Concerto Six Twenty-Two, Concertante, The Architect
Leeds, Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre
21 June 2014
Northern Ballet has the strapline “A powerhouse for inventive dance” and with bills like this, the children’s ballet tours they now do, the mentioned-in-hushed-tones small-scale tours that are being planned and the arrival of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Romeo and Juliet early next year, the company really seem to be giving themselves the breadth of choreographic vision that delivers on the title. Gratifying, then, to see in the recent Arts Council funding review that Northern are to get an extra £550,000 each year (from 2015 on) “to enable the company to introduce new choreographers for its main stage work, to pay its dancers more, to invest more in productions, and to take more risks.” Real endorsement of their broadening strategy. In the meantime there is current reality and the type of bill I saw only seems to play a few performances: in the 200-seat company theatre in Leeds and the 400-seat Linbury Studio Theatre (at the Royal Opera House) in London.
Two of these works have already been reviewed in the recent show at the ROH and my thoughts remain unchanged really. I like Lar Lubovitch’s Concerto Six Twenty-Two for reminding us all how lucky we are to be alive, though it still feels a little too long. If only Mozart had composed fewer bars, in hindsight! I quibble only a little. It was inspirational programming that straight after we get Hans van Manen’s very different take on humans and relationships. Concertante is a dark and spiky masterwork, with a different cast to that I saw earlier, but still hugely committed and dangerous performances – the company has strength in depth. That said, Michela Paolacci (sadly leaving) and Javier Torres were particularly strong. I say more on both works in my original review.
The reason for my 400-mile round trip was to see Kenneth Tindall’s latest work, The Architect, which had premiered 3 days earlier. It’s his third chamber work for Northern Ballet and inspired by the tale of Adam and Eve, and the biting of apples feature graphically in its 26 minutes. It starts with what I assume is the birth of Adam, attended by 4 bare-chested hunks, and then the arrival of Eve and friends. The designs by Christopher Giles seem to connect the earth to the heavens above by translucent organic tubes, and a stretched membrane at the back of the stage, which dancers hang around, might be the fabled tree, the placenta of early life or just alien landscape. The costumes all have a tight-fitting, vaguely alien and tribal feel. It’s a theatrical look, as is Alastair West’s lighting, initially subdued but with 9 very tight spots to focus in on the apple when it comes along.
I have to say I didn’t understand all that was going on, but subsequently heard that there had been a prop failure surrounding a suspended apple and the odd gazing and behaviour of dancers I saw may have been connected with this. Tindall’s programme notes are a useful step forward from what we got for Luminous Junc•ture (in May) but even so I think I’d need to see it a time or two more to pick up things and thread them together into a fuller script/narrative. In the meantime there are great snatches of fun in the joint eating of apples along with a feisty van Manen feel of competition between the sexes hanging over all. Tindall’s movement is inevitably still evolving but he is spending time mixing with companies on the continent, Hamburg notably, and the feel of handsome human theatrics and chunky Kylian weight looks interesting. Whatever, his instincts to do more away from the UK (and more within of course) are well founded and produce increasingly distinctive steps. There is a deliciously simple thing that he does, involving crossing the legs at the knees while lying down. It looks like they are fused at the knees, the feet fanning out and it makes me smile – a simple thing that looks amazing. And by the end we seemed to have descended into a red hell of a place – a literal view of where wrongdoing takes you perhaps.
Overall I thought this was another move forward for Tindall – he can grab our attention theatrically and also provide visceral choreographic texture. And a lot of people like that as movement and at that level its positioning as the last piece in the bill worked much better than when his earlier Luminous Junc•ture was the last piece and left us thoroughly confused. But Tindall is trying to put over and stimulate ideas and may still be operating at a narrative level above ready understanding, if that may have been clouded by prop problems in my performance. We will never know. For himself, in one of the publicity videos for The Architect, Tindall says he wants the audience to connect with at least a part of the work, but it doesn’t matter if it’s not all of it. I think he needs to set his sights higher in terms of audience understanding and that is probably the greatest inspiration he can take away from Northern Ballet and its productions – clarity in communicating ideas and motives. Tindall goes on to say that he hopes the audience will leave and think about it again afterwards. And I have, and I want to see it again. Although a Kickstarter project is doing a film version of the work, to see it live it looks like we have to wait until next year when it is performed in London at their annual spring visit to the Royal Opera House. It’s a shame we have to wait but Tindall is busy elsewhere (as well as still dancing with Northern) and he remains a young choreographic talent worth going out of your way to track.