German Tanztheater, a huge water tank, outlandish costuming, nudity and mime – expectations were running high for Sasha Waltz and Guests in their reading of Purcell’s 1689 masterpiece. You had to forget the huge water tank, which, according to the programme, is supposed to represent Troy . . . no, I don’t see it either. You also had to overlook the added “interlude”, which was stuffed to the gunwales with every cliché of German Theater – near-naked chorus members in gumboots shouting interjections in several languages, male tranvestitism, incomprehensible hand gestures and a horse-whip.
But once you got past these theatrical fetishes, there were passages of true beauty. Waltz’s talent lies in making dancers and singers move as an organic whole; she can make two bodies fuse and meld, she can form groups into wind-blown trees and make the entire cast echo the movements and mood of the parting lovers.
Giving one character several incarnations (dancer(s) and singer) is nothing new – think Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins – and I was not always convinced that what was being sung was being illuminated by the dancers; however, Virgis Puodzunias stood out with his intensity of movement and heroic musculature as the danced Aeneas, rather more than the singing of his counterpart. Dido sang and danced her lament “When I am laid in earth” in a net of her own hair, recalling a mourning veil and that very earth. Brilliant.
The biggest ovation was, in true London fashion, for the orchestra, the Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin, which played with intensity, spirit and élan. Belinda sings in Act I “When monarchs unite, how happy their state” – a pity, then, that the unity of stage and pit was ultimately compromised by the fitful nature of Waltz’s inspiration.
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