Dance Roads 2016

Posted: June 23rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Roads 2016

Dance Roads 2016, Seligman Theatre, Chapter, Cardiff, June 8

Lucie Augeai and David Gernez in Nœuds at Dance Roads

Lucie Augeai and David Gernez in Nœuds

Dance Roads is an international touring initiative that supports choreographic development and provides artists with international exposure and networking opportunities on a biennial basis. The network is made up of organisations from five countries: The Netherlands, Wales, France, Italy and Roumania and is jointly coordinated. This performance at Chapter marks the final leg of the touring program.

Jasper van Luijk’s Yonder, danced by Jefta Tanate, is the most formally crafted of the five works on the evening’s program, a play of chiaroscuro in which Tanate moves naked through a field of lights. The stage resembles a photographic studio in which van Luijk has set up lights at various heights and angles. The choreographer cedes his place behind the camera to the audience and allows us to watch as Tanate manipulates the lights during his performative journey. There are thus two sources of movement, human and mechanical, interacting at different rhythms through the action of a single entity. When he is not swinging lights or swinging on them, Tanate moves with an almost automated articulation, his facial expression belying no emotion, nor betraying any narrative for his actions. This existential quality relates to what the program note for Yonder describes as ‘a search for the beginning and the end of time with the lifecycle of one man.’ I’m not sure many in the audience would pick up that notion while watching — I certainly didn’t — but there is a sense of time passing on a journey from darkness to light, from frenzied turning to stillness, from a sublime moment of elevation to a jarring fall to earth. What links these episodes is van Luijk’s paean to the male body that Tanate, without any apparent strain or self-consciousness, dances on the edge of his senses.

The poet Dylan Thomas lived constantly on the edge of his senses; Gwyn Emberton takes on the imagery of his poem Fern Hill in a short solo called Of the Earth, where I came from, originally choreographed on his own body but here danced by Albert Garcia. Emberton chooses not to set movement to Thomas’s words but with composer Benjamin Talbott delves into the sense of exploration in the poet’s memories of spending youthful days on his aunt’s farm. It starts with an image reminiscent of a portrait by Rollie McKenna of Thomas entwined in the branches of a tree: Garcia is in a headstand in shadows cast by tied, gnarled brushwood. Both poem and choreography are suffused with regret for the process of ageing but by setting his choreography on a younger body, Emberton sets up a tension between youth and age. Like the poetry, Of the Earth, where I came from has no rest as one image of the body switches suddenly or slowly, unfolding, unfurling and upending with a muscular fluidity that is nevertheless ageless.

In Noeuds (knots), Lucie Augeai and David Gernez (Compagnie Adéquate) perform a playful take on family relations (they are married) in a bright gestural duet that has elements of theatre, circus, mime, and dance. Their use of baroque music (Marin Marais) gives lively accents to their dialogue that allows the gestural forms, which look at first like conducting, to become the principal channel of expression. Noeuds does not, as its name suggests, describe an easy relationship. Augeai holds her breath with bulging cheeks while Gernez bares his teeth; he holds her tightly while she tries to escape. The initial pleasure builds to confrontation but Augeai does not submit; she gives as much as she gets. She has a way of using her eyes with the tilt of her head that conveys clarity of intention; the register is as high as laughter and as low as aggression. Gernez is her foil, against whom Augeai plays to comic and dramatic effect. He is driven to a final solo of male frustration after which Augeai diffuses it with her weaving pattern. The knots are subtly disentangled and they walk off together.

Claudia Catarzi’s Qui, Ora (here, now) is a minimal work that comes at the end of the middle section after two other works, so not an ideal place for audience concentration, which it needs. Qui, Ora is a choreographic response to immediate physical factors: space, a costume, the audience and sound. It has the feeling of an improvisation, stark in form with playful elements. If you put on a stiff and raspy-sounding coat, then your movements will necessarily emphasise its qualities; Catarzi dances the coat with birdlike attention and a dry sense of humour, sloughing it off at the point it appears to be dancing her. She responds to the space around her (and to a Johnny Cash song) with movements that are angular and loosely anarchic; it is like a play by Samuel Beckett with moments of dry wit, an element of the absurd and moments of pure poetic flow.

Cristina Lilienfeld’s work, Layers, is a meditation on skin and what it reveals of our inner emotional life. She uses her own skin as a material on which to receive our thoughts and feelings, and with which she projects a sensorial appreciation of the unfettered body. Disarmingly generous, she nevertheless protects the intimacy of her personal space in the very act of sharing it, playing with the tension between looking and being looked at and never failing to meet our gaze head on. In the opening section she reinforces the skin’s opacity by rolling and slithering her almost naked body on a mix of sand and flour to the sounds of rain and thunder and masks her face in her long, thick hair. It is a state of emotional turbulence in which she appears to be testing our gaze. “You are under my skin. You are in my heart,” she tells us, and invites us to write whatever comes to mind on her skin with her eyeliner pencils: artist and audience sharing the same material. “Thank you,” she responds, peeling off layers of skin-like patches from her body as she retreats. She reappears carrying a bowl of water. If the first part of Layers is a ritual covering of her skin, the second is a ritual cleansing. In between these two states, where Lilienfeld is naturally expressive, there are moments of ‘dancing’ which immediately signal something inherited or taken for granted. But there are also moments when she creates something mesmerising out of her unadulterated presence. In being naked — a metaphor for both freedom and vulnerability — the removal of physical and psychological layers creates in her an exuberance that makes emotion visible.

Dance Roads, as its name suggests, is a network of roads that is funded by the EU to convey choreographic expression from one country to another. While it is a pleasure to watch works that originate elsewhere, at the performative level the model offers neither integration nor differentiation between cultures, for the audience or for the dancers. What makes van Luijk’s work so different from that of Compagnie Adéquate, for example? What would happen if Catarzi were to create a work on Lilienfeld, or Lilienfeld on Tanate? It might be interesting to explore such questions in future collaborations so that the creative spirit finds new roads to follow.

