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NBT Dangerous Liaisons, York June 2005


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#1 Becca_King

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Posted 19 June 2005 - 12:10 PM

York has seen an unusually large amount of dance in the past few months. In April there was a visit from a couple of dozen Birmingham Royal dancers as part of the second year of mid-scale tours, in May we saw the Leeds-based contemporary company Phoenix Dance, in July there will be a gala to mark the anniversary of the Yorkshire Ballet Seminars and two performances of George Piper Dances' Naked. This weekend NBT gave three performances of David Nixon's Dangerous Liaisons. It may surprise readers to know that despite being based in Leeds (in Yorkshire), NBT had never performed at the Theatre Royal until Friday.

I saw the matinee and evening on June 18th. Unfortunately for NBT and for northern audiences who crave more ballet in their area, the audience at the matinee was dire. I think this was due mainly to Royal Ascot having moved to York for the year: most people from the surrounding area seemed to want to don a ridiculous hat and join in the fun. As well as this, NBT chose to peform at their first visit a ballet which had been performed in September only a half-hour's train journey away, rather than trying to woo new audiences with something they hadn't had an oppurtunity to see already. The upper circle and gallery were closed and those of us who had purchased tickets up in the gods were greeted with new tickets and directions to the stalls and circle. I ended up in a central stalls seat for 3.50, but would have preferred my upper circle seat and a bigger audience.

When the dancers first came onstage, I could see them looking out into the empty auditorium and trying not to show their feelings about this. However, those of us that did turn up to the matinee were treated to just as dedicated a performance as we would have been if there had been a full house. Just as much effort went into the show, but I know that most of us in the audience felt strangely guilty about the empty house.

Having seen Dangerous Liaisons in Leeds in the week of the UK premiere, I wasn't taken with it, and it still isn't one of my favourite ballets by any means, but I think it is growing on me as I get to know it. The matinee cast boasted a particularly fine performance from the Canadian Victoria Lane Green as the Marquise de Merteuil. I was surprised to learn that she was 'only' a coryphee, as her stage-presence and technique drew my eyes towards her. Desire Samaii as Madame de Tourvel also gave a polished performance as, in my opinion, did all the women dancing solo roles.

In the evening, the audience had thankfully increased in number and only the gallery was closed. Keiko Amemori and David Kierce danced the lead roles, if they can be defined as such in a ballet like Liaisons which is, of course, made up of numerous pas de deux for various couples. I don't know whether it was just me, but I found the dramatic meaning of the ballet much increased in this performance. It was obvious from the class that we NBT Friends were treated to yesterday morning that Kierce is a bit of a character, and that was evident from his portrayal of Valmont, which was both funny and deeply dramatic in the best NBT tradition. He is also a very strong partner, and his breathtakingly long one-handed lift caused people in the upper circle to gasp and lean forward in their seats.

Many of the dancers gave not one but two full-out performances yesterday, and it's just a shame there weren't more people there to see it. At a pre-performance talk, we were told that NBT hoped to do more mid-scale touring in the future. I hope that NBT return to York so that they can witness the York audience at its best in return for their hard work.

#2 bart

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Posted 19 June 2005 - 01:34 PM

Really interesting review. Thanks. In my part of the world, Liaisons Dangereuses would definitely NOT be matinee fare. LD is one of my favorite novels -- ditto the film versions with Jeanne Moreau, Glenn Close, and even Annette Bening.

But it's such a complicated story! And all that back-and-forth letter writing. You mention, Becca_King, that Northern Ballet Theatre gave a class about the ballet before the performance. Did anyone address the question of how to distill such a complex plot, with so many characters, into a accessible story ballet?

Another question about NBT. Do they still have in repertory the production of Romeo and Juliet videotaped 10 or more years ago? I remember that it was young, vital, dramatic, and quite contemporary in feel -- just like West Side Story would be if transposed to medieval Verona.

Another question. NBT seems to specialize in full-length story ballets. Is that related to the nature of audience demand in the north of England? Which of them have been your favorites?

