Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Masurca Fogo

Posted: February 13th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Masurca Fogo

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Masurca Fogo, Sadler’s Wells, February 9

Ruth Amarante in Masurca Fogo (photo: Zerrin Aydin-Herwegh)

This is difficult to write because I love the way Pina Bausch was able to distill experience into gesture and form with such elegance and wit. When she died unexpectedly in 2009, there remained her legacy of rich, exuberant works but without the exacting spirit that conceived them. Inevitably, despite the best efforts to keep the works alive by subsequent directors and by the dancers themselves, the company has had to remember this spirit instead of experience it; its focus remains on the past. For a lesser company a hiatus in its ability to maintain the repertoire after the death of its sole founder and choreographer might have happened five years ago, and it is a measure of the level of artistry in the company that we have been able for so long to enjoy the works Bausch built up from her seemingly inexhaustible creative energy. But eight years is a long time to be reviving the past and, significantly, a third of the present company never had the opportunity to work with Bausch. One of the ways she created material was to ask her dancers questions to which they would respond in movement, words in any way they felt appropriate; how can such a personal response be transferred from one dancer to another? While Masurca Fogo may not be the strongest work in Bausch’s repertoire, watching it on Thursday night I sensed the point has been reached that since the company is no longer challenged by Bausch’s presence to develop new works they appear to be losing the ability to fully inhabit her older ones. Last seen in London in 2003, Masurca Fogo is like seeing a Bausch work set on another company (I wonder how Rite of Spring will fare in the bodies of English National Ballet); it is not difficult to see the beauty in its inspiration, but its carefully conceived details — the very life of the work — had lost their brilliance for routine.  There are still moments that jump out as before, like the solo of Ditta Miranda Jasjfi or the interventions of Nazareth Panadero, but these only serve to remind us what we are missing.

Nostalgia, however, is a very powerful sentiment and Bausch’s repertoire works intoxicatingly on our memories, so brightly did these works dance in their day. But has a romantic notion crept into our attendance at these revivals whereby we unwittingly accept a weakening in Bausch’s unerring sense of living theatre in return for the pleasure of seeing them again? And if this ongoing pleasure on behalf of the audience (houses continue to sell out) remains, it is clear the incentive (however well-meaning) for venues to invite the company will continue. And if this is so, is there not a danger in this drawn-out descending spiral of artistic integrity that the performers are singing the praises of their muse rather than singing their muse’s inspiration? Or worse still, are the performers — at least those who worked with Bausch —in danger of becoming parodies of their former selves and thus condemning the works to a similar fate? All these questions occurred to me after seeing Masurca Fogo.

The question of a dance legacy has been raised before, notably by Merce Cunningham who established a three-year plan to address the process of dismantling his company and Foundation after his death, and more recently by Mats Ek, who has begun to withdraw performing rights for his work where he is no longer able to personally supervise their revivals. Perhaps Bausch’s sudden death rendered unresolved any plan for her legacy. For the 2017/18 season, Adolphe Binder, will be the first ‘outsider’ to take over the artistic direction of the company. Binder will be bringing in choreographers to create new works on the dancers, but she also has the responsibility, along with the other members of the company and their collaborators, to maintain the Bausch legacy. Cunningham closed down his company and established a Trust to ‘preserve and enhance’ his legacy; Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch has taken another path but one that, judging by this performance of Masurca Fogo, does not augur well for the artistic fulfilment of Bausch’s legacy. Even if she had wished it.


Resolution 2017: Orley Quick & the Hairy Heroines, Mater-Filia

Posted: February 12th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Orley Quick & the Hairy Heroines, Mater-Filia

Resolution 2017, January 31, Orley Quick & the Hairy Heroines, Mater-Filia

Elliot Minogue-Stone, Tyrrell Foreshaw and José Diogo Fernandes de Jesus in Orley Quick’s As We Like It (photo: Emmeline Cresswell)

Unfortunately due to the length of this evening’s program I had to leave to catch a train before seeing the final work. Apologies to Sketch Dance Company.

There’s a riotous imagination at play in Orley Quick & The Hairy Heroine’s As We Like It; while Quick throws a variety of feminine attributes at them (metaphorically and literally) the three (hairy) men — Tyrrell Foreshaw, José Diogo Fernandes de Jesus and Elliot Minogue-Stone — maintain their masculinity in a colourful exploration of gender such as Shakespeare himself might have liked.

The tone of the opening sequence is sublime: accompanied by the beautiful protest song, Los Hermanos (“the brothers”) by Atahualpa Yupanqui sung by Bia Krieger and Lhasa De Sela, the three men with eyes closed feel their way across the stage with arms outstretched as if on a religious pilgrimage until a sensual rhythm takes over their bodies. Their hands start to accent musical rhythms on their thighs but this transforms subtly into a hilarious competition of beats that goes downhill fast into an outright slapping fight. Quick thus takes us seamlessly from the height of sensibility to the depths of human foibles and what is refreshing is that the performers appear as surprised as we are by the deteriorating turn of events. It is their understated, deadpan performances that raise As We Like It to a high level of artistic achievement but it is Quick’s anarchic, earthy sense of humour that communicates to us throughout, destabilizing appearances to the point of absurdity. How else could you thread Minogue-Stone’s monologue about trousers, screw-drivers and big dogs, to the debonair de Jesus bellowing with rage, to the burly Foreshaw seducing the audience with his improbably supple pole dancing, to a skateboard ballet sequence, to a lip-synched trio fumbling for the correct name of a spirit level?

