Sunday, 10 September 2017
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - "an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet"
Standard YouTube Licence
Northern Ballet The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas 9 Sept 2017 19:30 West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Daniel de Andrade's ballet, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is an impressive work that was danced splendidly by Northern Ballet last night. I congratulate the choreographer, his fellow creatives, the dancers and everyone else who was involved in the show on an outstanding performance. It greatly exceeded my expectations and raised my admiration for the company to new heights.
Although I had neither read John Boyne's novel nor seen the film and had been unable to catch the work in Doncaster or any of the other venues on this year's midscale tour, I had been aware of the story. I feared a descent into mawkish sentimentality and that this review would be an exercise in floccinaucinihilipilification. Instead, de Andrade explored the twin themes of corruption of decent men by poisonous ideology and love between children. Watching that ballet was a moving, indeed harrowing, experience that tugged at every emotion.
Boyne's novel cannot have been easy to transpose to dance. De Andrade responded to that challenge with considerable ingenuity. For example, Hitler appears in the book and personally appoints the father of one of the children at the centre of the story as Commandant of Auschwitz. Easy enough, one would think, as Hitler is instantly recognizable with his half moustache and floppy forelock. But de Andrade resisted the temptation to do the obvious. He substituted a Fury for the Führer - an even more menacing Siegfried type character crouching, creeping and dripping with evil. For some reason or other, the Bolshoi refer to Siegfried as "the evil genius" in its version of Swan Lake (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016). Well, de Andrade's evil genius was spine chilling.
The strong libretto was just one reason for the show's success.
There was some pretty powerful choreography. The duet between the boys on different sides of the fence - always harmonious but never symmetrical - the acts of violence - the cashiering of the arrogant and sadistic Lieutenant Kotler - and so much more of which space does not permit proper acknowledgement.
There was also an excellent score by Gaty Yeschon reminiscent of the compositions of the time - at least in this country, America and even Russia though not perhaps Nazi Germany. It must have been difficult to play and seemed from the luxury of my chair particularly difficult to dance but it fitted the ballet exactly.
There were sets cleverly transporting us to the Reichs Chancery, the Commandant's home, the boundary of the concentration camp and even the train and gas chambers by Mark Bailey. The outline of that monstrous sign, "Arbeit macht frei" (as horrifying as the inscription on the gates of Hell "Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate") made me shudder. Bailey's uniforms and civilians' costumes seemed authentic to the last detail.
Finally, there was some exquisite lighting by Tim Mitchell. The pool of red light around Kotler's body represented his death in combat eloquently and chillingly.
The dancers, as I said above, were splendid.
The boys, Matthew Koon who danced Bruno (the Commandant's son) and Filippo di Vilio who danced Shmuel (the prisoner), central to the story, were lyrical. The playful, loving, innocent Bruno with his cartwheels and jumps. The starving, beaten, almost dehumanized Schmuel with his arabesques. How I rejoiced as he sank his teeth into an apple, How I wept as the cloud destroyed them both.
Mlindi Kualshe, often cast as a villain even though he is a most affable young man, radiated evil as the Fury. He was an excellent choice for the role. He emerged from his mask with a gleaming smile and special applause at the reverence.
Javier Torres, the company's remaining premier dancer, interpreted the Commandant's role with sensitivity and sophistication. This was a man who would almost certainly have been hanged at Nuremberg for his crimes. However, he was also a loving father and husband and even in the running of the camp he showed signs of humanity. A much more complex character than O'Brien in Jonathan Watkin's 1984. Torres discharged that role magnificently.
Also magnificent was Hannah Bateman who danced his wife. A vain and spoilt beauty - a model of Aryan womanhood - hollowed out by conscience and in the end the loss of her son in her husband's death machine. A formidable dancer. A superb actor. I can think of few artists from any company who could have carried off that challenging role anything like as well.
Magnificence, too, from Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Bruno's sister who swallowed the Nazi message, perhaps because of the attentions of Lieutenant Kotler (Sean Bates) who delivered it, Mariana Rodrigues, the Commandant's mother who would have none of that message, Dominique Larose, the Commandant's maid, and indeed each and every other member of the cast. I don't know whether anyone else joined me but I was compelled to rise to my feet after that performance. That's not something I do every day.
Yesterday's was almost the last performance of the current run. The show moves on to Hull next month and then that's it for the time being. I hope it stays in the company's repertoire for I would love to see it again.