This masterpiece was “dreamt in a fever”. A celebration of the union between artist Marc Chagall and writer Bella Rosenfeld, Kneehigh’s tender production was streamed live from Bristol Old Vic’s auditorium in association with Wise Children. One of their most accomplished two-hander shows I’ve seen, this ode to the creative and the muse shone in vivid colours, reminiscent of Chagall’s work itself.
Former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Emma Rice’s articulate and intelligent direction brought Daniel Jamieson's whimsical story to life. Bursting with imagination, this depiction of the Ariel Lovers (Marc and Bella) brought an intense emotional clarity and musical intrigue to the lesser-known tale. Layered throughout was an innate pride for the artist’s home town and Russian Jewish traditions, expressed through traditional folk vocal stylings by Audrey Brisson, who played Bella with a (Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s) Amélie-like coyness and charm. The Klezmer folk songs of the piece in fact acted as a third character in the couple's playful world, with Ian Ross' compositions filled with mournful motifs and uplifting trills. The use of movement too accented the thoughts and narrative of the pair, adding another layer of intimacy and lyricism one might not have expected from such a heady romance.
I suspect the couple's gorgeous chemistry played a part in their synchronicity, in both dance and performance. Marc Antolin’s Chagall transcended the artist’s “wilfully wry view of the world”, extending a hand to the revolutionary and touching on the melancholy. A truly timeless story of worlds colliding amidst a brewing Russian Revolution, these refugees inspired so many with their collective art.
This stage production felt sensitively filmed for viewing on screen and not a moment was lost in the immersion of the entirely formed and yet constantly evolving piece. The circus-like apparatus, evocative of a trapeze in the geometric set felt synonymous with the couple's topsy-turvy livelihood, and further complemented the movement around and use of the space.
“Can you hear my eyes?” they asked, as I sat transfixed on the stained-glassed-glory of it. Unafraid of the harsh reality in which the two lived and the rift it thrust between them, the colour palette of both the staging and the lighting changed to reflect their loss of joy, reflecting the black and white postcards they saved as a remnant of their past.
Brisson’s delivery of such lines as “I have to love the art within myself, alone… painting in Yiddish [writing], as colourful you can be in black and white” felt all very prescient, given the isolation many have experienced this year. Struggling to find incongruences, I strained to stay present as I was swept away by a cabaret of honesty.
A tightrope (pun intended) between the informal and the masterful, the spirit of the message exuded a heart-felt plea to the power of art in all its forms.
Kneehigh’s The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk played live from 3rd to 5th of December and will be available on-demand from the 11th - 18th in full splendour.