Chantry Dance Company: Corp de Ballet

Posted: February 17th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Chantry Dance Company: Corp de Ballet

Corp de Ballet: Triple Bill, January 18, Village Underground, Shoreditch

Ronald Corp’s setting of verses from the Dhammapada is playing as we enter. The feeling is liturgical and as cavernous as the magnificent (but rather chilly) vaulted brick space that is Village Underground in Shoreditch. There are strips of painted wallpaper in fading yellow hanging like scrolls from the sides of the central vault that serves as the stage, and a double bed in an abundance of white at the end. Corp himself welcomes everyone, and explains the eponymous link between his music, which makes up the entire program of three works, Francis Booth, who wrote, translated or adapted each of the texts, and the choreographer, Paul Chantry of Chantry Dance Company.

The text of the first piece, The Yellow Wallpaper, is adapted from the short story by American author Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is a nineteenth century semi-autobiographical story about a writer who is persuaded by her husband to undergo a ‘rest cure’ (Gillman had in fact a serious case of post-partum depression following the birth of her daughter), involving confinement in a stifling room in a country house. It is story of a descent into madness as a result of the prescribed cure, and stands as a spirited protest against the medical profession’s oppression of women. Corp and Booth have divided the story into six scenes, which all take place in the same room with the yellow wallpaper. Chantry himself plays the husband, a sallow, dry-white character like an Ashton husband but with less blood. His stage wife is played by two people: dancer Rae Piper and actress Lindsay Dukes, who together mirror the dual personality misdiagnosed as dissociative psychosis. The two women are described in the program as Narrator (mind) and Narrator (body). There is also the beautiful, rich voice of Rebecca de Pont Davies singing Booth’s text — Corp scored the work for mezzo-soprano and string quartet — who is in effect a third narrator. A fourth character is the spirit of the wallpaper, played by wild-haired Chandelle Allen.

What is interesting is that Dukes, who doesn’t dance very much, feels more true to the character than Piper, who has rather too much unbridled dancing that owes more to a display of classical dance vocabulary than to harnessing that vocabulary to express the internal drama. The principle character, after all, is constrained; Piper in her range of movement is anything but. If the dramatic intelligence of Dukes could have informed the choreography, it might well have expressed something approaching the ambivalence of the text and the tensions clearly expressed in the score. I believe this is what Chantry intended, but it didn’t manifest; instead the choreography lies rather too self-consciously on top of the music, which is strong enough to support it but gains little from the association.

Lullaby for a Lost Soul is a collection of short poems by Booth on the theme of loss, grief and helplessness. Corp has set it for counter tenor, cello, vibraphone and flute in the manner of John Dowland. Booth’s poems take the myth of The Fall as a metaphor for the dark emotional hole into which we may descend at a time of loss and grief. Chantry follows the metaphor rather too literally, taking the figures of Adam and Eve as his structure for this duet he dances with Piper. Chantry’s choreographic imagination, based as it is on the classical vocabulary — and on Piper’s technique in particular — again defaults to a display that is more alphabet than lexicon. Chantry appears to have got his creative process the wrong way round. He needs to find the true emotional value and only then express it in form — classical or otherwise. The problem is that if the emotions aren’t embodied in the movement, they appear superficially in mime — rather too often in a pained facial expression. There is also a curious inversion of the end of the tale. Adam and Eve were naked in their innocence and clothed themselves with the taste of knowledge. Here the consumption of the apple, replete with vampire-like smudged red lips, leads Adam and Eve to strip each other to the waist. Inverted half measures all round.

Francis Booth’s translation of five texts from the Buddhist Pali canon provides the setting of Songs of the Elder Sisters. Corp’s music employs the lovely voice of Rebecca de Pont Davies once again in a more religious, mystical setting with baritone, clarinet, alto flute and viola, and it sounds lovely in this vaulted space. Three acolytes (Piper, Allen and Emma Cole) are sitting in the presence of the nun, Ambapali, who is sharing her wisdom and advising her juniors on how to overcome temptation on their upcoming pilgrimage. The role of the nun is played by Piper’s mother, Gail Gordon, and once again her life experience and subtle range of dance movement makes her the focal centre of this piece. As with Dukes in The Yellow Wallpaper, Chantry has uncovered a strength in choreographic language that these two collaborators naturally offer and which might be a starting point for future exploration. When faced with too much flexibility and extensions, Chantry gives in to them rather than restraining them to adapt to his dramatic purpose or the nature of the texts. Piper may be the culprit here, but the choreography is the loser. Corp’s music and Booth’s texts are the overall winners.