Under the title “Monteverdi Ballets”, Spitalfields Music Summer Festival presented a joint collaboration between the Early Opera Company and Avant Garde Dance. The challenge was to merge music and dance coming from two different artistic projects into a single unified product. Christian Curnyn, director of the Early Opera Company, chose three pieces by Claudio Monteverdi and one by his contemporary Biagio Marini as the 17th-century musical component of the production. Tony Adigun, artistic director of Avant Garde Dance, provided the choreography for two of the works, allowing emerging choreographers Botis Seva, Robia Milliner Brown and Ajani Johnson-Goffe to test their talent in creating the choreography for the other two. The venue that hosted the event, Village Underground, was the perfect space, intimate, sober and elegant, for the creative outcome. Its ample, bare ochre walls wrapped the performance with a warm and not too formal atmosphere that I welcomed.

© James Berry
© James Berry

The first piece of the evening, to Monteverdi’s Sinfonia: Tempro la cetra, introduced Adigun’s style to the audience. With a mixture of movements that range from hip-hop to contemporary dance, he allowed the dynamics of the melody to lead his choreography. Abstract and disjointed on this occasion, the dance sequences conveyed a mood of preparation for what was going to come that matched the words of song. As tenor Sam Furness sang “I tune my lyre”, the dancers seemed to tune their muscles for the evening.

The instrumental Passacaglia by Marini that followed was Milliner Brown and Johnson-Gofffe’s contribution to the programme. The choreography for a small ensemble conveyed a light sense of camaraderie, highlighting the gentle vivacity of the music.

Lamento d’Arianna, the sole remaining part of a lost opera by Monteverdi, led the evening to the land of deep sorrows. The warm voice of soprano Sophie Junker expressed with conviction Arianna’s lament for being abandoned by Theseus. The choreography by Seva relied on the sculptural rather than the dynamic possibilities of the dancing body. Aiming to illustrate the moods suggested by the tragic song, the piece was chiefly made of slow movements and mainly built upon powerful images of impotent despair.

The evening ended with the most attractive and best crafted title of the programme. Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda depicts the lethal fight between the maiden Clorinda and the knight Tancredi. Fulfilling the harmful purpose of “war and death” announced when they met, the combat is fierce and fateful. Much of the success of this production resided in the musical interpretation of Monteverdi’s piece. The lyrics of the composition do not spare details about the brutal contest, and sustain the narrative through the voice of a narrator and the dialogues between the two characters. The three singers were placed on stage, with the doubling of Tancredi and Clorinda into two dancing characters too. Baritone William Berger lead the narration with a commanding and heartfelt performance, while Sophie Junker interpreted Clorinda with a delicate force that complemented the roughness evoked by Sam Furness. The choreography created by Adigun for the dancing Tancredi and Clorinda visualized many of the passages of fight and death so vividly described by the singers. The quiet force of the movements and the energetic effect of the contact between the dancers reinforced the physicality embedded in the story.