Monday, 14 September 2009

Miss Jekyll appears in Whalton Manor Garden

Yesterday I went to Whalton Manor Garden to see a 'theatrical dance production' which was inspired by the house, garden and people who have lived or worked there. I didn't really know what to expect so went along without any preconceptions and was delighted by what was a magical performance. Numbers were strictly limited out of necessity because the dance moved between one part of the garden and another, the small 'audience' moving with them. The production was directed by Cinzia Hardy who lives locally and who initially asked the sculptor Julia Barton to install her three 'phyto-forms', metal sculptures that have growing plants which I last saw when she exhibited them at Levens Hall in Cumbria, the famous and ancient topiary garden. Taking the sculptures as inspiration (their forms influenced the design of the costumes) and weaving in the story of Gertrude Jekyll's association with Whalton Manor, the piece evolved to be something very special to the place itself.

Whalton Manor dates back to the 17th century and was altered by Sir Edwin Lutyens - this of course is where Gertrude Jekyll comes in and between them they laid out 3 acres of gardens. Her sunken rose garden doesn't exist any more but we could imagine it during the dance production because it's site was pegged out on the lawn. Various characters from the history of the house appeared or danced, threading their way through the separate garden areas, dancing under trees, stepping out of giant picture frames, retracing the steps of the site of the former ballroom, with music from a rustic band led by a green clad man who embodied the spirit of the garden. There was even a horse ridden by the present owner of the Manor, Penny Norton, who rode between bucolic dancers under the parkland trees and then cantered off in a graceful arc.

It felt like we were glimpsing another world, becoming part of a shifting film set. It had echoes of Alice in Wonderland and the Draughtsmans Contract as well as the history of Miss Jekyll's association with the garden. There was something very gentle and charming about the hour long performance and, with the plan that it might tour in the future, there will hopefully be other opportunities to see it.

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