Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The joy of the dance...

One of the extraordinary appeals of dance is that it is, by definition, non verbal – it transcends language in a way that is unique. Some music does this as well, of course, but whilst a Symphony concert can be ravishing to the ears dance appeals to all of the senses in a deeply emotional way. I remember, at a time of some stress, how the work of the wonderful Nederlands Dans Theatre in The Hague under their brilliant choreographer Jiří Kylián was an inspiration to me. I was struggling with learning the Dutch language at the time (don’t ask!) and to be in an environment where everything was communicated through movement rather than verbally was a blessed release!
In the last couple of weeks I have since dance at two ends of the dance continuum from classical to modern. The new production of Jerome Robbins groundbreaking dance musical West Side Story has been on in London – and very fine it is as well. The music and the book of this great American musical are so powerful that it is sometimes easy to overlook that the main originator was actually Robbins, a choreographer of exceptional originality and quality, and that dance is central to the piece. West Side Story is of course a narrative and the dance carries the narrative along just as much as the songs and the other action. Robbins choreography is hard to categorise. Unlike the ballet sequences in, say, Carousel or Oklahoma which, fine though they can be, are really incidental to the plot in West Side Story the dance is central. It is largely ensemble dance with quite strong balletic influences, although unequivocally modern. Wonderful!

My second recent dance experience was at London's Royal Ballet where a three act programme in which two George Balanchine ballets to Tchaikovsky sandwich the extraordinary “L’Invitation au voyage” by Michael Corder to music by Henri Duparc. The impressive thing about Corder’s work, which was first seen in 1982 and has been revived for this programme, is that the dance is to a song cycle – wonderfully performed by the Mezzo-Soprano Harriet Williams. The staging is superb – I found the costumes and sets almost surreal and Daliesque. The two Balanchine pieces are just ravishing in every way – the music, the costumes and the richness of the movement are sublime. They are also, I though, quite passionate and arousing pieces - even though there is no real semblance of a storyline. As Havelock Ellis (who knew a thing or two about arousal) said "Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself"


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