Ballet at the National Portrait Gallery as Late Shift marks First World War centenary

By Richard Moss | 17 May 2014 | Updated: 14 May 2014

English National Ballet were at the National Portrait Gallery for Museums at Night, beguiling the Friday night crowds with a series of dance interventions beneath the portraits

a photo of a ballerina in a pose in front of a painting
Late Shift at the NPG inspired by David Jones' in Parenthesis.© Richard Moss
Under the gaze of Regency politicians, Victorian sages and the ill-fated frilly collared courtiers of the Stuart monarchy, something strange yet beautiful was unfolding at the National Portrait Gallery for Museums at Night.

A hushed silence and stillness descended upon the thronging crowds as rooms became stages for the English National Ballet, whose dancers gracefully responded to the passion and lyricism of the poet David Jones.

Inspired by fragments of his First World War masterpiece In Parenthesis, the performances lasted just three minutes but happened every 15 across several rooms. In between we were left to saunter through the galleries, or grab a drink from the pop-up bar and ponder the many portraits of kings, poets and politicians.

In Parenthesis provides a rich inspiration for ballet, with its sometimes dense narrative recalling Jones' experience of the Western Front. It is full of abstract moments of beauty and poignancy that lend themselves readily to the passion and lyricism of dance.

And as the evening passed in graceful arcs and moments of serendipity and reflection, there was also the chance to watch a Jones documentary and see the excellent Great War in Portraits, full of the poignant pictures of the men and women who experienced what Jones described so eloquently in his poem.

"The universal world, breath held, one half second, a bludgeoned stillness."

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

a photo of two ballet dancers performing in a gallery
© Richard Moss
a photo of two ballet dancers performing inside a portrait gallery
© Richard Moss
two ballet dancers performing in a museum
© Richard Moss
Hundreds of events take place for Museums at Night between May 15-17 2014. Visit and follow the festival on Twitter @MuseumsAtNight.

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