Casson & Friends, Selling Secrets Part 3: Office

Posted: August 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Casson & Friends, Selling Secrets Part 3: Office, Purple HR, Bournemouth, August 7

Robert Guy in a previous manifestation of Selling Secrets (photo: Helga Brandt)

Robert Guy in a previous manifestation of Selling Secrets (photo: Ian Abbott and Casson & Friends)

The idea behind Tim Casson & Friends’ Selling Secrets is simple: gather information from a group of people and translate that information into a dance. It is the basis for Casson’s pop-up performances, The Dance WE Made and he did a variation of it for his Wild Card evening at the Lilian Baylis Studio. He added themes to the idea in two series of Selling Secrets — Part 1 in a hotel and Part 2 in a pub in Bournemouth — through commissions by Pavilion Dance South West. So successful were they that PDSW has commissioned a sequel, Selling Secrets Part 3: Office, hosted at Purple HR, a small office squeezed into what was once a neat, manila-coloured seaside town villa. It is possibly the first world premiere of a dance theatre work to be performed in an office.

For Office, Casson & Friends — the incomparable trio of Justine Reeve, Robert Guy and Katie Green — collected insights (and the odd choreographic suggestion) about office culture from fourteen people and the entire process, from the first interview to the first performance took five days. Notwithstanding, there is a maturity and cohesion about Office that takes the themed pop-up form to a new level. In short it’s a winner and opens up a host of possibilities for future performances: its portable nature and susceptibility to local stories means it could be coming to an office near you.

The framework of Office is a guided tour of the building for as many people as can sit around the boardroom table. Purple HR is a real company, but Casson & Friends’s surrogate, Mauve, is a tiny creative enterprise that designs, manufactures, hand folds and distributes birthday cards. Once inside we find out we are there not because we booked tickets but because we had won the first round of Mauve’s design competition.

Guy greets us at the front door and ushers us in to the boardroom where he preps us for the tour. What he doesn’t tell us in words he parlays into a gestural dance that snakes and twists, darts and smiles around the truth with a comic improvisation that has us all giggling helplessly. Before the tour he has us look at the desultory examples of cards on the shelves with a view to competing in the final round of designing a new birthday card. The card stock, colours and stickers on the table look as if they are lifted from the local kindergarten. We only have five minutes to complete the task (so Guy can see how we work under pressure) and the winning design, he tells us, will be accepted into the company’s catalogue.

This much is artifice, but the rest — the personality traits of the owner and her employees, their interactions and the events we witness on the office tour — are a synthesis of the real stories and anecdotes Casson & Friends collected. We have to pinch ourselves to remind us of this because reality is (far) stranger than fiction. If reality wasn’t so bizarre (and hilarious) it would be easy to see Selling Secrets as a slick parody or an easy satire of office life. Reeve, Guy and Green are gifted translators bursting with conviction but the material they are translating is nothing short of surreal which gives the performance a double edge of trenchant wit and underlying veracity.

Selling Secrets constantly crosses the line between an interactive presentation of the office environment and a performance of the anecdotal material, seamlessly flowing from one to the other and back again. Guy is telling us how dedicated and upbeat the team is just as a brooding Green mopes in with her lunch box. Reeve, the manager, comes in to demonstrate her control by making sure Guy is following the correct procedure, which he already has.

After the five-minute design task is officially closed, Guy invites us to see how the office he shares with Green handles the company’s distribution and logistics. We shuffle down the corridor and bunch into the office to see how skilled Green is at putting callers on hold — especially Guy’s mother — and then dancing to the hold music. Before any work is accomplished she and Guy encourage each other to take an early lunch at their desks. Reeve appears like a vengeful ghost outside the window spying on their activities. Amid all the office culture is a moment of pathos. It is Green’s birthday and nobody has remembered (perhaps it is this anecdote that suggested the nature of the company). She invites us outside with her birthday cake and a single candle; she lights it and asks us, in a tone reminiscent of Eeyore, to sing Happy Birthday. Through the window we see Guy’s chagrin as he rushes into rearguard action.

The anecdotes Casson & Friends have collected seem to run along two themes: the insidious control culture of authority and the many surreptitious ways of surviving it. On our final stop in her office Reeve gives a Chaplinesque performance of masterful bloviation that illustrates the link between the two.

Guy rescues us by ushering us back into the boardroom where he has hastily assembled party hats (which we put on), crackers (with which we arm ourselves) and lurid cupcakes (which remain on the plate). Green walks in to enjoy the surprise of seeing streamers and hearing Happy Birthday once again, with gusto.

And the winner of the design competition? My card was chosen. Reeve hired me and fired me within the space of five minutes. It was a narrow escape.


Light, Ladd & Emberton: Caitlin

Posted: August 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Light, Ladd & Emberton: Caitlin, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, August 5

Eddie Ladd wrapped around Gwyn Emberton in Deborah Light's Caitlin (photo: Warren Orchard)

Eddie Ladd wrapped around Gwyn Emberton in  Light, Ladd & Emberton’s Caitlin (photo: Warren Orchard)

“My husband was a very famous poet and I was going to be a very famous dancer,” says Caitlin wistfully at the beginning of her eponymous show as she revisits the ambitions and disappointments of her life with Dylan Thomas. It was a famously unfaithful, fractious yet inseparable relationship recorded in Caitlin’s Leftover Life to Kill and in numerous biographies of Dylan. In their recreation of the relationship, however, the team of Deborah Light (director), Eddie Ladd (Caitlin) and Gwyn Emberton (Dylan) decided not to follow the well-trodden textual paths but instead built a high energy, highly physical language to convey the passions of these two lives to the point of overflowing. It is not a pretty work of artistic-romance-turned-alcoholic-upheaval but a brutally subjective reconstruction that makes use of the dispassionate, mass-produced folding chair as an extension of the body to express the rage, subservience, servitude, consummation and consumption that infused, confused and ultimately broke apart these two lives for ever.

