The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk tells the love story of Russian artist Marc Chagall and his wife (and muse), Bella Rosenfield. Against the backdrop of the politically turbulent first half of the 20th century, we trace their relationship from its romantic, carefree beginnings to the struggle with anti-semitism, war, revolution and economic hardship. But what is remarkable about this production is not the content but the form. It is not just a visual delight – it beautifully replicates the swirling colours, motifs, movement and texture of a Chagall painting.
The story is told in an extended flashback – the memories of a middle-aged Chagall after the death of his wife. He tells us that “When things are gone, you thirst for their details in such a heart-breaking way.” Dream-like reminiscences follow – of his love-at-first sight meeting with Bella, their wedding, their lives in Vitebsk, St Petersburg and Moscow, and, finally, their escape to Europe and on to New York. As one would expect from Emma Rice’s Kneehigh, the story-telling is highly stylised, inventive and full of surprises (from balloon characters and miniature trains to cockerel and fish headgear).
Actors Marc Antolin (as Chagall) and Daisy Maywood (as Bella) give flawless performances, oozing with energy, passion and humour. They are also consummate dancers and singers, supported by a musical score (by Ian Ross) which both sets the romantic tone and perfectly evokes the Jewish cultural context. And there are beautiful moments when the choreography leads seamlessly to poses which recreate the flying lovers of Chagall’s paintings. These moments are held just long enough to capture the essence and mood of the famous images.
Indeed, the whole show feels like a work of art. Each ‘frame’ of each scene feels like a picture in its own right. The vibrancy of the lighting design is astonishingly true to Chagall’s spirit. And the backdrop is a canvas of constantly changing colour, often so intense that it creates a kind of aura around the characters, heightening our sense of them as images in a painting.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is a show which feeds the senses. Yes, the narrative is interesting, both as a love story and a political history. But it is the sensual delights of Flying Lovers that will stay with me: the perfect harmony of colour, movement and music.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is on at HOME Mcr until April 7th