Tag Archives: Northern Ballet

The Nutcracker

reviewed at the Norwich Theatre Royal on 21 November

It’s a popular ballet at this time of year, the story of a Christmas festivity with many layers of meaning. It’s also a ballet of two acts which is notoriously difficult to fit nto an over-arching cohesion.

Act One is all story, with dancing. Act Two can then seem like a succession of divertissements with little relationship to what has gone before. David Nixon’s Northern Ballet binds the two acts more closely than many productions.

Here Clara (Rachael Gillespie) is a teenager not much junior to her sister Louise (Minju Kang). So she dances en pointe throughout, distancing herself from the younger members of the Edwards family’s party.

The period is Regency and the place is England. That allows for uncle Drosselmeyer (Mlindi Kulashe) to conjure up an orientalist fantasy world both at the party and in the gardens beyond the clouds. Louise and her suitor  James (Javier Torres) fit into this quite logically as the Sugar-Plum fairy and her cavalier.

Some of the costumes have been redesigned for this revival; the whole production looks fresh. Dixon melds his own choreography with some of Ivanov’s original set pieces, but the joins are scarcely discernible.

Gillespie gives us a credible portrait of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, suggesting the tentativeness of that transitional state. She becomes the focus of the dance as well as the drama in Act Two, one which Kang and Torres don’t quite manage to defeat.

There’s a dash of the Lord of Misrule about Kulashe, whether displaying the animated dolls (Kyungka Kwak, Jonathan Hanks and Riku Ito) from his cabinet of curiosities or launching Clare and Ashley Dixon’s Nutcracker prince on their fantasy journey.

Kevin Poeung, Adam Ashcroft, Nina Queiroz da Silva, Gavin McCraig, Abigail Prudames, Conner Jordan-Collins, Harris Beattie and George Liang all do well with the national and character dances. There a real sense of ensemble in the corps de ballet.

Four star rating.

The Nutcracker runs at the Norwich Theatre Royal until 24 November with matinées on 22 and 24 November.

 

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The Little Mermaid

reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 September

What is the worst  thing which can happen to a dancer? Or to a singer? Surely it’s to lose the faculty which is the whole centre of her being, literally her raison d’être. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale gives the voice and movement to his little mermaid, who willingly gives them up for a life on dry land and the human man with whom she  is infatuated.

David Nixon’s new Northern Ballet creation takes the story, which is one with an unhappy ending rather than “and then they lived happily ever after”, and sets it somewhere sea-girt – his costumes suggest the Scottish Highland coast or even Greece as well as a slight Japanese influence. Lifts are either two-person to display the Fortuny pleats of the mermaids’ tails or one-person for the dry-land, human dress sequences.

Cliff-like structures are moved by the cast to take us from the ocean depths to dry land as the story switches from one location to another. Sally Beamish’s score is one with Celtic resonances, notably for Adair and his sailor friends, and uses Stephanie Irvine’s vocalise at crucial moments.

The cast I saw is dominated by Abigail Prudames’ heart-rending Marilla, the little mermaid herself. She is a fine actress as well as a graceful lyrical dancer and her beach scene as she realises that she is now dumb and that every movement of the legs and feet which have replaced her water-cleaving tail is one of excruciating agony is almost painful to watch.

Growing up is notoriously a painful business, and this is as much a fable about maturity and its obligations as well as its rights as it is about any species of fish out of its own water. Joseph Taylor as Adair suggests the young man who has dreams but perhaps not much imagination; there is a nice contrast between the inventive fluidity of his pas de deux with Marilla and the convention of the later one with Dreda Blow’s Dana.

Every fairytale needs both a villain and a faithful friend for the protagonist. Matthew Topliss’ Lyr is a mollusc-dark Lyr, lord of the sea and determined to keep its denizen in order. Kevin Poeung makes the prancing seahorse Dillion the most wholly likeable character of all, ending both acts centre stage but now doubly bereft.