 

It is ironic that this article on Dance Roads should be published on the eve of the EU referendum in which a majority of UK voters decided to leave the EU. The result may well mean Wales will no longer be eligible for the Dance Roads network. 


Deaf Men Dancing, Let Us Tell You A Story…

Posted: June 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Deaf Men Dancing, Let Us Tell You A Story…

Let Us Tell You A Story…, Deaf Men Dancing, Surgeon’s Hall Museums, Edinburgh, June 15

Deaf Men Dancing in Let Us Tell You A Story (photo: Ian Abbott)

Let Us Tell You A Story (photo: Ian Abbott)

Think you of the fact that a deaf person cannot hear. Then, what deafness may we not all possess? What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us?” – Frank Herbert

Let Us Tell You A Story… by Deaf Men Dancing (DMD) is one of a number of artistic commissions inspired by eight of the UK’s medical museums. Mark Smith, founder and artistic director of DMD, spent time at the Thackray Museum in Leeds which holds a collection of nearly 1,000 objects relating to deafness, including Queen Victoria’s ear trumpet.

This suite of commissions (DMD, Julie McNamara, Francesca Martinez and David Hevey) are not only inspired by the collections but are also being presented in those same spaces — including the Hunterian and Science Museums, Bethlem Museum of the Mind and the Royal College of Physicians — to open up dialogue, debate and challenge entrenched assumptions. Medical institutions are often hundreds of years old and use a scientific language that perpetuates the medical model rather than adapting the language to the current social model of disability. Walking around the Surgeon’s Hall Museums for an hour looking at hundreds of isolated body parts in jars and preserved examples of tumour-riddled ears or gangrenous hands amplified my bodily awareness before going in to watch the commissions.

How language is used and the choice of words is a delicate issue not only in culture and disability but in medicine, too. In the post-show conversation some audience members called attention to the descriptions on some jars that used the word ‘mongoloid’ and ‘abnormality’ in reference to someone who had learning disabilities. Chris Henry, the director of heritage at the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, was unapologetic as he framed the dialogue and context of the museums in terms of pathology (the study of disease) whilst recognising the need to offer a social context for the language that may have been deemed appropriate at the time of labelling.

The one thing I have that nobody else has or can duplicate is my sound. The sound of my life. Others may say similar things but they can’t say them like I do.” – Suzette Hinton

As an interrogation of a museum collection Smith has mined a rich history and with his dance training and previous practice in opera there is a theatrical and a choreographic accessibility to his work. As an audio landscape Let Us Tell You A Story… paid particular attention to how the audience experienced the work aurally and for me this was where it was most effective. From the piercing shrills of high frequency hearing tests to hearing in Smith’s own words in voice over (the first time he’s done this) there was a particularly potent vignette referencing Christianity where the soundtrack changed to a heavily muffled — almost imperceptible to my ear — version of the Lord’s Prayer. It was this proximity to a lived experience that brought me closest to the performance.

Let Us Tell You A Story… is Smith’s research process and personal passions made visible. I came away having learnt oodles about the history of the Deaf movement including the seminal 1880 Milan conference where a number of world experts banned sign language and forced people to use speech therapy instead of signing and how thousands of soldiers returned from war deaf yet this was hidden from the public and society at large. Each of the vignettes was presented in isolation and the work suffered dramaturgically as there was little glue holding the sections together. I felt myself wanting to dwell longer in each section. Learning about the magnitude of these events was thought-provoking, but in combination with movement, projection and a newly composed soundtrack, I was struggling to process it all before we were shifted into another period of history.

Coming in at just under 30 minutes, the performance was hampered by the uneven combination of dance technique and theatrical training in the three male dancers who are all on stage all of the time; I was always drawn to the weakest performer. Based on a structure of vignettes there were a number of solos but very little group work and the choreography often leant towards the literal. In the war scene, for example, we have a number of army crawls and hyper excessive facial expressions that did little to coax my empathy. There are fleeting moments of interaction with the audience where the performers share objects like feathers, balloons and clasp our hands; this could be developed more and encourage a greater sensory experience. With a slate grey palette for the costumes, each performer arrives and intermittently interacts with an oversized case with a detailed illustration of the ear on the outside; there’s real attention to detail from the other collaborators in the creative team lead by the excellent sound designer.

Although hampered by a stage depth of barely three metres, I feel that Let Us Tell You A Story… with some editing and dramaturgical input could suit the outdoor festival circuit. The vignette structure would welcome audiences that arrive mid-way through a performance and Smith’s theatrical leanings and the skills and energy of his performers may find a better home in this context.

There are so many people, deaf or otherwise abled, who are so talented but overlooked or not given a chance to even get their foot in the door.” – Marlee Matlin

On the same bill I also saw David Hevey’s documentary, The Fight For Life, in which he captures — on digital celluloid rather than in formaldehyde — articulate, insightful yet bruising encounters with personal histories of disability. Dr. Paul Darke, who attended a school for disabled people, remembered how all the students in the school were anally and vaginally fingered twice a year by a medical consultant; accepted as normal and authorised by the school, the procedure lead to him feeling that ‘your body was theirs.’ Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton, who uses a wheelchair and ventilators to aid her breathing, went to hospital with pneumonia (although in a hazy state she was still conscious) where in her presence the doctor said to her husband: “You wouldn’t want us to intervene or resuscitate her because she’s very fragile.” Seeing the medical staff was making assumptions about her because of her disability, her husband rushed home and brought back her doctorate and examples of the work she had done and said, “She has pneumonia, treat her.” Baroness Campbell summed up her observation that decisions on the disability living allowance are often made by those with little experience of austerity with a devastating aphorism: ‘Nothing about us: without us.’

Led by the Research Centre for Museum’s and Galleries at the University of Leicester, this suite of new commissions is considered and asks questions around why certain bodies are highly valued and others are viewed problematically. It’s a welcome injection that rejects an idealised norm.


