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 Post subject: Northern Ballet Theatre - Spring 2007 Tours
PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2007 1:53 pm 
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Quote:
A Sleeping Beauty Tale, Grand Theatre, Leeds
by ZOE ANDERSON for the Independent
published: February 27, 2007

And it's certainly not The Sleeping Beauty. This version, by NBT's artistic director David Nixon, has no wicked fairy, no christening curse. This Aurora isn't even born: she's hatched out of a futuristic egg, dressed like the robot from Metropolis - Jérôme Kaplan's designs are efficient but derivative.
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Quote:
A Sleeping Beauty Tale
by DEBRA CRAINE for the Times
published: February 27, 2007

Here’s the premise. The Blue Planet, a paradise of wisdom and beauty, is at war with the Red Planet, a parasite land fuelled by greed and violence. Only by marrying Aurora, the Blue Planet’s favoured daughter, to Korak, the Red Prince, can war be averted and harmony restored. Yet neither Aurora nor Korak is keen: she loves someone else (the goodly Adameter) while her fiancé would rather make war than love.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2007 7:25 pm 
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My review...

One major gripe - and this is a problem with many European companies. Considering that - critics aside - audience members must shell out £5 of more for programs, I find it appalling that companies cannot make the effort to at least list the choreographer, costume/sets/lighting designers and composer on the cast list. We complain that audiences are less educated about what they are seeing, but how can they learn if they can't even get basic information about a ballet - let alone the scenario - without paying extra. If ballet is going to survive it needs to be accessible - and not just to those who known how to search for the info online or who can afford to buy a program.


"The Three Musketeers"
Northern Ballet Theatre
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
March 7, 2007 7:30pm

"The Three Musketeers" has all the elements of a rousing story-ballet: a classic good versus evil story, love affairs and dramatic fight scenes. Yet David Nixon's new production for the Northern Ballet Theatre is an oddly bland creation that never congeals into a coherent whole. Full of glittering costumes, detailed sets and showy swordfights set to Sir Malcolm Arnold's brassy score, this "The Three Musketeers" has lots of substance, but little soul.

Northern Ballet Theatre is known for it's unique brand of ballet theatre delivered in the form of elaborate full-length story ballets. In the past, David Nixon has presented a fresh approach to classics such as "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Peter Pan", but in "The Three Musketeers" he seems to have shoehorned a ballet into a story instead of letting the story emerge from the ballet.

The core of the problem is the misbegotten attempt to squeeze too much story in between the steps - over the course of barely two hours of dancing, we are whisked through 18 separate scenes. To add to the confusion, many of the transitions take place in very dim light, dancers swathed in capes, rendering it near impossible to keep track of who and what and where. Even with prior knowledge of the story and the help of the detailed synopsis, midway through Act 1, the characters and storyline were a blur in my mind.

Nixon's choreography also does little favour to his dancers or the progression of the story. In trying to recreate every historical detail from long hair to leather boots to blousy pantaloons and billowing dresses, he stifles his dancers by hiding their bodies and limiting the balletic possibilities. And with some of the younger corps dancers still in their teens, the fake moustaches, especially, look downright silly. The all too rare dancing is most successful in the scenes with washerwoman, cheeky, yet strong of soul in the foot stomping, hip jabbing group pieces. As their feisty leader Madame Bonancieux (and the mother of Constance), Victoria Sibson gave a performance to remember. Her dancing radiated confidence and her characterization was delightful ribald.

This production revolves around two main couples – King Louis XIII and Queen Anne of France, and the young musketeer-to-be D'Artagnan and his sweetheart, Constance - for whom the main pas deuxs are choreographed. As D'Artagnan, Patrick Howell was one of the high points of the ballet. He radiated a certain winsomeness and naivety, but showed complete maturity in his balletic skills and partnering of his Constance, Keiko Amemori. Amemori seemed to bring more pathos to the pas de deuxs whilst Howell was more focused executing the elaborate lifts in Nixon's somewhat awkward choreography. There-in lay the problem – the pas de deuxs seemed more focused on a few striking images and complicated lifts than on creating and portraying emotion. Whilst the younger couple managed to imbue some feeling into their dance, the pas de deux for the otherwise effective Christopher Hinton-Lewis and Chiaki Nagao as the Duke of Buckingham and Queen Anne, seemed all about getting the steps done with no room for any emotion.

