Northern Ballet’s brief season at Sadler’s Wells concluded with Contemporary Cuts, bringing together two substantial contemporary works at either end of a programme that was joined in the middle by pas de deux extracted from two of the company’s most successful full-length works of recent times, and a fun piece to three well-known Elvis Presley songs. It proved to be a popular programme of new works and a reprisal of some greatest hits and showed that these excellent dancers are comfortable in a range of dance styles.

Ayami Miyata and Sean Bates in For an Instant
© Emma Kauldhar

I was impressed with Amaury Lebrun’s Left Unseen when it was performed by Phoenix Dance Theatre (who share the Northern Ballet HQ, in Leeds) two years ago and here was an exciting opportunity to revisit his choreographic practice with For An Instant, which opened this programme in a London premiere. It did not disappoint in providing another example of Lebrun’s capacity for creating appealing patterns and flow for a relatively large group of dancers (in this case a dozen of Northern Ballet’s finest). Lebrun strategically disaggregates the dancers into smaller groups and solos; the individual dancers invested with expressions of devotion and inner torment that reflected the pious nature of the music. Performed to a mix of 17th-century Baroque compositions by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (a pioneering virtuoso violinist) and Henry Purcell’s Dido’s Lament, which has become a magnet for choreographers in recent years, Lebrun has created a stirring capsule of mood movement, palpably expressing emotional resonances with beautiful music in a seamless and elegant flow of poetic dance.

Lorenzo Trossello and Minju Kang in States of Mind
© Emma Kauldhar

Kenneth Tindall’s rapid emergence as a leading choreographer is further evidenced with not one, but two nominations for Best Classical Choreography in the 2020 National Dance Awards (for Geisha and The Shape of Sound) and no sooner have they been recognised then here is another with the London premiere of States of Mind, Tindall’s personal response to the pandemic. Made on a group of thirteen dancers, it is a ballet that reflects the notion of necessity being the mother of invention; or, in this case, the adversity of the pandemic providing impetus for creativity, not least in terms of fulfilling the restrictions that were imposed as protections against viral transmission.

Minju Kang and Riku Ito in For an Instant
© Emma Kauldhar

Tindall was inspired by thoughts, feelings and news headlines during the first of the lockdowns and amongst voiceovers to remind us of this recent torment. There is a recording of The Queen giving encouragement to the nation, which made me wonder why Her Majesty didn’t get a creative credit! The darkness of the piece is emphasised in the dark void of the backdrop and in Hannah Bateman’s black leotards for the female dancers, complete with mesh sleeves and footless tights. Tindall’s approach to his non-narrative, modernist theme remains firmly rooted in a classical vocabulary and the journey is facilitated by shifts in music from Bach, through contemporary neoclassical composer Jacob ter Veldhuis (often known simply as Jacob TV) through to a cool finish with Aretha Franklin. Although it is a reminder of times that are only too painfully imprinted on our minds, Tindall (and these tremendous dancers) brought the audience to a conclusion that was refreshingly uplifting.

Minju Kang with Ayami Miyata and Kyungka Kwak in States of Mind
© Emma Kauldhar

Occasionally, a choreographer comes up with a frothy and popular small work that takes off as a “go-to” piece for galas around the world and Argentine choreographer, Demis Volpi did just that when he created Little Monsters for The Erik Bruhn Prize in 2011. I recall that Northern Ballet brought it for their London season, back in 2015, and it has been performed all around the world, from Canada to Australia, in the decade since its creation. It’s a clever idea to use three Elvis recordings (Love Me Tender; I Want You, I Need You, I Love You and Are You Lonesome Tonight?) to run the journey of a love story, from beginning to end, in just ten minutes. Volpi’s choreography is essentially three separate but linked duets, expressing the emotions of each song, sensitively performed here by Abigail Prudames (who I recall danced it back in 2015) and Joseph Taylor. Both dancers had a busy night having also been prominent in the opening and closing ballets!

Riku Ito and Minju Kang in For an Instant
© Emma Kauldhar

At the beginning of 2020, I attended Northern Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Gala in Leeds; none of us in that audience knowing then that coronavirus had already started its worldwide infection. Back-to-back pas de deux from that celebration were repeated here: firstly, with Minju Kang and Lorenzo Trossello dancing the passionate Countryside duet from Jonathan Watkins’ 1984; followed by Mlindi Kulashe and Dominique Larose performing the Proposal Duet from Cathy Marston’s Jane Eyre. These are gems of the recent Northern Ballet repertoire and it was certainly pleasant, if not enlightening, to see them again.