Pros: Thrilling and rare to see this degree of interplay between violinists and dancers.
Cons: The costume choices were a little baffling.
Reading With Bach is a 45-minute piece that uses music and movement to explore both the physical and imaginative act of reading. The set is pretty much a bare stage loaded with stacks and piles of books, emphasising that books are, first and foremost, objects. And a real pain in the back – literally – if you ever have to move a whole lot of them from one place to another. This is, incidentally, the first thing you see the cast do. They walk out on stage, casually muttering to each other, as if the performance hasn’t started. For the first five minutes they simply have a good tidy up, stacking and shifting books about. Director Lizzie Kew Ross’s inspiration for the piece derives in part from observing people walking in London and we see here her fascination with the choices people make about how they read and where.
The five performers consist of three dancers and the two violinists playing Bach’s Chaconne and other snippets from his Sonatas. You might ordinarily expect the violinists to be stuck in a corner zipping out Bach’s demanding pyrotechnics while the dancers breeze about conjuring up the spirit of the books that consume them. Instead the musicians are impressively involved and active in the movement, sometimes pestered by the ‘reading’ dancers, but more often than not jostling against them. This interaction is arresting and unusual, and really made me appreciate just how much our imaginations respond to and are shaped by the ‘music’ inherent in what we read. The performances are skilful and at times, spectacular. At one point, a dancer lifts a violinist in the air who continues playing faultlessly. A mere contrivance perhaps but I loved it. Ruth Elder’s compositions convey so much of the different moods we inhabit as readers. One moment, where the violin holds a long vibrant note, suggests the comfortable and perhaps addictive mode of reading, alongside the more dramatic and intense emotional states.
I had trouble deciphering the relationships between the dancers, but since reading is such a singular activity, it seems appropriate for it to be open to interpretation. Are the two men that surround the woman reader always characters that she’s imagined or do they become real people and readers where she is then part of their imagination? Her strange costume – some red-yellow-white-coloured cross between a Georgian lady’s outfit and a court jester – certainly singled her out from the modern dress of the other performers. The dancers are at times playful, exhilarated, romantic, sombre, sad or isolated from each other. The brief moments of synchronicity, where they suddenly fall in the same direction, give wonderful sensation to the seduction of being fully within the realm of imagination. The lighting moves and dims to suggest the passing of day into night, reading being an activity done at all hours. We even see the characters live on when the reader sleeps. There are many other lovely moments where the interior nature of reading is made clear.
Trinity Laban is the UK’s only conservatoire of music and dance and is a really interesting space. Tellytubbyland grass hills lead up to The Laban Building, which houses the largest purpose built contemporary dance centre in the world. It was refreshing to see a really vibrant and international crowd at this event: it almost felt like a mini-holiday. The piece is now on tour at libraries around London. I encourage any book lovers who might be put off by the dance and classical music combo to give this show a go. I came away with a distinct sense of what the act of reading is like and the poignant ways in which books accompany many of us through life.
Director and choreographer: Lizzi Kew Ross
Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach and Ruth Elder
Booking Until: 7th May 2014
Booking Information: The show is now touring. For more information, go to www.lizzikewrossandco.co.uk/reading-with-bach.html