It is one of the longer works for Resolution — touching the maximum of 25 minutes — but the energy, sensuality and humour never pall. Quick is helped by dramaturg Karla Ptáček, costume designer Giulia Scrimieri (who clearly had fun finding the wigs, costumes and accessories kept in a wicker basket on stage until needed), costume maker Hania Kosewicz, lighting designer Joshua Gadsby and sound editor Alex Mitchell. But what makes As We Like It stand out is that Quick and the Hairy Heroines draw us unerringly through their irreverently fertile minds and light hearts to reveal a richness of observation played out with flamboyance, confidence and a fine sense of timing.

I had already interviewed Debbie Lee-Anthony and her daughter Lauren a couple of weeks before so I was aware of the emotional complexity behind Do Not Go Gentle and the high stakes mother and daughter (Materfilia) had placed in the work. It was the first time they were performing together and the inspiration was the life of Lee-Anthony’s late sister-in-law, Kath Posner. It was also the first time Posner’s husband, musician Hamilton Lee (aka Hamid Mantu), had composed a dance score and the first time he was seeing the work dedicated to his late wife. It is a tribute to the artistry of all three that their individual creativity contributes to the full realization of the whole without becoming emotionally fraught: the score arises as much from the poem of Dylan Thomas as it does from the choreographic input of the dancers, and the choreography flows inseparably from the score.

Time is very much the crucible of the poem, and time is what Do Not Go Gentle addresses; we see it in the relative ages of mother and daughter, in time as memories and time as absence, yet the work drills down into the present with stoical force. Lee-Anthony speeds up her movements and her daughter slows down hers in deference to each other’s time when they dance together but each explores their own vocabulary and pace in distinct and poignant soliloquies. Do Not Go Gentle is a meeting of lyrical expressionism and youthful optimism, a conversation in which both mother and daughter fully contribute their feelings and abilities with mutual respect and emotional warmth. Heard but not seen is the essential contribution of Hamilton Lee, the man and the musician, that links mother and daughter in a timeless paean to the enduring bonds of life itself.


Resolution 2017: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré & Stephen Quildan

Posted: February 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré & Stephen Quildan

Resolution 2017, January 28: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré, Stephen Quildan

Marie Astrid Mence in a publicity photo for Not Hard (photo: Jack Thomson)

Bridget Lappin last year toyed with dual notions of exposure and concealment in The Art of Exposure and for this year’s Resolution she explores the dual notions of femininity and animality in Who’s Afraid of a Pussy Cat? Lappin is clearly drawn to paradoxes and she moves between them with her natural gifts of sensuality and strength. Here she takes her fascination with paradox to a sexually provocative level, conflating animality and femininity in a seamless line from forest to go-go bar, from faun to lap dancer. But there is a difference between embodiment and posture; Lappin indicates her inner paradoxes without fully expressing them and because of the sensual nature of dance in general and her performance in particular, she is partially successful. She seems to be aware of this paradox within a paradox for at one point she deliberately invokes Nijinsky’s portrayal of a faun in which, by all accounts, the separation between performer and animal was scandalously fine. Despite her best efforts (but not helped by her utilitarian costume of flowered bra and pants), Lappin’s own femininity maintains a distance from her animality, leaving a regret that the two are not more fully and selflessly integrated.

A recording of Nina Simone’s 1976 performance of Feelings at the Montreux Jazz Festival is the starting point for Mathieu Geffré’s What Songs May Do. The idea is that his two dancers, Angela Boix Duran and Joseba Yerro Izaguirre, are attending the concert in real time and their duet is the affect of Simone’s performance on their relationship. The beginning works beautifully as Duran and Izaguirre seem to arise out of the audience and walk languidly on to the stage to Simone singing Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas. This looks like a preview to a romantic duet but Simone’s Feelings brings out both tenderness and irritation, expectation and rejection in the couple: the feelings start to run amok. While Geffré’s title prepares us for this altercation between the musical and the physical, the latter starts to take on a separate existence; there is a section of locked bodies on the floor and another with dramatic runs and lifts that are effective in themselves (both dancers are totally immersed in what they do), but lose their choreographic relation to the music. Simone’s concert continues, applause and all, while Duran and Izaguirre become embroiled in a Bauschian tangle too reminiscent of Café Mueller. Our attention has been drawn away from what songs may do to the couple to what the couple is doing to the songs.

The final work comes wrapped in Rambert livery with Rambert support. The opening gambit of Stephen Quildan’s Not Hard is a well-constructed conceit that takes the entire piece to unravel. At the opening we watch two immobile, macho figures in bulky leather jackets, baggy pants and hats pulled well down on their heads changing positions and poses in a series of closely controlled, hazy blackouts (great lighting by Joshua Harriette). The first intimation of movement is an entrance by one of them on a BMX bike. The arrival of a ripped Lucy Balfour in red swimsuit and fashion backpack clears the haze but leaves us none the wiser as to where this is all going. The slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony may be a clue but it sits incongruously next to a hilarious lip-synched version of Lethal Bizzle’s Pow (Forward) by the trio of Balfour, Vanessa Kang and Kym Sojourna dressed by Quildan himself (who also wrote some of the music). The glossy production values with which Quildan juggles seem inspired by fashion photography — Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin spring to mind — and slick music videos, and he wraps them in the format of a social media event in which the scrolling visual content carries the message. Not Hard finishes with Balfour standing very close to the front row of seats holding a two-litre bottle of water in each outstretched arm until her toned muscle strength fails and one bottle falls after the other. It becomes a metaphor for a work that relies so heavily on its visual strength.


