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.


Jamila Johnson-Small, i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere

Posted: November 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Jamila Johnson-Small, i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere

Jamila Johnson-Small, i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere, Rich Mix, October 9

Jamila Johnson-Small in i ride in colour, no longer anywhere (photo:

Jamila Johnson-Small in i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou)

We need limitations and temptations to open our inner selves, dispel our ignorance, tear off disguises, throw down old idols, and destroy false standards.” – Helen Keller

What happens when an edge is invited to the centre?

Jamila Johnson-Small premiered her new solo work i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere at this year’s Dance Umbrella. Prior to the festival she was the subject of an in-depth portrait by Lyndsey Winship where Johnson-Small said: “I guess I still have my fantasies about not selling out.” Having encountered some of her other collaborative performance guises (Project O and immigrants and animals) I was curious to see the distillation of a solo voice and how it would manifest.

There’s a tension when an edge meets a centre. Nearly a month after I left Johnson-Small’s performance at Rich Mix I’m still carrying it, unable to shift it; there’s something inside this work that will not settle. It’s a work of resistance. One thing that tingles is the still image of Johnson-Small’s back as she is lying on the floor, head nestled in her arms, facing the same way as the projected images we’re watching. Her choice to stay on the stage, to be still and not remove herself from our gaze stays with me. This is her domain and we are guests who are fleetingly present and then disappear; she will remain. The projected film is full of deconstructed limbs twitching, rotating and removed from the baby-pink hooded torso of the architect of our experience. The edge and centre are in play again.

The need for change bulldozed a road down the centre of my mind.” – Maya Angelou

The lighting design by Jackie Shemesh tightly frames Johnson-Small for the first 25 minutes, isolating her body and framing legs and torso with hands bobbing amongst the shards of sidelight. Existing in a one-metre radius of space Johnson-Small is a groove finder and beat rider with a muted knee bounce despite encouragement from the score emanating from the towering sound system like a stage left shadow. With an 8-foot space rock fixed and glinting stage right the scenography and performance slowly suffocate the space.

What do you do when you meet a wall? How do you navigate it? This is what I’ve been wrestling with and I’m left in a void of emotion; I’m unsure which way my response faces. A resistance and tension were present and there’s the smell of a bristling Beckett character who is here yet not here, who acknowledges us but doesn’t necessarily want us to be here. However, something keeps whirring. i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere is hard to define. It’s not full of virtuosic or pre-supposed ideas of beautiful dancing; it’s numbed, reflecting different emotional states and different ways of being in this world.

The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps.” – Bob Black

Although it may feel like a stand-off with neither of us yielding attention, I think what I’ve encountered is an archive of the self. How does Johnson-Small not let her edge be pulled to the centre but still accept the offer and associated profile that comes with a premiere at Dance Umbrella? How do I let i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere enter my own archive? It’s currently resisting the established classification, so maybe I need to build a new space for it — closer to the edge.


Gracefool Collective, This Really Is Too Much

Posted: November 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gracefool Collective, This Really Is Too Much

Gracefool Collective, This Really Is Too Much, Blue Elephant, November 11

Kate Cox, Sofia Rebecca Holmberg and Rachel Fullegar in This Really Is Too Much (photo: Lidia Crisafulli)

Kate Cox, Sofia Edstrand, Rachel Fullegar and Rebecca Holmberg of Gracefool Collective in This Really Is Too Much (photo: Lidia Crisafulli)

It’s interesting to look at the four women of Gracefool Collective — Kate Cox, Sofia Edstrand, Rachel Fullegar and Rebecca Holmberg — as they sit facing us in matching black outfits at the beginning of their collectively created This Really Is Too Much: four faces, four pairs of eyes each with a different focus and inflection expressing a range of moods from amusement to dead serious. They recite in tight unison the phrase ‘I’m telling you something…(long pause)…something important…I have the answer…’ Reminiscent of Victor Borge’s vocal punctuation, they vocalise their gestures within their text: ‘I am the answer (exhale-gain-their-trust)’ or ‘Look (point), you’ve never had it so good.’ It’s a carefully crafted opening gambit in a game the four women play knowingly with the audience. By the end of the performance the synchronous opening has given way to a colourful disarray on a floor littered with the detritus of what the program note calls ‘the downright absurd realities of what it means to be a 3-dimensional, high definition, water-drinking, salad-eating, moisturizing WO-man in modern society.’

The Collective performed a shorter pilot version of This Really Is Too Much at Resolution earlier this year; the desire to expand it into a full evening work has led to this first performance at Blue Elephant Theatre. The work as it now stands contrasts some tightly choreographed sequences (like the opening) with more flaccid sections that suggest the hyperbole and capital letters of the program note may have been an agent of expansion. There is a sense that having chosen to focus their intelligence and humour on resisting stereotypical boxes, the four women scupper their desire to emerge as individuals with their mirth in demonstrating the stereotypes. Do they need to undress repeatedly to their underwear — apart from Fullegar as the beauty queen — to prove a point, or are they merely reinforcing a stereotype for the purpose of laughs?

