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Rosalee Edwards has published 9 articles

Preview: The Soldier's Tale

Rosalee Edwards' expectations are exceeded by this devilish dance piece
Rosalee Edwards on Friday 4th May 2012
Photograph: Odile

After a quick pre-preview Goog­le, I discovered to my surprise that The Soldier’s Tale was actu­ally intended by Stravinsky not to be acted, but to be ‘read, played and danced’. My expectations were not disappointed but surpassed, if only in part because I did not know what to expect. But you can expect great things.

The plot itself is based on a Russian folk tale, and certainly retains the moral simplicity of a fable. Joseph is accosted by a devil, to whom he gives his fiddle in exchange for a book that will make him wealthy.

He is then persuaded to stay at the devil’s luxurious abode and teach him how to play the fiddle, thinking only to spend three days there. This turns out to actually last three years and tragedy ensues. For me, though, the story is just the half of it. What makes me really want to buy a ticket is the way the dancers communicate the emotions of their characters through sheer body language. The dialect they have chosen can only be described as a sort of contemporary ballet, as wildly fluid as emotions themselves.

Not being a dance connoisseur, I felt slightly out of place as I sat down for the first scene, in which Joseph the soldier plays his fiddle tempt­ing the spirits of the nearby stream out of their watery home. But as the music began, and the three dancers skipped into action, I was sucked in. I felt myself transported by the quirky grace of the dancers’ movements, a visual echo of the bouncing brass and free-spirited strings. Leaping up, throwing themselves down, sliding and gliding and generally reaching out into every corner of space, they sought to own the stage in a gentle and varied attack.

The homecoming scene really showed Stravinsky’s work and the cast’s skill at its best. Joseph, swing­ing from joyful hope to darkest dis­appointment as quickly as his feet could carry him across the stage, seemed to be both isolated and yet strangely in harmony with his fellow dancers, robotically dead-pan yet ex­pressively supple.

But words are not enough. This piece is not to be read about in a re­view, but to be heard and seen in the flesh. And if that isn’t enough, there’ll be a live orchestra, too.