Northern Ballet with The National Ballet of Canada
Choreography, Direction and Scenario: Cathy Marston
Music: Philip Feeney
Reviewer; Barbara Michaels
The recent spate of Victoria TV series and documentaries – to be expected in celebration of the bicentenary of the monarch’s birth – works in some respects as a precursor for a portrayal in another genre, so to some extent Northern Ballet’s take comes as no surprise. This Victoria, however, is a different fish altogether.
Taken from the Queen’s own diaries – some 122 of them – read after her death by her youngest daughter Beatrice, whose story this also is, it covers Victoria’s life as Queen until her demise. This new biopic in dance shows deals mainly with her private life, also showing how she was at times a pawn in the political games of the time (ring any bells?), illustrating her passionate love for her Albert and her grief at his early death, coupled with the sense of duty which enables her to carry on, but focusing in the main on her relationship with her youngest daughter.
And it is in this area that choreographer and director Cathy Marston scores. With music composed by Philip Feeney which contributes much to the whole, the ballet delves into Victoria’s relationship with Beatrice with an emotional depth illustrated in dance, thus opening up a hitherto unexplored perspective triggered by the writing of the Queen herself. As Beatrice, Pippa Moore is an almost constant presence on stage, with the diaries having a persona of their own. Beginning after Prince Albert’s death with Victoria’s penchant for John Brown (danced by Gavin McCaig), the ballet dodges back and forth between past and present.
This can, and does, make for confusion at times, particularly when there are two Victoria’s – one old, one young and full of energy– on stage together; a high level of concentration is required. Enormous admiration must go to ballerina Abigail Prudames who danced the role of Queen Victoria on opening night in Cardiff, not only for her sympathetic portrayal of woman and a Queen but for showing considerable skills as a dancer, gracefully fluid of limb with an admirable arm extension and expressive mime when the role demands. Not an easy role, this; Marston demands much in view of the many sides of the character being portrayed.
As the Queen’s much-loved Albert, Joseph Taylor’s portrayal is restrained at first (rightfully so in accordance with history). Taylor comes into his own with some great footwork in the second half in a passionate pas de deux with Prudames – there are some incredible moves from both dancers. Cuban dancer Javier Torres is an ebullient Lord Melbourne, doing his best to steer his Queen in the right direction while conscious of what is best for the country and the British Empire (a colourful map showing the growth of the latter is a neat touch).
Act II sees a welcome moment of comedy as Victoria is in turn brought to bed with each of her nine children, the babes being handed first to their father then to a nursemaid in quick succession calling forth an appreciative wave of laughter from the audience.
Marston must be congratulated on creating a new ballet that embraces so much, but therein lie its fault. Although in terms of historical veracity the ballet in the main sticks to what is known, there is at times a sense of trying too hard to cover too much. Less would have been more.
Runs until Saturday 25th May 2019 | Image: Contributed