Friday, 29 April 2016

Images of War: Ballet Central's "War Letters" and other Works

The Green Howards at the Battle of Anzio
Author Sgt. Radford, No. 2 Film and Photographoc Unit
Source Wikipedia

Ballet Central, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, 28 April 2016

When I first saw Chris Marney's War Letters for Ballet Black nearly three years ago I wrote:
"War Letters, which took up the whole of the second act, brought all the dancers together. It opened with the voice of Kwame Kwei Amah reading the words of a soldier's letter to his sweetheart rejoicing at their love. The mood changed with a poignant pas de deux between a wounded, gassed or shell shocked soldier in pyjamas and his lover who arrived with smiles and left with a broken. Next came a dance to the music of Glenn Miller. Four soldiers met four girls on the dance floor. Three of the girls were asked to dance but the fourth was ignored. She tried to attract the boys' attention but to no avail. The second reading came from Thandie Newton comparing throwing off a lover to the loss of a heavy coat - but then regretting the loss of warmth. This analogy was taken up by the choreographer as the boys tried to lend her their overcoats. The scene ended with the girl shrouded with the soldiers' coats. Finally, there was the voice of the wartime radio presenter John Snagge announcing "Victory in Europe". The last scene is of the artists together which I reproduced in my previous post. Home came the boys nursing their injuries. This was not the first ballet on the horror of war but I still found it a very moving work."
I saw the same company dance that work again in the Stanley and Aubrey Burton Theatre six months later:
"Christopher Marney's War Letters is a very moving piece and it resonated with the audience in Leeds last night even more than it had done in London. Possibly because it was danced in poppy season. Two movements brought many including me close to tears. The hospital visit to a seriously wounded soldier and the Winter coat. Beautiful choreography giving every dancer an opportunity to show what he or she can do."
 Yesterday I saw the young dancers of Ballet Central dance that work and found the work even more poignant than before. I think it is because the dancers are so young - exactly the age of so many of the boys who were called up and the girls who were left behind - and the painstaking attention to detail. The boys wore British uniforms and the girls wore their hair exactly as their grandmothers (or even their great grandmothers) would have done. I was born well after then end of the second world war but remember bomb sites, amputees and even some rationing. I was reminded of my parents' reminiscences of war. This performance spoke to me in a way that previous ones had not done.

All credit then to the artists: Holly Girdham, Emma Hancox, Mai Ito, Mia Lambuschagne, Seren Williams, Valerie Yeo, Jaspar Arran, Cian Hughes, James Parratt, James Roxby-Brwn, Mark Samaras and Joseph Vaughan. I particularly enjoyed Mai Ito's performance of the girl on the side, a role that Kanika Carr created for Ballet Black. Mai Ito danced that charmingly - playful at one moment, petulant the next, and always flirtatious.

Although it was the chance to see War Letters again that excited me it was not the only work that delighted me. I enjoyed all the works that the company danced last night but three impressed me in particular: Christopher Gable's Celebration which opened the show, Sharon Watson's Repetition (2) Change and the Pas de Trois from Paquita which rounded off the first part of the show.  Of those three works it was Celebration that I enjoyed the best, possibly because it had been created by Gable.

I first saw Christopher Gable when he was with the Royal Ballet. Many years later I saw him in Gillian Lynne's A Simple Man for Northern Ballet. He was artistic director when I started to follow Northern Ballet and created my favourite ballets for that company.  Celebration, a gorgeous classical work reminded me of all that.  After the dancers had presented themselves there was a delightful pas de deux, a virtuoso piece by the men, a joyful succession of duets and so on.  The music was provided by the composer, Philip Feeney, in person. The work was staged by Carole Gable who is Central's ladies' ballet tutor and rehearsal coach.

Carole Gable also staged the Pas de Trois which was performed skilfully by Mai Ito, Kanami Dano and Mark Samaras to Minkus's music.  This requires virtuosity and grace from each of those three young dancers which they displayed in abundance.

Like her TearFall which I reviewed in The Phoenix Soars Over London 13 Nov 2015 Watson's Repetition (2) Change was a science lesson as well as dance. Two sets of dancers, some male others female, clad in almost identical red and black gowns, wove around each other in seemingly random patterns. According to the programme notes "the fascinating intricate world of DNA is placed under the microscope" in this work. I could not quite work out was whether the red and black dancers were supposed to be different letters of a sequence, DNA and RNA or something else. Watson was in the auditorium but I did not get a chance to ask her. I was however gratified to find that the piece had been sponsored by Susan Dalgetty-Ezra of the London Ballet Circle. The work was staged by our very own Sandrine Monon of Phoenix.

The other works that I enjoyed were Leanne King's duet Insinuare danced by Elizabeth Medway and Joseph Vaughan to Feeney's music and Sara Matthews's energetic Superstruct, also to a score by Feeney.

It was a very good programme though perhaps a little less ambitious than last year (see Dazzled 3 May 2015). Also, while there were many impressive young dancers nobody stood out in the way that Mthuthuzeli November did last year. On the other hand War Letters was wonderful. In performing that work think I saw Central at its very best last night. The company will move on to Uppingham, Newbury, Chipping Norton, the Royal Automobile Club, Bridport, Eastleigh, Margate, Wedmor, Bristol and the Stratford Arts Centre.

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