Resolution 2017: Helen Cox, John Ross Dance & Simone and Elisabeth

Posted: January 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Helen Cox, John Ross Dance & Simone and Elisabeth

Resolution 2017: Helen Cox, John Ross Dance, & Simone and Elisabeth

Simone Mousset and Elisabeth Schilling in Impressing the Grand Duke (photo: Bohumil Kostohryz)

Resolution is a festival of emerging artists, but for an explanation of the perilous stages of emergence there is no better guide than Simone Mousset and Elisabeth Schilling’s hilarious Impressing the Grand Duke. Having experienced the travails of ascending from ‘the deep and mysterious choreographic forest’ to ‘the deep inverted choreographic mountain’ they know how it’s done. Impressing the Grand Duke is told as a fable about an artist called Nymphadora who dances and dreams all day long in an obscure corner of the world. One day she receives a visit from the Grand Duke who recognizes her as an up-and-coming artiste, an original talent and future star and sends her on a mission to conquer the choreographic world. Nymphadora is played by both Schilling as Nympha, the stubborn, egocentric creative, and by Mousset as Dora, her harridan muse and business manager. Add the fairytale costumes by Mélanie Planchard and there are no limits to which these two consummate clowns will descend to deliver a satirical farce of the highest order. Despite Dora’s low opinion about their prospects (“Nympha, we are not getting anywhere in our art. You are always dancing the same dance….We have to emerge.”) the two manage to get through the various choreographic contests by squabbling or riffing verbally on their inability to choreograph. For Dora the goals are clear: international stardom, real visibility, real props and costumes, and sponsorship. For Nympha real costumes are trumped by the prospect of a visit from the Grand Duke.

They finally emerge (completely) to recorded congratulations against a Hollywood soundtrack so you can almost see the credits rolling up the screen as you reach for your Kleenex. Only one thing worries Nympha, who with devastating timing between the batting of her false eyelashes and the pouting of her red lips asks Dora, “And now?”

The choreography is ascribed to both Mousset and Schilling; not only are they natural counterparts to each other on stage but through their creative alchemy they anchor the theatricality of the work in a musical form. For last year’s Resolution Mousset and Schilling worked together on Their Past to the symphonic music of Yuri Khanon but for Impressing the Grand Duke music provides only the initial impetus. Schilling begins the work dancing with capricious delight to Claude Debussy’s Étude 10 pour les sonorités opposés, on pointe, and even when Mousset comes thundering down the aisle on to the stage she never disregards the music’s rhythmic structure. But when the Étude finishes, the work continues as a tightly coherent physical score with spoken and recorded texts, and the Hollywood finale. In Impressing the Grand Duke, Mousset and Schilling have added a delightful sense of humour to their musicality and ability to paint with dance, which makes them a creative duo to watch. All the more so now they have emerged.

Helen Cox’s double pendulum (ee cummings punctuation) opens the program. It takes place in either a spacious attic or a church nave sculpted in light and haze by Lucy Hansom and Ric Mountjoy. There is something of both the domestic and the spiritual in this duet that Cox dances with Andrew Oliver; their relationship has a domestic flavour in the way they set out their individual dynamics in their initial solos and then borrow from each other, but the spatial design, enhanced by the lighting, puts the work on a spiritual plane. Both dancers have the ability to stretch their gestures way beyond the reach of their limbs and Cox can effortlessly inhabit a spiral that wraps the space around her; together she and Oliver control space. They do not touch for much of the work (when Cox clutches Oliver’s wrist it comes as a shock) but glide around and replace each other in a silence of choreography that the selection of tracks by Loscil and Floating Points intensifies; their relationship develops out of the choreography rather than being described by it. It is one of the few works I have seen that stands on its own choreographic merits without any need for notes or explanations.

In an evening of duets (unless we count the offstage presence of The Grand Duke), John Ross and Nicole Guarino’s work, They Never Were, takes its title from its predominant motif of unfinished gestures. The choreography is a rich tapestry of gestures but the grounding of each one is constantly withdrawn like a quietly redacted conversation. As in double pendulum there is a silence that pervades the work, both in the quality of movement and in the intertwined gestures that barely connect. Hannah Kidd’s costumes soften the bodies while Hansom herself again works her magic with a mist of lighting that further dissolves the figures into sculptural forms: we barely see the faces of the two dancers. Enhancing this sense of the ethereal is a score of Arvo Pärt’s haunting Für Alina and an extract from Jon Hopkins’ Immunity on top of which we hear a series of short, recorded phrases (written by Drew Taylor) like memory traces. Ross and Guarino keep these elements in constant suspension while their feet remain effortlessly on the ground. The nature of the work withdraws quietly into its title with equal elegance.


