REVIEW: Madame Butterfly, with Perpetuum Mobile

Madame Butterfly, by Northern Ballet
Madame Butterfly, by Northern Ballet
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Northern Ballet prides itself on story-telling, seamlessly blending the beauty of classical ballet technique without the constraints of the art form’s sometimes stifling traditions.

Set to Puccini’s classic opera score, Madame Butterfly, as seen at the Grand Theatre on Tuesday and last night, is a perfect example of that.

And in a new slant, the Leeds-based company has just started a three-year programme of touring scaled down works - this year taking out a reworked Madame Butterfly, although premieres are planned for future tours.

Opening the night was Perpetuum Mobile a short piece, that showcases the grace, athleticism and skill of Northern’s dancers.

It has the feel of a free-style street crew, in so much as the dancers switch in and out of the piece, working in duos, small groups and the full company, almost as though they’re experimenting in a beautifully lit dance studio, throwing a string of technically divine adages together.

In Madame Butterfly, premier dancer Javier Torres and coryphee Rachael Gillespie made stunning debuts in the roles of American naval officer Pinkerton and the title character Butterfly, a young Geisha who is sold into marriage.

The storyline is simplified in the two-act ballet, but stays true to the key themes - culture, love and religion - all played against a simple set with wonderful lighting to highlight key moments.

No words were spoken or sung, but it was truly captivating and moving. Every movement, prop and piece of scenery had meaning and purpose, even Butterfly’s costume’s reflected her name, the silk gowns fluttering in lifts and leaps.

David Nixon’s choreography stunningly captured every possible nuance in the characters and the music, which featured Japanese music alongside Puccini’s original score. The delicacy of the Japanese women, the excuberence of the sailors and the sticatto leaps of the holy man and suitor, were all shown in a subtle blend of pure classical form with contemporary moments, as well as ‘real’ acting, to draw out every emotion.

This double bill marked a return to Blackpool by Northern Ballet and although no dates are as yet confirmed for 2016, if the response of Tuesday night’s audience is any indicator - they’ll certainly be made most welcome.

* See Friday’s Gazette for a review of Northern Ballet’s children’s piece Elves And The Shoemaker.