Review: ‘Genuine beauty’ ★★★ Voices of the Amazon, Sadler’s Wells

The fledgling theatre company, Sisters Grimm scored a tremendous success with their stage spectacular Inala, which featured the voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo earning a Grammy nomination in the process. For their latest show, the company – founded by composer Ella Spira and dancer Pietra Mello-Pittman – has instead turned their attentions to South America for a dance musical which attempts to highlight the plight of the Amazon rainforest, through the voices of it’s inhabitants.

It’s an important, but tricky issue to tackle and although the production, which showcases a wealth of talent, has its heart in the right place, it never really delves deep enough.

Ella Spira’s music establishes a fairytale-like feeling, with Latin rhythms fused with soaring melodies and Kay Elizabeth’s powerful vocals harness the passion of the cause, while Jeremy Iron’s (in a prerecorded narration) guides the audience through the story of a water spirit who must find a cure for her dying sister.

We meet a menagerie of forest creatures along the way and Helen Pickett’s choreography, which is a mix of ballet and capoeira, gives some charm and humour to the animals whose future is under threat from deforestation.

It also contains a touching love story, but with a focus on dance and with most of the lyrics in Portuguese, it gets a bit lost in its endeavor to deliver the fable while attempting to maintain the moral message.

That said, the dancing is mesmerising and there’s a genuine beauty to the musical composition, which captures the magic and intrigue of the ancient forest.

Voices of the Amazon at Sadler’s Wells until 8 July 

Photo by Johan Persson

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We talk to Grammy nominated Sisters Grimm ahead of their new show Voices of the Amazon at Sadler’s Wells

After the phenomenal success of Inala, performed with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Sisters Grimm will return to Sadler’s Wells next week with their brand new dance musical set in the Amazon Rainforest.

The company, which was conceived almost ten years ago by Grammy-nominated Ella Spira and former Royal Ballet dancer Pietra Mello-Pittman, will present their new show Voices of the Amazon with the help of Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons – who provides the voice over – and the Royal Ballet’s First Artist Nathalie Harrison, along with a cast of 16 dancer singers and musicians.

The creators took the idea for the new dance production from a visit to Brazil, where they saw for themselves the impact of the continued deforestation.

Pietra Mello-Pittman told us, “We went to Brazil and visited lots of cities but we ended up in the Amazon Rain Forest. We witnessed for ourselves the effects of forest fires and deforestation and we thought that we’d really like to try to work it into the narrative.”

Voices of the Amazon follows the story of Beleza; a water spirit, whose search to find a cure for her dying sister takes her on a journey deep into the forest.

Unlike the Grammy nominated Inala, the international cast of performers will undertake all of the elements of the production and Pietra said, “[They are] all singing, all dancing, all hanging from bits of fabric, performing circus skills and spinning on their heads as well.”

Composer Ella Spira has collaborated with Brazilian songwriters to ensure lyrically both the native Portuguese and English languages are reflected in the soundtrack. She gathered the inspiration for the melodies from some of the awe-inspiring sights she witnessed when in the Amazon Rainforest and fellow creator Pietra explains, “You just feel the emotion of the score”.

Sisters Grimm, Pietra Mello-Pittman (left) and Ella Spira (right) on stage at Sadler’s Wells with The Sweet London Life Editor Nicky Sweetland

The pair met through a mutual friend in 2008 and found almost immediately that they had a common goal, “We shared the same ambition with what we wanted to create, which was to fuse our backgrounds of classical music and classical ballet but really fuse it with a whole load of other disciplines and unite people from different backgrounds and create really spectacular shows.” Pietra said.

Ella has written the score for Voices of the Amazon (after her Grammy nomination for Inala), Pietra is directing the production and Helen Pickett (Resident Choreographer for Atlanta Ballet and former dancer with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt) has joined the company to provide the choreography.

They are hoping the new show will be relevant – with some political leaders recently disputing the impact if greenhouse gases on the world’s climate – and will inspire audiences to take note of global environmental issues, while entertaining with an engaging narrative.

Ella Spira explained: “We hope they’ll leave feeling like they’ve had a really good night. We focus on having big choral singing that really hits you, so you have this immediate emotional engagement with it and we want people to leave feeling a bit more engaged with the amazon. It is a kind of folk tale and it is fairytaleish, but it’s beautiful. It’s also about letting go of differences between people and having everyone and everything coming together and respecting everything.”

Voices of the Amazon will receive its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells from 4 to 8 July and the production is supported by WWF and the Eden Project along with science consultant Alexander Van Tulleken (CBBC’s Operation Ouch, Channel 4’s How to Lose Weight Well).

Following the run at Sadler’s Wells, the show will perform at Latitude Festival 13-16 July and Singapore 28-30 July. There are also plans to go to Australia and Hong Kong then do a UK Tour either later this year or early next year, including performances at the Eden Project.

Voices of the Amazon is at Sadler’s Wells from 4 to 8 July.

