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Pleasure's Progress | Dance review

Jerwood Dance House, Ipswich

Hogarth famously occupies a place in the British dance canon though Ninette de Valois's 1935 ballet The Rake's Progress. But what former Royal Ballet dancer and choreographer Will Tuckett takes from the great man's satire is more like choreographed opera: a rude, ebullient and touching fusion of movement, text and song.

Pleasure's Progress comes vividly steeped in English wit and history, and, like much of Tuckett's best work, appears to have been created on a shoestring, its action conjured out of a few props and scraggy corsets. The conceit of the show is that it's being performed by inmates of Bedlam, who, under Hogarth's own direction, perform stories from his cartoons. Moll Hackabout, Viscountess Squanderfield and Tom Rakewell are among the shaven-headed, pox-ridden derelicts clamouring to tell of their fall "to the gutter and the gaol". Tuckett plays brilliantly to the strengths of his performers – alternately foregrounding singing and dance – but his cast are all multitalented. Matthew Hart's Rake is both funny and affecting, a big, exuberant adult-child puffed up with the naughtiness of his sins and bewildered by his punishment.

Paul Englishby's music and Alisdair Middleton's libretto create a delicious fusion of 18th- and 21st-century voices. Very occasionally, the work sags under the weight of its complicated structure, but it has moments of genius. The bawdy is exemplary in its mix of filth and elegance: a love duet invoking the pastoral delights of Squanderfield's "lady garden" blossoms with rococo innuendo. But you never stop hearing the stark, timeless note of Hogarth's satire. As the characters wreck their lives through gin, whoring and cards, Pleasure's Progress feels like a contemporary morality tale on the British compulsion to get wasted.

Rating: 4/5 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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