REVIEW: Beethoven's Creatures of Prometheus
Lucas and Lynch Productions
Twelfth Night Theatre
Reviewed November 19
The Creatures of Prometheus is a ballet composed by Ludwig van Beethoven following the libretto of Salvatore Viganò which premiered on March 28, 1801, at the Burgtheater in Vienna. It ran for 28 performances, but apart from its subsequent premiere in New York at the Park Theatre on June 14, 1808, I understand the ballet has never been performed since. Until now, that is!
Hearing that producers Lynch and Paterson had engaged independent artist Jayden Grogan to recreate The Creatures of Prometheus naturally piqued my interest. Grogan is a talent of note in the independent dance arena, and the season was to be at the lovely, independently owned, Twelfth Night Theatre. Young professional or pe-professional dancers had been drawn from across Brisbane for the season.
Added to the mix was the absolute joy of a live orchestra – Lucas D. Lynch (one of the producers) conducting the Cadenza Chamber Players from the pit. His energetic corralling of the musicians was masterful, delivering the rich Beethoven music with a crisp liveliness.
The program was in two halves. In the first mainly orchestral half we heard Beethoven’s stirring Coriolan Overture, followed by his Musik zu einem Ritterballet, both pieces originally composed to accompany dramatic stage works.
The second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 then accompanied the reading (by voiceover) of the Heiligenstadt Testament – a letter written by Beethoven to his brothers Carl and Johann at Heiligenstadt on October 6, 1802, reflecting his despair over his increasing deafness.
This short solo piece had Grogan as Beethoven in flowing white romantic shirt, black tights and boots, alternately seated at a table, downstage left, "penning" this letter, then breaking into movement that expressed his anguish – mainly athletic leaps and turns. Apart from moments of inadequate lighting which left Grogan in the dark, it was a neatly conceived piece, and the music sublimely delivered.
The Creatures of Prometheus is an allegorical work based on the mythical story of Prometheus, who steals fire from Zeus to create two creatures from clay (male and female), representing mankind. In the ballet, Prometheus finds them in a state of ignorance and decides to introduce them to Apollo, the god of the arts who commands Amphion, Arion and Orpheus to teach music, and Melpomene and Thalia to teach tragedy and comedy. Eventually, after a series of "lessons" from the various gods, the humans come to understand their capacity for free choice and its consequences.
The first scene has Prometheus (Grogan), on a smoke-filled stage, wearing only a ragged loin cloth. He fights the gods for control of the creative spark that he ultimately bestows on the two clay creatures, bringing them to life. This section is cleverly drawn; the creatures (Brock Tighe and Caitlin Halmarick), being without sense or reason, unable to do the bidding of Prometheus, instead falling lifelessly about in a carefully choreographed comic sequence.
The second and longer scene at Mt Parnassus, where Apollo (Jordan Butler) and his gods and muses set about educating Prometheus’ creatures, is more unwieldy. The various set pieces are moved easily around the space to create different settings, but with ten dancers on the small stage it does at times seem overly busy.
The choreography, a blend of the classical and contemporary, is most clearly drawn for the men, reflecting Grogan’s own very athletic performance skill set. It is less so with the classical idiom, including much of the partnering.
Delivery of such a convoluted story line through the medium of dance can challenge the most seasoned choreographer, however, while some moments lacked clarity, on the whole Grogan delivered the story well.
William Cheung as Pan stood out for his clean elevation and turns, and Halmarick showed lovely use of the upper body in her solo. Grogan, as Prometheus, anchored the work well.
This was an ambitious project performed with energy and enthusiasm. It was delivered to a packed and enthusiastic house, and gave this audience member at least, a new-found appreciation of Beethoven.
– DENISE RICHARDSON
Pictured above is Jayden Grogan. Photo by Ken Santos.