The folding chair is in itself emotionally neutral but something happened during rehearsals for Caitlin to make the folding chair a central metaphor for the entire story. Upturned and backwards, it becomes a low highchair on which Emberton turns quietly reading Agatha Christie and stuffing sweets; it is used on different occasions as a straightjacket, a noose, a yoke, even Dylan’s penitential cross. Folded, stacked and loaded on Ladd’s back or balancing on her head it is her intractable burden; laid on her supine figure it becomes a self-imposed grave and tombstone on which Emberton lays his manuscript in hommage. It is a token bed, a dais for Dylan’s recitals and unfolded and precariously stacked, a fêted throne from which he topples and crashes. The chairs are also thrown, scattered, refolded and stacked like pieces of a desperate game in tune with the narrative tide.

As we arrive in the studio at Chapter, however, the red or grey chairs form a harmonious circle in the centre, a stasis. We occupy only the twenty grey chairs; on some of the red ones are assorted plastic cups, sweets/pills and a rumpled manuscript. The circle takes its inspiration from the form of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with which Caitlin became familiar some 20 years after Dylan’s death in 1953. “My name is Caitlin and I’m an alcoholic,” says Ladd at the end, but the end is a lifetime away from the beginning.

Emberton is sitting in the circle as we enter to take our seats. He is dressed casually, inconspicuously, and looks as if he is waiting, like us, for the performance to begin. Ladd walks in with an almost imperceptible flounce in a red tartan skirt and an embroidered velvet top the colour of blood (costumes by the subtly imaginative Neil Davies) and sits on her hands to deliver her matter-of-fact opening line. She engages her audience directly, looking around at us as if we are all complicit in her situation, knowing we know what she knows but determined to refresh her side of it with grim familiarity. Emberton is immediately drawn to her as if he is seeing her for the first time and runs to plant his face in her lap. This is the connection that sets their fate; he will return to this place as often as he needs absolution, forgiveness, reassurance, sex. ‘It was going to be a truce between his brain and my body’ she says as she wraps herself around his head like a scarf, his mouth filled with her thighs. They collapse, not for the last time, under the weight of each other’s passion.

This is Caitlin’s story, her circle of chairs and we are her guests; Dylan is merely the argument, the flashback, the colour and flame in her story. Emberton’s focus is fixed on Ladd; his eyes are dead to all but her. She is the one who engages us directly with her eyes and irony: “He wrote three poems that year; I gave birth to our third child,” she bristles, her motherly activities contrasting with the famous husband standing on a chair silently intoning his immortal words. “We were supposed to be equal”, she adds, withdrawing a chair rudely from the circle while Emberton pushes his to the centre. The harmony of the chairs is broken and the domestic tension breaks with it as they both bounce off the walls in inebriated, screaming abandon and crawl on all fours with the empty plastic cups held tightly in their teeth. The soundscore of Thighpaulsandra manipulated by Sion Orgon punctuate the action with unnerving accuracy.

After more drinking and pills and vomiting the chairs go flying; ours are the only ones left in the circle. “That year he went to America for the first time” Ladd informs us, rocking a chair like a cradle, while Emberton spins dizzyingly outside the circle. In between building his throne of chairs on the other side of the Atlantic (from the wreckage of chairs in the family circle) he returns to Caitlin to be ‘tickled by the rub of love’ which inevitably turns into a brutal battle, reconciliation, head rubbing and departure on yet another North American tour. At four chairs high Dylan’s throne finally topples and Emberton crashes to the ground; Ladd in a circle that has suddenly lost its tension falls to the floor in shock.

The difference between Dylan and Caitlin is that Dylan was able to transform his desires into words that gained him immortality while Caitlin remained unfulfilled outside her family circle. All she knows is that without her Dylan would not have succeeded. Resigned to this and proud, she thanks us for listening. What perhaps she cannot see is that Light, Ladd & Emberton have made her a gift of her chosen art in providing her with a rich body of language she was unable to develop in her life with Dylan.

Caitlin was commissioned by National Library of Wales and funded by Arts Council Wales. It is supported by Volcano, Chapter, Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Borough Theatre Abergavenny. It will be at the Edinburgh Fringe from August 21-30 at DanceBase.


Eirini Apostolatou: Phaedra

Posted: August 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Eirini Apostolatou, Phaedra, Cockpit Theatre, August 4

Eirini Apostolatou in Phaedra

Eirini Apostolatou in Phaedra

Sand is impossible to hold together. Mould it to whatever shape you wish and it will soon crumble; scoop it up in your hands and it will gradually slip through your fingers. Eirini Apostolatu’s performance of Phaedra is built on sand that along with the bone dry, sun-dried branches becomes an extension of her self. Even her costume of a boned bodice over a flowing muslin dress is sand coloured. She is mired in sand, burdened down with it on her entrance and even when she leaves the stage the sand sticks to her feet. Sand is a glorious metaphor for her shifting state of mind, a state that is in the process of falling apart, collapsing, about to reduce into its tiniest components.