Until the Lions: Akram Khan Company at The Brighton Festival

Posted: June 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Until the Lions: Akram Khan Company at The Brighton Festival

Akram Khan Company, Until The Lions, Brighton Dome, May 27

Ching-Ying Chien in Until the Lions (photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Ching-Ying Chien in Until the Lions (photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Earlier this year I saw Peter Brook’s Battlefield at the Young Vic; it was his adaptation of five books from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Akram Khan made his debut at the age of 13 in Brook’s original nine-hour production of the Mahabharata. What a coincidence then, that Khan should present in the same year as Battlefield another story from the same saga, one of love, betrayal and revenge in an original reworking by Karthika Naïr that has become Until the Lions.

The title comes from an African proverb: ‘Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’ The lion in Naïr’s poem is Amba, the daughter of the King of Kashi who is abducted on her public swayamvara (betrothal) ceremony by Bheeshma, the son of the Kuru king. Vowing revenge on Bheeshma, Amba immolates herself and is reincarnated as the male warrior Shikhandi by whose hand Bheeshma meets his end on the battlefield. The dual role of Amba/Shikhandi is danced respectively by Ching-Ying Chien and Christine Joy Ritter; the role of Bheeshma is danced by Khan himself.

Until the Lions has Kahn’s signature symbolism and spirituality dressed in white and covered in haze, with arresting stagecraft and musical accompaniment (by Sohini Alam, David Azurza, Yaron Engler and Vincenzo Lamagna). The dancing of Chien and Ritter is what we have come to expect in Kahn’s international casts of exceptional artists whereas Kahn’s own performance, even if his presence is strong, lacks the flow and attack he once had. It is something he acknowledges, but it begs the question of why he didn’t find a younger dancer on whom to create the role. The result is a performance that has all the appearance of significance yet lacks its bite. There is a feeling that Nair’s poetry has not gained in the dancing, but is simply the starting point of something else, something defined more in the production values than in the content.

Brook’s space for Battlefield is spare, a vast stretched stage cloth with very few stage elements. This environment stands in stark contrast to the subject of the dialogue and enhances the production’s focus on the clarity of thought. Khan and his producer, Farook Chaudry, have taken a different path. The narrative involving three characters has been treated with a monumental production by conceiving it for the 360° Network of round artistic venues across the world. Created in the round, with Tim Yip’s vast slice of fissured tree trunk for a stage and with Michael Hulls’ lighting, the setting is to dance what the rock concert is to music. Michael Billington commented on Battlefield that ‘at a time when theatre is giddy with technology, you are struck by the way economical means are used to maximum effect.’ By contrast Hulls seems to be vying with the choreography for primacy.

The work premiered at The Roundhouse (a founding member of the 360° Network) in January. I didn’t see it there but at the Brighton Festival, which is not only one of 16 co-producers but also a co-commissioner of the work. The outside of the Brighton Dome is, like The Roundhouse, circular, but its concert hall is not configured for theatre in the round. It is at best an elongated semi-circle cut off by the stage, so fitting Until the Lions into this space required some spectacular fudging. The first thing you notice is the massive lighting rig to carry Hulls’ circular lighting conception and the second thing is the stage underneath it, a circular platform on top of the Dome’s regular stage.

So why did the Brighton Festival co-commission and co-produce a work that, as conceived, does not fit into its venue? Why co-commission it at all? How much of the Festival’s dance budget was taken up with this co-commission and what did it get from it? The questions are relevant because the dance programming of England’s prestigious festival in its 50th year is much thinner than the quality of English dance would suggest; the Festival has an opportunity if not a responsibility to present a challenging and varied dance program, rather than go for the prestigious names like Khan, or hook up with what happens to be touring with Dance Consortium (as it happened, NDT2). It’s ‘lazy’ programming and it has a deleterious effect on the country’s dance ecology.

Arts Council England, which funds both Akram Khan Company and the Brighton Festival, has a motto, ‘Great Art For All’. The motto has two elements: ‘great art’ and ‘for all’. Even if Khan is a well-known brand, great art does not necessarily equate with well-known names. And ‘for all’ implies that access to the great art is within the financial reach of a broad audience. An expensive work by a prestigious name means ticket prices are going to be high rather than broadly affordable and I can’t help feeling that with 16 co-producers and a co-commission, Until the Lions is roaring its way to the bank while the Festival is left strapped to build a dance program that does justice to the high quality of work that exists in the country (not to mention locally) with the public funds at its disposal. Perhaps a good starting point would be to appoint a dance producer; there is currently no mention of one listed under the Artistic Staff of the festival. There’s a music producer, a theatre producer, a classic music producer, and a family and children’s producer. For a festival that prides itself on its mandate to take ‘a new look at the arts’ and to have ‘the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture…’ that’s a stunning omission.


Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young, Betroffenheit

Posted: June 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young, Betroffenheit

Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young, Betroffenheit, Sadler’s Wells, May 31

Tiffany Tregarthen and Jonathon Young in Betroffenheit (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Tiffany Tregarthen and Jonathon Young in Betroffenheit (photo: Michael Slobodian)

‘The accident happened. It has happened. It’s happened’. The past is irrevocable and unchangeable. The past can loop a person in a repetitive rewinding of backward motions; there is no escape. In Betroffenheit, a collaboration between choreographer Crystal Pite and theatre director and actor Jonathon Young, this space of no escape is ‘the room’ — the site of trauma. Based on Young’s own experience, the work deals with horror, pain, loss and guilt. Trauma is not an easy subject to engage with, not so much because of its resistance to representation but rather because of its pervasive presence in our culture. Overused and glamorized, trauma has lost meaning and with it the connotations of the experience it designates. As a result, the risk for any artist wanting to engage with the subject is either that of slipping into self-confessional indulgence or in facile generalization or, even worse, universalization. Pite and Young resist these pitfalls. Betroffenheit does not steer from ‘the event’: it is focused on a moment in time and on the individual locked in its repetitive occurrence, constrained within the claustrophobic narrowness of pain and loss. There is no generalizing. It is one man’s experience — performed by Young himself — that isolates and is isolating: ‘The accident happened. It has happened. It’s happened’, repeats Young in his disjointed re-telling of the drama that unravels in his mind and on stage. ‘The room’ cannot be shared. The shock and the encounter to which the title Betroffenheit alludes are his fears, unbidden memories, guilt and survival. They are the ghosts that unremittingly draw him back to that space where the past repeats itself and attempts to get to terms with it are futile. Indeed, as trauma theorist Cathy Caruth observes, belatedness and incomprehensibility are at the heart of the traumatic event and its repetition opens up realms beyond what can be known.

