Sunday, 15 September 2013

Realizing Another Dream

Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

Northern  Ballet A Midsummer Night's Dream  West Yorkshire Playhouse 14 Sept 2013

Perhaps the best way to start this review is at the end. I could not help rising to my feet as the cast took their bows. And I was not the only one.  The English, unlike Americans, are very slow to give standing ovations (except at party conferences) and I have only seen other in my lifetime.  That was a special evening for Sir Frederick Ashton at Covent Garden in July 1970 when he retired as director of the Royal Ballet.   It seems from the tweets and video that Northern Ballet's short season at West Yorkshire Playhouse (6 to 14 Sept 2013) has also been very special.

I was reminded of Ashton's farewell evening in other ways.  That was the last time I heard a dancer speak. Then it was Svetlana Beriosova. I can't remember exactly what she said except that she spoke in French and her voice was as pure and as elegant as her dance. Last night we heard Kevin Poeung who doubled as Puck, an irascible ballet master, and Puck as Robin Goodfellow. Poeung spoke twice in the ballet - in Act 1 in a rehearsal studio which looked remarkably similar  to Northern's own studios (see "Realizing a Dream" 12 Sept 2013 to see how I know) and then at the very end of Act 3.  Poeung uttered the lines we all learned at school. 
"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 appears from a video of a rehearsal which was released at the time of the production that the choreographer, David Nixon, used voice a lot more in rehearsal. I should be interested to know whether he or other choreographers use that technique in rehearsing other works. In Giselle, perhaps, for when she is shown Albrecht's sword and goes mad and dies of humiliation.  Certainly, that technique proved very effective yesterday evening.

When I thought of Ashton I remembered that he had also choreographed Midsummer Night's Dream as had George Balanchine and several other choreographers.  Perhaps not surprisingly Nixon's Dream is very different from Ashton's and indeed Balanchine's as you can see from the synopsis.  It moves from the real to the ethereal and then back to reality again.  Something that ballet can do so much better than most other art forms including cinema if you think of Giselle, Swan Lake and even Nutcracker.   Nixon's version incorporates a chunk of Romeo and Juliet including Prokofiev's music not to mention Brahms (see John Pryce-Jones's video). I have to confess that I have been rather exasperated with Nixon in the past for taking liberties with familiar plots such as "Beauty and the Beast", "Ondine" and "Nutcracker". Even though I had bristled momentarily at Nixon's setting Romeo and Juliet in the 1940s which was nearly 20 years before Kenneth Macmillan staged that work for Nixon's compatriot Lynn Seymour his liberty taking yesterday succeeded brilliantly.

The transition from real to ethereal and back again - in this case, studio to station, a train, the land of dreams, back to another station and a stage in Edinburgh - was quite a challenge for a set designer. It was achieved seamlessly and imaginatively by Duncan Hayter. I loved the train particularly, as it pulled out of the station, and the cramped couchettes and WC.   I thought the sets in Gatsby had been good but yesterday's were even better.   So, also, were the costumes - both those of the mortals and those of the fairies - the best of all being Bottom's ass outfit.

Bottom, danced by Darren Goldsmith, had us in stitches as he pranced with Titania braying as she stroked his ears or gave him a carrot.  "Sounds like my central heating" whispered my companion who has had no end of problems with her plumbing.  Also as a carpenter hopelessly in love with a ballerina (Antoinette Brooks-Daw) - particularly poignant as the ballet was set in the late 1940s when class divisions were so much more rigid than they are today.  Matthew Broadbent as a tailor or dressmaker also made us laugh as he tried to retrieve his dignity when faced down by a supercilious choreographer (Hironao Takahashi) and bullying ballet master.

There was some brilliant choreography for some of my favourite dancers, Kenneth Tindall and Tobias Batley as Lysander and Demetrius and Pippa Moore and Martha Leebolt as Helena and Hermia.  The best bit for me was a pas de trois in Act 2 as Lysander and Demetrius competed to get rid of Hermia in order to pursue Helena.  But there was also brilliance from Takehashi as Theseus, Brookes-Daw as Hippolyta and. of course, Poeung as Robin Goodfellow.

This work is going to Newcastle, Woking and Nottingham this Autumn and in Spring to Edinburgh, Norwich, Milton Keynes and Southampton.  If you live anywhere near those cities and towns do go to see it. There is a charming note in the programme entitled "Tales from Touring". Quoting from Sarah Woodcock's history of the Birmingham Royal Ballet the note observes: "There was nothing like a long tour for welding the already close company into a company cohesive unit."  That must be particularly true of Northern Ballet.  It has matured so much since "A Simple Man", the first time I saw that company.

The programme note refers to "a huge if not totally discriminating audience" in the provinces and I suppose that must apply to me  as this post is less of a review than an encomium.  But I hope that those who know better will forgive me for I do so love Northern Ballet.

No comments:

Post a Comment