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Jan McNulty

Northern Ballet : Victoria by Cathy Marston, First Run

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The world premiere of Northern Ballet's Victoria, by Cathy Marston, is next Saturday - 9th March.  Of course my friends and I will be there!

 

Please use this thread for thought s on performances etc.

 

As a little teaser NB have issued a rehearsal snippet:

 

 

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Weather and traffic permitting, my wife and I should be there too - and we'll be joined by three grand-daughters getting their first Marston experience.  Our last visit to Leeds was for the opening of Cathy's Tale of Two Cities for Northern (still NBT at that time?) in 2008 - somewhat to our surprise we ended up in a Times Style supplement after an Interval interview!  

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Last night in Leeds, Northern Ballet premiered Victoria, a major full-length work by Cathy Marston, co-produced with The National Ballet of Canada, an aspect offering further proof of her increasing impact in North America.  Very positive reviews have already appeared online and will, no doubt, feature in tomorrow's Links.

 

I was not the only Forum member there and, having just got back from Leeds, will add a thought or two in due course.  I will not be disagreeing with the initial assessments mentioned but look forward to seeing what others made of it.  Northern Ballet will bring Victoria to Sadler's Wells from 26 - 30 March, following a run in Leeds next week and in Sheffield the following week.  After that, it goes to Leicester, Edinburgh, Milton Keynes, and Cardiff before finishing this initial run in Belfast from 29 May - 1 June.  And it will have Northern Ballet's first cinema streaming on Tuesday 25 June.

 

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It was good seeing you last night Ian!

 

My initial thoughts on Victoria are that it is a complex, multi-layered work that will easily stand repeated viewings.

 

The ballet starts with Victoria on her death bed surrounded by her children.  She tasks her youngest daughter and companion Beatrice with editing her diaries.  Beatrice was only 4 when Prince Albert died.  As she goes through the diaries she is, initially and during Act 1, looking back at her own life.  So Act 1 covers John Brown and Beatrice' own marriage to Liko.

 

In Act 2 she goes back further and discovers her mother's early life and her marriage to Prince Albert.

 

I think that is all you need to know about the plot; the synopsis and cast of characters in the programme and on the website are complex enough to be off-putting!  I didn't really feel a need to differentiate which character was which child of Victoria or their spouse.  As with Jane Eyre, Cathy Marston has introduced a chorus who act as royals, courtiers, politicians and servants.

 

The set looks simple.  It is a large metal looking structure, perhaps a galleried library, at the back of the stage filled with books.  The books are the journals and they are red.  The edited journals are blue.  It's a simple but effective device and the set allows the maximum amount of dance space.  The costumes have the style of the Victorian period but are short and look very modern.  The one thing I wasn't keen on is that the costumes for some of the male characters have 3/4 length sleeves - I don't like that length of sleeve and they grated on me.  The chorus wear cream/red tops with red skirts.  Philip Feeney's cinematic score is a brilliant backdrop for the action taking place on stage.

 

As the mature Beatrice is looking back another dancer plays her as a girl/young woman.

 

The choreography is absolutely luscious.  There are some gorgeous duets for Victoria and John Brown and Victoria and Albert.  There is the most sublime trio for Beatrice, Liko and mature Beatrice.  The choreography for the chorus is intricate and at times provides gorgeous swirling patterns of dancers on the stage.

 

This is really the story of Beatrice and Victoria.  The mature Beatrice is on stage for the entire performance and has a very vivd solo at the end of Act 1.  In Act 1 she participates more in the action and in Act 2 she is an ever-present observer.

 

Pippa Moore gave us a tour de force as the mature Beatrice; it was difficult to take my eyes off her for much of the performance.  She is such a subtle actor but she manages to make even the tiniest of gestures have meaning.  Abigail Prudames is outstanding as Victoria giving an entirely convincing performance as the elderly, widowed queen.  At the start of Act 2 in a symbolic gesture Beatrice takes off her mother's "widow's weeds" and it was almost as though Abby was emerging from a chrysalis - she becomes the young and carefree Victoria.  That really was a special moment in this work for me.

 

Miki Akuta was sublime as young Beatrice with Sean Bates magnificent as her husband Liko.

 

The evening belonged to Abby and Pippa but the whole company was on fire.

 

So there is so much to notice that I am glad I have got several more performances booked throughout the tour, including Pippa's valedictory performance next Saturday evening.