The three musketeers themselves were a jolly bunch, with David Paul Kierce bringing a delightful touch to his wine loving Porthos. Yet again, the lack of inspiring choreography let this energetic trio down. One of their main triumphant scenes – in which celebrate after freeing the imprisoned D'Artagnan, is confined by Charles Cusick Smith's set, to a small portion of the stage. Perhaps more frustratingly, despite the coaching of a top-notch fight director – Renny Krupinski – the sword fights feel constrained and tame. Clearly safety limits what can be done with swords in a ballet, but one has to look no further than Macmillan's "Romeo and Juliet" to see a sword fight that makes your heart skip a beat. Here the duels are limp wristed, helped little by music that provides neither an emotional or rhythmic underpinning for the duels. Arnold's score is by no means unemotional, but it floats along with lots of highs and lows, but no real crescendos or over-riding themes.

Richelieu's spy and the real enemy of the Musketeers was Desiré Samaai's outstanding Lady de Winter. With the departure of a number of promising young dancers of the last couple of years – especially amongst the leading men – the company is not at a high point in terms of technical talent, and Samaai is clearly in a class of her own. Both technically and dramatically, she exudes confidence. Hers was the only mime that sang out all the way to the top rows; the only dancing that was sure enough to let the story sing out from every step.

The three main dancing tableaus are all set in the court of King Louis XIII, cleverly realized in set of paneled 'wooden' walls that are almost claustrophobic – perhaps purposely so – in the endless repeating pattern. Based on actual court dances, each of the tableaus is danced by couples in full court costume. The result are dances that may reflect the patterns and upper body nuances of the 17th century French Court – where ballet had its roots – but are somewhat unsatisfying for the 21st century audience. The second tableau with row of women with the giant 'fans' pleated between the arms was intriguing, but with their legs completely obliterated, the dance depended totally on the 'gimmick' of the fans, with which only so much could be done. Mark Biocca as the King parades nicely in drag, his mincing little steps and delicate hands amusing, but yet intriguingly refined. Yet while Biocca brought a refreshing quirkiness and detail to his role, both he and Nagao seemed all to often to fade into the tableaus. A King and Queen should stand out, but despite their oft-glittering costumes, for reasons that I can't quite fathom, the royal couple lacked enough presence to set them out from the crowd.

Darren Goldsmith's Cardinal Richelieu also suffered from under presence, in large part due to poor costuming. Certainly not lacking in the appropriate sneer, regality, and authoritative sweep of the hand, the tall, very lean Goldsmith suffered from being outfitted in a red robe of very light, satiny material with a long train. The feminity and flimsiness of the robe befitted not a Cardinal of Richelieu's bearing, giving the character a rather weak appearance.

The ballet ends with a final tableau in the court as the King throws a party to show off the diamond necklace, which he has gifted to his queen. But the queen has given it to the Duke of Buckingham, who has mistakenly given it to the scheming Lady de Winter who has intercepted the note from the Queen requesting the secret return of the necklace. But amidst the dancing courtiers, D'Artagnan and Constance outwit the evil schemers, with the necklace miraculously appearing around the Queen's neck, a befuddled Lady deWinter left with an empty box and Cardinal Richelieu with his dreams of power in tatters. In this final tableau, the women are in full gowns with masks. The men are in odd three-quarter length pants, with bright colored strips of material – an imitation of bird's wings perhaps – streaming from their arms. It's all awash with color and motion, but too much perhaps? With all the material flowing around, the steps themselves become overwhelmed, blurred. The corps itself was well rehearsed, but lacked a certain preciseness overall, and I think to pull of the very stylized court dances a corps must have a very crisp snap.

All ends well with Richelieu defeated and D'Artagnan receiving his musketeer cape and sword. Of course the story of the musketeers does not end here, and so the ballet is forced into a tidy, but somewhat un-triumphant ending. A shame, for it's a story with some many possibilities, but Nixon leads the charge astray with an overly busy narrative and un-inspiring choreography that sabotage all but the finest of his dancers in their attempts to create meaningful and memorable characters. "The Three Musketeers" is fine eye candy, but lacks that crucial spark.

John Pryce-Jones conducted the Northern Ballet Orchestra.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2007 8:25 pm 
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As a note, I learned from the informative Q&A session run by the company that only a small fragment of the score was actually written for the ballet. As Arnold had died before the ballet was ever created - the scenario having been written many years ago for the Royal Ballet - the rest was cobbled together from his various compositions. This would explain the lack of cohesion and thematic development in the music.

Kate


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 Post subject: A Sleeping Beauty Tale
PostPosted: Thu Mar 15, 2007 8:03 am 
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Location: Rugby, UK / Taipei
‘A Sleeping Beauty Tale’ - Northern Ballet Theatre
Theatre Royal, Nottingham; March 13th, 2007


Most fairytales take place in forests and woods for good reason. At the time, these were full of the unknown, places where magical things could happen and magical beings live. Today, the unknown is space and the possibility that somewhere out there are other beings. Add to this Nixon’s long interest in science fiction and it’s not quite so surprising that when he and dramaturge Patricia Doyle were looking for a new setting for Sleeping Beauty, they should place it in a different time and world.