The stage at the Cockpit Theatre is small, surrounded on three sides by seating and covered in patches of thick dry sand. In the course of her 20-minutes solo Apostolatou becomes the very sand in which she moves, rising, falling, rolling and slithering with the quality of dry water. Sand muffles sound, too, so Apostolatou’s movements are eerily silent; the only sound comes from the pre-recorded sound of waves (a metaphor of washing or cleansing) mixed with narrated extracts from the ancient Greek play, Hippolitus, by Euripides.

This is where the creative elements begin to come unstuck. Whereas the physical qualities of Apostolatou’s performance are very real (her ability to throw herself into the air, land like a rag doll and resolve the movement seamlessly to the upright again is worth the price of the ticket), the context is almost apocryphal: there is very little in what Apostolatou does to link her inescapably to the story of Phaedra or the story of Phaedra to her. What we see is a woman whose physical contortions — her gestures and postures of despair and regret — reflect an anguished state of mind but they exist as if in a vacuum. There is no history, except what is written in the program notes: we meet Apostolatou at some point on her journey as she staggers in bent under the weight of her burden but we do not know where she has come from. When she leaves the stage she is calmer and more upright than at the beginning as if she has exorcised her demons in the dance and come to terms with her fate but we don’t know where she is going. The performance is thus more like an abstraction of grief and despair rather than a narrative portrayal of an epic character. Perhaps this is what the program notes mean by calling the work a deconstruction of the story of Phaedra (the program notes are not otherwise particularly coherent) but then the work could be titled simply Grief and the context of Euripides would slide through Apostolatou’s fingers as quickly as the sand.

This instability between concept and performance may indicate a divergence between Apostolatou, who is credited with choreography and Christiana Ioannou who conceived and directed the work. Whatever the reason, there is a sense of temporal inertia in the work; it seems to have no beginning or end (the end is so attenuated as to delay any audience reaction because we are unsure it has happened). Another element that reinforces this weak sense of time passing is that despite changes in physical dynamic, Apostolatou’s features barely register the changes. I don’t feel her mind is going on the same journey as her body and it leaves a dramatic gap in expression between the physical and the emotional; real time passes but psychological time barely moves. It is a shame as Apostolatou clearly has the capacity and the intensity but she needs direction that will channel these qualities inside a well-conceived framework.


Arbonauts, The Desire Machine

Posted: August 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Arbonauts, The Desire Machine, Brunel Tunnel Shaft, Rotherhithe, July 25 

A spectral image from The Desire Machine (photo: Ludovic Des Cognets)

A spectral image from The Desire Machine (photo: Ludovic Des Cognets)

You enter the venue over a brick stile, down two footholds into a very low horizontal shaft, descend a couple of stories by metal staircase into the heart of a circular shaft where a sub-frequency sound throbs in your ears. It is a venue like no other. In the centre of the space an imposing tubular structure (designed by Carl Robertshaw) rises with ropes ascending to an invisible apex and a round stage floor at its base. We stand around it like bystanders wondering what has just fallen to earth. After the lights go down (to a real blackout), it is at the apex of the structure that we see a suspended figure (Megan Saunders) bathed in light, turning and somersaulting slowly, weightlessly. We are craning our necks to watch and I hope it’s not going to continue for too long. The suffused light reveals a structure that is sturdy and at this proximity it looms large. If there is one venue where haze may have been effective it is this one, but the feeling of claustrophobia may already be at the limit. The lighting by Marty Langthorne is subtle enough not to give much away but haze might have eroded the outlines of the structure even more to suggest a platform that is suspended in the air in which the performers are in turn suspended. For now the legacy of Brunel’s industrial machinery hovers over us. Only towards the end of The Desire Machine does the use of strobe lighting effectively remove the structure as well as the outlines of the performers and the vision of bodies in four-dimensional space is stunning.

For now the figure suspended in Lee Berwick’s low frequency sound seems like a metaphor for suspending our own conceptions of what The Desire Machine might be. We are all swimming and neither Dimitri Launder nor Helen Galliano, the creative directors of Arbonauts, are going to offer us a hand. They are taking us on a sensory journey where there are no dots to match up, no rational thoughts to guide us and no text that we can piece together into a narrative. We are floating on our own senses.

The light fades on Saunders and from the darkness the figure of Rachel Alexander in a translucent white wedding dress (the ‘bride’) emerges into the light turning like a mechanical doll on a music box in the centre of the floor. As she turns she looks at the audience through pale eyes from a pale face, her arms bending at the elbow only, a minimal semaphoric communication, the heartbeat of a cold spectral being. Even her speech is mechanical; she mouths snippets of text and the words are reproduced through the speakers. The text is the only clue to the inspiration behind The Desire Machine. As a creative process, Launder and Galliano start with text before working on images; the movement then emerges from the images and finally they research a venue in which the whole artistic edifice can be installed. Perhaps because the final product has a life of its own they are not forthcoming about the source, but having seen The Desire Machine twice, I want to fill this conceptual stage. The snippets of text lead me to Angela Carter and her surreal novel, The Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. I’ll come back to Carter later as there is a lot more sensual information to glean from the performance first.

A woman in a latex top and black shiny jodpur pants (Dominique Vannod) rises on to the platform and circles in the opposite direction to the bride and then a third siren (Silvia Almeida) joins, all three looking at us intensely from the inside of their circling desire machine. What exactly is the relationship between us? I have the impression of watching a hologram, an unattainable image or mirage of a peep show playground of desire but the pedestrian (however carefully they step), mechanical pace falls short of the illusion (Launder and Galliano write of harnessing the idea of an 18th century zoetrope, which is closer to the cylindrical nature of the structure).

