Four Quartets at the Barbican
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is.”
Movement and stillness are at the heart of TS Eliot’s poetic masterpiece Four Quartets. Published in the middle of the 20th century during the Second World War, at one of the most important moments in recent world history, this series of four poems has itself become a turning point in literature.
75 years after its publication, this meditation on time and timelessness has inspired a collaboration between three contemporary artists: choreographer Pam Tanowitz, composer Kaija Saariaho and painter Brice Marden. This coming-together of talents and disciplines is narrated by actress Kathleen Chalfant, who speaks Eliot’s words with sensitivity and a deep sense of pathos, helping the audience to engage with a text which is by turns philosophical, lyrical and even humorous.
Chalfant’s voice, combined with Kaija Saariaho’s beautiful and challenging score, provides the rhythm for the troupe of world-class dancers onstage to execute Tanowitz’s steps. The dance is full of energy and poise, with the performers alternatively holding poses and breaking into frenetic movement. Repeated motifs such as running on the spot or spinning across the stage subtly suggest Eliot’s themes, such as futility or the fine line between keeping and losing control.
The dancers’ draped costumes, designed by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, evoke classical statuary, giving them a sculptural presence in front of Marden’s modernist paintings. These specially made works act as more than simply scenery or backdrop; the dancers interact with them directly, pulling them across the stage or weaving in and out of the artist’s enormous canvases.
The various elements brought together in this performance are combined to elevate the audience’s experience of art, music, poetry and dance, blurring the lines between disciplines and creating a new standalone work which is lyrical, moving and engaging in equal measure.
Photos: Maria Baranova
Four Quartets is at the Barbican from 22nd May until 25th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.