Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London, UK; May 9, 2014
Northern Ballet are widely, and quite rightly, lauded for their full-length story ballets that are popular throughout the country. Those ballets certainly help ensure the cash flow, but how refreshing it was to see the company, not only dancing a mixed programme, but one that had such interesting ballets.
Lar Lubovitch’s “Concerto Six Twenty-Two” may be 30 years old, but it remains one of his best ballets. It opens and closes with some joyous, sunny dancing. The dancers bound and frolic through Mozart’s gorgeous “Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra” (K622) like new born lambs playing in a field. There are quartets, duets and solos, each carefree and informal. Freed from the constraints of story and character, and being able to simply dance for the fun of it, the whole ensemble looked very good indeed, although I especially enjoyed Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Rachael Gillespie, especially in an early, carefree duet.
Amidst all that fun and high jinks sits the celebrated central pas de deux for two men. Often performed as a stand-alone piece, it’s an intimate, incredibly moving dance about love and deep feelings. That’s hardly surprising since it was created when the impact of Aids was starting to be fully felt and understood. It was danced sensitively by Giuliano Contadini and Matthew Koon, with every lift and support as delicate as you could wish for.
Hans van Manen’s “Concertante” comes as quite a contrast. Welcome to the rather more complex and sophisticated world of life and relationships. As in many of his ballets, van Manen views the world as an ongoing battle between the sexes. Indeed, in an interview, dancer Hannah Bateman explained how van Manen’s assistant, Mea Venema, explained that the ballet should be danced, “as if you don’t quite trust the man next to you, you never know what he might do next but equally he is unsure of your next move.”
In their striking striped one piece leotards, the eight dancers perform a series of dances that run through sultry, sweet, jazzy, witty and fun, to hostile and abrasive – and all in 22 minutes! The second pas de deux in particular felt disturbing and threatening, especially when it dives into violence, Tobias Bately lurched towards Bateman, holding her throat in most threatening manner. The end of the ballet is rather happier and upbeat. All in all, it’s a combination that sits perfectly with Frank Martin’s “Petite Symphonie Concertante”, composed at the end of World War II that, unusually, features a harp, harpsichord and piano leading a string orchestra.
Completing the programme, company dancer Kenneth Tindall’s “Luminous Junc•ture” is set to music by Max Richter (very much the ‘in’ composer among choreographers right now), Olafur Arnalds and Hans Zimmer, with costumes by Manchester-based fashion designer, Emma Guilfoyle.
As a whole, the ballet is uneven and disjointed, both choreographically and musically. Tindall has lots of ideas, probably too many, and the work would have been better had some been put to one side and others explored more deeply. There are also a number of confusing false endings – all of which would have been better than the car crash of a finale Tindall finally gives – to Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator speech. If there’s some serious message here, it was lost on me, and out of place with the work as a whole.
Essentially, “Luminous Junc•ture” is an experiment with dance and light. Indeed, Alistair West’s lighting is essential to the ballet, much of which takes place in boxes of light scattered around the stage. The isolating of the couples works quite well, and does draw the audience in. But as for the the question Tindall poses in the programme: “Where does the light lead?” As far as I could see, in this ballet at least, nowhere.
Movement-wise, Tindall’s angular approach to movement and his liking for sculptural moments is not unlike that of Wayne McGregor, although there are differences, not least in entrances that often see the dancers crawl on. Much of it is quite inventive, but it was a bit like a stew that everything had been thrown into. A tad more finesse would have improved things no end.
Tindall has only been choreographing for three years, and this is his already his third short work for the company. While “Luminous Junc•ture” has issues, it’s also a work that clearly comes from a dance-maker of promise. He has a new work, “The Architect” in the company’s Leeds programme at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre in June.
Although Leeds audiences have had occasional programmes like this for a while, I really wish the company felt it could show them more. They do offer more in the way of style and expression, and in many ways are rather more challenging, than the company’ usual fare – but the economics can’t be avoided. Still, the good news for those in London is that a similar short visit is planned for 2015. Don’t miss it!