The costumes by Rachel Taylor have ‘erotic’ sewn all over them but they have a prosaic quality that reminds me too much of the artifice. It is a quality that undermines The Desire Machine: to arouse desire — or the illusion of desire — in the audience (I am assuming this is the idea) desire has to be manifest in the performance. The signifier (in Barthes’ term) is there but the signified does not fully register. Like the soundscape, where pockets of intensity give way to pockets where it is relatively calm, the visual and physical language can be powerful — notably in the muzzled, muscled, mantis-like Vannod preying on the heads of two colleagues — but it is not consistent throughout. Hamish Toeng suspended on the ropes is more tautly expressive than his supine interpretation of perpetual motion that has lost so much of the erotic as to fall short of calisthenics.

The result of this imbalance between idea and performance is more esoteric than erotic, which points away from desire in a direction that is too vague to interpret; the destination is clearly marked but the signpost is not facing the right way.

The Desire Machine is nevertheless an ambitious project that attempts what Angela Carter created in her novel, a meeting of ideas and images bordering on the surreal that underline and undermine societal attitudes towards desire. The language of both the novel and the performance resists classification, and even if the resonance of the written word speaks to my imagination more powerfully, the promise of The Desire Machine, pushed further in its imagery, is intoxicating.


Sweetshop Revolution: I loved you & I loved you

Posted: July 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sweetshop Revolution, I loved you & I loved you, The Place, July 30

Faith Prendergast, Daniel Whiley and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke in Sally Marie's I loved you & I loved you (photo: ©Danilo Moroni)

Faith Prendergast, Daniel Whiley and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke in I loved you & I loved you (photo: ©Danilo Moroni)

I had already fallen in love with the title, the story of Welsh composer Morfydd Owen and the publicity image by Danilo Moroni of Faith Prendergast, Karl Fargerlund-Brekke and Daniel Whiley that heralded the new work by Sally Marie but having had the opportunity last night to see its work-in-progress form as part of Fringe at The Place, I can say I loved you & I loved you goes beyond my expectations. Let me count the ways.

The way Prendergast anticipates the first note of music with a subtle turn of her head after which she inhabits the music and the music inhabits her as if she is the composer (which she is). The way she moves and the way her eyes make her movement an entire story with the emotional breadth of a tragic life. I loved you & I loved you is a dark work about a beautiful and gifted composer who at 26 died mysteriously on a kitchen table at the hands of her husband, Ernest Jones, but Prendergast brings out the simple joy and beauty embedded in the music (played by Brian Ellsbury) that keeps the light from dying.

The way Daniel Whiley (as Ernest Jones) matches Prendergast in sensitivity. Whiley has a powerful physique matched by an intelligence and humility that remind me of Paul White. Like Prendergast he illustrates his story through his eyes and head while his body shapes the emotions. Initially he shares Prendergast cheerfully enough with his rival for her affections, Fargerlund-Brekke, but gradually reveals a streak of menace. His solo of bare-chested, breathy exertions shows a contorted, analytical soul who is soon consumed by the sexual theories (as a psychoanalyst Jones was a close associate of Freud) that he demonstrates in a self-absorbed, rhythmical anal dance.

The way Fargerlund-Brekke (as Elliot Crawshay-Williams, ‘the man she longed to love’) plays a half-hearted game of tennis with Whiley in the garden as he smiles his way through his coy, self-deprecatory story that he delivers with more conviction than his serve and pisses off his opponent no end. He is a gentle romantic unaware of his rival’s morbid preoccupation with theories of control. His role in the work’s story is cursory at this point, but in the three weeks before Edinburgh Marie promises to bring it to the significance it holds in the title.

The way soprano Ellen Williams colours the music and the way Ellsbury plays Owen’s works on the upright piano (he is the first pianist to record Owen’s solo piano works). And the way Owen herself phrases her music with both strength and gentleness.

And finally the way Marie has entered into this story with her entire creative being and has not only drawn the elements together in a poignant dance theatre production but has filled it with a love of and admiration for her subject. That’s why the photograph, the title, the story and the performance have a creative unity that doesn’t lie. This is a gem.

I loved you & I loved you is co-produced with Coreo Cymru and Chapter in association with Galeri, Caernarfon and National Theatre Wales and supported by both Arts Council England and Wales


GOlive in Oxford

Posted: July 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

GOlive, Burton Taylor studio, Oxford Playhouse, July 18

Susan Kempster in My Own Private Movie (photo: Maurizio Malangone)

Susan Kempster in My Own Private Movie (photo: Maurizio Malangone)

Critic turned critic-entrepreneur Donald Hutera is creating and curating opportunities for dancers to perform who might otherwise have few occasions to show their work. Oxford is a first for GOlive and there is a further outing at the Chesil Theatre in Winchester on July 24. The venues are small — the original GOlive venue at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town holds 60 people and the Burton-Taylor studio seats 50 — but their intimacy works well for the small-scale works Hutera is presenting. One of the advantages of this proximity is the value given to the subtleties of communication; there are elements of this evening’s program that provide a master class in the art of integrating the head and eyes in the moving body, a vital aspect that is all too often overlooked in dance training.

When Anuradha Chaturvedi performs her solo, Quicksilver, to a score by Jeremy Thurlow, her dancing is not only attuned rhythmically to the music but has a refreshing clarity of expression because her eyes, head and hands are in constant communication with the rest of her body. She gives the impression of being centred and focused from within and there is a direct line of communication from inside to the audience. I am reminded of something Henri Cartier-Bresson said about a photographic image: it is formed of a line between they eye, the heart, and the head. In a photographic image that line stops at the plane of the image; in dance it is carried through the entire body. In the duet Chaturvedi dances with Meena Selva Anand, Silent Melody, to music by Bikram Ghosh, the same elements are present but there is an added complexity — and beauty — in that the two dancers are communicating with each other at the same time they are communicating with us. It is mesmerizing.