Do not go gentle, an interview with Debbie Lee-Anthony and Lauren Anthony

Posted: January 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Do not go gentle, an interview with Debbie Lee-Anthony and Lauren Anthony

Do Not Go Gentle, an interview with Debbie Lee-Anthony and Lauren Anthony

Debbie Lee-Anthony and Lauren Anthony (photo: Bailey HYT)

Dylan Thomas’s poem Do not go gentle into that good night was addressed to the poet’s father, encouraging him to ‘fight against the dying of the light.’ It is a poem that focuses intimately on family but at the same time serves as an affirmation of life. When Debbie Lee-Anthony wanted to create a work to celebrate the life of her sister-in-law, Kath Posner, whom she had recently lost to cancer, she discovered her favourite poem had been Thomas’s famous villanelle. Debbie and her daughter, Lauren Anthony, decided to work together to weave a choreographic response to Thomas’s words. Adding to the work’s emotional complexity, the score is by Debbie’s brother, Hamilton Lee, who as Hamid Mantu of Transglobal Underground is a percussionist and composer in his own right. The first time he will see the work dedicated to his late wife will be at The Place on January 31st as part of Resolution 2017.

Debbie graduated from The London School of Contemporary Dance in 1982 and made a career as a freelance dancer and teacher. After becoming Senior Lecturer in Choreography and Dance at the University of Winchester she has recently returned to life as a freelance dance artist while teaching part-time at the University. Lauren graduated from Middlesex University two years ago with a first class degree in dance studies, and is currently a member of a hip hop dance company, The Rebirth Network. It was when she saw her mother perform Threshold at GoLive in 2015 that she saw the possibilities of performing with her. Do Not Go Gentle is the first time mother and daughter have performed together under the company name Mater-Filia.

Having created mainly solo works for the last five years, Debbie began by creating her own material to the poem which she then showed to her daughter. Lauren learned the material and sampled it with her acquired blend of hip hop and contemporary technique. They developed material as they went along, inciting each other with their different approaches and abilities and using the infrequent rehearsal time to catch up and comfort each other as much as to push the boundaries of the work. While Debbie was inspired by the words and the spaces between them, Lauren focused on the rhythms of the verse, but what constantly brought them together was the spirit of the piece. Both have collaborated closely with Mantu in his creation of the score which contains a sampling of the poem read by Anthony Hopkins; if Lauren wanted a little grunge beat in there for her solo, or if Debbie needed an additional softness or a slowness, Mantu was able to oblige. The project has thus grown organically around the celebration of life, for while Do not go gentle is dedicated to Kath Posner’s memory, it is not expressly about her; like the poem it is an ever-present rage against time.

If the creative circumstances of this work are not rich enough, there is another aspect that is integral to it. As an academic, Debbie has for many years written about ageing and the mature dancer. In retrospect, her publications such as Age, Agility and Anxiety (2007), and Conflict, Content and Context in the ageing body (2008) serve as a theoretical underpinning of her current experience in Do Not Go Gentle, and a paper she wrote on Sharing the dance through the lived body (2010) perfectly describes what she brings to the stage. Apart from managing the physical challenges, her greatest fear is not remembering, but because of that she goes over and over the material in between rehearsals. Now the work is finished she is feeling happier; the structure is secure and she and Lauren can use the remaining rehearsals to inhabit it fully, constantly challenging time until the stage lights die at the end of the performance.

For tickets and information: Resolution 2017 website


Vital Forces at Tangente in Montreal

Posted: December 29th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vital Forces at Tangente in Montreal

Vital Forces, Tangente, Monument-National, Montreal, December 2

Vital Forces

Daniel Wook Jun in his Injoy (photo: Mariel Rosenbluth)

It was so good to be back in Montreal. Having lived there for 30 years I feel at home in its environment, and especially in its dance environment. The downtown area is going through a huge refurbishment at the moment. Rising from a building site on Bleury Street is the new Édifice Wilder Espace Danse, a component of what is called the Quartier des Spectacles. In 2017 Édifice Wilder Espace Danse will house the theatre and production houses of Tangente and Agora de la Danse as well as the École de danse contemporaine de Montréal and the studios of my old company, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.

Tangente and Agora de la Danse are production houses for contemporary performance, Tangente producing smaller-scale works. The last performance of Tangente in its temporary home at Monument National is a series of short works on a large scale, Vital Forces (Forces vitales), featuring performances by Greg ‘Krypto’ Selinger, Daniel Wook Jun and Abdel-Hanime ‘Abnormal’ Madini.

