Skip to content

The Four Seasons

by on 14 July 2022

Spring Forth

The Four Seasons

by Jenna Lee, music by Max Richter adapted from Antonio Vivaldi

and Don Quixote, Grand Pas de Deux

by Marius Petitpa, music by Ludwig Minkus

New English Ballet Theatre at The Grange Festival, The Grange, Northington until 14th July

Part of Baroque Counterpoint

Review by Mark Aspen

The Grange, in its idyllic setting in a pastoral bowl in the Hampshire countryside, is reflective place to be in these days leading up to what is largely expected to be the hottest period in recorded history for these islands.   On press night, black ties are being shed for silk cravats.  Looking out across parkland, lakes and woods, however, nature seems still at peace beneath the shimmering air.

Will it look like this in three months’ time, in six months?  Did it look like this three months ago?  Of course not.  And as the temperature rises, we give thanks for the seasons.

In 1717 Antonio Vivaldi could have been looking out on the countryside in Lombardy or the Veneto and equally thanking God for the seasons.  He was clearly inspired to write his best-known work, the group of four violin concerti known as Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons and maybe he also wrote the accompanying four sonnets which follow the music in poetry. 

In their turn, Le quattro stagioni has inspired many derivative works over the centuries, including the 2012 recomposition by Max Richter, which is the score for Jenna Lee 2017 choreography that she especially created for the New English Ballet Theatre. 

Richter’s post-minimalist recomposition is a highly textured homage to Vivaldi and the moods of The Four Seasons.  Although Richter states that he had discarded 75% of Vivaldi’s original work, he follows the three movements of each concerti and their tempi.  The approach is to emphasise Vivaldi’s expression by looping and phasing certain key sections. 

The Richter approach in the music to reimagining Vivaldi is picked up by the design team.  Andrew Ellis’ lighting design emphasis the mood it follows, using saturated colours on the cyclorama and break-up gobos on the stage floor to underline the action, while April Dalton uses simple repeating motifs in her effective costume design, small pannier hoops or embroidered corsages on tulle body stockings.  Colours follow the seasons.  These minimalist design devices accentuate and punctuate the action.

The corps of six ballerinas and six male dancers is drawn from the contemporary ballet company, New English Ballet Theatre, whose mission is to develop and nurture emerging dance talent, highly successfully it would appear. 

Richter’s recomposition imagery largely strips out the anthropogenic sounds from Vivaldi’s score, the hunters, the shepherd and the drunks, to concentrate of the sounds of nature, wind, rain, ice, the fierce sun.  The corps de ballet’s fluid dynamic ensemble movements often seem meteorological, yet are mesmerising, undulating, winding, precessional.  Dancers move in waves, as if blown by the wind; or run under imagined clouds to escape the sun; or crystallise like ice from the snow.  It is a poetical portrayal of changing seasons and moods with each season. 

Some passages are more representational, such as allegro movements in L’autunno with four ballerinas en pointe in autumnal mature reds; or the snow beginning to fall in L’inverno, white gauziness against an icy blue cyc as winter is coming. 

Other passages are more abstract.  Summer starts as very sultry but, by the presto third movement of L’estate about which the sonnets mention buzzing gnats and fear of lightning, things are really zinging.  This movement, danced by guest artists from the Royal Ballet, Sophie Allnatt and First Soloist Luca Acri, is a highlight.  Storm brings action and a change of mood.  In a passage of great bravura, the pair dance sensual solos and passionate pas de deux and fill the stage with a display of vitality and elegance.  All the vigour and fire of summer is there.

The Four Seasons is a homage to the life-giving cycle of the seasons.  Vivaldi, busy with his creative activities, would have looked out and recognised the countryside around Mantua in NEBT’s neoclassical reimaging of his work.  In Hampshire, we can look out and recognise it in the magnificent landscape surrounding The Grange. 

Would Miguel de Cervantes have recognised it in the Spanish plateau around la Mancha?  This is where NEBT takes us as an appetitive before the main course of The Four Seasons.  A delightful snippet is offered, an excerpt from Marius Petitpa’s Don Quixote, and so we move from the neoclassical to a full classical style.

Luca Atri

Petipa, with Ludwig Minkus who wrote the music, created the ballet around episodes from Cervantes’ famous novel.  In the novel, which revolves around the adventures of the eponymous would-be hero Don Quixote, a sub plot involves Kitri and Basillo.  It is their Grand Pas de Deux that has become the best-loved episode from the ballet, and this is the all-too-short piece that NEBT offer.

The lovers Kitri and Basillo have overcome all difficulties, including the forced betrothal of Kitri to Gamache, Basilo’s attempted “suicide” and Don Quixote mistaking Kitri for Dulcinea, the object of his desire.  Don Quixote has however saved the day and Kitri and Basillo are to be married, a classical happy ending.

Royal Ballet First Soloist Luca Acri is joined by Haruhi Otani, Soloist at the English National Ballet in the Grand Pas de Deux.  It is an expression of soaring joy.  The two Japanese dancers are a delight to watch, their performance exciting and enthralling.  Otani’s amazing fouettés and Acri’s powerful jettés are breathtaking.  It is a dazzling display of virtuosity.

Acri proved to be a hit with the audience.  When he tried to slip into one of the dining marquees in the interval after his performances to join friends, he was met with an enthusiastic ovation by the diners before he could even sit down to his supper.

After the interval the New English Ballet Theatre takes a back seat.  Its ballets form the first half of Baroque Counterpoint, the Dance@TheGrange programme for 2022, an event that has become a much anticipated feature of the annual Grange Festival.  

The overbearing heat of the summer sun attenuated before the opening of Clorinda Agonistes in the second half of the evening.  So, having paid homage to The Four Seasons, the NEBT company could sit back and enjoy an adagio e piano summer sunset.

Mark Aspen, July 2022

Photography by Deborah Jaffe

One Comment

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Acis and Galatea | Mark Aspen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: