Ollivier to lead death in a merry dance
THERE must be something sinister about Jonathan Byrne Ollivier, junior principal artist with Northern Ballet Theatre.
In the past, he’s essayed roles such as Dracula, Mr Hyde, and the brutish - though graceful - Stanley Kowalski in the well-received ballet of A Streetcar Named Desire for the perennial Festival Theatre favourites.
And his latest challenge for NBT’s Requiem!!, which receives its Scottish premiere in Edinburgh tonight? Why, Death of course. Talk about typecasting.
"I don’t know why but it’s always been that way," laughs Rambert Dance School graduate Ollivier, 25, of his sinister status. "I always get the baddie parts which, fortunately, I enjoy ."
Requiem!! is quite a radical departure for NBT, which in the past specialised in their unique form of narrative ballet storytelling with such works as Madame Butterfly, Great Expectations and their much-revived Romeo And Juliet.
NBT’s artistic director David Nixon, who took over the reins of the Leeds-based company last year, knew the piece was a risk, but it seems to have paid off. So far, Requiem!! has played to full houses and enthusiastic reviews.
Based on Mozart’s final work, Requiem!! was originally choreographed in 1991 - to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death - and was award-winning choreographer Birgit Scherzer’s first piece as artistic director of Saarlndisches Staatstheater in Germany.
Although the piece involves 16 dancers (and a live choir of 50 from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus), only Ollivier plays the same character throughout the work’s hour-and-a-quarter running time.
"It is quite intense," he says. " It’s performed without intervals and the main dancers remain on-stage, which is pretty hard when you’re tired and all you want is some fluids."
Two characters are present throughout the work; M and Death. M represents Man in each section. While the first and third movements show the different ways man relates to death, the second aims to be "lighter and more playful".
In this section, M is based on Mozart and shows him with his domineering father and the two women in his life, Aloysia and Constanze Weber.
Ollivier is adamant you don’t need to be familiar with Mozart’s life (or music) to appreciate the piece.
Scherzer has rearranged Mozart’s music for Requiem!!, both for dramatic impact and to create an original work which will stand on its own. Mozart only composed the first eight bars of the Lacrimosa before he died of acute rheumatic fever and it is this fragment of music which starts parts one and two of the production, with the piece being performed in its entirety at the end of part three.
" It leaves a lot to the imagination - the piece is really what you want to make of it," enthuses Ollivier. " The music and live chorus give it a great atmosphere - having 50 singers on-stage belting out the words certainly gives you inspiration!" While Ollivier admits NBT may be moving in a more modern, interpretative direction in the future, faithful fans of their story-driven ballets can rejoice in the news they’re planning to bring their recent version of Wuthering Heights to the Festival Theatre later in the year. Ollivier, sinisterly enough, plays Heathcliff.
Requiem!!, The Festival Theatre, tonight-Saturday, 8pm (3pm matinee on Saturday), 6-27.50 (5-26.50), 0131-529 6005
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