Northern Ballet’s new biopic Victoria combines grandness with emotional depth. Cathy Marston’s ballet sees its heroine as both woman and queen, image and person. Thoughtful, ambitious and vividly danced, it’s another success for a company going from strength to strength.
Marston’s scenario, created with dramaturg Uzma Hameed, is about making sense of the past. The performance darts between past and present, as Victoria’s youngest daughter Beatrice edits her diaries – and revisits her own life as well as her mother’s.
The focus is characteristic of Marston, building on her Jane Eyre for this company. Again, she pushes past ballet’s usual preoccupation with romantic love. There are sensuous duets for Victoria and Albert, Victoria and her servant John Brown, and for Beatrice herself with her husband Liko, but they’re part of a larger story.
Victoria grapples with power, learning to carry political authority but also dominating her own family. The ballet’s acknowledgement of empire is less assured – there are too many gesturing politicians – but I like Marston’s readiness to tackle history. Philip Feeney’s new score offers sensitive musical support, shifting from rippling period pastiche to harsher drama. Steffen Aarfing’s deft designs evoke the grandeur of the court and the changing emotional atmosphere.
The first half focuses on Beatrice’s own memories, of Abigail Prudames’s commanding Victoria. In the second, we see the queen’s early life, how she became the woman Beatrice remembers. Marston gives Victoria a bold repeated pose, standing on pointe with arms and legs reaching wide. It’s a motif that runs throughout the ballet, an image of power gradually achieved, wielded or undermined.
In a superb performance, Pippa Moore’s adult Beatrice is a spectator of her own life as well as her mother’s. She’s almost always on stage, watching the past unfold. When Miki Akuta, as the younger Beatrice, falls in love with Sean Bates’s Liko, Moore is a third in their duet, winding herself around them like a tender ghost.
She’s hilariously shocked by Victoria’s frank passion for Albert, primly tearing pages out of the diary when Prudames and Joseph Taylor (as Albert) get heated. Moore retires at the end of the season, after 23 years with Northern Ballet: she leaves with a role that makes the most of her heartfelt intelligence.
It’s a fine company work, too, with strong roles for Albert, the younger Beatrice and Liko, and for Mlindi Kulashe as a devoted but unpredictable John Brown.
Touring the UK until 1 June. Dates from www.northernballet.com
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