I'm a polite reasonable member of an audience, willing the performers to do well and I would never let criticism get in the way of enjoying an evening out. However the Monteverdi Ballets, presented as part of the Spitalfields Summer Festival, made me think about what makes an event work. Or not.
The idea of putting baroque music with contemporary dance has the potential to work extremely well. After all, I see renaissance entertainment as an all in one extravaganza of colour, movement and wonder. In my imagination the music of the court was a reflection of the manners and complicated politics and relationships of a beautiful aristocracy. Therefore I would expect any choreographer to replicate the patterns, order of the the Monteverdi structure and the performers would echo the court dance in an inventive and imaginative way.
However from the first hip hop twitch and thump of cross beat fighting with the harpsichord, my knuckles tightened and I had to fight the urge to leave my cushion and flee the space. The Early Opera Company were sensitive, dreamy performers which is what made the dancing so jarring. There were parts where the music came together with the choreography; there were even parts where the physicality of the performers matched the feeling of the playing. But the words, the words!
Return to tender trifles; that,
meanwhile the warrior god, tempering his fierce wrath
may sleep in Venus' lap, lulled by your song
How could the choreographers not have felt these words? Yes they are flowery and artificial but that is the point. Did the dancers not read them and understand? The universals of sex, love, war, death are designed to be communicated by music and dance.
The Lament d'Arianna was almost right, pulled off by the charm of the dancer in the white dress, but attendants were less satisfactory. The two veiled dancers of the Combat of Tancredi and Clorinda fought and loved with 'fancy footwork' but the words and passion of the singing absolutely overshadowed them.
I have been embracing contemporary dance with gusto, for instance the 'it goes here now' that we saw in June left me bewildered, unsure and blown away by the inventive passion of the group. It wasn't perfect but it worked in a way that Monteverdi Ballet didn't. The new stuff of the Royal Opera House has also been taking dance, story telling and mixing formats together to send dance in a new direction. What can I say, some things, like Baroque-Hip Hop, just doesn't work...