Marie-Louise Crawley performs as part of Avid for Ovid, an umbrella title for a new ensemble of Oxford area dance and music artists who bring ideas and methods from Roman pantomime to the telling of ancient myths. When she wears a neutral mask for her solo, Myrrha, she makes her body express what the face cannot but her head with its smooth, china-white exterior is also expressive because it is precisely tuned with the rest of the body. Crawley spent six years performing with Ariane Mnouchkine in her Théâtre du Soleil so she knows the rigour of and the responsibility for working with the mask. It is fascinating to see how the very lack of innate expression in the mask — its animal-like emotionless state — contrasts with the body’s emotional turmoil. Through Crawley’s articulate arms and expressive plastic shapes we can feel her inner workings of fear and despair in the telling of her incestuous story. Her hands on her womb become a leitmotif of birth and of the unrelenting hand of fate.

Susie Crow, a stalwart of the Oxford dance scene, is also instrumental in Avid for Ovid; her personification of Tisiphone is an instructive contrast to Crawley because while she has no mask she finds a stillness in her face as if it is one. Crow, who danced with the Royal Ballet, has a naturally classical line and she constructs her solo on the spiral that is as present in the classical fifth position as it is all the way up the body into the head and shoulders. Crow mastered this form some time ago and relishes in the freedom it gives her to move. Tisiphone is a fury in classical legend and although Crow herself hardly fits the description, her movement conjures up Tisiphone’s fiery character in the forceful sweep of her choreography. Malcolm Atkins’ lovely score for both pieces colours the dramatic elements in a way that informs the movement without dictating to it. Unfortunately I missed the third Avid for Ovid segment by Segolene Tarte, who performed Lyacaon the night before.

The strength of Sue Lewis’s female trio, Fascination, is in the physical drive of Catrin Lewis, Effie McGuire and Natasha Wade but is undermined by its weakness in communication. Perhaps Fascination suffers from its juxtaposition to the four previous works because it is immediately apparent that the movement of the dancers’ eyes and heads is focused inwards (if anywhere), which places the audience in a similar relation to a viewer in an art gallery. Interestingly, Fascination is based on the recurring pattern of three women in Picasso’s paintings but the spatial tension that keeps his women on the canvas does not hold the choreography together on the stage. The elements Lewis has taken from these paintings and woven into her choreography express a purely physical realm — even Adrian Corker’s music seems to flow by on another plane — that has lost something in translation.

The evening begins with Susan Kempster’s My Own Private Movie, a conceptual work about personal communication in a wired environment saturated with iPods, iPhones and social media. At the start of the performance, Kempster hands each member of the audience a mini iPod with a pre-recorded track of music, text and, for some, instructions. She apologizes in advance that some of the iPods may not work, in which case there is nothing to be done but listen to the performance in silence. Ironically Kempster’s own iPod malfunctions at the moment she signals all of us to turn on the device, which seems to feed into the theme perfectly. Those members of the audience who receive instructions descend to the stage, change places, turn and wait, listening for the next instruction. Their vacant expression is indicative of inner process, and Kempster’s idea is to show us the contrast between that inner process and being fully in the external reality. Because she is the only one without an iPod, her role is rather more poetic than it might have been as she stops to listen for signs of life, for a sense of community with her wired cast; she is the only one who is free to act. It shows in the eyes and head.


Leila McMillan, Family Portrait

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Leila McMillan, Family Portrait, The Borough Hall, Greenwich Dance, June 12

Family Portait (photo: Manuel Vasquez)

Family Portait (photo: Manuel Vasquez)

“What moves me is the actor who can move me, if only for an instant. True theatre is a balance between truth and poetry. “ Ariane Mnouchkine

If, like me, you hadn’t heard of the contemporary dance technique of Flying Low and Passing Through, you can look online for founder David Zambrano to get a full account of what he teaches. Briefly, he discovered over the course of rehabilitation for his injured feet how to use the floor to develop the dynamics of the rest of his body. Once he had regained the strength in his feet, Zambrano developed his technique that his friends jokingly referred to as Flying Low. Passing Through is a further development of his technique through improvisation. Choreographer Leila McMillan teaches the technique and has based her new work on its principles, though Family Portrait is perhaps less a demonstration of the technique as it is a framework for the improvisational play of one-upmanship that McMillan and the cast have developed.

It is hard to imagine a more heterogeneous family than this one: Faith Prendergast, Karl William Fagerlund Brekke, Karolina Kraczkowska, Monsur Ali, Martha Passakopoulou, Typhaine Delaup and Danilo Caruso. McMillan clearly relishes the diversity of the performers, not only of their characters but of their physical attributes — most noticeably the disparity in sizes between Brekke and Prendergast. What unites them is a wicked sense of humour that Paolo Fiorentini has brought out in his costumes topped with a selection of rakish hats that make these children chic and colourful on top of their natural exuberance. The set by I. Carlos is enclosed on three sides by banks of seating in The Borough Hall at Greenwich Dance, a stage emptied of furniture except for guitarist Domenico Angarano’s seat and musical equipment in one corner. Ben Pacey and Emerald Faerie light the stage to the intimate scale of the family with a selection of floor lamps and hanging chandeliers created by Faerie herself.

