Narrative Poem: a disjointed evening

The Print Room at the Coronet, London
November 10, 2017

Charlotte Kasner

It is very strange to be in such an intimate setting, a few feet away from the performers, and feel so alienated. In Narrative Poem, the mixture of dance, cello and poetry each took place in its own separate bubble with no obvious relation between any of them.

Yang Lian introduced his poetry explaining that his mother died, he was affected by the Cultural Revolution and experienced the Tiananmen Square massacre. Not much else was communicated in the following hour and a quarter.

After Yang had started reading, a man stood up in the front row and climbed in stage. It transpired that he was to follow the Chinese with the English translation. This meant that everything took twice as long as needed; quite why it wasn’t simply projected is unclear, especially as his reading and presentation of the English was rendered in a dense Scotch accent and with much stumbling over lines. He also couldn’t stand still, fidgeting, rubbing his nose, and constantly shifting his weight during the reading in Chinese.

Meanwhile, cellist Sophie Harris sat at the rear of the stage and played spasmodically. Initially, it was the by now familiar squeaks and squawks but then, for no obvious reason, Bach. All well and good, but the long periods during which she was obliged to do nothing underlined the lack of connections throughout. At least she didn’t fidget.

The same was true of the dancer, Laura Calgano. Choreographer Hubert Essakow gave her moves that were not so much dance as rhythmic stretching. She has a pleasant line but, again, the dance seemed totally devoid of context. Every tiny flaw was sharply in focus as so little was happening and there was nothing on which to pin it.

One of the later poems referenced the famous tale. The Peony Pavilion. The mimicking of Peking Opera style did no favours to either art form. Poet, reader, cellist and dancer were all given ports de bras, although those between the cellist and dancer were blocked by the reader standing squarely in front of them.

All in all, a strange, disconnected evening that failed to communicate.