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Mike Dixon catches Northern Ballet's return to the stage after seven months
THE PLAYHOUSE, LEEDS
As artistic director David Nixon points out at the beginning of the evening, it has been 221 days since Northern Ballet has been on any stage in front of an audience. Stranger still, the evening’s programme of classical pas de deux and solos is largely alien territory for the dancers of this company, who usually perform in Nixon’s neoclassical/dramatic repertoire. Remarkably, confounding any negative expectations, the gala evening, with items intelligently chosen by Nixon, proves to be deeply satisfying on many levels.
The Flower Festival in Genzano opens with Rachael Gillespie irradiating the large auditorium with her megawatt smile and demonstrating she is a natural Bournonville exponent by correctly stressing the flirtatious and feminine aspects of the choreography. Her partner, Filippo Di Vilio, performs the steps very accurately and with appropriate ballon – his second variation is particularly good - but his stage personality is affable rather than exciting and one’s eye is constantly drawn to Gillespie, whose dancing scintillates. The Don Quixote pas de deux, expertly staged by Javier Torres, features Ayami Miyata and Matthew Koon, who have well-matched plastique and are light and fast. Miyata is outstanding in her fan variation and Koon sails through the air in featherweight jumps and well controlled pirouettes in the coda. Sexual dimorphism is in limited supply in both these pas de deux. Ballet is, by its nature, predicated on the differences between the sexes, not merely physically but in the philosophical and metaphorical aspects of performance. This is amply demonstrated in The Sleeping Beauty pas de deux with Kyungka Kwak and Lorenzo Trossello, where his virile presence is a foil to her natural femininity. Outstanding male dancers are characterised by the ability to walk and run effectively on stage (think Nureyev, Muntagirov, Polunin and Parish), and Trossello has a doozy of a walk, which combines weight and authority.
Kwak, a late replacement for Dominique Larose, displays considerable charm along with her crisp and elegant execution of the steps. Trossello rattles off his double cabrioles and manège of coupé jetés with considerable élan.
The Black Swan pas de deux, staged by Christelle Horna, is danced by Sarah Chun and Jonathan Hanks, who recreate the dramatic scenario of the Swan Lake narrative in a highly satisfying iteration, full of emotional contrasts. Chun is artful rather than evil and Hanks is boyish, but they complement each other very effectively. His partnering is assiduous, he lifts her effortlessly and they respond to each other with the confidence of regular partners. Chun and Hanks are not dismayed by the technical difficulties. Their individual variations are essayed with confidence: Chun attacks the fouettés with panache in the coda, while Hanks fires off lightning-fast double tours and grand pirouettes in an elegant classical manner. For the pair to pull off this feat of stamina and endurance after being in a performance vacuum for eight months is frankly miraculous.
Miki Akuta and Riku Ito conclude the evening in the Le Corsaire pas de deux. Akuta is not blessed with a natural jump, but in every other regard she is equal to the demands of this taxing choreography and performs with a sweet and engaging persona. In contrast, Ito is completely at home in this milieu, which suits his instinctive tendency to attack any virtuoso steps with lip-smacking relish. Where Akuta is demure, he is expansive; they are anima and animus (we are back to our old friend dimorphism here) and consequently Ito throws himself into impressive barrel turns as to the manner born. As a final flourish to Northern Ballet’s return to the stage, this famous duet is a substantial cherry on the cake.
A longer and more comprehensive review of Northern Ballet's return to the stage will be published in Dance Europe issue. no. 252