A Trio of Contrasts from National Dance Company Wales

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bowden, Virtual Descent; Stravinsky, Noces; Ross, Water Stories: National Dance Company Wales, Royal Opera House (Linbury Studio Theatre), London, 31.10.2013. (JO’D)

Eleesha Drennan, Neus Gil Cortés, Josef Perou, Camile Giraudeau, Matteo Marfoglia, Mathieu Geffré, Chris Scott, Natalie Corne, Àngela Boix Duran, Emily Pottage, Alistair Goldsmith, Kit Brown

Virtual Descent
Choreography and Costumes: Eleesha Drennan
Music: Mark Bowden
Set and Lighting Design: Joe Fletcher
Soloist: Julian Warburton

Original Production: Ballet Preljocaj, 1989
Choreography: Angelin Preljocaj
Music: Igor Stravinsky
Costume Designs: Caroine Anteski
Lighting Design: Jacques Chatelet

Water Stories
Choreography and Concept: Stephen Petronio
Choreographer’s Assistant: Gino Grenek
Music: Atticus Ross (in collaboration with Claudia Sarne and Leo Ross)
Costume Designs: H. Petal
Visual Compilation and Lighting: Kenneth Tabachnik
Photography and Images: Matthew Brandt


In its first appearance at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre, National Dance Company Wales contrasts the almost autistic movements of choreographer and dancer Eleesha Drennan’s Virtual Descent (which opens the programme) with the communicative flow of Stephen Petronio’s Water Stories (which closes it). The costumes for Drennan’s work were designed by the choreographer herself. Body suits asymmetrically cut away to allow reflections of penumbral light from one leg, one shoulder, part of a back, they break the dancers’ bodies up so that they look like those in Cubist paintings. It is not surprising that dancers wearing costumes such as these should limp, or wrap one arm around their head, or hang from their own raised and crooked elbow. There are duets, the most notable by Mathieu Geffré (who is notable throughout) and Matteo Marfoglia, but the overall impression is of isolation, exemplified by Natalie Corne’s (also notable) solo. The percussion concerto by Mark Bowden, to which the piece was made, is part recording, part live performance. To its portentous crashings, a line of dancers descends a staircase more than once with slow, identical, repeated movements (like the Shades in ‘La Bayadère’, but Shades of both sexes). They may be descending to a future dystopia as Mark Bowden himself, in the post-show discussion, seemed to suggest, but the piece ends with the possibility, at least, of an ascent.

When the costumes for Water Stories reveal the body, they reveal it as a whole: both arms, both legs, both shoulders. After the difficulties, in the earlier piece, of working out which leg belonged to which dancer (difficulties the choreographer intended), there is pleasure in simply watching Neus Gil Cortés, for example, rise on the toes (of both feet) with a dancer’s lightness and skill. In their post-modern, Grecian tunics and bare feet the women resemble Isadora Duncan, whose ‘free movement’ related to the flow of electric currents. The flow here is that of water. Like rain drops on a window that meet and merge in their downward path, the dancers move across the stage in a shifting but always connected group. Projected on to the back of the stage as this happens are photographs of Welsh rivers, lakes, waterfalls and beaches. These can be prosaic or look as if they come from a tourist brochure. They are most effective when subjected to a ‘dissolve’.

Separating these two pieces is Angelin Preljocaj’s Noces. Originally produced in 1989, to music by Stravinsky, this work grew out of the choreographer’s memory (quoted in the programme notes) of Balkan weddings as ‘strange tragedies’. The brides on the stage, though, are mannequins in wedding gowns. While these can be manhandled or tossed in the air, the women dancers themselves jump up from behind with both feet onto the benches on which their prospective husbands sit, then roll on the floor in front of them in a display of resistance. The dancers are as committed and as energetic here as they are in all the works they perform, yet this is somehow the least successful of the three. It could be that the dancing is restricted by the benches and by the sometimes unwieldy mannequins. It could be that the folk dance movements come close (on occasion, almost) to choreographed flailing. Or it could simply be that Noces  needs to be danced by a company that is less youthful, less fresh, less appealing.


John O’Dwyer 


Leave a Comment