Silence descends on the room, a long silence in the dark broken by the creaking hinges of a metal door and the sound of scampering feet. The siblings emerge from the shadows in a tight group with what seems like trepidation but each is already wondering how best to upstage the others. This is no collection of shrinking violets; the stage is their frame and they make a point of presenting their best face to each of the three sides of the auditorium as if posing for a photographer. Each successive pose becomes a little more complicated, elongated and manipulated as the improvisation develops according to the machinations of each character. Delaup soon emerges as a provocateur, always smiling even while she is obstructing someone from the frame or throwing herself into it. Kraczkowska is the eccentric, duly unconcerned with all that is going on around her but managing to take centre stage whenever possible. There is something of the clown in her that permeates the flying low and passing through, giving it a character that is all her own.

Angarano’s guitar accompaniment enters into the sense of fun, plucking notes and playing riffs on the behaviour of the family, colouring it as well as taking it on a journey. In a sense he wills the dancers to continue without directing them.

The opening section is quite slow and subtle as the performers attune to each other’s movement tics and traits but the improvisation soon starts to open up as Prendergast and Passakopoulou drag Delaup out the frame and the subsequent groupings become more hilarious and bizarre: Brekke is upturned, the hats are passed around, Kraczkowska removes Prendergast by her overalls as if she is a carrier bag and there are headlocks and tripping over each other in the clambering for position. The Japanese have a saying that the nail that sticks up is always beaten down, and Brekke seems to suffer from the truth of this as he is cuddled, straddled and bent over to the height of his siblings. He subsequently uses his height to disguise himself as a lampstand until Kraczkowska tries to lift him into the light socket. Passakopoulou presents the lining of her jacket as a bullfighter’s cape, Kraczowska delivers a breathtaking improvisation in the middle of the bustle and then everyone is running. Angarano gets swept to his feet and enters into the rhythmic swirl as the children fly around the room. The hustling and scurrying reaches a climax when Brekke throws himself to the ground in what appears to be a series of fits. The mood changes to one of inward contemplation and the more extrovert siblings begin to tire. Ali and Caruso, like late developers, start to emerge into the light but nothing, it seems, will tire Kraczkowska’s imagination and drive; she makes wings of Passakopoulou’s shirt, picks up Prendergast again and tries to plug her into one of the lamps and finally puts on all the hats, framing herself between two lampstands as the others withdraw to watch the remnants of their family portrait. The lamps dim, Angarano resolves the music beautifully and all is quiet again.

 

For those who missed it in performance, there is a showing of Family Portrait on film on July 31

On December 3 Leila McMillan is curating a Wild Card evening at the Lilian Baylis

 


LCDS Graduation performances at The Place

Posted: July 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

LCDS Graduation performances, The Place, July 7

Going for broke: Laura Lorenzi in Igor and Moreno's Wolves will be watching (photo: Stephen Berkeley-White)

Going for broke: Laura Lorenzi in Igor and Moreno’s Wolves will be watching (photo: Stephen Berkeley-White)

A graduate performance is a form of theatre that can easily lose its shape. Its purpose is to showcase students who have spent the last three years in the school acquiring technique, character and endurance and who are ready to leave the nest. But the choreographers chosen by the school to create vehicles for the graduating students may want to showcase their own work at the expense of highlighting particular qualities in the performers.

This was one of two evenings where all four commissions for graduates were shown together. The concept of Shay Kuebler’s render akin to ‘explore elements of the individual with the group’ promoted the group rather than the individual. The entire cast is costumed in black (by Lydia Cawson) which binds them together visually to the point the individual disappears. Perhaps that is the point, but it’s a shame to hide the talents of someone like Jordan Adjadi whose achievement is nevertheless to shine in a work that sheds no light on the dancers. Renaud Weiser is so caught up in his letters and video in A smile petal that the dancers remain subservient to the concept. Each dancer has a letter affixed to his or her skin; in a line, the dancers spell words or their own names. It might be a good ruse as an exercise at the beginning of the three-year course, but a shame at the end to ignore the movement qualities of dancers like Théo Pendle who is used only enough to show his potential. The final work, Told and Collapsed by Kerry Nichols, is inspired by the last moments of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg before their execution in 1953. It is more menacing in its eclectic score than in the choreography which defaults to a McGregor-like physicality that provides little for the dancers to tackle emotionally. Amongst its complex patterns of duets, however, Mari Ishida is revealed dancing in a way one longs to see in a performance.

At the beginning of the evening there are two miniatures. I imagine Richard Alston’s choreography is de rigeur in a graduation performance at The Place, but it is deceptively difficult to dance well and Hymnos, to the eponymous score by Peter Maxwell Davies, falls rather flat. There is little in Alston’s work beside rigorous musicality and form so it requires a maturity and technical mastery that quickly show up weaknesses in its interpreters if either the one or the other is missing. The second miniature is Twin High Maintenance Machine by Ellen Slatkin and Yue Tong Kwan choreographed to Experiences No. 2 by John Cage with words by e.e. cummings. Slatkin and Kwan are both choreographers and performers of the work, which is a brave choice but as performers they are not challenged by the gestural nature of their duet and as this is a graduation of dancers rather than a choreographic showcase, they fall between two stools.

