It is, of course, difficult, when covering such a diverse range of cultural creativity, to draw up satisfactory criteria for a single highlight of the year, and so all one can really do is react to a lasting impression. I have written and spoken at length about Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises, for example, and it’s difficult to shut me up about certain books. But one event, and one performance in particular stuck with me through the remainder of the year in 2012, and it came out of a mixture of inexperience and of confrontation to my expectations.
I went to see Ballet Cymru’s production of The Tempest, an original ballet set to Jean Sibelius’ themes, at Newport’s Riverfront Theatre, not really having a firm grasp of the finer points of the form. Rather, I came to the show as a literary man, if anything – somebody who knows Shakespeare – and as an admirer of Sibelius. Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that both Shakespeare and Sibelius are mystical curiosities to me; so difficult it is to really pin down Shakespeare, so massive is the brand; meanwhile Sibelius confuses and confounds as much as he excites me. It was the ballet for which I had little foundation: the Nutcracker on my grandfather’s turntable when I was a child, and that was about it. For all that I did my research, and I knew what the standard of perfection was by the time I took my seat, confident enough to produce a fair-minded review. The show was not perfection, however much I enjoyed it, and however much it moved me (and in the case of Miranda and Antonio’s final dance together, it moved me immensely).
But the real delight, from my point of view as an admirer of Shakespeare, Sibelius and – as the production went on – now ballet, was the performance of Lydia Arnoux as Ariel. I have seen many Ariels, and they have never been as satisfying as Arnoux’s. More often than not, they have replaced ‘magic’ with ‘theatricality’, mysticism with affectation. I have seen impish Ariels, mischievous Ariels, angry Ariels, and even once an Ariel that came across more as a kind of ethereal Thundercat than one of Shakespeare’s more alluring and supple characters. Arnoux understood the difference between theatre and magic, and her youthful, energetic interpretation lifted the entire production. Her dance depicting Ariel’s elation at her freeing from Prospero’s spell, if I had to pick a moment of the year, would be exactly that. It signified the essence of the emotions of that freedom, distilling the electrification of the body through the elation of the soul beyond even, perhaps, the capabilities of Shakespeare’s poetry. If we are looking for some kind of meaning and significance in our journey through art and literature then it is moments like this, rendering me alone and yet not lonely, that will combine with others to form some kind of answer further down the line. Arnoux’s energy in her sympathies, the way she floated like the purity of unintended thought, was my highlight of the year.
Banner illustration by Dean Lewis