 

If you are going to see a performance I can do no better than recommend you watch this short film of Cathy talking about her concept for the ballet.  She explains things so much better than the synopsis in the programme!

 

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9 hours ago, Jan McNulty said:

It is a large metal looking structure, perhaps a galleried library, at the back of the stage filled with books.  The books are the journals and they are red.  The edited journals are blue.  It's a simple but effective device and the set allows the maximum amount of dance space

 

I actually found the set a bit of an issue. It takes up a lot of the rear of the stage, particularly stage right, which means a lot of the dancing happens downstage. From where I was sitting (and I was in the dress circle) I found that I was craning my neck a lot to see the front of the stage, while there was nothing happening further upstage (unless they were on the structure - which I imagine cannot be seen from areas of the upper circle and balcony). Those of you who know me will know I'm not tall so perhaps I just had bad luck with who I was sitting behind.   

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There's no review in this morning's Times but, further to the post above, there is a good picture of the stage structure in the second photo, here .   I have to say that, in the second last row of the stalls, I found no difficulty with the setup.

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It has been heartening to see the general critical response thus far to Cathy's Victoria.  I found it all most satisfying, even if I had to work hard in Act 2 to identify some of the similarly-attired male characters.  I can't think offhand of another subject that she has covered that came with such an enormous narrative arc from which serious choices had to be made for an evening's work - a quick Wiki check reminds me that the TV series a few years back needed 24 episodes over 3 years for the same life!  So, what to include, what to leave out?  The decision was to focus on the story through the eyes of her youngest child, Beatrice, as she made similar decisions in editing her mother's Diaries.  Thus, from Victoria's later years, we saw John Brown but not The Munshi.  (I did wonder if Billy Connolly will ever see this and, if so, what he'll make of the intimate portrayal of their relationship.)  And throughout we saw Beatrice's reactions, ranging from disgust through anger to joy, at what she was finding in those Diaries.  And I found that it payed to keep an eye on Beatrice, even when she's not centre stage, to keep aware of those reactions - and Pippa Moore, as the older Beatrice, was really excellent in that regard.  What a role in which to retire, as I understand she will do after this Saturday's performance.

 

I have to say that it's details of that kind that I've found so attractive in some of Cathy's other ballets.  I have one in mind at the moment from Witch Hunt, something that many may have missed as the main action was elsewhere on stage but, for me, it went some way towards explaining why that action was happening as it did.  Her recent very extensive interview with Bruce Marriott for DanceTabs covers her meticulous planning for each project, and I recommend it to anyone planning to see Victoria in London or elsewhere in its coming tour.  (I didn't know till relatively recently that, whilst going to dance classes in Cambridge prior moving on to the Royal Ballet School, she was writing scenarios for herself around the RAD syllabus dances she was being taught.)

 

In the spirit of full disclosure, I ought to mention that my wife and the grand-daughters who were also with us, preferred Act 2 to Act 1.  Myself?  I thought it was all just fine, and I look forward to seeing it again at Sadler's Wells at the end of the month.

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Pippa is dancing till the end of the season Ian.  The company are doing her valedictory in the home city in Leeds on Saturday night - I bet there won't be a dry eye in the house.  I know I will have a bad attack of hay fever!

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17 hours ago, Ian Macmillan said:

I have to say that it's details of that kind that I've found so attractive in some of Cathy's other ballets.  I have one in mind at the moment from Witch Hunt, something that many may have missed as the main action was elsewhere on stage but, for me, it went some way towards explaining why that action was happening as it did.  Her recent very extensive interview with Bruce Marriott for DanceTabs covers her meticulous planning for each project, and I recommend it to anyone planning to see Victoria in London or elsewhere in its coming tour.  (I didn't know till relatively recently that, whilst going to dance classes in Cambridge prior moving on to the Royal Ballet School, she was writing scenarios for herself around the RAD syllabus dances she was being taught.)

 

 

 

Ian, thanks for the link to my interview with Cathy Marston. I can't recall a choreographer ever talking so much about the way they plan a narrative ballet and found it fascinating - which is why I quote it in such detail. Also good to talk to Cathy about how she and Uzma Hameed looked to bring Victoria to life.

 

But, even armed with my interview, I'd say that I still got lost at times during Saturday's premiere - and that's not a great place to be.

