A Celebration of Sir Kenneth MacMillan – Review – Bradford Alhambra
A Celebration of Sir Kenneth MacMillan
Review – October 2017
by Sandra Callard
The Bradford Alhambra opens this week to A Celebration of Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Master Choreographer, with performances of three of McMillan’s ballets, Les Hermanas, Concerto and Gloria.
These are three very different ballets and are performed by Northern Ballet. Each ballet is approximately thirty minutes in length, and they are all, without exception, visually and balletically stunning. The dancers are performers at the top of their tree, showing us more pedestrian mortals how ballet, in all its intricacies, should be performed. The decision to have an interval after each ballet, resulting in two intervals, works perfectly, as the ballets are so different that a complete break after each one is apposite and welcome.
Les Hermanas is the story of five sisters under the iron control of their domineering mother. It concerns oppression, love and betrayal and has quite one of the most shockingly realistic death scenes I have seen. The dancing is sinuous and sexual, with Javier Torres as the only male dancer, revelling in his effect on the sisters. The various effects the man has on the sisters is beautifully expressed by all of them, from desire to horror and jealousy.
Concerto is a superb classical piece of pure joy, and the dancers bring alive the wonderful music of Shostakovitch’s ‘Piano Concerto No 2 in F Major’. Sarah Chun and Sean Bates, dancing the leading couple, shine like the sun, and the whole ballet is a glorious panorama of the skill and versatility of the dancers of Northern Ballet.
But the pièce de résistance is without doubt the third ballet, Gloria. McMillan based this ballet on Vera Brittain’s memoirs of World War 1, Testament of Youth, and it is a moving and dynamic tribute to the lost youth of a generation. It is a visually and emotionally stunning performance by Northern Ballet, where the strange dichotomy of the brutality of war glides alongside the beauty of the movement of the performers. The Pas de Quatre, danced by Miyata, Poeung, Koon and Hanks, is a total triumph, with a mesmerising performance by the four dancers.
The horrors of World War 1 have been written about in prose and poetry. They have been filmed and played out on stage on countless occasions, but I have never seen anything to majestically brutal and beautiful as this compelling performance. When the curtain fell there was that rare and tingling one-second silence before the auditorium erupted. It was a joy to behold.
Tributes must also be paid to the creators of the costumes and the settings for these ballets. They are exceptionally vivid and fitting to the sense of each piece, and reinforce how essential the talented background artists are in making the whole performance gel. The black Spanish-type dresses of Las Hermanas and the hacienda courtyard set the scene perfectly for the dominated sisters.
The understated costumes of the dancers of Concerto, and the pale pastel walls cleverly leave the attention of the audience solely on the dancing. Costumes for Gloria are innovative and yet totally apt. They give the merest suggestion of what they represent, but are still solidly soldiers living and dying in the trenches, and the background set is just like a painting, giving a jolt as the soldiers emerge.
This whole production is, without exception, the most perfect and stimulating exhibition of exemplary ballet techniques that I have ever seen. Macmillan’s innovative and aesthetically beautiful choreography is performed here in all its simplistic and perfect detail by a Northern Ballet company who have reached the pinnacle of perfection of their craft, as they dance the sublime moves by this master of ballet. It is a truly great and fitting tribute to a master choreographer.