Gracefool Collective undressed in This Really Is Too Much (photo: Lidia Crisafulli)

Gracefool Collective undressed in This Really Is Too Much (photo: Lidia Crisafulli)

It is not for nothing that the Collective has ‘fool’ in its name:

…let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them; for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the meantime some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous, and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it. (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2)

William Shakespeare’s early fools provided laughter as a distraction for the crowds but later his fools took on the more powerful role of speaking truth to power through their wit. The seeds of the latter can be seen in This Really Is Too Much but the former strategy dominates.

Fullegar is cast as an intelligent beauty queen, the only one to express a coherent point of view on government, economics, politics and the state of women, but each time she makes a statement she either qualifies it with a self-deprecatory joke (‘We can combine radical feminism…and Downton Abbey’) or is overwhelmed by her raucous mates. Statements are thus given weight and then the weight is taken away.

Exceptions occur not in the text but in physical form: Fullegar’s dogged running round and round the stage in bikini and oversized heels is gutsy physical satire and the destabilization by two viciously smiling cronies of the chair Holmberg stands on as she tries to talk is a disturbingly dark image. Less dramatic but equally effective is the ironic way Edstrand expresses her gratitude while reclining on the shoulders and back of Cox and Holmberg. These moments show how close Gracefool Collective is to defining a physical language to deal with the subject of their work without having to resort to gags.

The mix between the four women, who met at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, is evident; their personalities hold well together though they have talents that remain unexplored. For four graduates of a prestigious dance school, there is little to suggest their training (though in the trailer for Resolution both Holmberg and Cox had well-defined gestural portraits) and Holmberg is a musician who could well provide a welcome ingredient to the Collective’s brand of theatre. Choosing, as they have done here, a track list as sophisticated and diverse as Steely Dan (Only A Fool Would Say That), Moondog, Barry White, Handel, Lars Hollmer, Cissy & Whitney Houston and Vivaldi does not serve the home-grown identity of the Collective as their own musical input (or silence) might. Nevertheless it is the infectious enthusiasm of the four women that drives This Really Is Too Much and that gives it cohesion despite the sense of manic dissipation with which the work comes to an end.


Impermanence Dance Theatre, SEXBOX

Posted: November 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Impermanence Dance Theatre, SEXBOX

Impermanence Dance Theatre, SEXBOX (The Garden of Orgonon), October 15, Ugly Duck, London

Members of Impermanence Dance Theatre in SEXBOX (photo: Jeremy Reider)

Members of Impermanence Dance Theatre in SEXBOX (photo: Jeremy Reider)

Pleasure cannot be shared; like pain, it can only be experienced or inflicted, and when we give pleasure to our lovers or bestow charity upon the needy, we do so, not to gratify the object of our benevolence, but only ourselves.” – Aldous Huxley

Bristol-based Impermanence Dance Theatre is a controlling mistress; in their dungeon loft your eyes are softly spanked for 60 minutes with a series of carefully crafted and choreographed episodes of pleasure. Played in the round at the top of Ugly Duck, SEXBOX is a feast of punctuated movements and sticky visual images from seven dancers with exceptional musicality.

SEXBOX is inspired by the pioneering but little-known German electronic musician, Ursula Bogner and her fascination with the writings of Wilhelm Reich, a controversial feminist psychoanalyst for whom a healthy discharge of sexual energy was the crux of humanity’s salvation. (There is rumour a-plenty about the existence of Bogner and whether or not she is the construction of veteran electronic music producer Jan Jelinek; it is at the edges of bliss and untruth that SEXBOX exists.)

We live in a community of people not so that we can suppress and dominate each other or make each other miserable but so that we can better and more reliably satisfy all life’s healthy needs.” – Wilhelm Reich

The seven dancers met at the Rambert School 10 years ago and are now exploring new models of non-hierarchical collaboration; with SEXBOX they achieve an impressive visual cohesion and choreographic consistency. The costumes and characters could have stepped out of Reich’s Orgone Accumulator with their 60s sci-fi futurism from the palette of costume designer Pam Tait: unitards, reflective white plastic, and silver cheek-heightening makeup are tailored for ease of movement and for the accentuation of the body. Each of the fragments of pleasure (this would make an interesting response work to Pop-Up-Duets by Janis Claxton Dance) features duets, trios or the entire company and their pacing is exquisite; when interest almost begins to wane or is in danger of repetition, extra bodies are injected into the scene to shift focus, add texture and intelligently puncture (sometimes for just a few seconds) our visual rhythm.

With lingering hands and crotches itching to play with each other, six pairs of gnashing teeth hungry for the sex box of the carcass of another, and all manner of exposed and freshly-squeezed cheeks on display, there’s a controlled depravity across the dozen-plus episodes without a full-on BDSM experience. I left not sullied by SEXBOX but in state of visual buzz having witnessed seven accomplished performers in complete control of their material and their audience.

