An Interview with Wang Ramirez

Posted: October 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on An Interview with Wang Ramirez

An interview with Wang Ramirez

Wang Ramirez (photo: Filine Fink)

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez (photo: Filine Fink)

Sadler’s Wells is continuing to expand its remit, for the first time co-producing an event at The Royal Albert Hall on November 2: musician Nitin Sawhney, an associate artist at Sadler’s Wells, is performing takes from his most recent album, Dystopian Dream accompanied by singer Joss Stone and other guests. Already known in dance circles for his compositions for Akram Khan (Vertical Road, Zero Degrees, ITMOi and Bahok), Sawhney’s event will feature dance by the Wang Ramirez duo in their first appearance at The Royal Albert Hall. Honji Wang has already danced with Khan — so many roads lead to and from Khan, another Sadler’s Wells associate artist — but in her partnership with Sébastien Ramirez she has performed with flamenco dancer Rocío Molina, in hip hop, and for the Rebel Heart Tour with Madonna for which Ramirez provided choreography.

Wang was born of Korean parents in Germany. She studied gymnastics, classical ballet and hip hop with a flavour of martial arts. Ramirez is a French b-boy of Spanish origin who shares with Wang a start in gymnastics and a love of martial arts, with further interests in capoeira, boxing and Brazilian jujitsu. His career was already under way when he met Wang in 2004 at a freestyle event in Berlin. With their cultural identities and complementary dance forms already intermixed, the duo has openly searched for ways to cross-fertilize with other styles and traditions. Performing to the music of Sawhney is a continuation of that path.

“We are always experimenting with our way of dancing, moving, and creating together,” says Ramirez in conversation. “What it means to do certain moves with a certain intention, how this will be seen and understood by the audience…So we constantly search to develop the techniques we have mastered into a new growth that becomes our own form. It’s a life of exploring and it keeps us constantly moving…”

Wang uses an imaginative image to describe her approach to artists working in different styles: “I’m extremely nosy to experience their cocoon; I want to enter like a little mouse and see what they see.” Perhaps it is this willingness to see through the eyes of others that makes Wang Ramirez collaborations so seamless. When I saw her dance with Khan last year Wang remained faithful to her own dance but complemented Khan in her power and fluidity.

When she first heard Sawhney’s song, Homelands, Wang remembers, “I loved that sound, but for me he was an artist who was far away from where I was; I was just 16 and didn’t know what the hell was going to happen with my life. Later on when I heard his music again in performances of Akram Khan I was always thinking the music is such a great mix of something ethnic with massive beats and rhythms. So when we got a call from Sadler’s Wells to ask if the collaboration with Nitin would interest us, we thought, yes, of course.”

Ramirez describes the process of creation: “We always want to get as close as possible to strong emotions by using body movement, dance, visuals, and technology…having met Nitin in his studio and after listening to the music, we enjoyed exchanging ideas and concepts right away; it came very naturally and a it’s project we are excited to work on. The way we will prepare is a spontaneous process between each of us around lots of discussion and emotional statements that we will relate to our choreography and graphics.”

Whatever the outcome on November 2, Wang Ramirez will not simply accompany Sawhney’s music; they are catalysts who will transform it through their own alchemy while letting the music transform them. That’s after all the true nature of an artistic collaboration.

Wednesday 2 November 2016 at 7.30pm
Royal Albert Hall, SW7
Tickets: £25 – £60
Ticket Office: 020 7589 8212 or / 020 7863 8000 or

Natalia Osipova, Three Commissions

Posted: October 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Natalia Osipova, Three Commissions

Natalia Osipova, Three commissions, Sadler’s Wells, October 1

Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin in Arthur Pita's Run Mary Run (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin in Arthur Pita’s Run Mary Run (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Natalia Osipova is a dancer I could happily watch in any performance. Brought up in the Russian classical tradition, a supreme technician and dramatic presence, she is at home in the classical repertoire but itching to broaden her scope as an artist. Without retracting that opening statement, this evening of contemporary work for Osipova at Sadler’s Wells falls somewhere short of my anticipation. The issue is who commissioned this triple bill — first seen here in June — and why. Sadler’s Wells’ chief executive and artistic director, Alistair Spalding, suggests in the program’s welcome note that Sadler’s Wells commissioned the works, which happen to include two by Sadler’s Wells associate artists: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Russell Maliphant. In Sarah Crompton’s overview of the evening in the same program she makes it appear that Osipova commissioned the works. But if she did, why so early in her drive to broaden her horizons would she commission new works from choreographers she has already worked with (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Arthur Pita) so recently? And is Russell Maliphant’s choreographic process likely to expand Osipova’s artistic range? I don’t think so. No, it is unlikely Osipova commissioned these works but has instead lent her name and talent — along with those of her partner Sergei Polunin — to the evening in return for the creation of three works brokered for her by Sadler’s Wells. It’s a compromise in which neither party comes off particularly well artistically; Osipova is not challenged enough because the works fall short of providing her with a vehicle for her scope. Cherkaoui’s Qutb thinks about it in philosophical terms but delivers a trio in which Osipova’s desire for flight is constantly grounded and smothered by the overpowering physique of Jason Kittelberger and in which the only (rather uninteresting) solo is given to James O’Hara. Qutb is Arabic for ‘axis’ but the axis of the work is Kittelberger not Osipova. Some commission.

Maliphant’s Silent Echo without the lighting would be like watching Osipova and Polunin consummately messing around in the studio. Maliphant’s choreography is so totally dependent on the lighting of Michael Hulls (a dependence that has become derivative) that any artistic development for the dancers is merely subordinate to the Maliphant/Hulls formula; the greatest hurdle for them is to dance on the edges of darkness.

Pita’s Run Mary Run is the only work in which Osipova and Polunin have roles to explore; Pita puts them centre stage in a musical narrative of love, sex, drugs and death to the songs of the 60’s girl group, The Shangri-Las. Known for their ‘splatter platters’ with lyrics about failed teenage relationships, Pita invests Run Mary Run with a theme of love from beyond the grave that he can’t resist associating — in the opening scene of two arms intertwining as they emerge from a grave — with Giselle. But Osipova’s persona is closer to Amy Winehouse (whose album Back to Black was inspired by The Shangri-Las and whose life Pita cites as the major influence for the work), and Polunin in his jeans, white tee shirt, black leather jacket and dark glasses is more like bad-boy Marlon Brando than a remorseful duke. While Pita’s narrative mirrors the destructive relationships in Winehouse’s life, the romantic elements of raunchy duets, flirtatious advances and feral solos feed off the partnership of the two dancers. Pita is pulling out of them elements of their own lives and putting the audience in the privileged position of voyeurs; we are living their emotions in the moment. This gives the work its edge and inevitable attraction. The colourful lightness of Run Mary Run — thanks to costumes and sets by Luis F. Carvalho and lighting by Jackie Shemesh — thus reveals a genuine heart that saves the work from its dark parody. But such is the nature of the heart that Run Mary Run may only succeed with these two protagonists.

