Northern Ballet’s Dangerous Liaisons – at Leeds Playhouse

Before I write about the performance, I have to firstly acknowledge how nice it is to be back in the theatre again, on my first outing since lockdown. I haven’t missed many things over the pandemic, being a naturally happy, simple, introvert, but even I am glad to be burst from my bubble and back watching amazing talent on the stage. 

Northern Ballet are back in style with David Nixon OBE’s production of Dangerous Liaisons, David has been artistic director at Northern Ballet for 20 years and I was sorry to read that he would be stepping down from this role this autumn.  I think David is responsible for my personal journey with ballet – his imagination, interpretations in telling a story, never afraid to mix both classic and contemporary ballet effortlessly with great effect, and always in original and unique ways. David: Thank you. You have kept me connected to ballet and I have a greater understanding as a fan because of you.  

Dangerous Liaisons is a novel written in 1782 by Frenchman Pierre Chaderlos de Laclos. It’s about the games attractive, ruthless people play for their own self satisfaction, ego and gain, (a bit like today’s Love Island).  Vicomte de Valmont (played by Riku Ito), is a very successful playboy and seducer who treats conquests like a sport; the more virtuous or difficult the more self-satisfying.  His female equivalent and accomplice in the story is Marquise de Merteuill (played by Sarah Chun), who indulges in the same games with men, using them for her own gains. Full of revenge, she introduces her ex, Gercourt’s (played by Ashley Dixon)  new virginal fiancée Cecile de Volanges (played by Aerys Merrill) to the dashing Chevalier Danceny (played by Kevin Poeung) in an attempt to ruin Gercourt’s new happiness, but when this didn’t work she dangles herself on a string to try and enlist Vicomte de Valmont to sleep with Cecile; but Valmont also had his own challenge in seducing the happily married virtuous Madame de Tourvel (played by Antoinette Brooks-Daw). (Editor’s note: Are you keeping up, dear reader?)  Lots of conquests, letters, duels, deaths and banishment followed and this very complex storyline was coherently told via the medium of dance. Not an easy task at all.

The staging was simple: a couch, desk and chaise lounge, and chandeliers formed the shimmering additions of glamour which were used effectively to distinguish different scenes and settings.  Costumes, of course, were beautiful: full, formal gowns of the day and delicate lace for the many seductive scenes, each dancer encapsulated in their own colour; the orange of Cecile to the powder blue of Madame de Tourvel.  

Of course, it’s an overwhelming task to try to discuss all of the dancing. However, it’s always a sign of great choreography when a complex story is easily understood. The use of little linking scenes, such as the Marquise de Marteuil playing puppet master, certainly help join the dots; but I don’t think you can overestimate how good the acting has to be as well as the dancing to get the story and the feeling across. I thought Aerys Merrill was exceptional in the seduction scene with Riku Ito, emoting the struggle to stay virtuous and then the shame as the aftermath.

The real star of this ballet is the beautiful lifts. if anyone grew up watching the lift in Dirty Dancing wishing they were ‘Baby’ then this is the ballet for you. Some of the lifts were acrobatic exhibitions. One in particular is a must-see, with Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Ritu Ito, in a one handed overhead lift which was simply stunning.  

Set to the music of Vivaldi, it was great to see the full Northern Ballet Sinfonia behind the curtain, happy to literally provide the essential backdrop for the dancing.

This performance was such a treat and a huge tribute to all of the talent involved in the production.

PLEASE NOTE: All photographs are production images from 2020. Some cast members have changed, and some who are performing again this year do not play the same characters.

Ali Wortley

From  muddy fields to plush theatres, Ali is a hardened music festival goer and avid opera and ballet enthusiast.

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