To start the programme with an exploration of the life and worship of the Shakers, and then to end it with a highly sensual dramatization of Adam and Eve’s temptation, highlights the sheer range and variety that this Mixed Programme presents. Northern Ballet have produced a wonderful evening of dance, offering the audience a plethora of entertainment with some very exciting new pieces.
Mark Godden’s ‘Angels in the Architecture, inspired by the Shakers of 18th Century England as well as by the music of Aeron Copeland, is a fascinating piece in which the simplicity of life, the purity of their worship, and the equality between the sexes in the Shaker community is performed. Chairs and brooms are used with a reverence and purpose, the dancers embodying this clarity of movement and thought. The simplicity of the set works effectively against the highly creative use of costumes and the dancers also combine a classical precision with a more contemporary expression of character. Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Jeremy Curnier are mesmerising in their roles, Brooks-Daw’s lightness and sensitivity of performance touchingly portraying the joy of the Shaker life.
The second part of the evening opens with ‘Perpetuum Mobile’, a popular work by Christopher Hampson in which stunning classical lines build and build into an aesthetically very lovely piece. All the dancers perform with technical aplomb, Martha Leebolt and Sean Bates beautifully commanding the stage. This is followed by the unusual and engaging duet, ‘Little Monsters’ by Demis Vopli, in which two dancers, Dreda Blow and Joseph Taylor, play out a whole love story to three songs by Elvis Presley. The stages of romance, from an excited and passionate first encounter, to a mournful and lonely separation, are danced with physical intensity and exceedingly effective attention to detail in each movement.
The final work of this section of the night is a masterpiece of understated English humour; Jonathan Watkins has set three ‘northern’ monologues to dance in his uplifting ‘Northern Trilogy.’ The story of the first ever ‘Yorkshire Pudden’ is narrated by Stanley Holloway while two dancers present an enchanting and angelic pas de duex, elevating that pudding into manna from heaven. ‘One-each-a-piece all round’ strikes a perfect balance of narrative and expressive dance, and then the final piece, ‘The Lion and Albert’ cannot be faulted. Watkins knows exactly how to tell a story with subtly but perfect clarity; he also knows exactly how to get his audience laughing.
While Watkins prefers subtly, Kenneth Tindall, in his re-telling of the Adam and Eve story, prefers overt and larger than life symbolism. ‘The Architect’ is very exciting and very brave and while the opening image of three men trying to escape from latex cocoon-like tubes might seem rather strange, the energy builds and by the end of the work one cannot help but be incredibly impressed. The dancers all have a brilliant strength to their movements as they tell us the story of temptation. The lighting, designed by Alastair West, is superbly creative, building a visual story with bright reds and hypnotic rays of light springing out of the tempting apple. The four girls enter with apples in their mouths, setting up the unusual idea of duets where the apple is passed seductively between the dancers. The highlight of the piece is the whole group ensemble work where impressive coordination results in highly technical and exhilarating dancing.
There is something for everyone in Northern Ballet’s Mixed Bill, although I find it very hard to say which one I most enjoyed. However, one thing that was absolutely clear was that the Northern Ballet dancers, with their technical skill and their convincing acting, are standing out as some of the most impressive dancers in the country.