Selinger accompanies his philosophical musings with a conversational style of breakdance in which the breaking finds a singular harmony with the concepts expressed. Selinger is an engaging character with a ready smile that belies the prodigious strength required of his breaks. His texts suggest a mind constantly questioning; to follow his sources is to enrich our view of life. Albeit comprises a text by Terence McKenna about the true capacity of the human body that Selinger sets out to challenge (McKenna cites breakdance as a trivial example of human discovery); When The Clock Strikes Me is a text by poet and rapper, Saul Williams. One Day Sooner, to a text of his own that covers ‘quantum physics, philosophy of consciousness and futurism’ is a storytelling ‘constructed by the gestures of a body excited and haunted by the words it speaks.’ Selinger’s work radiates out from the body as his words radiate out from the mind, where the joy of movement equates with the joy of thinking. Over and above the formal, physical appeal of contemporary dance, it is this aspect of embarking on a philosophical, spiritual or intellectual journey that can be so rewarding. Selinger has made an art of it but his format does not lend itself to an entire evening; the journey takes time to settle in and Selinger’s breakdancing as the visual component of his performative text does not sustain interest outside the scope of the text. Fortunately the program is shared with two other performers in a very different style of hiphop, in a very different package. Daniel Wook Jun and Abdel-Hanine ‘Abnormal’ Madini are two extraordinary poppers who use their own stories as material for their series of performance pieces under the title In Your Presence. Delving into the personal experience, the workings of their individual minds — Labyrinth is described as ‘a wide shot of the grand oceanic serenity of life, and an extreme close up of the internally raging storm’ — could also be inspired by Terence McKenna but here the ideas are internalized, the word expressed exclusively in a physical medium. Labyrinth is a solo for Wook Jun and Madini, each complementing the other as two aspects of experience. The lighting by Benoit Larivière is a key component, with cones of light creating small individual arenas in the darkness into which the dancers emerge and from which they disappear like consciousness and latency. It is their stillness that sets off the physical dialogue of popping and makes it so cooly articulate. Madini speaks of his own experience in Absolution, which he describes as a ‘self-confrontation, self-expression, and metamorphosis.’ The subject is suffering and dance is used to pierce through it, to find a resolution. Madini uses his physical form eloquently like a bravura language, a flow of ideas that keep abstraction at arm’s length. At one point he produces a clown nose whose redness against the black and white is on one level what Roland Barthes in his essay on photography called a punctum; he draws our attention to his face. In the West we point to the heart to indicate self, but in Japanese culture it is the nose that takes on this role. In the Q&A afterwards, led by Hélène Simard,  Madini admitted he wasn’t quite sure how to structure the work so he simply followed his inspiration. It worked.

Wook Jun’s Injoy is a more complex arrangement, more subtle. He asks the question, ‘What produces the state of joy in the midst of suffering?’ and describes the work as a ‘cycle of seeking and discovery.’ Deeply personal and affecting, Wook Jun uses his own voice and faltering gestures woven into the more assertive popping to become both ‘the subject and object of worship’, manifesting both frailty and doubt, immersion and intellectual distance. Larivière’s lighting cones again create areas through which Wook Jun journeys, laying bare his soul like a pilgrim in search of the unknowable.

And that is what links the three works: a sense of movement through time and experience that makes the theatre itself a place of reflection and contemplation. Since endings inevitably contain the seeds of future development, Vital Forces is an auspicious way to mark this transitional phase of Tangente.


MYSTERYSKIN, Brocade

Posted: December 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on MYSTERYSKIN, Brocade

MYSTERYSKIN, Brocade, Tramway, Glasgow, December 2, 2016

MYSTERYSKIN’s Brocade (photo: Emli Bendixen)

They say you start weaving clearer, sharper memories after you’ve been to a place at least twice. Because then the reflection is more of validation. Let the rush come to you and let your senses be flushed the first time. There will be time for reflection after you’ve had your fill.” – Psyche Roxas-Mendoza

Brocade is an adventure in minting time, maintaining rhythm and weaving space with four dancers (Kirsty Arnold, Laura Dannequin, Morrighan MacGillivray and Roberta Jean), and one musician (Angharad Davies). With two rows of chairs facing another on the opposite side of a 3-metre x 18-metre runway, we are all lines.

 Greeted by four female backs that slowly begin to rotate we are introduced to a family of movement that exists somewhere between a hop and a stationary skip (very rarely a jump); it feels like a close cousin of a folk dance with knees raised high, always bouncing on the toes, arms neutral at the sides and landing with a satisfying flat-soled slap on the floor.

Grant Anderson’s lighting design uses a series of lamps with exposed filaments to mark the centre line of their territory with the arches of Tramway 4 lit up drawing attention to the industrial history of this former tram shed. There is a neat historical fit in this presentation as the trams used to replay the same journey and trace the same lines across Glasgow — here the scale is shifted and the performers wear away the floor through their repeated solo and group parades and promenades up and down, embossing their own histories upon the venue.

I have learned that each and every piece of cloth embodies the spirit, skill, and personal history of an individual weaver…it ties together with an endless thread the emotional life of my people.” – Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez

As each dancer runs, shuttles, dashes, scuttles and stretches into awkward metronomic steps they invite other dancers to join or dissolve with them; we see and hear combinations of rhythms from 1, 2, 3 or 4 dancers like machines beating out their own time stamps. I’m aware of the rhythm and multi-rhythmic step patterns in play, building, shifting and alternating for the first 30 minutes of this 50-minute encounter. Feeling the waft of the wind as the performers sweep in front and behind at alternative paces alerts you to the labour that is being invested and to the reality of glistening backs and flushed brows as the endurance becomes apparent.

There is a delicious intimacy in a single stop when two of the dancers raised on tip toes, two other performers joined them, tessellated in behind and put their own toes under the raised heels; as they cradled their arms under the arms of the other using their whole palms and fingers took the head of their partner as breath and rest took over. I wanted time to pull out even more, I wanted hours of these parades and space weaving — there is joy to be found in losing and re-finding yourself amongst their rhythms.

Of what is the body made? It is made of emptiness and rhythm. At the ultimate heart of the body, at the heart of the world, there is no solidity… there is only the dance.” – George Leonard

Brocade describes itself as ‘a sound and movement piece which celebrates energetic alliances between unique female dancers and musicians.’ What I struggled to find was a connection or a thread towards the dancers — they rarely present their face or acknowledge the audience as they’re consistently moving and concentrating on step patterns and wider rhythms. There are plenty of alliances on show between the performers, but I felt little was offered to me as audience; if we were invited in to share their rhythm and territory then we could join them and retreat into their glorious oscillations.

