NBT "A Simple Man", Nottingham 28 September 1999
"Lowry came to see himself through her eyes: a misfit, a grotesque substitute for the daughter of whom she had dreamed".
This is the first NBT production I've seen since the appointment of the
new Artistic Director, Stefano Giannetti; he announces in the programme that Halifax plc has confirmed its sponsorship of NBT for a further three years. This combination, together with what I saw tonight, reassures me that NBT fans can look forward to their Emotional Fixes well into the new millennium. According to Gianetti, this ballet was "the starting point for Christopher Gable's inspired direction of NBT where he began his transformation of the Company into the group of accomplished performers that you see today". Aha! I did not know that, and now it all drops into place! In several of my notes for ballet.co I have alluded to reminiscences of A Simple Man, especially crowd scenes (notably in Giselle and Christmas Carol) and I think it must have been then that the elusive acquisition "style" was stamped on NBT, and still pervades today.
I have wanted to see A Simple Man ever since I saw it on television in 1987 when Lowry was danced by Christopher Gable and his mother by Moirer Shearer (and by Lynn Seymour in stage performances). The ballet is a pastiche of poverty, pathos and rejection and attempts to capture the images and atmosphere of the art of L. S. Lowry, renowned for his paintings of industrial revolution landscapes in the north of England (dark satanic mills and stuff). The detail is down to the level of the rather stooping "stick-men" stance of the characters in his paintings, such as those depicted Our Town.
Most of the images created in the ballet, groups of mill-workers, children, women, balloon-sellers, the tennis girl, blind man, funeral cortège, cripples, quasi-pornographic girls, the organ grinder, can be traced to his various paintings. Superimposed on that are aspects of Lowry's life, especially his relationship with his mother, his love of the piano, and the three girls that came into his life - all called Ann. The "lead Ann" (Charlotte Broom) danced an exquisite and sexy pas de deux with Lowry (Luc Jacobs) and Maud (the tennis girl) was danced with Chiaki Nagao's usual verve. But who could possibly fill the shoes of Lowry's mother, last worn by Moirer Shearer and Lynn Seymour? I am convinced that only Jayne Regan could, and her acting and maturity gave this role all that was called for. The death scene was especially heart-wrenching.
Another dramatic scene is the visit of Lowry and his mother to the sea side, where dancers, together with clever fore-drop, create the illusion of waves on the sea.
There is much more to this ballet than can be absorbed at one go, and a browse through the works of L.S. Lowry would be a great help. I think the programme notes are inadequate (you learn more from the sleeve of the CD than you do the programme!).
The Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra, under John Price-Jones were on good form playing Carl Davis' music (available on CD - I'm listening to it now!).
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jayne Regan is surely now one of the jewels in the crown of English dance.
This production is danced as a tribute to Christopher Gable and has the hall-mark of a classic. Only those within the reach of Canterbury now have the chance to see it on this tour. I hope it is retained in the repertoire. I think Diaghilev would have loved it. However, the ballet is also a tribute to L. S. Lowry, and the cast acknowledge this in the curtain call when they turn salute the image on the backdrop.
"The final irony of Lowry's life is that his genius outlives the transient fame of so many of his detractors. The tragedy of it is that he never knew it".