The one work of the evening that showcases both the dancers and the choreographers is Igor and Moreno’s Wolves Will be Watching. The name and its concept are metaphors for the stage at which the dancers find themselves: naked in experience, open to opportunities and ready to meet the challenges of what lies ahead. At the beginning it is as if the dancers emerge from a state of grace, wandering on stage under subdued lighting to find their clothes in piles against the back wall. The sensuality of the scene takes the breath away and the time the dancers take to help each other into their clothes relaxes us before the outrageously bright lights (on the white stage) and the roaming chorus of screaming. Nothing quite introduces the eight dancers as forcefully as this and they do not hold back. Neither do Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas in their uncompromising onslaught on the senses — not least on the sense of humour — and they are helped in this by the visual éclat of the costumes by Sophie Bellin Hansen. Interestingly some of the influences for the work include the worlds of fashion and photography (in particular Guy Bourdin, David Lachapelle and Cindy Sherman) in which a performative element and a whacky imagination are fused. Perhaps there is a natural law at work here because this particular group performing Wolves will be watching includes a lot of the naturally colourful characters in the graduating year. In the course of the work each dancer is given the space to show his or her self and each is challenged by the creative process to establish a strong theatrical presence. They all succeed and one of the delightful surprises (there are many) is Amarnah Osajivbe-Amuludun’s beautiful singing voice. For the audience the work blows apart the formality of the graduation evening and gives us space to delight in all the elements and ideas the work brings to the stage. Igor and Moreno have given a gift to the dancers and through the dancers a gift to the audience.

If these graduate performances represent what the dancers have to show for their three years, they are, with a few exceptions, disappointing. I can’t help feeling the dancers have a lot more to give, that their potential is hardly mined. This phenomenon might well play into the hands of such heavy-hitting choreographers as Akram Khan, Hofesh Schechter and Lloyd Newson whose recent much publicized argument is that the standard of training in the major UK schools is not up to (international) par. Wouldn’t the challenge for this heavily subsidized trio be to devote some of their time to working with the future graduates of these major dance institutions to open their eyes (and bodies) to what might be demanded of them? In an artistic discipline that relies more on example than on rhetoric it would certainly stretch the graduates in the right direction.


Dutch National Ballet, Cinderella

Posted: July 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Dutch National Ballet, Cinderella, London Coliseum, July 8

The cast of Dutch National Ballet in Cinderella in front of Basil Twist's tree (photo: Angela Sterling)

The cast of Dutch National Ballet in Cinderella in front of Basil Twist’s tree (photo: Angela Sterling)

“Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described. One of these is the sensibility — unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it — that goes by the cult name of “Camp.” Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” Susan Sontag, On Camp

Cinderella, whether in the version of the Brothers Grimm or of that of Perrault, is an uplifting tale of virtue overcoming adversity that lends itself perfectly to the romantic nature of classical ballet. Or at least it did; perhaps it is contemporary sensibility that militates against the creation in balletic form of fairy tales with their wide-eyed wonderment and youthful innocence. Christopher Wheeldon’s version of Cinderella that the Dutch National Ballet brought for the first time to the UK at the London Coliseum last week as part of the Sadler’s Wells season still uses Prokofiev’s uplifting score to anchor its heart (and it still does, despite the editing to fit Wheeldon’s and Craig Lucas’s libretto), but his choreography has a sense of artifice that inflates subtlety into exaggeration. Nothing illustrates this better than the entrance of Matthew Golding as the Prince into Cinderella’s lowly cottage in the third act. He has been searching for the girl with whom he has fallen in love at the Ball and who mysteriously disappeared at the stroke of midnight without a trace — except for a golden slipper. The Prince is visiting everyone on his guest list to find the foot (and the girl) that matches this slipper and he springs into the room like a bull (one can imagine him preparing along the pathway outside) in a series of jetés culminating in a double saut-de-basque and a flourish in the middle of the kitchen. The exaggeration of the step and the seriousness with which Golding performs it is pure Camp. I am not suggesting Wheeldon is making fun of the situation but it does suggest a failure to get to grips with the fairy tale on its own terms. The fault is not helped by Golding’s difficulty in finding subtle shades of princely character. The one time the Prince relaxes is when he is played as a young boy by Mingus de Swaan (a student at the National Ballet Academy Amsterdam) dashing along the palace corridors wooden sword in hand and jumping over the back of the sofas. What happened, one wonders, to that prankster charm in the older prince? It resurfaces briefly in the first act when he mocks the ancestral portraits and when in the guise of his equerry he mimics the stepsisters in front of Cinderella but later at the Ball when the music wills him to soften in the presence of the effulgent Cinderella Golding gets all serious in the partnering demands Wheeldon imposes that leave no room for (dare I mention it?) an expression of tenderness. This leaves Cinderella (Anna Tsygankova) in a fix because she doesn’t get a chance to see the Prince — let alone communicate with him — as he manipulates her almost clinically across his back and over his shoulders in what is a show of lifts and steps rather than a show of relationship through the lifts and steps (something Sir Frederick Ashton was brilliant at doing with equal artifice but more subtlety). With such a tentative chemistry between them, the fairytale loses its heart.

The one moment we get to see Tsygankova as a radiant Cinderella is when the court slowly recedes to reveal her entrance at the Ball; she doesn’t have to do anything but be herself. It is the first time I have seen her dance, but that moment is enough to suggest Wheeldon has for the rest of Cinderella obscured her in steps rather than revealed her in choreography and for much of the time she is transported by a quartet of muscular male ‘fates’ instead of being allowed to determine her own path. (If she can hide her slipper on the mantelpiece by herself, why does she need the four fates to push her atop the kitchen table to retrieve it?)

The one character to whom Wheeldon gives a sense of freedom is the Prince’s friend Benjamin (Remi Wörtmeyer) who keeps in character with his rambunctious younger self (Floris Faes) while pulling off some of the most challengingly fluid variations of the evening. But he is not allowed entirely off the hook: he falls rather improbably for stepsister Clementine (Nadia Yanowsky) who has been used by Wheeldon for comic purposes (along with sister Edwina and mother Hortensia) to the point of caricature. It is as if Wheeldon has worked with each of the characters separately in different rooms without developing a credible relationship that unites them over the three acts.