#3 Becca_King

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Posted 19 June 2005 - 03:06 PM

'But it's such a complicated story! And all that back-and-forth letter writing. You mention, Becca_King, that Northern Ballet Theatre gave a class about the ballet before the performance. Did anyone address the question of how to distill such a complex plot, with so many characters, into a accessible story ballet?'

Thanks Bart. The ballet actually has an onstage narrator part of the time (an older version of Marquise de Merteuil), who is also the company's drama teacher. There is also a taped 'conscience' which poses questions for her to answer. I have to admit that the first time I saw this, I didn't bother to read the programme and I'd never read the book or seen the films, and I found it difficult to follow what was going on. I think that was mainly my fault, though, because it's one of those stories that everyone's meant to know! :wink: The ballet needs fewer than fifteen dancers so each dancer is able to wear quite a distictly- coloured costume to help the audience figure it out. This follows through so that when a dancer changes from a day dress to a nightdress, the nightdress is the same colour as the dress she was wearing before.

'Another question. NBT seems to specialize in full-length story ballets. Is that related to the nature of audience demand in the north of England? Which of them have been your favorites?'

That is such an interesting question...It's a diverse region, but to generalise, we may not be quite as cosmopolitan as our southern neighbours and therefore we may sometimes need more encouragement to get out to the ballet, but here in the north of England there is a loyal following of ballet. Within that following there are people who see everything that tours here and beyond, and there are also people who follow a particular company. In England there are, as you may know, Arts Council restrictions about which companies go where, because the Arts Council rightly or wrongly don't want one company stepping on another's toes. Therefore they don't like two publicly-funded companies performing at the same theatre. So, when I watch Birmingham Royal Ballet in Sunderland or in its new mid-scale tour venues in the north, I meet some people who watch BRB and only BRB, and who wouldn't go and watch another company. It's the same with NBT, and NBT certainly has a distinct rep., with only a few plotless ballets such as 'I got Rhythm'. As I'm sure you know, it used to be under the direction of the late Christopher Gable, who of course leant towards the dramatic. Nowadays the emphasis is still on the word 'Theatre' and David Nixon is bringing and reworking many of his ballets from BalletMet Columbus, as well as some of the dancers.

Personally, I miss Gable very much. The first ballet I saw was his Romeo and Juliet that you mention, if I am correct in thinking that's the one you saw. I was only nine or ten at the time so I don't know whether it's nostalgia... I still remember it as being wonderfully colourful and theatrical. The ballets NBT dance today are still very theatrical productions and I think that in that sense, they are suited to a northern audience, and perhaps a provincal audience in general, because they are full of coulour and have a story that can be followed by audiences who perhaps don't know a lot about ballet but want to have a good time anyway.

However, another company which spends a lot of time in the north, touring to Manchester (North West), Bradford (Yorkshire) and Sunderland (Tyne and Wear), is Birmingham Royal Ballet, and they have a very different rep., dancing a lot of triple bills. When they first went to Sunderland they brought 'Swan Lake' and even that attracted ridiculously empty houses (see David Bintley's section in Barbara Newman's book 'Grace Under Pressure' for more about this). However they came back selling tickets at 10 for any seat in the house, and kept them like that for about five years before increasing the prices slightly, and now Sunderland audiences (as well as audiences in other theatres) happily see on average one triple bill and one full length ballet sharing a week's residence in the spring, and the same again in the autumn, as well as another triple bill touring to three or four smaller theatres in the Yorkshire and the north east - ie. at least as many triple bills as full-lenth story ballets. So, I think it depends on the people who follow each individual company. Sorry if I haven't really answered your question - it's a big and fascinating issue! :)

#4 bart

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Posted 19 June 2005 - 05:53 PM

Great answers. Thanks. Seems like some of the directors of local/regional companies hear could learn about the audience development by BRB and tailing rep to audience aby NBT. Step-by-step development of a loyal ballet-going audience seems a special art, indeed.

