It was business as usual at the Leeds Grand - the coaches were outside and the place was packed with good folks come for a night's entertainment. It actually dawned on me that I'd never seen coaches outside the Royal Opera House, full of eager tax payers come for a good night out. Of course the coaches would have a tough time at Covent Garden jostling with all those chauffeured limos at the end of the night!.
It occurs to me that one Government and Arts Council test for accessibility in the subsidised arts might revolve around the ability to attract a proportion of coach parties to performances... it's not an un-serious suggestion either - so you can stop smirking and think about it.
Back to NBT... few in what is now a very loyal audience probably realised the significance of the new production: after all NBT get a new full-length ballet practically every season. The significance is that this was effectively the first work of the company's new Artistic Director - Stefano Giannetti - who was appointed last year after the death of Christopher Gable. Of course it was Gable who made NBT the success it is today and gave it its special dramatic character.
Although Giannetti danced in the UK, and has choreographed more than a few pieces, none of his work was really known to UK audiences so the announcement of a full length dramatic ballet intrigued, while apparently fitting the NBT image. So would there be change or not?
Well change there is - heralded from the start by the designs of Benita Roth. They are pretty sparse, generally simple and not so literal - all the exact opposite of Lez Brotherston's work that the company has much used in the past. I found the Roth designs handsome, evocative and thoughtful, though a towering 25ft dress for Miss Havisham takes some swallowing at first.
The less literal designs are accompanied by generally less literal dramatic dance - which I suppose means more dance...
Rather than trying to tell the story in rigorous detail Giannetti has simplified and some parts are suggested in dream or flashback sequences. But the first act seemed stuck between too little dance creativity and too little explicit story telling. The second (and final) act was more focussed and the city scenes at last gave the corps chances to shine the way they should. We also got a final pdd to Elgar's Nimrod variation; some pieces of music bring a lump to your throat and Nimrod is one such. The choreography was straightforward and if anything nicely understated - there was passion but it was sparse and tasteful like the designs. Certainly not smoldering MacMillan passion.
I didn't find any of the choreography particularly revelatory - it was competent and there were some new movements in partnering, but not perhaps as many as you might ordinarily expect - more sparsity perhaps! But coupled with Elgar's music and Roth's designs it made for a pretty coherent whole.
Of course NBT was changing anyway - witness the barefoot Carmen and the Triple bill that were planned before Giannetti arrived. But somehow one never saw that the dramatic strengths of the company would be changed or compromised. Giannetti talks of his love of dramatic dance but on this showing his love is subtle, with dance to the fore - it will be interesting to see how his choreography develops to support his vision.
The first night audience seemed appreciative but it takes time to build such a trusting following, and time to lose one. I'm not trying to suggest that Great Expectations heralds the end of NBT as we know it, because I don't think that for an instant. But for example I was struck by the number of asides I heard about the barefoot Carmen from 'traditional' NBT lovers who like to see their stuff on pointe.
It's right to try new things and move forward - nobody believes that more than I - but it isn't easy forging the new when the old was so successful at the box office and in people's hearts. For the future Giannetti has some plans for new triple bills and other works from Europe and it looks as if the company is heading for a more dance orientated repertoire - but with dramatic overtones of course!