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Northern Ballet - Madame Butterfly - Autumn 2012

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I've loved David Nixon's Madame Butterfly since I saw the Northern Ballet premiere in 2002. I have seen some truly unforgettable performances. On Thursday afternoon another performance was added to my memory collection.


Ayana Kanda and Javier Torres made their debuts as Butterfly and Pinkerton. From the first moment the ballet started my spine started tingling and I knew we were in for something special. Ayana was so fragile and timid when she first appears as a Geisha. It was easy to see how Pinkerton was bowled over by her delicate beauty and demeanour.


The duet that ends Act 1, where Butterfly falls in love with Pinkerton, was beautiful, passionate and very moving (yes I started crying before the interval!). It was glorious to see how Ayana moved from the timid, almost scared young girl to young woman passionately in love. Javier was attentive and passionate and he is such a brilliant partner.......


Antoinette Brooks-Daw was a joy to watch as Suzuki. Hannah Bateman gave a beautifully understated performance as Kate. It was lovely, too, to see Martin Bell back as a guest artist in the role of Sharpless - the consul with a conscience.


It was as though the whole company was sparking off each other and gave us an unforgettable afternoon. It was a privilege to be in the audience.


The performance on Thursday evening with Michela Paolacci and John Hull was also breath-takingly beautiful.


Butterfly is on in Manchester this week and Nottingham the week after. Go see it if you can!

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I'm in Manchester this weekend for some particularly remorseless work and so have treated myself with a ticket to see Nothern Ballet on sat night........largely because I have never seen them before but also because I thought they seemed such a great company from the Beeb TV doc.

Do they have the same cast every night ? If so sounds like a fantastic evening..(tears before the interval...? Wow...must be good !)


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On Tuesday evening, a chum I had been nagging for ages, came to see Northern Ballet for the first time. I would stress that he is already a ballet-watcher but had never got round to seeing NB. It did mean that I saw Northern Ballet's Madame Butterfly with new eyes. Would he like the traditional Japanese music that starts and ends the work and the stylised movement that goes with it? I don't think I had realised until Tuesday just how stylised the choreographic movement is in parts and I really was seeing this ballet with new eyes (having seen at least 40-50 performances over the last 10 years since the NB premiere). I'm happy to report that my chum did enjoy the ballet and will hopefully come to see Northern Ballet again.


So, we have the story that we all know and love, in some ways simplified and others expanded from the opera libretto. We have a prologue where Butterfly's father kills himself as ordered by the Emperor. We then see Butterfly entering the Geisha house. All this is danced to Japanese music. Three American sailors come to the house and Pinkerton is entranced by Butterfly. Goro, the marriage broker, offers her up in "marriage" (for a fee) and Pinkerton agrees.


Butterfly takes this very seriously and becomes a Christian to please her husband to be.


Pinkerton has leased a house by the sea and this is where the wedding takes place, officiated by the American consul and attended by his sailor friends and Japanese guests. The bonze arrives and orders the Japanese guests away as Butterfly has converted to Christianity. Pinkerton is left alone with his bride and her maid. Pinkerton makes love to his wife and she falls in love with him. As he leaves, Suzuki reminds him that he has to leave money for them.


At the start of Act 2, some years have passed and Butterfly is waiting in vain for the return of her husband. The consul arrives with a letter from Pinkerton, who is returning to Japan with his new American wife. Butterfly introduces him to her son and the consul promises to tell Pinkerton that he has a son. Butterfly is heartbroken and dreams of Pinkerton and his American wife. Goro is trying to persuade her to marry the wealthy Prince Yamadori but Butterfly is faithful to her vows and sends him packing.


Sharpless, the consul, meets with Pinkerton and tells him the situation. They go to the house with Kate, Pinkerton's wife. Pinkerton wants his son. Butterfly realises there is only one way out and as Kate takes her son away she gets her father's sword. Her suicide scene is to a traditional Japanese song but as she dies the final few bars of the opera end the piece.


The set and costumes, both designed by David Nixon, are absolutely ravishing. There are athletic solos for Butterfly's father, the Bonze and Prince Yamadori. The sailors have some nice trios. There is a fantastic dance to traditional drum music for 3 Japanese men at the wedding. The love duet at the end of act 1 is incredibly beautiful and never fails to move me.


Butterfly's yearning for her husband, mostly a solo but with some duet work with Suzuki, is just gorgeous. Her suicide scene has very stylised choreography using some moves from Noh.


I was fortunate to see 4 performances with 3 casts this week. What is so nice is that the leading dancers are able, within the confines of the story, to give their own interpretation of the roles. Julie Charlet dances fearlessly and with such a strong partner as Kenneth Tindall the love duet has an exciting and dangerous edge. Kenneth Tindall is a really poweful actor - you can see him fall for Butterfly but ultimately give in to his cowardice and reuqirement to have a conventional American wife. Martha Leebolt is his Kate and she brings compassion to the role, you can really see her struggling with her conscience in depriving a mother of her child and her desire for that child.


Pippa Moore is a delight as Butterfly. Her Pinkerton, Toby Batley, has a different take on his character. He is very passionate in the duet but you realise that he does not see the relationship as anything more than a fling. It makes Butterfly's sacrifice all the more heart-rending.


John Hull is tender and passionate as Pinkerton and he does seem to have a conscience. Michela Paolacci has an ethereal beauty and fragility as Butterfly. They were absolutely outstanding together on Saturday night and I drove home through a veil of tears.


The whole company were on sparkling form and all the performances were superb.


I would highly recommend this production. There is one final chance to see it this year in Nottingham, opening on 9th October.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I saw this production in Nottingham yesterday. I really enjoyed the show, I always find northern ballet's productions a feast for the eyes, the costumes, sets and ligthing were superb. I saw Javier Torres/Ayana Kanda cast and I agree with Janet that they made an exellant pairing. I was sat next to some very proud relations of the three year old little girl playing Butterfly's son.

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