Northern Ballet Mixed Programme: Angels in the Architecture / Perpetuum Mobile / Little Monsters / A Northern Trilogy / The Architect
Choreography Mark Godden, Christopher Hampson, Demis Volpi, Jonathan Watkins, Kenneth Tindall
Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House
The best thing I’ve seen this week: a lively, rich, well-thought-out mixed programme that seeks to please as wide an audience as possible, no pretensions, no theorising, just pure pleasure.
Three serious, two funny, Bach followed by Elvis Presley, Presley by Stanley Holloway—can’t get more varied than that. But what holds them together are Northern Ballet’s fine hard-working dancers, exposed on Linbury Studio’s small bare space inches away from the audience.
Interestingly, only yesterday Rambert Ballet reminded me of Appalachian Spring and here it is, Aaron Copland’s music commissioned by Martha Graham. Mark Godden’s thirty-minute Angels in the Architecture, referring to Shaker philosophy, its simplicity of life style and belief, to its distinctive utilitarian furniture, is surely an homage to her.
Chairs and brooms significant essential narrative props, Paul Daigle and Mark Godden’s set is simplicity itself: Shaker chairs hang either end, brooms have evenly spaced wooden pegs at the back, all neat and tidy.
Unshakeable faith can move mountains; here it can make brooms stand straight. Six modest women in pale long dresses leap in ecstatic worship, but why are they lifting their skirts? Suppressed inner desires? The price of an ordered life?
Pastoral music gives way to hoedown and Lord of the Dance, joyful dance after a day at work—one-hand press-ups for the menfolk—a whole way of life represented by striking imagery. Draping skirts over their heads they become icons of the Mother of God.
Hands raised in prayer, in confession, swishing skirts turn the women into flying angels. Their six stolid men protect and imprison them behind chair backs, hold them tight, carry them on their backs, cradle them on their knees. Heads rest on shoulders in serene tranquillity.
Christopher Hampson’s beautiful Perpetuum Mobile to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major follows, bringing the arsenal of classical ballet’s vocabulary to the stage. Against a glowing blue backcloth his dancers pick out the music’s accents, its arc and flow, allegro and adagio, pleasing the eye and the ear, a marriage of time and emotion. The title speaks for itself, and the nine dancers invest their all in it.
Demis Volpi’s Little Monsters to three of Elvis Presley songs sets the cat amongst the pigeons: what a contrast. A couple run the gamut of a relationship from start to finish, from "Love Me Tender" through "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" to "Are You Lonesome Tonight".
Dreda Blow and Joseph Taylor have fun with this scenario and Volpi’s nifty moves. From bodies entwined as one, caressing arms become suffocating tentacles, a duet turns into two parallel solos.
Even funnier is Jonathan Watkins’s A Northern Trilogy, though Stanley Holloway takes the full honours for that. His three comic music hall monologues—"Yorkshire Pudden", "One-Each-A-Piece All Round" and "The Lion and Albert"—outdo the dance.
It’s impossible to compete with Londoner Holloway’s Yorkshire accent and delivery. He overwhelms the picturesque choreography. And here’s another angel in the mix—in the Yorkshire pudding.
In front of the golden glow of yesteryear the dancers do the best they can, Kevin Poeung in his drunken soldier solo, to the music and content of the words, but the words win hands down.
And if Kenneth Tindall doesn’t win hands down—how can he in a bill as diverse and intelligent as this—he comes close with his new work, The Architect, which at twenty-six minutes does not outstay its welcome.
Former dancer Tindall in his third commission for Northern Ballet turns to the story of creation, to Adam and Eve—biblical night tonight—laced with sci-fi evolutionary set design from Christopher Giles and contemporary ethereal electronica music, strings and heavy drum and bass from Zoe Keating Zinc Remix, Balanescu Quartet, Kerry Muzzey and Ólafur Arnalds.
Four women and five men in amphibian-patterned slithery costumes (Giles again), the men with DNA spiral tattoos on bare backs, code numbers on chests, push out of strange asparagus-shaped tubes. Feet hook on to shoulders like tendrils; formation is tight. Moves are jagged, staccato, lifts astonishing.
Light blinks on and off. This is not paradise. Louise Bourgeois’s spiders, the many Eves ensnare their men. And naturally the apple figures large—it has its own spotlight. Sexy, sensual, sensuous, mouths and bodies tease till desire flushes red (lighting Alastair West).
Music drives the narrative, drives the emotional ride, anxiety and lust, agitation and want, birth and death, "For dust you are and to dust you shall return" the guiding epigraph. But Tindall’s choreographic vocabulary is fresh and alive, his stage architecture bold and inventive.
The evening ends with a bang. Many emotions have been engaged, laughter, awe and admiration. A refreshing evening, for which much thanks.
Reviewer: Vera Liber