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Flash Flashback, 4-4: The British are Coming Out! The British are Coming Out!
Bintley's Brits Give a Schooling

By Mark Dendy
Copyright 2000, 2008 Mark Dendy

(Editor's Note: To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Dance Insider is revisiting its Archive. This Flash Review was first published on September 29, 2000. Mark Dendy, phone home!)

Does the mother country have something to teach us about coming out in the opera house? We Americans tend to think of ourselves as the frontiersmen when it comes to art and homo art and new ideas and graphic sexual content onstage. It's the Brits who are uptight, stuffy, conservative. Watching David Bintley's Birmingham Royal Ballet production of "Edward II" at City Center the other night, I was reminded that this country was founded by people who were so uptight the British kicked them out!

"Edward II" is the really tragic tale of a king who lives openly in front of his court as a homosexual. His lover is executed by Edward's distraught wife and her cohort. Edward is harassed, tortured, raped, pissed on (real water on stage) and finally brutally killed by nothing less (and I don't mean this figuratively) than having a red hot poker shoved up his..... well, you get the point. THE most sexually graphic ballet I have ever seen. Sometimes to a tasteless fault, but it is at its best unapologetic, bold, daring, rough edged and brutally graphic.

The dancing of the second cast (I didn't see the first) was good and solid. Robert Parker was excellent as Edward. As Queen Isabella, Ambra Vallo showed us not just the villainness, the betrayed and jealous, but the hurt and devastation that such a false forced relationship can cause. The pas de deux between Edward and Gaveston is luscious, physical and romantic without being schmaltzy. The satisfaction that comes from watching ballet dancers equally support each other and share partnering responsibilities is immense. (And possible in ballet only with same sex couples as opposite sex couples are too disparate strength-wise to achieve this.) This romantic bliss cannot last forever. Enter jealous wife. The proceeding pas de trois and the pas de deux with Isabella and Edward are choreographically some of the most beautiful in the production and further the story, and are danced magically.

Other moments, such as the witnessing of the offstage beheading of Edward's lover Gaveston and Edward subsequently running on stage with a bag tied with a rope supposedly containing Gaveston's severed head are so bad they are over the top. This of course is part of ballet's charm to the modern experimentalist. Delsartian pantomime instead of movement and gesture that reveal real psychological and subtextual meaning.

The story is a great one -- part of our queer heritage. Kudos to Bintley for having the guts to take it on and tell it like it really was, hot poker and all! In places it shines, in others, for this taste it needs to be polished. I personally didn't care for the leather scene stuff being used to negatively define the heteros. Leather isn't dark and murderous, it's about brotherhood and trust. It's primitive and tribal but not evil. Mr. Bintley might look again at such an easy stereotype to cloak his villains in. Stereotypes have been used about gays enough that we should be more sensitive when using them to define ourselves, especially as it pertains to the leather and trans-gendered sects of our tribe. There were also hilarious and wonderfully campy cuttings up with Edward's inner court of jester queens! What a Fairy Tale this was.

The moral of the story: If you are gay, don't let the socially dominant culture dictate to you to conform to the sexual norm. There will be an unhappy woman and she will have you for supper.


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