Towards the end and still leading from the shoulders with ulna nerves and palms out Jean stepped out and began layering vocal cries and breaths via a loop station switching the sonic from warp to weft. Previously we had intermittently heard Davies plucking the violin with asymmetric sounds and pulses adding textures to the foot-tapping polyrhythms from the dancers. The three dancers embarked on a spin, folded from their centre with waves of sound playing through their spines. This focal shift from the parading (which asked us to follow, to choose where and who and what to follow as it was impossible to drink them all in in one set of eyes) was welcome as my visual rhythm had been consistently disturbed as I kept turning my head left and right attempting to hold them all in my eyes.

Brocade is a work where it pays to notice and if you do there is plenty to mine; as the performers weave the space with invisible geometries the only physical residue they leave is that which we choose to carry in our own memories.


Emerge Festival, Week 2, The Space, November 19

Posted: December 5th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Emerge Festival, Week 2, The Space, November 19

Emerge Festival, Week 2, The Space, November 15-19

Joe Garbett and Jessica Haener in No. Company at Emerge Festival

Joe Garbett and Jessica Haener in No. Company at Emerge Festival

The appeal, not to mention the importance, of a festival like Emerge that presents new and experimental work by new and experimental choreographers, is the possibility of a work appearing on the program that stands out, that leaves a palpable trace or sensation. It doesn’t mean the work is ready to tour nationally or internationally but simply that it ushers in the possibility of new developments in choreography. Such innovations don’t necessarily require lots of money but they do need to be seen.

On each week of its two-week run, Emerge’s curator, Adam Towndrow of C12 Dance Theatre, has produced a single program of five works that is performed five times, and there is no connection between the works apart from their intrinsic interest. The little miracle happened in the second week. Most of the works involve a single choreographer but Joe Garbett coordinated eight (Jacob Bray, Daisy Farris, Chloe Mead, Joel O’donoghue, Hannah Parsons, Hannah Rotchell, Thea Stanton and Cornelia Voglmayr) in the work he conceived and directed, No.Company. It’s all about collaboration that keeps the collaborators out of the room, a choreographic form like remote surgery with the haptic feedback coming from the performers. It’s an interesting creative paradigm; choreographic ideas sent by text message — anything from a suggestion, to word play, to a precise instruction — from each of the choreographers and translated by the two interpreters, Garbett and Jessica Haener, into formal phrases. Garbett says the process of interpreting the texts and directing the finished work took three studio days.

‘Finished work’ might be an overstatement; with its fluid, interpretative basis, No.Company has the quality of an improvisation — albeit within restrictions — with the refreshing continuity of a spontaneous conversation replete with asides, pauses, connecting gestures and phrases. I saw it twice and the second time it had matured but not substantively changed. Garbett and Haener are relaxed together, freely and informally engaged in the moment without any indication they know what’s coming up next. Neither do we; the nature of the collaboration is eight unrelated subjects with eight unrelated soundtracks joined together to form a single discursive performance. But because Garbett and Haener are so engaging and the work so full of suggestion, we as an audience can draw our own conclusions like a directorial line. Paul Klee once described his doodles as taking his pencil for a walk; No. Company takes the body for a walk, and in its expressive articulation — even the pastel colours of their clothes help legibility — I have a sense of reading the choreography as it is written in space. Garbett’s governing idea is about the process of creation, but the result is that the eight creators and two translators, through some special alchemy, have created an intriguingly coherent work.

Also on the program is a reworking of Pomodoro by Alice Weber. It is a more powerful work than when I first saw it at Blue Cloud Scratch but Weber understandably skirts round the full horror of the experience that prompted it. It is a dark meditation on the vulnerability of the human body to trauma. Using the fragility of tomatoes as a metaphor is a stroke of genius but the potential menace of her conception is susceptible to psychological escape valves that leave the audience unsuspecting and the work unfulfilled. Weber shared the solo with Merritt Millman but even by detaching herself from the work through another interpreter, she maintains a safe distance from the subject.

The last time I saw a work by Rhiannon Brace (Baby), she was celebrating the birth of her son, Dylan; in The Last Dance On Earth she has jumped to the other end of the spectrum with the depiction a family living out its final day. Drawn from a reading of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, we meet the three generations of family sitting listening to the radio announcing the end of the world. Jay Jeyakumar has changed from a teddy-bear father in Baby to a stunned and confused one, but Mary Cox is still the smiling grandmother whose memories transform her movements into optimism. Brace herself is the mother, and Marta Polak the daughter who takes with her all the longing and pluck in her body. It’s a finely drawn characterisation that lifts the miniature work to a level of poignant urgency.

Paola Napolitano’s work on mental health, SELphOBiA, has far-reaching ideas that have not yet developed a coherent choreographic language to convey them, nor a setting in which to frame them. How do you convey emotional fragility through a body and mind that are strong and healthy? Napolitano’s imagery stays too much on the surface to convey the psychological depths she wants to explore. A straight jacket can point to a condition but does not in itself convey it, and Napolitano’s use of a broken mirror as a metaphor is similarly too literal; we should be looking through it rather than at it. I am reminded of those harrowing photographs by Richard Avedon of his sister and other inmates in a mental asylum: we see them through his lens and at the same time we feel the his emotional connection. In the theatre we are in effect behind the lens and it is only the physical language of the performer that can create that connection. No easy task, but there is more to unlock here.

