DanceNorth East & YorkshireReview

Northern Ballet Mixed Programme – Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds

Artistic Director: David Nixon OBE

Choreography: Morgann Runacre-Temple, Mlindi Kulashe, Kenneth Tindall

Reviewer: Beverley Haigh

Northern Ballet’s latest Mixed Programme deviates from their usual signature character ballets, which are largely narrative based. Showcasing new work from three emerging choreographers, instead, the programme focuses on more abstract themes and allows scope for innovative and explorative work to come through, highlighting the diversity and extraordinary talent within the company.

The first title in the Mixed Programme is Morgann Runacre-Temple’s The Kingdom of Back, the most linear and story led piece within the triple bill. Exploring the relationship between Wolfgang Mozart, his elder sister Nannerl, also a composer whose talents were surpassed and over-shadowed by that of her prodigious younger brother, and their disciplinarian teacher father, Leopold (Javier Torres). Blending humour, mime, contemporary dance and beautiful pointe work, The Kingdom of Back is a perfect opener for the programme as it clearly defines the direction in which Northern Ballet are heading, dispelling any myths or preconceptions of ballet. Echoing this notion, the music also combines the classical with the modern, featuring a slightly absurd piece reminiscent of a game show soundtrack, reworked a cappella renditions of Mozart’s most famous compositions and excerpts of David Bowie’s Life on Mars. Despite being a short piece, Runacre-Temple succinctly encapsulates the dynamics between the three characters and the inner turmoil of Nunnel, trapped forever in her ‘Kingdom of Back’, translating it into a lucid and entrancing ballet.

Mamela (meaning ‘listen’ in the native language of Xhosa) is the official choreographic debut from South African born Mlindi Kulashe. As a first soloist for Northern Ballet, Kulashe recently participated in the company’s innovative choreographic workshop to encourage and develop new talent. Examining social norms and how society affects individuals, Mamela explores themes of frustration, escapism and imprisonment, creating a hauntingly abstract ballet. With its predominantly androgynous styling, devoid of any usual ballet stereotypes it is the most contemporary of the three pieces. Mamela is both energetic and acrobatic, whilst still retaining moments of poignancy with elegant and slightly fragile pas de deux. Utilising a multi-layered soundtrack the piece is also unafraid of moments of silence as the dancers respond and ‘listen’ to the music.

The Shape of Sound is the latest choreographic creation from Kenneth Tindall, whose recent production of Casanova was critically acclaimed, receiving numerous prestigious accolades. The style of this latest piece of work is evocative of this recent triumph, combining strong contemporary technique with classical ballet shapes. Inspired by the seasons and responding to the music of Max Richter’s reimagining of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, The Shape of Sound becomes a visual realisation of the musical arrangement, each sound and phrase depicted by movement. Enhanced by lighting, colour helps to differentiate seasons and Alastair West’s breathtaking design sees the dancers transcend through beams of light and haze, appearing and disappearing like ethereal beings. The piece is visually stunning as well as physically demanding but the responsive nature of the piece lends equal importance to Richter’s music. Here Tindall resolutely validates his position as Northern Ballet’s Choreographer in Residence with a promise of plenty more future treats in store.

Firmly establishing Leeds as the capital of pioneering new dance, Northern Ballet continues to challenge and lead the way in producing ballet for the 21st Century.

Runs until 15th September 2018 | Image: Emma Kauldhar

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