Rites of War by Gravity & Levity: Production Note - Guest Feature

Rites of War

Rites of War Programme Note by BBC Afghanistan Correspondent, David Loyn

The First World War began exactly a century before the end of the war in Afghanistan. This coincidence of dates – 1914 and 2014 – provides the framework for Rites of War.

It takes the experience of soldiers in both campaigns – ordinary people in extraordinary situations. One of the things that draws reporters to war zones is witnessing people tested to their limits. But news reporting does not tell the whole story of the impact of conflict on ‘ordinary’ people.

It took artists and war poets fully to communicate the experience of the First World War. Rites of War joins a growing body of work that responds to the wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11.

I have previously seen the power of the stage to speak to the ambivalence of the public to these campaigns when I worked as an adviser on the Scottish National Theatre production Black Watch, perhaps an unlikely international hit given its subject matter of Iraq.

Dance operates at a more visceral level. I have worked on a number of projects with Darshan Singh Bhuller, and been struck by the power of dance to touch people in ways that news reporting cannot – and more surprisingly perhaps – to communicate complex political ideas.

And the combination with aerial dance brings its own drama. In rehearsal for Rites of War it was as if there were more than three dimensions on the stage.

The piece follows the lives of one soldier from each conflict to their death. By running one story forwards and the other backwards, it adds a further dimension, exploring time across a century.

The last British soldier to die in the First World War, Private George Ellison, was shot an hour before hostilities finished at 11 am on 11th November 1918. Remarkably, he had fought for the whole length of the war, dying in a wood close to Mons, where he had been fighting in the first weeks of the war in 1914.

As well as the soldiers – there are other characters, including nurses, wives, and men affected by what used to be called ‘shell shock’, but is now far better understood as post-traumatic stress disorder. This is sometimes clinically defined as a ‘normal reaction to an abnormal situation’ – ordinary people in extraordinary situations again.

And we see Afghans from the point of view of the British soldier, as a menacing ‘other’ presence, and women wearing burqas. (These are not manufactured stage props, but the real thing, purchased in Kabul!)

The war that began in 1914 was once described as the ‘war to end all wars’, but of course it did not turn out that way. A century later as Britain withdraws from Afghanistan, Rites of War joins the ritual of remembrance.

(C) David Loyn 2014


Rites of War is a new collaboration between Lindsey Butcher, artistic director of Gravity & Levity, choreographer Darshan Singh Bhuller and David Loyn. The World Premiere is at Straford Circus from 1-3 May, followed by performances at The Lowry in Salford on 13-14 May, The Lighthouse in Poole on 4-5 June and Mobilisation Festival in Rutland on 15 June and then a 6 week autumn tour starting in October.

Twitter: @GravityLevity @StratfordCircus #RitesofWar
Web: http://gravity-levity.net

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