Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

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Credit: Johan Persson

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s a little past 9PM and I’m sat watching a modern-day masterpiece, to many the greatest love story ever told… that’s right Love Island is on ITV 2! I jest of course; I am referring to Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet.

There have been many productions of William Shakespeare’s most famous play, but few will match the innovative, bold and daring narrative choices Bourne has made in creating his latest ballet.

This is very much a Romeo and Juliet for 2019 with the action taking place in the Verona institute: an asylum packed full of young men and women, made to live separately by a team of guards who have no qualms abusing their power or those in their care.

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Head guard Tybalt, (Dan Wright) has his sights fixed on young inmate Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) however she only has eyes for the Verona Institute’s latest arrival Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick), a young man sent away by his politically ambitious parents. Romeo and Juliet, as we all know, fall in love but at a fatal cost to them both. This is of course a story most of us are as familiar with as we are our own faces, however this production subverts the narrative keeping it fresh, exciting and engaging.

Braithwaite and Fitzpatrick are outstanding as the titular leads: a mixture of grace, vulnerability and passion, fully exemplified by the pair’s penultimate dance. However all cast, including the six local dancers (local dancers will join the tour at local venues) are outstanding and fully deserve the plaudits that will undoubtedly come their way. What strikes you about any Matthew Bourne production is that every person on that stage is a fully fleshed out character and each character shines through. The masked ball sequence has been transformed into a mash up between a school disco and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and beautifully typifies the production’s narrative.

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Bourne’s choreography marries perfectly with Sergei Prokofiev’s emotive and powerful score expertly conducted by Dan Jackson. In addition, the use of all white costumes and the white tiled interior gives the production a virginal and surgical quality, which is further intensified when colour is introduced into the narrative.

Bourne has done it again, taking a traditional story and giving it a contemporary twist with references to current politics and a reliance on institutionalising people rather than treating them. However more than any of that, this is a production celebrating youth: a ballet starring young people, for young people, an absolute must-see!

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet is on at the Lowry till 15th June. Tickets available here.

 

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewer Kate Goerner

Some shows are so iconic that a single image immediately identifies them, and 23 years after the all-male swans first leapt onto the stage in a flurry of feathers, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake has certainly earned this status

Taking the classic score by Tchaikovsky, and reimagining it with a male central pairing and corps, Bourne – who directs as well as choreographs – shook up the traditional concept of classical ballet with this piece when it premiered in 1995.

He admits that not everyone in the dance world welcomed the bold move but it was worth every ruffled feather!

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Now updated for 2018, the production has lost non of its impact, and indeed looks and feels as fresh as ever.

The production opens on the bedroom of a restless prince (Dominic North, whose youthful appearance belies his experience in this role). The forced perspective of Lez Brotherston’s Palace set trapping the young royal figuratively and literally – tight bed covers restricting him just as his royal role does.

The society scenes that follow are a witty joy – we even have a royal corgi – with lots of little winks and nods for the audience. There’s so much to see, this is definitely a show that would lend itself to repeat viewings to take everything in.

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We follow the Prince and his mother the Queen – an arch Katrina Lyndon giving off perfect ‘Princess Margaret in The Crown’ vibes – going about their royal business.

Trying to conform, the Prince hooks up with party girl Carrie Willis (a real scene stealer of a performance) and they go on a date to the theatre – there is some ‘classical’ ballet in the show – of sorts!

Things don’t go well and the Prince finds himself in a deserted moonlit city park – when the swans arrive, lead by Will Bozier (authoritative and reminiscent of the great Adam Cooper)

What follows is some seriously strong dancing in all senses of the word, which culminates in the mesmerising pairing of North and Bozier. Seeing the Prince shake off his doubts and realise at that moment he is free to be himself is a genuinely joyous and touching moment.

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The male company dancers as swans are menacing and magnetic – they even hiss – yet are incongruously vulnerable too. The physicality displayed is done justice by Bourne’s unique choreography – all stamps, jumps and bird-like angles.

Act II brings the sexually-charged Palace Ball scene, with Bozier doubling as the Stranger. Leather trousers replace’s Odette’s black tutu, but the edgy menace remains.

The scene gives the whole company a chance to shine – as things whirl towards the chilling conclusion of the ball, and the poignant final scene.

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The Lowry audience were straight on their feet at the end, and indeed probably would have stayed there for a while longer if the curtain hadn’t been brought down. I’m not sure I can recall a warmer and more enthusiastic response to a dance show.

