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Northern Ballet - Dangerous Liaisons - June 2021


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On Tuesday 1st June 2021 I was back in a live theatre to watch a ballet performance for the first time since October last year and over a year since the premiere of Geisha, which was the last "normal" ballet performance I saw.  I felt really emotional filing into the theatre.

 

The Lowry has really gone to town on social distancing.  Fortunately it was a warm sunny evening as we queued up outside to be told the rules as we went into the barriered queuing area to have out temperatures taken, order a drink (if we wanted) and have our tickets scanned - all before we got into the enormous space of the foyer areas.  I was chatting to a couple of friends when we were asked to move to our seats as the foyer areas were being kept clear.  None of the inside bars and cafes were open.

 

There were tannoy announcements asking us to stay in our seats during the interval unless collecting pre-ordered drinks or using the facilities.

 

The seats in the auditorium were very well spaced out.  I couldn't say if the performance was sold out but I couldn't see any empty seats that weren't cordoned off.

 

And so to the performance...

 

This is the third iteration of Dangerous Liaisons that David Nixon has put on for Northern Ballet.  The first had a narrator on stage, the second had replaced the narrator with a small corps of Parisian sybarites and, for me, was close to perfection.  This more concert style production, done for the Covid world, was parred to the bone and a real chamber production using only 11 dancers (2 of whom were only walk on parts as servants).  For me it really worked.

 

There is a tiny amount of narration to introduce the characters.  The narration uses the voices of David Nixon as Valmont and Pippa Moore as the Marquise and, much to my surprise, it worked well.

 

The main features of Christopher Hampton's play were all included and I found it very easy to follow without using the synopsis on Northern Ballet's website.

 

Act 1 introduces and builds up the characters and tragedy from Gercourt leaving the Marquise and starting her overwhelming need for revenge.

 

The action is mostly duets with some ensemble scenes allowing Valmont to try and persuade the devout Madame de Tourvel to give in to him; the Chevalier Danceney's hopeless courtship of Cécile, Valont's seduction of Cécile and finally his conquest of Tourvel who falls headlong in love with him.

 

Act 2 covers the consequences with the Marquise dallying with Danceney, forcing Valmont to reject Tourvel and the fatal duel.

 

There is some terrific choreography in the duets which can be playful (as with the wonderful scene where Valmont uses a courtesan as a writing desk) brutal (as in Valmont's rejection of Tourvel and his seduction of Cécile) and beautifully tender (Valmont's seduction of Tourvel).

 

I found that I couldn't breathe from Valmont's "It is beyond my control" scene to the end of the piece and it wasn't because I was wearing a mask!

 

There were 3 casts on show this week, all subtly different.  I really couldn't choose between them.

 

There was a small standing ovation after every performance and the audience was really enthusiastic.  It is interesting that the audience sounded so loud when usually at The Lowry a full house sounds muted but it must have been really gratifying for the company given how long they have been waiting to get back on stage.

 

Thank you Northern Ballet for a wonderful series of performances (I saw 5 out of the 6).  It was so good to be back!!

 

For anyone going to see this at Sadler's Wells in the coming week the show runs for 1hr 40 mins including the interval.  The casts are already on the company website along with a digital programme, a separate synopsis and a page of the characters (which is useful if you are not familiar with the dancers as it can be used to identify the costumes and thus the characters).

 

 

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  • alison changed the title to Northern Ballet - Dangerous Liaisons - June 2021

Have just come out of watching this at Sadlers Wells. What a delightful, uplifting and refreshing evening we have enjoyed. Perhaps pared down in numbers but the simplicity of the staging enhanced and emphasised the choreography with the music underscoring the tumultuous emotions of the characters. Wonderful to watch a narrative ballet once again. 

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Unlike Jan, whose abundant experience seeing the ballet and the company allows a comparative study, I was at Sadler's Well last evening for my very first Northern Ballet performance and what a wonderful first impression the visiting company has made!

 

The original novel by de Laclos, on which the play, the film, and this ballet were based, was an instant favourite of mine when I first read it in uni. I remember mimicking the exuberant/flamboyant writing style employed by some characters in the book until I myself got sick of reading my own letters.

 

Delightfully for a fan of the epistolary novel, the ballet did not fail to highlight the importance of written words. Letters and diaries were seen being written, read and passed along by the dancers, inciting emotions and propelling the plot. The set and lighting were nice and effective, albeit simplistic. The chandelier casting its shadow on the stage like a ominous spirit always made me hold my breath.

 

The choice of accompanying music is an interesting one. At times I felt that it was very effective in conjuring up the world of aristocracy but such is the familiarity of many of Vivaldi's pieces (and, importantly, their titles) there are instances where they can be distracting. 

 

I concur with Jan that much of the most enjoyable choreographies can be seen in the many duets. They captured the passionate and titillating relationships between the characters in a way I as an unseasoned theatre-goer may describe as Macmillan-esque. The cast was very competent and exciting to watch. But I want to give special praise to Ms Dominique Larose, who played Madame de Tourvel with exceptional technical robustness and beautiful lines.

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I was at both performances yesterday. It was the first time I'd seen this ballet, and I agree with KyleCheng that on first viewing the music was a little distracting. However, in the evening, when I was more familiar with what to expect, I found I could ignore that and concentrate on the dancing - which was superb. Both casts gave it their all. Not  having seen the full version, I found the minimal staging very clean, and the story very clear. I have enjoyed a lot of what Northern Ballet offer - particularly Jane Eyre -  and they are such a strong company dramatically. But it was just such a pleasure to see a live performance again - I'm still on a bit of a high!

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