Dancing With Titian

 I’m quite an Olympic-sceptic and, dare I say it, I was rather underwhelmed by both the Olympic torch relay and the Olympic rings that have been stuck on the side of Box Hill. Not being proficient in Ancient Greek, I’m also unable to fully appreciate Boris Johnson’s recital of a new Olympic poem. But Dancing With Titian, the Imagine documentary covering the multi-arts project that is part of the Cultural Olympiad, is rather more up my street. I’m likely to watch any documentary on ballet, but this also played to my interest in Titian and Venetian art, fuelled by studying early modern Venice at University.

The scale of the project was amazingly ambitious, featuring contemporary art and sculpture, new choreographic works by the Royal Ballet, and poetry. The documentary was equally ambitious, covering all of this in just 75 minutes. All of the subjects were fascinating; from Titian’s work itself to the multiple poets, painters and sculptors, dancers, choreographers and set producers involved in the project. There was probably enough material to make a sizeable documentary about each area of this project.

The amalgamation of mediums and the collaboration between contributors made for a fascinating comparison between the differing creative processes of those involved. I find ballet rehearsals and choreographic processes as interesting as the finished performance, and it was interesting to see the various approaches of the individual choreographers as well as the diversity of the finished pieces.

While not quite convinced by some of the art (although I did like Mark Wallinger’s concept of voyeuristic viewing of a real bathing Diana) each of the three dance pieces seemed beautifully choreographed; I would like to see the full works. Their success is a fitting tribute to Monica Mason at the end of her tenure as Director of the Royal Ballet. This unique collaboration between the National Gallery and the Royal Ballet has produced a body of thought-provoking work that will surely encourage people to re-examine the three Titian paintings on show as part of the exhibition as well as Ovid’s Metamorphoses itself.

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Imagine: Theatre of War

The first of Alan Yentob’s new Imagine series brings home the harsh realities of life as a soldier and the long-term impact that service can have on the members of our forces. The programme also demonstrates the effectiveness of theatre as a tool for personal recovery and for education of the audience. The Bravo 22 Company production of The Two Worlds of Charlie F shows us the possibilities of theatre and what can be achieved through determination and commitment. The project highlights many similarities between the “theatre of war” and the theatre; the discipline of rehearsals as they drill their performance, the need for teamwork and courage.

The performances are all the more moving as they are effectively re-enacting the experiences of the performers. Performers such as Dan Shaw who in 2009, aged 18, lost both his legs to an IED while on routine patrol. The eloquence of the soldiers as they recounted their experiences to writer Owen Sheers allowed him to create an evocative script which brings out professional yet authentic performances from the soldiers. Sheers describes how the project made him aware of the “simplicity of war”, and the “ageless” experience of its tragedies. It encapsulates the meaning of war and the levels of destruction it entails. One of the soldiers’ fiancée also describes her shock at the sheer numbers of injured soldiers returning from service.

The programme contains some very moving moments. Cassidy Little, who trained as a dancer before joining the military, admits that as a dance within the production is being choreographed it is the first time within the process that he has missed his foot. We gain an insight into the psychological impact of war as some of the soldiers struggle with drinking, aggression and violence. The soldiers’ circumstances also create unique problems during the creation of the production, as Sheers struggles with non-attendance, inexperience, injuries and medication. Despite their challenges the Bravo 22 Company staged a moving performance of The Two Worlds of Charlie F at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and the production is now touring and available to view online. It brings the experiences and tragedies of war dramatically to life, and is definitely worth a watch.