This was a beautifully planned evening of song, readings and dance, culminating in a performance of Franz Liszt’s Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi sonata. Presented by the Oxford Dante Society to mark the 700th anniversary of the death of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, it formed part of a season of Dante themed activities programmed and supported by TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, as part of their Humanities Cultural Programme.  There were some last minute changes: tenor Seb Hill had stepped in overnight learning three solos at short notice, and speaker Anthony Hunt was unable to attend; his essay was read by pianist Jonathan Katz, who devised the event and also acted as an informal master of ceremonies.

The programme included two original dances, created with the support of DANSOX, Dance Scholarship Oxford.  The first was ‘That even I’, a solo created with movement direction by Estela Merlos and danced by Thomasin Gülgeç to music by Joseph Kay made by sampling extracts of spoken word.  Merlos, Gülgeç and Kay have worked together before, notably at the DANSOX 2021 summer school, and this piece seemed a logical development of work they showed then, in respect of its intensity, the dancer’s close attentiveness to the score, and the sense that the work had grown as an organic whole.

The second dance, ‘In a dark wood’, a duo choreographed by Susie Crow to music by Jeremy Thurlow, conjured up Dante’s wanderings through the forest at the beginning of Canto 1 of the Inferno, initially alone and then under the tutelage of  Virgil.  Cameron Everitt, as Dante, seemed to move aside invisible curtains of foliage, weaving his way beneath branches until he encountered Virgil, a severe but charismatic figure danced by Nicholas Minns.  At the end, the two made a stately geometric progress, exchanging places in a square pattern, as if Virgil were formally opening the way for Dante to go through a door, and leading him further on. 

The tiny floor area in a fully lit hall with the audience looking down from above was a very exposed stage for all three dancers.  Gülgeç, Everitt and Minns were within touching distance of the spectators, but with their individual and distinctive dance styles, they succeeded in drawing us into their imaginary worlds.

The evening concluded with the Liszt sonata, played by Jonathan Katz, and preceded by Hunt’s introduction, which reminded us that Frederick Ashton used the music for his wartime ballet Dante Sonata; Dante’s poetry has long been an inspiration for dance, and this programme continued that tradition.

This event, and also the Oxford screening and discussion of choreographer Luc Petton’s ballet Ainsi la Nuit for human dancers, birds and animals, have been recorded and will become available on the TORCH YouTube channel.

Maggie Watson

28th November 2021

Find out more about and give your feedback on TORCH’s Dante 2021 Season here

Check out the Ashmolean exhibition Dante: the Invention of Celebrity here

Read Barbara Berrington’s account of a previous Dante programme Dante in the Chapel including choreography by Susie Crow here

Described by the Times as a “choreographer for whom every dance is a love affair with his chosen music”, Richard Alston brings his acclaimed company back to Oxford’s Playhouse with a stunning mixed bill.  Alston’s superbly skilled choreography combines three pieces of music by Benjamin Britten and three very different poets.  Rejoice in the Lamb is danced to Britten’s joyous setting of the fervent words of Christopher Smart. Hölderlin Fragments is inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin’s enigmatic lyrics, and Illuminations paints a vivid picture of the wild young genius and misfit Arthur Rimbaud.

In addition to the trio of Britten pieces, the bill is completed by Associate Choreographer Martin Lawrance’s latest piece, Burning, which is as passionate and turbulent as its music, the Dante Sonata of Franz Liszt, played live on stage. (more…)