Cleverly, Lindsay Kemp starts his evening of Dreamdances with the best and strongest of them, "Memories of a Traviata". It is clever of him also to leave all the noise and energy in this to recordings of Verdi's music, while his own interpretation hides its passion under a mask of quietness, from his fantastically slow, gliding entry to the tragic despair of the ending, when a handkerchief red with blood suddenly contrasts with his white frock and whitened features.
The delicacy of his hand movements and the intensity of facial expressions carry most of the action, aided some of the time by Marco Berriel's smiling, handsome young admirer. This piece isn't about Dumas's Camille, Verdi's Violetta or Maria Callas's singing, but about Kemp's wishful thoughts about them and the whole desperately romantic idea that lies behind them.
A similar process occupies most of Kemp's other portraits in the show, although these aren't always as successful as "Memories of a Traviata": in "Nijinsky", for instance, sitting agitatedly on a chair doesn't get very far into the character or the idea of madness, and climbing a stepladder is perhaps too superficial a way of saying "I want to be God". But his jumps in a strobe light do give an amazing illusion of youthful strength. Maybe "Salome's Last Dance", too, veers towards being rather slight, for all its seductiveness and severed heads.
On the other hand, "Requiem for Antonio Salieri" is fun, especially when Kemp plays an imaginary keyboard with immense zest, capering about enthusiastically to match, even though it seems to show that poor old Salieri wrote the musical equivalent of doggerel, which I thought nobody believed any more.
In order to give Kemp time to breathe and to change costume (also to put two immaculately convincing wigs on his bald pate), some numbers by Marco Berriel, performed by him and Nuria Moreno, fill the gaps in the programme. Perhaps it does not matter that they are far less original than Kemp's own pieces, but it might help if they showed more of Kemp's directness. My one memorable moment was of the somewhat passé Moreno miming to a Spanish song while Berriel sends her up by pulling faces. But they urgently need a better quality of talcum powder to blow around at the end of this number; the present one smells disgusting, even from as far back as the eighth row.
There is an entirely different piece by Kemp still to come. "The Angel" is not a portrait, although it is inspired by Loie Fuller, who 100 years ago was as unusual a dancer as Kemp in our day. Wearing two enormous wings made of silk draped over a long pole held in each hand, Kemp fills the whole width of the stage with his movement, complemented by John Spradbery's varied lighting. Here is a dance going from stillness to ecstasy and back again, rounding off the programme simply, imaginatively and memorably.
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