Life & Culture

Dance review: The Dante Project ‘Inspired by synagogue music from Jerusalem’

A journey through hell to paradise 



Royal Opera House

Wayne McGregor’s ambitious The Dante Project is back on stage at the Royal Opera House, providing ample challenges for the Royal Ballet’s dancers. Created on Edward Watson, who has since retired, the role of Dante now passes on to other principals in the company. At the performance I saw, Ryoichi Hirano took the lead, giving a solid interpretation but lacking the presence and power of Watson, who is a hard act to follow.

Tacita Dean’s set designs are impressive: the hell depicted in the first act is not a boiling pit of fire, as so often imagined, but an icy black abyss. The dancers, wearing grey and black leotards, are fast and furious, contorting as they portray tormented souls in varying degrees of anguish. The music, by Thomas Adès, references Liszt, and there are some melodies ballet audiences will find familiar.

In the second act, entitled Purgatorio, we hear the recorded voices of the extraordinary cantorial singing from the Adès Synagogue in Jerusalem. Composer Thomas Adès drew upon his personal links to the shul for inspiration here. (He talked about this in a JC interview which appeared in October.) It is virtually unrecognisable from what you would hear in a synagogue in the UK (sounding at points more like native American Indian chanting than Hebrew), but I could make out a ‘Kodosh, Kodosh, Kodosh’ amidst it all.

The final act, Paradiso, is the most beautiful. Set beneath a projection of planet-like objects in the universe, the dancers, now celestial beings, spin across the stage as Sarah Lamb (always exquisite) and Hirano dance a serene pas de deux. The finale is a clever light show which brings this glimpse of paradise to an end. Heavenly bodies indeed.

The Dante Project is at The Royal Opera House until 2 December.

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