Review: Northern Ballet - mixed bill - Linbury Studio Theatre

Performance: 8 - 10 May 2014
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Wednesday 14 May 2014

Northern Ballet's Tobias Batley & Hannah Bateman in 'Concertante'. Photo: Emma Kauldhar

Performance reviewed: 10 May

The London visits of Northern Ballet in recent years have invariably been to Sadler’s Wells to show one of the company’s large repertoire of David Nixon’s full length story ballets and so this is a new departure both in terms of venue and material. I wrote recently how good it is to see the Linbury Studio Theatre (a cavernous space underneath the Royal Opera House) brought into fuller use and this setting suits Northern Ballet – in this programme – perfectly. Hopefully, this will be but the first edition of a regular, perhaps even annual, series of visits.

It is also refreshing to see the dancers let loose in three episodes of pure dance, each of which differ substantially in style, undeniably modern in flavour but connected throughout by a golden thread of classicism; and each work lifted by the remarkable expressiveness of the Northern dancers. One feels that they are so used to dancing in narrative ballets that they tell us a story even when there is not an obvious one to be told.

This programme was welcome also for bringing to our attention three choreographers not much seen in London, two of whom are masters in the genre of modern ballet and the third, a young man embarking on a similar journey and so far apparently travelling with some style. It is to Kenneth Tindall’s credit that his work (the final piece of the programme) sat well alongside the mature pieces by Lar Lubovitch and Hans van Manen.

The afternoon began with Lubovitch’s Concerto Six Twenty-Two, choreographed in the 1980s, which although performed by a mixed group of thirteen dancers (seven guys and six girls) is an important treatise on the depth and strength of relationships between men, as articulated in an exceptionally strong seven-minute adagio duet in the heart of the work, opening and closing with circles created by their arms and hands touched together. The choreography for the two men is full of gentle, supportive statements and one can only imagine the power of this message in 1980s New York. It was danced with a compelling expressiveness and an extraordinary combined lyricism by Giuliano Contadini and Matthew Koon. This was more than a two-man piece, however, and the fresh vibrancy of the whole ensemble in the allegro sections that encircled the duet was also absorbing.

Van Manen’s Concertante is another stand-out work, this time made in the early ’90s, which benefits from unusual, darkly-striped unisex unitards (loaned from Nederlands Dans Theater). It is one of more than 100 short ballets made by the Dutch master and was last seen in London performed by the Dutch National Ballet at Sadler’s Wells some three years’ ago. Danced by eight performers and structured into an episodic journey involving a pas de trois and three pas de deux, it has wonderful musicality, as if van Manen has weaved the movement into Frank Martin’s score (here, of necessity, a recording). Once again, although this is an abstract ballet, these dancers imbue their interactions with one another with intense flashes of meaning.

The surprise of the programme was just how moved I was by the new piece, created by company dancer Kenneth Tindall. I can do without the affectation of the oddly placed dot in the title (Luminous Junc.ture), infuriating anyone who has to write it by sending us to the symbol-search function and not always possible to replicate online – Ed ! This young choreographer – making only his second commission for the company – took the risk of throwing many diverse elements into the three main sections of a 23-minute piece and he won the gamble.

Music by Olafur Arnalds ( Brotsjor ) and three pieces by Max Richter surrounds the climactic and highly sentimental speech delivered by Charlie Chaplin at the end of The Great Dictator, while “Room 101” style lighting descends to hover threateningly over each dancer’s body. It is powerful and emotional stuff, which Tindall conducts with great sensitivity. His movement style may continue to evolve and mature but his sense of theatre is already very strong. This was an outstanding new work by an emerging choreographer that I wanted to see again, immediately!

The sad news is that this piece makes way for another in the next Northern Ballet mixed programme (to be showcased in Leeds, next month). However, the silver lining comes with the knowledge that it is to be replaced by another new work by Tindall ( The Architect ). If he keeps creating new work at this rate, he may end up being as prolific as van Manen!

It was very special to see Northern Ballet in this new light and while it would be wrong for me to say that all was perfect (there were a few timing and spacing issues early on and an unfortunate collision in Concertante, which threw things off for a few seconds), their visit was a great pleasure and has introduced me to a side of the company that was previously unseen.

Northern Ballet tour details:
northernballet.com



Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He writes for londondance.com, Dancetabs.com, Dancing Times, Dance Europe and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and of the National Dance Awards in the UK.

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