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Review: Britten Dances, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh


Kim Brandstrup’s new Ceremony of Innocence is the highlight of the Aldeburgh Festival’s danced celebration of composer Benjamin Britten. Set to the Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, it echoes the ambiguities of Britten’s operas in fresh, musical dance, with strong video design by Leo Warner.

The programme, part of Aldeburgh Music's 'Inspired by Britten' series, brings together three choreographers and dancers from the Royal Ballets of Flanders and Britain. There are three works from the Royal Ballet of Flanders.

Set to Britten’s Young Apollo, Ashley Page’s If Memory Serves has Laura Hidalgo as a mermaid at play, dancing with three young men. It’s slight but sprightly, with references to Balanchine’s 'Apollo'. Ben Pope conducts the Britten Sinfonia in a brisk account of the score.

Page’s Courting the Senses is an effortful duet to Britten’s arrangement of a Purcell Chacony. The couple start in stylised 17th-century dress, then move into grappled partnering when Geneviève Van Quaquebeke takes her skirt off.

Cameron McMillan’s 'Dream Weaver' bites off more than it can chew. Larry Goves’ striking new score Nocturnal and Diversions frames and reframes Britten’s setting of a Dowland song. McMillan shows a dancer surrounded by sleepers, who gradually wake and join in episodic dances. There are some striking sequences – a male solo to solo guitar, delicately played by Tom McKinney – but McMillan can’t fill so much music, while the ensemble choreography is strained.

Working with dancers from Britain’s Royal Ballet, Brandstrup takes the theme of lost and corrupted innocence, central to so many Britten works. In a white suit, watching younger dancers at play, Edward Watson looks like Aschenbach in Death in Venice, dreaming of lost youth. The dancing in the fizzing early movements is joyfully fluent, with Watson foreshadowing the music’s later darkness. Barry Wordsworth conducts a nimble performance by the Britten Sinfonia.

Brandstrup’s steps follow the darting music with generous ease. Marcelino Sambé, who joined the Royal Ballet last year, is sensational as the leading youth, running and soaring. One series of springy jumps has such verve that you’d think he could bounce forever. In a shivery sequence, the young dancers return, but now look like mocking ghosts of what Watson saw the first time.

Leo Warner’s video images light up Snape Maltings Concert Hall, a brick box with limited room for scenery. The old industrial brickwork glows gorgeously, shadowed with stylised scenery and shadowy dancers. Sambé and Watson mirror each other’s movements, one on a dark half of the stage, the other in light, with a wavering white line marking the distance. Sambé could be Watson’s past; Mara Galeazzi flits between them in fluid, delicate dances.

Until 21 June. Box office 01728 687110