By contrast, in Amy Foskett’s Through The Cottongrass the choreographic language dominates the narrative. Inspired by the beloved Swedish fairy tale, Princess Cottongrass, Foskett has created an episodic duet with Katherine Whale that picks up on the companionship of the princess and the elk in their magical journey through the forest. Of course in a theatre you can’t go very far, so the various stages of the duet rely for their effect on the quality of physical connection between the two dancers. Their duets create an ever more urgent but always precise and eloquent dynamic that is a pleasure to watch but the narrative basis of the work is only crudely tacked on to either end. The tale is certainly suitable for translation into dance but that, perhaps, is another project.

Just a final word to signal the heroic efforts of Edmund Sutton on the lighting desk and of Charlotte Tuckwood for her cameo performances in preparing the stage for each work.


Cloud Gate 2, Triple Bill

Posted: December 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Gate 2, Triple Bill

Cloud Gate 2, Triple Bill, Sadler’s Wells, November 21

Cloud Gate 2 in Wicked Fish (photo: Liu Chen-hsiang)

Cloud Gate 2 in Wicked Fish (photo: Liu Chen-hsiang)

Part of Sadler’s Wells’ Out of Asia 2 platform showcasing dance in Asia, the appearance of Taiwan’s Cloud Gate 2 poses an enigma. Not to be confused with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, an internationally renowned company in its own right and synonymous with its founder, Lin Hwai-min, Cloud Gate 2, founded by Lin in 1999, might well be seen as the junior company. Yet despite its parentage and the similarity in training for the dancers — a mix of ballet, contemporary, Tai chi and martial arts — Cloud Gate 2 evidently has a different destiny. For now the separation of the two companies is predicated on the younger one developing promising Taiwanese choreographers under the guidance of artistic director, Cheng Tsung-lung, and on laying the grassroots foundations of dance in Taiwan as broadly as possible in local communities, towns and cities. Appearing in London for the first time may not appear to fulfil that national function but Cloud Gate 2, by virtue of the quality of its dancers and its choreography, has the stature of an international company, as is evident from its performance at Sadler’s Wells on Monday.

The company’s international aspect is reflected in all three works on the program, but while Huang Yi’s Wicked Fish and Cheng’s The Wall touch on themes of human contact and isolation that are universal, Cheng’s more recent Beckoning is imbued with a more parochial element of native religious beliefs and ceremonies that turn our view inwards towards Taiwanese traditions.

Yi’s Wicked Fish begins with a buzzing, frenetic wave of dancers flitting in and out of darkness; Lee Chien-chang’s choreographic lighting dapples the dancers’ faces, arms and feet like sunlight on the surface of a shaded stream. It is not hard to see fish swimming just under the surface, yet there is also a continuous exchange of energy at play between pairs of dancers as well as between the group and the individual, an abstract microcosm of society in movement. It is as if the stage is the visible part of a much broader, continuous flow across it while Iannis Xenakis’ complex score, Shaar, sets up the changing and often turbulent currents. Both the lighting and the black and white setting of Wicked Fish shows off the dancers beautifully in their strength, their flow of movement, and the clarity of their lines.

In The Wall, Cheng sublimates his childhood memories of hawking his family’s brand of slippers on the streets into a spatial arrangement of walking figures that convey the notion of the individual facing social and psychological walls and barriers. It’s deeply personal, delving into Cheng’s sense of isolation at the time of its creation in 2009, and created with a masterful hand, maintaining a dynamic tension of tidal movements throughout. The groupings follow closely the orchestration of Michael Gordon’s Weather One so that Lee’s intense lighting seems to illuminate both the dancers and the music.

The third work of the evening, Cheng’s Beckoning, stands out for its bright costumes by Lin Bin-hao and in its wash of light by Shen Po-hung. But it also differentiates itself from the previous works by its subject matter. Cheng spent a lot of his childhood with his mother attending religious ceremonies; as he wrote in a written interview, “On the birthdays of the deities, religious parades like carnivals would be held, usually with an amazing line-up of people. Gigantic puppets, representing various gods in the heavens or in the underworld, would swing and walk along streets. In the old days when the plague struck, people believed it was caused by ghosts and bad spirits. When that happened, the street-dancing rituals of Ba Jia Jiang, the “Eight Infernal Generals,” would be responsible for casting out the evils.” There are no puppets here, however, but lots of swing; Cheng has subsumed the festivities into bright colours and an exquisite gestural language. The meditative opening solo by Chan Hing-chung represents, perhaps, the matured Cheng as subject; it has no overt choreographic religious connotations but as Beckoning progresses it becomes more objective, approaching Ba Jia Jiang through the external eye of tradition. This is heightened by composers Chung Cheng-da and Quiet Quartet’s use of traditional instrumentation (arranged by Blaire Ko) that incorporates bells and street sounds. Cheng insists, however, that the dance itself is not about religion. “I recall a story in Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth where a western sociologist asked a Shinto priest: “I don’t get your ideology. I don’t get your theology.” The Shinto priest gave deep thought and answered politely: “We do not have ideology. We do not have theology. We dance.”

And they do.


