La Traviata, Grand Theatre, Leeds

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The Independent Culture

Northern Ballet Theatre has made a habit of famous-name ballets. The company is in lively form for its latest show, a balletic transcription of Verdi's La Traviata. It loses something in translation from opera to dance, but the dancers pounce on the challenges in Veronica Paeper's choreography.

Northern Ballet Theatre has made a habit of famous-name ballets. The company is in lively form for its latest show, a balletic transcription of Verdi's La Traviata. It loses something in translation from opera to dance, but the dancers pounce on the challenges in Veronica Paeper's choreography.

Paeper's ballet was made for the Cape Town ballet company in 1990, using a version of Verdi's score. Allan Stephenson has removed the voices and added a couple of pas de deux. Paeper's steps are classical, sometimes demanding - lots of jetés and pointe work. The ballet moves briskly through the plot. We see Armand taking leave of his respectable family, going to a Parisian party and falling in love with the courtesan Marguerite.

Paeper does her duty by the main story, but she doesn't reinvent it. At moments of high emotion, her Marguerite and Armand stagger, fall into mime, and the story sweeps on. Desiré Samaai and Jonathan Ollivier give bright performances, but they aren't given much chance to dance their woes.

The duets are full of big steps and grand gestures. Marguerite and Armand embrace, flutter, sweep into lifts. As he catches hold of her, Marguerite rises on pointe, swooning back against him. That shift of weight is Paeper's strongest dance image.

She has a harder time with the second act. Armand's father has to explain that Marguerite should give up Armand for the sake of his family's reputation - not an easy concept to mime. Steven Wheeler stands grandly about, and Samaai trembles. There's more mime for the renunciation scene.

The party scenes, the subsidiary characters, are the most vivid. Natalie Leftwich has a wonderful time as the courtesan, Flora, sweeping about in crimson satin and managing the party. She flirts, she keeps an eye on her girls, she gets caught up in the dancing. She's a formidable hostess.

Peter Cazalet's designs cleverly suggest opulence while leaving room for dancing. The party scene is framed by drawn blinds, rich draperies, reds and greens and touches of gilt. Marguerite's country cottage is suggested with clean white gauzes and pale lighting. The women have ruffled skirts, with gauzy evening dresses for the prostitutes and clean cottons for the country folk. The men wear well-cut trousers, and take off their frock coats in time for big dance numbers.

Paeper's steps sometimes go against Verdi's danceable rhythms, but there's sweep to the corps dances. The guests and girls dance with real attack, throwing themselves into some tough footwork. Keiko Amemori and Patrick Howell are sprightly as visiting gypsies. Christopher Hinton-Lewis dances exuberantly as a passing count.

Ollivier is a charismatic, ardent Armand. He moves with some dash, and gives a bold dramatic performance. Samaai is a modest Marguerite, smiles and softness rather than grand passion.

This Traviata is a sleek, fast-moving production, and it shows off the company's improved dance standards.

To 19 February, then touring. Tour dates from www.northernballettheatre.co.uk

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