The dulcet tones of Jeremy Irons reverberate through the theatre, lulling the audience into the fantasy world of water sprite Beleza (Rachel Maybank) and her dying sister Flavia (First Artist of The Royal Ballet, Nathalie Harrison). The world moves on and forgets about the soul of the Amazon – technology and greed bring death and pestilence to the once-green rainforest. The Sisters Grimm bring Voices of the Amazon to Sadler’s Wells as a reminder – amid the current, turbulent political landscape, the environment is still under threat. The Amazon still suffers, let us not ignore the planet.

Ella Spira’s compositions pierce through Irons’ narration, a fusion of classical strings and Brazilian percussion. Spira understands her foundations – lightly suspended open fifths are evocative of both Liszt and Shostakovich, a rich sound of despair as Flavia (Harrison) gracefully collapses, waning under her advancing illness. The inference is that she is struck by a cancer, approaching her end with majesty, stoicism and restrained pain. This opening is a serene pas de deux that sets the premise for the mesmerising Beleza (Maybank). She must journey from water to earth in search of the cure.

Rachel Maybank (Image courtesy of Johan Persson)

On earth she meets animals, tribesmen and their fearless chief (Kay Elizabeth), whose voice is emotional and pure yet full of flavour. Spira intermingles Portuguese and English to further fuse the styles, a mix of joyous anthemic tribal chant with chilling harmonic beauty. Kauê Ribeiro is the love interest and Liam Burke the villain, brothers that fight over helping the stranger Beleza (Maybank). Capoeira mixes with contemporary ballet in Helen Pickett’s complex choreography that weaves in and out of the story, never distracting from purpose but colouring the atmosphere in hues as rich and vibrant as Temple Clark’s set and costume design. Primary colours are revered throughout the Amazon.

Kauê Ribeiro & Liam Burke (Image courtesy of Johan Persson)

The first half of Voices of the Amazon introduces environments – fluid waters, all-consuming fires, green forests that turn dangerous at night as Fernanda Muniz slithers around, intent on snaring Ribeiro as prey. This encounter is raw, powerful and aggressive – Pickett outdoes herself by combining graceful connections with animalistic ferocity.

The second half deals more with human emotion – the despair at losing homes to an unstoppable inferno, a plea for help and subsequent betrayal before a loving farewell between Beleza (Maybank) and Ribeiro. Pietra Mello-Pittman whips this half up with ritualistic drive, flowing and ebbing as the healing of the tribe commences. But it never climaxes – Spira’s music and Pickett’s choreography combine to drive forward and build up without ever exploding forth. It’s anticipation without resolution and as such leaves the audience hollow.

Kauê Ribeiro & Rachel Maybank (image courtesy of Johan Persson)

Voices of the Amazon does not need elaborate sets or props. The colours and the concepts are strong enough to evoke powerful images synonymous with nature and with human togetherness. All underpinned with Spira’s music, the true star of show – Irons’ words are poignant, but with a composer this strong aren’t needed to highlight the beauty and plight of Mother Earth.

 

★★★★☆

Voices of the Amazon played at Sadler’s Wells until 8 July 2017. For more information and future tour dates, click here.

Follow the link to an interview with director Pietra Mello-Pittman, choreographer Helen Pickett and composer Ella Spira.