Review – Northern Ballet’s Mixed Programme (As Time Goes By, Angels in the Architecture, A Simple Man) – Sadler’s Wells

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First: I noticed that Union Theatre’s new show, Sondheim’s Company, is opening today! How exciting – I’ve just booked tickets for the Sunday matinee. On to the review …

Last night I went with J and my two visiting Canadian friends to see the Northern Ballet Theater’s current mixed bill. “As Time Goes By” was billed as ballroom dancing to a live score; “Angels in the Architecture” as a celebration of Shaker culture performed to Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Suite;” and “A Simple Man” – well, that one stumped me, because the intro paragraph (quoting Gillian Lynne) said “the BBC asked me to make something for Lowry’s centenary.” I thought – a choreographer? A musician? A famous dancer? And then it came out that he was a painter, though reading the program I had no idea what his first name was – it seems like it was just expected that you would know. (Given that one of my friends doesn’t know who the Impressionists are, I think a little historical information, and even a painting or two in the four color program, would have been really helpful. The painter’s first name is mentioned nowhere. Northern Ballet would do better to aim for more of a worldwide audience by more expansively talking to their audience about their sources of inspiration rather than leaving me to consult Wikipedia to figure out who they were talking about.)

While I can say nice things about my ticket price (10 quid way up in the next to last row of the second balcony) and the program price (2 quid, fabulous!), unfortunately I’ve got not much nice to say about the show. “As Time Goes By” was set in a glamorously lit, Deco-style nightclub, and the tuxedoed and black gowned dancers suited it well. (However, I was disturbed by the choice of tan/pink shoes for the ballerinas – they looked like they were dancing barefoot.) After the opening musical piece, Peter Grant, a “21 year old northern lad” (per the program), took the stage and moved through a long set of classics, most of which were accompanied by duos dancing (though there was one set with three men). Unfortunately, I found all of the dancing fairly interchangeable, with an occasional “bad” moment (I saw a ballerina just stop cold as her partner apparently failed to be where he was supposed to be). I found myself thinking longingly of Liam Scarlett’s ‚ÄúConsolations and Liebestraum,” from not even a week ago, which fully exploited the dramatic possibilities of the couple and which had a different story and feeling for each of three couples despite using the same composer’s music throughout. This just didn’t hit it at all, and I found my mind wandering before it was all over. The music and singing, though, that was enjoyable – I just wish there’d been more to watch.

“Angels in the Architecture” was the best piece of the night, featuring a very nice pas de deux early on, though mostly it was big groups of women and men dancing (solo and mixed). It started with “brooms solo” on stage, with the dancers coming up to standing brooms and then doing rather a lot of dancing around and with them. After the brooms were hung up, the dancers went through a series of movements that were supposed to have some flavors of Shaker life to them, though I found it quite comic that the women kept lifting their skirts and wrapping around them in a way that could be seen as rather sexy when in fact the Shakers were a celibate cult. At the end was a long and bad bit involving Shaker chairs, which I would have much preferred to have seen left hanging on the walls on their peg rails. The chair dancing scene just seemed to get into a bizarre object worship that to me reflected how people remembered the Shakers – as people who made covetable furniture – than how the Shaker people themselves operated or what it was that they, as a culture, valued. They certainly didn’t worship their furniture. I found myself thinking of the Brady Bunch episode where Jan decides to get into modern dance and, after pouring her heart into a piece in which she dances with a scarf, is told, “Now do it again without the scarf!” This needed to be done without the chairs. Ah well.

The final piece, “A Simple Man,” had just no emotional resonance for me as I am completely unfamiliar with the work of Lowry. Moreover, the movement wasn’t very interesting. My conclusion was that they should have done less paintings, and maybe tried to make it a more interesting dance, rather than being so worshipful toward the source. I did get a huge kick out of the Nymphettes, two girls dressed all in pink so that they looked liked oversexed housewives, their (comically molded, like puppets) breasts hanging out over their pink peignoirs, little balls on their slippers and huge pink bows, prancing around on tiptoe – but otherwise it was fairly dull and we wished we’d slipped out after the interval.

(This program continues at Sadler’s Wells tonight, Wednesday, May 20th. For another take on this evening, see this review in the Times.)

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3 Responses to “Review – Northern Ballet’s Mixed Programme (As Time Goes By, Angels in the Architecture, A Simple Man) – Sadler’s Wells”

  1. Exit, pursued by a bear Says:

    LOL – the company were originally meant to be doing the Entrance of the Shades from La Bayadere in this programme. However, I have it on very good authority that it was pulled because the Corps simply weren’t up to it. The phrase that was actually used was “they keep f….ing falling over”.

  2. Review – MacMillan Triple Bill (Concerto, Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations) – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] dancing that put more recent attempts at the “dancers in a ballroom” to shame (sorry, Northern Ballet). I loved the references to the dances of the era, I thought Steve McRae was fab as a twinkle-toed […]

  3. Review – American Ballet Theater mixed rep program 2 (Theme and Variations, Jardin aux Lilas, Tchai Pas, Company B) – Sadler’s Wells « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] conveyed), a real improvement over something like the weak “As Time Goes By” done by Northern Ballet Theater (not too surprising given Paul Taylor’s stature). I loved Arron Scott’s body-jerking in […]

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