Wednesday, 12 December 2018

‘Let there be light’ - a moment of sheer brilliance

ARRIVING at Wormsley Estate — its eclectic confluence of art and sport heralded by the tongue-in-cheek

ARRIVING at Wormsley Estate — its eclectic confluence of art and sport heralded by the tongue-in-cheek sign “To the cricket and opera” — one wondered how the Rambert Dance Company might be incorporated into Haydn’s oratorio The Creation.

How would a configuration of ballet at the front with soloists, chorus and orchestra at the back, separated by a cathedral-like wooden screen, work for an opera audience?

The dichotomy was indeed somewhat problematic, requiring the audience to adapt to a combination of aural processing and the visual assimilation of an at times entire ballet corps. While this was initially distracting, one’s senses gradually acclimatised and the experience became increasingly satisfying as the story of the creation unfolded.

Another departure from the norm was the use of trained opera singers as the chorus — their antiphonal location on balconies either side of the rear stage wall serving to extend the cathedral metaphor. With the advantage of magnificent voice quality they crafted some magically descriptive, dynamic contrasts.

Meanwhile, the Garsington orchestra, for once not consigned to the pit, played their usual competent part under conductor Douglas Boyd, and the soloists — soprano Sarah Tynan, Tenor James Gilchrist, bass-baritone Neal Davies and mezzo-soprano Katherine Aitken — excelled throughout.

In short, designer Pablo Bronstein and choreographer Mark Baldwin got it absolutely right.

It was clear from Haydn’s programmatic overture, depicting the earth in total darkness, “without form, and void”, and the subsequent progress towards the arrival of Adam and Eve, that the material was a gift to Baldwin’s creativity.

His approach was impressionistic — “a relationship between movement and text and notes, rather than specifically illustrating the content” — especially in the early part, where Haydn’s composition was more literal, evoking doves, lions and worms et al.

Here, Baldwin’s ebbing and flowing ballet shadowed the music’s mood more abstractly, functioning more as a background.

Signalling the end of chaos, the recitative Let there be light was beautifully orchestrated, coinciding with the sudden, electrifying parting of the dancers. Sheer brilliance.

As darkness fell around the auditorium for the start of the second half, the stage lighting had the effect of unifying the entire panoply of resources.

The ballet took on a new dimension as the kinetic effect of constantly moving light and shade interplayed with the dancers’ sensuous formations, while shadows gave the wooden screen the appearance of solid stone.

As we reached the sixth day and the arrival on the scene of Adam and Eve, the music became progressively more lyrical, involving one particularly gorgeous duet between Neil Davies (Adam) and Sarah Tynan (Eve) and, later, the magnificent Hail Bounteous Lord, when the stage emptied of dancers, giving full rein to the orchestra, soloists and chorus.

The dance style eventually morphed into something more human as the dancers paired off in erotic pas de deux, eliciting some of the most accomplished orchestral support, especially from the woodwind.

A wonderful finale followed, the stage covered with dancers and bathed in light, bringing the bold experiment to a fabulous close.

Review: Trevor Howell

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