On Sunday 24th April, London’s Sadler’s Wells theatre played host to an entirely unique ballet performance, by French choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela. Sliver of Sky presented in association with Amnesty International UK, and takes its name from the the words of Albert Woodfox, the last of the Angola 3 to be released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary after 43 years of solitary confinement.
The costumes for Sliver of Sky have been provided by Sunspel, and so in a bid to find out a little more about such an exclusive performance, we met with Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Ball, the leading ballet dancers from the cast.
Ludovic Ondiviela has undertaken a challenging (yet beautiful) task in interpreting the the emotional journeys of everyone involved. It’s a minimal and naturalistic piece in terms of sets and costume – which, for such a delicate theme it’s absolutely correct that nothing has been glamorised. Conveying the horrific true story of Albert Woodfox through any medium is almost impossible, but if there is a way that I can begin to express it, it’s through dance. The poetic aspect is important, because art that is too ‘obvious’ can sometimes be too restrictive for the artist and audience.
Ballet can have a tendency to lean towards escapism, and veer away from the weightier topics, but I think as a dancer we all want to engage with the important world issues, and this is certainly one of them. It’s certainly a difficult task to portray solitary confinement, since the hardest battles would be the nothingness, the inability to move, the boredom and frustration. The piece has been choreographed instead, to focus on the internal mental struggles, considering instead how those conditions feel inside one’s head.
The simplicity of the Sunspel garments are perfectly aligned for a piece like this. To feel as natural and free as possible is the ultimate dancing experience, and this ballet in particular really shouldn’t be about what we are wearing, but instead should be there to enhance and flatter our movements.
When I wear a costume onstage it changes my entire character immediately. In ballet, we are used to wearing period costume, most of which make slouching, or looking downwards almost impossible. For this performance, the Sunspel garments have a very different feeling, and being so lightweight, allow complete freedom of movement. Dancing onstage in jersey instead of the traditional costumes means our bodies can easily sink under the weight of the loneliness Ludovic is trying to portray, before soaring up high again to represent hope and desire.
I began dancing at the age of 3, and without being overly confident as a child, I just knew that it was what I wanted to do. By the time I was 8, it already felt like my destiny. Ballet is a visual art, and we spend hours looking in the mirror refining lines. For me, the real beauty of ballet is the uninterrupted line and form whilst dancing. Maintaining discipline – especially when you’re tired is the ultimate challenge, but the final pay-off is huge. Luckily for us, it’s engrained in us as students that it’s necessity as oppose to choice. Pain is hard to cope with, but structural injuries that involve surgery are the hardest to deal with.
Maintaining motivation day after day as a dancer is incredibly difficult. I became very serious about my work as a dancer aged 7, and from then it started to dominate my future outlook. The combination of physicality, music and artistry drew me in as a young boy, and cemented my love for ballet. We work tirelessly on improving ourselves and have a critical eye for everything we do. People often talk about watching dance as a way of escaping normal life; and as a dancer, the act of performing is even more intense and can be a completely liberating experience. I personally find it much more rewarding to dance in a tragedy because it forces you delve deeper into the unfathomable parts of yourself. It’s only when you reach those immeasurable emotional places that really interesting art happens.
Sliver of Sky is produced by Inspiration in Motion, a charity promoting dance and related performance arts. Net proceeds from events will go to future projects. The charity focuses on commissioning and supporting new work, broadening the audiences for dance and supporting education and training.