This extraordinary dance film by Impermanence, one of the UK’s most thrilling contemporary dance companies, is based on a book by Vernon Lee (1856-1935) published under the same title in 1915 – a year after the start of the Great War.
Screening for one night at Paignton’s Eye View Shop on Winner Street, the film will be introduced by Dr Grace Brockington from the University of Bristol’s Department of History of Art, who initiated and facilitated the film’s production based on her research and interest in the works of Vernon Lee.
Dr Brockington has described: “Lee’s text imagines war as a diabolical dance which degenerates into a massacre, choreographed by Satan and Death, and locking the nations of the world into an endless cycle of slaughter and mutilation.
“The book still challenges readers through its analysis of the psychology of war and the ways in which people can be seduced into violence; and through its accurate prediction that the First World War would generate yet more conflict, despite the expectation that it would be ‘the war to end all war’.
“It also presents a performance challenge because the dance which Lee so graphically imagined was never actually staged. It was our ambition to bring her project to fruition by staging the first dance adaptation of her book.”
Lee’s publication was rooted in a culture of experimental performance that developed in Britain during the war, against the grain of mainstream theatre, and often in sympathy with the wartime peace movement.
The new production reanimates that world of movement, using the evidence of archives, art works, footage, photographs and illustrated books to develop a richly textured evocation of the wartime ‘little theatre’ movement.
The film – narrated by actor Billy Zane, who featured in the 90s blockbuster Titanic – begins with Satan and Ballet Master Death discussing how to reintroduce chaos into a complacent society. Satan instructs Ballet Master Death to assemble an orchestra of human passions to provide the music for a corps de ballet of Nations to perform the dance macabre of war.
What follows is the assembly of the orchestra, filmed in the atmospheric cavernous tunnels beneath Bristol Temple Meads. Following this assembly, we see the core Nations perform their dance, joined by a larger cohort of Nations for the final act, Revenge. The film is interspersed with danced sections performed by a Chorus, evocative of the choric elements of classical Greek tragedy.