REVIEW: Dance me to the End of Love, Kempe Studio

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Actor Clifford Rose and musician John Woolf, right, bring words and music alive at the Kempe Studio. Photo: Mark Williamson

Dance me to the End of Love, Kempe Society at The Muses, Kempe Studio, Stratford, 10th November

“They did not give their lives – their lives were taken.” Fierce and poignant words are used by Cordula Kempe on Remembrance Sunday to introduce her programme of words and music, Dance Me to the End of Love.

Musician Cordula was born in Stuttgart during the Second World War, so the weekend that marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall also has special significance too. She sadly notes the fashion for building walls (Brexit’s metaphorical and Trump’s real border one) has not waned.

On the agenda though tonight is dance, lyrically and musically. This Word and Music series, now in its 12th year, offers the chance to see the best actors and musicians perform in an intimate space. Tonight five brilliant actors are on hand – Clifford Rose, Ruth Lass, Nicholas Day, Jennifer McEvoy and Sam Dastor, all RSC alumni – to bring the verse, and the odd prose piece, alive with vigour, meaning, humour and warmth. Meanwhile at the grand piano is RSC’s Director Emeritus John Woolf, masterfully underpinning the words with snatches of music that allow for moments of reflection – perhaps a smile or a tear – between the recitations.

Under the artistic microscope is dance in nature, formal human-devised dance, the act of creation, and indeed all life… To quote Ruth quoting poet Henri Chopin: “Poetry is song, game, step, colour, line and the ‘physical word’ – the word that is simply Movement – DANCE!”

Cordula and the five actors sit at the front by John. They take it in turns to stand as they deliver their selected passages and poems – usually solo, sometimes altogether; their popping up becomes a marvel of choreography in itself.

There is a Desert Island Discs flavour to the evening… a beguiling blend of tunes and chat that set your thoughts aswirl upon a sea of profundity.

The mishmash collage works as a wondrous whole, but a few things stood out especially for me. Musically, I wanted more of Thomas Arne’s prim but comforting Where the bee sucks, and John’s own compositions from The Tempest; Debussy’s Claire de Lune, which always makes the world a better place; and Gerardo Rodriguez’s exuberant Tango. The latter was followed by Ruth Lass’ evocative reading of Jenna Plewes’ poem Dreams: “I’d love to wear red stilettos and dance the tango with a sultry youth from Buenos Aires… A middle-aged wife with grey hair can dream…’

What a treat it is to hear Sam Dastor read The Owl and the Pussy Cat, which transported the whole audience back to being aged five. Nicholas Day’s honeyed tones did more than justice to the heart-breaking words of Leonard Cohen’s Thanks for the Dance. Jennifer McEvoy gave a beautiful reading of Elizabeth Jennings’ spiritual Dance: “Always at the heart of things is dance… the joy of endurance, the steps of pain”. Finally, Clifford Rose’s great delivery of 17th century pamphleteer and puritan William Prynne’s anti-dance rant, the Peril of the dance, snapped us all out of our reverie.

As Keats might have said, never mind war, borders and walls, we only need beauty and truth. The latter was in glorious abundance on Remembrance Day at Stratford’s Kempe Studio.