Dance Review: Dark, brutal passion - and not a poker in sight - Life and Style - The Independent

Dance Review: Dark, brutal passion - and not a poker in sight

Edward II Birmingham Hippodrome

Ballet doesn't have to carry a "U" certificate - as Kenneth MacMillan was ever at pains to demonstrate - and in making a ballet of the torrid life and sticky end of Edward II, David Bintley set out to create a dark, flavoursome, sugar-free entertainment. It was made in 1995 for Stuttgart Ballet, and with the help of two principals from that production (Sabrina Lenzi and the excellent Wolfgang Stollwitzer), Bintley has now revived it for Birmingham Royal Ballet, who gave its British premiere on Thursday.

Bintley's gift for storytelling is not infallible (remember Cyrano?) but in Edward II the narrative pace and John McCabe's racing strings and angry drums zip along so that we can cut right to the chase, with none of the expository longueurs that so stifle MacMillan's Mayerling. Within 10 minutes we know who's who and what they are up to.

The curtain rises on a magnificent funeral cortege, looming pillars, cowled figures and dense fog eerily lit by Peter Mumford's expressive lighting. The monks file off, Edward is crowned and immediately resumes his exhilarating tours en l'air with the mercurial Piers Gaveston (Andrew Murphy). His wife is less than thrilled and soon embarks on some steamy pair work of her own with Joseph Cipolla's king-making Mortimer, who is quite clearly A Bad Thing. He and his Barons initiate a civil war in their quest for more power and dominate the stage in testosterone-rich ensembles worthy of the Bolshoi.

The historical narrative is intercut with the 14th-century morality tale Roman de Fauvel, in which a donkey is made king. This is told by a motley crew, including a Fool who sports a large foam-rubber erection that will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried to construct a giraffe with pink modelling balloons.

These costumes are designed by Jasper Conran. Sabrina Lenzi gets to model a succession of ravishing bias-cut devore velvet creations that had me dribbling into my programme. Never mind T-shirts: this ballet could take merchandising into an entirely different league. The ladies of the court wear plain black gowns crowned by a fantastical array of medieval funeral millinery ranging from wimples to distended mortar-boards.

Not all of Conran's costumes are this successful. The Barons have more studded leather cod-pieces than you can shake a stick at - if that's your idea of a good time. This heavy emphasis on leathers is reminiscent of the RSC in its late-Seventies biker period.

Much of the ballet's visual impact is thanks to Peter J Davison's mechanistically medieval sets. A high, wide window at the back slides open like a hangar door - a clever design that enlarges still further the Hippodrome's handsome stage. The opening reveals coronations, sunny blue skies and advancing battalions of blood- thirsty Barons. It's a brutal ballet: Isabella slaps her nurse (the excellent Marion Tait), the nurse spits in Gaveston's face, Gaveston is anally raped by the Barons and the King is peed on by his guards before he endures the final, fatal humiliation. His assassin, Lightborne (Tony Norman Wright), is a skinhead who dances a strangely gentle pas de deux with his victim before a portcullis suddenly falls and a glowing brazier is wheeled on. Lightborne tenderly places a black bag over the King's head before taking careful, and terrible, aim.

Family entertainment it ain't. But it's a strong tale, told with conviction, danced with passion and staged with the greatest possible style. Definitely worth shelling out for a babysitter.

To Tues (booking: 0121-622 7486); then on tour

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'I felt like that was the lowest I’d ever felt'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
News
A plane flies close to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano
newsAnd yes, it's quite something
Sport
Tito Vilanova passed away aged just 45
footballThe club's former manager died in April, less than a year after he stood down
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch
artAnd it's even for a good cause
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Life and Style
techCriminals are targeting an e-reader security flaw
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
newsBut just how much does a 122-carat coloured diamond go for these days?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Senior C++ Developer

    £400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week