Jump to content

ENB: Second Breath at Imperial War Museum North, Salford

Recommended Posts

I've been following the world of dance avidly for a couple of years now following a Damascene conversion watching, of all things, a performance of Nutcracker.  I've been following this forum for almost as long but have been holding off making comments myself for fear of displaying ignorance, but I thought it was worth breaking my silence to bring news of an event that might otherwise have gone unreported.  Forgive me if my descriptions are a bit un-technical!


A few weeks ago I saw the English National Ballet 'Lest We Forget' programme at the Barbican and was blown away by the quality and emotional depth of it, as I think many were who saw it.  So I was delighted when I saw that as part of the Museums at Night programme the Imperial War Museum North in Salford would be staging a version of one of the works in that programme - Russell Maliphant's 'Second Breath', on May 17th.  The whole museum was thrown open for the evening, with poetry readings, music, sound sculptures and the like supplementing the normal museum displays which have been revamped to commemorate the centenary of the start World War 1 (including for example, original first drafts of Wilfred Owen's 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' and 'Dulce et Decorum Est').  Even without the dance it was therefore well worth going, though we had to negotiate TV cables and the constant danger of walking in front of Martha Kearney while she was doing one of her live pieces to camera for the BBC Arts Online coverage!


The dance itself took place in the main exhibition space of the museum.  The piece had had to be slightly adapted to fit the space so though the costumes were from the original production, the floor that had been laid was much smaller with the result that it looked like the number of dancers had been reduced from the original production.  Also the lighting had been rather cobbled together and rather than the live orchestral accompaniment of the original, this version had a recorded electronic accompaniment.  The impact of the piece had diminished at all though.  As the choreographer said at the Q&A that followed the second performance of the night, the fact that the dancers were dancing directly in front of the audience without the barriers of proscenium arch and orchestra pit meant that the connection between the two was that much greater.  I think I 'got' the piece more than maybe I did at first view.  It suddenly struck me that as the dancers swayed gently in unison at the start of the piece they resembled a field of corn ready to be cut down and that the repetitive rise and fall of the dancers in the central section of the piece was important in that it portrayed the soldiers being cut down like corn, not once, but again and again, day after day.  To mix my metaphors another image that came to mind was of a succession of waves breaking on a barren shore.  The idea of relentless slaughter was underscored by the narrative elements of the score, especially the reciting of cumulative casualty figures and the reminiscences of old soldiers, presumably from the IWM archives.  These spoken elements were much easier to hear in this space than in the Barbican, which again added to my understanding of the piece.  Sadly, no cast lists were given out so I wasn't able to identify the couple who did the affecting pdd towards the end of the piece, but hopefully someone else who was there might be able to enlighten me.


The production wasn't perfect - anyone not sitting in the first two or three rows of seats would have found visibility difficult, and I was conscious through the performance of the camera clicks of presumably 'official' photographers taking pictures from both sides of the performance area, but these in the end were minor quibbles.  We have four more years of World War 1 commemorations to go and it would be nice to think that ENB might be able at some point during that time to take the whole of the Lest We Forget programme on tour, but I guess the financial realities will dictate otherwise.  One can but hope though. 

  • Like 6
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome to the forum, ChrisG. :-)


I watched the piece online and found it fascinating. Very moving yet somehow I found it calming at the same time. I appreciate that the lighting had to be adapted - and it could have been because I was watching on ipad - but it was very difficult at times to see what was going on.


Great to hear from you; do keep posting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A great review of the performance, ChrisG. I watched it last night online (I have seen it live as well) and appreciated the close ups of the dancers' faces and upper bodies. I enjoyed the other features about the sculpture park and the photography exhibit in Folkstone as well. IWM North looks stunning.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Someone told me last week that the couple was going to be Tamarin Stott and Nathan Young who also danced the piece at The Barbican. But I wasn't there and haven't seen any footage so I could be mistaken.

Thanks for the info. I like to keep track of these things!  With regard to lighting, it was obviously quite difficult to light to the same standard as the original production and even there live in the room there were obvious blind spots.  it was an amazing place to see dance though - the subject matter chimed so completely with the raison d'être of this branch of the IWM, which is to concentrate on the personal effects and consequences of war.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...