Over the past two years more than 40,000 local schoolchildren have been given the chance to experience the magic of dance thanks to Birmingham Royal Ballet
David Bintley has waited right until the end of our interview to make what he calls “a most important” point. While it addresses an issue which he kind of dismisses with a smile and a laugh, it clearly touches a nerve which has been tweaked once too often for his liking… “Please, don’t call us the Royal Ballet,” he says “We are not the Royal Ballet. We are Birmingham Royal Ballet. There are still people who think we all live in London and just pop into Birmingham once in a while to dance and then go back again. But we are here – we live here. It’s who we are.” Not that David has anything against the ‘other lot’ at Covent Garden – he was resident choreographer there before becoming artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1995. It’s just as he says: “We are part of the community and fabric of Birmingham and we are very proud indeed to be so. It’s what makes us unique and different.”
Based at Birmingham Hippodrome, BRB recently unveiled its £2.7million new-look complex, delivered by its own Campaign for the Future fundraising project, headed by its president Darcey Bussell, and an Arts Council grant. Donations towards the state-of-the-art complex came from all walks of Birmingham life, including leading businesses, well-known local families such as the Cadburys and everyday ‘small’ supporters who just love their ballet, and in particular their Birmingham ballet! BRB’s chief executive Christopher Barron said: “The refurbished facilities will allow us to increase delivery of our community work in-house, offering unique, first-hand experience of dance and Birmingham Royal Ballet. It also enables the enhancement of the Company’s scope for rehearsing and tagging large-scale ballet and provide outstanding facilities to attract, retain and care for our elite dancers.”
Based at the Hippodrome since 1990, BRB is the UK’s leading classical ballet touring company. An ever-more hectic schedule takes it around the country and overseas but its roots are firmly in Brum with around 200 people working out of its base, including nearly 70 dancers and teachers, an orchestra of 45 and services and admin departments. And each year BRB devotes two seasons of performances spanning 10 to 12 weeks right here in the city. As we spoke to David Bintley was preparing the company to perform in Edinburgh, before heading to London’s Coliseum and then a little later off on tour to Japan. “They seem to love us in Japan,” he says. “We are regulars there.”
While the public face of BRB is massively impressing, the huge activity which goes on unseen behind the scenes is equally jaw-dropping – especially the largely unsung work in the community. “I would estimate that through our Learning Department we have seen 40,000 local children in the past two years across our various projects,” says David. “These would be both schools and one-off projects.” Among the most significant is Dancetrack, an initiative which offers children from the age of seven the opportunity to train in ballet for three years. “Dancetrack sees us go out to 50 inner city primary schools in the area – schools with children that wouldn’t normally come across us,” explains David. “We have auditions and pick 50 or so kids who we think show promise. We give them free shoes and lessons over a three-year course which gives them a basic platform.” At the end of the three years, there’s the opportunity for budding ballet stars of the future to progress to Elmhurst School for Dance – BRB’s associated ballet school. BRB also operates Freefall Dance Company, set up with Fox Hollies Performing Arts College, for young people of school-leaving age with severe learning disabilities. “This is a project that’s the first of its kind not just in the UK but in the world, and is very close to our hearts,” says David. Run by ballet staff, freelance artists, teachers and a group of gifted dancers with severe learning difficulties, Freefall meets every week at the Hippodrome. While BRB’s aim is to nurture and encourage dance talent across the spectrum it is the main company of dancers from which everything else flows – and like all highly-trained athletes they need the very best care and attention.
At the heart of BRB’s fantastic complex at the Hippodrome is the Jerwood Centre, a world leading facility in dance medicine, research and science with state-of-the-art medical and rehabilitation equipment. As a founding partner of the National Institute of Dance, Medicine and Science, BRB is one of only three NIDMS healthcare centres in the UK. In an environment which would make leading clinics green with envy, the centre is staffed by a team of physiotherapists, masseurs and a body-conditioning instructor and contains state-of-the-art diagnostic and fitness equipment, including a hydrotherapy pool where dancers can work safely on their injuries. “Over time, sports methods of treating injuries have come to the fore, and we lead the way in this in the world of ballet. Every dancer in our company is well covered and looked after. We have a very small turnover of dancers here – and quite often when one or two do leave they are soon very keen to want to come back.”
TAKE 5 ABOUT BRB
- BRB never dances to recorded music and are always accompanied by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.
- The company will spend three weeks next month in Japan performing and promoting the Birmingham brand globally.
- In today’s testing economic times BRB is rare in that it continues to create new ballets. Over the past 10 years it has created 24 new works.
- David Bintley is currently working on a brand new ballet, The King of Dances, which will premiere in June
- The Campaign for the Future was launched to raise £15million for BRB three years ago. It is within £2.5million of reaching that target.