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Royal Ballet Dancers & Royal Ballet of Flanders: Britten Dances

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Last night (20 June) was the premiere of Kim Brandstrup's "Ceremony of Innocence" at Snape Maltings as part of the Aldeburgh Festival and Britten's centenary. As there are only 2 performances (second is tonight) I thought I would jot down a few thoughts.


Brandstrup has already worked on Death in Venice for ENO and has loosely returned to the theme. The music is Britten's "Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge" which suits dance and drama.


Edward Watson plays an anguished man seemingly obsessed with a young boy (Marcelino Sambe) to the disgust of the boy's mother (Mara Galeazzi). Meanwhile two young couples (Itziar Mendizabal/Alexander Campbell and Deidre Chapman/Johannes Stepanek) are full of the joys of life. I don't think there is a story as such but this is what I saw.


It is a really well thought out piece which never flags in its 25 minutes or so and is actually helped by video projection of what looked like the inside of a confused mind then shadows of dancers (pre recorded cast members) and waves of water then at the end back to anguish. Snape has a brick wall at the back and needs something like this to avoid the dances merging with the brickwork.


Marcelino Sambe was outstanding, not just in getting the character and some virtuoso dancing but also partnering and lifting Mara with confidence. He deserved the big first night cheer he got. With Mara's retirement it is a shame her acting and the work could never be reprised with the original cast, because it justifies further viewing.


The evening was shared with Royal Ballet of Flanders with two works by Ashley Page - If Memory Serves (short and cheerful) and Courting the Senses (baroque to Purcell arranged by Britten; dark and interesting) - and one longer piece by Cameron McMillan called Dream Weaver. For me a bit long and repetitive but showing fluid movement and the quality of the Flanders' dancers. The Flanders pieces had already been created and performed recently in Belgium and at times the Snape brick wall syndrome was a distraction.

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For me, the biggest bouquet for last night's second performance of Britten Dances at Snape would go to the Britten Sinfonia - absolutely assured playing in the first Britten pieces under Benjamin Pope and in the after-Britten Larry Goves piece, for which I did not greatly care, and then a performance of Britten's Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge under Barry Wordsworth that was possibly matchless.  The looks on his and the players' faces at the end told me, at least, that they knew they had just done something rather special, and I think the dancers felt it too.  


I'm pretty much with Minder, above, on the dances.  I certainly preferred Ashley Page's two pieces for the Royal Ballet of Flanders to the third, by Cameron McMillan.  In the first, If Memory Serves, using Britten's Young Apollo, there are distant echoes of Balanchine, save that in this case we have three young men dancing attendance on one woman.  The second, Courting the Senses, a pdd for Principal Genevieve van Quaquebeke and Soloist David Jonathan, served to demonstrate how inherently danceable most Baroque music is - in this case, Britten's arrangement of Purcell's Chacony in G minor. ("No Albinoni Adagio, every note is Purcell's," insisted Catherine Bott on a recent Radio 3 Early Music Show.)  The longer Dream Weaver by Cameron McMillan, for 12 dancers in all, meandered and rather lost me, I'm afraid.  As I've said, the score did not appeal, despite some very nifty guitar playing by Tom McKinney, and it appeared to include a couple of danced movements of John Cage's 4'33" that I could have done without.  I had not seen anything by this company before, and with its new Director, Assis Carreiro's previous DanceEast connection, I imagine there may well be welcome opportunities to see more of them in future.


The evening concluded with Kim Brandstrup's Ceremony of Innocence, set on a group of Royal Ballet dancers, led by Edward Watson and Mara Galeazzi - for whom last night was presumably her last in the UK.  Background to the piece can be found in a recent interview with Brandstrup for DanceTabs (where I was particularly struck by his wish to have Edward Watson and Tenor, Ian Bostridge, in the same work ... one day):




It's an effective piece.  Perhaps reflecting the title, the youngsters - Marcelino Sambé solo, and the two couples - seem to get most of the action, with the two Principals brought in and out to give a sense of story, with just the one significant pdd, as I recall.  Ed has to sit or stand looking pensive or anguished for much of the time, something he does rather well.  I'd certainly be interested to see it again.



Edit:  I forgot to mention that there was a Spitfire doing some general handling over Snape during the first Interval.  Merlin bliss!

Edited by Ian Macmillan
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With Mara's retirement it is a shame her acting and the work could never be reprised with the original cast, because it justifies further viewing.


I'm not sure she's technically retiring from dancing, is she?  Sorry, I'm a bit late catching up.

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I saw the evening performance on thursday too (June 20, 2013).

I agree with Minder about the repetitive aspect of Cameron McMillan's "Dream Weaver" although the piece remains for me one of the highlights of the evening, together with the superb performance of Marcelino Sambe in Brandstrup's "Ceremony Of Innocence".


In "Dream Weaver", there is indeed a lot happening on stage, and a lot of group composition ( I was thinking the painting by Theodore Gericault "The Raft of the Medusa" ). Movements happen in canon, sometimes they dance sans-musique and all you can hear is the dancers' breathing and the sound of their footwork.

According to McMillan's words themselves, the piece is about influences from the past that are layered and weaved into the present. I also sensed an intense sensuality (sexuality?) in the choreography (lot of portés). The repetition of movements and of entire choreographic fragments has almost a hypnotic effect disconnecting us from reality.


Brandstrup's work was to me very nostalgic and melancholic. Memories of youth, loss of innocence, it seemed as if Ed Watson was watching his past years from his chair. Again, I absolutely loved Marcelino Sambe!! Bravo!

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