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Northern Ballet Theatre - A Midsumer Night's Dream - Manchester Ma

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Northern Ballet Theatre presented David Nixon's glorious ballet version of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Manchester last week. I was lucky enough to catch five performances.

The people of Athens have been transposed to a post-war era ballet company rehearsing Romeo and Juliet prior to travelling to Edinburgh on the sleeper train.

The evening starts before it starts as the dancers are on stage warming up and rehearsing as we enter the auditorium to find our seats. It is definitely worth arriving early.

The ballet proper starts with the end of the class, moving into a rather disastrous rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. Theseus is the Artistic Director of the company, Puck is the ballet master and Hippolyta is the senior ballerina at the end of her career but not wanting to give up. The young lovers are four young principal dancers and the technical crew form the basis of the Rude Mechanicals.

During the end of the class and the rehearsal the characters are established and there is some very witty choreography - especially for Demetrius and Helena and Demetrius and Hermia. The dancers gradually filter away and the scene moves to Kings Cross Station. The dancers arrive and start embarking, which is a queue for more comedy moments as the rivalries surface and the company tries to make the most of the cramped space on board. This act ends with Puck ensuring all the company are tucked up in bed as the train moves off. The costumes are all shades of black, white and grey and very much in the style of Dior New Look. David Nixon designed the wonderful costumes for this production.

Act 2 is the Dream sequence as most of us would recognise it with Titania and Oberon sniping at each other and the lovers getting deliciously confused. In contrast to Acts 1 and 3, the costumes are a riot of colour. Nixon has also used a role reversa theme to illustrate some of the themes. For example, in Act 1 Theseus is trying to persuade Hippolyta to give up dancing and in the Dream sequence he is trying to persuade her to continue. The much putupon Assistant Stage Manager rules the roost and bosses the rest of the crew around.

The plot and the comedy is advanced through the choreography - there is an incredibly funny sequence for the lovers with Helena chasing Demetrius and losing him. When Lysander and Demetrius both end up chasing Helena and Hermia is trying to work out what is going on there is the most amazing tangle of bodies that causes gales of laughter within the audience. All is eventually sorted and Oberon and Titania are reconciled with a beautifully romantic duet.

Act 3 covers the arrival in Edinburgh, the end of the performance of Romeo and Juliet and the final celebration.

As the company have been touring this revival since the Autumn they have really got into their stride and all the performances I saw fizzed and sparkled. NBT mostly concentrates on story ballets and all the dancers are strong dramatically and they all look as though they are enjoying themselves immensely.

I saw two and a bit casts over the five performances. Keiko Amemori is just delicious as Hippolyta, strongly partnered by Hiro Takahashi as Theseus. This is one of his best roles (he created it four years ago) and it is the role where he finally realised his full dramatic potential. The other partnership I saw in these roles was Martha Leebolt and Martin Bell. Martha gives a multi-layered and intelligent performance as Hippolyta - she is absolutely radiant in the role. She is absolutely regal as Titania in the Dream. Martin has a terrific stage presence and absolutely commands the stage throughout. It is easy to see why the wardrobe master withered under his angry stare! They are fabulous together and I was particularly moved by their reconciliation duet on Saturday afternoon.

Georgina May is a very expressive dancer and her facial expressions were a joy to behold when she was trying to ward off the unwelcome attentions of Demetrius. Lori Gilchrist was new to me in the role and she was also a delight. Their Lysanders (Kenneth Tindall and Yi Song respectively) were both dashingly romantic. Chris Hinton-Lewis and Tobias Batley both showed their perfect comic timing as Demetrius with Pippa Moore and Christie Duncan managing to be both hilarious and touching as the love struck Helena. At one performance Michela Paolacci and David Ward were also excellent as Helena and Demetrius.

Victoria Sibson is as surprise choice as Puck, but on reflection the role of Puck could be considered androgynous and she is absolutely brilliant in the role. Ashley Dixon, in the same role, is particularly mischievous.

This really is a spledid production that demands repeated viewings and I can't wait to see it again in Llandudno in a couple of weeks.

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