#5 grace

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Posted 19 June 2005 - 06:48 PM

thanks for your carefully written review, becca.

i was interested to hear an audience reaction to david nixon's dangerous liaisons, because i have just reviewed simon dow's dangerous liaisons for west australian ballet.

the conscience idea is a fascinating one. dow used voiceovers to read excerpts of the letters, and then follow the story on, onstage. they were deliciously wicked sounding voices, two members of alliance francaise - one male and one female.

#6 Becca_King

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Posted 20 June 2005 - 12:28 AM

thanks for your carefully written review, becca.

i was interested to hear an audience reaction to david nixon's dangerous liaisons, because i have just reviewed simon dow's dangerous liaisons for west australian ballet.

the conscience idea is a fascinating one. dow used voiceovers to read excerpts of the letters, and then follow the story on, onstage. they were deliciously wicked sounding voices, two members of alliance francaise - one male and one female.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Grace, I'm afraid I can't find your review, which I would be very interested to read. Is it on this site?

This is probably off topic, but the fact that British companies are able to make a loss the first time they tour to a theatre, and then build up the audience gradually with special initiatives, is probably due to the Arts Council funding, as well as the demands it make on companies to take ballet to certain places. Am I right in thinking that in the US, if a company made a loss in a certain theatre it simply wouldn't return to that theatre? What is the case in Australia?

#7 JMcN

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Posted 11 May 2010 - 11:21 AM

NORTHERN BALLET THEATRE - DANGEROUS LIAISONS - LLANDUDNO - MAY 2010

NBT gave four performances of a much re-worked Dangerous Liaisons in Llandudno last weekend. The narrator has gone and the story is told entirely through dance.

The performance starts with a salon hosted by the Marquise and the main characters are gradually introduced. We see the Marquise filled with rage because her ex-lover Gercaud has become engaged to the young, innocent Cecile. She persuades Valmont to seduce Cecile and also introduces the young girl to Dauncenay.

The set is simple and elegant - a white room with doors at the back. There are panels that can be made translucent so the action going on behind them can be seen - this device is used to show some of the Macchiavellian goings-on to great effect. Other panels are giant mirrors or plain walls and revolve to let dancers in and out. The music is a selection of Vivaldi, which makes perfect sense as he was active around the same time that the action is set.

The main action takes place in a series of stunning duets with some fabulous, inventive, daring lifts. Act 2 is particularly compelling. I particularly like the ravishingly romantic duet at the end of act 1 where Valmont finally succeeds in seducing Tourvel.

Act 2 starts with Valmont using a courtesan as a writing desk while writing to Tourvel. It results in a humerous, sexy, sassy duet.

The ending of the ballet is very unusual and I think very brave. I won't spoil the end by explaining.

Two casts shared the four performances and both were superb. Martha Leebolt and Tobias Batley were utterley subsumed into the roles of the Marquise and Valmont. I believe that Martha is one of the very best dance actresses of the current generation; she imbues even the tiniest gesture with meaning. When she realised that Gercaud was engaged, from where I was sitting I was looking at her back and it was radiating rage - it was a breath-taking moment. Pippa Moore was sublime as Tourvel - it was heartbreaking to see her being seduced and then betrayed by Valmont. Micaela Paolacci was a flirtatious and naughty Cecile - it was plain to see how she was easily led into a sexual relationship with Valmont and how she fell in love with Dauncenay (intelligently danced by Giuliano Contadini).

I found the action easy to follow and, speaking to other people, so did the rest of the audience.

David Nixon has produced a compelling and inventive work that I would highly recommend. In the next few weeks it can also be seen in Glasgow and Cardiff and in September it will be shown at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. WYP is a very different dance space and it is always an exciting venue to attend. You are very close to the action indeed!

#8 JMcN

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 10:16 AM

Northern Ballet (the Theatre has been dropped from the name) have introduced a website featuring Dangerous Liaisons. It includes a short "making of", a gallery and the story. It's well designed and gives a good taster for the ballet. It's got me anticipating the start of the season even more! Here's the link: http://dangerousballet.com/


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