Rooted in the past, carrying us forth between present and future, Russell Maliphant and Vangelis’ The Thread is a choreographic and musical exploration in tradition and invention.
Russell Maliphant’s latest work, a collaboration with renowned Greek composer Vangelis, is inspired by the concept and rooted in Greek mythology of a uniting thread: a line running from past to future, connecting humanity across regions, religions, cultures and divisions to one another and the Universe. Drawing from the rich vocabulary of Greek traditional dance, working with a cast of eighteen contemporary and traditional Greek dancers and infusing his own characteristic choreographic style inflected with the Chinese martial art of T’ai chi and Afro-Brazilian Capoeira, Maliphant weaves his thread across time and space, artfully communicating the work’s core concept. Simultaneously, Vangelis’ sound world fuses his iconic, explosive synthesised musical idiom with Greek folk melodies and polyphonies played on traditional instruments. The result is a tremendous blend of styles and sensibilities which captures local character, but also speaks to the nature of music and dance as a primordial human expression, preceding and transcending our ideas of nation and national identity.
For the first scene, Michael Hulls’ lighting carves out day and night with alternating soft amber and blue hues. The dancers form a circle which swells and transforms as they recede into the centre before bending back again to receive the glowing amber sun above. Bathing in the ebbing and flowing light, the circle gradually unravels and the dancers, still connected, begin weaving in and amongst each other to create elaborate, labyrinthine patterns evoking Ancient Greek mythology and geometric art. The movements here are simple – subtle foot-stepping sequences. However, executed in unison, the overall effect is greater than the sum of its parts: hypnotic and enthralling.
The scenes weave into one another, bringing together solos, duos and large-scale ensemble arrangements; moments of arresting intensity and spasmodic movement tied together with intimate instances of serene delicacy and fragile stillness. The elaborate steps, acrobatics and rousing, raw emotional vigour of the Greek traditional Pontian dance, the processional strides of the Syrtos and the wide, arching stances and domino-effect reactions distinctive of Maliphant’s recent work mix and mingle to stir the audience, to all but tear them from their seats. Equally rousing is the emotion written proudly on the dancers’ faces in smiles contrasted with frowns, languid grace with laboured strain.
The lighting works to produce powerful vignettes – like snapshots of the past and glimpses into the future. One such scene sees four female dancers pace and sweep the stage slowly and gracefully. Appearing as if in two-dimensions, they conjure the distinctive strength and grace of female depictions on Ancient Greek pottery. Mary Katranztou’s costumes bear her characteristic bold prints and colours and contribute much to this evocative visual imagery.
With The Thread, Maliphant and Vangelis serve as ambassadors to the Greek spirit, inviting and enticing audiences to splendour in the cultural richness of Greece’s musical and choreographic traditions. In the context of prevailing Western narratives, emergent in the wake of the Greek financial crisis, which undermine and ridicule Greece and perpetuate cynical stereotypes of the Greek working classes and promote hostility and an absence of solidarity toward civilian travails in the face of imposed austerity, Maliphant and Vangelis’ intervention is a welcome and necessary antidote. Honouring and responding to the richness of Greek culture with a unique and modern musical and choreographic language, The Thread celebrates Greece of the past, present and indeed, future.
The Thread was performed on 15, 16 and 17 March at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. For more information, see the show’s website.