Eileen Caiger Gray reviews Northern Ballet’s Madame Butterfly with Perpetuum Mobile, Doncaster May 21st 2015
In Madame Butterfly, as ever, Northern Ballet (recently crowned Europe’s Best Dance Company) brings supreme mastery of splendour and excitement to the creation of superb theatrical spectacle.
With their blend and interweave of skilful dancing, fine acting, expressive interaction, strong and powerful storytelling and the sensitive playing of the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, they never fail to achieve magic.
Puccini created a classic opera but, for more than ten years now, David’s Nixon’s Madame Butterfly has been enthralling equally with this heart-rending story of romance, loss, betrayal and tragedy, this time without words and using stagecraft, dance and music alone.
In this new, inaugural Spring Tour, the company presents its latest innovation. Before the delicious main course is served, comes an impressive appetizer in the form of Perpetuum Mobile, performed to the orchestrated music of Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major. In busy, whirling, overlapping layers of movement and pattern, created by Christopher Hampson, an ensemble of dancers, all tights and muscles, showcases the physical strength, versatility and technical expertise of classical ballet.
To make way for this, Madame Butterfly’s wings have been slightly clipped but not too severely, and all round excellence remains the order of the day. Indeed, there are moments so exquisite they literally take the breath away, as when we witness one of the finest stage portrayals of the process of falling in love in the long pas de deux at the end of Act I.
Coy Butterfly (Pippa Moore) at first shies away from the forthright advances of handsome American sailor, Pinkerton (Kelley McKinlay) but then, little by little by little, dance and manner subtly change and develop as affection grows and eventually blossoms into intense love. Magical.
Again, in Act II, beneath showering petals, the impact of Butterfly’s solo dancing as she waits in vain for Pinkerton’s return, is coupled to superb effect with John Longstaff’s sensitive orchestration of the emotionally charged One Fine Day. Though it’s nigh on impossible for Western dancers to imitate perfectly the coy deference, daintiness and delicacy of movement of those steeped in Oriental culture, the story loses no impact.
The final scene is tremendous. Bathed in blood-red light, Butterfly, her son wrenched away by Pinkerton’s new American wife, must resort to suicide. Elements of kabuki theatre and music – jerky movements, the evocative tones of koto, shamisen, shakuhachi and wailing song – some used in the first scene – return, most effectively, for the last.
Intense tragedy and heartbreaking emotion is beautifully balanced, though, with chirpy jollity and humour. Matthew Koon as marriage broker Goro, and Hiranao Takahashi as Prince Yamadori have excellent stage presence as well as fine dancing skills, while an inevitable ‘ah’ factor comes courtesy of a cherub tot in sailor suit and straw hat.
Stunning, vibrant lighting, a massive moon and simple Japanese building with sliding door and overhanging branch set the mood beautifully, while, assisted by parasols, the colourful beauty of Japanese-style kimono and clothing, create fabulous shape and flow, providing striking contrast to the white uniforms of the young Americans.
For any who are neither theatregoers nor ballet enthusiasts, a visit to a Northern Ballet production will have them instantly converted.
The inspiration for the next production from this powerhouse of excellence and innovation is – no kidding – George Orwell’s 1984, opening in Leeds in September, where, no doubt, Big Brother will be watching and enjoying every minute!
Northern Ballet now tours with Madame Butterfly and Perpetuum Mobile to Blackpool, Liverpool, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Richmond, Bromley, Stoke and Aylesbury.