davis simple man opus arte

In Memoriam Déjà Review: this review was first published in June 2005 and the recording is still available. Carl Davis passed away last week.

Carl Davis (1936-2023)
A Simple Man
– Dramatic Ballet by Gillian Lynne
Lowry – Christopher Gable
Lowry’s mother – Moira Shearer
Northern Ballet Theatre
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Carl Davis
Filmed 1987
Opus Arte OA0914D DVD [88]

Most ballets issued on DVD are based upon theatre productions; this however was designed from the beginning as a film for TV. An introduction by Albert Finney precedes the film and is both fascinating and helpful in providing a summary of the life and character of L.S. Lowry, the artist who is the subject of this ballet. The filming is in a wider setting than the usual theatre stage. A feature of the film is that from time to time the action is frozen and then replaced for a few seconds by a reproduction of the painting on which the particular scene is based – this is most fascinating and illustrates the extreme care to ensure veracity in terms of Lowry’s vision.

The ballet consists of two streams, the relationship of Lowry and his mother interspersed with Lowry’s vision of his surroundings as demonstrated by his paintings. The choreography, brilliantly devised by Gillian Lynne, included detailed and meticulous camera scripts that required extra discipline on the part of the dancers; especially noticeable in close-ups or when dissolving into the image of the painting. One of the interesting aspects of Lowry’s pictures is that many of them strongly suggested a way of walking – often in an exaggerated fashion; these are mirrored in the choreography and are counter-intuitive to the dancers – who usually aim for fluid movement rather than the often-exaggerated gait suggested by Lowry’s paintings.

The two principals, Christopher Gable and Moira Shearer are experienced dancers neither of whom had danced for several years prior to this production. Their performances are exceptionally good, especially in portraying two rather difficult characters. The performances of the members of the Northern Ballet (including children) are uniformly excellent as is the scenery and filming.

Carl Davis is one of the most seasoned composers working in the UK and has achieved wide popularity largely due to his work on TV and film dramas. This must be amongst his best scores; it echoes the Northern environment portrayed and includes hints of brass bands and the barrel organ. Perhaps the most memorable movement musically is the clog-dance where wives waiting for their husbands to come out of work dance with an undertone of quiet desperation. The waltz music to which the tennis player danced so elegantly is also most enjoyable. One of the most memorable scenes is the illustration of Lowry’s depiction of the sea – calm but bleak waves depicted by dancers rolling on the floor; a truly memorable idea, with Carl Davis at his best.

The DVD is well prepared and presented with a useful booklet and interesting extra features. Davis’s ballet is to be recommended to any of the many admirers of Lowry’s paintings.

Arthur Baker

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