Isadora Now: A Triple Bill – Barbican, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Choreographers: Viviana Durante, Barbara Kane, Frederick Ashton, Joy Alpuerto Ritter

Artistic Director: Viviana Durante

Prevented by injury from appearing in the show she has designed and partially choreographed, dancer and Artistic Director Viviana Durante was forced to watch from the wings as members of her Company performed a triple bill in honour of Isadora Duncan at the Barbican. An artist with a purpose to change the future, Duncan’s freeing approach to dance in the early twentieth century, this show argues, is just as relevant now.

Opening with the atmospheric Dance of the Furies with movement choreographed by Duncan herself, the moody nature of this 10-minute piece is conveyed in earthy movements, wide ritualistic gestures and claw-like hands as three women circle a fiery kiln. The allusions to Macbeth are obvious and as the sinister choral tones of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice accelerates into a hurried baroque segment, the dancers hunch and leap across the stage – a pity the musical recording is of such poor quality. Later as the light changes, the movements suggest the classical power of the ancients and this intriguing piece ends with a note of female empowerment.

A quite different dance follows, the solo that Durante is now unable to perform and is ably replaced by Begoña Cao. Choreographed by Frederick Ashton, Five Brahms Waltz in the Manner of Isadora Duncan premiered in the 1970s and is a light expressive 10-minute piece that contrasts with the darkness of the Furies. With piano accompaniment by Anna Geniushene, the five sub-sections of the dance contain lots of different shades in which movements are spontaneous, free-flowing and feminine with the occasional masculine flexing of biceps.

Symmetry is notable and Cao performs and repeats movements on either side of the stage, but the emotional response is ambiguous, even the downbeat elements are far from melancholy, so when Cao introduces props including a wafty scarf or later a bouquet of rose petals that sprinkle as she dances like a jilted bride, the beauty of the image is far more powerful than any feeling it creates, though the after dinner artistic turn of a society hostess at a 1920s country house party is strongly evoked.

The final dance creates an enthusiastic reaction from many audience members but is the most curious, feeling stylistically at odds with the two earlier sections. Joy Alpuerto Ritter has created Unda especially for this evening of Duncan tributes and it has an elemental feeling as the six dancers are blown from one side of the stage to the other or interact with dripping water that falls into the strategically placed bowls. The Latin unda meaning waves.

Across its 40-minutes, Unda explores a number of different styles incorporating rippling body movements with jerkier styles that use elbows and knees in sharp geometric body positions – at one point a dancer is dangerously close to doing the ‘robot’. There is a lot happening in this dance, sections are dedicated to concepts of support, balance and reflection in how the performers interact with one another while sprinting around the stage becomes a recurring theme.

One of the most meaningful segments within Unda is the contrasting performance of gestures as one dancer stands in the warm light happily interacting with two colleagues, while her shadow in blue shade repeats those movements but alone as though a ghostly reflection recalling a memory of a happier time. But as the piece builds towards its climax it loses focus as the ‘rain’ returns and the dancers spend time flicking wet hair like a shampoo advert. Unda is certainly varied and crisply performed but its relevance to Isadora Duncan feels tangential at best.

The show is advertised as 70-minutes including interval but runs much closer to 110 minutes including extended ovations, but the last-minute cast shuffling goes unnoticed with impressive technicality from Cao, Ritter, Christine Cecchini, Nikita Goile, Charmene Pang and Serena Zaccagnini. Yet this triple bill isn’t quite as harmonious as it could be and while the focus is on the now and contemporary responses, a bit more Isadora would be welcome.

Runs until 29 February 2020

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Impressive technicality

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