Music: John Pryce-Jones, John longstaff
Choreographer: David Nixon
Director: David Nixon
Reviewer: Tiffany Shepherd
The opera ‘Madame Butterfly’ will always hold a special place with me as the first opera I ever saw as a young child and the Artistic Director of Northern Ballet, David Nixon, was brave to abandon the voice and embrace the challenge of converting all the emotion and heartbreak into dance.
The production was fantastic. All the beauty and traditional delicacy of ballet remained but there was much more focus on the balance and power that the dancers have which gave a performance set apart from any I’d seen before. The incorporation of gymnastic designs distinguished the men from the elegant and graceful solos of the ballerinas just as the dominant man would be distinguished from the subservient woman in the Japanese culture. The audience was able to understand and feel those heart-wrenching moments when the American and Japanese cultures and traditions collided to result so tragically.
It was clearly a very well rehearsed and professional production with the stunning sets designed by Ali Allen, changing seamlessly, enveloped the stage and transported the audience to hidden Japan. Everything was just beautiful, from the set to the colours of the costumes which overtook the senses with the arrival of the Geisha’s in Butterfly’s wedding scene. Colour and light were what set this production apart and managed to engage the audience so well, as every lighting change by Peter Mumford, or costume choice had been done to enhance the dancer and their performance so the attention was not lost for a second and the emotion and strength of the dance shone through.
All of the dancers were exceptional, and I particularly enjoyed the distinction of the athletic Japanese men contrasted to the lad-about-town jauntiness of the American naval officers. Not one of the dancers lost concentration from their character and the acting was faultless throughout, especially from the returning Keiko Amemori (playing Butterfly) who showed the constant battle of morality, love and devotion which Butterfly would have gone through in a hauntingly realistic fashion.
The absolute highlight for me was however, the orchestra who were simply phenomenal. Congratulations to John Pryce-Jones (Music Director) and John Longstaff (Music Arranger) who made this whole production the success it was. Not once did the music over-power the beauty of the dance or the subtle expression and acting, but managed to tell the story of what was happening on the stage. The adaptations of Puccini’s original opera were unobtrusive and brought a new twist which was needed in the absence of words. The use of drums, shrill pipes and guitar managed to create all the feelings associated with the Japanese tradition and yet was mixed with magnificent full orchestral pieces which played out the emotion of the scenes. Always there and yet never obtrusive, it was absolute perfection.
Being one of the easier operas to follow and yet not classically associated with ballet, Madame Butterfly proved to be a very successful choice. The mix of opera and ballet did create some very overdramatic scenes which tested the emotive boundaries of the Audience but the excitement of the dance choreographed saved it from being too emotionally exhausting. I would suggest reading up on the story before watching the performance as not even this ballet would be able to show every detail of the story. My heart really did sink when Pinkerton abandoned Butterfly and I felt the hopelessness when her son was taken away, all without a single word; not many ballets can manage that.