Northern Ballet’s tour is a double billing of technical brilliance and dramatic tragedy
The evening starts with Perpetuum Mobile, which is essentially a set of (rather difficult) exercises to the accompaniment of Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major. In a balletic representation of polyphony, the dancers thread their many distinct movements together with synchronised elegance. This is really a showcase for the dancers, and it is thoroughly enjoyable to see them at the same time acting as soloists and members of the corps. It was only a shame that the orchestra could not match the energy of the action on stage.
A word on the music is suitable. Being very much an evening of ballet, the orchestra manages with just eleven players. Amazingly, although the Bach does lack sparkle, John Longstaff’s arrangement of Puccini’s score doesn’t leave you wanting more. OK, so it’s not the full orchestral experience, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the night. This is probably helped by the fact that his score of Madame Butterfly is heavily abridged, lasting about only a touch over an hour.
It is an excellent arrangement for the ballet. Dramatically profound and with a good story to keep the action developing, I can’t think why it hasn’t been done before. This production makes full use of visual effects, albeit with a very sparse set. Scenes unroll like changing Japanese prints. The geishas’ costumes are spectacular, and colours are matched very well. It amazed me that the dancers could move with confidence in such long clothing, yet they did, and used the movement of the drapery to add to the fluidity of their own motions. It is visually satisfying.
With a blank backdrop, lighting can be used to create many moods. Deep blues and intense purples created the feeling of simplicity and loneliness. A truly enormous orange moon adds a passionate note, especially when Butterfly and Pinkerton are enjoying their wedding night. Their dance has several impressive moments of balletic beauty.
Butterfly hardly ever leaves the stage, yet Moore keeps the emotion alive through the loss of her husband and child right up to her suicide at the end. In a pool of red light, and to some (no doubt morbid) Japanese song, Butterfly resigns herself to fate through her father’s Samurai sword.
Perhaps it’s because of the different format, perhaps it’s because of the relative shortness, but this performance somehow delivers a more powerful and intimate telling of the story than the opera. While it might be a bit above the heads of younger children, I absolutely commend the production in general, even as a first-time ballet experience.