Baroque Counterpoint: Dance@TheGrange

The Grange Festival, New Arlesford, Hampshire
July 14, 2022

Dance@TheGrange, is no ordinary theatre visit. It’s a day in the country, a picnic dinner and the performance as the cherry on the top. The Grange Festival in Hampshire has opera at its heart but its artistic director, Michael Chance, has been a good friend to dance including regular programmes of a varied selection in each season. This year it was New English Ballet Theatre and Shobana Jeyasingh Dance who were our ambassadors. They offered two very different experiences to please a wide variety of tastes.

NEBT is a company with a mission: to help young classically trained dancers get that all important company job. There are never enough vacancies for the dozens of hopefuls and unless you are a graduate of one of the handful of top international schools, it will be a struggle to get your first contract. In the 12 years NEBT has been operating, the company has helped dozens of young dancers and choreographers get the experience and the platform they need to help them on their way.

The evening opened on a high with guest artists Haruhi Otani, English National Ballet’s newest soloist, and Luca Acri, First Soloist at The Royal Ballet dancing Petipa’s popular Don Quixote Grand Pas de deux. The duet calls for virtuosity and both had it in spades. Otani hovered magically on pointe, pirouetted like a top and enjoyed her 30-odd fouettés, while Acri seemed to relish every moment, displaying fine technique and oodles of Spanish flair while generously sharing his pleasure with the audience.

New English Ballet Theatre dancers in Summer from The Four Seasons by Jenna Lee
Photo Deborah Jaffe

The Four Seasons, choreographed by Jenna Lee is, in line with the Max Richter ‘Recomposed’ Vivaldi composition, an abstract work that takes its character from the changing seasons. The stylistic contrasts in the costumes are extreme but the neoclassical choreography gives the work a satisfying cohesion. The work is well structured with a soloist or couple to head each of the seasons.

Guest artists, Acri and Sophie Allnatt, took the lead in Summer. They brought to life the dynamics in the music in interesting lifts and partnering and had the most eye-catching costumes; simple leotard shapes overlaid with cage-like bands.

Spring and Winter are more traditional in ballet dresses and tights, while Autumn has bulky period costumes, making a rather odd mix. Through the changing seasons, the choreography has appeal in enchainment from the classical vocabulary taken a little further and introducing innovation on tradition. The young dancers worked to a good standard, presenting the work with style in generous movements.

Shobana Jeyasingh’s Clorinda Agonistes, presents Monteverdi’s masterpiece followed by the heroine’s afterlife continuing her battles in the Middle East reincarnated as a quartet of female activists. It’s a daring corollary, but the threads link very successfully.

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance in Clorinda Agonistes
Photo Chris Nash

Monteverdi is credited as the composer who introduced the theatricality of the operatic form, and the story is pure drama, as a secret love is doomed to death. In Jemima Brown as Clorinda and Jonathan Goddard as Tancredi, Jeyasingh has two exceptional talents who succeed in creating heroic characters in stillness and in attack, fighting their duel while tenor Ed Lyon narrates the story. The nature of the battle shapes much of the choreography as protagonists hold positions on either side of the stage. The assaults are ferocious and exhausting with violent body contact climaxing in throws and lifts. The tenor solo is full of passion with Lyon contributing bravely to the dance to makes an enthralling piece of theatre. 

The second part introduces three more female dancers who operate as a tightly knit group. The actual choreography is minimal but their presence, wary, barely moving and constantly on watch, is potent. A commissioned score from Syrian-American composer, Kareem Roustom, is the sound track providing an Arabic backdrop. The set is ambiguous as decorated pillars and fractured sections suggest many things. Phrases of the text are beamed up in the gaps, a good idea as the plot is complicated. Within the pillars the musicians play on stage enriching the ambiance and creating a work that successfully weaves dance, music, song and design into a magical whole.

Shobana Jeyasingh’s Clorinda Agonistes is next at Sadler’s Wells on September 9 & 10, 2022, before setting off on tour. Visit for dates and venues.

Dance@TheGrange 2023 will feature Mark Morris Dance Group in a new work, The Look of Love, featuring the music of Burt Bacharach.