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‘Alston’s dance has both uplift and heartbreak written into its potent phrases’ Debra Craine, The Times

Choreography: Richard Alston
Music: Benjamin Britten Les Illuminations
Original Lighting: Peter Mumford
Relit: Charles Balfour
Costumes: Fotini Dimou

‘I have stretched ropes from bell tower to bell tower; garlands from window to window; gold chains from star to star and I dance’ Arthur Rimbaud

The fantastic imagery of Rimbaud’s poetry is a reflection of his short but turbulent creative life. As a young boy he saw himself as a visionary, beyond the logic and conventions of society. ‘I alone’ he cried, ‘hold the key to this barbarous parade.’ He ran away from home at only sixteen to join the older poet Paul Verlaine in Paris and the sometimes brutal intensity of their love affair fuelled the wild visions and strange dreams of Rimbaud’s writing. Eventually though, Rimbaud’s persistant quest to ‘disorder the senses’ turned these visions sour, the dreams nightmarish. By the age of nineteen Rimbaud had violently rejected both his lover and his writing and set sail for Africa, seeking a new life.

‘Enough seen... enough learned... Leave for new attachments, new sounds.’

Britten was introduced to the poetry of Rimbaud by WH Auden in the 1930s. He recognised the figure of a young artist arriving in a large and intimidating metropolis and more importantly he identified with Rimbaud and Verlaine, two artists obsessively in love. Britten himself had recently met the young singer Peter Pears, the beginning of a lifelong partnership, and it was not long after they had left together for America that Les Illuminations was composed. From the first notes of the opening fanfare the music has the intensity and clarity of a supremely confident young man, and this intensity develops into the heady sensuality of early love . Both music and text go on to portray the drug-induced hallucinations which sent Rimbaud’s world spiralling downwards until he finally broke himself free. Depart, the last section, is the calm after a storm, the departure for a new world (Africa in Rimbaud’s case, America for Britten) and the voice movingly expresses both the opportunism of a fresh start and the exhaustion of such an emotional upheaval. 

Formally titled Rumours, Visions and first performed by London Contemporary Dance Theatre at the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts on 11 June 1994. First performed by Richard Alston Dance Company at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry on 6 November 1996.