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The King Dances/Carmina Burana

William Bracewell in The King Dances at Birmingham Hippodrome. Photo Bill Cooper William Bracewell in The King Dances at Birmingham Hippodrome. Photo: Bill Cooper
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According to David Bintley, ballet was born in darkness. His latest work, The King Dances, explores the night in 1653 that King Louis XIV came up with Le Ballet De La Nuit, in which he danced the role of Apollo. His performance and presentation earned him the soubriquet “the Sun King”.

Bintley has an innate sense of drama, with real flambeaux and characters emerging out of smoky darkness like apparitions. And Katrina Lindsay’s designs are mostly wonderful, from the leathery kilts of the musketeer-like “Messieurs” to the pierced disc representing the sun.

There is much to praise, too, in Bintley’s choreography, which couples 17th-century courtly dance with rapid ballet steps, even if first-night nerves revealed a few wobbles among the principals. The idea of the Sun King dancing with the Moon Goddess is a neat image, but is executed without the passion it requires. Much better is the king’s nightmare in which he is visited by demons who eventually carry him off, nibbling on the monarch like a corn cob.

If the Halloween Satan is a mistake, it is a minor quibble compared with the score, which contains some of the least dance-friendly music I have ever heard. And the king’s gold jumpsuit has to go. Plenty to chew on here, not all of it as yet digestible.

Carmina Burana, Bintley’s first ballet as artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, improves with age. Everyone is on song here, from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia to the ensemble, whose members express a real joy in dancing that is missing from The King Dances.

Funny, grotesque, robust and super sexy, this is Bintley in full-blown Ken Russell mode and suggests that he might make a great ballet out of The Canterbury Tales or, even better, The Decameron.

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Great idea about the birth of the first ballet doesn't quite light up the stage