Classicism all the way in Northern Ballet’s Generations

Linbury Theatre, The Royal Opera House, London
November 2, 2023

The undoubted highlight of Northern Ballet’s recent Generations triple bill was Tiler Peck’s Intimate Pages that closed the programme. It takes its title from that of Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet No.2, three movements of which form its accompaniment. It’s just a shame it wasn’t all of it.

The music was originally entitled ‘Love Letters,’ a reference to the correspondence the composer shared with his friend and muse Kamila Stösslová. “You, living, forceful, loving. The fragrance of your body, the glow of your kisses. No, really of mine. Those notes of mine kiss all of you. They call for you passionately,” he wrote. Through her dance, Peck draws on that, penning her own narrative of a man chasing love, one woman in particular, through a crowd.

Northern Ballet in Tiler Peck’s Imtimate Pages
Photo Emily Nuttall

The choreography reflects Peck’s New York City Ballet background. It’s full of invention and packed with steps. The dance eats up every inch of the stage. It is often fast-moving, calling for crisp, sharp technique, although interspersed into that are quieter, more lyrical moments.

Harris Beattie was outstanding in the lead role, showing great attack in his leaps and turns, but gentle intimacy when with the woman of his desire, the fleet of foot Sarah Chun. A duet is full of dreamy slow spins and gorgeous lifts, yet also includes playful, quick footwork from her, before she’s carried away by the corps as if riding a wind. Elusive and out of reach once more.

Harris Beattie and Sarah Chun in in Tiler Peck’s Intimate Pages
Photo Sophie Beth Jones

The corps of six and two soloists, although Peck manages to make it feel many more than that, get in his way elsewhere too. Of the latter, Aerys Merrill stood out, making everything look easy. On sparky solo stood out in particular.

Superbly danced, it was all hugely enjoyable.

Generations opened with another new work, Royal Ballet soloist Benjamin Ella’s Joie de Vivre, which, deliberately or not, owes much to Jerome Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering.

Set to a selection of music by Jean Sibelius, it’s a dance for three flirting couples. It’s gently romantic and friendly, despite the occasional misunderstanding and disagreement. The couples are all different, the women showing their varying personalities, in particular. Most romantic are Alessandra Bramante and Jackson Dwyer, whose beautifully elegant opening duet sets the mood. Partnered by Antoni Cañellas Artigues, Rachael Gillespie is perky and sunny. Alessia Petrosino is cool and somewhere between the others, partnered by Bruno Serraclara.

Northern Ballet in Benjamin Ella’s Joie de Vivre
Photo Sophie Beth Jones

It’s all unhurried and makes for a very pleasant opener, although it does lack subtlety here and there with the acting sometimes overdone, especially the men’s macho fallings out, which get very close to chiché. In contrast to the Robbins, and as unfair as it might be, it’s impossible not to compare, it just doesn’t feel like we are watching real people.

Between the two new ballet sat Dutch master Hans van Manen’s modern masterpiece, Adagio Hammerklavier. Like Joie de Vivre, it’s a dance for three couples, but there the similarities end.

Danced to the slow movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no.29 in B-flat major, with everyone dressed in white, it’s utterly sublime. It’s formal. Full of precise shapes and lifts it’s a ballet of abstracted coolness with not a hint of emotion. The cast of six were excellent, with Gillespie and Kevin Poeung the pick of the pairs.

Generations is a very successful triple-bill, one that, unlike last year, shouted Northern Ballet’s credentials as a classical ballet company. The versatile dancers looked in top form. Like many companies, Northern are having to count the pennies, but new director Federico Bonelli seems to be on the right track.