The Three Musketeers

David Nixon OBE
Northern Ballet
Lyceum Theatre Sheffield
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Northern Ballet’s The Three Musketeers is a cornucopia of delights which includes thrilling sets and costumes, Sir Malcolm Arnold’s widely varied music and a ballet company of outstandingly accomplished performers.

The ballet was originally conceived in 1973 by David Drew, dancer and choreographer at The Royal Ballet, but was moth-balled for 30 years until David Nixon, Artistic Director of Northern Ballet, revived and adapted the original scenario for a world première in 2008.

The choreography and direction of the current production is challengingly modern and full of humour. Balletic swordplay is to be expected but the vigorous leaps and lifts of the male principals perfectly represent the style and dash of the period and it is interesting to see innovative and complex pas de deux which demand athleticism and control as well as artistry from the performers.

This is a ballet with a complex narrative line and a host of characters taken from Dumas’s novel. It is certainly worth reading the synopsis and cast list in the programme before going in. The advantage for the company is that there are many small parts which present opportunities for characterisation and expressive dance. This applies equally to the corps de ballet who have a variety of roles to play from brazen Parisian washerwomen to elegant courtesans. The streets and palaces of 17th century France are brought to life.

The music for the ballet is drawn from Arnold’s extensive repertoire which includes music written for popular films as well as for ballet. Music for the lyrical and romantic sequences is often taken from his symphonic work but the music occasionally summons up the melodramatic Hollywood films of the '40s and '50s.

At the heart of this production is an electrifying performance of d’Artagnan by Kevin Poeung who commands the stage from his first entry and is entirely convincing as the excited ingénue from the provinces who is visiting Paris for the first time. His performance is complemented by the vigour and worldliness of the Three Musketeers played by Nicola Gervasi, Javier Torres and Jonathan Hanks. Once the team of four is established, there is plenty of opportunity for comic business and sparkling swordplay.

The ballet is equally concerned with the machinations of life in the court of Louis Xlll and there are lyrical performances by Sean Bates as the King and Nina Queiroz da Silva as his beautiful but faithless Queen. Look out for an unexpected, brilliantly executed and amusing drag representation of the Queen in an early court scene.

Antoinette Brooks-Daw is a delightful Constance, particularly entrancing in the love scenes with d’Artagnan and the evil characters are ably represented by Mlindi Kulashe as Cardinal Richelieu and Hannah Bateman as the treacherous Milady de Winter. It is at this point, no doubt because of the glamorous period setting and gorgeous costumes, that I begin to think I am watching a very sophisticated pantomime expressed through dance.

Charles Cusick Smith’s ‘magical’ set design beautifully represents what looks like Versailles, and also convincingly shows us ordinary Paris streets and a prison. Appropriately for this production there is a great deal of wit in the design and in the later scenes particularly, unexpected revealed sets add humour and additional pleasure.

There was a packed house for the press night which included many young ballet enthusiasts who were clearly enthused by the performance. The production is on tour but tickets are going fast. Book now to avoid disappointment.

Velda Harris