Performatively, Betroffenheit enters such a space of belatedness and incomprehensibility by drawing on and weaving together a broad range of references from art, literature, theatre, psychology, film and dance. The first half is set within a narrow perimeter of false walls, clinical and industrial at the same time that are open on one side − ‘the room’. Voices intrude, personages enter it and lure Young into a disturbing vaudeville acting out, sinuously performed by Pite’s five dancers. The narrow space of ‘the room’ temporarily blasts open into the event — reminiscent of Hollywood’s disaster movies — then the room closes again onto its painful repetition. Pite and Young have set in motion what Jacques Rancière refers to as ‘a complex set of relations between the visible and the invisible’. This unleashes a chain of images, words, and movements that alter each other to convey ‘the sensible texture of an event’ whose forms are disquieting, grotesque, and nightmarish.

This motion continues in the second half, though the register changes. A spotlight defines the empty stage with its single pillar as a rarefied cone of incomprehensibility. If words and strident visual frames seemed to overtake the first part, dance regains its centrality in the second. Visual references are implicit in the moving tableaux of a Renaissance pietà and deposition reminiscent of the suffused rendering of Bill Viola’s slow-down video reenactments of The Passions (2000). Breathing becomes the sensorial punctum (in Barthes’s sense) on which the affective tension of Pite’s choreography unfolds. And breath carries the emotional movement of the work to its conclusion. The event happened, has happened. The event cannot be escaped nor understood. There is no resolution, only the possibility of acceptance. In the final solo by Jermaine Spivey, the spasmodic dance macabre of compulsive fears of the first half mutates into a fluid quietness of motion and emotion which wave through and across each other.

A question remains: where do Pite and Young position the audience in relation to the work? The first half of Betroffenheit makes subtle use of an alienating effect reminiscent of Antonin Artaud’s theatre of cruelty. Recorded applause cruelly marks the re-enactment of trauma. We are uncomfortably reminded of the spectacle and voyeurism with which horror is so often endowed. In the second half the carefully lit pillar whose shadow lengthens over the auditorium gestures towards another position for the spectator, that of attentive, intelligent and sensitive observance.


Liz Aggiss, Slap & Tickle

Posted: June 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Liz Aggiss, Slap & Tickle

Liz Aggiss, Slap & Tickle, Brighton Concert Hall, May 20

Liz Aggiss in Slap & Tickle (photo: Holly Revell)

Liz Aggiss in Slap & Tickle (photo: Holly Revell)

When I read Ian Abbott’s review of Liz Aggiss’s Slap & Tickle and took in the publicity image of a lascivious Aggiss astride a lit fluorescent tube on a red leather armchair, the two together confirmed an image of the show: irreverent, funny, and ripe with sexual innuendo. ‘Slap and tickle’, after all, is a British euphemism for foreplay. However, when I saw the show at the Brighton Festival soon after, these elements were framed in something altogether darker than I had imagined, with more bite.

Aggiss grew up ‘in a repressive era’ in a post-war Essex suburb, but she uses dance imagery that belongs to the 1930s Expressionism of the Weimar Republic and its satire of bourgeois values. We hear signature tunes from family BBC radio programs of the 50s whose naivety is cut through by the sexual politics of a later generation. ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’, she croons the beginning of Listen With Mother. ‘Well, it’s going to get worse.’ She strips back the dark underbelly of social mores and then rescues us from her gleeful dissection with her bawdy humour. Get Aggiss on a bad day, however, and Slap & Tickle would be murderously toxic.

But this evening she’s on her irreverent best behaviour. She even treats us to party games in the brief interludes between acts; the lucky winners of pass-the-parcel unwrap a yellow scarf with the printed black outline of a cock on it. There’s much penis envy among the losers. While playing pass-the-balloon the recorded voice of Emma Kilbey encourages us to rub them on our legs, or stuff them up our jumpers. ‘Let’s have a party’, insists Aggiss, and we do.

According to Aggiss’s trenchant text in the beautiful program booklet designed by Nerea Martinez de Lecea, ‘Slap & Tickle is a solo performance in three acts that decodes, in a disorientating display of contradictions, interpretations and propaganda: girls, ladies, women, mothers, pensioners and senior citizens.’ Pointing obliquely to the fact that when you get to be a pensioner or senior citizen your gender is considered superfluous, Aggiss, at the age of 63, is proof of the lie. She leads her female audience to revolt: ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Well, you shouldn’t be.’ And she means it.

The three acts of Slap & Tickle roughly follow three stages of sexual emancipation, from the ‘world of child’ in which ‘answers…are merely guidelines’ through the dismemberment of ‘romanticism, dominant narratives and social codification’ of adolescence, to the exhilarating realm where ‘puritan ethics and codes are banished’ and ‘wearing a tail, a red hat and no knickers is de rigeur.’ Aggiss has spent her life preparing this work and it is in the editing of her material that she manages to concentrate that experience in such a rich, seamless format. Like the collage work of Hannah Hoch (whom Aggiss cites as an influence), her consummate skill in choosing which element to superimpose on, or juxtapose with another makes her allusions and metaphors subversively and disturbingly entertaining. At the beginning of the first act she enters regally in a voluminous golden dress, her head hidden under a Vogue-ish gourd. She opens a fold of the dress to reveal a cloth doll that she drops repeatedly and dispassionately on the floor before discarding it. She raises the hem of her skirt to reveal one glass slipper and performs an expressive arm dance to Mrs Mills on the piano and professes shyness as she raises the hem of her dress further to reveal bare white legs with a whiff of permissiveness. Then she huffs and she puffs and sings the line about the old lady who swallowed a fly as she slips out of her dress to reveal ample knickers from which she retrieves bits of padding, coins and a number of ping pong balls. If she’s not slapping us out of our social servility she’s tickling our desire for moral clarity. ‘All instincts that do not find a vent without’, wrote Nietzsche, ‘turn inwards…’ Aggiss spent a childhood turning inwards; now is the time to ‘vent without’, challenging ‘expectations of what a mature female dancing body should be doing, why she should be doing it, and where it should be done.’ Just as she uses her subversive brand of vaudeville to articulate suppressed instincts, her dance takes inner movements and turns them into outward form — the Ausdruckstänz, or expressionist dance of Mary Wigman. Her rendition of Klaus Nomi singing The Cold Song in a black and white costume reminiscent of Nomi’s own signature suit, is not only beautifully crafted but is consistent with her theme of bringing the body into line with the unfettered mind: ‘…the body and voice are tethered by an invisible umbilical vocal cord that swings abruptly through buried truths and nasty realities, whilst simultaneously and repeatedly slamming against the on/off button.’ It’s a battle, ‘push and pull’, and if it gets too much, ‘Let’s all go down the Strand – Have a banana!’ Foreplay has turned into punishment and reward.

