Northern Ballet: New creations by Mariana Rodrigues and Mlindi Kulashe

November 20, 2020

David Mead

In recent years, Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon has given the company’s dancers more opportunities to show their own choreographic skills. At Northern, as in many companies, the lack of live performance has increased the time available for company members to give vent to their own creativity. Two new films show some of the talent that there is up in Leeds.

In her agreeable, easy on the eye, easy on the ear (music by Ravel), 10-minute ballet Termagant, Mariana Rodrigues probes the nature of femininity and women as multi-dimensional beings.

The cast of eleven are presented as a female community. Rodrigues draws pleasing patterns as she shows groups that represent the Maiden, Mother, Wild Woman and Elder. However, apart from the maidens, a trio that dance with grace and lightness, the differences are not drawn as clearly as perhaps they could be. I found it difficult to work out just who was who.

Northern Ballet in Termagant by Mariana RodriguesPhoto Riku Ito
Northern Ballet in Termagant
Photo Riku Ito

It’s very much a community that get on with each other; one where everyone is allowed time and space to show their own self. What is not there is a termagant in the sense of harsh-tempered or overbearing woman.

The largely lyrical choreography follows the music closely. It’s also very classical, with more than a hint of Greek dance in some of the poses. At times, it reminded me of one of those dream scenes from a 19th-century ballet. Rodrigues does slip in a few more unusual moments, though, including dancers sliding and skidding to a halt in their pointe shoes.

Film director Kenneth Tindall and editor Emily Nuttall give us some unusual and interesting angles by occasionally having the camera on stage and in among the action, although those moments also cause you to lose overall sense of what is actually going on.

George Liang, Wesley Branch and Bruno Serraclara in Men Dances by Mlindi KulashePhoto Riku Ito
George Liang, Wesley Branch and Bruno Serraclara
in Men Dances by Mlindi Kulashe
Photo Riku Ito

Mlindi Kulashe’s Men Dances (also directed and edited by Tindall and Nuttall) is a work for today: a dancer’s journey through lockdown and how creativity is confined in a confined apartment space, to finally feeling the comparative freedom of a socially distanced studio. It’s anything but a dance of gloom, however. Indeed, I could easily see the opening two sections in particular popping up as a future gala piece.

The opening couple of minutes sees the nine men socially distanced. They constantly shift back and forth as if confined by four walls. At one point they even appear to be pacing the room. ‘Dance of the Maids of Honour and the Pages’ from Act I of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty might not have been the most obvious musical choice for the situation, but it fits Kulashe’s busy choreography a treat. One senses the pent up frustrations and desire to escape and move freely in dance that makes great use of arm gestures that always bring the whole upper body into play.

Northern Ballet dancers in Men DancesPhoto Riku Ito
Northern Ballet dancers in Men Dances
Photo Riku Ito

That freedom comes in the hugely enjoyable middle section, danced to the lighter strains of Vivaldi. From the separation of the opening, there is now a clear togetherness as they acknowledge each other and delight shows on faces. Here, as throughout, the togetherness of the ensemble is outstanding.

The longest and slightly slower third section, to Schubert, is more thoughtful. I’m less sure what Kulashe is telling us here. Maybe, after the excitement of the actually getting back in a studio with others, even distanced, the reality of the anything but normal situation has hit home.

To watch Termagant and Men Dances, visit