Four and a half-star rating.

The Little Mermaid runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 30 September with matinées on 28 and 30 September. The national tour continues until 17 December.

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Casanova
reviewed in Norwich on 4 April

Northern Ballet has never been afraid to present those facets of drama which are not usually fully explored in traditional ballet scenarios. Its latest première is based on Ian Kelly’s biography of Casanova and choreographed by Kenneth Tindall with an original score by Kerry Muzzey, probably best known as composer for film and television.

How you view Giacomo Casanova, the defrocked Venetian priest who fell foul of the Inquisition, led an amormously ramshackle life in various European courts and ended as a count’s librarian in Bohemia, probably depends on which dramatised adaptations of his life and loves (with the emohasis on the latter) you’ve encountered. Between them, Kelly and Tindall have scraped away some of this clutter to suggest a far more intellectual man of the Enlightenment than usually confronts us.

Touring ballet productions tend to simplify the scenic aspects and rely on costuming and lighting. Christopher Oram uses a succssion of moveable black and gilt ribbed panels (pillars or bookcases?) with an ornate baroque picture-frame lowering above. His costume palette concentrates on a complete range of greys, from almost-white to near-black. Reds, purple, gold and blue are reserved for the principal characters.

Alatair West’s lighting pours purple onto the early Venetian scenes and whitens as Casanova’s travels take him to Louis XV’s Paris. Nathan Fifield conducts Muzzey’s score which is often stridently brassy as the brass and timpani weigh in. It suits the story very well and complemens Tindall’s choreography.

This makes much use of lunging steps for the men balanced by equally forceful arm movements. These characterise the Inquisitors in particular. Casanova’s female sequence of lovers at times echo this with their extended arabesques en pointe and in the lifts. Many of these are athletic but not always graceful; the pas de deux with Dreda Blow’s Bellino doesn’t really suggest the love inherent in it.

Giulano Contadini in the title role fully deserves the acclamation awarded it at the curtain call. He acts as well as dances the part, from musical seminarian to disillused philosopher. it’s a rounded portrait of a real man. Of the other roles, Hannh Bateman as the husband-abused Henriette, Victoria Sibson as mme de Pompadour, Javier Torres as Senator Bragadin, Mlindi Kulashe as the Chief Inquisitor and Sean Bates as Cardinal de Bernis are also three-dimensional characterisations.

Four and a half-star rating.

Casanova continues at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 8 April with matinées on 6 and 8 April. it can also be seen at the Milton Keynes Theatre between 19 and 22 April.

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Beauty and the Beast

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 October)

Northern Ballet has launched its autumn 2016 tour of artistic director David Nixon’s Beauty and the Beast in Norwich. This being a Dixon production, although much of the choeorgraphy follows classical lines – and his company has the skills to make this appear just as it should be – the story, the characterisations of the main characters and the costumes combine folk- and fairy-tale elements with more than a passing nod to the late 20th and 21st centuries.

His choice of music is equally wide-ranging. Glaunov for the more-or-less traditional finale but also the uncompromising diatonic and dissonance of Poulenc and the musical picture-painting of Bizet, Debussy and Saint Saëns. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia under John Pryce Jones fused these elements at the service of the dance. Duncan Hayler’s mirrored sets are lit by Tim Mitchell, mostly to fine effect except when reflexions dazzled the audience and left the dancers in shadow.

Dreda Blow, on the opening night, makes a charming Beauty, lyrical in both her solos and in her pas de deux with the Beast and with the Prince and strong of foot for the leaps with which Dixon has endowed the part. Her Prince – initially a self-centred primping posturer – is Giliano Contadini, supporting Blow effortlessly in their pas de deux and acting well throughout.