 

It's been fascinating seeing all the reviews - 2 at 4 stars, 2 at 3 stars + Louise Levene in the Spectator who do not star rate but, based on the words, I suspect would sit at 3 stars. Other major reviews will emerge in 2 weeks when the show gets to London.

 

I think a few of us have alluded to the difficulty at times in understanding what is happening on stage. Levene perhaps makes the point best with:
"The boldly episodic narrative outline runs to two rather confusing A4 pages — I defy anyone to convey ‘Albert dreams of a new Europe unified through his growing family’ without surtitles."

 

I'm not sure if Northern Ballet has publicly released the synopsis from the programme, but if you plan to see Victoria, I'd suggest/urge/order you read the synopsis beforehand!

Despite the problems, Victoria is a good ballet, with some particularly fine dancing. Just rather a shame that the same ingredients (Marston and NB) made such a gobsmackingly great ballet in Jane Eyre. You cant' win them all, but even so, I rather hoped for more clarity in Victoria I have to say.

 

 

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Bruce, I read the synopsis on the NB website when it was first released and was horrified.

 

I had the benefit of attending the event that was live streamed and would also refer people to the 90 second snippet of Cathy talking about the making of the ballet rather than reading the synopsis.

 

I decided that I didn't need to know who the different children (and their spouses) were apart from mature and young Beatrice.  I decided I really didn't need to know who all the politicians were.  I did need to know Victoria, both Beatrices, John Brown (easily identifiable because he wears a kilt), Liko, Albert and possibly her Mum were.  They carry the thread of the drama and the rest are just left to the imagination.

 

I know people around me struggled with the synopsis and it really was easier just not to bother!

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29 minutes ago, Jan McNulty said:

I decided that I didn't need to know who the different children (and their spouses) were apart from mature and young Beatrice.  I decided I really didn't need to know who all the politicians were.  I did need to know Victoria, both Beatrices, John Brown (easily identifiable because he wears a kilt), Liko, Albert and possibly her Mum were.  They carry the thread of the drama and the rest are just left to the imagination.

1

 

Different strokes for different folks. I could readily discern all the people you mention above but that didn't mask my frustration at not always understanding the antics on stage of and with other characters. I obviously lack the necessary imagination!

 

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I don't think I'm too far off the mark in remarking that it's not often that a 'regional' company will get a 5-page picture spread in the Sunday Times Magazine, as is happening today, here.  

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We attended this last night and thought the choreography was wonderfully rich and complicated. There was so much to view on stage that I agree about a second viewing. We’re looking forward to seeing the cinema screening later this year. 

 

While led the plot was quite complicated in the synopsis, my ten year old, who didn’t read any of the programme prior to watching was able to grasp the main ideas and it didn’t phase him that he didn’t know all the people. He’s been learning about Queen Victoria at school and grasped the main ideas. 

 

Personally, I loved the trio of Liko and the two Beatrices. 

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On 14 March 2019 at 15:27, Jan McNulty said:

 

I decided that I didn't need to know who the different children (and their spouses) were apart from mature and young Beatrice.  I decided I really didn't need to know who all the politicians were.  I did need to know Victoria, both Beatrices, John Brown (easily identifiable because he wears a kilt), Liko, Albert and possibly her Mum were.  They carry the thread of the drama and the rest are just left to the imagination.

 

 

Same here! I identified the ‘key players’ and so followed the gist of the plot, and for the rest I just enjoyed the glorious dancing. 

 

The various duets, trios and solos were fabulous, but I would have liked a really exciting group piece and I think it lacked that.

 

It’s a small thing, but I did really like the effect of the curtain swishing across the stage to separate scenes. 

 

David Nixon’s farewell speech was lovely - a fitting tribute without being too syrupy.  

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35 minutes ago, BlueLou said:

 

David Nixon’s farewell speech was lovely - a fitting tribute without being too syrupy. 

His farewell speech? Is he leaving? Have I missed something? 

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No, it was a speech to celebrate the wonderful versatile career of Pippa Moore who has been with the company for 23 years, through different directorships. She is leaving at the end of this season and it was her final performance in Leeds, the home town of Northern Ballet nowadays (she will presumably be dancing at Sadler's Wells, at the end of the month, as well as other touring venues). David Nixon is an exceptionally good public speaker and his summary of her career was honest, detailed, amusing and very warm. He made one interesting general observation, that it was unlikely in the new ballet world, where dancers change companies a lot, that there will be other dancers to stay with one company for so long. Not true of Nela and some others at the Royal, but probably true overall.

