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Hugo first

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. Northern Ballet Theatre

It would have been nice if Quasimodo had got the girl and made friends with the locals, but life's not like that. Kevin Berry hears about a production of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' that would have rung a few bells with the book's author Christopher Gable's The Hunchback of Notre Dame does not take its lead from the Disney version of Victor Hugo's story. Happy-ever-after Hollywood endings are not on the Northern Ballet Theatre's agenda.

"Our ballet will be just like the book, and we haven't had to manufacture anything extra to tell the story," says choreographer Michael Pink. "It will be, if you like, a silent movie of the book. Yes, it would be lovely to see Quasimodo accepted by society, but that is not what Victor Hugo intended. His ending is far more powerful. It makes splendid theatre."

Pink is excited by the challenge of defining so many vivid characters. In dance terms they are a gift, he says, because each person has an opportunity to excel. The one exception is Esmeralda's mother, who spends most of her life confined to a prison cell. She is too difficult to convey without words and has had to go.

"I have to make a dance vocabulary that 'speaks', make movements that express exactly what the characters are," Pink says. "I'm making the vagabonds in the Court of Miracles very vulgar, very earthy people, and the dancers love doing things for that."

Pink has kept faith with Hugo's vision of Quasimodo. "The hunchback is a young person, around 21 or 22," he says. "His moral values are exceptional, something Disney did at least get right. I intend to choreograph him as a young person, physically very strong, enthusiastic and innocent. When we put the costume on him - it will be a complete body costume, to shape the deformity - he will adopt the deformity, but he will be dancing the steps of a physically fit, virile young man.

"It's like when you work with a mask: you look at yourself in the mirror for hours and hours until you begin to associate with the mask. We will put the costume and the body suit with the hump on to him and he will physically change."

When the principal dancers were taken over to Paris for publicity photographs Luc Jacobs, who plays Quasimodo, had his stage face put on for the occasion. Strolling arm in arm with Esmeralda (Amaya Iglesias) he drew inquisitive glances from people who were probably wondering how he had managed to get such a gorgeous girlfriend.

How will Michael Pink avoid tumbling into melodrama? NBT's dancers are encouraged to look for "emotional truth" in a subject; melodrama, Pink explains, is when emotion is merely superimposed on to a situation.

Philip Feeney's score carries the four notes of the Notre Dame bells, and they provide the structure for most of his tunes. The set designs of Lez Brotherston look as if they were plucked straight from Hugo's imagination.

NBT's education team has a full programme of supporting workshops and events, including a welcome confidence-building course aimed at teachers who are terrified of dance. The theatre's education chief, Greta Dawson, will be defining characters with school pupils and using Esmeralda's Moorish dances for group work.

"We will look at the whole idea of establishing characters, how they move and the differences between them," says Ms Dawson. "Fleur's dancing, as a high society lady, is fluid and complicated but I wouldn't take that into a school. The four men and Esmeralda are ideal. I want to look at pathos, and the importance of Quasimodo being crowned. How does the crowd inject a scene with pathos?

"Children will not be asked to look like Quasimodo but show how he feels. "

Tour and course details, tel: 0113 274 5355. Fax: 0113 274 5381


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