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Kenneth MacMillan’s Sea of Troubles

Sea of Troubles is a short work which Kenneth MacMillan created in the 1980s and toured widely in 1988 and 1989. The piece was also briefly in the repertoire of Scottish Ballet in 1993, before being performed by a company led by Adam Cooper with dancers from English National Ballet in 2002 and again in 2003. Now, Yorke Dance Project brings Sea of Troubles back to the stage in Rewind Forward.

Explaining his inspiration for the piece, MacMillan said:

I have taken as a starting point the effect of the death of Hamlet’s father without a literal telling of the play. With the appearance of his father’s ghost, and Hamlet’s realisation of the need for revenge, his tormented world became a nightmare

MacMillan reshaped the narrative for six characters; Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, the ghost of Hamlet’s father, Ophelia and Polonius. The dancers in turn represent the various characters depicted; Batchelor, Maliphant and Sheriff variously as Hamlet, Claudius, Polonius, or the Ghost; and Crow, Jackson and Styles as Gertrude or Ophelia. The approach is filmic – almost Noh-like; the scenes sharply intercut, the characters haunted by a ghost and their own guilt.

The piece was choreographed to be danced in smaller venues and – unusually in a MacMillan work – the dancers were barefoot. The Guardian’s critic Mary Clarke, who saw the premiere, wrote:

For setting there is just a cream lace curtain which will serve as arras. Costuming is simple: black trousers and white shirts for the men, soft grey dresses for the women. When cloaks, paper crowns or a chaplet of flowers are added, the dancers , in turn become royal or mad Ophelia; when a plastic shroud envelopes a figure, we know Hamlet’s father is dead or Ophelia drowned…I found the work totally engrossing, marvellously theatrical.”

See Sea of Troubles as part of Rewind Forward, 9 February, 7.30pm at Pavilion Dance >>>

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