Artistic Director: David Nixon OBE
Choreography: David Nixon OBE, Christopher Hampson
Music Director: John Pryce-Jones
Reviewer: Beverley Haigh
Northern Ballet premiere in Doncaster with their new scaled down, pared back performance of Madame Butterfly with Perpetuum Mobile.
traditionally, the company are acclaimed for their elaborate sets and full-scale versions of both well-known (and lesser-known) story telling ballets. Their recent tour highlights a shift in direction, as alongside their usual repertoire of world famous work, they are also venturing into new areas, making their already accessible work available to a wider reach.
This piece uses a reduced set alongside a smaller orchestra and cast to allow the production to tour venues not usually accessible with a full-sized version, therefore increasing the diversity and accessibility of Northern Ballet’s portfolio of work. The smaller scale, while producing work that can fit onto a smaller stage and accessed in a range of previously unavailable theatre spaces, also results in cheaper ticket prices, allowing the company the potential to reach new audiences.
This newly arranged double bill opens with Perpetuum Mobile, a short showcase piece for Northern Ballet, set to and inspired by Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major. The effortless grace of the dancers is displayed to the highest of standards, as expected from Northern Ballet, the steps performed still traditional but not reliant on narrative. There is no set, instead highlighting Alastair West’s skilled and effective lighting. The costumes, again, are designed to become secondary to the dance itself, refreshingly, providing the audience a chance to focus solely on the ballet.
As an opener, Perpetuum Mobile is the ideal introduction for the main body of the evening’s performance as the theme continues. Madame Butterfly has also been simplified somewhat to allow the storyline and the key themes of the piece to be communicated effectively without relying on an elaborate setting. The scenery is minimalist but from the outset, it is immediately obvious from the music, costumes and style of dance that the story is set in Japan – the sailors on shore leave enraptured by the Japanese Geisha’s elegance and beauty as they perform for them.
The ballet continues within the theme of culture, love and religion, centering around a traditional story of courtship, love, loss and revenge. Naïve Geisha Butterfly is chosen as a ‘bride’ by the handsome and debonair American sailor, Officer Pinkerton. However, Butterfly is little more than a child and while she betrays her religion to immerse herself within western culture and waits for Pinkerton, she is devastated to learn of his new wife when he finally does return. Despite bearing a child for him, the self-destructing conclusion is inevitable – Butterfly having no choice but to protect her honour and dignity the only way she knows how, symbolically using the only legacy she has from her father, his Samurai sword to take her own life and finally free her.
Although some of the central issues have been slightly diluted meaning the impact of the more emotive scenes has been lessened – the taking of Butterfly’s child is not nearly as heart-breaking in this version as it is in the full-scale production – Northern Ballet should still be commended for their powerful and triumphant portrayal of the story, particularly with only a cast of 14 (plus one small person!) The simplicity of the piece means that it becomes reliant on the symbolism of every movement, prop or piece of scenery used, which become all the more relevant and poignant
What Northern Ballet are achieving as a company is truly inspiring: their work is accessible for so many and what is even more applaudable is that they are choosing to support theatre in Yorkshire, the very roots of this internationally successful northern company.
Runs until: 23rd May 2015 then touring nationally
Reviewed on: 21st May 2015