Theatre in Wales

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Two "firsts" for Music Theatre Wales

Passion - Dance Opera at The Wales Millennium Centre

Music Theatre Wales/National Dance Company of Wales , Wales Millennium Centre , October-23-18
Passion - Dance Opera at The Wales Millennium Centre by Music Theatre Wales/National Dance Company of Wales Wales Millennium Centre 23rd October - Passion is a collaborative production by Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales. It recently had its Welsh premiere in the Donald Gordon Theatre of the WMC. The opera, written by cutting edge composer, Pascal Dusapin, had its world premiere at the Festival D'Aix en Provence in 2008 and since then has had an outing with L'Opéra de Lilles in collaboration with the extraordinary Sasha Waltz company at the Théâtre des Champs Elisées in Paris.

This production, directed by Micheal Mcarthy and Caroline Finn, represents two "firsts" for Music Theatre Wales: first, working with National Dance Company Wales on the staging of a piece where dance features equally; and second, embarking on a long term association with the London Sinfonietta, who will continue to collaborate with the company on their up-coming productions.

Passion is a modern revisiting of the Orpheus myth. The composer, Dusapin, states that it is from Eurydice's perspective, and it's clear that Passion is really a modern story that simply references the myth, being about "Her" (the Eurydice-like character in the opera), her desperation to experience again the sunlight above and her inability to re-connect with "Him" (the Orpheus-like character) who also fails to connect with her. The hellish nature of their relationship bears more resemblance to an existential, "Huis Clos" situation with characters trapped in a dead-end place, never able to leave, where "Her"/she dominates the action and "Him"/he, curiously, feels more like the victim.

The design of setting is minimalist and effective, the stage dominated by two colours that give glorious relief (when you can see them) from the pervading penumbra: the cobalt blue of the long ladder that Him/he descends to the dark "Underworld" and a long, beautifully draped cloth in a warm, yellow ochre colour into which Eurydice/Her wraps and un-wraps herself many times. Sometimes there is so little light that it is a strain to see what is happening onstage and since the performers are all dressed in mournful black, they sometimes disappear into this darkness, which really works against rather than supporting the work.

The dancers also use the yellow ochre cloth, twisting and untwisting, they people the penumbra, manipulating, mocking and echoing the tension between the two protagonists. They move almost continuously and with tremendous energy and commitment, though there is little dynamic contrast. Less is sometimes more, choreographically speaking, and a little stillness can speak louder than constant movement, but this is choreographic, the dancers were all excellent. Outstanding, the powerful and lyrical dancing of Nikita Goile especially.

The two protagonists are also eye-opening. In particular, Jennifer France as Her/Eurydice is superb, soaring effortlessly to the most impossibly high, pure sounding notes and courageously allowing herself to turned inside out and up-sidedown by the dancers as she sings. She powerfully combines strength and vulnerability in her interpretation. Johnny Herford's perfomance as Him/Orpheus is also also tremendously committed and full out, blurring the line between singer and movement actor. Both Him and Her completely embrace the notion of the total performer.

Dusapin's music surges, ebbs and eddys, with little discernable structure or focus. The word that keeps coming into my mind is "threnody", a song or lamentation for the dead, but there is also a mysterious and ancient quality to it and the composer's instrumental choices add to this: nine brass and woodwind players; just five string players and combined with this the sinister, brittle sound of the harpsichord; the concert harp, but plucked harshly and sparingly; and then, towards the end, the thrumming rumble of the Oud (played by Rihab Azar), reminiscent of the far away, ancient sound of Orpheus' lyre

It's futile to search for a logical structure in Passion (other than a recognisable cycle out which the pair cannot escape), you have to simply go with the piece and it may yield its fruits over the course of the performance, if you can adjust to the pace of it and experience the occasional moment of beauty or lucidity in a more visceral way. But it is tough on the audience with its unrelenting darkness and its cyclic aimlessness.

The two last performances of the Passion tour are at The Lowry in Salford on Tuesday 6th Nov and at Theatr Clwyd, Mold on Saturday 10th November.
For details see http://musictheatre.wales/productions/passion

Reviewed by: Jenny March

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