Made for her company Sweetshop Revolution, and presented in Edinburgh as part of a small strand of Welsh dance, this heart-felt new production from the choreographer and director Sally Marie could be called a chamber-sized period dance-drama. The inspiration for it was the life and music of Morfedd Owen, a gifted Welsh composer who died under somewhat suspicious circumstances in 1918 at the age of 26. The performance, which lasts just over an hour, is not at all biographically linear. Rather than make the real-life source material obvious, Marie opts for a more impressionistically oblique approach. She’s not interested in facts. What matters here are feelings.
Not that Marie wants to ignore the bare bones of Owen’s too-short life: her prolific artistry, possibly manic depressive nature and the complex relationships she had with Ernest Jones (a friend and biographer of Freud) and Eliot Crawshay-Williams (military man turned Liberal MP and private secretary to Lloyd George and Churchill). Owen married the first but probably loved the latter. In I Loved You and I Loved You Marie is trying to capture some essential truths about these three accomplished, fascinating people. What she’s come up with is a triangular romantic tragedy about love and creativity that’s marked by buoyantly lighter grace notes. I loved it.
Sitting easily somewhere between the narrative and the abstract, this is a warmly human piece about people who really lived, but in an era that was in many ways radically different from ours. This aura of an earlier, slower time is present from the first scene, with a woman (the dancer Faith Prendergast, cast as Owen) lying still on the floor, her body being sniffed by the man (Daniel Whiley as Jones) hovering over her. It’s anything but a slam-bang beginning, but it allows us to settle in as spectators while setting a tone for the ensuing series of solos, duets and trios. All the dancing is character-driven or, more accurately, music-led as a means of revealing who the people onstage are. The music is principally by Owen, as it should be, and is mainly played or sung live by the pianist/music director Brian Ellsbury and Ellen Williams, a vocalist of piercing clarity and sweetness.
Owen’s music was lyrical and emotive, and Marie’s small but exceptional cast respond to it beautifully. To say that she chose them well is an understatement. The show contains minimal spoken text, either in the form of direct address to the audience or the brief reading out of letters. Unlike her male colleagues Prendergast never utters a word, but then she doesn’t need to. Her tiny but titanic body and expressive face do all the ‘talking’ that’s necessary. This young woman has greatness in her. Whiley, too, is a real find, embodying Jones with a palpable sense of the man’s troubling undercurrents. Whiley has a nude solo that’s exemplary in its unself-conscious dedication to the motive behind it (as a means of illustrating Jones’ academic paper about the erotic potential of the anus). Karl Fargerlund-Brekke is no third wheel here, giving a just-right and touching portrayal of an intelligent man of modesty, ego, desire and regret.
I saw I Loved You and I Loved You when it was pretty much fresh out of the gate, prior to an extensive UK tour. There were still things to be worked out about it, but I think that’s what helped make my experience of it seem like such a charged discovery. Marie and the dancers were probably in a similar place. I look forward to seeing their work – vital, subtle, strong and grown-up – again as it develops and deepens.