What is Happening to Contemporary Dance?
by Kate Evans
The Northern Ballet's Jekyll & Hyde
After noting in last month's AnotherSun the lack of narrative in contemporary dance, I was intrigued to see The Northern Ballet's take on Robert Louis Stevenson's complex and much told tale of Jekyll and Hyde.
Everyone knows the story of Jekyll and Hyde, mirroring as it does the terrifying struggle between good and evil within ourselves. Though in fact few have probably read the book, which means that, even with programme notes, Act One is confusing. We identify Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (accompanied by his entourage of bondage-babe devils and slaves), but who are all the others and what is the significance of the charade with the brown envelope?
Act Two, however, takes us by storm. Jekyll's fiancee, Lucille (danced beautifully on this occasion by Fiona Wallis) is coquettish in front of the mirror as she prepares for her engagement party and then, understandably, upset by her future husband's strange behaviour. We watch breathless as, in the midst of party goers, Jekyll finally loses his battle to Hyde's evil violence. We are being carried along at break-neck speed, on the edge of our seats, when Act Three comes and goes in the blink of an eye. And I have to ask myself again, why is contemporary dance always so short?
The costumes and lighting create transformation scenes which are superb. Hyde appears with his hands and arms seemingly already dipped in blood and a protruding spine which is distinctly reptilian. The Lighting Director, Chris Davey, shows genius in using red light to bathe Jekyll's hand as he fights to remain himself in Lucille's arms.
Marks must also be given for the courageous blending of video and dance, to enhance no-doubt the cinematic echoes also found in the sets inspired by the 1927 film Metropolis. The problem is the video pieces in the first act do not work. The faces of Jekyll and Hyde reflect their turmoil for supremacy, but, in the end, the grimaces and eye popping just look absurd. Far more successful are the later video sequences of bodies mingling and unravelling; and, when we see Jekyll fighting off Hyde transposed on poor Lucille's confusion, our attention is riveted.
Nobody could fault the grace, technique and sheer energy of the Northern Ballet dancers. Though I would be interested in an explanation of the choreography for the butler, which came over as mechanistic and over-stylised compared to the rest. This production of Jekyll and Hyde undoubtedly has a great deal to recommend it, but, much like the hero himself, I came out of the performance divided.
The Northern Ballet is presently touring the UK with Jekyll & Hyde and other full-length works. For more information -
www.nbt.co.uk or firstname.lastname@example.org
Croc rating... 2.5 crocks