We’re half way through Perpetual Motion here at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre and it’s overdue that I say something about it. Firstly, it’s fantastic. We have an outstanding facility in the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre and it both serves and is served by the nature of this show. Secondly, I’m interested by the title.
Perpetual Motion is the will-o-the-whisp of thermodynamics. The idea of a machine that operates indefinitely whilst consuming less energy than it produces violates, I’m told, the First Law of Thermodynamics (and perhaps the Second, apparently). But this has not stopped the idea for the rascal machine consuming the minds of estimable and quack inventors for nearly two hundred years. Perhaps there’s nothing in Northern Ballet’s inaugural production at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre that poses much threat to laws of thermodynamics; but the entrancing idea of something which, once set in motion, powers itself without end, is a detectable theme in these extraordinary pieces.
Kenneth Tindall, Northern Ballet Premier Dancer, revives and elaborates his first piece of choreography, first seen at the Choreographic Showcase last year. Project#1 has been meated-out and refined into new proportions. The musical repertoire still includes the bewitching Max Richter piece, featuring the cracked vocals of Dinah Washington, but will now also include work from Alva Noto and the ubiquitous Swede, Lykke Li. But, for those who saw the protean form of this piece in the Choreographic Showcase last year, it still revolves around three brilliant central performances from Ben Mitchell, Tobias Batley and Victoria Sibson. There appears to be, in perfect simpatico with the well-chosen music, a throbbing want at the heart of the piece. Tindall’s elaboration from his original kernel suggests that the prime mover for this work, whatever it may have been, continues to propel it onwards.
Christopher Hampson, soon-to-be Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet (he takes up the post in August), is also revisiting with his piece. Perpetuum Mobile was his first piece of professional choreography for English National Ballet and he reinvents it here with Northern Ballet dancers. Taking Bach’s Violin Concerto in E Major as its inspiration, the sinews of the music are exploited by the dancer’s muscularity and grace. The engine room of this piece, Hampson describes, was the music itself. A decision to listen to Bach on his Discman one day meant that Bach’s Concerto in E Major called to him and, with each obsessive listen, new layers and textures exposed themselves. Hampson says, “every time I played it I heard something new, and I still do today. I began the ballet by wanting to construct and layer movement to make a whole, like Bach does with his composition. I realised that the music never stops, even the slow middle movement has a pulse going through it that pushes the ear to anticipate the next development. So, I wanted the movement to do the same, hence Perpetuum Mobile.” From the title and Hampson’s description of its genesis, we understand that it is about constant and self-sustaining motion, something set in action that does not stop, just as this piece, still moving after all these years, was first instigated by a few strains of Bach on a discman.
Music, similarly, is the prime-mover for Daniel de Andrade’s piece. De Andrade, who also choreographed for last year’s mixed programme and has recently been awarded a prestigious Clore Fellowship, presents Glass Canon; is a high-octane counterpoint to his meditative lament last year. Like the other pieces of show here, Glass Canon is a revisitation. First performed at Northern Ballet's 40 year anniversary gala, it is driven by the extraordinary music of Moishe’s Bagel. In case you didn’t know, and I didn’t, they play “jazz-inflected klezmer and Balkan music”. In case you didn’t know again, and I didn’t again, klezmer is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern Europe. An unlikely bedfellow, perhaps, for Daniel’s sensitive choreography. But it certainly shows another aspect of the de Andrade canon. There’s much mischief here. The first of the two Moishe’s Bagel pieces contemplates what their own gypsy-folk would sound like if written by Phillip Glass. The second piece, “The McGoldberg’s Jig and Reel” is a silent movie era romp and provides an interesting play on the relationship between movement/performance and music.
David Nixon, Artistic Director of Northern Ballet, will be showcasing Rhapsody in Blue, taken from the forthcoming I Got Rhythm. The piece fuses ballet and jazz and was suggested by our own dancer’s as a fitting end to the Perpetual Motion programme. This will be a chance to get a first glimpse of what is to come at the Grand later in the year. Nixon’s is not a new piece, as such, but Perpetual Motion does provide an opportunity to see it in a more intimate setting. The full show will be on at the Grand in May, but now’s a terrific chance to sneak a glimpse at the crisp, tripping choreography to some of the most iconic music ever tooted, that of George and Ira Gershwin.
One of the chief charms of the show is seeing work of established choreographers like Nixon and Hampson sharing the stage with the nascent (Tindall) and emerging (de Andrade). Another is to see Northern Ballet in a different mode. Northern Ballet is, of course, famous for dramatic storytelling and productions evincing stunning stagecraft and costume. Whilst there are some lovely costumes here, especially for de Andrade’s piece (designed by ex-Northern Ballet dancer, Christopher Giles), the focus is very much on movement, on the kinetic fundaments of this art that are the building blocks for the larger productions and the foundations of any piece of dance. From the strains of Gershwin, Richter, Bach or even Moishe’s Bagel, we can see how each of these choreographers perpetuated closed systems of dance that gather momentum with each incarnation. First Law of Thermodynamics be damned!