Slap & Tickle engages fully with the audience in the music hall tradition so that however dark the material Aggiss finds a way into our minds with her irreverent humour and makes us laugh at our own wobbly moral compass. She has travelled a resolute path for the last 40 years and has emerged with ‘the determination to maintain female visibility, to snatch the dance performance space from the clutches of youth, and to contextualize the stage with a content driven world that speaks to and for other generations…’ ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Well it’s going to get a lot better.’

 

Liz Aggiss will be performing Slap & Tickle at The Place on June 17 and 18 at 8pm.  


Helen Cox, de/construct

Posted: May 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Helen Cox, de/construct

Helen Cox, de/construct, Footprint Dance Festival, Michaelis Theatre, May 14

Helen Cox in de/construct (photo: Lawrence Choi)

Helen Cox in de/construct (photo: Lawrence Choi)

I had seen Helen Cox at Resolution! in February 2014 in a piece called Lapse, co-created with Heather Stewart. Both Stewart and Cox seemed like pawns in a complex game of text and movement, so it was interesting to see Cox performing in her own right at Roehampton University’s Footprint Dance Festival. According to the program note, de/construct traces the patterns of growth found in natural landscapes; though the title has rational connotations, both the imagery and the music by Alog are decidedly organic. As the lights come up we see a small island of sinewy hemp rope and sacking (designed and made by Cherrie Lau) that envelops the kneeling Cox, fitted to her waist and trailing around her like a network of roots. It is not a heart that beats but hands that quiver as she grows slowly out of this material; her body takes on its distinctness, its edges clearly defined. She sloughs off the skin to revel in the space around her but Cox does not take this separation for granted; she looks back at it in breathless moments of stillness, drawn up to her full and immaculate balance. When she begins to move, the agency of her movement is neither inside nor outside her; she simply elongates and stretches her sinuous, smooth gestures around herself in circular patterns that have no end. Watching her is like hearing fragments of speech in the wind, but they are fragments of speech in another language, eerily incomprehensible yet fully formed and complete. She lowers herself to the ground, silently. More quivering hands and smooth, sweeping diagonal gestures across her body, like a conversation with the air, her face intently listening, her body somewhere between birth and independence in the natural world. de/construct is but a fragment but for a moment all social constructs, all structures of human life, dissolve.

de/construct was the last of eight varied works on the final evening at Roehampton’s Footprint Dance Festival, about which more later.


Avant Garde Dance, Fagin’s Twist

Posted: May 30th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Avant Garde Dance, Fagin’s Twist
Avant Garde Dance in Fagin's Twist (photo: Rachel Cherry)

Avant Garde Dance in Fagin’s Twist (photo: Rachel Cherry)

But struggling with these better feelings was pride — the vice of the lowest and most debased creatures no less than of the high and self-assured.” – Charles Dickens

Avant Garde Dance (AG) has been going “against the grain” for the last 15 years under the auspices of artistic director, Tony Adigun. Having seen more than a dozen of their outdoor and indoor works, commissioned them to work on large-scale performances integrating community casts of 100 people, to working with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on the iconic performance Vesalii Icones by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, I awaited with curiosity the skewing of a Dickens classic.

Fagin’s Twist, co-produced by The Place, is AG’s largest tour to date with over 40 performances across 2016 and substantial support from Arts Council England and other co-commissioning partners. Working with the writer Maxwell Golden and dramaturg Adam Peck, the audience is presented with a simple storyboard narrative that focuses on Fagin (Joshua James Smith) forging in the workhouse, his adventures in the lair and his ultimate undoing by young master Twist.

Opening with the full company (8 dancers) rotating, snaking and snapping whilst passing a mid-size white hat box between them exposes an early weakness as the ability to blend prop handling and movement restricts them and doesn’t allow them the anatomical freedom to focus or execute with the required conviction. Slipping between theatre, hip hop styles and contemporary dance we’re introduced to a krumping Bill Sykes (Dani Harris-Walters), a breaking Artful Dodger (Aaron Nuttall) and a contemporary Nancy (Lisa Hood). Stylistically these fit their character traits — in the first act the jittery physical vocabulary and nimble b-boy flourishes of Nuttall add a depth of character as he breaks the fourth wall with a set of welcome narrations which aid the re-telling. Smith has also a certain dash about him, like a fencer darting across the stage with able command of both body and voice. With the five leads including Oliver Twist (Jemima Brown) mic’ed up we unfortunately see a lacklustre physicality seeping into the vocal performances; a lack of conviction in both body and voice, and an inconsistency across the two acts (this is the 12th performance on tour) caused my interest to wane.

The first act is a series of establishing speeches twinned with tutting and hip hop routines delving into Fagin, his gradual acceptance by Sykes, their joint escape, finding the lair and the introduction of Oliver. With a second act full of stage choreography for exposition purposes, the character definition breaks down and we are left with 8 moving bodies who’ve seemingly forgotten their original intentions and emotional relationships with each other. With a recurring motif of a low-crouched, puppet-armed jump that hints at A Clockwork Orange, the pack often comes together before splitting off into duets and trios that fall very close to “hip hop as mime” territory. There’s a fine line between showing a story and keeping the audience on the outside and telling a story and pulling us in.