Pita’s work is a step in the right direction for Osipova, as is the idea of her performing works outside her comfort zone. But if she really wants to find works that allow her more than an opportunity to dance a different vocabulary, she needs to find choreographers able and sensitive enough to fulfill her full potential by creating enduring works that are irrevocably stamped with her technical ability and personality.

Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis, The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight

Posted: October 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis, The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight

Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis, The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight, Tramway, September 16

Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis in The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight (photo: Sven Hagolani)

Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis in The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight (photo: Sven Hagolani)

You will walk differently alone, dear, through a thicker atmosphere, forcing your way through the shadows of chairs, through the dripping smoke of the funnels. You will feel your own reflection sliding along the eyes of those who look at you. You are no longer insulated; but I suppose you must touch life in order to spring from it.” – F Scott Fitzgerald

It was Jess Curtis who introduced Claire Cunningham to contact improvisation and in The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight we see their invisible histories fizzing across 90 minutes of physical trust and emotional exchange as they build and share with the audience a rare magic that is not only a choreography of bodies, crutches and people but a symphony of intimacy, tenderness and generosity.

Cunningham and Curtis offer a directors’ note: ‘The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight is a social sculpture — a sensory journey for two performers and audience. Dancing, singing, telling stories…and asking important questions about our habits and practices of perceiving each other and the world.’ We are welcomed with a quality of eye contact by both performers and invited to sit either on one of the chairs or cushions on the stage (‘where we may come into physical contact with the performers’) or in the seating bank. I choose a small cushion, centre stage, from where I can see the entire journey unfold.

Cunningham and Curtis walk and weave in and out of the bodies on stage demonstrating an ease and familiarity with each other whilst sharing encounters of how people have looked at them in the past. Cunningham cites Bill Shannon’s (aka Crutch Master) theory of peripheral fluctuation where, as a disabled person in public, you feel people staring at you in the periphery of your vision but when you turn to meet their gaze their eyes vanish and they won’t look you in the eye. Curtis shares: “In my position of white, male, 6-foot-plus privilege I would confidently meet the gaze of women in the street who would often avert their eyes. However, after I had an accident and used crutches for a few weeks those gazes would now be met and maybe even with an exchange of ‘hi’. Was I less of a sexual predator? Less of a man when I was using crutches?”

Looking from afar — from present to past, from exile to homeland, from island back to mainland, mountain-top to lowland — results not in vision’s diffusion but in its sharpening; not in memory’s dispersal but in it’s plenishment.” Robert Macfarlane

In the theatre sometimes we watch, sometimes we witness and sometimes we participate. In asking us to look at them and listen to their lived experiences of being looked at, Cunningham and Curtis are also asking us to reflect and consider our own eyes and the power they hold. What assumptions do we make about how people look? These verbal exchanges are peppered throughout the performance with screened appearances by the philosopher, Alva Nöe, who extrapolates on philosophy, love, Socrates and accessibility in remarkable depth without using inaccessible language. There are words — and plenty of them — constantly nourishing the ears yet it is the physical exchanges between the performers that are delivered with searing depth.

Tenderness abounds and we see moments of genuine exchange as Fred and Ginger’s Dancing Cheek to Cheek fires up to signal the start of a glacial floor-based duet: two bodies lying down upside down, eyes closed, their cheeks kissing and heads nestling in each other’s collar bone. Using the cheek as the point of connection, Curtis and Cunningham slowly, delicately revolve, shifting weight, balance and power; what could have been an indulgent studio-based exercise lands with emotional power. The structure of the evening is deftly woven as scenes melt in and out, inviting different scales, a shift of focus and ample opportunity for reflection. These shifts of mood create a balance that is enhanced by both Luke Pell’s dramaturgy and Chris Copland’s lighting design that ensure a sensitivity and meshing with not only with the artistic intention but how the audience receives the work.

Cunningham also delivers a parkour/contact hybrid on and over the body of Curtis, eating up the floor at speed and negotiating the human nodes around the stage. As Curtis is flat backed on all fours, Claire plants her crutches and skids over him; her four points of contact with the floor (two legs and two crutches) enable her ultimate control. Coming towards me at speed she places her crutches either side of my crossed legs, lifts herself and gently places her foot on my knee. She is airborne – no bodily contact with the floor; our eyes meet for a second before she reverses out of it.

It isn’t that to have an honorable relationship with you, I have to understand everything, or tell you everything at once, or that I can know, beforehand, everything I need to tell you. It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us. The possibility of life between us.” Adrienne Rich

Cunningham and Curtis share so much about looking, yet I see something else in the peripheries of The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight; I see the real human cost of judging, staring and objectifying: loneliness and a vacuum of love that slowly breaks your heart. With Cunningham perched silent atop a 12-foot ladder with Curtis gazing at her from below, a series of pre-recorded statements emerge in her voice: “This body has never…carried a television…run on the beach… been in love.” In a moment towards the end Cunningham extends her crutches one last time and launches herself so she and Curtis are equal; no longer cheek to cheek, they are now face to face and here they stay for three or four minutes as she balances with magnetic eyes and bears her weight on her arms. From my position less than 5 feet from this intimate encounter I see all of her face, the flickers of her mouth, the subtle adjustments of her body; but the emotional epicentre is in her eyes.

