Last week I went to see Ballet Rambert at Theatr Clwyd, to watch three dance pieces: Eternal Light, The Carnival of the Animals, and Infinity. It was so good I went twice - I had a spare ticket for the Friday night which I had intended to change but instead I hung onto it!
I do not have the language of a ballet expert to communicate precisely what I saw but I want to try and describe my response to it.
Eternal Light was a requiem piece which focussed not on a life well lived but on the young: a requiem for them for the loss of our planet, and also for the loss of young lives in World War 2. It was influenced by Gericault's painting of The Raft of The Medusa, an extremely moving painting that depicts a group of men on a raft, in a triangular formation; they float towards a wide break of light in the sky, the hands of the men standing lifted towards it, and those sitting either kneeling up to look at it or comforting the prostrate dying. When the ballet opened the tight formation of the dancers and the beautiful synchrony of their movements reflected this scene intensely. During the section that dealt with war dead the poem 'In Flanders field the poppies grow' was sung and the stage backlit with crimson while, very slowly, lit crosses were lowered down, until they formed even military rows of memorial crosses. It was quite harrowing. Colours in this ballet were minimal: mainly white, with some green and red. Nothing else, which made it more poignant. Towards the end of the piece the dancers performed against a huge waxing moon whose light became so intense that the whole audience was lit by it, and the effect of it was so wonderful that you could clearly observe how emotional people felt. I honestly think I have never before sat in an audience who were so unanimously moved by a ballet, and it was an astonishing event. The music was specially composed for the ballet and it too was wonderfully moving. I was so, so glad I had a ticket for a second performance, and was equally moved on the second night.
I must be giving the impression that the other two pieces counted for nothing, and of course that is not the case at all. It's just very difficult to be so profoundly moved by a ballet and then have to try and shift gear to concentrate on something very different. What I would like to comment on in The Carnival of the Animals is the joyful verve with which it was danced, and the exquisite solo of the swan was a delight. 'Infinity' I found deeply sad and very powerful, with a strong element in it of the chorus from a Greek tragedy. And in fact on my second visit I couldn't bear to stay for it: I simply wanted to hug the vision of 'Eternal Light' tight to my chest.
During the intervals I spent my time looking at the exhibition of photographs, taken by Rhori Jones, of the mountain people of North Albania. Theatr Clwyd is a treat in that it uses its very long, wide corridors as art galleries, and I have been lucky to see some superb displays in these, including, some time ago, the vast, brilliantly coloured paintings of Welsh artist Mary Lloyd Jones whose work I very much admire. But back to the photographs! They were taken between 1992 - 1999, and were of a harsh, tough people whose lives were hard and rigidly governed by codes that swung between high Catholicism and pagan practice. The faces were thin, hard and careworn; clearly a very poverty-stricken life and very cut off both from each other and the rest of the world: mostly they travelled between villages by boat on the large mountain lakes. Blood feuds were common, and could last as long as fifty years until the oath of bessa was taken to end the feud. Tiny babies were still dressed in swaddling cloths. One of the pictures showed the funeral ritual for the poet Martin Camaj, a poet I had never come across before but have now looked him up and found some of his work, and was relieved to see that it very much echoed the quality of life as shown in these photographs; so there was nothing at all artificial about them. They were truly extraordinary shots.
It was a very rich night altogether, Eternal Light, and this exhibition as well. I had two thoroughly great evenings out! I can think of so many things I've been to that were eminently forgettable but this, I am sure, will stay with me for a very long time.