Birmingham Royal Ballet is a highlight of Dancin' Oxford. Director David Bintley talked to DAVID BELLAN about their thrilling triple bill

In the opening progamme of its week in Oxford, the Birmingham Royal Ballet is presenting three works by David Bintley, based on the music of Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and Colin Towns. Under the overall title All That Jazz, the bill is made up of Take Five, The Orpheus Suite and The Shakespeare Suite. I asked David where his obvious love of jazz comes from.

"Well, I was listening to jazz even before I got into classical music, because my father was a great jazz fan, and he had a whole collection of LPs of all the greats, so I would be listening to this music, and really got to like it."

Before the three works in the current triple bill, David had already produced a very successful short work to Duke Ellington's treatment of Tchaikovsky's music for The Nutcracker, called The Nutcracker Sweeties. This led him to quarry further into the leading jazz figures.

Take Five is named after the familiar piece by Dave Brubeck with which it opens, and it is followed by five further numbers. I saw it last year, when I declared it an instant, polished classic.

Next comes The Orpheus Suite.

"I wanted to tell the story of Orpheus by drawing parallels with Ellington's life and set it against the darker side of the jazz experience," said David. "In the South, the Ellington band were segregated and had to tour in a special train, and this put me in mind of the Argonauts, who set sail to find the golden fleece. For this work I turned to the jazz composer Colin Towns.

"Apollo creates a jazz band with his son, Orpheus, as one of its members. Aristaeus is a drug-dealing pimp when Eurydice falls into his grasp, while the other girls in the cast are hookers, and the men form the rest of the band. Ellington's music is excellent for depicting all this.

"Jazz was born in the work songs of the slave plantations, and has co-existed with misery and deprivation. In Ellington's day it still existed in a twilight world of crime, drugs and prostitution, and in my piece we see Eurydice's drug-induced descent into Hades."

The Shakespeare Suite is based on music by Ellington and his composing partner Billy Strayhorn. It was their venture into Shakespeare's characters, entitled Such Sweet Thunder to which David has added other music.

"There are stories involving several of Shakespeare's characters. We see Othello wooing Desdemona, then there's Titania madly falling for Bottom as an ass in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the squabbles of Kate and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. Another ill-assorted courtship comes when Richard III woos Lady Anne after causing the death of her husband and her father-in-law, and then there's Hamlet musing over the various comedic, murderous and suicidal pairings and concluding 'madness in great ones must not go unwatched'.

"In the finale all these characters mingle, and you see some unlikely characters dancing together. This may sound a little serious, but in fact the overall tenor of this piece is one of fun and humour, and I'm hoping that this all-jazz programme will have more the feeling of a full-length ballet than a triple bill."

The company is also bringing Peter Wright's celebrated production of Swan Lake, which I have just seen again, superbly danced, at the Birmingham Hippodrome, the company's home theatre. I shall be writing about it in detail after the Oxford performances at the end of next week.

However it's worth pointing out that Peter Wright, formerly director of this company, and now in his early eighties, is the man who has overseen productions of Giselle and Swan Lake and the other classics for many years, keeping them true to the originals as they came from Russia, with the occasional innovation in non-essential areas.

There have been some changes since my previous viewing, and there's one I shall prepare you for now, as it came as quite a shock to me. Philip Prowse's glittering black and gold designs are fabulous for the scenes at the castle, but when we get to Act II, the lake isn't there! I have lost count of the number of productions of this great classic I have seen, but this is the first in which we don't see the lake shimmering in the moonlight in anticipation of Odette's transformation from swan into princess. Be prepared for this, and be sure that there is a lake just out of sight behind the steps, and you will enjoy a performance of the very highest quality!

You can see The Birmingham Royal Ballet at the New Theatre next week. All That Jazz is on Tuesday, with a matinee as well as an evening performance on Wednesday; Swan Lake is on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with both a matinee and an evening performance on Saturday. Box office: 0870 606 3500. For all Dancin' Oxford events go to