This is not the case for the scenic elements. Thanks to the team of Julian Crouch, Basil Twist, Natasha Katz and Daniel Brodie one scene flows imaginatively and seamlessly into the next through a scrupulous balance of lighting (Katz), scenic elements (Crouch) and video projection (Brodie) — even if the projected map of Europe the Prince is studying appears the wrong way round. Twist’s contribution is the magical image of the carriage that flies Cinderella out of Act 1 and a tree that we see grow from Cinderella’s tears on her mother’s grave into a glorious green arbour that embraces the entire wedding party at the end. It is this tree that reveals the true arc of the story.

Wheeldon’s version of Cinderella is a co-production with San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet. Both companies wanted a new full-evening work from Wheeldon; the former settled for a new Cinderella and the latter didn’t have one in its repertoire. Clearly fairy tales (not to mention Shakespeare’s and Lewis Caroll’s tales too) and ballet go together and have commercial appeal, but the formula is essentially looing backwards. I can’t help feeling Wheeldon’s talents would be better used to look forward to a new kind of work on his own terms. His imagination seemed to blossom in his single-act non-narrative works for San Francisco Ballet — Ghosts and Number Nine, in particular, that the company presented at Sadler’s Wells in 2012. British ballet has been searching for a new form of full-evening classical work ever since the death of Sir Kenneth MacMillan almost 25 years ago. With his experience of the classical form, his creative team, and as both Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist and Artistic Associate of the Royal Ballet, Wheeldon is in the right place at the right time to find it.


Lola Maury, Two to Tune

Posted: July 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Lola Maury, Two to Tune, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, June 24

James Morgan and Laureline Richard in Two to Tune (photo: Richard Davenport)

James Morgan and Laureline Richard in Two to Tune (photo: Richard Davenport)

“The value of the theatre consists not in proclaiming rules for human behaviour, but in its ability to awaken, through this mirroring of life, personal responsibility and freedom of action.” Rudolf Laban (The Mastery of Movement)

Choreography is already a participatory art, both in its process and in its performance, so when Lola Maury — Visiting Alumni Artist at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama choreographing for their Brink Festival — adds participatory game concepts into the choreographic mix of Two to Tune, it is the game that gives the work its unique character. Rather than a linear narrative the work consists of a succession of gestural images, improvisational in quality, that form a physical dialogue between the two players, James Morgan and Laureline Richard. It is a game in which mutual understanding and acceptance rather than winning are the goals, which gives the ludic nature of the work both a physical and a spiritual aspect. In this I am reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s description of a dancer as a cross between a nun and a boxer, though Richard in particular has the lean muscularity of a long distance runner. Costume designer Clare McGarrigle concurs, giving the players shorts and singlets that speak of both sport and of stylish comfort.

Two to Tune is a small-scale work with abundant energy and a pared-down aesthetic that needs the intimacy of a pared-down theatre for us to read the expressions and catch the details. With the limited rig in the Webber Douglas Studio lighting designer Agostina Califano has sculpted a perfectly scaled underground tryst where Morgan and Richard spar. The game is divided into seamless acts, starting with a prelude in stillness as the two stand side by side looking out at the audience with a gesture of hand over heart as if listening to an invisible umpire reading them the rules. The score by Alberto Ruiz shrouds the freeze-frame actions that follow in neutral sound but as the game develops he incorporates the voices of Igor Urzelai, Moreno Solinas and Eleanor Sikorski into a choir that sounds as if it was — convincingly for the setting — recorded under a bridge at night. It provides a vault of sound in which attention can focus on the interaction of the two players and their gestural references to wrestling, swordplay, boxing, dueling and perhaps to arcane arts. The way Richard articulates her gestures gives them the appearance of a spell that Morgan deftly parries, but the way she comments on her gestures with her expressive face gives her the upper hand, whether curling her lip in distaste or transforming a biking gesture into a narrative of tough individuality. Morgan is more neutral in his use of facial gestures but his endurance keeps Richard on her toes as she finds ways to wear him down, reducing him at one point to a pummeled, willowy adversary to her boxing.

The nature of the game is unclear until the very end; we are left to deduce the rules and the goal from the actions of the players. In this way, Two to Tune relates as much to the tuning of Morgan and Richard as to the tuning of the audience into the nature of their contest. They appear to be stalking each other in a game of strategy, less on the level of a board game (though they make carefully considered moves and react to the moves of the other) as on the physical gestural game of scissor/paper/rock but there is also an ominous, intangible subtext that the brooding score captures. Gestures develop in intensity and complexity, sometimes resting in mid expression then continuing as if in the process of declaiming a speech or waving an arm in defiance. Between Morgan and Richard there is also a sensual, sometimes tender, element to the game, an unspoken attraction and repulsion as they strive to enter the each other’s comfort zone. The speed and space of their moves increases until they are running to the rolling, pounding drumming in the score; they come close to colliding but one of the rules of the game appears to be they cannot touch even in close proximity at high speed. It makes for an exciting dynamic as they constantly test each other, learn about each other and tune in to each other. The way the game resolves, quite suddenly, as they come together in partnership is quite magical, suggesting everything that has happened in the prior 35 minutes has been working towards this moment: the accord of two instruments. It is also a resolution for the audience: we share in the harmony and are reminded of the origins of gesture and dance.