Monday 2 December 2013

MurleyDance Triple Bill

MurleyDance Triple Bill Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds    1 Dec 2013

Topics like ageing, cancer, death and gender dysphoria are not exactly a bundle of laughs but they are aspects of the human condition which the arts exist to explain.  Yesterday's ballets by David Murley, Briar Adams and Gwyn Emberton performed by MurleyDance at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre addressed each of those issues and more. As some of those topics were a bit close to the bone they did not make for comfortable watching but they were compelling.  I would not have missed the show for the world.   MurleyDance, which I discussed in "Something to brighten up your Friday - MurleyDance is coming to the North" 8 Nov 2013 consists of those 3 choreographers and 6 remarkable dancers.  

One of those dancers is Sarah Kundi who is a particular favourite and I have to be careful how I explain why. In "Why Ballet Black Is special" 20 May 2013 I wrote:
"I was reminded of Fonteyn by Sarah Kundi when I first saw Depouillage on YouTube. Am I flattering Kundi extravagantly? I don't think so. Take a look at this YouTube clip of Marguerite and Armand and then another look at Depouillage. See what I mean? 
When I actually saw Kundi on stage for the first time in a Quadruple Bill at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre on Saturday 18 May the resemblance to the prima ballerina assoluta was quite uncanny."
Now those sentences have probably embarrassed the artist - for which I apologize - and many would say that they show how little I know about ballet;  but I do not resile from them for a moment,  Now I don't mean to compare Kundi to one of the greatest dancers if not the greatest of all time but Fonteyn actuated a switch that released contentment. No other dancer before or since has done that for me until now. Yesterday as in May Kundi flipped that switch in my brain. I don't know how she does it. Perhaps her stature or possibly her fluency and grace. But somehow I float when she dances. No other dancer has that effect on me. 

The first work of the evening was Murley's La Peau which transposed into dance Raphael's Three Graces, Ingres's La Grande Odalisque, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Michelangelo's Dying Slave.  The video shot in Edinburgh that I embedded into my last post on MurleyDance shows extracts from that ballet.  
  • The movement inspired by Raphael was titled Vanity and was danced by Sarah Kundi, Bianca Hopkins and Simona Marsabilio to the adagio in Albioni's Oboe Concerto in D Minor.  
  • The movement inspired by Ingres was a ravishing pas de deux by Joshua Royal and Giulia Neri to music by Patrick Hawes. These are beautiful dancers.  Royal is sleek and strong and Neri is smouldering and passionate.  
  • It took me some time to get the connection between the Birth of Venus and Ageing danced by Simona Marsibilio as the no longer young chanteuse and her nurses, Hopkins and Kundi.  The connection clicked several hours after the show when I realized that what I had perceived as an outsize bedpan was in fact the shell of the Botticelli.  The music also threw me for a while: a translation of Serge Lama's La Chanteuse a Vingt Ans (see the YouTube video here) by Murley and Paul Kelly set to music by Juan Rezzuto and sung by the soprano Emma Sewell. Just about everything bar the kitchen sink was thrown into that movement but it worked. Marsibilio is another rare talent. I shed silent tears for her as she struggled for her dignity en pointe as she was bundled brutally into a straitjacket by the red uniformed nurses. To stay on point, even for a few seconds with one's hands constrained, must have been horrible. 
  • Death the movement inspired by The Dying Slave was another slow burn because of the use of a step ladder but the dancing was exquisite. Umberto Aragno has a beautifully expressive face and great sensitivity.
Because of all the cultural allusions there is a lot to think about in La Peau and I think I will appreciate it more when I see it next time - and there certainly will be a next time.

My favourite work of the evening was The Marks We Leave by Adams to music by Al MacSween.  I think it is about the reactions of the young to the realization of their mortality.  According to the programme the dancers in the piece are all around the ages of 16 to 17. Having seen the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company (see "The Junior Company of the Dutch National Ballet - Stadsshouwburg Amsterdam 24 Nov 2013" 25 Nov) I would love to see what those dancers would make of Adams's work. There are some strong roles: Augustus, an athlete suffering from brain cancer, danced by Royal, Caroline his girl friend who had died of a brain tumour danced by Kundi and Monica danced by Neri. This work enabled those dancers to display their virtuosity.

Gwyn Emberton's Five Women Wearing the Same Dress to a score by Razzuto is based on Alan Ball's play by the same name.  As I have not seen the play and I am not sure how well it is known in the UK I reproduce the story from the Dramatists Play Service website:
"During an ostentatious wedding reception at a Knoxville, Tennessee, estate, five reluctant, identically clad bridesmaids hide out in an upstairs bedroom, each with her own reason to avoid the proceedings below. They are Frances, a painfully sweet but sheltered fundamentalist; Mindy, the cheerful, wise-cracking lesbian sister of the groom; Georgeanne, whose heartbreak over her own failed marriage triggers outrageous behavior; Meredith, the bride's younger sister whose precocious rebelliousness masks a dark secret; and Trisha, a jaded beauty whose die-hard cynicism about men is called into question when she meets Tripp, a charming bad-boy usher to whom there is more than meets the eye. As the afternoon wears on, these five very different women joyously discover a common bond in this wickedly funny, irreverent and touching celebration of the women's spirit."
The choreographer introduced one important change by transforming Mindy from a lesbian into a man who "yearns to be the woman he's always wanted to be." That character was danced by Aragno.  The dress was represented by a purple garment worn by all the women and Aragno who removed his male clothes to reveal the dress. Though he danced without wig, makeup or pointe shoes he transitioned before our very eyes and then back to male again. This was the only work with any hint of humour in the show - a tussle between two bridesmaids over a necklace in which Kundi showed she can tease as well as dance - but also some violence when one of the girls was knocked out cold.

I have never attended the birth of a new company before and it is exciting,  I think I have a flavour of what it must have been like at the Mercury in the 1930s when Marie Rambert staged her first shows or at Oxford Road in Manchester in the late 1960s when Northern Dance Theatre was launched. I could be wrong but I think that MurleyDance will grow and mature.  I wish it well.

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