This evening's full length piece, which also served as the opening of Dance Umbrella 2010, was a series of vingettes inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest; its title - I Drink The Air Before Me - is taken from lines spoken by Arial and the piece itself featuring spirits, sailors in uniform, and a Caliban-like figure in the form of no less a person than fellow former enfant terrible,Michael Clarke, who opens the work by telling the audience, "I don't want to be your man ...unless I can be your salty dog"
The nautical numbers then commence, groups of nymph-like spirits alternating with sailors and sometimes the two in a variety of combination, dimly lit in blue. Combined with the slow initial building of the work, this creates a dream-like nuance in which episodes of movement are punctuated with an stage empty except for a static group of chamber musicians back right and a large piano back left, but also makes it challenging to concentrate on this early section of the work.
This was followed by an extended trio for three female dancers dressed in dark grey, the costumes and the music indicating an increase of tension in this transitional section which had very lovely movement and playing and was in fact the most succesful part of the entire work. Similar in garb and styling to the nymphs/faeries/spirits of the earlier section but darker in colour and mood, they also referenced another well-known Shakesperian scene, Macbeth's three witches. This connecting section forms the pivot of an arch-like compositional structure: A1BA2 with prelude and postlude.
The mood and setting made another sea-change after this, bright lighting, fast tempo and monochrome striped costumes and a crescendo towards the energy of the storm which gives the piece its thematic inspiration. As throughout, the movent is well crafted and skilfulled performed, as is the minimalistic-styled score, performed by string ensemble with added saxophone, flute, trombone and piano. This faster section is also quite succesful, the athleticism commendable in this pacy choreography. The climax is a predictable one.
Less so is the postlude, in which a choir assembles at the rear of the stage and delivers a song from a service to dedicate a new church bell, complete with accompanying handbells, intended to conveying a newly committed, forward looking company despite this beings its 25th anniversary season.
Petronio was the first male dancer to join the Trisha Brown Company, whose work is also celebrated and showcased during this year's festival programme. Her influence is visible here, as is that of Merce Cunningham - also showing work at the Barbican this month - who celebrated his 90th birthday this year. The multi-media, minimalist-scored contemporary approach to The Tempest also refernced Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books.
What is essentially dance interludes set to a Shakesperian theme and performed to live music might intrinsically seem a reasonable proposition for a ballet work. Other than perhaps an over-long slow initial section, this piece works fairly well within its own terms of reference. What disappointed much of tonight's audience was that nothing was shocking, except that a mainstream work had been created using signature choreographic techniques by someone known for rocking rather than floating the ballet world's boat. This did neither.
Dance Umbrella runs from 5-30 October and features work at the Barbican, Sadler's Wells, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Tate Modern as well as other venues around London. For further information visit: DanceUmbrella.co.uk
- Juliet Williams