REVIEW: How like an Angel - Ely Cathedral, July 2

PUBLISHED: 14:17 05 July 2012

How Like an Angel came to Ely Cathedral as part of the London 2012 Festival.

How Like an Angel came to Ely Cathedral as part of the London 2012 Festival.

Archant

ELY Cathedral towered above us as we entered silently through the South door walking carefully on the ancient stone floors in the semi-darkness, shining torches when needed.

How Like and Angel, a production that is part of the London 2012 Festival, had started.

The tall sometimes ornate stonework of this magnificent building seemed warmer and more alive in the warmth of the late summery evening.

Crouched in some of the dark crevices of the building were live human figures almost fusing with the architecture of the building. Single, gentle notes occasionally emanated from inside. Time seemed irrelevant. We wandered freely, breathing in the absorbing atmosphere.

Then an intriguing primeval ‘beginning-of-the-world’ kind of sound throbbed from the centre. It drew us towards it, tapping into our instinctive sense of curiosity.

Slowly, we gathered to behold where it came from – in the centre of the nave. There seemed no beginning and no end to the sound.

Time that we treasure so much in our super-busy lives seemed so unimportant now. In fact, the whole production as it slowly unrolled mesmerized us as it treasured every sight, sound and movement as if exploring it anew, making new discoveries just as we were in the audience.

Lights focused on human figures who very slowly and gradually balanced, stretched, climbed, rolled and intertwined in amazing shapes and daredevil acrobatics.

Carefully choreographed episodes developed in different parts of the nave and the figures seemed to explore every human emotion and experience.

We were kept alert as scenarios developed and changed. Something new appeared at each progression.

The fantastic strength and balance of the figures were constantly apparent as different props were included in their acts: tall poles, ropes and drapes amongst others.

Graceful ballet movements were contrasted with tortuous contortions, smooth questioning gestures contrasted with body movements of affirmative conviction.

When we thought we were getting used to the spectacular display of these amazing gymnasts we caught our breath as one suddenly ‘fell’ from the darkness above hitting the mats below with considerable force. We stretched our heads to see if he had survived (he had).

Meanwhile, sound continued to form a major part of the performance. Elongated electronic patches of it seemed to mark some of the changing episodes.

The first intriguing throb changed into a metallic continuum or one that jangled like stretched cacophonous bells. The singers’ single notes as we entered developed into pure melodic expression and eventually the movements of the ‘actors’ were enhanced with the different characters of the music that helped frame the episodes.

The clarity and serenity of the interweaving music of the Renaissance, the contemplative music of the mass and the emotional intensity of chords that revelled in extended discord contrasted with the hypnotic chant and unique clicks of African tribal music.

The building itself was explored as voices were heard from different parts of the cathedral – at one point the doors of the angels above the octagon were opened to reveal singers sending their sounds below.

The musical works performed included ‘Umsindisi’ by Zulu singer and composer Bheka Dlamini, ‘Gaude Glorioso’ by Thomas Tallis, ‘Dialogue’ by Daniel-Lesur , ‘O Viridissima Virg’ by Hildegard of Bingen, Orlando Gibbon’s ‘O Clap Your Hands’ for eight voices, ‘Agnus Dei 111 Missa l’Homme Armé Sexti Toni’ by Josquin des Pres, ‘Almar Redemptoris Mater’ by Tomás Luis de Victoria, ‘Gaude Hildegard Patterns’ by Roderick Williams and ‘Hymn to Awe’ by Adrian Williams.

This was indeed an amazing production that explored and extended artistic expression in spectacular and effective ways.

The festival spans over 12 weeks from June 21-September 9. How Like an Angel was produced for the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in association with Perth International Arts Festival and in partnership with Circa and I Fagiolini.

The artistic Director William Galinsky, Yaron Lifschitz Artistic Director and CEO of Circa from Brisbane, Australia and the Musical Director, Robert Hollingworth are to be congratulated for such an amazing event.

It was no wonder that some of the performance in Ely Cathedral were soon sold out!

ROSEMARY WESTWELL

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