|The Swannee River, USA|
Northern Ballet, "Swan Lake", Leeds Grand Theatre, 12 March 19:30
The Leeds Grand Theatre was packed to the gunnels for the last performance of Northern Baller's Swan Lake on Saturday night and the applause at the end was deafening. Cheers, roars, ululations. The audience was almost delirious with excitement. I am sorry to say that I didn't join in with them. I clapped gently at the end of the performance out of respect for the dancers who gave their all.
Had this ballet been called something like Simon and Anthony I might have been a bit more tolerant but it was billed as Swan Lake for goodness sake and it bore as much resemblance to Petipa's masterpiece as the River Medlock does to the mighty Mississippi. Now David Nixon is a fine choreographer and I admire many of his works. I have called his Madame Butterfly a masterpiece and his Cinderella a triumph but I am afraid that his Swan Lake does nothing for me. I have now given it two chances. The first when it came out on 14 Feb 2004 which happened to be my birthday (see Don't Expect Petipa 5 Jan 2015) and the second last Saturday. I am not inclined to give it a third.
"But what didn't you like about it?" asked a classmate from my Over 55 ballet class this morning. "Oh it was so boring" I replied. "Where were Legnani's 32 fouettes?" I replied. "And the divertissements?" The Hungarian seemed to have morphed into a tango and the Neapolitan into a party piece. I found myself looking at my watch almost for the first time ever in over 50 years of ballet going. I didn't like the libretto, the orchestration or arrangement, the sets or even the costumes. It reminded me of the eighties fashions of erecting a Doric arch on a right-to-buy Thatcher house or installing a Rolls Royce grill on a beetle.
The evening was saved for me by the dancers who were good. Many of my favourite dancers were on stage. Jeremy Curnier as Anthony, Antoinette Brooks-Daw as Odette, Ashley Dixon as Simon, Ayami Miyata as Odilia, the magnificent Pippa Moore as Anthony's mother and the equally magnificent Hironaeo Takahashi as his father. There were some good albeit brief performances further down the batting order by Kevin Poeung as young Anthony and Gavin McCaig foundering on his bike. Their performances would have excited the audience which would be why the show had such a good reception, For many in the audience Northern Ballet's production will have been the first Swan Lake they may have seen in a while. For some it may be the only one they know.
Tchaikovsky's music is of course uplifting and there is only so much one can do to spoil it. Though someone had a pretty good try with the outsize floaty blue textile thingee which you see in the trailer that reminded me of the bear in Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale. The last time I saw Nixon's Swan Lake I had to skedaddle down to Covent Garden to see the Royal Ballet's Swan Lake to get the former out of my system. The Royal Ballet are not doing Swan Lake this year but English National are at the Albert Hall in the round in June and of course my beloved Scottish Ballet are bringing David Dawson's to Liverpool. The rehearsal on World Ballet Day looks really exciting.
Just because I don't like Northern's Swan Lake doesn't mean you won't. It's running in Sheffield until Saturday and then on to Norwich and Milton Keynes. And then there's Cathy Marston's Jane Eyre to which I am looking forward very much. They usually run a triple bill in the Stanley and Audrey Burton in Spring which they take to the Linbury but of course the Linbury is closed this year and that is a pity because that is the best show they do. I'll probably give 1984 and Beauty and the Beast a miss this year (it's the bus that get's me) but I can recommend Jean-Christopher Maillot's Romeo and Juliet (see Northern Ballet's Romeo and Juliet - Different but in a Good Way 8 March 2015).