Thursday, 27 February 2020

Isadora Now: A Triple Bill

Rosemary Cronin finds no body shaming in the free-flowing fabrics and wetness on show at a very contemporary re-enactment of the powerful work of the revolutionary dancer Isadora Duncan.  

Viviana Durante Company, Isadora Now, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, Begoña Cao, image credit David Scheinmann

Isadora Duncan fans will recognise the core motifs of our favourite dancer from the moment the show starts; the sound of crashing waves, a strong red hue over the stage, classical pillars, flowing fabrics and rose petals. At first I was worried that the performance would simply replay these motifs, and however joyful it is to see classical works enacted on stage the spirit of Isadora Duncan is far too fierce to be reflected by memories. 

After the interval any worries I had were daintily kicked away with the piece Unda, choreographed by Joy Alpuerto Ritter. The safety curtain revealed a simple staging of large classical bowls with light and running drops of water streaming down from the heavens into each bowl. Elegant body movement lines were punctuated with isolated incisive limb movements with the five dancers transformed into a contemporary set of Furies, like an all-girl dance band you want to be in or watch forever. Serene Zaccagnini was particularly mesmerizing with her sharp but fluid movements.

Viviana Durante Company, Isadora Now, Unda, Christina Cecchini and Joy Alpuerto Ritter, image credit David Scheinmann

Farooq Chaudry’s production and Marie Canteny’s Studio for set and costume design serve to greatly enhance the girls’ movements. The costumes, whilst taking elements of Duncan’s original inclination to flowing fabrics (allowing the body to move freely and adding to the flow of the solar plexus), introduced a contemporary structure through the considered cuts and folds in their designs. 

As the piece edged towards a particularly furious climax, the intensity was increased as the dancers covered themselves with water and threw their hair around with abandon. The costumes at this point used wetness in a strikingly relevant way, reminiscent of fashion designer Di Petsa, where the wetness is used as a celebration of the female body rather than referring to humility or bawdiness. 

What really ignited this all girl ensemble was the presence of female musicians on stage in both the Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan (Frederick Ashton) with Anna Geniushene on piano, and in Unda original music composed and performed by Lih Qun Wong, with her heart wrenching cello accompaniment. 

Viviana Durante Company, Isadora Now, Dance of the Furies, image credit David Scheinmann

I also realised how important it was to be reminded of the history of Isadora Duncan’s earlier works as demonstrated by the first two pieces from this triple bill, which allowed the audience to be transported back to the early 1900s when Duncan’s works were truly revolutionary. They allowed us to truly appreciate her influence on contemporary dance. Sadly, Viviana Durante was unable to perform on the night I went, but that didn’t shake this tight knit female ensemble and their timely reminder of Duncan’s immense power.

Rosemary Cronin

Isadora Now: A Triple Bill
Viviana Durante Company at The Barbican, London
21 – 29 February 2020