Madama Butterfly

In Madama Butterfly, Compagnie Nathalie Cornille Danse reimagines Puccini’s tragic 1904 opera as a short solo dance piece designed for children. In the production, company founder, choreographer and dancer Nathalie Cornille transforms key excerpts from Puccini’s striking libretto into a child’s first introduction to opera and contemporary dance.

The production evokes a feeling rather than a specific plot, and Cornille must be praised for her refusal to condescend to her audience.

Cornille’s production is designed to capture the imagination of the very young and simultaneously appeal to adults. The abstract choreography is appropriately minimalistic and simple, yet also effective and poetic. At just thirty-five minutes long, the production is also an appropriate length for young children who might struggle to sit still for any longer.

The real question is, does this ambitious project work? Can a show fuse opera and contemporary dance and appeal to young children? The answer is yes, at least at times. At its best moments, Madama Butterfly combines Puccini’s rousing score and Cornille’s clever choreography to hypnotic, attention-grabbing effect. It is telling that the baby who was crying as the audience filed into the auditorium soon ceased once the performance began.

Cornille adopts a minimalistic set and simple décor, both of which are put to impressive use, most notably when film projection is used to create the effect of mirroring. The production also cleverly begins with Cornille getting ready on stage, highlighting how postmodernist contemporary dance can break the fourth wall. However this opening also highlights the main issue with the production: its tendency to lose momentum. Cornille lingers on her transformation into Madame Butterfly slightly too long and many children will switch off. The production quickly picks up, but suffers from a similar loss of pace halfway through. A more continuous flow of movement and action would help ensure the audience remains present and attentive.

Some may also question the tonal appropriateness of Madama Butterfly as a child’s first introduction to opera and dance: the heavy-going subject matter isn’t easy for any parent to explain on the walk over to the West End. That said, the production evokes a feeling rather than a specific plot, and Cornille must be praised for her refusal to condescend to her audience. Of course it also helps that Puccini’s score is impossibly beautiful. Upon leaving the theatre, many adult audience members will find themselves thumbing through the Fringe programme checking whether or not Puccini’s original is showing anywhere.

Ultimately Cornille’s Madama Butterfly is an enjoyable, if at times flawed, introduction to opera and contemporary dance, two media many view as inaccessible. The suggested audience is 3 plus, but the production will probably be best enjoyed by slightly older children who already have an interest in more conventional ballet and will be intrigued by this brief introduction to the world of contemporary. 

Reviews by Francesca Street

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The Blurb

Choreographic solo dance for a very young audience inspired by chosen moments in Giacomo Puccini’s opera. Combining the world of contemporary dance with the feelings experienced by the listening of lyric singing, this Madama Butterfly evokes an abstract and poetic choreography at the crossroads of two cultures, Eastern and Western. An invitation for everyone, children and adults, to explore the sensations of opera with ears and eyes wide open.