For a while we have been meaning to write something here about “ballet myth busters”, to address certain preconceptions about this art form often seen as inaccessible, stuffy and niche. David Bintleyâ€™s Cyrano might be just what we needed to illustrate how ballet can be demystified. Created two years ago for Birmingham Royal Ballet, it shows that story-based ballets can be fresh, funny and accessible and that classical dancing need not always be centered around tutu-clad ballerinas.
Taking Edmond Rostandâ€™s well-known play and staying close to its text, Bintley’s ballet narrows down the gap between theatre and dance. For starters the costumes are not what you would expect: plenty of ruffles, French breeches and big boots for the men and Romantic, Toile-de-Jouy-chic, for the heroine Roxane. Unlike the formality of classics Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, there’s something unceremonious and inviting about the way the audience can see various characters strolling onstage and preparing to watch the â€œperformance within the performanceâ€ as they take their seats, it’s almost like a levelling of the playing field.
Robert Parkerâ€™s Cyrano is sympathetically played, with equal measures of tragedy and comedy. As in the play, the sad story of continued stoicism in the face of unrequited love is counterbalanced with plenty of humour. In a scene at Ragueneau’s Bakery, the bakers spoof the Sleeping Beautyâ€™s Rose Adagio with baguettes and tartelettes in lieu of Auroraâ€™s roses. In another moment our antihero Cyrano uses hilarious diversion tactics to cover up the secret wedding between Roxane and Christian, keeping rival De Guiche away.
Cyrano pretends to be a stranger with fantastic tales about the moon. I read afterwards that this episode of Rostand’s play is inspired by the real Cyrano de Bergerac who had written a work entitled The Other World: Society and Government of the Moon, considered one of the earliest science fiction compositions. This peculiar scene could easily fall into camp but Bintley manages to make Cyranoâ€™s dancing while wearing a glass light globe over his head both wacky and dignified.
Bintley can get Romantic too. He fully conveys Cyrano’s gift for poetry and love letters through dance and sometimes mime, both beautifully realised by Robert Parker. The various pas de deux between Roxane (Elisha Wilis) and Christian (Iain Mackay, ex-BRB now guesting from Corella Ballet) are full of â€œhead over heels in loveâ€ intricate lifts to represent the young loversâ€™ passion, with full credit here to Mackayâ€™s excellent partnering skills.
In addition to the central characters there are great roles for BRB’s male soloists such as Ragueneau the baker (Christopher Larsen) and Cyrano’s cadet friend Le Bret, danced by the marvellous Chi Cao. Marion Tait‘s character part as Roxane’s jovial duenna is also a class act. If I had one wish, it would be for stronger female choreography as Roxaneâ€™s solos are very marked by attitude turns. But just as I start to notice this, Bintley puts Roxane into bravura mode. She bursts into battle camp cross dressed as a “soldier” in the final act and dances a sequence of typical male steps including some lovely pirouettes Ã la seconde. I should have seen it coming. Cyrano is most definitely a myth busting ballet.
Spring Passions: An Interview with Robert Parker
[...] and the Beast – Orpheus – The Orpheus Suite, and Hamlet – The Shakespeare Suite). He is a big favourite here at The Ballet Bag, so ahead of this last performance in London, we could not pass up the [...]
We are glad you enjoyed Beauty and that you’ve discovered ballet. BRB’s production is beautiful indeed. Sir Peter Wright really knows how to keep the narrative flowing, so if you liked it, you’ll probably like his Giselle (the Royal Ballet is doing it in January). If you are based in London, there is plenty of ballet available as you can always try The Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and this summer, the Bolshoi.
It’s funny what you find when you Google yourself (or your online persona!)
After watching BRB perform Cyrano it was somewhat appropriate that the next ballet I watched was also performed by BRB. Ballet number 2 was The Sleeping Beauty (blog post: http://www.mr-omneo.co.uk/2010/05/02/john-im-only-dancing/) and I have to say, I’m now wondering why I’ve spent the past 20-25 years thinking I didn’t like ballet?
Oh well, better to find out eventually than never find out at all!
Ballet Myths Busted « The Ballet Bag
[...] Prescription: any work by Wayne McGregor, David Bintley’s Cyrano, or Wheeldon’s companyÂ Morphoses. Read this post about dress codes, etc. at Intermezzo blog. [...]
Rob, many thanks for your insights and report back on your discussions. This is all food for thought for our myth busters post currently in the oven!! Very curious about what Mr. Omneo’s next ballet will be (drum rolls)…
I enjoyed some really great exchanges with people on this topic during the Cyrano/Quantum Leaps tour.
Lots of people new to ballet seem genuinely nervous about attending a peformance – even those already familiar with other forms of dance or theatre. Many expect it to be like some sort of academically testing exprience that tests their intellect and concentration, and are scared that if they don’t enjoy the show it’s because of some failing on their part.
Ballet is first and foremost a form of entertainment, and is no different from any other leisure experience. There is as much variety as you would find in film, music, books, stand up comedy, theatre, sports, video games or theme park rides.
Being a movie buff doesn’t mean you enjoy EVERY film. Some cinema-goers prefer romantic comedies, some prefer blockbusters, some prefer art house, some prefer horror, etc etc etc. And no-one feels scared to say they didn’t like any one movie in particular. It doesn’t imply a failing on your part, nor neccessarily on the part of the film (or the script or the director or the actors involved). It’s just a matter of personal taste.
But if you don’t enjoy a movie, you of course recognise that it was just one example of the artform, and not indicative of them all. Likewise, if you don’t like a ballet performance, that simply means that you didn’t like that invidual performance. It says nothing about your potential enjoyment of other shows.
It’s immenseley gratifying to see that so many people enjoyed Cyrano though, and that it proved to be such a positive Myth Buster! My favourite quote was from Mr Omneo on Twitter, who saw us in London and later wrote: ‘All in all Iâ€™d have to say Cyrano by the Birmingham Royal Ballet was a great first ballet and it leaves me wondering what will be ballet number two?!’
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This post was mentioned on Twitter by theballetbag: New post in the bag. Our thoughts about @BRB ‘s “ballet myth busting” Cyrano: http://bit.ly/2893dV…