Sexual power, cruelty and deceit.
There surely can’t be a better mix for a ballet, and Northern Ballet’s artistic director David Nixon’s dynamic choreography makes the most of the antics of two French aristocratic sociopaths playing games with people’s minds and bodies because they can.
This is Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ timeless tale of upper class amorality as the cunning Marquise de Mertueil sets her sparring partner Vicomte de Valmont the task to seduce the godly Madame de Tiourvel just for sport. But Valmont’s head is turned by de Tourvel with deadly results.
Unlike some of their sumptuous productions Northern have gone for a stark stage with minimal period furniture that allows the eye to focus on Nixon’s sensitive and emotional choreography which manfully resists going over the top with this rich material. Ever busy he even designed all the extravagant costumes.
He is aided by Alastair West’s typically subtle lighting that really understands how dancers move, and the whole piece is set to Vivaldi’s surprisingly theatrical Four Seasons played by Northern’s Sinfonia under Musical Director Jonathan Lo.
Leading soloist Riku Ito is convincing as louche seducer Valmont and his detailed solos with Sarah Chun’s manipulative Merteuil perfectly capture their twisted relationship. His versatility shows on the far more emotionally complex duets with premier dancer Antoinette Brooks-Daws’ more naïve Madame De Tourvel.
Chun is wonderfully controlled in a clever sequence where the cast become puppets in her sick game, and her anguish when she sees Valmot has betrayed their deal is fully realised.
Nixon has deployed a strong cast to tell this complex story with Kevin Poeung offering some spectacular anguished ciseaux as the cuckolded Chevalier Danceny. American newcomer Aerys Merrill shows great promise in the tricky role of the innocent Cecile.
This is Nixon’s last hurrah as artistic director offering this sensual, dark and beautifully executed production as the perfect start to his final season.
Dangerous Liaisons is at Leeds Playhouse until Saturday 11th September. To book 0113 2137700 or click https://leedsplayhouse.org.uk/events/dangerous-liaisons-2/
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 2nd September 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★