Sunday, 5 January 2020

Northern Ballet's 50th Anniversary Celebration Gala

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Northern Ballet 50th Anniversary Celebration Gala 4 Jan 2020 19:00 Leeds Grand Theatre

Last night's gala was everything for which I had hoped and a great deal more than I had dared to expect.  It was one of the best evenings that I have ever spent in a theatre and by far the best evening that I have ever spent in Leeds.  It was so much better than the company's 45th-anniversary gala in March 2015.

The evening consisted of excerpts from 18 ballets some of which are among my favourites.  A few of those ballets I had not seen for decades. Several of those excerpts were danced by favourite artists such as Federico Bonelli and Marge Hendrick. The excerpts were interspersed with speeches and videos from dancers, choreographers, directors and others who have contributed to Northern Ballet over the last 50 years.  A few of those recollections touched me personally because they recalled events that have become part of my life.

Having seen Elaine McDonald on stage and having met Peter Darrell several times (see Scottish Ballet 20 Dec 2013) I was close to tears when Hendrick danced Darrell's Five Rückert Songs to Mahler's haunting music. My association with Scottish Ballet goes back to my second year at St Andrews where I was taught my first plié as well as a lot of other things that qualified me to make a living (see Ballet at University 27 Feb 2017). Scottish Ballet was the first company that I knew and loved and it is still the company that I love best.  I swelled with pride as Christopher Hampson entered the stage and discussed the two companies' kinship.

My other personal highlight was A Simple Man with Jeremy Kerridge and Tamara Rojo as the painter and his mother.  That was the first work by Northern Ballet that I ever saw.  I attended its performance shortly after returning to Manchester to take up a seat in chambers. My late spouse and I had been regular ballets goers in London and remoteness from Covent Garden, Sadlers Wells, the Coliseum, The Place and the Festival Hall seemed unbearable.  It was Gillian Lynne's brilliant choreography with Christopher Gable and Moira Shearer in the leading roles that reassured us.  We could see that there was a ballet company in the North that was just as good as Nick Hytner's Royal Exchange and the Hallé at the Free Trade Hall. I have followed and supported all three of those great Northern institutions (albeit not always uncritically) ever since.

The evening started with the party scene from The Great Gatsby which I reviewed at its premiere and on tour. After the opening, the company's director, David Nixon, appeared and greeted the audience. He paid tribute to his predecessors and all who had contributed to the company in various ways over the years. He singled out Carole Gable who also appeared in a video and the composer Philip Feeney (see Central School of Ballet's staff biographies). The very early years of the company were recalled by photos of the dancers and press clippings that flashed on the screen.  There were also some personal reminiscences from the 1970s. The later years were covered in much more detail, There were videos from Robert de Warren, Michael Pink, Patricia Doyle. Several of the company's leading dancers were recalled from retirement including Tobias Batley, Martha Leebolt and Dreda Blow who now live on the other side of the Atlantic.  The nostalgia was palpable - just like Noel Coward's Cavalcade.

Some of the works in Northern Ballet's repertoire were danced by guest artists from other companies. Federico Bonelli of the Royal Ballet partnered Abigail Prudames of Northern Ballet in the balcony scene from Massimo Moricone's Romeo and Juliet.  Momoko Hirata and César Morales of the Birmingham Royal Ballet danced the wedding night scene from Nixon's Madame Butterfly which I have always regarded as Nixon's masterpiece. The Royal Ballet's Laura Morera and Ryoichi Hirano, another two of my favourite artists, danced the countryside scene from Jonathan Watkins's 1984.   Greig Matthews and Amanda Assucena danced Rochester and Jane in the proposal scene from Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre.

It was good to see Central's students, Elise de Andrade and Matteo Zecco, in a scene from Cinderella by their school's founder, Christopher Gable.  As a fan of Phoenix Dance Theatre, I was delighted to see the magnificent Vanessa Vince-Pang (yet another favourite) and Aaron Chaplin in Sharon Watson's dance chronicle Windrush: Movement of the People.  Space and time do not permit me to mention everything in detail.  Other works included
All danced delightfully and I congratulate them all.

The finale was the last scene of A Midsummer Night's Dream which is Nixon's other work that I regard as a masterpiece (see Realizing Another Dream 15 Sept 2013). The whole cast took to the stage including Kenneth Tindall.  He was one of my favourites in the company and I thought I would never see him dance again.  At the end of the gala, Nixon recited Puck's speech which ends the play: 
"If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends."
It is supposed to be uttered by a dancer.  Kevin Poeung said those words when I last saw the show.  But the words seemed entirely appropriate as they dropped from Nixon's lips.  A shower of gold confetti rained from the ceiling. Hardly anyone remained seated and there were not many dry eyes.

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