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Northern Ballet – Ondine – West Yorkshire Playhouse – September 2012


David Nixon was commissioned by the Ballet du Rhin in 2005 to create a production of Ondine using the full Henze score. To do this he went to the source novel (Undine by Fouquee) and distilled the story to what he saw as, perhaps, fatal attractions.

The motion of the waves throws a mysterious child up to a fisherman.


Years pass and the fisherman has brought the child, Ondine, up as his own. One day a knightly warrior (Brand)arrives on the beach. He meets the fisherman and Ondine and is attracted to her. She, in turn, is fascinated by him. The fisherman invites him to share a meal but he elects to stay on the beach in the hopes of seeing Ondine. She comes to him and they give in to their mutual attraction.

More warriors arrive with Beatrice and some friends. She becomes upset when she realises that Brand is to marry Ondine and she tries to break them up. She does not succeed and the wedding goes ahead, with Ondine and Brand ultimately consummating their marriage. Ondine discovers that she now has a soul. Beatrice is very distressed but Ondine is so kind to her that they soon become friends.


Brand starts to become disturbed by dreams about water sprites and starts to fear Ondine’s other-worldliness while still being attracted to her. Beatrice is taken by the sea but when her friends are scared to try and rescue her she is saved by Ondine. Brand takes Ondine in his arms as the curtain falls.


In act 2 Brand takes Ondine to his home and she persuades Beatrice to come with them. They form an unhappy trio as Brand continues to be disturbed by Ondine and is attracted to Beatrice. They go on a boat, having persuaded Ondine to come too. Brand and Beatrice continue to be attracted to each other and, eventually, after Ondine entreats her husband to remember her she returns to the sea.


In act 3 Brand and Beatrice are due to be married on the shore. As the storm comes and the guests flee Beatrice begs Brand to come away too but he stays on the shore to await his fate. Ondine comes to reclaim her husband…..

The waves continue their endless dance.


The set is simple and incredibly effective. There are silvery ropes all around the edges of the stages and two pieces of set that can be moved and are used as part of the beach and boat. Projections of the sea are also used and the lighting is very attractive. Brand’s home is depicted by slatted wooden walls.


I loved the costumes – mostly autumnal colours and the girls’ dresses were long and flowed beautifully. The corps are used as the sea and their costumes are in shades of blue with the men wearing Japanese-style culottes and the girls wearing hooped skirts.

David has developed a lovely lyrical choreographic vocabulary for the sea; the movement really reminds me of the swell of waves onto a beach. Ondine and her fellow watersprites are in flat shoes. The ladies of Brand’s court are on pointe.


As ever with David’s choreography there are some beautiful duets for Brand and Ondine and Brand and Beatrice. For Brand and Beatrice’s wedding there are virtuoso solos, duets and trios for the warriors. They caused gasps of excitement in the audience on Saturday evening.


The final duet where Ondine reclaims Brand is very moving.


Act 2 is very intense and shows the relationships between Brand, Beatrice and Ondine developing and moving inexorably towards the tragedy. A lot of the action takes place on a “boat” where there is little space to move and the acting of the leads is crucial to the intensity of the scene. The corps, acting as the sea, provide a gorgeous counterpoint to the action on the boat. The whole scene was so enthralling that I had one of those forgetting to breathe moments!


For me the only down-side of the production is that I am no very keen on the music but the production is so compelling I was able to forget that I didn’t like it!


Opening night honours went to Hannah Bateman as Ondine, Javier Torres as Brand and Dreda Blow as Beatrice. Hannah was just glorious as Ondine – she was utterly subsumed into the role and her dancing and acting were sublime. You could tell the exact point when she developed a soul and she was heartbroken when she came to reclaim Brand. You could see that she was begging him not to kiss her, which would be the kiss of death for him. Javier Torres was magnificent in the role of Brand, again dancing beautifully and very expressive in his acting. You could see both his attraction to and repulsion/fear of Ondine. Dreda Blow inhabited the role of Beatrice who came to love Ondine as a sister but could not stop her attraction to Brand.


The corps were splendid throughout. I particularly noticed Josh Barwick in the sea scenes where he was very fluid and lyrical. Kevin Peoung brought the house down with his virtuoso dancing in act 3.


I was really caught up in the emotion of the performance and I am really looking forward to seeing Ondine again this weekend.

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Online it will be behind the paywall, but today's Times carries a review by Donald Hutera. He awards 3 stars; felt it was a bit slow to start but felt that the leads eventually "got sucked into the story, the visuals and the music's quiveringly tense lyricism," as he did himself.


No doubt I'll get more online for Links over the next 48 hours.

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I'm recently home from seeing the final three performances of Ondine at WYP. I came out last night just wishing I could see it again! Over the weekend, I saw all 3 casts. They were all terrific and different. It never ceases to amaze me that dancers can dance the same role and just look so different but equally valid in their interpretations.


David Nixon gave a great Q&A session after the performance on Friday evening. One of the things he said was that he thought of the sea as a sort of Greek Chorus and when I watched the performances on Saturday I felt I could see what he meant. This really is a multi-layered, intelligent re-telling of the "adult fairytale" of Undine.


The members of the corps looked absolutely splendid in this choreography. I particularly noticed Jeremy Curnier and Thomas Arragones in the wedding scene in Act 3 and Vicky Sibson as one of the sea ladies. She is always such an expressive dancer.


For the record the 3 casts in the leading roles were:


Michela Paolacci/John Hull/Isabella Gasparini

Hannah Bateman/Javier Torres/Dreda Blow

Martha Leebolt/Toby Batley/Dreda Blow

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