Why The Tempest is set to cause a storm in Sunderland

Prospero
Prospero

Love, laughter and lavish sets combine in a new production of The Tempest which is set to soar in Sunderland next month.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s (BRB) 2016 Shakespeare season concludes with the world premiere of director David Bintley’s new full-length ballet of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved narratives.

Director David Bintley, in black, in rehearsals for The Tempest.

Director David Bintley, in black, in rehearsals for The Tempest.

New life is being breathed into the classic tale of a man determined to right past wrongs by all means in his power by a talented troupe of dancers from BRB, as well as composer Sally Beamish and War Horse designer Rae Smith.

Celebrated director David, who’s been with BRB for the past 20 years, says it’s a tale he’s been longing to tell for decades.

“It’s an idea I had a long time ago, as far back as 1982 actually, then it lay dormant waiting for the right circumstances,” he said.

“Then I heard the music of Sally Beamish and it all came together with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare. We’ve been working on it now for around four years.

The underwater scene

The underwater scene

“I rarely make a full-length ballet without a new score. Quite often I have an idea and it connects with a composer.”

The ballet intertwines themes of love, loyalty, and loss, punctuated by a comic duo, more than one dastardly conspiracy and a spectacular danced masque featuring gods and spirits.

It is set on a remote island, where the sorcerer Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion and skilful manipulation. There, he conjures up a storm, the eponymous tempest.

David says audiences can look forward to a visual feast when they’re transported to Prospero’s magical isle.

Rehearsals are in full flow.

Rehearsals are in full flow.

“It starts with a shipwreck, so it literally starts with a bang, and we have all sorts of interesting elements,” he said. “We have puppetry with the baby Miranda after working with puppeteers from War Horse and we’ve also been working with a theatrical flying company for an underwater sequence. It’s spectacular.

“One of the attractions of The Tempest, and why it lends itself so much to dance, is that there are so many threads in the story: there’s romance, there’s clowns, there’s even a murder plot.”

Dancers are currently in the midst of final rehearsals for the new production which will receive its world premiere at Birmingham Hippodrome on October 1 before embarking on a UK tour which includes a stop in Sunderland later in the month.

Despite having a catalogue of prestigious productions under his belt, as both dancer and director, David says he still gets those first night nerves.

“I still get nervous for a new ballet, in fact I get more and more nervous over the years as you realise how precarious it is,” he said. “This ballet has been a long-held ambition of mine, so it’s also a relief to get it out there. We don’t look at the opening night as the end though, it’s just the beginning. “I’m in the early stages of another big piece with a composer but that’s a long way off yet, right now it’s all about The Tempest.”

So how does he choose the dancers who will enchant the crowds with their footwork?

He said: “When casting a ballet I work with what’s in front of me. I don’t have an image in my head, then despair when it’s not stood in front of me. I look at what attributes the dancers have. But there are so many talented dancers here, it’s not a difficult task.”

•The Tempest plays Sunderland Empire from October 20-22. Tickets are available from the Box Office on High Street West, via the ticket centre 0844 871 3022 or www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland. Booking and transaction fees may apply to telephone and online bookings.