There’s a revolving-door feel to Cocteau Voices, a double bill of dance and opera that spins around the same themes – desire, absence, delusion – from two contrasting directions. In Aletta Collins’s Duet for One Voice, inspired by Cocteau’s play Le Bel Indifférent, a woman sits on an armchair, legs tucked up and face hidden by the newspaper she is reading; an impassive, unreadable character. Around her, five dancers flail and scurry, as if the volume and detail of their expression might pierce her indifference.
One man (Daniel Hay Gordon) seems to be the woman’s lover, the others like voices multiplying inside her head, hunched with pleading, wriggling with insinuation, or acting out unresolved dialogues. Scott Walker’s tumultuous score amplifies the effect, a melange of disparate rattles, throbs, chimes and patters from which passing motifs emerge like voices heard through hubbub. Despite a revealing final scene, both dance and music seem overwrought, repeating effects rather than developing them, and it’s hard to be hooked emotionally.
No such issue with Tom Cairns’s production of Poulenc’s opera La Voix Humaine (also based on Cocteau). Sharing some of the same set as the dance, the opera again deals with a character emoting over a remote lover. Here, it is an ageing woman (Nuccia Focile) in an increasingly agonised telephone call with a man who is leaving her. Only her words are heard; our minds fill in the other side of the conversation. The music does too, with its hesitations, interruptions and gushes, beautifully and beguilingly rendered by the Southbank Sinfonia. Focile holds our attention, her voice ranging from quavering chatter to bursts of pique, and swelling, briefly, to the soprano ecstasies of anguish. Both these pieces show similar cycles of reaching towards emptiness and spinning back to solitude; but in the opera, we also sense a tightening emotional spiral.