Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane

Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane, Italian Cultural Institute, November 28

Elena Giannotti

Elena Giannotti in Lo Sguardo del Cane (photo: Eamonn O’Mahony)

Like the two works shown at Trip Space a few days before as part of Intercontinental Drifts (which also programs work at the Italian Cultural Centre), Elena Giannotti’s solo, Lo Sguardo del Cane (‘the dog’s gaze’), is engaging, playful, and experimental. But what Giannotti achieves with a calmness of demeanour and smoothness of motion is a sense of choreography as language that can communicate on a broad, cross art form level. She takes her point of departure from a painting by the renaissance artist Vittore Carpaccio of Saint Augustine in his study looking out at a spectral image of Saint Jerome. There is a small white dog seated on the floor that appears to be looking in the same direction as Saint Augustine but Carpaccio deliberately leaves the viewer in doubt as to whether its gaze is directed toward its master or past him at the ghostly vision (according to legend, Saint Jerome has just communicated with Saint Augustine his own imminent death).

With no musical accompaniment, Giannotti employs equal dexterity and ambiguity towards the movement of her own gaze. She stops quite still at various moments in her performance, staring intently at an undefined point in space; we might attempt to follow that line of vision, but we can also watch her in the act of seeing, just as we study Saint Augustine’s posture as he looks out of the window. We cannot see what he sees, but we know from his rapt attention that he has seen something. And just at the point we take in Giannotti’s still gaze, she begins to move again and our focus changes to the completeness of her expression, to the reiteration of phrases and to her accumulating vocabulary. Certain expressions stand out, like an impatient gesture of the hand or a petulant kick towards an unseen object, and as the choreography progresses we begin to recognize and acknowledge the return of repeated phrases. The effect is one of cinematic montage, of overlapping sections or phrases punctuated with the still gaze. Giannotti sketches scenes with the outlines of figures and expressions, fragments of larger stories of which we only get a glimpse; the moment we recognize them they disappear and overlap with other ones, like impalpable phantoms. As Giannotti repeats them, however, each fragment becomes more distinctive, the contours and features more intelligible to our eyes, filling all our senses with the impression of the movement and its afterimages.

Gaze thus becomes an action not only of the eyes but of the entire body. The direction of our eyes reflects the attention of our entire physiognomy, which is why the eyes are so important in choreographic use. If the eyes look in a direction that the rest of the body does not support, we are not convinced. This is as true for a suggestive glance, a coy aside or a political speech. Giannotti takes all these kinds of glances and freely distributes them in the space she is occupying, allowing her body to flow through her eyes. It is a spatial dialogue which, by the force of its argument and her sense of being ever present keeps our attention, even more acutely as there is no sound apart from the ambient noise of the audience in the room and of traffic outside in the street. There is a temporal sense involved, too. Giannotti’s patterns and traces overlap in space and in one sense are sequential, but like early twentieth-century experimentation with cinematic montage, each pattern or trace can be seen occurring in the same moment, overlapping in time. Giannotti compounds this by running in to the room at the beginning and spinning out at the end, suggesting all that happens in between occurs within a single moment of timeless concentration like a daydream or a vision. Which takes us back to Saint Augustine and his dog experiencing, in their separate but interwoven ways, the beatific apparition of Saint Jerome.


Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala, Sadler’s Wells, November 30

Zen Jefferson, Saku Koistinen, Mikel Murphy, and Erik Nevin (photo: Colm Hogan)

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake makes a journey through the reductive division in Christian culture between light and dark, and between God (good) and the devil (evil) to lay bare what he calls ‘the root of much suffering and confusion’. He sets his story around his home in County Longford in Ireland whose many lakes are home to flocks of migrating swans but his principal characters — the overbearing mother who wants her introspective son to marry, the woman he falls in love with and the magician who has cast a spell on her — have much in common with the plot of the ballet of the same name produced in Moscow in 1875 to Tchaikovsky’s famous score. It is as if Keegan-Dolan has taken the Russian myth and re-mythologized it in the image of Ireland, and because the lakes and swans are tangible and the narrative is taken from local news and national history, his Swan Lake is grounded in a conflictual social and political reality of a kind the romantic ballet of Imperial Russia could never have acknowledged.

There is in actor Mikel Murphy, whom Keegan-Dolan casts as The Holy Man, a distant relation to the wicked magician, Von Rothbart, though at the beginning of Swan Lake he is the one who is under a spell, stripped to his underwear and tethered by the neck to a concrete block, bleating like a goat. It is not hard to see the image of a plundered Ireland tethered to England’s oppressive rule. Then three ‘watchers’ (Saku Koistinen, Zen Jefferson and Erik Nevin) release him, wash him down, beat him dry with red towels and prepare him for interrogation. In Keegan-Dolan’s psychological landscape it is only those representing the dominant culture of oppression — be it political, religious or matriarchal — who speak; while tethered Murphy can only bleat but once freed and offered an informant’s seat at the oppressor’s table, he talks the talk — but not before he’s had a cup of tea and a few biscuits.

