DanceNorth WestOperaReview

Clorinda Agonistes: Clorinda the Warrior – The Lowry, Salford

Reviewer: Jo Beggs 

Music: Monteverdi, Kareem Roustom

Director/Choreographer: Shobana Jeyasingh

Conductor: Robert Hollingworth

Clorinda Agonistes – Clorinda the Warrior imagines the twelfth century Muslim warrior princess, originally the creation of the sixteenth century poet Torquato Tasso, and made famous by Monteverdi in his Il Combattimento (1624), as a civilian fighter in modern day Syria.

Some things never change. Fights for justice, misunderstanding, that feeling that you’ve left it too late to change your mind. Clorinda finds herself in her ‘final battle’ when she gets stuck outside the closed gates of Jerusalem after a night-time raid against the Crusaders. One of them, Tancredi, challenges her and they fight to the death, Tancredi not realising that she is the woman he has fallen in love with across enemy lines.

The first half of Jeyasingh’s reworking of this powerful story takes us back to its ancient roots. Clorinda (Jemima Brown) stalks the stage like a ninja, hiding in the shadows and weaving in and out of the musicians as they enter the stage. Her fight with Tancredi (Jonathan Goddard) is narrated by Testo (Ed Lyon) as he delivers Monteverdi’s Tenor score, visceral and engaging in itself, but given extra vitality by Goddard’s direct physical interaction with the dancers and smouldering eye contact with the audience. In fact, at times Goddard’s story-telling makes focusing on the dancers difficult, but their sprightly sparring soon turns to all-out combat – as much a stage fight as dance – complete with vocalisations that draw you back. Matched in strength and agility, the two characters fight until they are barely able to stand, but with a final vicious swipe Tancredi leaves Clorinda to die.

The second half re-imagines Clorinda in present-day Syria, a street fighter or protester. She becomes everywoman, representing all the nameless woman caught in conflict that choose to fight. In the conflict with Tancredi she refuses to give him her name, “All you need to know” she tells him, “is that I am your enemy”.

Three other dancers (Emily Thompson-Smith, Harriet Waghorn and Ellen Yilma) join Brown for this re-imagining. To a newly commissioned live score by Kareem Roustom, with recorded vocals by Dima Orsho, they form allegiances, fight amongst themselves, try to protect their children and share their message with the world’s media. From contorted, sometimes violent movement, elements of Palestinian Dabke folk dance emerge, all wonderfully choreographed and tightly delivered.

Merle Hensel’s set and costumes and Lee Curran’s lighting design create rich visuals. The dark, simple set takes on the form of ruins, and is a backdrop for projections. Unfortunately, the set, and the harpsichord (played by Robert Hollingworth in the first part) block the view of the live musicians, which, given the fore-fronting of the tenor, and the fact that music so often plays a normalising role in conflict, seems like an odd choice. It’s also a shame that Dima Orsho’s vocals are recorded. Goddard’s central role gives the production a unique quality and a second live voice – particularly Orsho’s beautiful one – would have been very welcome.

The final element of the collaboration is video design by YeastCulture, text and war zone drone footage projected on to Hensel’s set. Stark, brutal images that create a sober, dusty backdrop to Hensel’s rich colours, an uncontrolled chaos that counteracts Jeyasingh’s sharply choreographed sequences.

Stories are endlessly told of war and death. From Tasso’s 1581 epic poem to what we see on our screens every day. Jayasingh’s re-telling of Clorinda brings us a tale of rage and resistance, of struggle and sisterhood, but ultimately leaves us with the rather dispiriting feeling that little changes.

Runs until 19 October 2022

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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