• Catherine Flutsch

Clorinda Agonistes: Shobana Jeyasingh Dance

★★★★


Review: Clorinda Agonistes Clorinda the warrior, a dance production by Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, on tour throughout the UK; sadly, Oxford was the tour's last stop.


[Disclosure: I received free tickets, as well as a free programme for the purposes of this review.]


Clorinda Agonistes tells the fictional story of Clorinda, the warrior maiden, and her battle with Christian Knight Tancredi, during the First Crusade. Hours before the battle to defend Jerusalem from the Christian invaders, Clorinda, who has been brought up a Muslim, finds out that she was born to Christian parents.


The battle between Clorinda and Tancredi is filled with emotion and tension – Tancredi has fallen in love with the fierce Clorinda, and Clorinda is struggling with her own identity while she battles Tancredi.


If this story sounds epic, that’s because it is – literally. It was mythologised as an epic poem, The Liberation of Jerusalem, in 1581 by Italian writer Torquato Tasso. Parts of this epic poem were then used by composer Monteverdi as the libretto in his Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, first performed in Venice in 1624.


This story, and Monteverdi’s music, have been popular for a very long time.


Shobana Jeyasingh has taken the story and Monteverdi’s music and embodied her own fascination with tension by incorporating multiple layers of tension in her conception, production, and choreography of Clorinda Agonistes.


She has created tension just by mixing such diverse art forms together. The show is a blend of ballet, contemporary dance, live Baroque music, as well as innovative lighting and sets. Jeyasingh has also created tension in the portrayal of different historical periods (the First Crusade and modern battles), and she has created tension in her slightly radical interpretation of the Clorinda story itself; showing Clorinda’s death as a maternal reunion rather than the traditional portrayal of her death as a victory for Christianity.


The show is divided into two parts. The first part is a dance duet between Clorinda, danced by Jeyasingh, and Tancredi, danced by Jonathon Goddard. The libretto is gorgeously sung by tenor Ed Lyon, who takes part in the dance as a kind of narrator, invisible to the main characters but very much a physical presence to the audience.


The second part is set as Clorinda’s meditation on her impending death – accompanied by a narrator, and other women dancers, who are witness to her meditation and her suffering.


Everything about this production is extremely beautifully executed. The historically informed performance of the Baroque music is expertly played by world class musicians – and would stand on its own as a superb concert performance. The choreography is exciting – particularly the physicality of the fight between Clorinda and Tancredi. Jeyasingh has made the fight athletic, balletic and erotic – all at the same time. I particularly liked hearing the grunts and gasps of exertion between the dancers as they struck and grasped each other – it made the fight seem so real. The second half was beautiful, the recorded performance of mezzo soprano Dimo Orsho was extremely evocative.


While I enjoyed this performance on so many levels, I don’t think it will be for everyone. The mixing of the disciplines might seem a bit jarring – it is slightly odd to hear international standard musicians playing live in a concert like setting but have them tucked away behind the sets, largely out of sight.


Similarly, it may seem a bit strange to have the singer strutting around on stage, taking part in the dance, and literally rolling around the stage, while singing gorgeously. I would also say that perhaps the second half may have been a tad too long – the story and its emphasis had been well communicated, long before the end.


These are all minor points though. Clorinda Agonistes was beautiful, entertaining, original and brave.

Square Stage