Artistic Director & Choreographer: David Nixon
Conductor: John Pryce-Jones
Reviewer: Sally Cinnamon
The Public Reviews Rating:
Puccini’s glorious opera, Madame Butterfly could not, you may think, be improved upon but then again, Boublil and Schönberg’s hit musical Miss Saigon was at least, loosely based on the original story and is still selling out to appreciative audiences around the world. Now, almost thirty years on from its original conception, David Nixon’s ballet suggests the idea that dancers rather than singers can tell the tragic story of tradition, love and betrayal.
Musical Arranger, John Longstaff says, ‘you rarely have to find instrumental substitutes for the human voice’ in Puccini’s original score and so the crossover from opera to dance is rather a straightforward one. This, on the whole, is very true.
The ballet opens with Butterfly (Julie Charlet) and her disgraced father who before committing hara-kiri, sells his beautiful, fragile daughter to the marriage broker, Goro (Sebastian Loe). Enter American naval officer, Pinkerton (Kenneth Tindall) and his jocular friends looking for a good time for a short time.
Beguiled by Butterfly’s beauty, Pinkerton enters into a marriage agreement which brings about the young geisha’s conversion to Christianity and sadly, eventually her downfall. Pinkerton leaves for home shores and Butterfly’s vigil lasts three years. In that time, she bears him a son and when Pinkerton finally returns, he brings with him his new wife. Butterfly, in despair, hands over her child and retreats back into her tradition. Abandoned, dishonoured and heartbroken she follows her father and commits suicide.
For those who have never seen the opera, or for those who have been confused by the story, Northern Ballet’s interpretation is simple and accessible. Perhaps there’s something to be said for dropping the libretto. Where one might be bogged down with language barriers, the vernacular of dance is a clear one.
The set design (Ali Allen) is sumptuous, the costume (Nixon), delicious and the distinct nods to traditional Japanese Odori and Mai dance with some flourishes of Noh drama are all a welcome addition to the classical ballet repertoire.
There are one or two moments when the dancers seem to be stretched beyond their comfort zones. Effortless grace is replaced by athletic exertion and the scene changes whizz by unnecessarily, both making for slightly exhausting watching but the company perform generally with lovely technique.
There are also, too, some awe-inspiring moments in the form of the wedding ceremony with a colourful parade of parasols and Pointe and the ominous danse-macabre in Butterfly’s finale and on the whole it’s a competent piece. Special mention must go to Conductor John Pryce-Jones and the Northern Ballet Sinfonia which gives the production its true gravitas.
For newcomers to the story and to ballet, it’s thoroughly enjoyable and worth a watch.
Photo: Merlin Hendy
Runs until Sat 29th SeptemberNorthern Ballet : Madame Butterfly - Palace Theatre, Manchester,
Tags: Ali Allen, Ballet, Boublil, Dance, David Nixon, John Longstaff, Julie Charlet, Kenneth Tindall, Madame Butterfly, Manchester, Miss Saigon, Northern Ballet, Palace Theatre, Puccini, Schönberg, Sebastian Loe