Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is so well and widely known you would think it impossible to make it sound fresh and novel. But V4: The Seasons, a terrific joint venture by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Oguike Dance, does just that. It is the collision of old and new that makes the performance such a blast. The period instruments of the OAE bring an attack and texture very different from the blended sound of the modern orchestra, while Henri Oguike’s contemporary choreography, eschewing any trace of deference or decoration, cuts straight to the music’s beating heart.
Vivaldi wrote motifs to illustrate specific scenes – birdsong, storms, hunting – and shaped them into larger musical constructions; the resulting “contest between harmony and invention”, as he put it, gives the music its impetus. Oguike does something similar with his six dancers (superb, with SunBee Han as the magnetic standout). He pins the choreography to the musical movements, his construction more compositional than narrative. The dancing is crammed with dynamic imagery: a froggy squat opens the piece; flapping hands variously suggest fluttering wings, shaking leaves or a freezing wind. There are perilous leans, with arms spiralling like tendrils; weary wanderings, punches, heaving throws, strides that look a mile wide. The action is also dense with human drive and desire: rutty dancehall thrusts, couples twining and parting, intimations of sex as the women lie heavily atop their men, all force spent.
An almost metaphysical vision begins to emerge: in life's abundance there is profusion, but also pattern
An almost metaphysical vision begins to emerge: in life’s abundance there is profusion, but also pattern. This accords completely with the idea of the seasons, and indeed with Vivaldi’s score. And the music gets physical, too. Violinist and musical director Kati Debretzeni regularly enters the stage, and we witness a melancholy melody separate a couple, or a jabbing cadenza galvanise a body’s bones, and in the final scene she become the axis of action: the dancers run rings around her. Vivaldi vivified.