Uchenna Dance, The Head Wrap Diaries

Posted: September 27th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Uchenna Dance, The Head Wrap Diaries

Uchenna Dance, The Head Wrap Diaries, The Place, September 19

Habibat Ajayi, Shelia Attah & Shanelle Clemenson in Uchenna Dance's The Head Wrap Diaries (photo © Foteini Christofilopoulou)

Habibat Ajayi, Shelia Attah & Shanelle Clemenson in Uchenna Dance’s The Head Wrap Diaries (photo © Foteini Christofilopoulou)

I want to talk about natural black hair, and how it’s not just hair. I mean, I’m interested in hair in sort of a very aesthetic way, just the beauty of hair, but also in a political way: what it says, what it means.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In a lingering opening the three Uchenna Dance (UD) performers, Shanelle Clemenson, Sheila Attah and Habibat Ajayi, emerge slowly on their knees into a silvery light with foreheads kissing the floor. They each tie around their heads part of a 10m x 3m patchwork of patterned and printed material and as their undulating backs glacially retreat stage left they use their heads to unfurl a giant head wrap. The relative stillness of the image draws the audience towards the bodies and the head wrap as sombre echoes of history, women and colour are united by hair. With over a dozen self-contained chapters exploring female beauty, empowerment and relationships across generations, The Head Wrap Diaries is sprinkled with humour, lightness and empathy. Clemenson, Attah and Ajayi adopt multiple personalities that melt choreographically between the vocabularies of waacking, house, contemporary and African people’s dance set by UD’s artistic director, Vicki Igbokwe. (If you want to know more about the motivation and some of the insights for The Head Wrap Diaries see my companion piece which I wrote as the work was being created).

If I were really asked to define myself, I wouldn’t start with race; I wouldn’t start with blackness; I wouldn’t start with gender; I wouldn’t start with feminism. I would start with stripping down to what fundamentally informs my life, which is that I’m a seeker on the path. I think of feminism, and I think of anti-racist struggles as part of it. But where I stand spiritually is, steadfastly, on a path about love.” – Bell Hooks

The tone and pacing across the evening is well crafted as the chapters shift between solo characters, fierce dancing and clear movement direction. Attah’s detailed portrait of Auntie Florence in her hairdresser’s chair, (wo)manspreading, hutching up the hem of her dress and delivering a perm monologue in a booming Nigerian voice with oodles of inflexions and pitches, has the crowd in howls of laughter. From a single arm and face raised high echoing, “We give thanks, we give thanks” to “How old am I? How old are you?” the front row of the audience almost erupts.

Clemenson’s wide eyed death stare and swift head shake as she commands a reluctant Ajayi to sit between her legs and prepare for the mother of all hair brushings is a parody born of experience. Ajayi’s quivering legs, splayed toes and tensed fingertips create memory triggers and bodily reactions in the audience. I’m surrounded by the voices of mothers who share with their neighbours: “Too true, too true,” and “Perhaps I shouldn’t do that to my daughter.” These stories, communities and histories are culturally rooted across decades, continents and politics; it is testament to Igbokwe’s authentic and humorous portrayal of black, female experience that the crowd responds with such vocal relish.

Scenographically there are two fixed hairdressing chairs, three wig stands and a large screen positioned upstage on which a number of black female hairstyles and portraits are projected. The screen feels unnecessary, not only because the images are often partially bleached out by the lighting but the screen content can draw attention away from the dancers. This material might sit better as an accompaniment to the pre- and post-show foyer installation that includes head wraps for sale, newly commissioned art work, organic tea, photography and dolls, all of which aided the understanding and engagement of the work, framed the performance and ensured the audience had a hands-on (and heads-on) experience.

Apart from the two hairdressing chairs there are seven others placed stage left; at the beginning of the performance two audience members are invited to sit on the chairs to have an alternative perspective of the performance. When Attah, in the role of a travelling saleswoman, demonstrates step by step the art of putting on the head wrap, Clemenson and Ajayi follow her instructions but the two unsuspecting audience members need a lot of encouragement to try; after calls from the audience to “tuck, tuck,” they too are crowned. This is one of the few hands-on moments of interaction between the cast and audience; it is an element that has the potential to grow, to bring more people on stage and to create the melee and buzz of a hairdressing salon: an ideal opportunity for UD to work with an extended cast.

Challenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly.” – Patricia Hill Collins

The Head Wrap Diaries is a hair piece but it is also a dance piece and when the choreographed sections arrive they land with ferocity. Attah, Ajayi and Clemenson’s head-snapping faux self-importance, all fill the stage with swag. Together they cat walk, strut, waack and are constantly up on their toes with lean calves giving elasticity to their steps. This strut bouncing embellishes their characters, accentuates their rhythm and pays homage to the Queen of the New Jack Swing, Janet Jackson.

With only two English venues on the tour, the increasingly conservative and monochromatic choices by UK dance venues is a real concern. Here is a work that is engaging, authentic, culturally rooted and beautifully danced with an intelligent installation and (head)wrap-around programme. With a society crying out for cultural understanding, it is no longer acceptable for programmers to think they already have their one ‘black/disabled/trans’ artist for the season and can’t programme another. Never mind Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity, The Head Wrap Diaries is great dance for all.

Peter Wright, Wrights & Wrongs, My Life in Dance

Posted: September 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Book | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Peter Wright, Wrights & Wrongs, My Life in Dance

Peter Wright, Wrights and Wrongs, Oberon Press         

Peter Wright demonstrating at a summer school, Cologne, 1960s

Peter Wright demonstrating at a summer school, Cologne, 1960s

There is not, nor can there ever be, a definitive history of ballet. Made up of so many personalities with their diffuse interactions and influences such a history will always grow richer but will never reach maturity. Sir Peter Wright’s memoirs, Wrights and Wrongs, subtitled My Life in Dance, is a case in point. In Jennifer Homans’ Apollo’s Angels, subtitled A History of Ballet, published in 2010, there is no mention of Wright, yet for the last 70 years he has been involved in so many ways in the key stages of the development of classical ballet in this country. Perhaps Wright by his own admission has blended so tenaciously into the fabric of those years that it is difficult to see the man for the material; he wistfully recalls being described as the best director The Royal Ballet never had. At the same time these memoirs do not set out to shine a spotlight on Wright himself; even with his own proviso that ‘this is primarily an account of my working life…I do not detail much about my family or personal life’, he reveals little about the man whose working life he describes. Nor was he ever especially in the spotlight, preferring to support in his long career key figures like Dame Ninette de Valois, Sir Frederick Ashton, Sir Kenneth MacMillan and John Cranko in a range of roles as dancer, teacher, ballet master, administrator, director and, most significantly, as producer of the classical narrative ballets of which his versions continue to serve the repertoires of ballet companies around the world.