Sex without love is as hollow and ridiculous as love without sex.” – Hunter S. Thompson

The memory of pleasure and the pleasure of memory is something I’ve been wrestling with; part of the reason for the delay in publishing is my endeavour to see how SEXBOX fits into my own internal reward memory system. I have memories of mirth and appreciation on the night yet it is difficult to re-create those same feelings on the page. Did it stimulate the eye? Yes. The images were sharp, transitions were electric and the lip-syncing film recreation was a hoot. Did it stimulate the heart? I don’t think so but I don’t think that was its intention. What SEXBOX has done is reinforce my belief in Impermanence as a company that creates work that is impressive, controlled and quite unique in the dance/theatre ecology of the UK. Wilhelm Reich was once denounced as the orchestrator of a cult of sex and anarchy; with SEXBOX, Impermanence takes on that mantle and becomes a throbbing cult of pleasure, anarchy and dance.


Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter-rupted

Posted: November 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter-rupted

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter-rupted, Barbican, October 22

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company in Inter-rupted

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company in Inter-rupted (photo: NCPA)

When we look at the body in finer and finer detail, can we find what we’re protecting? If we visualise searching right down amid the very marrow for the thingness of our body, can we find it? Attachment to one’s physical form is based on the body being a reliable, continuous entity. But can we pinpoint what we’re clinging to when we probe its depths?” – Pema Chödrön.

The quote from Tibetan Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, is printed in the program for Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company’s Inter-rupted, part of this year’s Dance Umbrella. It is a text about attachment, the subject Mangaldas explores choreographically in 75 minutes of uninterrupted choreography. She and her six dancers appear and disappear, gather and disperse, disintegrate and reform, interlock and unlock, yet all these contrasts form a series of scenes without borders, one merging into the next, each with a symbolism of its own that is carried in the movement. While Mangaldas set out to counter the temporal nature of life by resisting the notion of attachment, in the course of making the work she had to face the very nature of attachment she had set out to explore. Woven into the cloth of the work is thus the solitary thread of its imperfection. Mangaldas herself embodies this dynamic contradiction as she brings us into the fragile moment, ‘like any we might strive to hold on to…even if all is transient, all is flowing, and all is Inter-rupted.’ Her dancers — Karan Gangani, Minhaz, Aamrapali Bhandari, Anjana Singh, Sunny Shishodiya and Manoj Kumar — move like a chorus that flows with and around her with virtuosic, fire-cracker footwork, vertiginous turning and a wonderfully lyrical use of gesture and voice. In addition to a recorded sound score by Sajid Akbar, the company is joined on stage by three gifted musicians — Mohit Gangani on tabla and padhant, Ashish Gangani on pakhawaj and padhant, and Faraz Ahmed on vocals — who punctuate the choreographic flow with, respectively, virtuosic rhythms and plaintive song.

In some ways Inter-rupted is familiar territory; it is a journey of ‘exploring the past (of kathak) with a modern mind’ that Akram Khan has been forging in this country for the last 16 years. Khan, however, was born in England and has been working with an international cast of performers in a country that welcomes cross-cultural fertilisation as an expression of its identity; Mangaldas and her dancers have had to challenge the established norms of kathak from within its own cultural context. As she wrote in response to a question I asked her, this process ‘does raise debates in India but that makes the entire conversation alive and relevant. There is a growing appreciation of looking at our classical traditions in contemporary contexts and a huge appreciative viewership that encourages change. So the environment is quite vibrant with debate and interesting new directions.’ Inter-rupted thus resists tradition while remaining very much within it, a very different proposition to that of Khan; Mangaldas’s work looks refreshingly like the real thing.

What makes the aesthetic of Inter-rupted familiar, perhaps, is that the production team includes some of Khan’s key figures he had introduced to Mangaldas nearly seven years ago, since when they have been working together on various productions: Farooq Chaudhry is listed as dramaturg, Fabiana Piccioli as lighting designer and Kimie Nakano designed the costumes. The confluence of Piccioli and set designer Manish Kansara — a sculptor based in Delhi — is visually stunning: an airy, three-sided space in shades of ochre that acts, depending on the lighting, as much like a large interior room as it does an undefined exterior space. The very opening shows a solitary man short of breath shaking uncontrollably in his room as he stares out at the audience, his body disintegrating until he recedes into the dark. Out of the dark we see the figure of Mangaldas slithering diagonally backwards through a shadowy, open space dragging a cloth that unwinds into a broad stream of material before she gathers it in slowly and purposefully as six figures enter the space that becomes a room once again.

Nakano’s evident understanding of, and sensibility to kathak rhythms allow her costumes to breathe and flow with the movement while maintaining an ascetic, spiritual quality in which the work is painted.

But while Mangaldas’s collaborators give Inter-rupted its aesthetic cohesion, it is the richness of the material — Pema Chödrön’s ‘thingness’ — and its interpretation that make this body-and-mind struggle to face its true nature a cause for celebration.

 

This review was commissioned by Pulse Asian Dance and Music and appears here with the very kind permission of its editors.