LONDON – Steven Knight looks stunned, almost at a loss for words. He just watched contemporary dance company Rambert walk through scenes from the first act of their production “Peaky Blinders,” based on the hit TV show he wrote and created.
Watching the immediate connection between the dancers’ movements and the audience is a revelation for Knight, who has teamed up for a full theatrical dance performance that fills in some of the backstory of the 1920s gangster drama.
“I never liked dancing. Dancing was never a thing for me. I definitely can’t dance myself,” Knight says.
He was so impressed with the power of dance that he wrote a ballet scene in the show’s fifth season.
Recently, Knight watched rehearsals for several scenes from the show, ‘Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby’, which has its world premiere at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday before touring the UK.
“I want other people to experience what I’m experiencing, which is when you see him, it’s like there’s no barrier between you and him,” Knight explains, who wrote the screenplay for the series.
“It’s not like opera, which I’m sure is fantastic, but you don’t have to be able to read opera or understand or know the story or anything. . Just human beings doing what they do to music. And it’s surprisingly direct.
Rambert’s artistic director, Benoit Swan Pouffer, directs and choreographs the production.
“(Knight) said to me, well, you convey an idea in 30 seconds, and when I do that on the show, it takes me hours to convey that idea. So that’s the power of dance. Dance for me and for everyone. You don’t have to learn the language. It’s the body,” says Pouffer. “We speak internationally, so it doesn’t matter where you’re from. You’ll understand the story.”
And that goes for people who have never seen “Peaky Blinders.”
“We kind of start in World War I, which isn’t what we see on the show. And that explains why the Peaky Blinders are Peaky Blinders,” he says.
Fans of the BBC series are sure to know the love story at the heart of the production between crime boss Tommy Shelby and undercover spy Grace Burgess, played on television by Cillian Murphy and Annabelle Wallis.
“Tommy’s life is difficult. He makes a rod for his own back. It causes its own problems, of course. He’s very confrontational, he’s everything he is in the TV series,” Knight explains.
“But I think with dance – maybe you don’t see in other forms – it’s joy, when there’s joy, you see joy in it. But also even in tragedy , you see the beauty of it, so it’s a very interesting way to tell the story.
Tommy and Grace are played by two different sets of dancers, with one of the couples, Guillaume Quéau and Naya Lovell, well aware of their responsibility to the “Peaky Blinders” fanbase.
“If fans watch the show, maybe they have certain expectations of what the characters should look like as Grace or Tommy Shelby and I think that also creates an opportunity to find a balance between dancing and Benoit’s vision and Rambert’s and ‘Peaky Blinders’ vision,” explains Quéau.
“There’s an essence, but it’s also, I wouldn’t say a modernized version, but it’s our version of the story.”
After the war, the Peaky Blinders rule Birmingham in their own way, with torture, shooting and stabbing as frequent methods of persuasion.
This violence is imbued with the movements of the dancers.
“I thought, please stop because you’re going to hurt yourself because this is real.
“You feel the conflict and the violence quite strongly in the form of dance,” says Knight. “That was another eye-opener for me, how beautiful and choreographed and yet so complete a fight scene can be.”
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