When I first read ‘On the Road,’ it helped me figure out how to live against the grain. Now I wonder how to be subversive when the subversive has become mainstream.” – Tony D’souza

I see a number of biographical echoes where you could replace Fagin with Adigun; having started life outside the system he recruits a merry band of accomplices who begin to scratch a living together. Success comes slowly as he is embraced by others, but responsibility weighs heavy for the health of the unit whilst younger and hungrier insiders begin to splinter as he takes his eye off his pocket watch. However, after 15 years can you continually go against the grain? Pushing doors open for others takes a lot of energy and being swallowed by the mainstream that is slowly de-teething and sanding the edges that made them want you in the first place is a tricky position for Adigun to hold. Akram Khan serves as a warning/inspiration.

Fagin’s Twist offers an entertaining night out for those new to dance theatre who might be a little Dickens curious and there’s a slick production mask scaffolding the work. Jackie Shemesh’s lighting design casts elongated shadows, hiding faces and bodies in the half-light whilst Yann Seabra’s set offers nooks, levels and holes for the dancers to weave and scuttle about in.

However, if it’s going to sing loud in the autumn tour and emerge as a signature work, then some dramaturgical repairs are in order to build bonds with the audience so we can begin to care rather than watching blunt fireworks; dancers should fill and execute their characters whilst injecting a consistent musicality into their performances and Adigun needs to bring some abrasion and grit back into his choreography.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller


Ballet BC, Birmingham Hippodrome

Posted: May 29th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet BC, Birmingham Hippodrome

Ballet BC, Birmingham Hippodrome, May 20

Artists of Ballet BC in Crystal Pite's Solo Echo (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Artists of Ballet BC in Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Without the fanfare and hoopla that surrounded the recent English National Ballet all-female triple bill, She Said, it is testament to Ballet BC and International Dance Festival Birmingham that female choreographers are not a scarcity in either the former nor the latter. With this being the only UK date, a premiere and the debate around non-male choreographers, I don’t understand why “the national critics” weren’t present, choosing to review NDT2 and Northern Ballet instead.

As part of #TheBENCH, an event and wider choreographic support programme designed by 2Faced Dance Company to address the gender inequality in UK contemporary dance, Ballet BC’s Artistic Director Emily Molnar was invited to speak and offer an international perspective. With integrity, sense and articulate coherence in spades she responded and mentioned to the crowd that the company would be performing a programme of Crystal Pite, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar as well as one of her own works. After seeing Eyal and Behar’s most recent commission on Scottish Dance Theatre earlier in the year and the fervour surrounding Crystal Pite’s forthcoming work on a series of national companies including Scottish Ballet, it was impossible not to be curious.

One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be a mere rushing on.”- D.H. Lawrence

Molnar’s work that premiered in 2013, 16+ a room, opened the evening. Riddled with detail, pace and luxurious unfurlings of time alongside a repeated slow and knowing presence of a stage walker who held a sign that read ‘This Is A Beginning’ or ‘This Is Not An End’, Molnar accentuated the visibility of time and allowed us to see all the full stops on stage. Almost imperceptible tremors in the bodies floated to the surface in the not quite stillness emphasising the control and fizz of the 16 company dancers. Building entrances and exits into the choreography nothing was wasted whilst oscillating between large packs of movement and intimate duets the piece became structurally familiar but no less impressive. With a lighting design like spots on a domino and an electric rasping soundtrack suiting the crispness of the taut choreographic vocabulary and Molnar’s staccato sock-sliding lunges and pulses 16+A Room was a satisfying start to proceedings.

When you acknowledge the integrity of your solitude, and settle into its mystery, your relationships with others take on a new warmth, adventure and wonder.” – John O’Donohue

Pite’s Solo Echo  left an emotional residue that I’ve only felt after watching the 1953 film Tokyo Story by Yasujirô Ozu. Both are a study of human connections, regret, present echoes and anticipation whilst leaving time for it to settle inside you. With an upstage set design of a constant drop of either snow, petals or sawdust and a sweeping piano and string soundtrack, I read Japanese cherry blossom in the spring, a time for renewal and rituals which were also present in the choreography. A recurring motif of the frozen run, giving space and a softness that supports others, showcased alternative qualities in seven dancers and their ability to connect with the audience and their material. Solo Echo has an emotional sting that remained inside the body long after the curtain had dropped.

There is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever.” – Lord Byron

Bill is my second live encounter with an Eyal and Behar choreography. Here they remould bodies through anatomical adventures. We see the same limbs and torsos used by Molnar and Pite, yet the angles are skewed, bodies inverted and are presented with a fevered ballet and jelly-legged solos. The stage is flooded with choreography for 22 minutes; patterns of repetitive walking and clockwise rocking provide mesmeric satisfaction mixed with the occasional choreographic burst that is reminiscent of a 90s WWF move by The Bushwhackers beating their arms to a wide invisible drum. They enable the dancers to command the stage with a cat-walking focus whilst conveying the rapturous joy of movement. There’s a depth of field in play, real care for the scenography and texture of the world and a constant eye on the end; Eyal and Behar are always building, always layering and always in control of our gaze. There are echoes of Hofesh Shechter in as much as Eyal and Behar, like Shechter, have the ability to be 1% different, which sets them aside choreographically and spawns a band of imitators. Their craft is a pleasure to revel in.

The construction of triple bills is a delicate game; wanting to build progressively but not drown and leave an audience with an emotional unevenness. Ballet BC’s triple bill was pitched well with an appetising opener, rich and complex main and a finale with all the trimmings and flourishes; here’s a company that has developed a repertoire of more than 35 works since 2009, from William Forsythe to Aszure Barton, and is actively collaborating with The National Ballet of Canada and Frankfurt Ballet to support artists, choreographers and audiences alike. Imagine if British companies would do the same.


