12th June 2021
Sadlers Wells, London

Stuart Sweeney

Alongside David Nixon’s evening length Dangerous Liaisons, Northern Ballet brought a mixed bill of five works for their visit to recently reopened, Covidspaced Sadler’s Wells. Northern regularly bring fine narrative ballets to Sadlers and it made a satisfying change to see their excellent dancers perform in shorter works.

Riku Ito and Minju Kang in For an Instant.
Photo: Emma Kauldhar

I have to confess that Amaury Lebrun was a new name for me, but his abstract work, For an Instant, shows us a confident, imaginative choreographer. With the women on demi-pointe, contemporary movement dominated the work: arms slicing the air, spins, floor work and an ever changing mix of the twelve dancers set to glorious music by Biber and Purcell. Antoinette Brooks-Daw makes the most of Lebrun’s dynamic solos and Riku Ito and Minju Kang showed panache in their duets. Lebrun contrasts the small scale encounters with eye-catching unison and canon sections for all twelve dancers. I look forward to seeing more of his work.

Next, we saw three sharply contrasted pas de deux. Little Monsters by Demis Volpi is a delicious confection set to Elvis Presley songs. In Love Me Tender the couple are in line facing the audience, with arms intertwining to the music in controlled and sometimes chaotic movement. In I Need You they move together, but in Are You Lonesome Tonight they have separated and mourn the end of their relationship. Abigail Prudames and

Joseph Taylor brought out the humour and pathos of Volpi’s creation.

Duets plucked from full length ballets often suffer from a lack of context. However, I enjoyed the two examples presented here. 1984 by Jonathan Watkins is one of my favourite full length works of recent years. In the Countryside Pas de Deux, Minju Kang and Lorenzo Trossello escape the prying eyes of Big Brother and, released from the restrictions of dictatorship, perform one of the most passionate duets I can remember. Stripping to their underwear, the ferocity of their hunger is expressed in grand, jagged movement, finally softening to gently holding hands while looking round for the thought police. Khan and Trossello are vividly expressive throughout. The Proposal Pas de Deux from Jane Eyre by Cathy Marston is in sharp contrast. Also replete with dramatic emotion, Rochester’s strong resolve to marry Jane plays opposite her division of love and their turbulent past history. Dominique Larose and Mlindi Kulashe overcome the lack of a back story and convince us of the constrained passion of the two characters in Marston’s elegant and powerful choreography.

Lorenzo Trossello and Minju Kang in States of Mind.
Photo: Emma Kauldhar

States of Mind by Kenneth Tindall was the least successful part of the evening for me. The programme notes describe, “…an abstract response through movement to a selection of situations experienced during the global pandemic.” Voice-over fragments of the Queen’s speech seemed banal and I struggled to link much of the movement to Covid related themes. We see assured movement from women all in black and I appreciated the pas de deux for several couples in the central section. The finale featuring knockabout fun was probably meant to show joy at release from lock-down, but it fell very flat to this observer.

Over the evening, we saw the Northern Ballet dancers on excellent form in examples from the company’s fine repertoire. A reminder that David Nixon has an excellent eye for picking talented dancers and choreographers.