Bernstein Double Bill: Trouble in Tahiti/West Side Story Symphonic Dances Review

Leeds Grand Theatre – until 30 October 2021

Reviewed by Dawn Smallwood


Opera North in collaboration with Phoenix Dance Theatre is currently presenting Bernstein’s Double Bill: Trouble in Tahiti and West Side Story Symphonic Dances. The programme opens with Trouble in Tahiti, a seven-scene opera, and is set to the composer’s lyrics. It is about a typical suburbia American family having “it all” and with a generic claim that they are all living “the American dream”.

However, looking closely, it isn’t what it appears with cracks in the marriage which is intensified with boredom, delusion and dissolutions. Both Quirijn de Lang and Sandra Piques Eddy, who portray the couple, Sam and Dinah, express and questions emotively and eloquently their problems and struggles throughout. One can think of the issues around patriarchy and matriarchy particularly gender roles in family and society.

The production is excellently staged with direction from Matthew Eberhardt and conducted by Antony Hermus. The staging, by the creative team, is excellent particularly its life size promotion of the adverts depicting the needs of a typical suburbia American family. Trouble in Tahiti has that perfect appearance until one looks closer then realises that it’s somewhat different and Bernstein maybe is encouraging for all to see it in different perspectives.

After the interval, there is a 10-minute dance interlude, Halfway and Beyond, set to Khadijah Ibrahim’s spoken word and choreographed by Dane Hurst. Evocative and provocative movers are performed by the very talented dancers from the Phoenix Dance Theatre. This is a taste of what is about to come and audiences are encouraged to reflect on the decisions and actions.

West Side Story Symphonics Dances follow and is set to Bernstein’s musical score of West Side Story. It is set in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s where Apartheid reigned and the community attempts to live in unity is only suppressed and undone by the Apartheid’s Government laws particularly their control in line with the Pass Laws Act and Group Area Acts.

The dances through movement explore the challenges the community face with its emotions and complications of what is set around them in the face of adversity and tragedy. The excellent dance production is very thought provoking and is eventually expressed with a variety of movements which are coordinated and choreographed by Dane Hurst, the company’s new Artistic Director with support from the excellent dancers.

Both Opera North and Phoenix Dance Theatre have done the three productions proud and offer a lot to think about how one sees the life in the world from a variety of perspectives. It is evident that there are challenges ahead and one needs to continue to keep rethinking and revisiting if yearning for a more belonging and unity.

Bernstein Double Bill is an excellent programme with a lot to offer ”from the “heart”.