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Glitz, glam and Gershwin from Northern Ballet

PUBLISHED: 13:58 29 May 2012 | UPDATED: 14:00 29 May 2012

Northern Ballet's I Got Rhythm. Image: Jason Tozer Kenny

Northern Ballet's I Got Rhythm. Image: Jason Tozer Kenny

Archant

It’s going to be sassy, stylish, spectacular — and something very different for Northern Ballet. I Got Rhythm is the dance company’s tribute to the legendary composer George Gershwin. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Northern Ballet is a company that likes to try something a bit different and I Got Rhythm, their tribute to George Gershwin, is no different.

Celebrating the legendary composer with an evening of fantastic dance routines and stunning set-pieces, the show, which arrives at the Theatre Royal next week, is sure to prove a hit with audiences who both appreciate good dance and love the current trend for 1930s-style glitz with the likes of the hugely successful theatrical debut of Top Hat.

Northern Ballet’s musical director John Pryce-Jones said: “It’s quite different for us because the orchestra is on stage. It’s great because when we first did it, the dancers could see the orchestra and the orchestra could see the dancers. They were each dazzled by the other side.”

Musically it is also very different from a lot of the company’s other repertoire.

“There are various challenges,” explains John. “The first is that the style of music is quite different as it is swing music. It’s a style that is dying to come out of most musicians and it is a special style that doesn’t come naturally.

“From a practical perspective, I am normally looking up at the dancers in front but for this, they are behind me so I have to turn round and I have a little television monitor as well. It is also quite difficult as the orchestra are spread out across the stage.”

The piece was first conceived by Northern Ballet’s artistic director David Nixon who was asked to create two small pieces for a Gershwin show to be performed with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.

David fell in love with the power of his music and decided to explore the composer’s work in more detail eventually creating a pilot project featuring an entire evening of the work.

He said: “The success of the pilot was followed by the full evening production with the symphony on stage alongside invited singers and guest musicians. This unusual approach for dance worked a treat and the audience loved watching both the dancers and musicians.

“When I took over the directorship of Northern Ballet, I hoped this production would become part of the rep. I felt it would bring a new style to the company, provide opportunities for each and every dancer to show their talents, and showcase the orchestra who are often unsung heroes at the ballet.”

The approach worked winning warm reactions and saw Northern Ballet work with jazz specialist Stella Kane and one of England’s best jazz artists Dollie Henry on the piece. And there is no doubt the show is a labour of love for both musicians and dancers.

Northern Ballet’s musical director John Pryce-Jones said: “The music is wonderful. It is full of life and rhythm. It is irresistible really and I think everybody who comes to see the show is just desperate to come up on stage and dance.”

Meanwhile Northern Ballet’s Ashley Dixon loves performing in the piece and has become an admirer of Gershwin’s work since appearing in it on previous tours.

He said: “It is a little different to the shows we present normally. We perform a lot of work with heavy narrative but this is more individual pieces. Some of them have a story within them and some are just styles of dance with music.

“It’s a bit different because with ‘story ballet’, you have a start point and an end point but with I Got Rhythm, one minute you can be doing a slow lyrical number and the next a flat-out jazz routine with high kicks and everything. It is difficult because you have to change the atmosphere quickly. It is must be gradual in a storyline ballet.”

And if you have never experienced live ballet before, musical director John Pryce-Jones believes I Got Rhythm makes an excellent debut show.

“Most of our productions are a good starting point for people who haven’t as we don’t dance in tutus….and that’s just the orchestra,” he laughs. “More seriously, this is quite different and is much more like Strictly Come Dancing. It has beautiful costumes and atmospheric lighting and having the orchestra up there on the stage gives it that extra bit of showbiz.”

And he has no doubt that Gershwin’s high quality work is the reason the composer is still remembered in shows like this generations after his work first came to prominence.

John explained: “Gershwin is still incredibly popular, Beethoven symphonies are still incredibly popular and The Beatles are still incredibly popular. It is all quality stuff. When a new piece is discovered by a composer from the same time as Beethoven that hasn’t been done, there is usually a reason for that and that is it is not very good and it’s not popular. The point is the quality has to be good.”

John adds that the company always looks forward to coming back to Norwich. “I’ve been coming here since 1976. Although the theatre has changed, it is unique in my experience. Norwich has a unique family feel to it. It has that buzz. When I first came here, there were a lot of characters here. There was an old man on the front row who would tap his walking stick in time to the music and the little old lady who used to come and have tea at the theatre in between the shows!”

■ I Got Rhythm, Norwich Theatre Royal, May 29-June 2, £36.50-£6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

www.northernballet.com

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