Vivian Durante Company’s homage to Isadora Duncan is a superbly staged production. As the audience assembles, waves of light wash across the stage like water on a beach, to the sound of the sea. The lights dim and our eyes are drawn to the bowl, upstage left, that crackles and sparks, becoming a crucible of flames. Dancers emerge from the darkness; horrible crawling creatures that explode into dance with demonic passion in Isadora Duncan’s Dance of the Furies to music by Gluck, restaged by Barbara Kane and Viviana Durante. The intense energy condensed into violent movement and gesture conveys the dramatic force of Duncan’s work, but the repetitive patterns and limited movement vocabulary suggest that her choreography relied on shock quality as well as artistry for impact. At the end, the dancers slowly process past the glowing bowl, each sprinkling an offering into it as she passes. The rest of the stage is pitch black before the lights slowly come up, to find the pianist Anna Geniushene and dancer Begoña Cao in position for the next work, Frederick Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan. Cao, who replaced the injured Durante, gave a lyrical, expansive and convincing performance, although she never quite created the impression that Ashton attributed to Duncan of running forward while she ‘left herself behind’.

The final work was Joy Alpuerto Ritter’s Unda, meaning ‘wave’, with original music composed and performed by cellist Lih Qun Wong. Bursting with choreographic ideas, Unda lacked a clear structure: tension would build and then dissipate. There were hints of events in Duncan’s life, and movement references to waves, that culminated in the dancers soaking their hair in bowls of water and scattering droplets across the stage. Perhaps this somewhat chaotic amalgam was an apt comment on Duncan’s life.

Fabiana Piccioli’s lighting and set design (with Marie Cantenys Studio) was outstanding throughout: vertical lines suggestive of classical architecture, and the bowls that contained variously, flames, petals or water were a unifying feature; judicious use of darkness and light to conceal and reveal parts of the stage directed our eyes towards the significant action. Although Durante herself was unable to dance as planned, this carefully constructed, thoughtful and thought-provoking evening of dancing, shows her quality as an Artistic Director.

Maggie Watson

1st March 2020