Politics, Performance and Ethics

Posted: November 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Conference | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Politics, Performance and Ethics

Politics, Performance and Ethics, Aberystwyth, November 7, 2014

Pablo Picasso's Guernica, 1937

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, 1937

In the latter part of 2014 I was performing in a production by Darshan Singh Bhuller and Lindsay Butcher called Rites of War. Before a show in Aberystwyth I was invited to participate in a presentation around themes of war and performance, to which I contributed this text that I re-discovered recently. 

As Remembrance Day approaches I am conscious we commemorate not those politicians who sleepwalked us into the war (to use a phrase from the title of Christopher Clark’s study of the origins of the first world war) but those who suffered as a result. It is the lives of individuals caught up in conflicts over which they have no control (even in a democracy) that suffer most the devastating consequences of warfare. This is why Rites of War, in which I am presently performing, is based on the story of two soldiers in wars one hundred years apart: the last soldier to die in the so-called Great War and a British casualty in the recent Afghan War. War correspondent, David Loyn, who contributed to the shaping of the work, has written a book about a country he knows well. It is called Butcher & Bolt, and is subtitled Two hundred years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan. 200 years is a long time, and the butchering and bolting that has gone on in those 200 years is unthinkable. Why is it still going on? To my mind it is not because of the soldiers and fighters who are there but because of the politicians who sent them there. War and politics, from time immemorial, are indelibly linked: I’m sure Carl von Clausewitz was not the first to understand that “War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means.”

The frustration of powerlessness in the face of political machinations has inspired many a creator/performer to shake up the status quo. How do you get there? Philippe Petit, the high-wire artist who on August 7, 1984 set up a tension wire and walked between the Twin Towers just before they were completed, has written, ‘The creator must be an outlaw. Not a criminal outlaw, but rather a poet who cultivates intellectual rebellion. The difference between a bank job and an illegal high-wire walk is paramount: the aerial crossing does not steal anything; it offers an ephemeral gift, one that delights and inspires.’ There is a lot in this short quote: intellectual rebellion, ephemeral gift, delight and inspiration. This is what performance is all about. It is a catalyst at best, mere entertainment at least. All great artists use their art to sublimate their material, however distressing the subject. Bob Dylan’s protest songs, Wilfred Owen’s poetry, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Don McCullin’s war photography, Bertolt Brecht’s play Mother Courage, Kurt Joos’ The Green Table, all deal with the consequences of man’s catastrophic inhumanity to man, but they are all upgraded by the public (who gratefully receive the gift) from protest to high art. It is as if the art form, by removing itself from the immediacy of the unimaginable context, has neutralized it. (Photography may be the one art/performance that retains the immediate horror of its subject because the photographer behind the lens is present).

The story of a WW1 chaplain, Geoffrey Stoddert Kennedy, otherwise known as Woodbine Willie for the cigarettes he would give out to those he helped in the trenches, is telling. He was loved and highly respected among the troops for his doggerel poetry, humour and compassion. But after the war when he applied his ideas to the political (socialist) arena, he was reviled. Employing ethics as a shining sword, he had crossed the line between performance and politics.

Have you noticed how bad politicians are at acting? They can’t bridge the gap between politics and performance. What one expects of actors in performance is conviction in what they say and do and a correspondence between word and gesture (mime is the most revealing). Politicians want to convince you with their words, but their eyes and gestures so often betray their insincerity. You can even hear it on the radio. They are hiding. A performance that hides is a failure. A politician uses hiding as a necessary ingredient of success. In a highly mediatized era, lying (or dissembling or prevarication or misinformation) is a means of survival. We want to see justice in the world but it is rarely in the political sphere we see it; we go to the theatre for that, not for the justice itself but as a mirror of what we want to see.

The situation between Israelis and Palestinians (in the political sphere) is intolerable. I saw recently a performance in Italy by Hillel Kogan, an Israeli choreographer, who made a piece called We Love Arabs. It is a duet with himself and an Arab dancer, Adi Boutros. It is satirical, funny and touching and it ends with them offering a hummus sacrament to the audience. It makes you feel that with a change of heart, a change of perspective, peace between Israel and Palestine is possible. It is an inspiration, a poetic act of rebellion. In the lead up to the festival Italian police were calling the organisers each day to find out where Kogan and Boutros were staying, their airline schedule and when they would arrive at the theatre. At the theatre police checked our bags. This is real life politics crossing the line into performance.

A performance can juxtapose elements that in real life may be far apart in order to make a point. Theatre can condense time to bring the beginning and the end closer together. Rites of War compresses 100 years of war. Theatre that lasts 100 years becomes politics.

Humour in all its forms is a trenchant weapon in performance. From the court jester to the circus clown to the stand-up comic to Private Eye, humour is used to tell the truth in such a way as to be palatable, even to the authorities targeted, because it is a pressure valve that lets off steam through laughter.

I would like to finish with mention of dance, not only because I am a dancer but because dance, being a non-verbal form of performance conveys imagery that is full of emotional power because it is the human body that is the instrument. As Sir Ken Robinson pointed out in a 2006 TED talk, “As children grow up we start to educate them progressively from the waist up, and then we focus on their heads…’ But, he points out with characteristic wit, “We are not brains on a stick; we are embodied…Our physical condition, how we relate to ourselves physically, is of fundamental importance in our sense of self.’

I think goes some way to explain the power of performance. Performance can reconnect an audience with their sense of self, create a dialogue, inspire, perhaps to intellectual rebellion. It may also explain why politicians are not keen to support dance in our educational curriculum.