bintley's first version, made for the Royal Ballet in 1991, was a notorious flop. Now, as director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, he's trying again, convinced that this story can work as a ballet. This new version, packed with steps and plotting, goes by in a stodgy blur.
As material for ballet, Rostand's play has drawbacks. Embarrassed by his enormous nose, Cyrano hides his love for Roxane. When she falls for the handsome, illiterate Christian, Cyrano pours his feelings into the letters he ghost-writes for Christian. It's an odd choice for a wordless art form.
Bintley has argued that the point of Cyrano is not words but love - yet this ballet insists on those letters, on writing and speaking. His characters read, with sweeping mime gestures: love, heart, lips. Growing larger, the gestures slide into dance. It's neatly done, as is the choreography. But it's boring.
If these characters could talk, it would be in monotones. Bintley's gestures lack drama because there's so little contrast, so little light and shade. His dances have the same dullness, for the same reason. Bintley has a long and varied list of steps, but he doesn't make them speak as a language. The dances echo other choreographers, such as MacMillan and Ashton and even a comic Rose Adagio for the baker, Ragueneau, with loaves instead of flowers.
There are more echoes in Carl Davis's score. This music is full of introductory flourishes, with general descriptive writing for love scenes or sword fights. But it sits alongside Bintley's steps, establishing a mood, without providing much melody or impetus.
Cyrano is a lavish production. Hayden Griffin's bakery looks lovely, although Roxane's house is fussily naturalistic. The siege of Arras, more successfully, has explosions behind papery skies.
The dancers do Bintley proud. Robert Parker, who will retire at the end of this season, manages to put bold feeling into those long mime scenes. Elisha Willis shows no dramatic depth as Roxane, but she dances well, her pretty feet beautifully stretched. Two mime roles have the strongest performances. Marion Tait is a charmingly dotty duenna, while Joseph Cipolla gives grand authority to the villainous De Guiche.
Touring to 28 March ( www.brb.org.uk)
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