Richmond Theatre set to host London première of Northern Ballet’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Northern Ballet has reimagined John Boyne’s bestselling novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in a heart-breaking new production. The first full-length dance adaptation of this world-famous story, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas will have its London première at Richmond Theatre on Tues 6 & Wed 7 June 2017.

Telling the story of an unlikely friendship blossoming through the disturbing events of World War II, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas sees a child’s innocent curiosity lead to a devastating conclusion. Previously adapted for a 2008 film by Miramax, this world-first dance adaptation will be choreographed by Northern Ballet’s Artistic Associate Daniel de Andrade. It will feature an original score by Oscar-nominated composer Gary Yershon, sets and costumes designed by Mark Bailey and lighting by Tim Mitchell, with Dramatic Coach Patricia Doyle completing the creative team.

The original storytelling ballet company, Northern Ballet is renowned for creating bold new work challenging the
perceptions of what stories can be told through dance. With its company of exceptional dance actors, Northern Ballet is adept at bringing challenging and provocative stories to life through dance.

Daniel de Andrade says, ‘ I was challenged to develop new storytelling techniques which reflect the first-person perspective of the book without shying away from representing the stark reality of the story’s setting. I was very conscious of doing justice to the tension between darkness and innocence in the original, without sanitising the awful events at its heart.

Author John Boyne comments: ‘ Having already seen my novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas adapted for film and theatre, I’m excited to see Northern Ballet’s adaptation for dance. As a writer with two left feet, I will watch with fascination and envy the skill, grace and elegance of the performers on stage. I have no doubt that the Company will only enhance my work with their particular talents.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas will be at Richmond Theatre from Tues 6 June – Wed 7 June

JEREMY IRONS TO NARRATE VOICES OF THE AMAZON

Sisters Grimm are delighted that Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony Award-winning Jeremy Irons has agreed to narrate their new show, VOICES OF THE AMAZON, a passionate dance musical from the heart of Brazil. VOICES OF THE AMAZON, which is receiving its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells from 4 to 8 July, is directed by Pietra Mello-Pittman, choreographed by Helen Pickett and composed by Ella Spira in collaboration with Brazilian songwriters Danny Nascimento, Dito Martins and Julien Davis and world‐renowned percussionists Olodum.

Jeremy Irons many roles in film, television and theatre include Brideshead Revisited (Golden Globe nominated), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (BAFTA nominated), Elizabeth 1 (Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner), The MissionReversal of Fortune (Academy Award winner) and The Real Thing on Broadway (Tony Award winner). In October 2011, he was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. He supports a number of charities, including the Prison Phoenix Trust in England, and the London-based Evidence for Development which seeks to improve the lives of the world’s most needy people by preventing famines and delivering food aid, for both of which he is an active patron.

Jeremy Irons said of his involvement in VOICES OF THE AMAZON “I was very much impressed by both Pietra and Ella in the way they approached me and intrigued by the multi-media approach to the world wide problem of deforestation and attacks upon indigenous populations. Something about their spirit came through their proposal and now having worked with them I know it will imbue the final production which I look forward to seeing.”

The international cast of VOICES OF THE AMAZON stars British-born Rachel Maybank ( McQueen at Theatre Royal Haymarket, Manon, Adriana Lecouvreur and Athis at the Royal Opera House) as Beleza, and features Brazilian dancers and singers Charles Damasio, Hicaro Nicolai, Fernanda Muniz, Kauê Ribeiro and Leilani Telles, who make their professional UK debuts in VOICES OF THE AMAZON. Completing the cast are Michelle Buckley, Liam Burke and Kay Elizabeth from the United States, and Stefanos Dimoulas from Greece, as well as musicians Rob Barron – (Musical Director, Piano & Synths), Adam Kovacs (Percussion 1), Matthew West (Percussion 2), Tina Jacobs (Viola) and Lucy Skinner (Cello).

VOICES OF THE AMAZON will open at Sadler’s Wells on 4 July 2017 following an appearance at the Chekhov International Theatre Jubilee Festival in Moscow from 14-16 June. The show will then travel to Singapore to perform at Grand Theatre, Marina Bay Sands from 28-30 July. The show has recently been announced as part of the line-up for Latitude festival 2017.

Set amidst the Brazilian rainforest, VOICES OF THE AMAZON follows the story of Beleza; a water spirit from the Amazon, whose search to cure her dying sister takes her on a life-changing journey deep into the rainforest.

VOICES OF THE AMAZON features a sensational musical score, containing sounds recorded from the Amazon Rainforest, with music and songs performed in English and Portuguese. Combined with Helen Pickett’s fusion of ballet, contemporary and capoeira, the show aims to highlight the damaging effects of deforestation, the loss of natural medicines and plants, and promises an exhilarating live experience, embracing the true spirit of Brazil.

VOICES OF THE AMAZON will be at Sadler’s Wells from 4 – 8 July 2017

Photo by Giulietta Verdon