Viviana Durante Company
Wilton’s Music Hall

Viviana Durante and Mbulelo Ndabeni in THREE/8:38/SEVEN at Wilton's Music Hall Credit: David Scheinmann
Viviana Durante and Mbulelo Ndabeni in THREE/8:38/SEVEN at Wilton's Music Hall Credit: David Scheinmann

Something has gone disastrously wrong. The front cover of Wilton Music Hall’s May to July 2019 brochure promises Meow Meow and Laura Morera (cabaret and ballet in flagrante delicto one hoped) playing the two Annas in a re-staging of Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins with a cast of “twenty singers, dancers and guest Royal Ballet principals” including Thiago Soares, and first soloist Melissa Hamilton. How they would have fitted on the tiny Wilton’s stage I can’t imagine, but one salivated at the prospect.

Press releases long sent out, and then all is cancelled at the last minute. Will we ever know why? There is some gossip on the ground, if one cares to put one’s ear to it, but a show must go on, and a show does go on, the curiously titled THREE/8:38/SEVEN.

Viviana Durante, former Royal Ballet principal who in her time danced in many MacMillan ballets, creating roles in Winter Dreams and The Judas Tree, and recently restorer of his early works with her newly founded company, last year presenting her much-praised Kenneth MacMillan: Steps Back in Time at the Barbican Pit, must have dusted herself down pretty sharpish to cobble together the sixty-five-minute rescue plan.

Now with only two pianists (Robert Clark and Richard Bridge), Joe Richards on percussion, four male singers (tenors Stephen Anthony Brown and Peter Van Hulle, baritone Charles Johnston and bass Timothy Dawkins), whom I label a delightful barber’s quartet, and superlative mezzo-soprano Wendy Dawn Thompson with a look of Lotte Lenya (Weill’s wife) about her. And a short, newly-commissioned dance piece (an overnight favour from a friend?) for herself and contemporary dancer Mbulelo Ndabeni (seven years with Rambert, now freelance and with his own company): choreographer Javier de Frutos brings the long-retired ballerina back to the stage.

The experienced singers deliver a staged concert performance of four songs from The Threepenny Opera (that’s the THREE—I love its Love Song), and The Seven Deadly Sins in full (that’s the SEVEN—text by Brecht, translation by W H Auden and Chester Kallman), and amusing they are, too, but where is the dance (the dividing centre piece 8:38), because blink and one could almost miss and dismiss it.

Danced to recorded music, 8:38 is not entirely Weill either. Bach’s Concerto for Oboe in C sharp minor takes on Weill’s "Hymn to Peace" (from the 1936 musical Johnny Johnston) and "September Song" (a scratchy Lotte Lenya recording). 8:38—what does it mean? Does 38 stand for 1938, the date of "September Song’s" composition for Broadway show Knickerbocker Holiday? And the 8—is that the eight minutes I imagine it lasts, though it feels longer?

"September Song"—is 8:38 a May-September romance de Frutos has Ndabeni and Durante evoking at the two mobile ballet barres that separate them from the audience? In grey tracksuits, they bend and balance, but the ten years away from professional dance show in Durante’s noble effort. Ndabeni’s lithe supple body gets a workout. Seedy cabaret and Weimar Germany it does not conjure.

Dancers at a barre is a familiar choreographic cliché or trope—one only has to think of Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson or Jerome Robbins’s Afternoon of a Faun set in a ballet studio—but eight minutes, if that, tells us little. It’s not even an amuse bouche. Bravo for pulling something out of a hat at such short notice, the singers are great, but Saturday evening at Wilton’s Music Hall is far from full.

Incidentally, the Royal Ballet did a William Tuckett version of The Seven Deadly Sins some ten years ago. But to see a restored MacMillan version—he himself did several remakes—for Western Theatre Ballet in 1961 and 1984, and the Royal Ballet in 1973—now that would be something.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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