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NBT Autumn 2009 - Happy Birthday NBT


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NBT’s Autumn Season opened in Leeds in September at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. This theatre complex was built in the 1980s and is not a conventional ballet venue; the audience is very close to the action! This mean that the range of works that can be performed there is limited. This year David Nixon’s production of Dracula was revived.

I would describe this production of Dracula as a chamber ballet. It concentrates on the emotions of the leading protagonists and there is very little corps work (a party scene for Lucy and her suitors; this scene has the first meeting between Dracula and Mina – an almost Romeo and Juliet feel to it). The piece really brings out the ambivalence that Mina has towards Dracula where she seems simultaneously attracted to him and repulsed by him. They have a fabulous, very sensuous duet in act 2 before she is rescued by Harker and the chase across Transylvania begins. We saw three wonderful interpreters of the eponymous role in this run – all different and all equally valid in their portrayal – Chris Hinton-Lewis, Kenneth Tindall and Tobias Batley. Martha Leebolt, IMHO one of the best actress dancers around at the moment, gave a very eloquent account of the role of Mina. Pippa Moore was superb as the flighty and wanton Lucy, really enjoying her transformation as a vampire.

The tour continued with more performances of Wuthering Heights and I enjoyed a wonderful week of performances in Bradford. We were able to enjoy the deepened portrayals of the three Heathcliffs (Chris Hinton-Lewis, Kenneth Tindall, and Tobias Batley). Georgina May was the only remaining Cathy from the Spring and again she had deepened her interpretation giving performances of glorious wild abandon. The two Cathy’s new to me were Julie Charlet (who gave a beautifully nuanced performance) and Martha Leebolt who was totally subsumed into the role and absolutely unmissable.

And so to these past couple of weeks in Leeds, the culmination of a glorious year. This year’s Christmas treat was a revival of Christopher Gable/Massimo Morricone’s seventeen year old production of A Christmas Carol, based very closely on the Dickens story. Lez Brotherston’s wonderful set and costumes really evoke an atmosphere of the cold winter in Victorian England. I saw a couple of “ordinary” performances before one very special one on 5th December in Leeds, which was an “alumi” performance, which as many ex-company members as possible were invited to come and participate in or just watch. I must admit that when this was first mooted I assumed that the alumni would fill the crowd scenes and sing the carols (yes, the dancers sing carols in this production!). How wrong I was! When the cast was announced a surprising number of the role creators or noted interpreters from years gone by were performing!

What can I say, Saturday 5th December was one of the most magical evenings I have ever spent in a theatre. The audience was cheering when old favourites appeared from the very second of Jeremy Kerridge’s appearance as Scrooge at Marley’s funeral. Some of the production may have been slightly modified to accommodate the numbers of dancers on stage and, perhaps, the passing of the years but it looked absolutely wonderful. As we knew he would be, the one and only Jeremy Kerridge was utterly wonderful as Scrooge; he held the audience in the palm of his hand and every tiny gesture had meaning. He showed he is still deft of foot in the terrific twirly solo when he awakes on Christmas morning. William Walker also showed us a clean pair of heels as Bob Cratchitt and Omar Gordon was really disdainful and parsimonious as Young Scrooge at the Fezziwigs’ ball. He and Shannon (Lilley) Parker were incredibly moving together in his duet with Belle when she breaks off their engagement. Matthew Hunt and Fiona Beale showed that they had lost none of their sense of comedy and timing as the hilarious Fezziwigs. The hags stealing Scrooges’s possessions in act 3 were three of the most glamorous dancers who have graced NBT – Chiaki Nagao, Graciela Kaplan and Charlotte Talbot – and they really relished their rags and blackened teeth and again were hilarious. The current NBT dancers took all the corps roles and during the final carol more and more people were pouring on the the stage. I don’t think I will ever forget this wonderful evening.

The following Saturday (12th December) there was a gala featuring dancers from most of the main British companies as well as international guests. NBT’s dancers performed new choreography by Gillian Lynne and David Nixon and there was a spectacular and unannounced classical finale for NBT too. Highlights for me were Victoria Sibson, NBT, dancing Wayne McGregor’s quirky solo Ossein – she was sensational. I also very much enjoyed seeing Asier Uriagereka and Nicolena Pantastico from Les Ballet de Monte Carlo dancing the balcony duet from R&J. Again it was a tremendous and exciting evening.

Overall, I think NBT’s 2009 has been a wonderful year culminating in two magical events. I’m looking forward to the next 40 years now!

The company are ending the year with David Nixon’s Peter Pan in Leeds. It is a superb production for families with young children. I’m seeing it this weekend.

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Congratulations to NBT, and thanks for the review, JMcN.
I also very much enjoyed seeing Asier Uriagereka and Nicolena Pantastico from Les Ballet de Monte Carlo...
Are you referring, perhaps to Noelani Pantastico, recently of Pacific Northwest Ballet?

Yes - apologies for mistyping her name - my fingers weren't listening to my brain!

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