Thursday, 18 June 2009

Early Dance Extravaganza

Earlier in the year (and this review would have written then, had the time been carved to do a Performance journal before!), I went to see the marvellous Daughters of Elvin whom we had seen four times before, but the last some time ago. First at a Quaker Meeting House, playing work from what was to be their first album, 'The Garden of Earthly Delights', and their singer was Jeremy Avis of the Dufay Collective. I recall it was one of the most magical evenings, with Katy Marchant's gifted playing on Medieval bagpipes, Dhevdhas Nair's hypnotic drumming, and Jeremy Avis's ethereal singing, it was truly an evening of delights. The gilding on the lily was the masked dancing and the invitation to join in at the end! The next was at the Phoenix. (And incidentally a great source of pleasure was the booking itself, as the Phoenix had given out a form to ask for suggestions from regular visitors, and on it I had recommended sofas for the bar - which soon appeared! continuing with their Medieval Music Weekend - what bliss they were! and booking the Daughters of Elvin...). At which concert the amazing music, song, dancing and masks were joined by an acrobatic dancer doing rope dance! And an exquisite unicorn, which came to the audience at the end to ask them to join in the dance...who could resist? The third time was at Castle Drogo, and this time demons on stilts, a 'dancing bear', and a dragon joined the unicorn, devil and rope dance. The fourth time was at Chagford Village Hall, and this was the full Medieval Circus - how music could keep its primary place with the dancers, the masks, the dragon, the jester, the acrobatics, the devils on stilts...? but this was the Daughters of Elvin, and Katy playing bagpipes and two ! recorders at the same time, plus tambour plus ankle bells...and Dhev's matchless symphonic drums and dulcimer - how could the music not still star and take it's rightful place as the core, the fabric that wove the event together? 
   The fifth time - this time, was at South Zeal Village Hall. In the first half, the Elvins were playing alongside Baroque musicians, and to courtly dances from the C17th and C18th by dance historian and dancing master Ricardo Barros (of the Mercurius Company). It was fantastic - the dances were absolutely like going back in time to the Baroque period, one could believe that they had been meticulously researched, and authenticity breathed life into the stately moves of formal gaiety and graceful elegance. Ricardo Barros was extraordinary, not only in his expert dancing and array of richly ornate and detailed costumes, but also in his acting. He entered first in black, with shoulder-length wig to match, with a precision and haughtiness that perfectly complimented the role of dancing master. He appeared in a blue costume for another set, complete with a hat in the shape of a ship - few people could have carried it off with such total conviction. His last costume was all in pastel shades, and even more extravagant and genteel than the dramatic black he'd begun with. Alternating with his dances were the South Zeal dance group Zayle Baroque, with excellent period costumes, country dances and lots of zest - their sense of merriment was infectious. The music was exquisite, including bass viol by Mike Edwards, and hearing live Purcell was something I at least had been longing to hear. 
   In the second half, we went further back in time to the Medieval, and the Elvins played music from their haunting second album, 'Galdrbok', let off flying butterflies from a skull, came toward the audience as demons playing instruments...and Ricardo Barros was the masked dancer as the unicorn, an then as the minotaur, chasing a butterfly... It was another wonderful performance. Due to the tight space in the area before the stage, while they came and played and danced amongst us, there wasn't the space for the audience to join in, but our spirits were dancing nonetheless. The Daughters of Elvin are not only incredibly gifted, they gather seriously gifted guest performers around them. 
   I can't recommended both their albums, 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' and 'Galdrbok' too highly. Check out their website to order them on the links to the right. And don't miss a show if it comes near you, and the same goes for the Mercurius Company - check out their videos on YouTube!

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