A Mixed Programme by Northern Ballet

Under the artistic direction of David Nixon, the Northern Ballet have established a reputation for narrative ballet and understandably have had a great success with dance versions of such familiar tales as Cinderella, Dracula and the Three Musketeers. But once, perhaps twice a year, they have broken away from this tradition for a few days to explore abstract dance, often contemporary or near contemporary classics of that genre. And quite right too, for it gives their dancers the opportunity to explore the expressive characteristics of movement outside of story-telling. That there is a public for this repertory was made clear by the very full attendance at the Burton Theatre Leeds, defying the alternative attractions of a big football match.

The first piece, Concerto Six Twenty Two, was created by American Lar Lubovitch in 1986. The interpretation of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto is joyous, inventive and with much humour. The pas de deux slow movement for two male dancers, exploring the relationship between them, is also poignant. But in truth the company gave the impression that there were not entirely at home in this work, whether because the lithe movements demanded too much of them, or because its bonhomie character did not suit them temperamentally.

What a difference with the second piece by one of my favourite choreographers Hans von Manen. Set to Frank Martin’s brilliant Petite Symphonie Concertante, this work required the dancers to remain po-faced and aloof, while engaging in sinuous, jerky movements. This they seemed to relish along with the dark, sinister atmosphere of the piece.

Finally, we had an ambitious new work by one of the Northern Ballet’s principal dancers, Kenneth Tindall. Inspired, but not too literally dominated, by the theme of Adam and Eve, this cleverly involved interaction with decor and lighting, as primeval human life emerged from nature, divided into gender and – a superb central episode involving dancers passing from mouth to mouth apples from the forbidden tree – developed sexual relations, with eventually the aggressions of social behaviour. Superbly performed, this brought to an end a rewarding and indeed riveting evening.