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Queen Victoria's journals have been transcribed and are available here

 

http://www.queenvictoriasjournals.org/home.do

 

They are searchable, and there is a substantial amount of background detail on people named in the diaries. 

 

Victoria attended the ballet and opera often, and wrote briefly about hat she thought about singers and dancers. For example, 15 March 1842

"Then followed the Ballet of "Giselle", in 2 acts, which is very pretty. Perrot & his wife (Carlotta Grisi that was) danced & acted beautifully in it. I had not seen Carlotta since 36, & she is now a most perfect dancer, & still very pretty & sweet, though changed. Husband & wife, dance so charmingly together. We remained to the end of the Ballet." 

 

And an earlier example, before she was queen, 22 June 1833

"At ½ past 9 we went to the opera, with Alexander, Ernst, Charles, Lehzen, & Sir John, Alexander & Lehzen going in our carriage.

We came in at the end of the Opera “Norma”. The ballet was “La Sylphide”. I saw it last year at Covent Garden. The principal characters were, la Sylphide Mlle Taglioni, who danced beautifully! & looked very pretty. Effie, Mlle Pauline Leroux, who looked very pretty. James, Mons. Albert.

Mlle Fanny Elsler danced a pas de deux with another man. She looked very pretty & danced very well. We saw the whole of it. I was very much amused. "

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks for all of the reports! Marston appears to be the “full-length, audience-pleasing choreographer” of the moment. I look forward to seeing my first full-length Marston ballet at ABT...soon!

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...... and, when seen, do please say what you thought about it!  It's still hard to think that her Jane Eyre started on a mid-scale tour in the UK and that I first saw it in the small theatre in Richmond way out to the west of London, and now it's about to be seen in New York and, later, in Chicago.  From small acorns etc........    I'm sure you'll enjoy it, and I fancy that Miss Brontë would have done so too.

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I had a very full day in Leeds on Saturday.

 

While watching company class I was surprised to see just how much space the "simple bookcase" set took up!  The dancers looked really cramped on the stage unlike during the performance when it looked as though there was oodles of space.

 

I was right about this work bearing repeated viewings - I kept noticing different details, quite fascinating really!  One of my friends mentioned that most people only see a ballet once and that you shouldn't need to see it lots of times to get something out of it.  For me, it worked on the first night so on that basis I would say that it does work on all levels.

 

Anyway, on Saturday afternoon we saw a glorious performance from one of the alternate casts - Antoinette Brooks Daw as Victoria, Mariana Rodrigues as mature Beatrice, Rachael Gillespie as young Beatrice with Gavin McCaig as John Brown, Jonathan Hanks as Liko and Sean Bates as Albert.  The performance was absolutely scintillating and I hope to see them again later in the tour.

 

The evening was very special indeed!  it was the valedictory performance for Pippa Moore.  All the dancers rose to this special occasion and it was a truly memorable performance.  At the curtain calls the celebrations started when Pippa was presented with a gorgeous bouquet by her real-life partner and then David Nixon came on and made a moving speech about Pippa and her career with NB.  It really was a privilege to be there on Saturday night giving Pippa the standing ovation she so deserves and remembering back on her fabulous career.  Pippa is the last dancer still dancing with the company from the Christopher Gable era.

 

As has become the norm for celebrating special dancers with NB there was a programme insert devoted to Pippa.  I was thrilled to see from Mark Skipper's message that Pippa will be "moving on to a new role in the Company as well as supporting the training of young dancers in the Academy".  She will also be continuing with audio descriptions and touch tours for the Learning department.

 

Congratulations and that you Pippa Moore!  Long may we continue to see you at Northern Ballet.

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I saw the first performance tonight in London, and enjoyed it very much. As Jan said, there is so much to notice and so many details that are interesting and draw you in. The dancing (particularly in Act II) was glorious. I found the music a little 'dull' in Act 1, but that was a minor niggle. It's a shame that it doesn't seem to be selling so well, as it is definitely worth seeing!

