23rd April, 2018
Mixing dance forms and music styles can be very rewarding. Akram Khan’s blend of Kathak and contemporary dance and Compagnie Montalvo- Hervieu’s wide mix of ballet, contemporary, hip hop and other styles are two cases where conjunction has worked a treat. When I read that Sadler’s Wells would bring a show combining Jamaica dance and the mediaeval music of Guillaume de Machaut I was intrigued more than somewhat.
De Machaut’s music has been a love of mine for over 40 years. One of the first polyphonic composers he had the good sense to write down far more of his music than his 14th C. contemporaries, so there are masses and a plenitude of love songs around. If you want to know more, try his “Masse de Notre Dame” and the song “Rose, liz, printemps, verdure” both available on youtube. It is wondrous that this music from over seven hundred years ago can sound so fresh, with complex and mysterious rhythms and harmonies, inviting dance.
In fact, only about one fifth of the music in DFS is by de Machaut and Bengolea and Chaignaud write that they were not only fascinated by the music but also with the “dream to sing and dance simultaneously”. Sadly this just doesn’t work as de Machaut demands choral singing of the highest quality. Throughout, the singing was weak and in the second half, went some way out of tune. I suspect de Machaut would not be turning, but spinning in his grave. The slow movement to the music brought together contemporary dance and sections with pointe work, but it was with some relief that the Jamaican music took over and all seven performers looked happier jumping around with their arms flapping to the engaging rhythms.
DFS has some high spots, coming from the pure forms of Jamaican music and dance. The dance hall music is fast and also features complex rhythms and lifts the spirits. Jamaicans, Craig Black Eagle and Damion BG Dancerz, move as if their bones are made of jello and every part of their anatomy is in rapid motion, resulting in whoops of delight from the audience. About 50 brave souls went on stage for a beginner’s guide to Jamaican dance and they all seemed to love it. Among the other dancers Erika Miyauchi showed a strong rhythmic sense and was always eye catching with her uninhibited delight in the music, although the inclusion of a few fouettés in one scene seemed incongruous, although well executed.
Afterwards, I wanted to know more about the recordings by Jamaican musicians, but found that the programme made no mention of them or indeed of de Machaut, although the latter featured in the preliminary information. A bad omission – they deserve to be credited, although maybe de Machaut would breath a sigh of relief.