St Kilda, Island of the Birdmen, Festival Theatre
Tuesday 18 August 2009
This opening production of the international festival was an ambitious and unique operatic event about a lost community on the most westerly of the Scottish islands, now Britain's only dual World Heritage Site.
When the British government evacuated St Kilda in 1930, there was only a handful of surviving inhabitants. The festival reclaims the place for the theatre in a remarkable fusion of photography, acrobatics (filmed and live), choral music of waves and birdsong, and Gaelic poetry.
An enigmatic caretaker is approached by a film crew making a documentary. With him as our guide, we follow a wedding ceremony, a fowling trip to the neighbouring island of Boreray, a subsequent tragedy, the climactic exodus to the mainland and an eternal dance on the cliff tops reverberating with the echo of the birds.
Admittedly it was difficult to follow the detail of the 90-minute narrative without the programme notes, and the mood was one of almost unrelieved gloom. But Thierry Poquet's production – performed in Gaelic, French and English – successfully integrated all the elements, with chorus and acrobats melding into the scenery projected on two big screens.
There's a love story, and a close-knit community of boatmen and farmers, strained through the choreography of Juha-Pekka Marsalo and the plaintive, evocative music of composers David P Graham and Jean-Paul Dessy, played by the five-strong Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles.
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