Let me paraphrase a couple of telephone conversations I had with Mathias over the past several months.
"Hi, Mathias! How are you?," I asked innocently.
"Mom, have you heard about Edward II?"
"No. Except that your Artistic Director, David Bintley created it."
"Well, yes. But, have you heard about it?"
"Well, people call it his X-rated ballet."
"Really? How so? What part is yours?"
"I really don't know what it's all about; but, I'm cast as the 'Fool', which probably means I'm wearing some hideous costume, walking on stage, standing there like an idiot, and moving furniture or some other stupid prop off at the end of the scene."
"Well, hang in there. I'm sure you'll get your chance to impress everyone soon. Love ya'"
(We hang up the telephone.)
(About a week later)
"Hi, Mathias! How are you?," I asked innocently.
"Mom, remember about my being cast as 'The Fool'?"
"Well, it's not one of those parts that moves furniture. It's a real dancing roll."
"No, Mom, you don't understand. It's a real soloist part...but..."
"No, Mom, you REALLY don't understand...remember that this is David Bintley's X-rated ballet?"
"Yes," I say, half as a question and half because I'm not sure what else to say.
"Well, Mom....I'm the "X"....it's a dancing roll...not an excuse to get some prop off stage...a real dancing roll...but....the costume....," he trails off.
"What about the costume?," I inquire.
"Remember, I said it might be 'hideous'?"
"Well, it's hideous. Almost all the costumes all are black and Gothic looking." (The costume is actually royal blue!) I have to wear all this face paint....(which didn't sound too hideous either)....and....well, Mom, there's an eighteen inch, strap-on, hot-pink dilbo...." (Please note, spell check isn't sure about the word "dildo" and I really don't have the slightest idea about the spelling...this is truly a dramatic "pause"....and the hot pink actually looks very "flesh" colored under the stage lights.)
As a mother, one is often required to "go where no man has gone before"...this was one of those times....what is one suppose to say to one's nineteen year old son about wearing an eighteen-inch, strap-on dildo?
Without missing a beat, I tried, "Well, I'll certainly be able to pick you out from the other dancers!"
"MOM!"....(please add all the righteous, shocked, exasperated intonations possible from a nineteen year boy about to have his mother witness him performing with a dildo)
"MOM!," he continued, "You don't understand! When the five of us come on stage we have to act like were "shagging" each other...and we're like, all guys!"
"Well, with an eighteen inch dildo, you should be very popular in that scene." (I'm not a prude.)
"MOM!" (Said with total shock and absolute exasperation).
We didn't discuss the role or the costume much beyond this. Birmingham Royal Ballet's website carried a capsulized version of the story...gay king, rejected and then vindicative wife, angry barons, civil war, a beheaded lover, and a red-hot poker up the....well...a dark and twisted Gothic tale of neglected responsibilities and the consequences of not meeting them...a tale of power corrupting absolutely...a tale of prejudice and narrow-mindedness, a tale of a historic death and a society's anger, a tale of violence and a monarchy's worst side...Edward II.
My sister Wanda joined me in London. Wanda's experience with ballet was limited to Mathias' graduation performance...the pas de deux from Flames of Paris, Le Corsaire, and Satanilla...competition pieces along with fun and fluffy contemporary choreography meant to depart from the heavily classical, Russian works...no story, no plot, no statement, nothing modern, and certainly devoid of homosexual themes, blatantly sexual costumes, and scenes of violence.
My mother, upon hearing about Edward II, exclaimed, "How horrible that a company forces its dancers into such roles." Little did she know that Mathias' only problem with the part was the fact that I, his mother, would be witnessing it. With rehearsal time, however, Mathias got over this fear/anxiety/problem. He was the perfect FOOL! He positively embraced the light-hearted, frivolous nature of the part and was truly animated. He and his cast of "clowns" provided both comic relief and a symbolic icon of "inappropriate expenditures of time for a monarch". They fulfilled their role, added a laugh, danced well, and were a pivotal part of the plot.
Overall, the ballet was riveting. Wanda was entranced. After the show, she exclaimed (paraphrased!), "I never knew that ballet could tell a story without a single word, without reading the program notes, without background information about dance or history. I thought I was going to be bored by tiaras and tutus. I never knew that ballets could include gorgeous men stomping angrily in boots on table tops, dramatic sets, spectacular live music, history, real-life and relevant meaning, and be FUN to watch. This was GREAT!" She meant it too.
I was able to see both Thursday and Saturday evenings productions. Unfortunately, these featured the same casts...not that I minded. It would have been interesting to compare how various members of the company interpreted the parts...but, I'm no ballet expert. I'm not sure that it would have made a difference...besides, Mathias dances the Fool in all the shows...every cast. Frankly, I agreed with Wanda. It was totally captivating, brilliantly choreographed, and excellent to watch.
One of the most important things about the ballet, however, was watching how complicated all the action really was in terms of staging. The corps de ballet and all the other characters have so many extra parts...carrying props or furniture, making transitions form scene to scene, working together as a company with a focus to create an entire work...not just a dancer going through the steps...a whole show. David Bintley's ability to stage the work is incredible. There are so many little things to be done in order for the story to progress and make sense.
It was brilliant and worth seeing time and time again