Contemporary Cuts from Northern Ballet

Sadler’s Wells, London
June 12, 2021

Amaury Lebrun states that, in this London premiere of For an Instant, he, “intends to picture fleeting aspects of life and humanity – For an instant…I live, for an instant I breathe…for an instant… I die, for an instant… I dance”.

Indeed, it is an ephemeral art form and, depending on the timescale applied, so is life, not least because we have all been reminded that it can be snatched away expectedly. Lebrun achieves the sense of the fleeting by establishing continual movement, staving off the potential monotony by surprising changes in pace and gesture.

Lebrun uses music by Purcell and the less well-known contemporaneous Austrian composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. Baroque and classical music seem particularly well-suited to contemporary dance, here given an additional grace by ballet dancers who demonstrate exquisite strength and line.

Northern Ballet in For an Instant
Photo Emma Kauldhar

In a complete change of mood, Demis Volpi’s Little Monsters is a miniature love story set to Elvis Presley classics ‘Love Me Tender’, ‘I Need You’ and ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ In the flush of new love, Sarah Chun and Mlindi Kulashe seemed glued together, just the classical ports de bras expressions their emotions. Then the distance increases until, inevitably, they part. This little flame that burns and dies is at times witty and at others lyrical; a neat little amuse bouche that is crying out to be slotted into many a gala.

The countryside pas de deux from Jonathan Watkins’ 1984, danced by Minju Kang and Lorenzo Trossello, depicts Winston and Julia’s brief escape from Big Brother, defying the edict that, “There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother” and that sex is merely for procreation. Surrounded by giant stalks of greenery, the couple fling off their outer clothes before engaging in a pas de deux that is not so much about passion as desperation. Alex Baranowski’s music helps to remind us that this will not end well.

Lorenzo Trossello and Minju Kang in States of Mind by Kenneth Tindall
Photo Emma Kauldhar

Cathy Marston’s proposal pas de deux from Jane Eyre is an altogether more conventional affair, albeit that Mr Rochester is concealing the wife in the attic as he proposes to prissy Jane. Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor unleash their emotions with able support of the marvellous Philip Feeney, surely one of the biggest unsung heroes of contemporary composition.

The programme concluded with States of Mind by Kenneth Tindall, a lockdown ballet by any other name. A mix of music by Bach and Dutch composer Jacob Ter Veldhuis with some pop music thrown in for good measure, it begins with a sombre procession where dancers alternately walk and flap arms in a frenetic impotence. The second section is danced by five women, conveying loss and loneliness and the third brings the company together in an attempt to lighten the mood by doing a sort of hand jive in homage to the ubiquitous production of banana bread (what no sourdough?).

Inevitably, when returning to live theatre is still so new and the uncertainties of the progress of the Covid-19 pandemic are still very much with us, this tugs a little at the emotions but Tindall doesn’t really pull it off. It is a particular pity that such an enjoyable, technically well executed afternoon fizzled out. Whilst we do not yet know how this will end (and in many ways it seems that there is not yet an end in sight), something a little more joyous was called for as our fading stamina engendered by so much online performance was tested.