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David Bintley brings works of vivacity and joy to British dance

By Margaret E. Willis / February 21, 1984


A white track shoe shot into the air as young British choreographer David Bintley demonstrated, in a tiny dressing room backstage at the Royal Opera House , the opening steps of his new ballet, ''Consort Lessons.''

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The work is a forceful one-act ballet commissioned by the Royal Ballet Company and set to the music of Stravinsky's ''Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments.'' It has been widely praised by critics here for its depth and maturity of choreography, and for its original style and concept.

At age 26 Bintley, also a dancer with the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet, is perhaps the most striking and impressive young choreographer in Britain today. He has now fashioned 10 ballets, all well received. Among them: the full-length ''The Swan of Tuonela,'' which opened in January.

In a recent 90-minute interview, Mr. Bintley told me with energy and flair how he creates a ballet - the difficulties and delights of matching movement to music.

''I'm very concerned with structure and form,'' he said. ''I've known this Stravinsky score for 10 years and could sing every note in it. The music tells me what to do - how to translate it.''

It takes him one to two hours to set each 10 seconds of dance.

An early question - how many dancers should he have?

''Twelve seemed a good number,'' he went on. ''The music opens with six strong beats. Did I want six girls partnered by six boys? No, there's no place then for the soloists. So I settled on eight girls and four boys.

''With the opening line of four dancers in a diagonal, the grand battement (the high kick demonstrated with his training shoe) goes from the front girl and is repeated down the line to the back and then is picked up by the second group of girls.

''The first movement of the score is the most rhythmical, the most complicated. There are six to seven minutes of toccata - that's physically exhausting to sustain, and the hardest to get right.

''The piano is going at one tempo, the orchestra at another.

''I've tried to show that with the steps, the soloists are following the dominant statement in the foreground and the other dancers the important canonic movement in the background.''

Then there was the title.

''Stravinsky has become like a musical god recently,'' he said. ''Balanchine used only titles of his music. But if using a great piece of music, you don't want to get away from the idea that you are creating ballet dancing to go with that music.''

To Bintley, ''consort'' means a lot of things.

''You can have a consort of viols - small groups of instruments harmonizing together. You can have a consort prince - a supporting partner.

''Stravinsky harks back to earlier models like Bach, but in 20th-century terms he has created music that can be adapted to movement.

''So my ballet is about partnering, about learning, about blending.''

David Bintley is also well known as a dancer, for his character roles such as Widow Simone in ''La Fille Mal Gardee.''

Bintley was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, and started his stage career at the age of 6 with Sunday school concerts.

His sister took dancing lessons, and he saw them as the way to get on stage. He did weekly classes of ballet, tap, and musical comedy until he was 11 and began to concentrate on ballet alone.