It’s an enigmatic but brilliantly staged beginning to what is in effect the re-telling and re-enactment of a story in which Murphy is the sole narrator because the other principal witnesses are the victims of his crimes: one drowned and the other shot. Under Adam Silverman’s lighting and with Hyemi Shin’s evocative costumes, Sabine Dargent’s set is a makeshift restaging of the events with trusses, curtains, ladders, plastic sheeting, theatre boxes and props for the benefit of the audience whose role is to listen and to pass judgement: morality with its oppressive mores and prejudices is on trial.

To make up for having to leave the condemned family home for a new build, the ailing Nancy O’Reilly (Dr. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman) gives her son Jimmy (Alexander Leonhartsberger) his father’s rifle as a birthday gift. It becomes for him an inert symbol of power in a life that has little promise as a result of depression, both mental and environmental. Finola (Rachel Poirier) is one of four sisters (with Anna Kaszuba, Carys Staton and Molly Walker) in the village along with three burly, bisexual watchers and a fine band of musicians (Aki, Mary Barnecutt and Danny Diamond) playing the music of Slow Moving Clouds. In his narrative, Murphy recalls the characters in relation to his various roles as parish priest, local politician and police chief revealing his determinant role in their lives and destiny. As the priest he admits to sexually abusing Finola and threatening her sisters if they were to reveal the truth; as a politician he takes advantage of Nancy and Jimmy for a photo opportunity and as police chief he pressures the depressed Jimmy into a fatal showdown. Within this narrative, but beyond Murphy’s control, Finola, the only village girl to express an interest in Jimmy, makes a fateful connection with him. Keegan-Dolan gets inside the psychology of his characters and expresses it in raw body imagery with overtones of traditional dance; at the beginning Jimmy doesn’t speak and barely moves, but when he senses love from and for Finola he unlocks his reticence and awkwardness with a freedom of gesture that is a first sign of healing. But that reductive division in Christian culture claws back any such redemption, shaming Finola into drowning herself in the lake which sends Jimmy back into deep depression with a rifle at his side. As police chief, Murphy forces a faceoff with him and has him shot by his officers (recalling the tragic shooting of John Carthy, a depressed Longford man who refused to be evicted from his home). Murphy has finished his worldly story but Swan Lake continues in an afterlife with clouds of feathers where the lovers are reunited and dance among their friends with the freedom of unconstrained, unfettered bodies in an environment without hypocrisy, connivance and political ill-will. It’s not so much the idea as the jubilant choreographic conviction that suggests there is hope.


Intercontinental Drifts #4: Dan Watson and Matthias Sperling

Posted: December 6th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Intercontinental Drifts #4: Dan Watson and Matthias Sperling

Intercontinental Drifts #4, Dan Watson and Matthias Sperling, Trip Space, November 25

Rachel Krische and Matthias Sperling in Do Not Be Afraid (photo: Neil Wissink)

For its final 2017 Intercontinental Drifts program, Trip Space presents two duets: Largely Unsung by Dan Watson with Katherine Hollinson and Do Not Be Afraid by Matthias Sperling with Rachel Krische. Watching Largely Unsung is to enter a world of suggestion and allusion without coming to grips with either its title or its content, while Sperling introduces us to a super-hero duo from a large format comic book with a lot of brightly-coloured illustrations.

Watson writes in the program note that Largely Unsung is inspired by the music of the girl groups, a pop phenomenon of the late 1950s and 60s that channeled some darker subjects in a chic, popular style that sold millions of records. He is also interested in the phenomenon of backing singers with their nonsensical lyrics, flashy costumes and secondary stage identity. Watson, whose Jacket Dance I saw four years ago, describes himself as an artist ‘working somewhere between dance, performance and messing about’ but I am uncertain where Largely Unsung lies on this orbit. Visually, what Watson and Hollinson do satisfies the initial interest; both are engaging, even when engaged in doing very little, and the existence of a microphone on a stand and a clothes rack with two pairs of male and female evening wear hints at future possibilities. But the hesitation, abstraction and fragmentation of the movement phrases do not clarify what the microphone or clothes rack imply. When Watson and Hollinson finally do change into their formal wear — each at first into the menswear — it comes as a relief while the two remaining long, sequined dresses set up a further expectation. Perhaps Watson is leading us from one visual clue — or cue — to another as if preparing an intricate filmic journey that will resolve in the end, but this is only the conjecture of a tired swimmer looking for something on which to float. And while the choreographic language continues to deliver a mischievous sense of humour — a wagging tail sequence on all fours, a slinky hand on hip sequence, mincing walks, punching the air, and even a scaled-down light show behind a Folies-Bergères kicking routine — this seems more of a distraction than an exploratory path. Of course Watson and Hollinson do change into the sequined dresses and finally approach the microphone, at the back, off to the left, to harmonise a backing vocal together, but this one clear image is not enough to save Largely Unsung from a largely unfocused song.

