Review: Story of a Night Pianist - Trinity Buoy Wharf

Performance: 18 - 20 May 2012
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Tuesday 22 May 2012

'Story of a Night Pianist' at Trinity Buoy Wharf, 18 - 20 May 2012

Performance reviewed: 19 May

Additional performances, Thu 20, Sat 22 & Sun 23, 7.30pm & Sun, 3pm. FREE at Trinity Buoy Wharf, E14 0JW (stewards will show you the way from East India station, DLR)

Summer in London can only mean two things: a plethora of outdoor music and dance performances, and outbreaks of gloomy British weather. Fortunately the latter didn’t deter audiences from venturing out to Anna Buonomo’s site-specific Story of a Night Pianist this weekend, and indeed the murky skies over east London sat rather well with the mood of this haunting narrative.

Set in Trinity Buoy Wharf, the site of London’s only lighthouse, Story of a Night Pianist tells the story of strange goings-on during composer Lorenzo Turchi Floris’s nocturnal playing sessions. The audience is led on a journey around the riverside location, animated by three dozen dancers dressed in Victorian rags; each time we turn a corner, a figure appears gasping and clutching from behind a wall or under the walkways. The effect is more discomfiting than Hammer-horror creepy; Turchi-Floris’s atmospheric score, played live, first on solo violin and later on piano, is melancholic rather than hair-raising.

The modern Docklands setting with its glass and steel walkways and the lights of the O2 Arena’s dome glinting in the background makes an effective contrast with the bodices and ruffles of the dancers’ costumes, seemingly from another world and time. We weave around industrial storage containers and along the wharfside, the journey throwing up surprising views and encouraging us to look into interesting nooks and crannies as a spooky narrative unfolds.

Brief snatches of looping actions, cropping up in and around the buildings and pathways, hint at some kind of violent trauma in the past. Two dancers wind around one another for comfort; a man and a woman struggle and grab at one another bodily; another figure gasps repeatedly as if coming up for air. Having the sequences repeat on a loop as we walk past is of course partly necessary to allow a moving audience to see, but also adds to the feeling that what we are viewing is a haunting imprint rather than a performance in the present. The movement comes in intense bursts; the dancers appear unaware of our presence, staring into space as if either we or they are not really there.

An unsettling stroll through the car-park – populated by sighing, crying, moaning bodies and a dancer who walks right through the moving column of viewers like a ghost through a wall – takes us into the body of the lighthouse itself for a conclusion that is poignant rather than bloodcurdling, the spectral figures trapped in their winding, coiling cycles of movement around Turchi-Floris’s swelling piano music. There are certainly worse places to be stuck for all eternity – the maestro plays his own swelling, filmic score with ravishing sensitivity. Buonomo’s dancers seem to find some comfort at least in the presence of one another, and the piano, before the end of the piece.

Delicate, affecting and full of enjoyable little surprises, Story of a Night Pianist is said to be based on a true story; the piece is so well-crafted it’s easy to imagine the eerie circumstances that gave rise to the original idea. There’s always something fascinating – and fascinatingly familiar – about the supernatural; yet even the most hardened of sceptics can’t fail to be moved by the detailed atmosphere that Buonomo builds up with her cast over 45 minutes.

Story of a Night Pianist was part of Big Dance 2012

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