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Monday night saw the unveiling of the latest Pointe Blank exhibition; a collection of 27 original prints created by professional designers and inspired by the story of Hobson’s Choice, produced to mark this week’s performances of David Bintley’s production at Birmingham Hippodrome.

The pieces were seen together for the first time at a drinks reception held in one of the Company’s own studios, as well as online at the project website, www.pointeblank.co.uk.

Participants were sourced by independent curator Claire Hartley, a birmingham-based illustrator and designer, who also produced work herself. Speaking before the work was unveiled, she explained: ‘All of the contributors are professional designers, taking part because they genuinely want to. The enthusiasm shown by everybody has been amazing. There’s no prize or winner – it’s just for fun! There’s so much talent in Birmingham, yet there aren’t enough opportunities for collaboration.”

Speaking at the launch event, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s New Media Officer, Rob Lindsay, praised the collection, saying: ‘It’s an overwhelming collection of artwork that has far outstripped anything that any of us dared to expect. The volume of ideas, and the strength with which each piece has been executed is fantastic, and the time and talents that everybody has poured into the pieces is immensely appreciated.’

This was the second time that such a project had been undertaken, following 2011’s Coppélia exhibition, which is still available to view online. For both projects, the brief had not required the contributors to present the subjects as ballets, only that their artwork included some reference to the Company.

A number of the contributors have blogged about their approaches, including Nathan Monk and Katie Parry

Click here to see the new Pointe Blank collection.

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A personal view on what makes a ‘classic’ ballet
Rob (or @robintheoffice if you’ve arrived here via Twitter), Birmingham Royal Ballet’s digital guru and I were chatting the other day. General conversation between the two of us rarely gets more sophisticated than discussing who’s wearing the nicer checked shirt, (in case you’re wondering why, all men who work in the arts wear checked shirts – it the rules), when conversation strayed into the dangerously serious territory of what constitutes a ‘classic’ ballet? Is there such thing? If there is, can a ‘new’ ballet join the canon? With performances of Hobson’s Choice fast approaching we wondered whether it could it be a ‘classic’ ballet?

Hobson’s Choice, for those of you who’ve not seen it, is a witty, romantic ballet that is a world away from the fantasy worlds of other Bintley works such as Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella. What makes it such a triumph is the seemingly ordinariness of the setting, and its self-contained tale of relationships that anybody can relate to. Its wonderful choreography is complimented by Paul Reade’s remarkable score, which manages to reflect the era without descending into pastiche, is full of wonderful melodies and is brilliantly orchestrated. It has become a real favourite with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s audience.

At its premiere Hobson’s Choice received a standing ovation and has been spoken about in glowing terms ever since. But does it stand alongside the classics; the core repertoire of Birmingham Royal Ballet; The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet etc? There are of course some key differences. Say ‘Swan Lake’ and most people will think ‘ballet’. So firmly established in the repertoire, it has grown beyond the ballet world, it has in fact become synonymous with ballet. How does Hobson’s Choice compare?

Paul Reade sadly died in 1997 at the age of just 54, so his music is complete in the sense that the score is unlikely to be tinkered with, whereas David Bintley is very much free to change his choreography as he sees fit. So we haven’t for certain seen the final version of Hobson’s Choice. The future of any artwork is uncertain. For example, the music of Mahler, now a staple of any professional orchestra, was largely neglected until the likes of Leonard Bernstein championed him in the 1960s. It is of course possible that a ‘new’ ballet could fall out of the repertoire, only to be revived decades from now and be hailed as a ‘classic’.

It is always tempting to rate and rank pretty much anything and everything. A top 10 of this or 5 favourite of the other. But in art, in its broadest sense, I don’t think we really achieve anything by doing so. A person’s appreciation of dance, music or indeed any work of art is for all intents and purposes entirely arbitrary. What moves one person to tears may be entirely baffling to another. So I would suggest that our use of the term ‘classic’ is in fact not a statement of quality at all, but is more accurately an identification of where a work sits historically.

With that in mind, it is safe to say that Hobson’s Choice isn’t a classic in the way that The Nutcracker is. The work may be 20-odd years old, but it is difficult, even at this distance, to judge the status of a ballet in terms of ‘greatness’ or its credentials as a ‘classic’, simply because we can’t yet identify its importance or its influence. Ballet is not a relic or museum piece, it is a living, breathing art-form that is constantly evolving but it is of course helpful to note important works that have subsequently defined what ballet is. Is Hobson’s Choice a ‘classic’? It really doesn’t matter. It’s a wonderful piece of theatre brought to life by hugely talented creative team and people love it for what it is, not how it compares to Sleeping Beauty.

@willsouthworth

In 2011, Birmingham Royal Ballet invited 27 designers to create original peices of A3 printed artwork based upon the story of Coppélia. They did not necessarily have to use ballet imagery, but we did ask for a reference to the Company somehow.

The collection was unveiled at a launch event in one of our own studios, as well as online at www.PointeBlank.co.uk, where it can still be viewed.

Following the deservedly fantastic reponse that the project received, we are delighted to confirm that we are returning to the concept, this time for Hobson’s Choice!

The artists – a mixture of new and returning collaborators – are currently working on the pieces, with previews appearing in the blog section of the Pointe Blank website.

As last time, the project is being overseen by independent Curator, Claire Hartley, and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s New Media Officer, Rob Lindsay.

The new collection will be launched on the evening of 20 February 2012, at the start of a week of performances of Hobson’s Choice at Birmingham Hippodrome.

Rob explained the choice of the ballet as a subject for Pointe Blank:

‘While it was important to present a fresh challenge, we were both equally determined to maintain the principal concept from the first project – a story-inspired brief that was otherwise as non-prescriptive as possible.

‘As with Coppélia, it’s a story that’s been around for a while, but which isn’t burdened with any iconic, or clichéd, imagery. It goes against the ballet stereotype – there are no tutus, and no fairies. It’s set in a shoe shop in Salford in 1880, which is a period of some brilliantly evocative imagery, but also of vast leaps in industry and technology. So potentially the advances in photography and printing methods may prove an additional inspiration to those taking part.’

Claire explained further:

‘We’ve both been quite hesitant to base one of these projects around a story that’s been done before. That was something that made the first project really fresh, it meant the artists really could spin off in any direction.’

Click here for artwork previews so far, and for further information about Pointe Blank.

Hobson’s Choice appears at Birmingham Hippodrome, 22-25 February 2012 – our first home shows of the year!

Here’s a clip from the ballet. Maggie, eldest daughter of the shop owner, encounters the talented but timid bootboy who works down in the cellar:

Birmingham Royal Ballet dance Hobson’s Choice at Birmingham Hippodrome, 22-25 February 2012. The piece is choreographed by Director David Bintley, with music by Paul Reade.

These are the first home performances of 2012, and the only time that we’ll be performing this ballet in full this season.

We’ve created a new trailer for the ballet, which you can view below, or on the microsite at www.brb.org.uk/hobsons. Set in 1880, the ballet tells the story of a drunken shoe shop owner and his daughters’ scheme to escape his cantankerous ways. To book, click here.