"Pip, confused by Estella's cold arrogance, has nevertheless begun to fall in love with her. This is clear to Miss Havisham who is proud of Estella's first conquest".
Perhaps it was the success of NBT's portrayal of Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" that prompted the creation of a ballet depicting the more complex story of Great Expectations. I will say at the outset that I thought it worked wonderfully, with the help of some cunning dramatic devices that could only have emanated from the mind of a master. The dramtic style of NBT that we know so well is there in abundance, but so too is the dancing, more than in recent new works, I think, and much of it on pointe!! Although this is the new director's (Stefano Giannetti) first production for the company, there is much evidence of their original style, especially in the crowd scenes with what I have referred to as "The Simple Man" style.
The plot was considerably simplified, but the essential elements were there (and I know 'coz this was my O-Level English Lit. text!). The first Act commenced with the separation of the convict Magwitch (Jeremy Kerridge) from his family - a fact that isn't revealed until much later in the book. Then the meeting of Magwitch with the young Pip (Jonathan Beale) in the chuchyard; life in the forge with Joe and Mrs Joe (Stephen Walther and Fiona Wallis); the introduction of Pip by the lawyer Jaggers (Luc jacobs) to Miss Havisham and the young Estella (Charlotte Broom and Chiaki Nagao). Seamless transition between these scenes was possible by virtue of minimalist set design where a change of lighting or drop curtain or simple prop was sufficient to create the atmosphere. There was considerable choreography devoted to relationship building - Pip and the convict; Pip and his guardians; Pip and Herbert Pocket; Miss Havisham and Estella. I thought Mrs Joe perfectly portrayed the fussing and bullying aunt and Joe's arms were a comforting refuge. Miss Havisham took a bit of getting used to, whilst Chiaki Nagao was delightfully contemptuous as the young Estella. The "playing cards" scene involving Pip, Estella, Pocket and Miss Havisham I thought was a masterpiece of relationship building.
One of the most memorable moments was the older Pip's (Daniel De Andrade) exit from the life of the forge towards London, having come into his expectations, convincingly walking "at a standstill" in one direction, with the characters of his former life moving backstage in the other - really giving the illusion of "departure" - putting space and time between the old life and new.
The second Act was more straightforward and avoided some of the more complex aspects of the novel. It centred around Pip's love for the lovely grown-up Estella (Charlotte Talbot) who coldly flaunted herself before Pip in the arms of other men, very reminiscent of Des Grieux and Manon in the ballroom scene of that ballet. It took me a while to realise that the character in white distracing Pip in the ballroom was actually Miss Havisham, pervading throughout as a dream to remind him constantly that Estella was only to be looked at, not touched. I thought this was one of the most "artistic" liberties taken with the story.
The death of Magwitch in Pip's arms, with characters from their past depicting Pip telling of his love for Magwitch's daughter (as Estella turns out to be), then Miss Havisham going up in flames, was perhaps the most dramatic sequence of the ballet, clearly appreciated by the audience.
But get ready for the final scene - Pip and Estella's reunion at Miss Havisham's house. Cold and disdainful at first, she eventually melts and surrenders to Pip's passion and allows him to remove her pointe shoes for the final dance and embrace. All this to Elgar's "Nimrod" variation, and you have the makings of as intense an emotional fix as I can remember from NBT.
The music is pieced together from item's of Elgar's repertoire, much as Manon is from Massenet's. By and large it works well. The Cockaigne ("In London Town") Overture was perfect for the crowd scenes in London, and various of the Enigma Variations were used effectively for Pip and Estella. The difficulty, I suppose, of using ready-composed music is that the choreography has to fit the music, not vice versa. As an example, the fight between the young Pip and Herbert Pocket seemed to go on rather longer than necessary, until that bit of music ran out.
I thought there were examples where some of the cast looked "too young". Jaggers looked as young as Pip, and Miss Havisham in the first Act hardly seemed the embittered old woman in the book (though she seemed ideal in the second act). Indeed, the one dancer that was always perfectly "in character" was Jeremy Kerridge.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jeremy Kerridge is a strong contender - his maturity of acting is outstanding. But Charlotte Talbot as Estella was stunning - I could hardly keep my eyes off her, which is presumably exactly what Miss Havisham intended!