Shaadi, Wayward Kinship, Frisky Claptrap, Highgrove Suite
Shaw Theatre, London, UK; October 18, 2014
Founded in 2012 by David Murley, London-based MurleyDance is something of a rarity. Although presenting very much a youthful, modern vibe, at heart it’s a ballet company; pointe shoes and all. As if that wasn’t risky enough, Murley is keen to present work by young, upcoming choreographers danced by young dancers. And for all that, we should be thankful.
“Hail Britannia” features four new pieces, each in its own way exploring aspects, sometimes quirky ones, of British culture today. Ballet and Bollywood might not seem immediately to be the likeliest of bedfellows. Yet in Anaish Parmar’s “Shaadi” (which means ‘wedding’ in Hindi) they come together like naturals.
Parmar’s ballet is loosely based on Nijinska’s “Les Noces” in that it tells the story of a wedding – in this case a Hindi one. The programme note suggests it’s an arranged one, although there’s no sense of that in the piece. Not that it matters, because “Shaadi” turns out to be an easy to follow, easy on the eye delight. With the women in harem trousers and jewelled loose fitting tops of every hue, and the men in equally traditional-inspired dress, it’s upbeat, vibrant, and has all the colour and feel of a Bollywood romp.
The dance is packed with energy and pizazz. Parmar’s integration of Bollywood, references to Indian classical dances and classical ballet is seamless. The classical ballet steps never look forced or out of place. In two scenes showing the wedding preparations, the women showed some good turns on pointe, while a men’s quintet was full of bounding leaps and jumps. The wedding celebration itself featured a pleasant and well-partnered pas de deux between Samantha Camejo and Ashley Selfe as bride and groom. The accompaniment, also a cultural mix of Indian music including Punjabi wedding songs, barbershop (“I’m getting married in the morning”) and Bette Midler (“Chapel of Love”), works well.
19-year old Richard Chappell’s “Wayward Kinship” explores the 12th century conflict between Henry II and Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury; a relationship that ultimately led to the latter’s murder. Chappell’s dance comes very much from a contemporary ballet aesthetic and features some powerful movement for the two leading men: Gianluca Perruli as the King and Dylan Waddell as Becket.
An early interesting and inventive duet reflects the pair’s initial friendship, although almost from the off there’s a clear sense of the King being the controlling force. The best moments, however, are reserved for the final savage murder, the Archbishop being beaten down most powerfully. Although the rest of the choreography didn’t always quite match the authority of the music (by the lay clerks of Canterbury Cathedral Choir and Valgeir Sigurdsson), the dance rarely throbbing or seeming as intense as it should, Chappell clearly has talent and is one to watch.
A special mention here for the excellent but uncredited costumes that saw both men dressed in identical tight-fitting T-shirts (cleverly incorporating a cross of St George design) and shorts, Henry in red, Becket in plum.
David Murley’s “Frisky Claptrap” could hardly be more different. A light-hearted romp, it follows three backpackers on their travels to some of Britain’s more eccentrically named towns and villages – although quite how that squares with the trains on the backing film being almost entirely continental European, I’m not sure. Continuity is not the film editor’s strongest point either. But the piece is fun and raises more than a few chuckles. Dylan Waddell, Ian Parsons and Naomi Shimon carried off their roles delightfully, managing never to quite go over the top – not easy! The only shame is that – as is so often the way – the film takes over. Everyone is waiting for the next silly village or street name, and not watching the live action below.
Former Classic FM Composer-in-Residence Patrick Hawes’ “The Highgrove Suite” was commissioned by Prince Charles to celebrate the gardens at his home, Highgrove House in Gloucestershire. It is an evocative and more than pleasant on the ear score for harp and strings, but although tuneful, it’s very lightweight. While it certainly captures the essence of an English country house garden, it lacks the variety necessary for the themes of innocence, growing up, death and love that are found in David Murley’s “Highgrove Suite” ballet.
Although it has its moments, the choreography suffers accordingly. After the opening section, there’s little in the way of emotional colour. That first scene is well-constructed. A man and a woman are clearly in a relationship, but there is a distinct coolness between them. That is contrasted neatly by the innocence of their daughter and her two friends, reflected cleverly by a chorus of five women and three men. It was just a shame that the smallish stage meant they all got rather on top of one another.
Matters get less clear as things move on apace. The girl (Eloïse Hymas) grows up. Almost like Aurora choosing her Prince, she chooses a suitor from four men, dancing around and briefly with each. The mother’s death happens in a flash and entirely without feeling. And then there’s the final “Gladiator” movement that really does feature a Gladiator (Ian Parsons), complete with totally unnecessary and far too far over the top helmet. His pas de deux (which I think is it supposed to be loving, not that there was much sense of that) with the girl contains some tricky lifts, all neatly accomplished despite her romantic skirt getting in the way far too
much. The forest of tuile could do with some thinning by the gardeners!
Overall, though, this was a pleasant evening from a newish kid on the block. The choreography largely suited the young dancers’ talents, although it has to be said that they looked more comfortable in the less out and out classical works. But will the kid grow up? Or more pertinently, will it be given time and allowed to grow up? Is there a future for small ballet companies like MurleyDance? After all, a number have come and gone in recent years, most struggling to attract funding (ballet is seen as being not ‘modern’ or appealing to a wide audience by many of the powers that be) and large enough audiences to make touring a viable proposition. One would hope so. Plans for Spring 2015 include the company’s first full-length ballet. It will be interesting to see what that brings.