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

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes

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Due to popular demand and for the 1st time in New Advenutres history, Matthew Bourne’s Olivier award winning production, The Red Shoes returns to the Lowry next week for the second time during its current season, offering audiences one final chance to catch the visually stunning and technically sublime production which has captivated audiences since its World Premiere at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in November.

Based on the academy award winning film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and of course the much loved Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, The Red Shoes tells the story of “Victoria Page”, the girl who yearns to become the greatest dancer in the world.

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New Adventures favourite, Ashley Shaw, most recently seen across the UK and internationally as “Aurora” in Matthew Bourne’s critically acclaimed Sleeping Beauty, takes on the role of Victoria and has enchanted audiences with her exquisite and breath-taking talent. The Red Shoes is an utterly captivating and timeless piece, a tale of heartbreak, passion and love as Victoria becomes Principal dancer in the new ballet ‘The Red Shoes’ but finds herself torn between two men, resulting in the most beautifully intense and incredibly emotive performances.

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Lifting this already superb production to an even higher level is the stunning new score arranged by New Adventures Associate Artist, Terry Davies using the magnificent music of golden-age Hollywood composer, Bernard Herrmann. The combination of this exquisite theatrical score and breath-taking performances from the New Adventures Company make this a show not to be missed.

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After it’s sell-out visit to the Lowry last December The Red Shoes returns for one week only from Tuesday 11th until Saturday 15th July tickets available here www.thelowry.com/events/matthew-bournes-production-of-the-red-shoes

 

Casanova

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Set against the backdrop of 18th Century Venice and Paris, we meet passionate, adventure seeker, Casanova, a man consumed by his desire to experience life at its fullest and most satisfying without question.

Hugely respected for their narrative based work, critically acclaimed Northern Ballet breathe life and skilful artistry into this new production created by award-winning choreographer Kenneth Tindall. Together with Ian Kelly, Tindall devised the original scenario for this fresh and enthralling piece from sections of Casanova’s memoirs, revealing more of the man than just the legendary lover we are all so familiar with. We meet Casanova on a more human level and see how his priest training is thwarted due to the constant distractions of both his mind as well as his body.

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Tindall’s stunning and innovative choreography captivates from start to finish, sensual and thrilling the powerful scenes featuring the corps de ballet move from contemporary to classical with ease, the two marry beautifully together. Tindall’s choreography is electrifying, the traditional pas de deux are there and are entirely fizzing with emotion and sensuality, as Casanova (Giuliano Contadini) is seduced by M.M (aristocratic nun and mistress to Cardinal de Bernis) in a staged seduction the passion between them is intense, they move as one and thrill with their skill and precision. In contrast to this as Casanova dances with his true love Henriette (Hannah Bateman) we see a new tenderness and real depth of heartfelt desire, stark contrast to the frenzied passion we have witnessed before. Giuliano Contadini is sublime as Casanova, dashingly handsome and physically perfect with just the right amount of cheeky swagger.

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The striking set and costumes designed by Christopher Oram are partnered perfectly by Alastair West’s stunning lighting design, atmospheric and dramatic it is truly spectacular, we see shafts of light streaming through church windows breathing fresh hope of liberty, more than the strict life of the church to a young and curious Casanova. The original score by modern classical, film and television composer Kerry Muzzey, is delivered superbly Northern Ballet Sinfonia.

Special mention must go to the brilliance of the staging during the prison of the Inquisition scene; a corner of a giant gilt frame is lowered towards Father Balbi (Jeremy Curnier) as he is tortured by the Inquisition in order to force a confession naming Casanova, enormously powerful and visually absolutely magnificent.

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Northern Ballet once again prove just how exciting and dynamic as a company they truly are. Casanova is utterly mesmerising, the piece literally smoulders as bodies slip and slide together flawlessly. Tindall has created a perfect work, creating a ballet that pushes the boundaries and delivers dance in a wholly stunning and accessible form. As the piece draws to a close and Casanova’s life flashes before him we are able to reflect on this truly remarkable production, an absolute must see.

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On at the Lowry until Saturday, tickets available here http://www.thelowry.com/events/casanova