Navadisha 2016

Posted: May 26th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: | Comments Off on Navadisha 2016

Navadisha 2016, mac, Birmingham, May 20-22

Kesha Raithatha (photo: Ian Abbott)

Kesha Raithatha (photo: Ian Abbott)

Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.” – Michel Foucault

Navadisha 2016 was a three-day conference produced by Anita Srivastava and co-produced by Piali Ray that sought “to stimulate, steer and secure the future of South Asian Dance as part of UK’s ever growing dance landscape”. The Navadisha team, with Chitra Sundaram acting as conference moderator and lead consultant, curated over 65 presenters and more than 20 performances attracting over 200 UK and international delegates who were ready to celebrate and deliberate new dynamics in South Asian dance.

It has been over 16 years since the last Navadisha when a young Akram Khan and Mavin Khoo presented their duet No Male Egos; Navadisha 2016 opened with a specially commissioned duet from Connor Scott (BBC Young Dancer 2015 winner) and Vidya Patel (BBC Young Dancer 2015 finalist) who jointly choreographed a light 5-minute work in a mere eight hours. Khan, Khoo and Shobana Jeyasingh each offered a keynote provocation and while Khan struggled with definition — “What the fuck is South Asian dance? I don’t know how to define it…” — Jeyasingh offered an arresting, personal and insightful response touching on pertinent issues: “Dance as a noble hobby”, and with respect to the classical and contemporary debate, “we share common soil, common roots and common sustenance.”

Over the course of the event there were some luminous contributions from individuals who articulated an alternative approach to, and use of, classical dance forms whilst demonstrating an integrity within their own practice:

Subathra Subramanium (Sadhana Dance) explored the rigour and collaborative process between bharatanatyam and science, charting expeditions to the Arctic Circle with audiences of bearded seals and walruses to the surgical precision of the operating theatre and identifying a shared dexterity between classical dancers and surgeons.
Hari Krishnan (inDance) offered a queer narrative and perspective from his practice as a choreographer. Presenting nudity, sexuality and intimate touch in and to this community is a radical act and I’d like to see other LGBTQ+ artists offered the chance to engage and contribute to this dialogue.
Lina Johansson (mimbre) presented insight and advice on how her company creates work for outdoor settings, recognising that audiences can begin to watch a piece at any moment and often wander off if their attention drops. She aims to craft work to capture and retain a diversity of ages.
Shalini Bhalla (Just Jhoom) opened a vital dialogue (often ignored in South Asian communities) around issues of mental health and depression. She shared her story of hospitalisation and of using the healing power of her dance practice to train over 250 instructors across the UK to teach the fitness and bollywood hybrid, Just Jhoom. She recognised the social value, community and friendship that comes from participants dancing together in class in a familiar environment.
Nova Bhattacharya (Nova Dance) offered an international perspective and was frustrated with the “fucking monochromatic viewpoint” in both the dominance and assimilation of American modern dance and European aesthetics into the Canadian dance ecology, and passionately advocated for a palette of voices and forms to be represented.

However, in a set of panels (often with 7, 8 and 9 people each having three minutes to speak in the 60-minute sessions) there was a lack of coherence and audience consideration mixed with a multitude of surface statements and extensive personal biographies. Many of the flooded panels had insufficient time and/or were poorly moderated, not allowing questions and response from the audience. With such an international panel of delegates, rich with experience and insight, the opportunity to engage in a rigorous debate was missed. There was little visible thread between the speakers whose consistent mode was that of broadcasting rather than listening and responding to peers.

“Creativity cannot be held within the confines of history. It needs to be honestly and harmoniously allowed to reinvent.” Aditi Mangaldas

There were nearly 15 panels across the three days, looking at: Changing lives / Inspiring Stories, New Narratives / New Perspectives, Professional development, mentoring and career progression, but one that stood out in the language used to describe it was: “Stars in our eyes: Part 1 – The Performer’s Perspective.” Five stellar and compelling performers from a range of South Asian dance practices (Aakash Odedra, Amina Khayyam, Seeta Patel, Shane Shambhu and Sonia Sabri) each shared how they see it: My vision, my goals, my dreams, my challenges!

The conference team often publicly referred to this set of artists as “Gen Next” or “Young Artists”, invoking a sense of power and using a patronising tone that I found unhealthy. Patel in her three minutes offered a provocation: “It is an exciting time which shouldn’t be patronised by a reference to ourselves as orientalised, antiquated museum pieces. Whether classical or contemporised, with integrity we can reach further from existing, limiting perceptions. To artists I ask: are we perpetuating a landscape of outdated perceptions that limit who we are and can be? To the powers that be: do you want an exotic other artist or an artist whose doesn’t rely upon cultural differences to make them great?” Her comments garnered a wealth of response in the room and on the hashtag #Navadisha16.

I sensed an unspoken power, faux etiquette or, to use a term cited by Patel on day one, an invisible hand at play manifesting itself in multiple ways throughout the conference. There is an unwillingness to engage in an open dialogue as the fear of retribution is high. Julia Carruthers, Programme Director at Warwick Arts Centre, in the Venue, Producer and Promoter panel called on the “aunty” or “akka” generation to move on and make way for new voices and new leaders. Anusha Subramanyam, Artistic Director of Beeja, in the How dance is enhancing people’s lives panel spoke of her frustration at the disparaging attitude towards her work as a choreographer working with young people with disabilities, in communities and other contexts.

Over the last three years I’ve experienced, led, partnered and convened a number of dance conferences, symposia, festivals and gatherings in different styles including: Association of Dance of the African Disapora’s Re:generations 2014, the Integrated Summit, Btown Throwdown and South Asian Dance Summit at Pavilion Dance South West as well as DanceLive15, Buzzcut and Rise 2016 in Scotland. Common threads across these events were: a sense of care for the artist and audience, providing a space for difference and the removal of ego for the greater good. Within Navadisha 2016 there was an invisible simmering and Kav Kaushik paraphrased Game of Thrones: “Winter is coming and the kingdom is focused on civil war.”

