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Gravity and Levity - Rites of War - Lowry, May 13, 2014

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Lindsey Butcher's aerial dance company, Gravity and Levity was at the small Quays Theatre in the Lowry last night with Rites of War, created for this year of commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of WW1.


A line from the programme note:


"The First World War began exactly a century before the end of the war in Afghanistan,  This coincidence of dates - 1914 and 2014 - provides the framework for Rites of War".


The piece opens with 4 modern soldiers looking for IEDs  when there is a sudden explosion and one of the soldiers is flung in the air.


The work has been devised by Lindsey Butcher, Darshan Singh Bhuller and David Loyn (the BBC correspondent in Afghanistan).  It is very episodic in nature and moves between the First World War and Afghanistan, focussing on 2 soldiers - Private George Ellison who was the last soldier to die before the armistice in 1918 and a soldier who has been killed in Afghanistan this year.


The set is very effective - three large screens separated by barbed wire that might be the trenches.  The screens are used for projections - some news reel, some background given by David Loyn, a row of houses, the trenches...


The first half of this short work (60 minutes in length) has some visually stunning imagery.  Apart from the opening, there is the scene where the WW1 soldiers are being recruited.  Repetitive but compelling choreography of marching gives the impression of large numbers of young men joining up and marching off to war.


The action then moves to Aghanistan where 2 women in burkas are sitting on the ground and moving their arms as if making bread and washing clothes by hand as the soldiers arrive.


The section in the trenches is absolutely brilliant - using clever film techniques and 2 dancers climbing the wall at the back there is a real sense of claustrophobia and the feeling of terror at "going over the top".


Lots of other scenes were played out - R&R, questioning a prisoner and such like as the performance went on but none of these were as satisfying to me as the opening half hour.


Ultimately, even at only an hour, this piece felt too long and bitty to me, although I must say that the first 30 minutes made it worth seeing.





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