Conductor John Pryce Jones
Music Giacomo Puccini
Reviewer: Farhana Shaikh
The Northern Ballet’s latest production of Madame Butterfly with Perpetuum Mobile is energetic and evocative theatre at its very best.
The show starts with a seventeen minute performance of Perpetuum Mobile – set to Bach’s music – and is a marriage of music and classical ballet steps. As the dancers work in sync, gliding effortlessly across the stage, it’s hard not to admire the sheer strength and agility of their work. There is no narrative in the piece and there needn’t be, it’s a display of talent and a perfect precirsor to Madame Butterfly.
There are three short minutes of pause before the main proceedings take place where we are transported to Japan. The set is beautifully romantic, minimalistic: a huge canvas of a geisha hangs off the ceiling, and a wooden Japanese home front made up of a door and eaves represents the gateway to Japanese culture and Butterfly’s home. A huge screen, which sits in the background changing, colour helps to set the mood. The costumes are fantastic and add a vibrancy and colour pulling everything together.
Three naval officers in white studded uniforms sit in youthful amusement watching Butterfly perform a traditional dance. And then we are taken in, as Butterfly does what she knows best – anything and everything to please her audience.
In this two act piece, the Northern Ballet has done well to combine Puccini’s famous music and traditional Japanese music with stunning dancing. The dancers move across the stage in perfect harmony. The first act is a real treat, it is well-paced and well timed, and we’re allowed to connect emotionally with Butterfly’s journey from a shy young bride to a steely married woman who refuses to believe anything but that Pinkerton’s marriage to her is a commitment of their love. The jovial wedding scene where the entire ensemble dances in merriment, with twirling parasols, is a visual delight. But in the second half, the story moves almost too quickly, and therefore loses emotional impact. There is one exception – where Pinkerton’s American wife snatches Butterfly’s child out of her hand – which is particularly heart-wrenching.
This is a strong cast that delivers powerful emotional performances to an artistically high standard throughout. Kelley McKinlay adds a laddish, up for anything quality to Pinkerton; Hironao Takahasi as Bonze, the holy man- a Voldermort like figure – who strips Butterfly of her religion making her a social pariah – has a wonderful action packed scene, which uses a combination of martial arts and dance techniques. Filippo DiVilio has great stage presence in the rôle of Goro, the marriage broker. But it is Pippa Moore who adds a frail but steely resilience to Butterfly, who is simply outstanding.
The two hours and five minutes is over too soon.
Photo: Jason Tozer | Runs until 6th June and on tour