Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

The premiere took place two nights earlier in
Basingstoke; I saw this resourceful, imaginative dance staging at the Queen
Elizabeth Hall. Titles might not have been a bad idea, but there is always
something to be said for making an audience listen, or at least encouraging
it to do so. (There was, alas, some extraordinary distracting behaviour
from a few bad apples on this occasion, one woman near me aggressively
scratching herself like an alley-cat throughout, another apparently running
a tombola from her handbag. Such highly distracting goings on did not
appear to be part of a directorial Konzept; perhaps, however, I
was missing the point.)

Dusapin’s Orpheus or rather Eurydice, opera, the lovers abstracted to Her
and Him, Lei and Lui, with shadowing support from ‘The Others’ (Gli Altri),
takes its place in perhaps the most venerable of all operatic traditions.
Orpheus, son of Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry, and, according to some
tellings of the legend, Apollo’s too, tamed animals, even charmed Hades
itself, through performance on his lyre – here suggested, yet perhaps not
merely to be identified with, the oud, Rihib Azar’s part and performance
evocative, generative, and questioning towards the close. Orpheus’s purview
– and that of Greek mousik? more generally – was greater
than what we, in an age cursed by specialisation, might consider to be
‘music’: he was poet, enchanter and prophet; he communicated the qualities
of all the Muses through his identity as a musical performer. Where,
however, is Eurydice in all that? As ‘traditional’ a supportive figure, a
victim, as ever? Here she is granted, or better she assumes, newfound
agency. As Dusapin, quoted in the progamme, put it: ‘I sincerely wanted to
do something with this myth, and yet I wasn’t really attracted to a story
where a woman dies, engulfed by flames, sacrificed by the stare of an
impatient man … So I thought: “What if the woman knew? And what if she
suddenly decided not to go back towards the light?”’ Just as composers from
Monteverdi to Birtwistle have retold, remade the myth in the light of their
own concerns, the concerns of their times too, so have Dusapin and a
splendidly integrated team of performers.

Worthy successors to the not inconsiderable team of Barbara Hannigan, Georg
Nigl, Ensemble Musicatreize, Ensemble Modern, and Franck Ollu, Jennifer
France, Johnny Herford, EXAUDI, the London Sinfonietta, and Geoffrey
Paterson offered an outstanding musical performance, ably shadowed,
incited, and criticised by a fine team of dancers. One had little doubt
that the Sinfonietta and Paterson were not only presenting what one was
‘supposed’ to hear, but in the emphatic sense performing it, bringing it
into life and revealing its form in the dramatic here and now. Comparisons
make little sense in the case of an artist such as Hannigan; perhaps they
do far more rarely than many of us would care to admit. France’s
performance had us believe in this particular Eurydice, her particular
concerns and ‘character’: what could be more feminist than that? Herford
cheerfully yet wistfully consented to and furthered a remodelling of
Orpheus’s role that leaves us all the richer. With none of Nigl’s sometimes
disconcerting idiosyncrasies, he – as indeed did the rest of the team –
suggested that we are all the richer for this recent chapter in the
progress of the myth. A subtly raucous – yes, that is intended – duet
between trombone and oboe; a recognisably celestrial yet menacing glimpse
of heaven; a (false?) witness of the clavecin ‘past’; an approach
to an expected final unison that proved not to be such at all: these and
many more such moments attested to the fleeting quality of memory, the
necessity of multiple standpoints in and of the present.

Mark Berry

Her: Jennifer France; Him: Johnny Herford; Dancers: Cyril Durand-Gasselin,
Nikita Goile, Ed Myhill, Julia Rieder, Malik Williams, Queenie
Maidment-Otlet. Co-directors: Michael McCarthy, Caroline Finn; Designs:
Simon Banham; Lighting: Joe Fletcher. Sound Intermedia (sound design, after
original concept by Thierry Cudoys)/EXAUDI/London Sinfonietta/Geoffrey
Paterson (conductor). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Saturday 13 October

product_title=Dusapin, Passion: Queen Elizabeth Hall
product_by=A review by Mark Berry
product_id= Above: Jennifer France (Her)

Photo credit: Clive Barda