At the beginning of Do Not Be Afraid Sperling and Krische are released on to the stage through the back door like a jack-in-a-box duo, one tall and one short in garish super-hero outfits. It’s deliberately ridiculous and designed to make you laugh, but so is everything else in Do Not Be Afraid. The press release states the work ‘proposes that the dance performer’s superpower is the ability to make their mind visible for an audience, in and through their body’. Since body and mind are the fundamental materials of dance, this proposal seems self-evident, but by examining it in a ludic way with a comic-strip hero as interlocutor, Sperling can’t stop his tongue-in-cheek humour dominating the work. Costumes, competitive ballet steps, gymnastic display, theremin gestures and word games become the means by which he places dance outside its familiar context and sets it up for ridicule; in short, Do Not Be Afraid is a dance in the form of an intellectual conceit. If it were to be packaged as a children’s show, its clowning alone would undoubtedly prove successful, but its internal argument plays to a knowledge of dance and its conventions; it is above all an inside joke and there are many at Trip Space who get it.

Both Largely Unsung and Do Not Be Afraid express the ‘engaging, playful and experimental’ qualities in the work Intercontinental Drifts programs, but they also rely too conspicuously on the narrow confines of a dance audience. It is perhaps worth remembering the late French choreographer Maurice Béjart’s desire to make dance as an art in the 20th century as popular as the art of cinema. It is a call for dance to make the power and intelligence in the language of the body relevant for broad audiences without sacrificing the engagement, play and experiment on which new choreography thrives. While cinema has gone on to develop dramatically its own art form (I just saw Michael Haneke’s Happy End), the evolution of choreography can’t afford to turn in on itself. Nor can it afford to waffle at the back, off to the left.


Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

Posted: November 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card, Lilian Baylis Studio, November 23

Gianluca Vincentini Wild Card

Amarnah Ufuoma Amuludun and Stefania Pinato in Encounter One (photo: Danilo Moroni)

For his Wild Card program at Lilian Baylis Studio, Gianluca Vincentini presents dance makers based in the north of England: Carlos Pons Guerra, Crystal Zillwood and Jamaal Burkmar. Having been artistic director of VERVE (the postgraduate company of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance) for five years, Vincentini knows these dancers and choreographers well. Prior to the main program, he presents his own company, Möbius Dance, in a short film, Encounter One, with Amarnah Ufuoma Amuludun and Stefania Pinato, followed by a structured improvisation to guitar accompaniment by Otis Jones with the same two dancers among the pre-show audience in Fox Garden Court. According to its website, Möbius Dance has two dancers (Amuludun and Pinato) and four collaborators, all of whom are presented or represented in the film. The program note for Encounter One — ‘Can I allow myself to let boundary lines blur while being within myself and accept compromises as part of co-existence’ — is so fluid and open-ended that the presence of two bodies moving in space is enough to fulfil its premise, and they do. But for those who enjoy a little more meat, Pons Guerra’s O Maria on the main stage hits the spot.

Written for two women, a man and a ham, it is played by two women, a man and a ham but gender correspondence is not on the menu. Concepción (Marivi Da Silva) and Armando (Azzurra Ardovini) are at home one evening, though all we see is the domineering Concepción sitting at the dinner table in a dress as black as her eyes with the wrapped or bandaged figure of Armando at her feet. There’s another wrapped figure (Phil Sanger) lying a little distance from the table, and a wrapped ham on the table. Clearly Ryan Dawson Laight has had as much fun with the costumes as Barnaby Booth with the lighting. The relationship between Concepción and Armando is described as ‘an unhappy marriage’ but this is an understatement; the ties that bind have turned to rope and bondage. In a beatific vision, Sanger’s arising — or arousal — as anything-but-the-virgin Mary is the catalyst that releases poor Armando from his wrapping to reveal his true gender and entangles Mary with the leg of ham. The program note for O Maria serves notice of nudity and sexual references but the satirical treatment of suffocating religious hypocrisy in 1950’s Seville is positively seditious.

