Review: Triple Bill, Northern Ballet, Leeds Grand Theatre

They took Covent Garden by storm with this glorious tribute to Sir Kenneth MacMillan and have come back home in triumph.

Dreda Blow and Giuliano Contadini in Kenneth MacMillan in Las Hermanas. Photoby Emma Kauldhar.
Dreda Blow and Giuliano Contadini in Kenneth MacMillan in Las Hermanas. Photoby Emma Kauldhar.

The master choreographer was way before his time and the dancers revel in the genius of his physical vocabulary: his signature soaring lifts and tricky balances, his minutely observed gestures. Sandwiched between his masterpieces Las Hermanas, inspired by Lorca, and Gloria by Vera Brittain’s war memoir, it’s difficult to believe that Concerto, his kaleidoscope of pure dance, is over fifty years old. The dancers tackle its demanding technicality head on, bodies free and finely tuned. Measured then explosive, it is a dazzling test with Joseph Taylor owning the stage in the exquisite andante duo with Harrogate’s Abigail Prudames.

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In contrast the five cloistered virgins in the old Spanish finca flap like trapped birds when not meekly rocking in their row of chairs. Guest artist Zenaida Yanowsky, former Royal Ballet treasure, was enthralling as the desiccated eldest sister, whose fiancé – Javier Torres all thrusting groin and testosterone-fuelled menace – hooks up with her sizzling young sibling, Ailen Ramos Betancourt, luscious as a ripe fig. Gawky and cowed, with repeated hand-wringing gestures and tiny steps as if on hobbled feet, Yanowsky is stunning with Torres, her sexual repression, budding desire, and fear flashing before us. As he slides his hand between her legs she slices upwards in shock, thawing out, then, embarrassed, shakes him by the hand. Dark, powerful and dramatic.

Gloria, the anthem for doomed youth danced to Poulenc, highlights the horrors of war with luminous beauty. Caked in ochre mud and blood the tin-hatted Tommies move as if shell-shocked with their wraith-like guardians. Macmillan’s father was gassed on the Somme and this is a moving tribute to those who died in the trenches.