La Fée Magnifique (think Carabosse en pointe) is Victoria Sibson with Hannah Bateman as her beneficent counterpart Luminaire, a Lois Fuller swirl of shimmering flowing tissues. This storyline has Alfred, an ambiguous man-servant who we see first as the Prince’s valet and then as a manipulator for both Magnifique and Luminaire. Hironao Takahashi conveyed an impression of this multi-faceted master of ceremonies with just the right touch of control.

Ashley Dixon as the Beast – the Prince transformed as a result of his selfishness – is a fine characterisation as well as an athletic one, dangerous as only a feral animal can be but always suggesting that something better underlies the savagery, if only it were allowed to come to the surface. This is most apparent in the opening scenes of the second act with Beauty. He thoroughly diserved th audience’s applause at the first night curtain calls.

Beauty and the Beast is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 29 October with matinèes on 27 and 29 October. The production’s five-centre tour continues until 7 January.

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Swan Lake

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 19 April)

Northern Ballet has never forgotten that its original title was Northern Ballet Theatre. Artistic director David Nixon’s apprach to both the classics of the ballet repertoire and to commissioned new work uses the strength of the drama inherent in each plot just as much as the lyricism of the traditional choreography.

His casts need to act as well as dance. His new production of Swan Lake retains the outline of the Petipa and Ivanov scenario but with some very 21st century twists. Odette (Martha Leebolt at the performance I saw) is no fragile princess trapped by an evil magician.

Rather, she is in that seductive yet sinister tradition of the beautiful creature who materialises out of the water to lure a young man into her realm. From the naiads and sirens of Greek myth through those river-haunting undines and lorelei to the rusalye and the shape-shifting seal-women of Scandinavian legend – not to mention those familiar through Grimm and Andersen – they bring disaster for humans.

Idilia (Abigail Prudames) is of the earth but still vulnerable to rejection. Specifically she is of New England at the end of the 19th century. Both Anthony’s father (Hironao Takahashi) and mother (Victoria Sibson) want her to marry their son (Tobias Batley) who has grown into a personable but exceedingly troubled young man.

In childhood Anthony had seen his younger brother drown; now he haunts the lakeside where the tragedy occurred while coping with a realisation that his feelings for his best friend Simon (Nicola Gervasi) are trembling between accustomed comradeship and something much more passionate and sexual.

Horse-playing friends, with Ashley Dixon outstanding as the one who never quite pulls off the athleticism of the rest of the group, fail to involve Anthony in their sport. The choreography for the boys involves sequences of leaps and lifts, all very well executed with impeccable timing. Whirls and twirls pervade the pas de trois for Anthony, Simon and Odilia.

We revert to more familiar sequences when Anthony is once more alone at the lakeside. In the fading light Odette and her fellow “swans” emerge from the rushes and captivate Anthony. He overcomes his fear of the lake to join them, much to a returning Simon’s consternation.

At Anthony’s coming-of-age party, Odilia stands out among the preening young women in her white Parisian gown and the merrymaking culminates in another pas de trois for her with and equally entranced Simon which is both lyrical and demandingly intense.

By the third act, Odilia and Anthony have married, but he cannot escape the influence of Odette. Simon’s attempts to distract his friend simply result in a mutual and passionate embrace, which horrifies Odilia. Back at the lakeside, the dance of the four cygnets suggests embryonic vengeful Wilis as we return to the dance sequences for the swans.

Whether or not you count Anthony’s final plunge into their realm as a happy ending is a moot point. Dramatically, it all flows well enough, though the transitions from new, more contemporary choreography with the familiar 19th century one is not always seamless.

I had the impression that some audience members were slightly bemused. The Northern Ballet Sinfonia under Brett Morris made John Longstaff’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s score (with subtractions and additions) sound fresh and sympathetic to the performers on stage as well as in the pit. Dave Gillan’s designs and Peter Mumford’s clever lighting enhance the experience.

Swan Lake is at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 23 April with matinées on 21 and 23 April. It can also be seen at the Milton Keynes Theatre between 26 and 30 April.

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