"Matches the charm of the music and whimsy of the text, and suggests the filtering, imagistic quality of Smart’s imagination" The New York Times
Choreography Richard Alston
Music Benjamin Britten Rejoice in the Lamb
Music by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes
Lighting Zeynep Kepekli
Costume Peter Todd
The 18th century poet Christopher Smart was susceptible to bouts of religious mania. He had a tendency to pull passers-by in the street to their knees to pray with him and so was confined to a mental asylum, where he passed the time writing long sprawling poems “from the hand of the artist inimitable”.
One of these was Jubilate Agno (Rejoice in the Lamb), eccentric to be sure but brilliantly expressing Smart’s fervent and unswerving faith. The words start with a driving litany of Old Testament figures and animals, calming down to a more serene Hallelujah. In his solitude, Smart took time to contemplate his most steady companion- the cat Jeoffry, “for I am possessed of a cat, surpassing in beauty.” and also to consider flowers, which he described as “peculiarly the poetry of Christ”.
Regular attacks of depression unsteadied the poet causing him to imagine that everyone was against him-“For I am under the same accusation as my saviour- for they said he is besides himself.”
Eventually it was music which brought him comfort, “For M is Music and therefore he is God”, and the poem embarks upon an imaginary list of all the sounds different instruments make. This music, wild though it may be, seems to soothe his spirit- “For at that time malignity ceases and the devils themselves are at peace”. And so, eventually, was Kit Smart.
Rejoice in the Lamb was brought to the attention of Benjamin Britten in the late thirties, soon after this long-lost work had been rediscovered and published for the first time. Britten loved it and set the words as a Cantata which shows clearly his admiration for the work of British Baroque composer Henry Purcell.
The piece was commissioned by a remarkable man, Walter Hussey, at that time Vicar of St Matthew’s Northampton. Later, Hussey became the Dean of Chichester where he continued to commission new art for the Cathedral, including the Chichester Psalms by Bernstein. My grandparents were neighbours of the Dean and so as a young teenager I often visited Walter Hussey, who showed me his remarkable collection of contemporary pictures and sculpture and would play records of Wagner at a thunderous level of volume. It was he who largely instilled in me the dream of one day being a creative artist thus influencing the entire course of my life. I dedicate this choreography to him, with gratitude for the inspiration he gave.
Rejoice in the Lamb received its premiere at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury on 12 February 2014. Co-commissioned by The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury and Peak Performances @ Montclair State University