A very special evening watching a very special production. At The Lowry until Saturday December 1 – one not to be missed. Tickets available here.

Manon

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Kate Goerner

This week sees the arrival of English National Ballet to the Opera House in Manchester with Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, first performed in 1974 and rarely seen outside of London.

The ballet, set to a score by Jules Massenet and reworked by Martin Yates, is based on Prévost’s Manon Lescaut, and tells the tale of Manon (Alina Cojocaru) who when being traded by her brother Lescaut (Jeffrey Cirio) meets and runs away with idealistic young student Des Grieux (Joseph Caley).

Their romantic idyll is soon shattered when Manon’s head is turned by the furs and diamonds laid on by the sleazily menacing Monsieur GM (James Streeter) and she abandons Des Grieux for him.

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They are later reunited, but they pay the price for their defiance and, somewhat inevitably, it all ends tragically in a swirling, confusing, Louisiana swamp.

Dangerous Liaisons indeed.

The powerful production is packed with extraordinary performances.

As the young lovers Cojocaru and Caley (both making their debuts in the roles) are irresistible. Their Act I playful and shy courtship pas de deux making way for a more physical pairing the following morning. And their hypnotic and heart-breaking final dance together deserved the cheers.

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As the sinister Monsieur GM, Streeter rose above being a cut-out villain, his height, combined with costume, make up and beautifully controlled body language sent a real shiver down my spine. Not a man who would take being left lightly.

Crowd pleasers were Ciro’s infectious Lescaut – his drunk dancing clearly delighted the appreciative Opera House audience – and Katja Khaniukova as his mistress, displaying both passion and control.

Artists of the company play a variety of roles from courtesans and their customers to both extremes of society – powdered faces and rouged cheeks contrasting with dirty smudges and ragged clothes, coiffed wigs with tousled hair.

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The female artists clearly had great fun in Act II in particular, inside a den of iniquity. Their romantic dresses belying their competitive nature when it came to landing a customer – behind the smiles they were all sly shoves and sharp elbows.

Mia Stensgaard’s stunning design coupled with Mikki Kunttu’s lighting brought modernity to the production. An abstract prow of a ship and an incongruous modern large scale period painting that set the scene in Act 1 brought an interesting twist to proceedings.

Indeed the scope and scale of the production is so vast that at times it seemed a little restricted on the Opera House stage – but with another literary heroine in residence down the road at the Palace, perhaps this couldn’t be helped and really is a minor reservation.

Manon truly is a stunning production that will delight and devastate in turn and again reinforces why ballet companies should be congratulated for stepping away from the more familiar tales, and enabling regional audiences to experience the rarer works.

Northern Ballet | Jane Eyre

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Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Writer Nikki Cotter

Jane Eyre has been reimagined many times, Northern Ballet’s challenge is telling this familiar story without a single word of Charlotte Brontë’s famous text being uttered. A challenge acclaimed choreographer Cathy Marston undoubtedly rises to as the key details of Brontë’s masterpiece unfold in this dynamic and visually stunning production.

Marston focusses firmly on the female characters within the piece; Jane is indisputably the heroine of the production as Abigail Prudames encompasses the passion and determination of the trailblazer through the most exquisite and precise of performances. Tested to the point of self-betrayal before her belief in love and the fierceness of her own integrity saves her, Prudames tells a story with every slight movement she makes, delivering elegance, drama and emotional depth.

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Rochester is brought to life by a brooding Mlindi Kulashe, the chemistry between Prudames and Kulashe is electric, full of passion and intensity. Kulashe capturing the complexity of Rochester’s bruised soul effortlessly, the duo glide from awkward to playful with ease before passion and intensity takes hold.

Adding further layers to the piece is Hannah Bateman’s Bertha Mason, often described as the ‘mad woman in the attic’ she is wild, highly-sexualised and unpredictable as she prowls across the stage barefoot, bathed in red.

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The production feels fresh and inspired as the pace dances through Jane’s life from tragic childhood to complex adulthood, her search for fulfilment never wavering.

An ensemble of male dancers, known as the D-Men, symbolise Jane’s inner demons, creating a clear visual image of the orphan girls emotions and inner turmoil, a superb creative decision which visually portrays the constant tug-of-war between Jane’s intensely passionate feelings and her outer reserve.

