'The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is that an Angel might sit on  it'

Northern Ballet's programme presented at the Linbury Studio this week featured the work of five different choreographers. The company is notable for its excellent male dancers. I found its female dancers more athletic than aesthetic, and I felt they needed refinement. Perhaps, because they are working almost entirely in a male dominated movement environment, their look has become more masculine. There is nothing wrong with this in theory, but in practice, a certain dimension of expression is lost.

Mark Godden's piece, Angels in the Architecture, based upon the Shakers, a religious sect related to the Quakers and sometimes called 'shaking Quakers', was set to Copland's 'Appalachian Spring'. During the mid nineteenth century, an 'Era of Manifestation' among the Shakers produced a golden age of art, from dance to furniture design. Godden must have realized that he was treading in the footsteps of Martha Graham's classic creation, and that fact unavoidably would invite comparison. Actually, although the costumes were similar, the steps were quite different. I loved the lightness of Godden's dances, the flowing costumes with their multiple uses, and the play around the straight-backed chairs. I felt it would have been a joy to leap onto the stage and join in. I did question his use of props. The Shakers evidently did invent the flat broom, but the brooms were too intrusive and inauthentic looking for the period.

Christopher Hampson's, Perpetuum Mobile, to Bach's 'Violin Concerto in E Major' was a strong and sophisticated work, turning Bach's musical structures, such as counterpoint and fugue, into visual structures. It was performed with the precision of Bach and a drive which pulsated through the music, though without Bach's elegance.

Demis Volpi's Little Monsters, to a trilogy of songs by Elvis, was brought to life by a technically strong and humourous pas de deux danced by Dreda Blow and Joseph Taylor. It needed a few peaks of excitement: an accidental musical intruder or a dance to no music, of which there was a tiny experiment.

I thought that Jonathan Watkins' A Northern Trilogy was not a fully- fledged piece. Dancing to the spoken words of Stanley Holloway presented a lively contrast, and the recipe for yorkshire pudding was delightful – 'you had to put the angel into the mix'. The solo by Kevin Poeung was accomplished, though the literal use of the words by Watkins became a little dull, and overall the choreography could be expanded.

Finally, The Architect by Kenneth Tindall  offered some exciting, virtuoso male dancing. It contained some unusual pas de deux with the men, as well as the women, and some daring leaps. The design sense of the dance was indeed architectural and ambitious, but the potential of the columns was not fully explored. The work as a whole may have required more contrast, not only of pace, but of sensitivity or kind of movement.

The company excelled in the ensemble variations. I felt there was an unevenness between the works, and, within the works, lack of contrast: some of the choreography was repetitive, and lacked a feminine dimension. Unisex dancing is often beautiful, but it isn't the same as staging male and female bodies. The men seemed more graceful and at home in their bodies than the women. Please can someone give the women in the company more flattering pointe shoes. They're too heavy. Finally, there were poor programme notes and one would have to know the performers to single them out for praise. Pictures and biographies would be helpful.

 

***11