David Nixon, after Pierre Choderlos de Laclos; Vivaldi
The Lowry Salford
1-5 June 2021, 1hr 40min
A full-length ballet, in the theatre – remember that? It’s like a novel experience now, and Northern Ballet is pretty well ahead of the pack in getting Dangerous Liaisons on in the Lowry's Lyric Theatre (ahead of a transfer to Sadlers Wells).
The novelty also lies in having to arrive early to queue, spaced apart, to be checked-in (with the help of the ever-cheerful army of Lowry volunteers), then sitting in the socially-distanced auditorium with nothing much to do until the show starts. Plus points: you needn't worry about your view being blocked by a large person in front with these seating arrangements; and if the weather turns bad there will always be room for your coat on the adjacent seat. Minus points: no drinks served inside the building, and not all fellow audience members keep their face coverings on properly – some wear them in fashionably off-the-nose style, while others whip them away as soon as the lights go down.
Artistically, there are obvious constraints on even as resourceful a company as Northern Ballet these days. The company's speciality is narrative ballet, and Dangerous Liaisons, which had a first brief outing in Leeds Playhouse last October, is based on a novel of some complexity. I’ve never read Les Liaisons Dangereuses in the original, but the essence of the story seems to be that consenting aristos can get up to pretty well whatever they fancy in private, seducing, cheating and being seduced, but when they start writing letters about it, that’s really dangerous.
So we begin each act (and interrupt the second) with voices over the PA system, first introducing the scheming Marquise de Merteuil and her machinations and then quoting two of the letters which are often flourished around and clearly bring it all to a sad end.
The cast has to be small, and most of the danced storyline is couples coupling – so, plenty of pas de deux but not a lot of scope for much else. Those pas de deux get progressively steamier, and the Northern Ballet dancers are technically magnificent, particularly Antoinette Brooks-Daw (Madame de Tourvel) in clinches and lifts with Joseph Taylor (Vicomte de Valmont).
The setting is fairly minimalist: no problem there: a couple of couches is all they need, really; but the costuming is very fine and evokes the period (late 18th century). So does the music, which is all Vivaldi, some of it very familiar, from The Four Seasons, and some tending to prove the old quip that he didn’t really write 500 different concertos but the same concerto 500 times. It's all very skilfully played by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Jonathan Lo.
There’s a kind of relentless bonhomie about Vivaldi’s baroque patterning though, which, though it seems to go with the costumes, and though the sheer prettiness of some of the choreography fits it very well, isn’t quite a match for the burgeoning Romantic passions of the storyline.
Info and tickets here