Northern Ballet & Three Premieres for 2017
5 June 2017
Leeds’ Leading Dance Company Push the Boundaries of Performance
Northern Ballet has been a powerhouse of inventive dance since 1969 (despite several name changes) – and as they approach the halfway mark of 2017; the masters of narrative ballet/theatre concoctions are set to unveil the second of three premieres in a pivotal calendar year.
A (Ballet) Star is Born
The Northern Dance Theatre began life as a modest ensemble of 10 dancers; directed by dramatic dancer Laverne Meyer – who between the years 1969 and 1975 would establish the troupe as a cultivated company in the North. Even in these formative years, a flair for the eclectic was evident; delivering a diverse repertoire of established classics and modern undertakings – in doing so, furnishing the foundations for the future of the Northern Dance Theatre.
The next decade would be equally as determinative, bringing in classically trained dancer Robert de Warren as Artistic Director; who in turn brought in Royal Ballet wisdom, Rudolf Nureyev as Artistic Laureate and a new name for the company – Northern Ballet Theatre. Under de Warren, worldwide recognition would arise through performances as far as Italy and Hong Kong; with dancers from China, Japan, Italy and France joining the ever-growing assemblage.
If de Warren had a bias towards the Ballet of Northern Ballet Theatre, the next Artistic Director, Christopher Gable, unquestionably had a tendency towards the Theatre; under his tutelage elevating the company to masters of narrative dance drama. With an emphasis on the classics; feature-length productions like Swan Lake, Romeo & Juliet, A Christmas Carol, Dracula, Giselle and The Hunchback of Notre Dame brought awards, commercial success and worldwide acclaim in abundance – confirming Northern Ballet Theatre’s reputation as one of the most successful touring companies in the UK.
New Name, New Home, New Direction
Following the untimely death of Gable (who was briefly succeeded by Stefano Giannetti) – David Nixon OBE took over Northern Ballet Theatre in 2001; continuing the legacy laid down by his predecessors with the addition of box-office breaking ballets, inspired collaborations and an ultramodern home in central Leeds… with a revamped name to boot – Northern Ballet.
Under Nixon, Northern Ballet has developed into one of the world’s greatest ballet companies; armed with an avant-garde approach to creating dance drama and a diligent dedication to broadening ballets’ appeal. The troupes travelling to places unfamiliar with pirouettes and pointe shoes is a reflection of Northern Ballet’s challenging of snobbish stereotypes; bringing ballet to venues far-removed from the bright lights of the Royal Opera House.
Now into 2017, we join Nixon and Northern Ballet in the midst of their most challenging year; as they premiere an unprecedented three full-length ballets via a trilogy of literary adaptations – Casanova, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Little Mermaid.
11th March 2017 – 13th May 2017
Giacomo Casanova’s reputation precedes him. He is the world’s greatest lover, whose stature is no stranger to the stage – but in-keeping with an affinity for the audacious, Northern Ballet sought to retell the tumultuous life of the enigma through fresh perspectives.
In Kenneth Tindall’s first outing as choreographer (he was formerly NB’s Principal Dancer); Ian Kelly was entrusted to share his expertise on Casanova – taking inspiration from his biography to depict the enlightened, learned man behind the legend. Judging by the opening night ovation at Leeds’s Grand Theatre, their endeavours didn’t go unnoticed.
As soon as the curtain was raised, all those at Leeds Grand Theatre were transported to the affluent environs of 18th century Venice; courtesy of the stunning sceneries by Tony and Oliver award-winning Christopher Oram – literally setting the stage for Casanova’s seduction of the crowd.
Upon the philanderer’s entrance, Tindall’s capability as a choreographer was rapidly realised. His sequences effortlessly succeeded in capturing the rapturous highs and harrowing lows of Casanova’s life; which were competently transferred to the stage in a “towering performance” by Northern Ballet’s Giuliano Contandini in the title role. Oram, in addition to the beautiful backdrops, was also responsible for costume designs; heightening the provocation of the protagonist with grandiose, often scarce getups – embellished further by Alastair West’s gold-laden lighting.
In previous productions, Northern Ballet had been celebrated for its scintillating scores; courtesy of accomplished composers like Claude-Michel Schönberg and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. Few may have been surprised then, when Kerry Muzzey was entrusted to create the music for Casanova, despite having no previous experience in producing stage scores. However, the cinematic composition with its essence of Hollywood – diligently delivered by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia – was exactly what was required to supplement the intensity of the drama.
Entirely worthy of its World Premiere standing ovation; Northern Ballet’s Casanova is an instant classic – with credit due to Kenneth Tindall and David Nixon for their valiant approach to the venture.
25th May 2017 – 21st October 2017
Beginning life as an international best-seller by John Boyne, before making the transition to Hollywood blockbuster in 2008; The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is now set to become a full-length narrative ballet, courtesy of Northern Ballet.
The story centres on the unlikely alliance between two nine-year-old boys: Bruno, the son of a concentration camp commander and Schmuel, a Jewish inmate; whose friendship flourishes across a barbed wire fence – before arriving at the story’s poignant ending.
Northern Ballet’s take on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the creation of choreographer Daniel de Andrade; whose previous full-length ventures include the critically-acclaimed Nijinsky – God of the Dance. However, TBITSP is by far his biggest ballet to date; requiring a perfectly poised combination of sadness and sensitivity as the difficult subject matter of the Holocaust is told through Bruno’s eyes.
The dramatic dance routines of Northern Ballet’s latest creation is supplemented with an original score from Oscar-nominated composer Gary Yershon – performed live by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia. Costumes and sets are provided courtesy of designer Mark Bailey; the man responsible for the fateful barbed wire fence that dissects the stage into two – providing the boundary between Bruno and Schmuel.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the penultimate production of Northern Ballet’s proposed trilogy of literary adaptations; succeeding the critically-acclaimed Casanova and foregoing Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. TBISP will make its World Premiere on 25th May at Doncaster Cast; then travelling to Wolverhampton, Leicester, Richmond, Aylesbury, Stoke, Bromley and Leeds West Yorkshire Playhouse (5th – 9th September) before concluding the journey in Hull.
21st September 2017 – 17th December 2017
Arguably the magnum opus of Hans Christian Andersen’s fantastical fairytales, The Little Mermaid is the conclusive ballet of Northern Ballet’s trilogy of literary adaptations; joining Casanova and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas as the third full-length narrative ballet to be unveiled in a momentous 2017.
Hans Christian Andersen’s classic (differing slightly to the recount of the red-haired heroine in Disney’s 1989 adaptation) tells the tale of a young mermaids yearning for a human soul and a life beyond the ocean, after falling in love with a handsome prince.
The Little Mermaid will be choreographed by Artistic Director extraordinaire, David Nixon; who said of his latest undertaking: “The fantastical underwater world of the mermaids evokes such beautiful imagery that it will be an excellent addition to our repertoire. So many people have grown up with an awareness of this classic tale and so I am looking forward to introducing audiences to the world beyond the waves.”
Prior to the Little Mermaid, Nixon’s other creations for the troupe included The Great Gatsby, Beauty & the Beast and the box-office breaking Cinderella. Nixon will also be the brains behind costume designs; with set designs entrusted to the ingenious Kimie Nakano. Responsible for a score of spellbinding capacities is accomplished composer, Sally Beamish.
The Little Mermaid will make its World Premiere at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre on the 21st September; later travelling to Norwich, Newcastle, Nottingham, Canterbury, Woking and Sheffield before Northern Ballet’s historic 2017 is brought to a close at Leeds’s Grand Theatre in December.
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