Young Jane is portrayed to perfection by Ayami Miyata, agitation and frustration depicted in her defiant, energetic movements.

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The adaptation does absolute justice to Brontë’s work, bringing the novel to effervescent life with incredible skill and creativity.

Phillip Feeney’s emotive score blends a mixture of both original and 19th-century music which compliments the contemporary feel of this piece superbly. Patrick Kinmonth’s set is sparse moving screens, muted in colour allowing the performers to really be at the centre of this piece, all lit to atmospheric perfection by Alastair West’s lighting design.

The fusing of the traditional and the contemporary ensures this is a performance packed with intensity as well as originality, a beautiful and expressive tribute to both Jane herself and author Charlotte Brontë.

On at the Lowry until Saturday 9th June tickets available here.

BRB | The Sleeping Beauty

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reviewed by Michelle Ewen

It’s a tale that needs no introduction – one that has charmed generations (young and old) ever since the seventeenth century.

The simple story of a beautiful princess who is awoken from a sleeping enchantment by the kiss of a handsome prince. Little wonder then that people happily braved the plummeting temperatures to flock to Birmingham Royal Ballet’s five-star performance of The Sleeping Beauty at The Lowry. (Who wouldn’t want to sit inside a giant snow globe with prima ballerina Delia Mathews pirouetting prettily centre stage?)

Fulfilling its bold mission statement to: ‘…inspire and move people worldwide with the best ballet…’ Birmingham Royal Ballet have assembled a formidable company of performers, who are ably supported by a stellar creative team and accompanying orchestra – superbly conducted by Paul Murphy.

Of course, it is Delia Mathews who shines as Princess Aurora, which is considered to be the most technically demanding of all classical ballerina roles. Appointed Principal in 2017, New Zealander Mathews spends virtually the entire performance en pointe – remaining beautifully controlled, while embodying vivacity and coy flirtation with every gesture. Her Disney-handsome Prince is Brandon Lawrence, who says his proudest moment on stage to date was dancing for His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace. (How fitting!) The Bradford-born Soloist was faultless in his footwork; oozing romance and charm, he stole my heart too!

Full credit to Nao Sakuma for making one of the greatest stage entrances I’ve seen: riding high on the backs of her malevolent attendants – and dressed head to toe in black lace and sequins – Carabosse is the embodiment of evil as she curses Princess Aurora on her christening day. Though less technically demanding, her ‘pantomime villainess’ turn is perfect, right through to the final curtain.

While these ‘showy’ roles undoubtedly shine, my greatest personal pleasure was seeing the Soloists each take their own moment in the spotlight during the Prologue and Act III.

Peter Wright’s The Sleeping Beauty is based on the original choreography of Marius Petipa, and it is truly a delight to see each performer take flight – buoyed by Pepita’s steps and Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score.

As Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat, Hamish Scott and Yvette Knight are delightful, while Ruth Brill and Valentin Olovyannikov as Red Riding Hood and the Wolf get fully immersed into character with the aid of their dazzling costumes. (It comes as no surprise to find out that The Sleeping Beauty is the only ballet that requires an articulated lorry just for costumes – including 40 rails and 16 huge wicker skips. From the moment the curtain goes up, the stage is awash with crisp tutus, powdered wigs and swathes of twinkling lace!)

That brings us neatly to Philip Prowse’s design. Sumptuous and decadent, the production feels lavish in the extreme; the set is beautifully lit by Mark Jonathan (recreated by Peter Teigen), whose genius gives us a real ‘wow’ moment when we see the sleeping Aurora spotlighted through the tangled forest.

Birmingham Royal Ballet is to be truly praised for delivering on every level: dream choreography performed by a truly accomplished cast; note-perfect orchestration; and a feast for the eyes through no-holds-barred production and design.

Don’t sleep on it… The Sleeping Beauty is on now at The Lowry until Saturday, 3 March. Tickets are available here

Acosta Danza – Debut

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By Nikki Cotter

Internationally acclaimed star of the ballet world Carlos Acosta bring his ballet company Acosta Danza to the Lowry this week as part of the new Cuban Companies first ever UK tour. Under his artistic directorship, Acosta Danza offers audiences an opportunity to experience an engaging mixture of the finest ballet and contemporary dancers Cuba has to offer.