Essentially, the story revolves around the Blue Planet, a peaceful paradise based on respect and the pursuit of wisdom, and its neighbour, the aggressive Red Planet, a wasteland devastated by war and abuse of its resources. In what is a scene taken directly from George Bernard Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah”, Aurora is born to the rulers of the Blue Planet from a golden sphere. She is already on the verge of adulthood, childbirth and childhood both seeming to be things of the past, and is already destined to be the subject of a political marriage to Korak, Prince of the Red Planet, and a treaty between the two worlds. Needless to say, things go awry immediately. Korak kills his father, who set all this up, and kills Aurora as they dance on their wedding day before waging an inter-planetary war in which the Blue Planet is all but destroyed. But Aurora is rescued by the ‘evolved beings’, strange unworldly characters who spend most of the ballet suspended above the action, floating in huge rings. They put Aurora to sleep until she can be rescued by Adameter, a refugee of the war and former love, and the planet can be renewed.

All good stuff, and you can see why Nixon thought it would work. And indeed, in many ways as a story it does. It’s certainly easy to follow. There are however problems with the way the narrative, choreography and music work together. The choreography is generally light and easy on the eye but lacks depth. Only one short section of the Petipa, a short Aurora solo, remains. Nixon has choreographed some very pleasant ensemble scenes especially, but there seems to be very little for the dancers to really get their teeth in to. Georgina May as Aurora was neat, fluid and gave a very expressive performance. David Paul Kierce’s Korak on the other hand came over as very stiff and wooden. I know he was supposed to be a nasty piece of work, but with his carrot coloured floor mop of a hair-do and stiff, at times almost wooden posturing movement, it was difficult to take him even remotely seriously.

For the music, John Pryce-Jones has put together a score that combines the familiar Tchaikovsky, albeit seriously chopped up and moved around, some Mussorgsky (“Night on a Bare Mountain”), Part (“Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten”) and a lot of Rimsky-Korsakov (“Suite from The Invisible City of Kitezh”). The Tchaikovsky all comes in Acts I and II and the big problem is that it comes with baggage. It was very noticeable how much better the opening of Act III especially worked when the burden was finally thrown off. The act has other issues though. As Adameter struggles to find Aurora before the planet’s doomsday arrives, Nixon turns from simply telling the story to delivering a moral message and a sermon about where things could lead. All heavy, serious stuff, and potentially good material, but the production just isn’t up to it. The whole thing cries out for a lot more intensity, especially at the end, which is crying out for a powerful duet. But instead and almost before you know it, it’s over with barely a whimper.

But don’t get me wrong. In many ways it is an enjoyable evening. The ballet is so far from the “Sleeping Beauty” audiences are used to that few are going to take offence, although I’m sure there will be mutterings from some about the treatment of Tchaikovsky’s music. It clearly draws on the familiar Perrault fairy tale. The parallels with his and Petipa’s “Beauty” are there for all to see. Both ballets take place in formalised societies, involve mystical beings and the fight between good and evil, but “Sleeping Beauty” this is not.

The Nottingham audience certainly lapped it up. It’s helped along by Jerome Kaplan’s designs that clearly seem to have taken their inspiration from pictures in science-fiction comics and novels of the middle of the last century with a bit of Star Trek thrown in for good measure. The set clearly gives the sense of being in another world and the giant man eating red and black spider the size of a house that appears in Act III is an invention of genius.

Sometimes dotty, sometimes serious. Sometimes “Sleeping Beauty”, sometimes not. This is a ballet that can’t quite make up its mind what it is. It’s as if Nixon has tried to have the best of both worlds (no pun intended) but to some extent has fallen between the two. Send for James T Kirk. He would have sorted it out before you could say “beam me up.”

Northern Ballet Theatre’s tour continues nationwide with “The Three Musketeers” and “Romeo and Juliet”. London-based audiences can catch “A Sleeping Beauty Tale” at Woking in June.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2007 1:41 am 
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‘The Three Musketeers’ - Northern Ballet Theatre
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, UK; March 23rd, 2007


Northern Ballet Theatre has walked away with the Critics Circle Audience Award three years running. When you see productions like this it’s not hard to understand why. David Nixon’s “Three Musketeers” has sword fights galore, humour romantic and very classical duets, and some well-crafted crowd and ensemble scenes. Above all, he can tell a story and it is entertaining.

