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About the Change

Northern Ballet Theatre


February 2008
Leeds, Grand Theatre

© Jeffery Taylor
Former dancer, Dance Critic and an Arts feature writer for the Sunday Express. Pub 24 02 2008

© Dee Conway

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This is a seriously important work both for director David Nixon’s progress as a choreographer and his company’s gravitas. He has taken himself and his dancers beyond the safe world of Wuthering Heights and Musketeers in which they now excel, and into the murkier, almost filmic realms of psychological drama.

Perhaps this piece should be titled “Loosely Based On Hamlet” as Nixon’s own vision springs to natural life when the plot moves away from the Shakespearean text. It also needs to lose 30 minutes of its 2 ˝ hour length.

Setting the action in a World War II occupied Paris is a perfect embodiment of the play’s eternal mystery, “to be or not to be.” Issues of kingship and politics thus provide the background to the highlighted personal relationships that puts the artistic butter on the bread. Claudius (Kenneth Tindall) is a Nazi overlord, Gertrude (Patricia Hines) a collaborator, Polonius (Martin Bell) and Laertes (Tobias Batley) are traitors while Ophelia (Keiko Amemori), poor dear, still cannot make up her mind. A juicy conceit with endless opportunities for dance, eagerly seized by Nixon. His dancers look superb in the ensemble work, he counter points groups and fills the stage but never overcrowds. His corps de ballet work always strongly illuminates the drama as well as being a pleasure to watch.

Hannah Bateman in Hamlet
© Dee Conway

The stage is a vast black hole filled with infinitely adaptable stair cases, balustrades and bridges all moved as necessary by helmeted storm troopers. Chandeliers, bold bronze statuary and vast swastikas drop in and out, all brilliantly conceived by former NBT dancer, now qualified designer Christopher Giles. But it could not work without Tim Mitchell’s lighting design. He manipulates the darkness as precisely as he does the light echoing the gloom of a catastrophic low point in the history of mankind.

Nixon’s steps, to a predictable Philip Feeney commissioned score, are taking on an impressionistic freedom while still touching base with academic simplicity, but the motor driving such a brain storming enigma must be the eponymous Prince. Last Thursday matinee Hironao Takahashi, a distinguished classical dancer and excellent partner, worked his socks off. His “slings and arrows” solo, though one of Nixon’s best moments, was perfectly rehearsed, and that’s all. To support the mental and emotional journey undertaken by the Hamlet character takes a very special artistic talent and Nixon has created perhaps one of the greatest male roles in contemporary dance. But it is simply not there in Takahashi.

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