This was a good double win for Northern Ballet (NB) – the first time they have performed at the Royal Opera House and also a very rare chance, outside Leeds, to see them dancing a mixed programme of interesting works. Northern’s long runs of theatrical ballets might pay the bills but I thoroughly applaud the move to widen the choreographic vocabulary of what they present and I hope they can tour such a bill in future. A bravo to David Nixon (AD) and Mark Skipper (Chief Exec) for making this happen – it’s not cheap doing such bills.
Lar Lubovitch’s Concerto Six Twenty-Two is nigh-on 30 years old and one of his most famous and enduring works. At its simplest this starts and ends as a joyous piece of dancing to Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra – the dancers full of flowing, boundless, energy and playful dance hi-jinx with legs and feet often doing what you least expect. But at the core of its 28 minutes is a men’s duet, often performed separately, and here the uncomplicated happiness is replaced by much more considered movement of love and mutual support. Concerto Six Twenty-Two was created when the impact of Aids was starting to become fully apparent and its life affirming nature lifts us all and scoffs at any prejudice. The duet was deftly danced by Giuliano Contadini (who I noticed throughout the night and who brought strong authority to all he touched) and Matthew Koon. The opening and closing sections, with their permission to dance big and impress, looked good on the company, but by the end I was starting to flag at the work’s constant smiles and syrupy happiness and wanted a bit more crunch. And crunch I got.
Hans van Manen’s Concertante is the very opposite of a happy, joyous world – this is life and relationships in all its sophisticated, mixed-up variety. The music, Frank Martin’s Petite symphonie concertante, underlines this – composed at the end of the second world war with an unusual combination of lead instruments sitting atop a string orchestra: harp, harpsichord and piano. “The music’s moods and textures change from sultry to threatening, from sweet and jazzy to abrasive. Yet again, van Manen treats it as a power struggle between the sexes…” said Jann Parry when Dutch National Ballet danced it in London 3 years ago.
Van Manen packs in an awful lot for his cast of 4 couples in the 22 minutes, with all the relationships being amplified, sometimes scarily so with what looks like a full-on throttling in the second pdd as Tobias Batley launches himself at Hannah Bateman’s throat. A short interview with Batemen casts more light on the work overall: “Mea Venema (van Manen’s assistant) kept telling us that you have to dance it as if you don’t quite trust the man next to you, you never know what he might do next but equally he is unsure of your next move.” What makes the piece more extraordinary is the designs of Keso Dekker, strongly-striped unisex all-in-ones which show every muscle while stripping away individuality – that comes just from the movement. At the end, after all the struggles, van Manen has his dancers individually and happily race off to new beginnings, the very opposite of the beginning where they each come on and moodily doodle. It’s as if engaging with one another has actually set them all off on a better path. Concertante is a masterwork and Northern Ballet look well-drilled in it.
The last piece of the evening was Kenneth Tindall’s Luminous Junc•ture. Tindall, a premier dancer with NB, only started choreographing 3 years ago but is making up for lost time and the company is really supporting him. It’s the third piece I’ve seen of his and the best to date. It is, though, perplexingly uneven and the programme notes and syndicated interview with him don’t really say much that is helpful other than that he wanted to experiment with dance and light and ends by posing the question “Where does the light lead?.” What I like about Tindall is his sense of theatre and clear wish to set a strong impression and connect with the audience. And for the first half of this 23-minute piece I really liked the succession of ideas. To Max Richter (a choreographer’s current favourite – Wheeldon, McGregor and Scarlett etc) and Olafur Arnalds, there is instant atmosphere and Tindall’s modern, angular, sculptural approach might remind one of others but it looked distinctly different in this company and I did see movement that was fresh – some odd, one-legged staccato running and a series of delightful, crawling entrances. In this first half the lighting of Alastair West seems supportive and to do modern things like clearly box the action, but later the lighting seems to lead the work and Tindall does odd things with his cast standing still while 2 doodle with fingers. Walk back a pace and repeat. And a long recording of Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator speech is played – or I think that is it, again nothing at all in the programme. You get the feeling of some great message from Tindall, but goodness knows what it might be. There were also some false endings that confuse.
These are still early days for Tindall and he seems keen to throw lots of ideas out at us – too many, perhaps, and as time moves on I suspect he will learn to explore fewer of them more deeply. Given the strength of the other 2 pieces on the bill I don’t think this was the work to close out the evening, but I’m pleased to see Tindall progressing and doing good things with his fellow dancers. And next month he unveils his third piece for the company. Bravo to NB for so actively investing in him at this stage in his career (other companies take note) and to him for running so fast with ideas. Better to have too many ideas than too few.
Great credit is due to all concerned, but particularly the dancers, who, let off a leash and given major works, really sparkled.