Jagged surfaces hang upstage, the whole atmospherically lit with the slightest hint of red by Lee Curran.
The stage is set for a tale in two parts: firstly, the last combat of the Muslim female warrior, Clorinda, against the Christian crusader Tancredo in medieval Jerusalem. Jeyasingh draws from Monteverdi’s ground-breaking 1624 cantata, Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, which tells how Tancredo fought and killed a masked Clorinda without realising she was the woman he had fallen in love with from afar.
Live music comes from a chamber ensemble placed upstage right, with the remarkable tenor Ed Lyon taking on all of Monteverdi’s singing parts, as he strides around the stage immersing himself in the action.
The central action – a prolonged, very physical hand-to-hand combat – is superbly performed by two immensely expressive, enthralling dancers: Jemima Brown and Jonathan Goddard. Intent on each other, they crouch, lunge, attack and parry, in an intense duet of passion and ultimately death.
If you read the programme notes beforehand, you’ll learn that Jeyasingh is challenging the traditional reading of Clorinda’s final request to be baptised before she dies so as to join Tancredo. Jeyasingh proposes instead that as the daughter of an Ethiopian Christian mother, Clorinda’s final request is a gesture towards her mother.
None of this is apparent in the actual staging and choreography of this section, and nor would it matter if Jeyasingh’s overriding concern in Clorinda Agonistes weren’t an exploration of narrative and who owns and controls it.
But it is, and in part two we move into a modern day war-torn Middle East setting. Now images of war and destruction (video design by Yeast Culture) are projected onto those jagged surfaces above the stage.
Kareen Roustom’s nervy, at times deliberately shrill score starts with a low electronic rumble and then gives way to the emotional recorded voice of mezzo soprano Dima Orsho, before the musicians return to the stage. Orsho’s eloquent singing returns at intervals, now a lament, now an exhortation to resistance, always gripping.
Clorinda is represented by four figures, all identically clad in black with flowing long coats in deep red hues, Emily Thompson-Smith, Harriet Waghorn and Ellen Yilma joining Jemima Brown.
It is hard to tell whether they’re fighters, reviving the spirit of Clorinda against an unseen enemy, aggressors, victims, or maybe both. Some of the original words of the libretto are reprised through video projections; Goddard enters carrying a camera as a modern-day film maker with Ed Lyon as his sound man, both intent on creating their own narrative.
Narrative of what, though? This final section is disappointingly obscure. Deprived of the tension generated by the two opposing poles of part one, the women move around aimlessly, both narrative and choreography inexorably fizzling out as the work reaches an inconclusive and unsatisfactory end.
|What||Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Clorinda Agonistes Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
09 Sep 22 – 10 Sep 22, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour no interval
|Price||£15-£37 (+booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|