14 September 2012

Northern Ballet's Ondine

Undine, a fairy tale by Friedrich de la Motte Fouquée has inspired several films including Neil Jordan's, a number of operas including Tchaikovsky's and at least three ballets of which the most famous is probably Sir Frederick Ashton's. Ashton created the ballet for Dame Margot Fonteyn.to a score by Hans Werner Henze in 1958. It is a major three act work and was one of the Royal Ballet's staples in its golden age.  No wonder the choreographer David Nixon felt "intimidated by the history of Ashton's interpretation and the beautiful and challenging score of Henze" when asked to stage the work for Ballet du Rhin  and Northern Ballet.

I drove to the West Yorkshire Playhouse yesterday with considerable apprehension last night because I have seen Fonteyn dance and admire greatly Ashton's work. As I have said in "Ballet and Intellectual Property - my Excuse for reviewing 'Beauty and the Beast'" 31 Dec 2011 and "Cracking Nuts - Copyright in Choreography" IP North West 24 Nov 2011, Northern Ballet is a good company and Nixon is a good choreographer but could they really carry this off?   Well as a matter of fact they have - and spectacularly.   In my humble opinion this is Nixon's best work yet.  Indeed, it is probably Northern Ballet's best work to date.

Though he has kept Henze's score Nixon's Ondine is very different from Ashton's.  Instead of a sprite appearing in a waterfall, Nixon's story begins with a child on a beach teasing a fisherman by stepping in his nets. That child is Ondine and her appearance in the prologue sets the theme for the rest of the ballet.  Last night that role was performed delightfully by Caitlin Noonan of the Northern Ballet Academy.   The grown up Ondine (Martha Leebold), falls in love not with Palemon but with a knight called Brand (Tobias Batley). They marry to the distress of Beatrice, (not Berta) danced by Dreda Blow.  A sort of Giselle in reverse but instead of tragedy Ondine takes pity on Beatrice and allows her to live with her and her husband. The ménage à trois turns out not to be a good idea and Beatrice and Brand decide to take a boat trip.  Brand's eyes wander towards Beatrice, a storm erupts and Ondine jumps overboard. Thinking that Ondine is dead Brand and Beatrice decide to marry but just as they do another storm breaks out and the sprite Ondine reappears from the sea to reclaim her husband.

The ballet creates very powerful roles not only for the three principals, Leabolod, Batley and Blow but also for Sebastian Low who danced the priest and Kevin Poeung and Hironao Takahashi and indeed several soloists and coryphees in a spectacular wedding divertissement in the third act. All were good and it is perhaps unfair to name names but my eye was caught by Matthew Broadbent.   I am sure the public will see a lot of him in the next few years.

The final ingredient of the success of the work was Jerome Kaplan's set and costumes working skilfully projected with the lighting team. Surf, for example, was represented by the hems of the girls' skirts as they entered silently onto the stage in the prologue and left silently at the end. The waves and eddies of the sea by ingenious photography or lighting that suggested photography.

All very well but this is supposed to be an intellectual property blog not an arts paper I hear my readers say. Well so it is and here is my IP lesson. Before the show an announcer warned the audience not to take any photos or movies with phones or cameras. Why? Because this ballet was a performance falling within Part II of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and performers rights are infringed by any fixation (that is to say recording) without their consent.  Bootlegging - filming and taping on an industrial scale - is actually an offence under the Act as well as an infringement of the  dancers' economic and moral rights.

Northern Ballet's Ondine is at the Quarry Theatre in the West Yorkshire Playhouse until tomorrow.