DanceEast host new dance theatre work by Sweetshop Revolution celebrating passionate love-life of composer Morfydd Owen
- Credit: Archant
For multi-award-winning choreographer Sally Marie, dance is all about storytelling and communicating with an audience. Her company Sweetshop Revolution is all about presenting engaging work that will speak to audiences.
“I am very much concerned with story-telling,” she said. “I am not that interested in clever, abstract, highly technical dance. I want to create dance that tells stories, that speaks to people, that entertains and moves people.”
Sally Marie’s latest work which is being unveiled at the Jerwood DanceHouse on Friday goes by the seemingly enigmatic and forthright title I Loved You and I Loved You – the true story of Morfydd Owen, a young Welsh musical prodigy, born in the Welsh valleys in 1891 who died in mysterious circumstances at the shockingly young age of 26.
“Not only was she an incredibly gifted composer but from her pictures we can see that she was incredibly beautiful, had dozens of suitors, and if that wasn’t enough we can tell from her letters and writing she also had a tremendous sense of fun.
“It was clear that hers was a story worth telling.”
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Sally, who trained at Central School of Ballet before moving into contemporary dance, specialises in creating dance theatre. “We use text and words, along with music in our pieces, but dance remains the focus because I believe that dance can express the depth of emotion that words struggle to convey – those moments when you realise that you are completely in love with someone or when the love of your life tells you that they want to break up. Those moments in life when the emotions run so strong, it is hard to adequately find the words to express those feelings, and yet you can convey those emotions elegantly and passionately in dance.”
Although Sally Marie has choreographed the full-length performance, she wasn’t the person who stumbled across the talented Morfydd Owen.
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“I was working with pianist Brian Ellsbury in 2012 and he said to me: ‘I have discovered this extraordinary woman and I tried to do an opera once about her and didn’t work out…’ he told me about her and I said: ‘Well I am terribly busy now but I will give you a call.’
“Then four years later I saw Coreo Cymru and National Theatre Wales were looking to commission a piece on a person of Welsh cultural heritage, so I phoned Brian and said: ‘We’re on’.”
The research into Morfydd’s life proved fascinating and inspired Sally and the dancers. “She was a real musical prodigy. She was writing beautiful pieces of music by the age of the age of 18.
“The librarian at The Royal Academy, when she saw Morfydd’s file, said, ‘this is one of the most diverse and distinguished student records I have ever seen.’
“Brian was just bewitched by her music and he has found long-lost musical manuscripts and has pulled together a wonderful soundtrack of her music for the performance.
“It’s a complete love story and I think we have stumbled across something. All the biographies just talk of her husband Ernest Jones, a friend and colleague of Sigmund Freud, but in 2012 a batch of personal letters from their best friend Eliot Crawshay-Williams were released which included love letters from Morfydd to Eliot.
“Among the discoveries was a previously unknown composition which we use in the piece. It was clear from the letters that she was in love with him but he was married and in Edwardian times it was almost impossible for them to
“Also he was parliamentary private secretary to Lloyd George and Winston Churchill and wouldn’t have wanted any scandal.
“Artistically I am interested to find the best way to tell this incredible story. The piece begun as a duet but became a trio when we discovered the letters. I am also interested to really explore a greater intimacy in relationships on stage in terms of dance. So that what we are watching feels as real as watching a film.”
Sally said the crux of Morfydd’s downfall was that she had married a very rich, very famous man, an eminent psychologist, but he was a terrible husband – he was having an affair within the first year of marriage. “I don’t think they were suited at all but they were married and then Morfydd met Eliot who was the love of her life.
“But within 18 months she is thought to have contracted appendicitis but we don’t really know how she died. All of this is in the piece. It’s a wonderful story and for a little-known composer who lived 100 years ago, it’s a wonderfully compelling story, full of passion, anger and jealousy and being played out to a soundtrack composed by the woman herself.
“It’s a mixture between the words and the movement and then we do a post-show talk afterwards where we fill in any gaps. Every scene is about either one of the two men she loved or about how much she loved music. And it’s really easy to follow. Also we give out free programmes as well which have lots of pictures and the story in as well.”
Sally is full of praise for her trio of dancers who she says embody their respective roles. Faith Prendergast plays Owen. Daniel Whiley is Owen’s troubled husband, Ernest Jones and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke is Eliot Crawshay-Williams.
“They are the best dancers I have worked with and they are also really committed to the story. Movement wise, it’s very fluid, very musical. And it’s beautiful. It’s the opposite of post-modern and conceptual. It’s just heartfelt and passionate and at points a little dark and at others just full of joy. And of course it’s a true story – of an incredible women who actually lived. And it’s about music too. Searching for how the music really feels. I always say, that even if you don’t like classical music, you could still love it in this piece.”
I Loved You and I Loved You by Sally Marie and staged by Sweetshop Revolution is at the Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich on Friday, January 29 at 7.30pm