Mlindi Kulashe making his début as choreographer. Photo by Justin Slee
Northern Ballet's Autumn Season 2018 has opened with three remarkable pieces. Don't be fooled by the distinctly unpromising title of "Mixed Programme", this trio of performances has joie de vivre aplenty - along with some wonderful musical accompaniments and some gasp-out-loud beautiful lighting effects.
Yes, if you are looking for a more balanced review - the negatives as well as the positives - then can I suggest you look elsewhere. I was, and remain, thoroughly delighted with the "Mixed Programme", with only the title to quibble about.
The Kingdom of Back
The first of the three pieces is a new work choreographed by Morgann Runacre-Temple. Telling the story of Nannerl Mozart - Wolfgang's older sister.
The Kingdom of Back uses music from JS Bach and Wolfgang Mozart - performed by the Swingle Singers - and adding snippets of Leopold Mozart and David Bowie - all interwoven with original music by Frank Moon. This powerful, compelling soundscape provides an emotional backdrop to Nannerl's story.
Narrerl, by any other standard a brilliant musician in her own right, is eventually overshadowed by her extraordinary brother and this piece tells of the relationship between the siblings and their obsessive father Leopold.
Strong and fresh choreography tells Nannerl's tale with emotion and a sympathetic eye.
Perhaps the most unconventional of the three pieces, Mamela ('listen' in choreographer Mlinidi Kalashe's native Xhosa language) is a sharp angular piece without narrative. Jerky, seemingly unbalanced movements adding a sense of uncertainty, haunting sounds and crackly voices add to the oppressive feel of the piece. And all the while time is passing. Time seems to pursue the dancers around the stage - presumably a reference to our ridiculously busy lives. A fascinating piece and I hope we will see more from Mlindi Kulashe.
Another abstract piece, this one a stand-out success for choreographer Kenneth Tindall. The Shape of Sound is an abstract piece wrapped around a deconstructed, reconstructed and repurposed Vivaldi's Four Seasons.
Max Richter's treatment of the Four Seasons and Alastair West's lighting both made a significant contribution to the success of this piece. The soundtrack has all the cleanliness and lyricism of the original but adds depth and grit - something extra for the choreographer and dancers to work with. Max Richter has sampled, chopped and reassembled the four pieces and added rich synthesised subharmonics, enhancing the chordal structure with harmonic and anharmonic tones.
Overlaid with organic sounds and textures the music became remarkably filmic and when combined with Alastair West's beautiful 'sheet of cloud' lighting effect with dancers stepping in out out like Greek gods reaching down from the heavens, it became utterly captivating.
Kenneth Tindal says of the piece that "it is an abstract work primarily motivated by my desire to explore and expand my movement vocabulary independent of a strict narrative theme".
For me it was a showpiece for the remarkable talents of Northern Ballet's dancers and choreographers. There is a real depth of talent in our fair county and we should be duly appreciative.