Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Lest We Forget

Commemorating World War 1
Photo Andrew Davidson
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

English National Ballet, Lest we Forget Palace Theatre, Manchester, 24 Nov 2015

Yesterday's performance of Lest we Forget in Manchester was superb. It was not an easy watch and for that reason I can't say that I enjoyed it but I was moved by it in a very special way. This was ballet at its best. It showed the unique power of dance to comprehend and find beauty in one of the greatest tragedies of human history. The end of the performance brought some members of the audience to their feet. I guess the only reason why more did not join in was that the audience was emotionally drained by the end.

The performance consisted of Liam Scarlett's No Man's Land, Russell Maliphant's Second Breath and Akram Khan's Dust. That was a shorter programme than the one premièred at the Barbican last year in that it omitted George Williamson's Firebird which I hope to see one day. All three were impressive works but the one that stood out for me was Scarlett's No Man's Land.

I had already seen a recording of Scarlett's Viscera earlier in the month (see Au Revoir but not Adieu 19 Nov 2015) and was keen to compare it to No Man's Land.  The two works could not have been more different. Set to excerpts from Franz Liszt's Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses that had been arranged by Gavin Sutherland No Man's Land was haunting and lyrical. The work remembered not only the men who served in the forces but the women who stayed behind to make the munitions in appalling and sometimes dangerous conditions. The setting for this work was a damaged but still operational building - possibly a factory or maybe a ruin on the front. The women were in simple flowing dresses. The men in green or brownish tunics with steel helmets at one point in the ballet. There was enchanting dancing by Begoña Cao, Junor Souza, Alison McWhinney, Fabian ReimairShiori Kase and Fernando Bufalá.

Maliphant's Second Breath was an opportunity for Tamarin Stott and Joshua McSherry-Gray to shine and they were incandescent in their duet though the supporting dancers were important too. The work was set to a score by Andy Cowton but not easy to absorb. There were pulses of sound that I found quite alarming though that was possibly the composer's idea. There were snatches of barely audible and even less comprehensible speech in the piece followed by a pretty clear rendering of Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night which seemed to be delivered by the author himself. Dark and disturbing this was the work that required most work on the part of the audience.

The most dramatic work of the evening was Khan's Dust. It began with an execution - or possibly the nightmare of an execution for the victim continued to writhe on the ground. There was some impressive human sculpture where the dancers' limbs became waves or possibly a production line. It was Khan's Kaash at the Lowry that prompted me to book for Lest we Froget but this work was very different in that any South Asian influences were much less noticeable to me at an rate. The music for this work was by Jocelyn Pook who also wove speech into her score. There was what seemed to be a phrase of Auld Lang Syne repeating itself on a scratched record. The lead dancers were Erina Takahashi with Reinar and Bufala, This piece won Khan a number of awards last year and its success seems to have led to his commission to create a Giselle. I look forward to it immensely.

The centenary of the First World War inspired the Royal New Zealand Ballet to create Salute, another mixed bill focusing in war. They two of their ballets from that production to Leeds which I reviewed in  Kia Ora! The Royal New Zealand Ballet in Leeds 5 Nov 2015 earlier this month. The Netherlands which was neutral in the conflict is commemorating the war in a different way with Ted Brandsen's Mata Hari who was also a victim of that conflict.

Anyone who thinks that dance is a frivolous, frothy superficial art form incapable of dealing with difficult matters should think again. It is the synthesis of many arts and the whole is almost always greater than the constituent parts.

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