Act One opens with a revival of Marianela Boán’s The Crossing Over Niagara, inspired by the tightrope walker Charles Blondin who famously crossed Niagara Falls carrying a man on his back, this is a breath-taking and astonishingly controlled piece. Two male dancers move slowly and perfectly together, seemingly naked their measured flow and symmetry allows audiences to see the stress and strain such controlled movement places on the human body in this hypnotising piece. Accompanied by the music of Olivier Messiaen, the two male dancers capture the intensity of the experience perfectly, their stretch, balance and absolute trust in each other is mesmerising.

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Next comes New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck’s Belles-Lettres, performed largely en pointe the four pairs are dislodged from their loving duets by a lone figure, enigmatic and impish he disrupts the status quo forcing couples to let loose and shake off the uniformity. The piece showcases the most beautiful of classical ballet techniques, technically brilliant the dancers move effortlessly with grace and polished elegance.

Act Two opens with Award-winning Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero’s new work Imponderable inspired by Cuban folk musician Silvio Rodriguez, known colloquially as the Cuban John Lennon. Imponderable is a bold and lively abstract piece created for twelve dancers. Making full use of the Lowry’s expansive Lyric stage, the dancers, back-lit, immerse themselves in dry ice as they writhe and thrash in the mist, showing a real strength and power in their movements, later in the piece they add torch light, which allows each dancer their own spotlight as the stage lights dim.

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Next we have the much anticipated arrival of Carlos Acosta on stage. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist has created a classic duet, Mermaid, especially for Acosta who is joined by contemporary dancer Marta Ortega. The two glide beautifully across the Lowry’s lyric stage in this mesmerising and enchanting piece as we see Acosta fall in love with the mythical sea creature, Ortega largely en pointe is deeply expressive as she displays delicately her discomfort at being a ‘fish out of water’ while Acosta reminds the audience of his strength and sublime dance ability in a powerful and moving performance.

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Final piece of the evening is UK-based Spanish choreographer Jorge Crecis’ ‘Twelve’ This is a fun and immensely physical piece as dancers move athletically whilst throwing water bottles to each other from all corners of the stage, at some points incredibly frenzied yet at all times perfectly measured. This is a astonishing piece showcasing not only the talent and discipline of the company but also their incredible fitness and agility.

Acosta Danza deliver a disciplined and daring evening, undoubtedly a debut to be proud of.

On at The Lowry until Saturday, for tickets head to https://www.thelowry.com/events/-acosta-danza

 

BRB – Aladdin

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Birmingham Royal Ballet returns to the Lowry’s Lyric theatre this week with their magical, family-friendly production of Aladdin. Taken from the stories of the Arabian Nights, David Bintley’s splendid version of this classic tale, with music by the BAFTA award-winning Carl Davis chose Salford to begin their Autumn/Winter ’17 season.

This enchanting production perfectly balances humour with beautiful chorography, and explores aspects of the tale that audiences may not have been aware of. The story begins with a young, cheeky Aladdin (Mathias Dingman) escaping the clutches of the palace guards with the help of the mysterious Magician, the Mahgrib (Iain Mackay), who subsequently tricks Aladdin into entering the dark cave on his behalf to retrieve the lamp.

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Each Act has its own crescendo which does not fail to dazzle the audience. The Cave of Riches at the end of Act I, is one of exquisite beauty, in which mischievous Aladdin is surrounded by an array of dancing gems who demonstrate a wide range of styles and techniques much to the delight of the audience. The gems lead Aladdin to the old lamp which places him on a road to riches and leads him to his true love, princess, Badr al-Budur (Momoko Hirata).

The sets and costumes become more vibrant and luxurious as the story unfolds, and as Aladdin himself becomes more accustomed to his life of luxury under the brilliantly blue Djinn of the lamp (played by Tzu-Chao Chou). The performance would not be the same without the dazzling orchestra conducted by Paul Murphy and led by Robert Gibbs, which adds to the atmosphere immensely, allowing the performance to swap and change between suspense and humour seamlessly.

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This production is bound to astonish audiences of all ages, with its delightful and superbly delivered chorography, technicoloured sets, sumptuous costumes and enchanting score. Birmingham Royal Ballet once again prove why they are one of the most loved and celebrated companies around, visually stunning, highly entertaining and not to be missed!

On at The Lowry until Saturday 23rd of Sepember tickets available here http://www.thelowry.com/events/aladdin

Reviewed by Emily Cotter