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Dance Umbrella 2008

Royston Maldoom -- Overture 2012: Power and Passion

by Annie Wells

01 November 2008 -- Royal Albert Hall

In the awesome surrounds of the Royal Albert Hall, Royston Maldoom’s latest youth dance project “Overture 2012: Power and Passion,” kept London’s annual Dance Umbrella exhilarating and expanding. Artistic Director Betsy Gregory’s choice to welcome community dance into the shade of this well-established, professional festival and present it as a flagship event was arguably a controversial one. However, its integrity was 100 percent confirmed by one of the most authentic, enthusiastic, emotive and well-executed performances I have seen for a long time.

The 120 dancers representing young London in all its diversity were selected not for dance ability or experience but the enthusiasm they’d expressed in short written applications. Best known for his staging of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” alongside Simon Rattle, the Berlin Philharmonic and 250 children, mass movement maestro Maldoom made his notoriously high expectations and rigorous methods clear from the outset. If the intended results were to be achieved, nothing but martial discipline and absolute focus from each participant for the duration of the intensive 5-week rehearsal period would be acceptable.

‘Don’t think you’re here to take part in a workshop for kids. When you work with me I will treat you in exactly the same way that I would treat professional dancers. I expect a lot and you won’t find it easy. But if you stay with it, and I hope you will, what I can promise is that by the time you finish you will have learnt everything you need to know about how to present yourself on stage.’ (Royston Maldoom 2008, cited in event programme)

“Overture 2012” was set against the stirring backdrop of London Symphony Orchestra’s live interpretation of 20th Century Russian composer Shostakovich’s Symphony Number 10. Loosely biographical, the work tells the story of a composer’s struggle to survive under the dictatorial impositions of the Stalinist regime. This laid the ground for an exploration of more universal social themes such as good and evil, tolerance and integration, the individual and the group. However, as emphasized by Maldoom, the piece has equal relevance as ‘a choreographic response to the dynamics of the music’, ‘a celebration of large ensemble dancing […] and of the energy of youth’. It was no less a physical exercise in ‘learning and accepting how to work best with others in such a demanding environment’.

The clarity with which the children used the movement to communicate all this was astonishing. It demonstrated the depth of their connection to Maldoom’s rationale. 50 minutes dissolved rapidly into the countless poignant and exhilarating moments punctuating a dance of many textures and dimensions. The model of the movement choir was employed to hypnotic effect, oscillating the tone between the positive and negative connotations of mass synchrony. The children worked with equal impact in smaller groups, whether defining the space with complex running canons or simply waving their arms and wriggling on the floor. Intelligent acting and creative tableaux forwarded the movement. Adept lifts literally powered individual characters out of the crowd.

The performance bore testimony to Maldoom’s much lauded ability to train young amateurs to perform with control and maturity without stifling the freshness and excitement of their youth. Having filled The Albert Hall with electricity, it left the atmosphere buzzing long after closing to a standing ovation of heartfelt applause.

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