Dangerous Liaisons [Northern Ballet] – Review – Leeds Playhouse
By Sandra Callard, September 2021
Northern Ballet brings the intoxicating story of Dangerous Liaisons to Leeds Playhouse. The 1988 film adaptation of the 18th century French novel was well-received but notorious in its day, due to numerous scenes of sexual content.
The story, set in France in the heady days before the Revolution, concerns the machinations of members of the upper crust as they amuse themselves with women of the court, and in particular their various attempts to claim the attention, and conquest, of a virginal young girl, Cecile de Volanges, in spite of the fact that she is happily engaged to be married.
It’s unfortunate that this production is impaired by having no speech. Yes, intrinsically, ballet should not need words, but here it absolutely cries out for voices, strong, pitiful or angry, so the audience can better follow the labyrinthine plot.
“Complicated and intricate”
The dancing here is skilful and unusual as it attempts to convey the varying scenes of sex by dance alone. It does not, however, truly manage to do this, although it is helped to a great extent by the mood of the music the orchestra plays, despite it being somewhat repetitive.
Capturing this story by movement, facial expressions, and the passing of notes – which are the only other actions here outside of dance – is not enough to illuminate the complicated and intricate narrative.
If you are a theatre goer, and if you know the story of Dangerous Liaisons, you may be disappointed by the lack of power in this presentation, and if you did not know the story you would likely be confused by an apparent lack of cohesive storytelling, although you would doubtless be diverted by the numerous beautifully choreographed attempts at copulation.
“Feelings of joy”
The costumes, however, are beautiful and extremely apt to the situation, being flowing and easily parted. Both male and female dancers look stunning but the set is minimalistic, with just a desk, a chair and a chaise longue.
However, the performance of Riku Ito as Viscount Valmont shines as he dances and behaves in turn as a lover and a renegade, and the clever and thorough performance of Sarah Chun as Marquise de Merteuil stands out as her whole body resonates with her feelings of joy, hate and anger.
Over the years I have had the very great pleasure of enjoying all manner of Northern Ballet presentations – and this is my first aversion to any one of them. Therefore I can put this unusually short ballet down as an aberration and look forward to seeing the supremely talented cast in a superior production next time.
images: Emma Kauldhar