Mixtures, Westminster Abbey, London

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The Independent Culture

No orchestra pit, no velvet curtain, no tip-up seats. Instead, we gazed at soaring Gothic arches, vivid bouquets of stained glass and a stage positioned so that we were seated on three sides. The evening, the second in a series called Mixtures, built around the great organ of Westminster Abbey, was dedicated to dance. It was certainly different and not a little impressive. The first evening had focused on poetry, and later ones will bring in a choir, for example, and percussion.

No orchestra pit, no velvet curtain, no tip-up seats. Instead, we gazed at soaring Gothic arches, vivid bouquets of stained glass and a stage positioned so that we were seated on three sides. The evening, the second in a series called Mixtures, built around the great organ of Westminster Abbey, was dedicated to dance. It was certainly different and not a little impressive. The first evening had focused on poetry, and later ones will bring in a choir, for example, and percussion.

"Organ & Dance" combined the commissioned work of three freelance choreographers and the dancers of English National Ballet with the organ-playing of Dame Gillian Weir. Resplendent in scarlet, sequinned drapes that would have had the Pope's eyes popping in envy, Dame Gillian took her bow before disappearing to join the organ. She started with the thunderous chords of Max Reger's Passacaglia in D Minor, then moved on to the lively Renaissance dance rhythms of Antonio Valente's Lo Ballo del' Intorcia.

Belonging to only a slighter later date was Girolamo Frescobaldi's Aria detto Balletto, to which Tom Sapsford set elaborate courtly flourishes for Clara Barbera and her four cavaliers, dressed in stylised doublets. We watched attractive patterns, some partnering and lifts, and then wondered what - if anything - we had missed of a deeper meaning or theme, because it wasn't apparent.

A title might have been helpful, but none of the dance pieces had one. Sara Matthews's choreography to pieces by Calvin Hampton made the most use of the cathedral's limited lighting and presented a large cast in striking images. The 10 dancers formed a horizontal line that slowly advanced; they froze in a closing tableau, from which Sarah McIlroy rose, lifted in a yearning pose, arms reaching out. Cathy Marston's two couples moved to Arvo Pärt's Pari Intervallo and made the biggest impact with their graphic, black-clad severity. Their swooping, coiling lifts were like angels caught in mid-flight, and their shapes had the drama of a Michelangelo sculpture.

Meanwhile, the abbey's marble statues and busts looked on. The organ filled the air with its swell of overwhelming, disembodied sound. All the music pieces were chosen to have some connection with dance and gave a rare opportunity to hear lesser-known works, as well as contemporary composers such as Guy Bovet, whose Hamburger Totentanz ended the performance in a uniquely jolly, swinging style.

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