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Northern Ballet - Dangerous Liaisons - June and September 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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  • Jan McNulty changed the title to Northern Ballet - Dangerous Liaisons - June and September 2021

Northern Ballet has opened its Autumn season at the Leeds Playhouse with a reprisal of the Covid-age version of Dangerous Liaisons.

 

Over the 11 performances there have been some tweaks to the casts from June and there are 4 1/2 casts.  Interestingly enough the 3 "socially distanced" performances seem to have sold better than those were all seats are on sale.  Sadly the tickets sales have not been wonderful and I think there may be a couple of reasons for this:

  • The company performed the same work less than a year ago in this theatre
  • Dangerous Liaisons is perhaps not such a well known title
  • Perhaps people are still nervous about attending potentially packed theatres

It has to be said though that the audiences may not have been as large as one would have liked but they were very appreciative.

 

I saw 4 performances over the weekend, with 2 casts.

 

This production of Dangerous Liaisons is well nigh perfect for the intimate setting of Leeds Playhouse.  I actually think that the pared-down set works better than the original mirrored set and the chandeliers look wonderful (if at times somewhat low compared to the action happening on stage!).  It was only at the end that we realised the orchestra was behind a screen at the back of the stage.  Under the baton of Music Director Jonathan Lo, the orchestra sounded wonderful.

 

Opening night honours went to Riku Ito (Valmont), Sarah Chun (Marquise), Antoinette Brooks-Daw (Tourvel), Aerys Miller (Cecile) and Kevin Poeung (Danceney).  This cast also performed on Saturday afternoon.  They were wonderful.  I would particularly like to mention Kevin's exquisite performance as Danceney - every tiny gesture had meaning and he was very much the innocent young man who fell in love with Cecile and who was dazzled by the Marquise.  Alessandra Bramante was a delight as the courtesan Emillie making the most of this smaller role.  If Thursday evening was excellent, Saturday afternoon could only be described as sensational.

 

Javier Torres led Friday and Saturday night's cast as Valmont with Minju Kang (Marquise), Isabella Gasparini (Tourvel) Rachael Gillespie (Cecile) and Lorenzo Trosello (Dancenay).  Gosh Javier gave us a very powerful performance that meant his remorse and downfall were all the more heartbreaking - he was truly remarkable.  The whole cast were absolutely terrific.  Natalia Kerner was really sassy as the courtesan Emillie.  I was sad to read that she is leaving the company at the end of this short run, her infectious smile and vivid acting have always lit up the stage.

 

I feel that this coming Saturday evening is going to be really poignant as it will be the final time that David Nixon will be AD when one of his own ballets is being performed.

 

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Over a long weekend I spent another few days watching 5 more performances of Dangerous Liaisons.

 

I saw 3 casts in the 5 performances.

 

I was very fortunate to catch Heather Lehan and Greig Matthews (who was a terrifically sleazy Valmont) in 2 performances.  It was Heather's debut in a major role and she did not disappoint.  If she looked a little tentative at the start of Thursday afternoon she absolutely had the role of the Marquise nailed on Saturday afternoon and she was just fabulous.  She was every inch the sexual predator and manipulator of people.  I think the puppet section was the clearest I have seen it performed where it was absolutely crystal clear that she was manipulating the main protagonists to get her way.  Her interactions with Greig Matthews as Valmont were superb.  Sarah Chun was Tourvel - what a remarkable actress she is, having been a dazzling and manipulative Marquise at the start of the run she was a devout and demur Tourvel at the end of the run.  Sena Kitano, only in her second year with NB, was a delight as Cecile.

 

The other cast I had not seen was Minju Kang and Mlindi Kulashe with Sarah Chun as Tourvel, Aerys Merrill as Cecile and Lorenzo Trossello as Danceny.  Again, another terrific cast. Mlindi and Minju were every inch the aristocrats and sexual predators.

