It is a very good sign when, at the end of a dance piece, as the audience applauds, you assume only twenty minutes has passed and are surprised to discover it is more like forty. This was my pleasant experience at the end of Two old instruments, a simple, elegant and charming piece, presented by Ballet In Small Spaces, which brings to the fore the fundamental interplay between dancer and musician; an interplay so essentially at the heart of dance as a performance art.

Thirteen movements, composed by Carl Friedrich Abel, were performed on stage live by the talented viola da gamba player, Jonathan Rees. The decision to have Rees onstage and as much a part of the performance as the solo dancer, Susie Crow, was highly effective from the offset in establishing an important relationship between the music and the choreography. One was not simply a pretty accompaniment for the other, as can so often be the case. This was a dialogue between equals and a very refreshing thing to see.

The sound of the viola da gamba, popular in the 18th century, and the elegant, often reserved poise of the choreography, hark back to the courtly origins of ballet. This courtly feel is also helped by the in-the-round nature of the theatre, and the beautiful Georgian-style costuming, which is period without being overstated or fussy. There seems to me to be a quiet sense of nostalgia underpinning the whole piece, which is reflected in its tongue-in-cheek name, Two old instruments. Without a set, props or narrative we are allowed to enjoy the ballet in its most stripped back form, as a physical, timeless expression of the music, as relatable to us now as it would have been when the music was first composed.

Two old instruments was performed as part of a double-bill, presented under the umbrella title Visible Music and I cannot think of a more fitting phrase to describe this piece. Susie Crow’s choreography and performance lend a character and depth of expression to the music which a musical performance alone would not have mustered. She is highly successful in picking out the playful and emotional undertones of the music, and there seems to be a constant fluctuating tension as to who is leading whom, encouraging us to reflect on the artistically fruitful relationship between composer and choreographer. In between the movements there are moments of stillness in which dancer and musician share a quiet, knowing look, and the sense that they are counting each other in, and goading each other on to perform one more dance, play one more tune, lends an air of spontaneity and easy simplicity to the piece which keeps the audience enchanted from beginning to end.

Emily Romain

16th May 2014