MADAME Butterfly holds a very special place in the heart of Canadian choreographer and artistic director David Nixon.
His original vision was inspired by his ballerina wife, Yoko Ichino; he premiered the two-act ballet in his first year of directing at BalletMet Columbus in Ohio in 1996 and revived it ten years ago on his arrival at Northern Ballet Theatre.
“Theatre” has since been dropped from the Leeds company’s title, and coincidence or not, the 2012 production is driven more by emotional expression in dance than story-telling theatricality.
Keiko Amemori was the new girl on the Northern Ballet block in 2002 and she returns to Leeds this season as a guest artist to dance the role of the Japanese geisha girl, the Butterfly broken on the wheel of naval officer Pinkerton’s American arrogance.
While Amemori more than matches the demure grace, elegance and pain of Chiaki Nagao’s performance of ten years ago, Kenneth Tindall’s Pinkerton disappoints. For all the fluidity of Dixon’s choreography, their all-important first pas de deux lacks a frisson.
The parasol-twirling Geisha girls and the Sailors’ dance by Giuliano Contadini, Tobias Barley and Graham Kotowich provide East-West contrast typical of Nixon’s choreography, as Western dance fuses with Kabucki theatre traditions.
There are moments, however, when dance falls short of the impact of operatic singing, replaced here by an instrumental account of Puccini’s score – except for Butterfly’s climactic death scene when a traditional Japanese lament accompanies her self-sacrifice, a directorial decision sure to divide opinion like Marmite.