 

Saturday night was incredibly special.  Not only was it David Nixon's final evening as AD when one of his own ballets was being performed but the performance itself was just sensational.  The cast was led by Javier Torres who just WAS Valmont with Abigail Prudames a perfect foil as the cold as ice, manipulative Marquise.  A special treat was the return of Isabella Gasparini for one more beautiful performance of Tourvel.  She was every inch the demure married lady whom Valmont persuaded to fall headlong in love with him.  Javier and Isabella were just gorgeous together and their duet at the end of act 1 was breath-taking.  All the dancers performed their hearts out and made the evening just magical.

 

During the curtain calls Kenneth Tindall came on stage with a microphone and Abby was able to persuade David Nixon to come on stage to take the audience acclaim.  Kenny made a short but beautiful speech and David was presented with a bouquet from some supporters of the company (provided by the very talented Kevin Poeung).  Everyone cheered!  David Nixon has given us such wonderful memories over the last 20 years, not only with his legacy of ballets but also with the wonderful dancers he has nurtured and encouraged and the encouragement and development of choreographers such as Kenny.  

 

Bravo David Nixon!!  I know you are still AD until 1st December but this was YOUR NIGHT and YOUR TRIUMPH!

 

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The photograph of David facing the audience is courtesy of Riku Ito and the photograph of Kevin holding the bouquet is courtesy of Gavin McCaig

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I went to the cinema last night to see Dangerous Liaisons!  (Yes I know I am a ballet-watching-glutton!).  The film has a 15 certification.

 

This film was recorded last October when some theatres had Covid-safe experimental performances.  It was produced entirely in-house by the Northern Ballet Digital Team.

 

Having so recently seen this production in the theatre I did notice that there had been one or two minor tweaks to the latest performances.

 

I found one or two of the camera angles didn't work for me but overall I thought it was excellent.  The intimacy of this production suits the film medium.  The one thing about watching a streamed performance is that you have to watch what the camera wants to see as opposed to focussing on your own vision in a live performance but it does mean that you can perhaps capture slightly difference nuances.   I liked the way that sometimes there was a focus on the interactions going on in the background rather than the main dance - it did show more clearly the manipulation being carried out by the Marquise.

 

We had a top-notch cast led by Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor with the sublime Rachael Gillespie as Cecile, Filipo di Vilio as Danceny, Antoinette Brooks Daw as a glorious Tourvel and the amazingly versatile Sarah Chun as the courtesan Emillie.

 

I do hope this production makes it onto the small screen or a DVD.

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Thanks for all your wonderful reviews of the performances and cinema showing Jan, it's been great to hear about them all 🙂

 

Unfortunately I've had bad luck with timing and haven't been able to see any of these, but I too hope for a DVD or small screen showing (or even a repeat cinema viewing near to me, unfortunately last night wasn't possible!). 

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I really enjoyed this streaming last night - and more so because of your detailed and enthusiastic reviews, Jan. I felt I already had some knowledge of the characters and the storyline. It did look as though it might be tricky to follow but a summary was helpfully displayed at the beginning of each half - and in fact it was mostly clear what was happening. I too found myself on the edge of my seat - the whole performance was intense, claustrophobic and completely gripping. I thought the choreography, especially of the duets, was simply stunning - with some spectacular lifts, which weren't just for show but always reflected the dynamics of the particular relationship. 

 

Mostly the filming worked - but I generally prefer not to have unusual shots or too many close ups. I like to see what I would see in the theatre and choose what to focus on. In this case, much of the show was presented as a film of a ballet rather than a film of a live performance of a ballet. It was only really at the curtain call that the audience was apparent.

 

I was very impressed by both the dancing and the acting ability of the cast - I immediately looked at the Northern Ballet website to see what else I could see, where and when.

 

Sadly there were very few people there - I hope this doesn't put cinemas off such screenings - as it is fantastic to be able to see a wide range of productions - ballet, plays, opera - locally and relatively cheaply.

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I have been trying to see this at the cinema without success.  I click on the link that Northern Ballet's email provided, and am given a list of cinemas, but when I try to book tickets it says it isn't being shown there after all.  Has anyone else had this experience?

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