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His Majesty's desire.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet shocks the stodgy world of dance with a controversial and acclaimed staging of Christopher Marlowe's gay-themed Edward II

Straps and chains. Graphic and gory violence. Leather-studded biker barons. And a flaming hot poker up the rectum. These are not elements one would normally associate with a full-length--story ballet for stuffy subscription audiences. But in a bold move, choreographer-director David Bintley of the Birmingham Royal Ballet has succeeded in bringing the story of England's king Edward II to life onstage in a loose adaptation of Edward II, the 16th-century play by Christopher Marlowe. "From the outset," says Bintley, "Marlowe plays upon people's assumptions that heterosexuality is `good' and homosexuality is `bad.' The rest of the play proceeds to turn this assumption upon its head, and at the end of the play we are left with no moral ground on which to judge people."

Although scholars have debated the issue of whether Edward II was gay, the fact that he had two documented male lovers seems, as Oscar Wilde might have put it, to go beyond mere luck. Bintley's ballet, which will be seen at New York's City Center in September during the Birmingham Royal Ballet's American tour, focuses on the love affair between Edward and Gaveston, his boyhood friend. "There is one quite passionate pas de deux for the men in the first act," says Wolfgang Stollwitzer, who created the role of Edward in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1995 and will perform the role in New York. "While the piece is obviously about a homosexual king," says Bintley, "the greater themes are intolerance and the politics of power. We had a particularly insensitive government in England at the time the ballet was presented. It was also the beginning of the AIDS crisis in England, and one particularly helpful politician had the rather clever idea of putting everyone who had AIDS in concentration camps!"

When first performed in England in 1997, the ballet caused a bit of a stir. One headline in The Daily Mirror featured a photo of Princess Margaret with the headline "Margaret Sees Gay Sex Ballet Shocker." City officials in Bradford, England, tried unsuccessfully to ban the production, and the Bristol Evening Post called Bintley "the Quentin Tarantino of the ballet world." But Bintley, who frankly states that the ballet "is a very sexual and violent piece" and rates the show "not suitable for children," has been vindicated by Edward II's overwhelming critical and commercial success. After the London premiere, The Sunday Times called it "a bold, epic-scaled, dazzlingly theatrical, and superbly danced new two-act narrative ballet." The work has also been hailed as innovative for John McCabe's complex and dramatic commissioned musical score--which includes electric guitars--and the massively impressive sets by Peter J. Davison.

In the ballet Edward clashes with his new wife, Isabella of France (Sabrina Lenzi), who abhors the return of Gaveston (Andrew Murphy) from exile. Isabella forms an alliance with the power-hungry barons, including Mortimer (Joseph Cipolla), who beheads Gaveston--and then dances a pas de trois with Isabella and the severed head. Although audiences may feel sympathetic toward Isabella in the beginning, says Birmingham Royal Ballet assistant director Desmond Kelly, "as she turns into the she-wolf of France, there is a twist of character toward the end." At the ballet's climax Mortimer captures Edward, and the king is led to the executioner. In that scene, which, according to Kelly, is "all mangled up with fascination, hate, and sadism," the executioner partners the victimized Edward in a homoerotic duet that ends with Edward's climbing a huge grilled structure to receive the fatal red-hot poker.

Bintley is pleased that Edward II is "able to take a view on politics and society while remaining entertaining," adding that "we have just entered a new millennium, and I think to stay alive, ballet, like everything else, has to move forward to be relevant to society and life today."

Find more on Edward II and the Birmingham Royal Ballet at

Carman also writes for The New York Times.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Carman, Joseph
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Sep 26, 2000
Previous Article:books: chef's choice.
Next Article:dance: a la carte.

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