Libby Seward’s assured production of Rag And Bone Shop Of The Heart, marked the significant launch of her own professional dance company – Animated State Dance Theatre Company – at Garter Lane Arts Centre. Since she came to Waterford to work with Youth Arts, it was obvious that she had sterling qualities and great creative capacity to achieve much.
Inspired by W. B. Yeats poem, The Circus Animals’ Desertion, that begins with the aspirational idea – I sought a theme . . . And in verse five ends with – In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart – Seward found the inspiration to create a many layered set of movement images to hold the audience in her thrall.
That she succeeded was in no small way due to Ben Hennessy’s stunning set design with lots of detail and hanging objects that could be lowered into the performance arena. His was a careful reading of the poem and you got the hurdy gurdy horses, rag dolls, lots of mirrors, picture frames, teddybears, suitcases, a violin, stained-glass windows, a gramaphone, sheet music, a pheasant and a trumpet with several essential ladders.
Conor Nolan lit the objects and area with a delicate but positive touch. Libby Seward and Lucy Rowell designed costumes and decorated the gallery space as well in the style of Degas, Manet and Renoir with a passing reference to Jack B. Yeats from the recent National Gallery Masquerade and Spectacle – The Circus and the Travelling Fair.
A mix of recorded sound and live accompaniment from Nick Bankes on Double Bass, created curious soundscape to facilitate a rather long and languid opening of Life And Memories before a cracking Cocktail party with such fun show dancing. Quick themes of love and relationships caught the animal/bird-like mood as dancers chattered and interacted in quick anxious movements. Routines became more synchronised and there was much more shape.
It was as if in her choreography Libby Seward used dance and dancers like paint in the Impressionistic style to create fluid, floating, congealing motion. Sense emerged with rose petals, rings wrapped in tissue paper and the mood changed to passion, frenzy, fighting and much slapping. Initially I thought she had sanitised the poem by outing the word – foul – but she introduced a Frankenstein theme that only once descended into nonsense with a girl weeping and a man wishing he was a rabbit.
Creatures fought tooth and claw and cackled and jostled before a splendid finale, where I detected a Benny Hill tune/routine in a bordello, a craziness, where a monkey-masked sound man in a fez suggested Masquerade from the opening of Phantom Of The Opera with a touch of Tommy Cooper and a Red-shirted bassist in a golden frame like Harpo Marx.
The impressive dancers were Sarah Blanc, Federica Esposito, Trish Murphy, Christina Goletti, Myles Breen and Stephane Hisler. They created heart-mysteries, an enchanted dream and showed the power of Yeat’s line – Players and the painted stage took all my love.
I know I had gone where all ladders start in the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.