Shrewsbury School

Dance Showcase: 'A Century of War and Peace, 1918 - 2018'

Wednesday 9 May 2018

The Shrewsbury School dance ensemble transported us from the safety and familiarity of the Ashton Theatre to paint a vivid commentary on War and Peace. 

We were given an inspired series of dances, beginning with the First World War and closing with reflections on the effect of war on the innocent. Sadly my words will not fly as the dancers did, nor fill the page with such emotion and empathy as they did the stage!

The show began with the ensemble dancing together, marking the transition from civilian life to the horrors of war, telling the story of the hopeful start before gathering the poppies at the bitter end. Anya Tonks, in her solo, flew across the stage, capturing the morphine-filled dreams of a WW1 soldier, drawing us in to a world so alien to us now, showing a depth of empathy and expression that drew us back a hundred years to a sodden battlefield, the loss palpable.

John Bugge pictured the trenches and the legendary moment of the ‘Christmas Day football match’, making light of the hell that he danced through. The end of the game drew him back into the jarring reality, the rap mirroring the staccato of his dance and the repetition of the guns.

Lisa Stoyarova and Daisy David danced the 1920s, portraying the brittle humour of the time between wars, the frantic chase for joy that soon came to an end, despite ‘the banishing of fear’.

Phoebe Morris’s piece drew us back into the horrors of the Second World War. The line that struck me from the song that she chose was, “How can I love when I’m afraid?”: a sentiment that Phoebe expressed, using the table and chair to contrast everyday life with the unending worry for loved ones away at war. Phoebe managed to communicate the anguish and daily turmoil for those behind. Here there were no soaring leaps; rather, earthbound glissandos and swirling limbs captured the turmoil of those behind, “a thousand years of loss” so brilliantly portrayed.

Mary Yang danced the Korean War in a short emotive piece, which filled the stage with fast movement, energy and poise. She drew us into to a fast, brutal and proxy war that divided a country and the world.

Fiona Lim danced the stress and loneliness of the soldiers, damaged not by weapons but by the constant fear and noise, the loneliness of the battle, translated back to home and the terrible consequences of trauma and stress. A simple, almost empty stage told of the isolation and imprisoning of a person without walls. Fiona captured the movement of a frenetic butterfly trying to escape through the unopen window; as she stretched and flowed and gestured, she drew us into that glass cage.

Charlie Tonks returned to start the narrative “of songs that no-one wants to listen to”, taking us through the death of a soldier in Iraq: to outsiders just a name but to the family by the grave a story brought to a brutal final end. She drew us in to see the loss from the family’s view, not just another headline, another statistic.

Choreographer Sîan Archer brought us to a close and up to date with a narration by Director of Drama Helen Brown, over which Sîan danced the story of the refugees, of families torn apart but holding on to their dignity. She was grace and resignation in one.

The final ensemble piece drew us to a close, the entire group filing the stage, flowing over it, constantly weaving in and out as the participants’ and onlookers’ lives weave in and out of the war around them. All the dancers managed to be alone and yet all together, aware and yet oblivious to those around them.  What better way to capture the nature of conflict and its many outcomes than the choreographed patterns, random and yet not? The final line “if you knock me down I’ll stand up again” brought the group together as one, in a final, incredibly poignant moment.

Thank you to Koby Ferdinand-Okpala, Freddy Williams and Georgina Cooper for their beautiful and thought-provoking readings and to the Technical Team, who worked absolute wonders to create so many differing moods across so many eras. My only regret is that there wasn’t a second or third performance for others to see and enjoy. However, perhaps the uniqueness of the show gave what we saw and heard an immediacy that would have faded over repeating; perhaps a metaphor for the lives they danced!

Ian Payne

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