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.” – N R Narayana Murthy

Throughout the conference there were a number of felicitations paying respect to pioneers in the field, from Naseem Khan OBE (on the 40th anniversary of her ground-breaking report, The Arts Britain Ignores) to Pratap Pawar, Pushkala Gopal and Nahid Siddiqui, three dance artists who inspired generations of students, dancers and teachers in the UK. Alongside this formal recognition a number of new ventures from Leena Patel, Kamala Devam, Shane Shambhu were publicly launched in front of a rich and illustrious makeup of guru’s and industry powers which felt a generous and unique celebration introduced by those further along in their career trajectory.

As part of the conference and in partnership with International Dance Festival Birmingham there were a number of full-length performances and excerpts across the three days. Highlights came from Sooraj Subramaniam, whose classical Odissi was an elegant and emotive solo; Kesha Raithatha, who has been working with Eva Recacha, presented a taut Kathak-inspired contemporary work which would sit well in most small-scale dance houses across the UK and Hembharathy Palani’s Twine, bathed in a Tizer-lit haze, was a meditative trio on the notion of slowing down.

I noticed that some things were missing from the conference: there was no voice of young people or a young presence on the education panel and yet we saw groups from the ISTD or Centre for Advanced Dance Training perform on stage. There was no authentic voice of what it is like to go through and experience these systems; their voice was muted. There was no discussion about music, its relationship to dance and how it is fundamental not only to the teaching but also to the presentation of the classical forms. The relationship between guru and student would have been a ripe arena to explore, looking at reverence and power dynamics between two people. The majority of National Dance Network members were not present and those who were appeared only on days they were on a panel; Paul Russ, CEO and Artistic Director of Dance 4, admitted, “The unconscious bias needs to be acknowledged.” If the dance houses and dance development organisations who programme and support artists choose not to attend and engage against the backdrop of Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity and the monochromatic male leadership of dance organisations, both their own palette and that of their audiences are given little chance to broaden; the unconscious bias will remain until the “uncles” are removed.

In the closing plenary, “The Conference” (without consultation or engagement with delegates) made a series of recommendations: the need for further round table discussions; not waiting 16 years until the next event; passing the baton onto “gen next” and encouraging them to lead on the next Navadisha, and for venues to present more classical and contemporary Indian work across the UK. This was a very public offer and challenge to the “young artists” to create and mould the structures and opportunities to reflect the landscape they wish to engage with. If this is a ceding of power and relevance then I look forward to what the future holds as there are articulate, rigorous and original voices that have been constrained by power politics within the classical Indian dance ecology.


Costa Contemporánea 2015, Day 2

Posted: May 26th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Costa Contemporánea 2015, Day 2

Costa Contemporánea, Day 2, Anfiteatro Rodalquilar, September 3

Irene de Paz in Madejda (photo: Carlos de Paz)

This is the second instalment of a set of reviews from last year’s Costa Contemporánea. I had started it but never got around to finishing it. Re-reading my notes I feel I am back in the amphitheatre at Rodalquilar…

After the opening night, the three subsequent days of performances at Costa Contemporánea have a strong theme of physical theatre. Each performance is a unique take on the body as both image and instrument with an ecstatic fluid line that permeates the body mass. Irene de Paz is a circus artist, a tightrope walker with strong features and a bright smile that remains from beginning to end like an optimist who never gives up. The gusts of wind blowing through the amphitheatre would be enough to put off any funambulist but the smile persists and the performance of La Madeja proceeds, involving yards of red yarn in which de Paz ties and unties herself while walking back and forth or on the rope. The link between the tightrope and the yarn is not accidental; equating the knotting of woven cloth to the vital knots of her profession, De Paz dedicates La Madeja to those women weavers who saw their days pass while knotting threads. Furthermore, the funambulist and the weaver become metaphors for life: finding balance, taking steps back in order to move forward and resolving intricate problems. Her first step on the wire is entangled in yarn and by her last one she is free of obstructions. But during the performance De Paz seems to be fighting the elemental force of nature that is far more unpredictable; lightness and poise are at risk, even though the smile never fails.

I had seen Elias Aguirre dance a duet in Turin that took inspiration from the characteristics of insects. Aguirre’s control over his articulate body is prodigious and he turned it into a fascinating play of volume, line and space. He finds unusual states of being to portray — neither conceptual nor exaggerated — that lend themselves to his form of expression. In Longfade he inhabits a body that has been poisoned but is in the process of resisting the poison until it runs its course: the long fade to extinction. Facing his crisis in spatial terms, Aguirre is eloquent in movement: short phrases, silences, internal questioning, and hasty decisions connected in an overall arc of meaning. He takes his imbalance to extremes but always finds his equilibrium quietly and seductively. His face is intimately involved in his actions, giving an impression of carrying on a dialogue with the audience, or reading us a story in movement. Longfade is not a work with a beginning or end, but like a fragment it emerges into the light and disappears enigmatically leaving behind an extraordinary sensory trail.

Because of the rising wind outside, Nicolas Rambaud moves his production of ¡Valgo? to a spacious hall behind the amphitheatre where we sit on the floor. The work, whose title translates as What am I worth?, is a polemic about the value and self-worth of artists. It is a duet for Rambaud and a filmed alter-ego who is projected onto a fragile, tent-like screen and with whom Rambaud pursues a contentious dialogue. Rambaud is no wallflower and enjoys the role of demagogue; he also enjoys being outrageous. Since I don’t understand Spanish I have an hour to watch him rant in speech and dance, stripping down from blue overalls to his essentials and high heels and spraying sarcasm from an industrial crop sprayer strapped to his back. If Rambaud wants to draw attention to the value of the artist, he succeeds more successfully — from a purely physical perspective — to draw attention to himself: L’artiste, c’est moi. What is interesting, too, is that in the context of the contemporary Spanish dance at Costa Contemporanea there is a didactic quality in Rambaud’s work: an intellectual concept dressed in the physical. By contrast, and in simplistic terms, the Spanish contemporary dance I have seen is primarily physical with an inherent intelligence.