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.