`ARTHUR': BINTLEY FINISHES DARK RENDERING OF CAMELOT
BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET SADLER'S WELLS THEATRE LONDON, ENGLAND, U.K. MAY 8, 2001
Remember how hard it was to go back into the water after seeing Jaws? Well, after the vivid scenes of rape, torture, grueling childbirth, and grotesque progeny in the ballet Arthur, Part I (see Reviews, Dance Magazine, April 2000, page 79), it was challenging to return to the second (and thankfully last) part of this story of Camelot (a very far cry from that of the saccharine-sweet Hollywood musical). Within moments of curtain-up on Arthur, Part II, there were chilling scenes of child slaughter and a rape--all historically accurate, but a bitter pill to swallow all the same. This ballet/play (very Shakespearean in its anarchy, war-mongering, and gore) related the breakup and complete destruction of Arthur's utopian vision of an idyllic, peaceful kingdom. The sorcery of his half-sister, the adultery of his wife and best friend, and his incestuously conceived son who becomes his nemesis all play their part in its, and his, doom.
As with Part I, Birmingham Royal Ballet director/choreographer David Bintley thoroughly researched the era's history. He tells his tale in graphic detail, using short, action-packed scenes--so filled, in fact, that audiences fell silent before the start and again at intermission, while they crammed on the program notes! However, his diligence paid off, as the ballet left strong impressions and evoked admiration for his handling of the gritty epic.
His choreography gave the company's male dancers many opportunities to show off their muscularity and strength in true Soviet-style bravura, either as knights or as Arthur's three frolicking country nephews. There was a huge Spartacus-like battle scene in Act II, complete with plumed Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who prance energetically in and out of the carnage. And two armored knights with slit-eyed helmets lashed out at each other with leaden swords (carefully shadowed by other dancers to make sure they didn't fall off the stage).
There were also reminders of the Romeo and Juliet ballet, when Margause, Arthur's sister, had histrionics h la Lady Capulet over the body of her son Gareth, whose dying moments lingered like Mercutio's. Queen Guinevere and her pink-tarlatan-dressed maidens employed true classical ballet technique as they daintily gathered hawthorn blossoms in the woods. Bintley created a fluid and graceful pas de deux for Guinevere and Lancelot (the elegant Wolfgang Stollwitzer), filled with deep lunges, challenging high lifts, and …