The plot revolves around the Queen’s diamonds, given to her lover Buckingham, but which then have to be recovered to foil a plot by the scheming Richelieu, his henchman Rochefort and spy Milady de Winter, a wonderfully evil performance from Victoria Sibson full of vicious glares and snarls. There are plenty of adventures along the way but, apart from an opening when the scenes come so thick and fast you start to wonder what is happening and who is who, Nixon tells it all with great clarity.

The ballet has so many leading roles it’s difficult to pick individuals out, but it is the two couples that linger in the memory the most. Pippa Moore was quite simply delightful as the initially innocent Constance, swept of her feet by Hironao Takahashi’s dashing D’Artagnan. The end of Act I has more than a nod in the direction of Romeo and Juliet in the way time stands still for the couple as their eyes really meet for the first time; then in the way the subsequent pas de deux develops, Constance at first so shy and not knowing quite what to do, but soon losing her inhibitions.

Desire Samaai as Queen Anne was anything but bashful as she indulged in her secret love affair behind the King’s back. David Paul Kierce made for an aristocratically tall Buckingham. He was very solid in the complicated and difficult lifts that punctuated their duets but was strangely cold as a lover and seemed somewhat stiff in his movement. Perhaps it was something to do with being British.

Elsewhere John Hull, Darren Goldsmith and Yi Song very much brought a happy go lucky, devil may care attitude to musketeering. Yes, they had a job to do, but they sure as anything were going to have fun and a roistering good time doing it. There was also plenty of work for the corps as guards, Parisian citizens, aristocrats and washerwomen, the latter especially good in a feisty stomping dance that involved an inordinate amount of laundry, most of which finished up on the floor.

The tone of the ballet brought back memories of the Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers movies of the mid 1970s whose star-studded cast list included Oliver Reed, Michael York and Racquel Welch among others. Just like in those films humour plays an important part here, but where Nixon has been so clever is that it’s never forced or out of place. The most prolonged laughter was brought about by Louis XIII (Kenneth Tindall) dancing dressed as a woman. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Trocks, although he wasn’t on pointe. It wasn’t just funny but also apparently historically accurate. Louis XIII was indeed said to be a good dancer, always performing ridiculous characters including occasionally a woman.

The story was helped on its way by Charles Cusick-Smith’s beautiful set that effortlessly and seamlessly changes from Kitchen to Street Scene, ballroom and others. Cusick-Smith is collaborating with Nixon again on a new, and Nixon assures us very classical and traditional “Nuctcracker”, to be premiered in Manchester in October. If this is anything to go by it should be worth waiting for.

All this is to the sweeping music of Sir Malcolm Arnold. Thirty years ago, Arnold started writing a score for a Three Musketeers ballet to be produced at Covent Garden, which for various reasons never happened. Sadly only one short piece remains and is in this work, but John Longstaff has done an excellent job specially arranging movements from three Arnold’s second, third and fifth symphonies, various film scores and several other shorter pieces. Arnold sadly died last September on the very day of the ballet’s premiere but I suspect that he might have been very pleased indeed.

All in all it's great swashbuckling fun that it’s difficult not to like. You could argue it’s a bit shallow or not sufficiently real life, and Kenneth MacMillan or even David Bintley it definitely is not. Then again, that’s clearly not what Nixon had in mind. And there are odd things you could be picky about. Some of the sword fights, although oddly not all, were a little tame and almost in slo-mo, and something really does need to be done about some of the terrible fake moustaches. But the audience loved it; not least the lady sitting right in front of me who I swear lived every moment. And why not? It’s that sort of show. What’s more, the dancers seemed to be enjoying themselves just as much as the rest of us.

“The Three Musketeers” continues on tour to Norwich, Manchester, Belfast and London (Sadler’s Wells).


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 24, 2007 2:11 pm 
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Former dancer Jonathon Ollivier is dancing in South Africa. Very odd article because it states that he is still dancing with NBT and that his wife has retired. In fact, he retired first and she was on the tour to Edinburgh, though her image is now gone from the company roster.

Good news though, because my assumption was that his rather hasty departure was due to injury(s) that was not healing.

http://www.tonight.co.za/index.php?fSec ... Id=3797857

Kate


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PostPosted: Tue May 08, 2007 5:41 pm 
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This interview - previewing Jonathan Ollivier's appearance in South Africa - reveals that he will be headed to the Alberta Ballet. I'm relieved that he his sudden departure from NBT was not due to injury, but sorry that we will no longer see him in the UK:

http://www.tonight.co.za/index.php?fArt ... fSetId=251


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