What is fascinating is how Wright knew early on that he wanted to dance without having any connection to ballet. His early years were consumed in an effort to discover the door to the world he had sensed; he read about ballet in the school library and improvised movements to music on a gramophone in the gym. He was closer than he at first realised: the wife of his biology teacher had been in Pavlova’s company and offered classes to some of the girls and his music teacher had been a rehearsal pianist for Kurt Joos at Dartington. But it was at the age of 16, after seeing a performance of Les Sylphides by Mona Inglesby’s International Ballet, that he ran away from school to protest his father’s lack of understanding about his chosen calling. Impressed at his determination, his father acquiesced but refused to pay for his training. As Wright states, ‘…the more I am prevented from doing something the more determined I am to achieve it.’ Having failed to win a scholarship to the Sadler’s Wells ballet school, he apprenticed to Joos’s company, learning from him his sense of theatre and that ‘choreography is just as much about ideas as it is about steps.’ Realising two years later he needed more classical training, Wright left Joos to devote himself to classes with Vera Volkova in London before a spell in Victor Gsovsky’s Metropolitan Ballet, musicals, revues and the short-lived St James’s Ballet. It was here he met John Cranko who organized an introduction to Ninette de Valois that led to his entry into the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet which has remained, through its many manifestations and names, his home ever since. ‘Looking back over the training that I mustered for myself during my early years…I do not think I did too badly for a late starter with no money and certain major setbacks — injuries, parental disapproval and military service.’ He must indeed be very fulfilled to have set out with only the light of intuition on a path with so many obstacles that led finally to his goal. It is perhaps not surprising that he is drawn to fairy tales.

What is frustrating is how difficult these memoirs are to read. Co-authored with Paul Arrowsmith, the book’s contents are more easily grasped through its extensive index than through its chapter organization. The editing alternates uneasily between discursive conversations and Wright’s own considered texts while the timeline winds forwards, backwards and sideways with a persistent sense of déjà vu. Sentence structure is sometimes awkward and poor proofreading — ‘Marot Fonteyn’ is unforgivable — adds to the level of frustration. Nevertheless, the value of Wright’s memoirs is to substantiate and add to the complex history of ballet and his comments on the classics, garnered over the last 50 years, form a vital and perceptive account of how to stage them. These in themselves have the makings of a separate book. Wright is humble enough to admit his own failures and his caveats about designers and technical staff are salutary.

Despite his close association with The Royal Ballet, Wright’s relationship with Sir Frederick Ashton seems surprisingly bleak and he has little to say about Rudolph Nureyev as a dancer; I sense a lot of the memoirs exist in between the lines but he is harsh on Sylvie Guillem and disagrees on many counts with the treatment of MacMillan’s legacy by his widow, Lady Deborah MacMillan. Given his experience with the classics and his narrative sensibility, his lack of enthusiasm for the work of Wayne McGregor comes as no surprise, neither is his strong support for David Bintley and Christopher Wheeldon as choreographers with the ability to carry forward the tradition of the classics and of classical dance that is at the heart of the Royal Ballet’s two companies.

So what are the wrongs? One of Wright’s admitted weaknesses is in forgetting, while making a speech, to acknowledge the indispensable contribution of a key player. He preempts a recurrence of this by devoting an entire chapter to a roll call of appreciation for those past and present whose devotion to their own art has helped and inspired him throughout his career. If the memoirs read as program notes to his life work, this is the cast list.

Herstory, Hairstory, History: A portrait of Uchenna Dance

Posted: September 5th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Coverage | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Herstory, Hairstory, History: A portrait of Uchenna Dance

Herstory Hairstory History: A Portrait of Uchenna Dance

Uchenna Dance in the studio (photo: Ian Abbott)

Vicki Igbokwe, Habibat Ajayi and Shanelle Clemenson of Uchenna Dance (photo: Ian Abbott)

What I offer here is an outsider’s inside perspective; as Uchenna Dance (UD) prepare to premiere The Head Wrap Diaries on September 19 at The Place, here is a series of observations on the company from within the dance studio peppered with reflections on the wider context of the history and debate around black female hair.

Led by Vicki Igbokwe, UD has three clear values that drive the company and its work: empowerment, education and entertainment. The intention behind The Head Wrap Diaries is to tell the stories of three female characters who explore community, heritage, womanhood and friendship. The temperature, tone and mood of the studio is inclusive, generous and nurturing, feelings Igbokwe has spent time honing since she realised as a dancer that her best work would come when she was being fed as an individual and not having a choreographer “put the fear of god into you; rather than doing my best work, I was just thinking don’t fuck up.” With Ingrid MacKinnon as rehearsal director and a cast of Shanelle Clemenson, Sheila Attah and Habibat Ajayi as performers/creative collaborators, Igbokwe has brought four women who are not only fine individual dancers, but are also her ‘hair crushes’. Each has a depth and connection to dance and hair as well as a clear idea of self and each is engaged in a wider conversation. This provocative debate hinges on whether those who decide to wear their hair straightened are less ‘Black’ or ‘proud’ of their heritage than those who decide to wear their hair naturally.

Attah offers an elegant opening frame: “It’s like our hair stands up towards the sun rather than falling. Black women should judge beauty and be judged by our own goalposts rather than by others’ prescribed ideals. I’ve graduated in life to my sistalocks (a fine type of dreadlocks) and they represent a cumulation of my experience.” She has also created Hair The Beat with her sistas, Jodie-Simone and Denise, to challenge the feminist beauty ideals that are perpetuated by the western media. There’s a real street savvy and popping snap to Attah’s physicality (she’s danced with Birdgang in the past) mixed with articulate passion and an awareness of the politics of black female hair.

Natural afro-textured hair was transformed in the 1960s from an expression of style to a political statement. Prior to this, the idealised black person (especially women) had many Eurocentric features, including hairstyles. Black activists in the USA infused straightened hair with political significance: some came to associate the straightening of one’s hair in an attempt to simulate ‘whiteness’, whether chemically or with the use of heat, with an act of self-hatred and a sign of internalised oppression imposed by white mainstream culture.

Each of the dancers has their own hair story to tell. “I’ve had two sets of dreads in my life and when I had my first set I was asked if I would cut them off as it was making it difficult to fit the hairpiece I was supposed to be wearing,” relates McKinnon. Her role is a crucial one in the company. She is the sifter, the detail merchant, the one who shines the grand images that emerge from Igbokwe’s mind to reveal their lustre; often making quiet but incisive interjections when a dancer is feeling stuck on a particular task. Together they try to unlock personal histories to connect the dancers to their own lived experience which will result in a deeper emotional connection to their choreographic material.

Igbokwe conceived The Head Wrap Diaries in 2014 as a response to her own personal hair journey and a desire to celebrate women and hair. It is currently being refined, shown and will add to a live debate that is currently taking place via news outlets and social media. A number of South African teenage girls at Pretoria Girls High School have been told this week that their natural hair is ‘untidy’ and ‘unkempt’ prompting major international outcry and online campaigns (visit #StopRacismAtPretoriaGirlsHigh to follow the discussion) forcing the school in question to suspend the code of conduct clause that deals with hairstyles. It has even reached government level with the Arts and Culture Minister, Nathi Mthetwha, offering this response: “Schools should not be used as a platform to discourage students from embracing their African Identity.” I would love to see the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley, make it to The Head Wrap Diaries and engage with not only the performance but the pre-show multi-sensory installation in the bar that Igbokwe has curated in collaboration with students from Central St Martins.

