Directors: Christopher Hampson (Perpetuum Mobile) and David Nixon OBE (Madame Butterfly)
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Two contrasting dance pieces in one evening at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre this weekend-what a delight! Europe’s Best Dance Company, Northern Ballet, brings us Scottish Ballet’s Perpetuum Mobile and the acclaimed Madame Butterfly.
We commence with the former, a seventeen minute aperitif as light and fizzing as a good champagne and containing several amuse-bouches, set to a violin concerto by J S Bach. This piece really does show us the power, dynamism and athleticism of the dancers. No long tales here; the choreography and dance tell it all. Breathtakingly beautiful and certainly aptly named! Costumes, lighting and movement work perfectly together and what synchronicity across all the dancers.
In mesmerising contrast is the former Puccini opera, a dramatic, poignant example of story-telling ballet at its very best. In brief, Puccini’s tragic tale tells of a U.S naval officer, Pinkerton, bewitched at a party by a beautiful geisha called Butterfly who is little more than a child. Later she and Pinkerton are married, much against her culture and religion. Dawn finds him departing for his ship and the start of Butterfly’s patient wait for his return. Three years go by during which Butterfly bears Pinkerton a son. As if in answer to Butterfly’s unquestioning faith Sharpless, the US consul, arrives with a letter from Pinkerton but the news is not good for he has no thought of returning.Some while later Pinkerton does finally come back to her but, instead of Butterfly meeting her longed-for husband, the poor girl encounters his American wife, Kate! Left alone, deserted by her family, husband, religion and child, Butterfly retreats to the only thing she has left – her culture, in which freedom from life’s dishonour can be found through her father’s Samurai sword. She is free at last!
Butterfly is brought to us with great delicacy, subtlety and sensitivity by Pippa Moore. Sublime would not be too strong an adjective for her skill in showing us the differing facets of Butterfly’s personality as well as the range of emotions. She also demonstrates incredible technique in her Japanese-style movements and, in particular, the use of her hands to suggest a butterfly. This is especially clear in her gentle solo to the famous aria in Act 2 and no less in the very heart-wrenching denouement.
Pinkerton’s rôle is performed by Kelley Mckinley who is convincing as the slightly dismissive and almost macho naval officer, out for a good time. His rapport with Butterfly in their touching duet in Act 1 is just right; we see their love developing as they dance. He definitely gives us the contrast between the two rather shallow sides of Pinkerton’s character.
Suzuki, Butterly’s loyal maid, is danced by Luisa Rocca this evening in a nicely understated fashion and their relationship is convincing while her character acting is sound. She is very good with the toddler who plays Trouble, Butterfly and Pinkerton’s child. Special mention must go to Summer Canning for winning the audience over in this rôle. The perfect little actor! Sharpless, the US Consul, is performed with class and some prowess by Ashley Dixon but for real charisma and power we have Hironao Takahashi in the dual parts of Bonze, holy man, and Prince Yamadori, the suitor. He provides the fluffy, humourous touch that lulls us into a false sense of security before the finale and really adds to the piece. He is aided in this by Matthew Koon as Goro who does a truly dynamic job as Goro, the oft dodgy marriage broker. What a leaper! The wedding guests with their translucent parasols and their lovely robes in pastel primary colours almost float across the stage.
The set, also designed by Nixon, (he seems to do everything in the Puccini piece!), is wonderfully evocative and effective, as simple as it is ; an enormous canvas of a geisha woman is suspended from the ceiling showing us the changes of seasons, and a Japanese house frontage made of a wooden door and eaves represents Butterfly’s home. At the back of the stage a large screen sets the scene and mood for us with its colour changes, enhanced by the clever and very atmospheric spotlights. Stephanie Pasiewicz is the scenic artist. Nixon’s costumes are incredible, bringing a vibrant touch to the whole picture and creating the ambiance of the era.
The music, directed by John Pryce-Jones, and played so sensitively by Northern Ballet Sinfonia, is a very clever mix of Japanese with the romantic and powerful Puccini score, and a smattering of the USA national anthem as appropriate. The wonderful Japanese singing and traditional music as Butterfly takes control at the end is ‘out of this world ‘and so effective.
One could wonder how this opera might translate to ballet but it most certainly does and so well, more so because of the exquisite whole created by the harmony of choreography, costumes and set, created and deftly directed by David Nixon, in tune with the ingenious yet subtle lighting.
Photo: Jason Tozer | Runs until: 20 June