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Review of THE KREUTZER SONATA and Other Works

NEBT in Valentino Zucchetti’s ‘ORBITAL MOTION’
NEBT in Valentino Zucchetti’s ‘ORBITAL MOTION’ photo by Dave Morgan

The New English Ballet Theatre is certainly ambitious in presenting a programme of “Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata and an evening of new ballets”, even if the evening of new ballets came first. This is, their artistic director and founder Karen Pilkington-Miksa told me, the first time they have taken a show on the road: their previous productions have had resident (if ‘limited’) runs in a single venue.

My initial irritation at the curtain going up 28 minutes late was dispelled when I heard the explanation: the NEBT themselves had to put up some of the lights they wanted to use in the show, as well as the flooring, and make slight adaptations to the choreography to make optimal use of the Richmond Theatre stage. All so much to do and so little time to do it in.

Most, if not all, of the rest of the audience was as forgiving by the end. We see each piece from beginning to end, separately, rather than any attempt to blend two or more together into any kind of mashup. ‘Tangents’ sees three couples, each interacting in sometimes distinct ways, and sometimes in concert. In terms of plot, the piece allows the audience to see how each relationship is unique, as well as highlighting the common humanity we share. Choreographically, it allows each dancer to have their moment in the spotlight, as well as the beauty and majesty of an ensemble performance. Interestingly, the six dancers in this piece seemed to dance better apart than together.

I am not sure whether this is because they genuinely enjoy flying solo on the stage, or a deliberate demonstration of the uneasy tension that exists between people who are attracted to one another because opposites attract, while still remaining opposites.

‘Orbital Motion’ seemed by far the most abstract ballet in the evening’s proceedings. It is an apt title for the style of the piece, which probably is best suited performed in the round. There is some substantial spinning – enough to give Conservative Central Office a run for their money – which is dizzying but spellbinding to watch. Think of the end of Electricity in Billy Elliot The Musical…

‘Toca’ is a simple and poignant two-hander: a couple who meet and fall in love, nothing more, nothing less. ‘Mad Women’, by contrast, is more complex but also incredibly fun. The man may well be the master of the house but ultimately it is the woman who governs, and the females in this piece dominate consistently. This piece is also the most ‘random’. At one point the ladies are smoking cigarettes because of a radio advertisement from a generation ago (perhaps longer) extolling the advantages of a certain brand, and coughing profusely as a result. What for? I cannot say.

After the interval came ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, traditional ballet fare, infinitely more subtle than the exhausting-to-watch proceedings of the first half. ‘Husband’ (Silas Stubbs) is married to – well, you guessed it – ‘Wife’ (Hayley Blackburn), and the other person in the love triangle is ‘Violinist’ (Ivan Delgado del Rio). Husband and Wife start off on the right foot, but Husband becomes increasingly aggressive, confrontational and jealous. One day, Husband spots Wife and Violinist together: they have been caught red-handed. The knife eventually comes out, Husband stabs Wife. She does the dramatic death, and Husband immediately regrets taking another’s life.

I have no doubt the cast love what they do. They did, it should be noted, not always succeed in making their movements effortless, and by the end of certain sequences came across as so visibly tired that I almost felt sorry for them. I also got the feeling (though I am no dance expert) that this is a company that emphasises passion and engaging an audience over technical perfection. That said, the imperfections were so minor they are not worth detailing. The selected music (not all of it performed) tied in perfectly with what was happening on stage. I felt the music was very well chosen, and aided understanding of what was going on, given ballet’s natural lack of dialogue. I also loved the ballet bows at the end of each sequence – such elegance, such grace, such polished refinery, and a world away from the rushed and almost clumsy bowing of the musicals and straight plays that I usually have the privilege of passing comment on.

The more modern pieces in the first half are clearly meant to widen ballet’s boundaries and introduce the world of ballet to a bigger audience. I hope they succeed – I was drawn in by this ‘mixed bill’ and it would be wonderful if more people could experience and enjoy both contemporary and traditional ballet in a single variety performance such as this.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

NEBT founder and Artistic Director Karen Pilkington-Miksa: “The pieces in our summer programme have been made by five distinctive choreographic voices. I’m delighted to be working with these fast rising young people and to have dancing for New English Ballet Theatre a superb cast of dancers. It’s been my dream for a long time to create opportunities for new professionals to practise their craft and I’m thrilled to be working with extremely creative dancers, choreographers, musicians, and designers.”

Review of the performance on 7th July at Richmond Theatre
Richmond Theatre Events

9th July High Wycombe, Swan Theatre
www.wycombeswan.co.uk

17th – 18th July Rambert Studios – NEBT Outreach Performance of
Four ballets and four works in progress

22nd July Canary Wharf Summer Sessions at Canada Square Park
Toca, Orbital Motion, Tangents, plus new pas de deux, Mad Women
www.nebt.co.uk

20th – August NEW ENGLISH BALLET THEATRE and special guests at:
London, St James Theatre.

KREUTZER SONATA AND OTHER WORKS – the programme:
TANGENTS – choreographed and designed by former Dutch National Ballet dancer Daniela Cardim Fonteyne is a series of dances by three couples to a selection of numbers from Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition performed by pianist Anne Lovett.

ORBITAL MOTION – choreographed by Valentino Zucchetti, Soloist at the Royal Ballet to Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 1. The design is by NEBT founder and AD Karen Pilkington-Miksa with Zucchetti and Emma Bailey, winner of the Linbury Prize for Stage design 2011.

TOCA – choreography and design by Brazilian dancer Erico Montes, First Artist at the Royal Ballet. Toca is a duet and set to music by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1857-1959).

MAD WOMEN – choreographed and designed by Kristen McNally, Soloist at the Royal Ballet. McNally choreographed one of NEBT’s big hits of their 2012 debut season, ‘Lonesome Gun’.

KREUTZER SONATA – choreographed by Andrew McNicol based on Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata. This moving and tragic ballet features Gilbas Quartet performing Janáček’s String Quartet No. 1 and violinist Andrew Harvey and pianist and composer Anne Lovett performing the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9.

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