Ajayi, who grew up in a Muslim country, wore a hijab for the first years of her life and it was her mother who took more pride in her hair than she did. Having relaxed her hair until she was 25, once at university she began spending £130 of her student loan every fortnight on her hair; her mother would have to pre-load a cash card to make sure she had enough for her education. Ajayi struggled with confidence in her technical ability as she embarked on a performing arts degree at university rather than at a conservatoire. Igbokwe and MacKinnon provide consistent reassurance: “You have technique for days,” they told her, and it shows. She has a natural facility (she danced for Clod Ensemble recently) and a performance magnetism that emanates when she’s comfortable with the material and how she presents it.

There is a rich history of black female hair over the last two centuries that has rarely been recorded from a black female perspective; historically, sub-Saharan Africans (as in every culture) developed hairstyles that defined status in regards to age, wealth, social rank, marital status, fertility, adulthood, and death. The social implications of hair grooming were a significant part of life and dense, thick, clean, and neatly groomed hair was something sought after by slave traders. Helen Bradley Griebel has written a comprehensive history, The African American Woman’s Headwrap: Unwinding the Symbols, which traces the potency and symbolism of a piece of cloth that has had many names over the years: head rag, head tie, head handkerchief, turban and head wrap. I read the essay before I stepped into the studio with Uchenna as I hadn’t had a personal connection with head wraps before; after reading it I had a clearer understanding of the social, political and historical power behind this crucial piece of clothing which is so central to The Head Wrap Diaries.

Clemenson also has a rich hairstory to tell: “My mum had a friend who would do my canerows, so as a teenager growing up in the 90s I had the right hook up and all my friends were asking where I got it from; I also went through my emo phase and died it black and purple too.” However something changed when she went to the USA in 2008. “I was with a friend and had phoned my mum to say that I was going to have a short cut (I didn’t tell her when) and she said I shouldn’t. My friend said I might as well do it, you’re here and back home in the UK other voices would try and dissuade me from doing it. 31st May 2008. I’ve been short ever since and I feel it is me.” Clemenson has a formidable technique in waacking and voguing; in some of the hip hop choreography set by Igbokwe, Clemenson adds lashings of personal style, performance swag and attitude; if you look up the word fierce in the dictionary don’t be surprised to find a picture of her.

In many traditional cultures communal grooming was a social event when a woman could socialize and strengthen bonds with other women and their families. UD provides a similar social fabric that supports each of the women in the creative team; they’ve been together for a while having all played a part in the last UD production Our Mighty Groove (also touring this Autumn). The inclusivity practiced by UD extends to welcoming MacKinnon’s 7-month-old son who joined us in the studio each day. He has a particular penchant for the melodic and lyrical flow of several Brandy tracks and his presence adds a positive familial energy as the dancers lavish him with attention throughout breaks and lunch times.

During the first period of R&D for The Head Wrap Diaries last summer, UD shared about 20 minutes of material with an audience. Afterwards Igbokwe was asked a question: ‘How can I relate to the work if I do not have black female hair?’ I wondered if anyone would complain to James Wilton they couldn’t relate to the work of Herman Melville, sailors and a giant whale, or to Alexander Whitley about the difficulty of relating to a series of dancing lasers and motion-responsive technology without the relevant experience. There is something much more than the question of black female hair in UD’s work: The Head Wrap Diaries is a set of interwoven stories — sometimes humorous and light, at other times serious — that ask us to consider ourselves, our hair and our own communities. There is plenty of cold, esoteric and indulgent contemporary dance and theatre being produced in the UK but from what I’ve seen in the studio, UD is delivering in spades on their values; hair and community will resonate with many different people and will attract a wider audience to performance who will not only see themselves in the stories but, as anyone who has experienced the indignity of outrageous school hairstyles or home-cut fringes, may want to actively share parts of their own journey too.

Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: Janis Claxton Dance, Popup Duets

Posted: August 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: Janis Claxton Dance, Popup Duets

Janis Claxton Dance, Pop Up Duets (fragments of love), National Museum of Scotland, August 17

One of Janis Claxton's Popup Duets (photo:

James Southward & Christina Liddell in one of Janis Claxton’s Popup Duets (photo: Ian Abbott)

Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.” – Anais Nin

With Pop Up Duets Janis Claxton has made photographic dance catnip; four lithe, athletic bodies, dripping with clean and dramatic lines, set against the backdrop of the National Museum of Scotland. Choreographically it’s a canny decision and demonstrates a genuine understanding of how audiences engage with work in public space. They will often stay with a work for four to six minutes, invest a little of themselves, take a photo and carry on with their day. But Pop Up Duets has been all over social media and the company has also been interviewed by BBC Loop to create a short video that racked up over 32,000 views — by far the biggest audience for contemporary dance at the Fringe.

With a company of exceptional dancers (Adrienne O’Leary, James Southward, Christina Liddell and Carlos J Martinez), nine duets lasting four to five minutes each are performed within the gallery spaces; the choreography and musicality are akin to rain droplets on the window of a speeding train: a swooshing arrival as they land, bodies slowly unfurling, leaving a water tail as they make their horizontal journey across the floor and then ramping up again as they gather momentum to join with other miniature streams as they run against the wind. There’s oodles of fevered contact, silky bodily meshing and recognisable tropes of physical intimacy delivering a choreographic vocabulary that is recognisable and accessible for all who encounter it.

I did not want to be a tree, a flower or a wave. In a dancer’s body, we as audience must see ourselves, not the imitated behavior of everyday actions, not the phenomenon of nature, not exotic creatures from another planet, but something of the miracle that is a human being.” – Martha Graham.

As the duets popped up around the museum an accidental audience would gather temporarily for a duet or two but when I attended the majority of the crowd were ready for a performance and stayed for the entire 45 minutes; they naturally formed a ring, hugged the safety of the edge and framed a circular stage area for the dancers to perform in. The space was never crossed or intruded upon once a performance began, demonstrating an understanding and familiarity with performance in public places. The audience was guided from the site of one duet to another by the introduction of the next piece of music issuing from two smartly designed vintage suitcases that acted as portable speakers. As the crowds gathered again the dancers emerged from within the crowd. The main gallery in National Museum of Scotland is like a three-tier ivory budgie cage with natural light beaming down from the roof; it was levels one and two that offered a birds-eye view and it was here that those a little less familiar with performance encountered the work from a safe distance with the ability to capture the results on their smart phone.

