Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, Tue 23 Oct
Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales’ staging of Passion is their first co-production and first in association with the London Sinfonietta. This piece was first premiered 10 years ago by French composer Pascal Dusapin and is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice. There are differences in the telling of this tale, which has been made and remade into operas and films but a quick general synopsis: Eurydice dies from a snakebite. Orpheus goes to Hades and gets permission to lead her back to the living on the condition that he doesn’t look behind on the journey. Plagued by doubt, he screws up and Eurydice is drawn down forever.
“Don’t look for a story, look for an experience,” enthused Michael McCarthy, Artistic Director of Music Theatre Wales in the pre-theatre talk. His co-director and NDCW choreographer Caroline Finn told us this was a “true fusion of bodies and voices” and the dance opera was a “pared down” non-narrative version. Told mostly Eurydice’s point of view, the main characters were listed as Her (soprano Jennifer France) and Him (baritone Johnny Herford). Also in the cast were five dancers and the (offstage) vocal ensemble Exaudi in a non-story of desire, loss and separation. Dusapin’s music was edgy and dramatic at times; interesting to hear the Arabic oud and harpsichord among the instruments mixed in with electronics by the Sinfonietta. All the performers were capable and possessed of talent.
Being abstract and presented in a non-linear way wasn’t the problem. This work was about despair and pain, so yes, it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, but where was the passion? It could have been called Torture because this was way too dark, tedious and repetitive. The choreography, while it had its moments (as with the scene including the lifts), was disjointed and angsty. Words, like the set, were sparse. This writer can’t even remember much of the singing. There were moments where I was taken out of a state of somnolence, such as when the cast was interacting with a ladder leading into the underworld, the gold drapery representing the sun (a nice touch) and a blinding light box that was pulled across.
Everyone was in black. The passion was obscured by mostly unrelenting bleakness and disconsolation, and too long by at least half an hour. This Passion is like Marmite, you either love it…or not. There’s no in-between.
words RHONDA LEE REALI