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I have mixed thoughts about this ballet. It tries to tell the story of Queen Victoria through the eyes of her youngest daughter Beatrice and through insights from the Queen’s many diaries, she kept hundreds of volumes. I think Cathy Marston should have tried to distill the essence of Victoria’s life instead of baffling us with the details. Did all her eight children need to be represented, AND their spouses ? In Act 2 did each and every labour and childbirth HAVE to be represented? The latter episode became quite comical to me and perhaps that was intended ? Anyway the Act 2 love pdd between Victoria and Albert was superb and the standout piece of this ballet . Strongly danced by Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor the pdd showed both emotional and carnal love in Macmillan influenced passion and was a triumph. 
Would I recommend it? Yes with reservations...excellent dancing, lovely music, beautifully danced with some original choreographic ideas ... just confusing in the narration of the tale.

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The casting is up for all except Saturday night at SW.

 

https://northernballet.com/victoria/cast-list

 

I just decided not to bother about which child was which and the same thing for spouses and politicians.  It made it much easier for me Mandy!  I continue to think that there has been a big error of judgement in printing such a complex synopsis and character list - it takes away from the essence of the ballet.

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I remember my dear mother in law saying about that so bad it was series The Borgias (BBC in the 1980s) “I don’t know who all these cardinals are!” My darling husband said “You don’t need to know. They’re just cardinals”. 😂

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Posted (edited)

Don't have much time - nonetheless - Saw Victoria last night and found it both effective and affecting.  Think Marston has done a brilliant job.  Narrative ballets when successful can bring an unique emotional focus to a character's journey - think Giselle - think LIse.  It's not about (certainly shouldn't be) celebrating a wayward guide to understanding the printed synopsis.  They get tossed out with the old programmes after all. I was fearful after reading bits and pieces here that this might have been the case with Victoria.  Needn't have been.  Marston came through with flying colour.  Her's is a rare gift and I thought that here she rightly focused on Beatrice in the first act  ... and then Beatrice's version of Victoria in the second.  It was wonderfully telling.  Pippa Moore as the older Beatrice was a picture throughout - most especially when passive and that was most telling. 

 

Very much liked the design - although I agree with the Janet the three-quarter length sleeves for the men can go forthwith.  Liked the use of the patriotic red, white and blue .... mixed only (short of the Indian continent gold on the flag) with the black grime of the industrial revolution.  I SO appreciated that this was not OVER designed as so many other lesser works have tended to be.  This was very much from the Jurgen Rose school of thought. 

 

I was also delighted (and not a little surprised) when I could clearly understand who each principal character was when they stepped forward in the curtain call - and I DIDN'T buy a programme.  The Disraeli / Gladstone argument over making Victoria Empress of India was but common (i.e., basic) schoolboy historical fodder (or it used to be) and even though I did not know the name of Beatrice's husband - (Liko) - nor did I know that he was off to - and met his end in - an African campaign - I got what I needed to know from the ballet and the reflection of the mother/daughter bond through the relatively early death of their relative spouses was truly telling - as it was depicted THROUGH dance.  Also Pippa Moore's Beatrice made Victoria's effective childbirth segments most touching by her own revelry in her mother's key achievement - even though she merely sat there in (again relative) stony - and barren silence.  That silence spoke LOUD.  Thought the central PDD in the second act was brilliant .... so strong - and - unlike some other such this was not pinned on for its effect - ('and now the choreographer will impress us all with his extremity') - but core.  Brava I say!  Nay, Bravi! 

 

I so hope that this ballet is taken up by major ballet companies much as Jane Eyre has rightly been (Think ABT, think the Joffrey -and think that for but next season alone).  The NBT Company looked grand ... and I can't wait to see this again during its run here.  Here's hoping that Marston has a main stage RB slot next season.  THERE IS NO QUESTION BUT THAT SHE DESERVES TO.  What is wonderful about this ballet - much as with Broken Wings or Woolf Works - is you can actually hear the choreographer's voice - much as you can in a Stoppard or a Pinter or a Sondheim or a Shakespeare or an Ashton or a Balanchine.  This is not overheated Cranko ... or warmed over MacMillan.) NO WAY.  What a privilege. 

 

Can't wait for the NEXT Marston installment at NBT ... They are a magnificent match.  Puts a smile on my face.  That's for sure. 

 

I sit here grinning.  

 

 

 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Thanks for these lovely comments Bruce ... so much more eloquent and told with feeling than mine.

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Especially since I stopped buying programmes (thank you, ROH price increases!) I’ve got into the habit of not reading a synopsis unless I’m confused at the first interval - sounds like with Victoria my time has come!

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