Some precious gifts come in small packages as was my feeling about this appealing triple bill that evoked both the history and legacy of Isadora Duncan, the free-thinking, free-spirited titan of modern dance and the philosophy of movement. Viviana Durante has curated and directed a programme that includes the restaging of one of Duncan’s own pivotal works; the loving tribute made to Duncan by Frederick Ashton, around fifty years’ after her tragic death; and a new work by Joy Alpuerto Ritter that was both an outstanding reflection of the Duncan legacy and a striking work in its own right.

Begoña Cao in <i>Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan</i> © David Scheinmann
Begoña Cao in Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan
© David Scheinmann

Barbara Kane, who has been associated with Duncan’s work for more than half-a-century, worked with Durante to restage Dance of the Furies (originally choreographed by Duncan in 1911). None of Duncan’s work was notated and there is no known film of her performances, so the modern-day interpreters had freedom to reimagine her theme from Act 2 of Gluck’s opera, Orpheus and Eurydice, in whichever way they wished, guided by the authenticity of Kane’s research.

The scenario lies in the Furies’ refusal to admit Orpheus to the Underworld so that he can bring his dead wife, Eurydice, back to the mortal world.    The grief-stricken husband placates the Furies with the sweetness of his singing and they repent in dance form. In this reinterpretation, only the five Furies are evidenced and their gradual emergence out of darkness, hauntingly illuminated gathered around a large fire pit, was an impactful evocation of their role as guardians of the underworld. Natural, fluid and expressive movement is – as one would expect – very much to the fore with the furies dressed in flowing, open, Grecian robes in keeping with both the mythology of Orpheus and the representation of Duncan.

Begoña Cao in <i>Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan</i> © David Scheinmann
Begoña Cao in Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan
© David Scheinmann

While Durante continues to do great things with her itinerant company – proving that she has an artistic director’s flair that would grace any major ballet company – one must sympathise with her bad luck. Kenneth MacMillan’s Seven Deadly Sins, which she was due to present in May last year was cancelled at short notice due to circumstances outside of Durante’s control; and this year, a reoccurrence of an injury limited her own performance of Frederick Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan to just the opening  preview. The photo of her on the programme cover, dressed in pale pink robes, holding a silk cape flowing in her wake, feet alternately flexed and beautifully arched and pointed, gave a tantalising glimpse into what might have been. However, former ENB Principal, Begoña Cao (one of the earlier Furies) metaphorically stepped into those bare feet and gave a performance that was a delight in its own right; beautifully expressed in dance that flowed as freely as that cape, achieving the difficult gradual release of flickering white petals throughout the fifth and final waltz. Cao was accompanied live onstage by pianist, Anna Geniushene. 

Viviana Durante Company in <i>Dance of the Furies</i> © David Scheinmann
Viviana Durante Company in Dance of the Furies
© David Scheinmann

Thanks to an introduction by co-producer, Farooq Chaudhry (a great asset to any creative team), Durante selected Joy Alpuerto Ritter to further the Duncan legacy with a new work that draws inspiration from the Furies specifically,  as well as Isadora’s principles and the images of her that have been preserved in many photographs. Ritter has stepped up to the plate and delivered a work that could be seen as a sequel to Dance of the Furies. The five dancers from that earlier piece (in addition to Cao, there was Christina Cecchini, Nikita Goile, Charmene Pang and Serena Zaccagnini) are augmented by Ritter herself to form a cohort that could represent priestesses in a Greek Temple or perhaps those Furies revisited. 

The elements were often associated with Duncan’s work and having seen fire in Dance of the Furies, water became a recurring theme of Ritter’s Unda, a shower of controlled streams pouring into large circular basins, into which the dancers flayed their long hair. Fabiana Piccioli’s striking lighting designs for both the opening and closing work were impressive with sharp contrasts in the latter between angled corridors of light and thin tubes of downlight giving diverse and attractive impacts.

Christina Cecchini and Joy Alpuerto Ritter in <i>Unda</i> © David Scheinmann
Christina Cecchini and Joy Alpuerto Ritter in Unda
© David Scheinmann

This was an outstanding new work, beautifully paced, giving this viewer a feeling of having stepped back into history, hiding behind a rock and voyeuristically glimpsing some spiritual, elemental devotion. Fascinating original music was played live onstage by cellist and vocal artist, Lih Qun Wong, the last link in the programme being delivered by an all-woman cast of dancers and musicians with the new and restaged work both also created by women. It was indeed an empowering evening of marvellous female artistry and a robust testimony to the powerful legacy of Isadora Now.

****1