Described as a performance which, "Turns Verdi, and Shakespeare, into a disturbing critique of race, identity and cultural assimilation," by Richard Morrison of The Times, Graham Vick’s Birmingham Opera Company produced a spectacular version of Verdi's famous opera in a massive warehouse on the outskirts of Birmingham involving 250 local singers and dancers as well as professionals and an orchestra on a gantry.
This extravaganza, held on various dates through December 2009, was an opportunity for Green Man's Morris and Sword Club to show how they could rise to (almost) any occasion. We danced in the entrance area as the audience arrived for the performance and then we danced again in the ballet section in Act 3. Whilst we were dressed in our regular kit for the arriving audience, our clothing for the opera section was very different. As Morrison goes on, "And the ostensibly “English” morris dance is cleverly morphed into its ancestor, the “Moorish” dance."
The ballet section of Verdi's opera is rarely performed but this time it involved not just Morris dancing but also street dancers and Bangra. All dancers were dressed in white overalls which partly obscured their clothing beneath. Each group choreographed their own moves based on the original ballet music. Our dance sequence was envisaged by David Rendell and based on a series of different Morris styles.
The first few bars involved a section from Lads a Bunchum, Adderbury, the stick-striking adding its own percussive effects to the orchestra's music. This rapidly morphed into the handkerchief dance, Monk's March from Sherbourne, as the pace of the music slowed.
After a few moves of this corner dance, a circular hey allowed us to re-arrange ourselves for a section of Long Sword dancing from North Yorkshire. Again, the clashing of the swords added impact to the proceedings - especially as all the other dance groups were silent in their performances.
After a double-under figure flowed into guard of honour, the sword lock appeared and was placed on the floor.
At this stage, the action takes a further dramatic turn as all the dancers don black balaclavas and appear in threatening posture.
All dancers now flourished their handkerchiefs and, assuming a circular formation we continued, performing Lichfield stamp capers and galley overs followed by Lichfield capers and a further galley over to re-form the circle. As we moved round the circle we performed Lichfield cross-capers to end facing up, as the next fanfare sequence heralded the re-commencement of the opera's main action. We dropped to the floor as the lights moved to the new area of the space and then rolled to the wall and exited the space.
As the sequence of performances drew to an end we made special presentations to the various individuals with whom we had interacted.
Jen Irons (right) will be remembered as the first contact from the opera group and she will remain famous — or notorious — for her warm-up activities in the room above the opera space.
Ron Howell (left below) was the dance director but sadly had to miss some of the excitement due to personal committments.
Last but not least, we made a presentation to the director of the opera, Graham Vick (right), a Morris man in his youth who was the main driver for adding our art form into the performance.
Our thanks go to him and to Jen for contacting us. Thankfully we have a strong enough side to have been able to provide at least six men for each night's performance plus at least one musician to play for the pre-performance dancing.
Photographs (which were taken in rehearsal before the series started or in the rooms above the space) were by David Burke and Rod Stradling.
For those who want to remember the sequence it is represented here. This pop-up slideshow has no sound. It requires Flash and broadband and uses pictures taken by Molly Taylor.
The opera was shown on BBC2 on 19 February 2011.