Posts Tagged ‘Northern Ballet Theatre’

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

May 20, 2009

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 “Consolations 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.)

Great review on Clement Crisp’s talk about the state of ballet

May 12, 2009

I had a Twitter person refer me to this wonderful report on Clement Crisp’s pre-show lecture at the National Ballet of Canada. Now, I didn’t agree with his take on Northern Ballet’s Hamlet, but it was certainly clear he’s got the decades of experience behind him. And this review makes clear that he’s also dedicated to one of my pet causes, supporting the future of ballet. It must not die, and to not die, it needs fresh blood in the forms of new choreography and new audience members. To die, it just needs to be allowed to become a museum piece.

That said, I’m helping (eep!) support the death of ballet by going to see Giselle tomorrow. It’s one of my favorite classical ballets, and I figure that it will be a nice addition to the version by the Mikhailovsky I saw last year and the version I saw performed by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba way back in ’99. (Good lord! A performance before I was blogging!) Sure, it’s a museum piece, but on the lines of the Mona Lisa when you’ve got an excellent company performing it. (Actually I’d say it’s more like Millais’ “Ophelia,” but that’s just me.)

In addition to a night with an old standard, I’m also going to see the New Works at the Linbury on Thursday, because I do, seriously, support the vitalization of this art form which I love so much. And to add to this, I’ll be popping over to Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday to see the Northern Ballet Theater’s mixed bill (Gillian Lynne’s “A Simple Man,” “Angels in the Architecture” and “As time goes by”). Supporting these performances will help ballet move forward as an art – but I’m going because I love ballet, and I love the chance to see new works, and the thought of seeing some amazing dancers performing makes me grin from ear to ear.

The rest of my month is going to mostly be classical music at the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music – three or four concerts (including Phantasm and Emma Kirkby) over its two weeks – and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m only going to see two plays – Exquisite Corpse at the Southwark Playhouse, and Aunt Dan and Lemon at the Royal Court. Overall, May won’t be much of a theater month, but I think it will be great!

Hamlet – Northern Ballet Theatre – Sadler’s Wells

April 23, 2008

I have to say I was a bit worried about how a ballet interpretation of Hamlet would come out. I’d gone to see Christopher Wheeldon’s “Elsinore” last year, and it just had no emotional power at all. How could such a neat tale, one of the most powerful tales in western literature, come off so damn flat? It almost made me feel like modern choreographers should just stick with plotless ballets. But since “Romeo and Juliet” is really so good, and I think ballet/dance really is good at story telling, AND I have this bizarre wish to see the repertory of story ballets extended beyond the old chestnuts (I mean, seriously, Matthew Bourne has done so well – with retreads), that I just queued right up for tickets for this show, based simply on a desire for wish fulfillment. (And right beforehand, I turned to J and said, “God, I hope this is good!” – the theatre-goer’s eternal prayer.)

To my pleasure, Northern Ballet Theatre’s Hamlet (choreographed by David Nixon and new this year) was really good. They had moved the story up to World War Two and Occupied Paris – a fairly common resetting for Shakespeare, at least in terms of the World Wars – but then made several changes to the story that could irritate purists but served to drive the story much better than a slavish adherence to the original would have. Hamlet’s dad (Steven Wheeler) was Paris’ head of police, killed by his uncle Claudius (Darren Goldsmith) in a blatant act of career climbing/toadying when the Nazis moved into town. This means that Hamlet (Christopher Hinton-Lewis, phwoar) is not a prince in this show, but, as a commoner, his grief at the loss of his dad is actually much more moving. I also found the women quite intriguing in an environment in which dealing with powerlessness and being, essentially, prisoners so strongly informed their actions. Gertrude (Nathalie Leger) was a fool, to be sure, but she seemed so much less of a conspirator than just another person trying to survive in very bad circumstances, and at the end, her affection for Hamlet seemed quite genuine (despite the fact that during the, er, sex scene with Claudius, she looked most unmotherly and quite sprightly in her vintage 40’s unmentionables).

And, of course, there’s Ophelia (Georgina May). Oddly, I’ve just come off of reading the book Something Rotten, which is a meta-literary comedy in which Ophelia and Polonius attempt to become the stars of the “play formerly starring Hamlet,” and it’s somehow left me with this idea that Ophelia isn’t satisfied with her role in the play (even though this is totally an artifact of the book). I felt like Hamlet’s relationship with Ophelia was much better realized in this ballet than it is in the play – their love dance in the first act was just … beautiful (*gets goosebumps*). The way Hamlet lifted and carried her over his back (once he’d finally engaged with her through his sorrow), the way they held each other’s faces, the way he slid above her and she grabbed ahold of his body to lift herself right up off of the floor – it showed a degree of affection and tenderness that I never saw in Shakespeare. In addition, her mad scene in act two was FANTASTIC, a total star turn for Miss May. I’ve never seen changing the way someone walks so perfectly capture someone who’s gone over the edge – clip-clopping flat-footed in her toe shoes, hiding behind pillars, and of course handing out her bizarre little Nazi posies to the various guests at the dance. She put Lucia di Lammermoor to shame and, frankly, pulled far more of a star turn than the original Ophelia ever managed. Complain about lack of faith to the original? You’ll not hear me make a peep. This adaptation was nothing short of fantastic.

There was a lot more to this show, though, including leaping leather clad Nazis, black gowned Cabaret-style chanteuses, torture scenes, and men dancing in boots up to their knees – not really in the style of either a typical R&J (for some reason as a ballet Romeo and Juliet is ALWAYS Renaissance Italy) or a sexless Swan Lake. I can’t really say that the dance was outstanding other than in the Ophelia scenes – there was a near total lack of dancing on pointe, which made me sad – but it was good, in general, there was a rockin’ duel at the end, and it was a coherent work of theater that came complete with an original score. In short: highly recommended, and I hope it passes into the general ballet repertory.

Review Preview: Northern Ballet Theatre’s Hamlet – Sadler’s Wells

April 22, 2008

While I will be fleshing this review out tomorrow, I want to quickly say, for those people who are considering going, I VERY much enjoyed this evening. It was a great adaptation of the story of Hamlet to the dance medium, the choreography, sets and lights were good, and, basically, it was a good night out. I was caught up in the emotion of the story, and it did exactly what it was supposed to – make me care about what was happening and actually get involved in the emotions of the – dare I say it – characters (the one item so often missing from story ballets!). At any rate, with 15 pound seats available, I’d say anyone who likes story ballets or Hamlet should really make the effort to get up to Sadler’s Wells to see this thing.

That said, all of this writing is hard on my sleep schedule, so I’m going to wrap this up and hope I can add more to it later!