That hunger of the flesh, that longing for ease, that terror of incarceration, that insistence on tribal honour being obeyed: all of that exists, and it exists everywhere.” – Ben Kingsley

However, as I stayed with Pop Up Duets, my interest began to wane. Because the individual fragments exist in isolation and don’t talk to each other, there is a similarity in pacing and a lack of visible development in the wider narrative, and although the setting is majestic the context of the venue (a museum of inanimate history placed on plinths or stuck behind glass) offers little in terms of framing. Love and intimacy are rarely treated well choreographically in contemporary dance; convincing the audience that two people are longing to be together is difficult (and not all the dancers in the company manage it) but James Southward absolutely nails it — his body amplifies the feeling that exists in his hungry eyes as he falls into the orbit of all those he dances with — he’s absolutely magnetic and melts in and out of the eyes of all who watch him.

Presenting accessible contemporary dance in public has a fruitful history across the UK with the likes of Casson and Friends, Protein Dance and Tilted actively embracing the richness that comes from this level of engagement. There is a lot to love in Pop Up Duets, including Kathryn Joseph on the soundtrack, the technical facility of the dancers and blending of museum/dance audiences together, but I didn’t fall in love with all of it; we brushed cheeks, flirted together and enjoyed a little fringe holiday romance.

Akademi, Staycation/Vacation

Posted: August 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Akademi, Staycation/Vacation

Akademi, Staycation/Vacation, Rich Mix, July 15

Kesha Raithatha in Traces (photo: Simon Richardson)

Kesha Raithatha in Traces (photo: Simon Richardson)

 This article was first published on Kadam’s website and appears here with kind permission. 

It is an evening of two separate performances and many contrasts: between student and professional dancers, classical Indian dance and contemporary dance, narrative and abstract forms, and context and style.

Staycation is a performance devised by Akademi for two schools in the Tower Hamlets area. Choreographed by Kamala Devam and Honey Kalaria for George Greens School and by Elena Catalano (assisted by Maryam Shakiba) for Langdon Park School, it is a project in which the performance reveals the value of the steps taken to achieve it. These are the kinds of projects that can change a life, and as such are vital to the development of the arts and education. One of the girls reveals a natural grasp of performing, while one of the boys is clearly thrilled at the opportunity to pursue his sense of self.

On the professional side the contrasts constantly illumine the transformation of classical Indian dance within contemporary society. Kesha Raithatha presents the traditional form of Indian dance in a narrative work, Lalita Lavang, in kathak style with the delight and precision of her gesture, posture, rhythm and her storytelling eyes. Yet in the final work of the evening, Traces, Raithatha sets aside tradition to reveal a quite different dramatic presence, one that evolves out of a contemporary existential philosophy that demands its own expression. Traces is the result of a 2015 Choreogata commission from Akademi which allowed Raithatha to choose a choreographic mentor (Eva Recacha). Launching bravely into unfamiliar territory with no narrative and an aural environment of powerful prayer chant, a lot of silence, and some recorded sounds, Traces is a journey in which Raithatha’s body becomes her eyes as she searches for expression within a fortress of her imagination. There are moments of great beauty and force where her classical technique sustains her, but it is her choreographic approach and her innate sense of drama that takes her and Traces into exciting, unchartered territory.

Archana Ballal does not entirely leave behind her classical Indian training in As Small as a World and as Large as Alone, but she changes the context to a contemporary narrative on agoraphobia affecting a young woman planning to go on holiday. Using text and a contemporary musical context — including a sultry Pharaoh’s Dance by Miles Davis — Ballal represents herself as she is: a contemporary woman in a contemporary environment. She is dressed as she might be in her own flat, surrounded by a table with flowers in a vase, a couple of chairs, a suitcase and a wastepaper basket full of crumpled plans. She translates her text into gestures that avoid any literal relationship; they are a parallel physical expression with which she builds her dance. She spends a little too much time with the single idea of unpacking and repacking, losing the careful construction of the opening, but she finishes strongly where she began, with her indecision only delayed.

In Two by Two choreographer Hari Krishnan casts aside both the classical movement and the context. I am perhaps the only person not to have seen Vidya Patel win the South Asian category of the 2015 BBC Young Dancer of the Year Award, so when I see her natural ability in Krishnan’s work alongside Jaina Modasia I wonder who this extraordinary young woman is. First you notice the commanding eyes, and then she begins to move. Krishnan’s use of the thrust and parry gestures of a boxing match is a beautiful example of Patel’s flow extruded through a lyrical body, though it is also apparent in her effortless opening jumps. Krishnan’s vehicle is a witty and rhythmical abstraction of episodes that seem to wander in an out of classical dance with a sly and knowing grin. Modasia is a perfect foil for Patel, creating a harmony between the two that makes them and the choreography look as refreshing as a choreographic… vacation.

Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Self Revealed

Posted: August 29th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Self Revealed

Hannah Nicklin, Equations For A Moving Body, Summerhall, August 9; Rosana Cade, Walking:Holding, Forest Fringe, August 17, and Skye Reynolds, Pitch, Dance Base, August 17.

Skye Reynolds in Pitch (photo: Lucas Kao)

Skye Reynolds in Pitch (photo: Lucas Kao)

A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.” – Madeline L’Engle

The self is firmly on show at Edinburgh Fringe Festival (as it is every year). There’s a constant examination and excavation of the self; performers offering a sliver of their lives to the audience in exchange for attention and time. How much can we see and are we allowed to see? When does dance, performance and live art really reveal itself (or the self’)?

Pitch is Skye Reynolds’ 30-minute solo, made in collaboration with Jo Fong, which she describes as ‘…a realisation: how are we living our lives? The act of selling oneself, selling an idea.’ This is a constant in the life of the independent, self-produced choreographer; selling themselves to venues, festivals and programmers to try and make what they’re offering appeal to the dance taste makers of the UK. Although there’s little choreographed dancing, there’s oodles of giddy movement interspersed with text which Reynolds delivers with aplomb; through her ebullience and constant refraction of her self and her history we see how a self can become centred — she offers us constant crumbs of personal milestones: playing the good wife and the whore; dreaming about David Bowie, playing the virgin in Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring, truth bending about working with Kylie Minogue and the time she was in China pretending to be an animal in a perspex box. She leaves us no time to dwell on how these moments impacted her (or how they affect our impression of her) as she skittishly flits from one revelation to the next. She’s selling herself, her story and her experience to us. Are we buying? I think we are.

