Merlin – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By Sandra Callard, November 2021
Northern Ballet is by now a solid part of the elite of British dance. Their new show and recent performance of Merlin at the Grand Theatre in Leeds was simply one of the most spectacular and beautifully danced of any ballet performance I have seen. Choreographed by Drew McOnie, it is a stunning repertoire of balletic genius.
The story of how the magician, Merlin, uses his powers to draw together warring countries and bring love and harmony back to an unhappy world, is a riveting display of ballet storytelling at its absolute best.
The surprising and moving entry of the dragon, who learns how to love rather than frighten people is a touching addition to the story, and his fearful look in no way takes anything away from the elegant and gentle ballet movements that teach it to trust. The movement of the dragon is skillfully brought to life by the very obvious operator, and in a way that is now accepted on stage and which is superbly natural.
The stage effects are used quietly and carefully, adding much atmosphere to the story. Huge pillars of silver move silently across the floor, bringing mystery and wonder to the scene. Their size is massive but they glide across the stage with an ease that belies their size, and are extremely effective.
Many of the dancers are attired in very flimsy clothing, but this never seems gratuitous and merely adds to the beauty of the dancers’ movements. There was not a bad performance throughout, but I particularly loved Kevin Poeung’s performance as Merlin, and Minju Kang’s as the Blacksmith. The whole thing is one of the most enchanting spectacles of dance I have seen in some time, and the stunning dancing seemed far too little to satisfy the obviously elated and appreciative audience.
The orchestra, often an afterthought in theatre as they are heard but not seen, are magnificent. The story of Merlin, although well known, is new to this ballet company, and the music reflected the magical moments perfectly.
It is always nerve wracking to bring a new performance to the stage, and ballet lovers do like their famous and well tried ballets, but in this case the audience was easily swayed by the new, as evidenced by the applause and seen by the many smiling faces of patrons as they exited the theatre.
Merlin is a superb and beautiful ballet, with dancers so perfect that their infinite skill is breathtaking and almost beyond belief. The dancing, the music and the stage scenes were second to none and together they produced a truly wonderful night of theatre.
images: Emma Kauldhar