Northern Ballet Theatre

"Madame Butterfly"

Sadler's Wells, London

March 15, 2002
By Petra Tschiene

Northern Ballet Theatre's latest return to London for a 10 day season at Sadler's Wells Theater is the first under the leadership of their new artistic director David Nixon who joined the company in September 2001.

They present a full length version of Madame Butterfly, a work that Nixon originally created for BalletMet Columbus in Ohio and has now reworked for NBT.

Based on Belasco's play that also inspired Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly tells the story of a young girl who, sold to a marriage broker by her dishonoured samurai father before his ritual suicide, becomes a geisha. Eventually sold to the American naval officer Pinkerton as a 'bride' Butterfly, who naively believes this to be a serious marriage, forsakes her culture, her religion and her identity only to find herself abandoned, carrying his unborn child. When Pinkerton finally returns 3 years later with his American wife Kate, the heartbroken Butterfly has no choice but to accept Kate as his lawful wife and surrenders her young son into her care. Taking the last option open to her, Butterfly retreats to her own culture and gains freedom from her dishonour by committing ritual suicide.

Friday night saw Desire Samaai and Daniel de Andrade in the leading roles. Both being accomplished dance actors they seemingly effortless brought their characters to live. Samaai especially is a revelation. The she executes Butterfly's delicate steps, the way she uses her eyes and face, even the way she stands demurely and motionless on occasion convey the characters ethereal frailty. It was impossible not to be moved by her performance and she deservedly got a huge ovation after her suicide at the end of the ballet. Andrade portrayed his character maybe too well because I could not find any sympathy for the careless, heartless Pinkerton who first treats Butterfly disgracefully and then leaves it to his wife to sort out the mess.

The entire company appears in good form doing honour to their company name by skilfully blending dancing and acting, never once switching back and forth between one and the other. All the supporting characters are well crafted especially Butterfly's maid Suzuki (Lynsey Brown) her sole companion throughout the story and Sharpless the American consul who is clearly appalled by Pinkerton's behaviour. Jonathan Renna convinces in no less than 3 very different roles. He first appears as Butterfly's father committing ritual suicide, then as Bonze a holy man who declares Butterfly an outcast for converting to Christianity and finally as Prince Yamedori a wealthy suitor introduced to Butterfly by the marriage broker Goro.

The dancers are aided in their task by Nixon's well thought out choreography which gives each character its own distinctive steps to work with. For the 2 suicide scenes he draws on Kabuki theatre traditions and uses traditional Japanese music whereas the rest of the ballet is set to music taken from Puccini's opera score.

The simple sets and the costumes, authentic enough to have a distinct Japanese feel but light enough to not restrict the dancers in their movements complement the choreography very well. The entire production is a beautifully blended, enjoyable whole and my advice is if you like narrative dance dramas do not go, run to get a ticket.

The Madame Butterfly season at Sadler's Wells will end on Saturday 23/03/2002


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Edited by Marie.

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