In the second half, Reynolds begins to pull out from her big black box pre-scripted texts about things that perhaps she and we could care a little more for: Brexit, Belgium, Syria, Calais and dozens more, macro issues that feel an infinity away from the first half. Beginning with a micro focus on the self and then scaling up and shifting onto the world stage is an intelligent way to anchor and shift our thoughts to global issues we are collectively facing that should warrant greater attention. Mid-way through the work Reynolds blends life and art even further as we hear an overly long home recording of her daughter Tallulah playing piano and practising her Misty Copeland; it’s a fine rendition but the impact is made within the first verse and chorus and we don’t need to hear the rest. After a short recitation of REM’s Losing My Religion Reynolds abruptly leaves the stage along with the spotlight that has been chasing her around for the entire show. Just as we think it’s an ending Tallulah herself emerges to sing an original song whilst pinning up a hand-written note that invites the audience to donate to Plan UK, an education scheme for girls in Africa (after three performances nearly £100 has been donated). The impact would have been heightened if Reynolds had stayed and watched her daughter sing so we could see that familial connection; it would have amplified all the different selves that she and we present to the world.

Scattered amongst Pitch there are echoes of the way Wendy Houstoun (Reynold’s has been a performer in Houstoun’s Stupid Women) presents her work, from the witty and rambling (though actually carefully constructed) word association to the visible control of the soundtrack through an mp3 player and making social commentary on the dance world, too. Pitch and Reynolds happily flirt on the artifice-to-reality spectrum with an intelligent construction, humourous delivery and buckets of vitality. We are introduced to what Reynolds was, is and could be; it offers an intriguing possibility of how Pitch could sit with a companion piece (authored by Reynolds or somebody else) that might allow us to dwell on, get under her skin of and make us feel a little more uncomfortable with ourselves.

So you might say, ‘Why do you end up making theatre in a world in which there is already too much of that? Creating layer upon layer of artifice?’ Perhaps the function is to pierce through that cloud and show reality — so the function of art is to make things — to show: ‘Hang on, this is real.‘” – Simon McBurney

In the act of opening up on stage, does the level of virtuosic performance equate to the scale of trauma and of personal revelation from an artist? Does the fact that the more we hear about the tapestry of their life mean we should connect and empathise more?

Hannah Nicklin’s Equations for a Moving Body is an elegy to endurance and she describes it as ‘A story about the physiology of endurance — when our brains tell our bodies to stop — and the psychology of continuing.’ The psychology of extreme athletes is a rich research field; there are always people fitter and faster than you. However there is a set of traits which such athletes often share: curiosity, persistence, lack of fear and sense of boldness. This is a performance about prowess, mastery and the pursuit of betterment, yet it’s delivered with a precision and a sparse physical palette in which the emotional effect is arresting.

For over 80 minutes Nicklin guides the audience through her attempt to complete the Outlaw Triathlon (a 2.4m swim, 112m bike ride and 26.2m run) in July 2015 in her 30th year. The current narrative around Team GB’s success in Rio is that the public is seeing the rewards for the investment, sports science and the marginal gains that can be delivered through detailed preparation. It’s in this preparation and detail that Equations for a Moving Body shines brightest.

With a laptop, projector screen, some index cards on the floor and a water bottle, Nicklin talks to us from her chair or directly front on. Through her adept mix of live internetting and her nuanced vocal and physical delivery, we see flashes of her through the way she curates her online self in her profiles on Facebook, Flickr, and Bandcamp. As she scrolls, surfs and finds the URL’s to accompany her story we see her visual bibliography; there’s something satisfying in her sharing this intimacy. As she delivers stories of how she endured, trained and delivered we listen to Nicklin’s body as she slowly rock’s gently on her heels, the minute finger twitches and rubs on the palm; there’s all sorts of almost imperceptible physical signals at play here and although she clearly acknowledges us and is present in the room, I can’t help but sense she’s performing it for someone else, someone who’s not here.

How a work settles in a body changes the delivery and intonation; I saw this performance in the first week of the fringe (when some works are still trying to find their natural rhythm) but Nicklin had a comfort with these stories and with the science behind them. She understood the rhythm of her story and how to tell it; how to build, when to rest and let us recover. The stories and training are her embodied experience and there was an ease with which it flowed out. Nicklin met with a number of scientists in the construction of the work and there’s a strand of research from Dr Sarah Partington on the idea of the Storied Self which Nicklin paraphrases on her Ironman blog. ‘She explained that we are creatures of narrative — that as self-aware animals we build our sense of self through storytelling — we communicate our sense of self through stories. We need our story of self to be ratified socially, and we build our identity out of the stories we tell of our past within our social contexts.’

Equations for a Moving Body is an intimate portrayal of the self, layered with emotion, tragedy and curiosity, from which Nicklin constructs a compelling narrative and delivers with a vocal charge that ensures her storied self is one that is worth listening to.

 . . .sometimes one feels freer speaking to a stranger than to people one knows. Why is that?”
“Probably because a stranger sees us the way we are, not as he wishes to think we are.
” – Carlos Ruis Zafon

“Everything you see after you open your eyes is part of the performance.” That was the final instruction as I walked in silence from the Out of the Blue Drill Hall to the beginning of Walking:Holding, a work by Rosana Cade that turns Leith into a theatre. But the question is who are the performers? Hidden in the simple act of holding the hand of a stranger whilst walking together in public offers a number of self-examinations and surprises that I had not anticipated.

It was a blue, unclouded afternoon as I held the right hand of the first stranger; I denoted a tension in her arm as we paraded down Leith Walk. After a short exchange of questions and answers (we were free to be silent or to talk), she stopped and turned us to face the glass of a shop window: “What do you think people would say if they looked at us?” This one question knocks at the heart of Walking:Holding. Assumptions are often made based on how we dress, the age we look and our presumptive sex. I am guided over a zebra crossing and we are stopped by a man who asks, “Do you have a light?” “No,” I reply. “Well can I hold your hand instead?” At that moment, like a baton relay, I am handed over to my second companion and I discover an alternative physicality: he is taller than I am and so I need to raise my left arm higher to find his natural gait and we constantly adjust in an attempt to find a mutually comfortable proximity. As two people we are in an equally unstable position — we don’t know each other’s backgrounds, fears or curiosities — yet there is so much stimulation; I’m alive to new people, places and exchanges. The public are entirely unaware they are witnessing an intimate duet that has only just begun. Were we real in those 5 or 6 minutes together with each walker:holder? Were we performing a version of ourselves? What did we reveal to each other? I found out that one of the walker:holder’s identified as asexual and had never held a man’s hand in public in the daytime before.

