Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Kevin Poeung in The Shape of Sound. Photo Emma Kauldhar

Northern Ballet: The Kingdom of Back/Mamela…/The Shape of Sound – World Premiere

The Kingdom of Back

Despite a characterless cast list, choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple’s The Kingdom of Back was a comprehensible and bewitching portal, shedding light on the life of Nannerl Mozart, older sister to Wolfgang Amadeus.

By the age of 12 she was, according to her father, the foremost key board player in Europe, and toured with her brother as an impressive sibling double act. However, as Mozart’s brilliance grew, her star waned, and, despite having composed herself, nothing that she has written survives. Both children were driven by their obsessive father, Leopold, who firmly believed in the god-given talents of his children.

In this charming, moving and clever piece, a series of vignettes reveals much of her story, her relationships with her brother and father, and the frustrations she must have endured to go from brilliant protégé to back room nothingness.

As Nannerl, Antoinette Brooks-Daw, although tiny, is a ballerina able to bring effortless technique to enhance her compelling characterization. She made us laugh at childish Nannerl in her enormous wig, and eventually to ache for her as she slides inexorably into anonymity. Mlindi Kulashe is suitably exuberant as Mozart, capturing his alluring zaniness whilst Javier Torres as autocrat Herr Mozart (‘After God comes Papa’) is all glittering eyes and controlling power – from which only his son manages to escape.

Northern Ballet dancers in The Kingdom of Back. Photo Emma Kauldhar

The smorgasbord of straight and distorted classical pieces (Bach and Mozart interpretations by The Swingle Singers and David Bowie alongside The Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Neville Mariner) gives a wonderful juxtaposition of then and now, and I delighted in the 60’s nightclub ambience in sections of the ensemble work. Spoken quotes were also pertinent ‘Remind me to give something good for the horns’ Wolfgang instructs Nannerl, a cue for the gentlemen to bound and explode across the stage.

Antoinette Brooks-Daw, Javier Torres and Mlindi Kulashe with Northern Ballet dancers in The Kingdom of Back. Photo Emma Kauldahar

Morgann Runacre-Temple must be congratulated on such an artful melding of music, steps and narrative. She knows just when to do very little and channel the attention into a look or a gesture, and also when to exploit the contemporary and classical talents of her carefully chosen cast of dancers. The Kingdom of Back is a surprisingly complete little jewel.

Mamela …. Is Northern Ballet dancer Mlindi Kulashe’s debut as a choreographer. ‘Mamela’ means ‘listen’ in Kulashe’s native language, Xhosa, and is an exploration of our lack of this asset in today’s busy world, and how this can frustrate and imprison.

Filippo Di Vilio with Matthew Koon and Riku Ito in Mamela… Photo Emma Kauldhar (3)

Filippo de Vilio has a central role in the first section, at times uncertain and tormented but always, despite a slight frame, drawing you in with energy and power. A rousing allegro ensues where he is joined by Riku Ito and Matthew Koon (always elegant in his untroubled virtuosity) and there is a general sense of abstract suffering in the ever evolving shapes and dynamics, which Kulashe has crafted well.

Matthew Topliss and Minju Kang in Mamela… Photo Emma Kauldhar

Section 2 is very busy, no time to linger as imaginary watches are constantly checked and the pace moves forward. A girl is abstractly passed around 9 men, none having the interest to treat her more than a parcel. Patterns for six, a pas de deux (Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor) and solos explore relationships of tenderness and antipathy, keeping and shifting our focus with skill. Sean Bates promenades with rock like certainty in an incredibly high a la seconde, distorted shoulders around his ears, and later writhes with frustration as the rest of the cast continue their self obsession. There is much to interest in Mamela…. and is an auspicious debut for Kulashe who shows inventiveness in his steps and perceptiveness with contemplation. It might have impressed more having not been sandwiched between 2 other new pieces of excellence.

Northern Ballet dancers in The Shape of Sound. Photo Emma Kauldhar

Kenneth Tindall has already established himself as an exceptional narrative choreographer with his box office success Casanova, and in his abstract The Shape of Sound does not disappoint. He has recently become Northern Ballet’s Artistic Director of Digital and Choreographer in Residence, and one cannot help but be excited for a boundary pushing future for this company. He has choreographed it as a response and exploration of Max Richter’s reimagining of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons, influenced both by the music and the experience of the seasons themselves. Continued collaboration with lighting designer Alastair West adds a work of art dimension: directional beams, mist, shadow, silhouette and sunshine worthy of a Tate Modern installation.

Matthew Koon and Riku Ito with Northern Ballet dancers in The Shape of Sound. Photo Emma Kauldhar

As the curtains open, light slowly travels up the backcloth revealing 14 dancers facing upstage right, rhythmically rocking with pleasing symmetry. Movement ripples in Mexican waves across the group until it breaks, leaving 3 couples who intersperse soaring lifts with quirky chair-sitting, involving a distinct lack of chair and intertwined limbs. Ashley Dixon and again Filipe de Vilio catch the eye – Mr Dixon just exudes joy when he dancers. Horizontal torsos appear from the wings edged with light against the inky black of the flats, whilst Heather Lehan holds court. Sean Bates’ beautiful jetes are to be admired, and the inverted splits on a one handed handstand (Kevin Peoung showing off his exceptional line) a delight to behold. Tindall certainly pushes his dancers to the limit and the gentlemen fling out complex aerial trickery with a heady mix of insouciance and bravura. A pas de deux between de Vilio and Lorenzo Trossello seems so natural that the extra strength required seems entirely un-noteworthy, and Tindall’s use of mass arms and hands to create kaleidoscopic patterns enhanced by luminosity again enthrall. Snap blackouts into lights up reveal a series of pictures, girls balanced precariously atop groups of men, making us marvel at how the dancers could possibly get into those shapes in the dark in a such a short space of time. Also beautiful were dancers disappearing and reappearing through the waterfall of light upstage. The Shape of Sound was packed with musicality, ingenuity and integrity. A second viewing is highly recommended.

By Viki Westall-Eyre