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Elizabeth I: The Last Dance

Robert Chuter

The exclusive World Premiere screening of Lindsay Kemp's 'Elizabeth I: The Last Dance' in Melbourne is exquisite and dazzling.
Elizabeth I: The Last Dance

Image supplied 

To say that Lindsay Kemp has contributed so much to contemporary art, is to equal to saying that Rolls Royce has produced a couple of cars: from being instrumental in forming David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character as well as teaching and performing with Kate Bush, to administering a dying and desolate Australian theatre with a much needed defibrillator jolt when he visited in 1976 and 1982 with Flowers. Those of us who remember will tell you – it was a legendary benchmark production – shocking, capitivating, innovative and fused with the most heart-stopping beauty. Lines down the street did not stop as audiences were ravenous for more of Kemp's fertile imagination and dynamic hypnotism adapted loosely from Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers. In 1982, a video was made of the Kemp’s Company performing Flowers at the Teatro Parioli, Roma. It has rarely been seen since.

Into the conservative world of 70s British theatre Kemp and his Company introduced shocking and provocative dosages of pure bred campery, with large scale productions immersed in naked male white-washed bodies, fragrant flowers, ultra violence, cascading scarlet blood and the strains of Billie Holiday’s Your My Thrill. Kemp also appeared regularly in the films of the late Derek Jarman and most notably in Ken Russell’s Savage Messiah.

Through special arrangement with enterprising actor David Kemp, (no relation), it is relieving that the world premiere of the stunningly filmed version of his Elizabeth I: The Last Dance, directed by talented Nendie Pinto-Duschinsky, has premiered here in Melbourne at fortyfivedownstairs. Filmed at The Bunkamura Theatre in Shibuya in Tokyo in 2008, (fitting for a Kemp performance, as Butoh is one of the aspects of his performance style), the production is an exquisite and dazzling spectacle: an alchemy of colour, light, design, symbolism topped with a theatrical style of a master auteur. While the live experience can never be truly replicated on film – it's a cliché' to say so – this version is the next best thing capturing every sumptuous set piece, costume and naturally, every nerve on Lindsay Kemp's volcanic and moving performance.

As the dance of the title is performed, we are taken back in time to her ascension, betrayal by Mary of Scots, loves (giving a standout David Haughton (a Kemp stalwart) time to shimmer brilliantly as Lord Robert) finally up to her death. How is Mary’s death portrayed? Masterfully and most effectively. No spoilers here, except a hint, the word: red. Words are sparse with Kemp utterly silent, as the movement, dancing and performances possess the entire stage.

Performance is what Kemp and his work are about. Every nerve on Kemp's face is electric, every iota of emotion: passion, regret, anguish and child-like joy is resonated through his entire body like a shockwave. "... each moment is a dance which should always be lived as though it were the last dance…." declares Kemp.

Yes, a rare genius, a maverick at 76 years, Kemp will have you believe he IS, Bess - the Virgin Queen. As one of his protege's once said: “Not sure if you're a boy or a girl.” There are so many highlights, but - the final orgiasticdance and the breathtaking signing of Sir Robert's death warrant, a painful decision, which she quickly regrets too late after the fact. It is utterly heart-wrenching and sometimes difficult to watch, but you cannot stop yourself.

The original score by Carlos Miranda, seamlessly passes from understated to bombastic operatic and back again, reminiscent of Vangelis crossed with an amphetamine-fuelled Igor Stravinsky. Award-winning Sandy Powell's immaculate and detailed costumes are simply breathtaking working hand-in-hand with Lorenzo Cutuli's gorgeous set design. Each element building to the ultimate crescendo that is the scope of Lindsay Kemp's vision

It is a travesty that no Kemp and Company production has visited these shores for more the 30 years. His absence has deprived us of the first hand experience of one of the most influential artists of our lifetime. However, if hosting the premiere of this extraordinary production via film is rare, and as close as we get, then let us hope the placebo effect is powerful enough to inspire those of us hungry for more of Lindsay Kemp’s powerful and undying imagination.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Elizabeth I: The Last Dance
World Premiere Exclusive Screening
fortyfivedownstairs

Film director/Producer: Nendie Pinto-Duschinsky
Director of Photography: Christopher Jones
Film Editor: Miika Leskinen
Music: Carlos Miranda
Costumes: Sandy Powell
Set and Video Design: Lorenzo Cutuli
Choreographer: Marco Berriel

13 October 2014 

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjbddEN3Vag

About the author

Robert Chuter is a Melbourne theatre and film director and who has given audiences over 250 +complex, controversial and visually rich productions to date. His debut feature, The Dream Children, was released internationally in 2015.