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Northern Ballet - Swan Lake - Leeds, June 2021

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Yesterday Northern Ballet completed a remarkable run of David Nixon's Swan Lake at Leeds Grand Theatre.


The run was remarkable because it was a triumph in the face of Covid adversity.  We had heard at a zoom event that there were 4 casts split across 2 bubbles...


I love David Nixon's Swan Lake which is absolutely not traditional!  It is set in New England just before the First World War.  We see a prologue of 2 young brothers going for a late night swim and one of them drowns...


Antony, the surviving brother is conflicted.  Act 1 starts with a lake side party.  Antony is there with his friends and they are larking around (on bicycles and with a baseball).  His best friend is Simon.  Everyone except Antony goes for a swim.  Then Antony's parents arrive with a group of young ladies and there is more larking around.  As the parents and youngsters drift off Antony is left with his friends Simon and Odilia.  Odilia tries to kiss Antony and he rebuffs her so she runs off.  He and Simon are getting close when he realises what may happen and sends Simon off.  Antony is alone by the lake  contemplating when a flock of swan women appear.  He is transfixed with them and dances with Odette.  The swans disappear as Simon comes looking for Antony.


Act 2 is a party that Antony's parents have organised for him.  Antony is still a tortured soul and is not enjoying himself.  Odilia arrives and flirts with both Simon and Antony.  As the party progresses we see some terrific dancing, including a wonderful duet for 2 young men danced to the Neapolitan.  Eventually we (and Antony's mother) see Antony and Simon about to kiss.  Antony is so horrified that he proposes to Odilia on the spot and Simon looks heartbroken.


Act 3 sees Antony and Odilia in a very unhappy marriage.  Simon attempts to reason with Antony, who is obsessed with swans, after Antony has yet again rejected his wife.  Antony and Simon start to express their love for each other when Odilia comes back and, shocked, confronts them.


Antony then retreats to what may be his fantasy world and he dances again with Odette and the swans until he is overcome by the water and drowns.


As ever with Northern Ballet the set and the costumes the set and the costumes are ravishing (the costumes having been designed by David Nixon).  The score is all Tchaikovsky but includes additional music.  The first scene at the lakeside party is enormous fun until things get a bit more serious between Odilia, Antony and Simon.  The first swan scene pays homage to Ivanov's white act but is David Nixon's own choreography apart from the cygnets.  I think he must have spent a heck of a lot of time studying how swans/geese appear and disappear in water.  The swans appear out of reed beds and disappear back into them, which is exactly what I see on a more or less daily basis with the Canada geese that live on our stretch of the Leeds Liverpool Canal.


The party scene is also great fun until Antony's mother sees him with Simon and he proposes to Odilia.


The final act is all tragedy.  As always, David Nixon has a knack with duets and these are just gorgeous.  The corps of swans had been reduced to 12 (but as the Grand stage is quite small this was not an issue).  


The Northern Ballet Sinfonia sounded magnificent throughout.


Leeds Grand had adopted a checkerboard seating plan for these performances and it seemed to work very well.  You could order drinks online and they were delivered to your seat.  Despite the social distancing and the requirement to wear masks throughout the theatre was very welcoming and it was great to be back!


The first night was led by Joseph Taylor as Antony, Lorenzo Trossello as Simon and Abigail Prudames dancing both Odette and Odilia (a first for this production which was made with the roles being performed by different dancers).  It was a terrific performance.


I then headed off to Birmingham for Cinderella.  On Saturday 2 casts from the alternate bubble were due to perform and indeed from social media it looked as though they were looking forward to their performances.  All of a sudden I felt my phone vibrating and vibrating in my bag as texts were coming through.  Very late in the day the alternate bubble had to go into isolation for 10 days as one of the swans had tested positive for Covid.  The first cast had already performed on Thursday and Friday and they performed again on Saturday afternoon!  What on earth was going to happen for the evening performance.  As one of the Antony's in the alternate cast in this bubble had sustained an injury Aitor Arrieta from ENB had been drafted in but the cast hadn't been due to appear till the following week and he hadn't fully learned the ballet.  Apparently David Nixon made an announcement before the performance saying that this cast would perform the first half of the ballet and Joseph Taylor's cast would complete the ballet.  Friends told me that it was a wonderful performance.


I gather that the Arrieta cast performed the whole ballet on the Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and were wonderful.  Aitor Arrieta then headed off back to London and Joseph Taylor's cast performed on Thursday and Friday!


I was back in Leeds for the weekend and the performance on Friday was absolutely astounding.  Joseph Taylor, Abigail Prudames and Lorenzo Trossello had really switched up the heat and it was a thrilling and deeply moving performance.  I felt privileged to be in the audience.


Who on earth knew what was going to happen on Saturday.  It was inconceivable that Joseph's cast would be able to perform after such a heavy schedule.


Daniel de Andrade made an announcement before both of the performances on Saturday explaining about the bubbling situation and saying that Lorenzo had learned part of the role of Anthony at very short notice and that he and Joseph would be sharing the role.  Abigail would be dancing Odette and Minju Kang would be dancing the role of Odilia in the party scene and beyond.  Jonathan Hanks (who had been Aitor Arrieta's Simon) would be performing Simon at both performances.  It all sounded very confusing but it worked really well.


Due to a member of the audience needing an ambulance with less than 10 minutes of the matinee to go the performance was stopped.  We were told it was due to technical difficulties but it became obvious that someone at the back of the auditorium was ill or hurt as we could see paramedics.  We could not find out further information and I do hope the person is OK.


Anyway the performance had been going to resume to completion but after half an hour or so the paramedics were still attending and we were told that the performance could not continue as no-one knew when it could resume and the dancers had to have some down time and the staff had to re-prepare the auditorium for the evening performance.  The orchestra had stayed in the pit and they played the last 10 minutes of the score as people started filing out.  A lot of people stayed to listen to them and they got the most enormous cheer.


After the concerns of the afternoon I have to say that the dancers found something extra in the evening and the performance was really very special indeed and will certainly live on in my memory banks.  This performance marked the retirement of percussionist Ian Hood after a remarkable 44 years with the NB orchestra.  Jonathan Lo made a tribute speech from the stage and Ian came up to take the audience acclaim.  What a night, what a company!!!


I feel so sad for the dancers who had to isolate for the entire run.  Saturday night should have been a valedictory for the departing dancers.  Seven dancers have left the company, including 3 senior members.  Ayami Miyata is retiring and returning to Japan.  Mariana Rodrigues is retiring and taking up a new and exciting position.  Matthew Toplis is joining Phoenix Dance Theatre.  These dancers have given us wonderful performances during their time with Northern Ballet and all will be greatly missed. The other 4 dancers (Kyungka Kwak, Charlotte McKay, Leandro Olcese and Sara Dos Remedios) are more junior members who must have had a particularly hard time during the pandemic with no opportunities to perform.  I wish them all well.


Of the 11 performances in this run Joseph Taylor, Abigail Prudames and Lorenzo Trossello performed in full 6 times and 3 half performances!  What a remarkable achievement by them and for them to be even better at the end of the run than they were at the start.  They are already my dancers of the year for 2021.


Let's just hope that the Autumn seasons see a return to some sort of normality.


Here is a link to the casting page.  The cast shown for the evening performance isn't quite right as Joseph's cast performed the second half of the performance.







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