There is a large amount of research in the field of walking psychology. Studies have shown that walking improves cognitive performance, aids problem-solving and creative thinking as well as enhancing our working memory. I remember so much of my emotional response in this 40-minute experience; more so than in many theatre-based performances: the sound of the loose change in the right yellow trouser pocket of walker:holder number six and the olfactory lingerings as I ambled past a number of oily garages with walker:holder number five. Your body is alert to everything: who’s thumb is on top; is it palms together or fingers entwined? Holding the hand of a child is loaded with safety and protection and it’s within that frame that I think Walking:Holding exists: we protect each other in public through this remarkable part of our body with which we can communicate so much. Without Cade being present she has constructed a frame and set in motion a number of carefully considered complexities that ensure this would resonate differently in parts of the world where human touch is either welcomed or frowned upon. For me, I left a little bit of myself with each of the six walker:holders and shared an equality of intimacy that has only been rivalled by Verity Standen’s Hug. Walking:Holding is a hugely intelligent work that left all sorts of residues on me: intellectually, physically and emotionally.

I came away from all three works thinking about the spectrum of artifice-to-reality and how other people can act as our mirrors. Skye had Jo Fong assembling, collaborating and refining herself as she went along; Hannah did the same through the people she encountered to build her story and the science behind it and Rosanna through her choice of walker:holders. All of them encouraged a self-reflection and if you combine the four titles (moving, holding, pitch(ing) and walking) they offer an instruction on how to approach the self and the people in your life; sometimes you dial up one or the other depending on the situation or who you’re with, but as a guide for the self you can’t go far wrong.

Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre

Posted: August 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre

Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre, July 28

A Positive Life_1

Michael Kelland, Katie Albon, Jerome Wilks and Becca Thomas in Johnny Autin’s A Positive Life

Blue Cloud Scratch is a partnership between Cloud Dance Festival and Blue Elephant Theatre, providing valuable opportunities for small-scale new work.

Lewys Holt doesn’t look like he’s going to dance his Phrases at all as he languishes on the stage watching the audience shuffling in watching him. It’s a standoff but he wins by moving first, walking to a microphone near the exit so it’s not clear if he’s leaving or staying. Then he talks about the link between apples and doctors but what he really wants is the doctor not the apple. He’s not really sick; he just needs to move a little, which he does. He thinks on his feet like all dancers do, except the thoughts are a long way from his feet because Holt is long and lanky. But he’s well connected so he moves well, really well. His phrases start with the same jump, like a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, and accumulate eloquently. And he’s got a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour, so after his mouth fixation, when the slideshow of postcard towns ending in ‘–mouth’ doesn’t start when it should, we all laugh with him. He’s engaging like that, a natural performer. It’s all pulled out of the air, or his brain, in the moment. And he keeps us in the moment until it ends.

Out of the wings comes a man with a chair (Craig Bennett of Indefinite Article Dance Theatre); gravity is present and a heavy game. Belinda Grantham follows with another chair. She and Bennett exchange seats but it’s territorial and not in the least genteel. If they used their voices they would growl, but they don’t; they use their bodies like words, their eyes like daggers and move in surly sentences on a game board. It’s a dislocated conversation without resolution. Fern Maia lightens up the equation, leaving space for a solution. But the two women climbing on Bennett is no solution because he’s strong enough to move both their objections aside. That’s Momentum. It’s a momentum that can’t be stopped, an accident about to happen.

There’s a deliberate irony in using A Positive Life as the title of a work about sex, love and relationships in an HIV world, especially for teenage audiences for whom choreographer Johnny Autin is preparing this work. It’s really engaging, so he will have no difficulty in getting his message across. But what is the message? When Becca Thomas dances her story of being raped at a party in which she drinks herself out of control, she does it so powerfully it’s beautiful. When Michael Kelland dances his overhung distress on one side of the stage while the others watch he does it so well we sympathise. Perhaps the full work (of which this is only a part) will balance the equation. Ken Loach finds a way in his films to make socio-political comment while we can still feel sympathy for the characters: he shows the rude consequences. Autin doesn’t, at least not yet. He needs to make his socio-political stance clear in the choreography, otherwise he might end up giving mixed messages.

I love ballet. I really do. But it’s hard to get excited about a company called Point(e) Taken Dance Theatre; it’s just too self-referential and cute and Ian Parsons’ Dual Deviation has a similar quality. Arabesques and pirouettes are such immediately recognizable signs of ballet that without the right framing they can lose their appeal and their meaning all at once. Dual Deviation desperately needs framing; it could borrow the guile of Phrases, the weight of Momentum, or the engagement of A Positive Life but without these kinds of qualities it is too blandly abstract and the chosen tracks of Ezio Bosso don’t provide any contrast. Something else stands out: the lines of the dancers are long and clean but their technique seems to stop at the neck. Nami Furukawa is the only one of the four women to make a gesture of her head. That is worth watching. Point(e) taken?

Thank goodness for Dickson Mbi’s ShowTime in which he creeps out from the darkness crouched on his toes, beetling around the stage like an ominous caryatid broken loose from a gothic cathedral. His dark, brooding figure breathes cool, quiet strength. There is no program note because the performance is what it is: Mbi using his impressive technique in the service of his choreographic imagination. He dances to a track by Jocelyn Pook from Akram Khan’s Desh in which he contrasts twisted lyrical violence to the innocence in the music: just him and the music; nothing else is needed.

You wouldn’t think the angelic, smiling Rachel Elderkin could murder a tomato, but she does. Perhaps she is simply the accomplice of choreographer Alice Weber, just doing what she’s told. But she’s so calculating, spending the first few minutes of Pomodoro picking from a crackling plastic supermarket container a selection of tomatoes that she presets precisely on the stage. There are plump ones and little ones that roll like red marbles. The way Elderkin does it gives the tomatoes  human qualities: adults and children in a park, perhaps. Once the tomatoes are set the game begins, which is when Elderkin steps slowly, coquettishly across the stage like fate in disguise and knowingly crushes a tomato under her bare foot, splattering its seeds and juice. Weber juxtaposes the action with a blues song of Bessie Smith dreaming of being dead. The contrast between Smith’s dark, stirring voice and Elderkin’s indiscriminate act is striking and suggests there is something more here. Weber’s imagination has grasped a powerful allegorical image that needs pushing further. How many more tomatoes will have to perish before she finds it?