Evolutio is one of three solos Zillwood will include in her creation, Spiral. In it she examines evolution with a little scientific guidance and abundant inspiration. She enters the stage out of darkness, from a distance too far to comprehend. Her postures on that first diagonal towards the light suggest the successive stages of human evolution but in reverse order, finishing on her haunches before repeating the sequence; at the third attempt she evolves into a dancer. Zillwood moves quietly and lightly along her exploratory journey, dancing a language that derives from classical technique but which breaks into a series of organic images derived from the natural world: from invertebrate motion to a human embryo, from a bird in flight to an anthropoid marveling at the stars. Her final pose is balancing on her coccyx, floating in the vastness of evolutionary history. She sketches these images fluently and fluidly against the musical phrases of a haunting arrangement by Nigel Kennedy of a Polish folk song, Ederlezi, that she has digitally altered and extended to fit the dynamic range of her choreography. There is nothing of the anthropological museum in Evolutio; it reveals itself like the spark of an idea with an intelligence that matches Zillwood’s musicality.

Jamaal Burkmar presents The Calm, one of three works he created for the New Adventures Choreographer Award showcase he won in 2016. Inspired ‘by family, home and music’, The Calm is a quartet of solos to a quintet of funky, soulful songs. Burkmar focuses first on the songs, playing Angie Stone’s Makings of You in the dark, and a second, D’angelo’s Send It On, as the four dancers — Burkmar, Lucia Chocarro, Tom Davis Dunn and Kasichana Okene-Jameson — lie in a stylised heap on the floor. As a choreographic device the heap is clichéd and artificial; no effort is made to suggest how the dancers arrive in that place, nor in the heap, nor how they relate to each other. Nor does the rest of The Calm offer any further clarification, but focuses instead on the individual choreographic responses to the music. Here Burkmar and his dancers are far more interesting, especially Okene-Jameson who blasts into her theatrical space with a freedom and invention that is all her own; if the others make it happen, she lets it happen. She also uses the direction of her head and eyes as she dances, which takes her expression to a level that is as generous as it is self-reinforcing. The Calm, however, ends on a note that is as anti-climactic as it is predictable, with the music fading and the lights dying slowly on a heap of dancers.

 

My friend Ian Abbott has also written about Carlos Pons Guerra’s De Nada Dance in a triple bill at mac last year. 


Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop

Posted: November 27th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop

Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop, Sadler’s Wells, November 15

Claire Vivianne Subottke, Leyla Postalcioglu, Maria F. Scaroni, Jared Gradinger and Neil Callaghan in Until Our Hearts Stop (photo: Iris Janke)

The stage setting by Doris Dziersk for Meg Stuart’s Until Our Hearts Stop transforms the Sadler’s Wells stage, under the lighting of Jurgen Kolb and Gilles Roosen, into an unencumbered volume like a traditional American basement with its plain wooden panels and a single staircase at the back. It can also be thought of as what psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s calls a ‘transitional space’ — an in-between space open to possibilities and the imagination. It’s a space for play, and the playground of the theatre is where Stuart has set out the parameters of her game.

In a pre-show talk with Tim Etchells, Stuart, who is also known for her solo collaborations, spoke of how larger works take her to places she can’t go alone, and of the body as a ‘switching station’ where streams of influence flow through it into a shared pool of collective dreams. Both of these ideas are fundamental to the central theme of Until Our Hearts Stop which is the exploration of intimacy on a theatrical scale.

Dance is fundamentally different from the other arts in that its language is not words, lines, colours or musical notes but the body in space with its own contours and boundaries. In pushing these limits both spatially and psychologically in her search for intimacy, Stuart engages the transitional possibilities — the ‘switching station’ — of the body in a game where those limits are apt to dissolve: the absence of clothing in dance is a logical extension of its corporeal language. Stuart presents the naked body in Until Our Hearts Stop on a raw, unselfconscious scale that erodes its private and thus its erotic nature. She even leaves out suggestion; Claire Vivianne Sobottke and Maria F. Scaroni strip off to play with and explore each other’s bodies, slapping, splaying, pulling, pinching, and sniffing without limits not as a metaphor but as the lowest common denominator of physical intimacy.

Stuart employs games on other levels. The stage setting includes a drum kit, a piano and a bass guitar but when the nine performers enter there is no immediate differentiation between the six dancers and the three musicians; they disentangle over the course of the initial placement and replacement of individuals and groups. Gender is effectively masked in Nadine Grellinger’s initial costumes of jeans and sweatshirts and the touch of contact improvisation becomes the catalyst for the intimate games they are about to play. The framework of theatrical conventions is also called into question; there is no intermission as such, but where there would normally be a break the performers fabricate an intermission with offers of water, plates of fruit and a bottle of scotch that they deliver into the audience. Stuart also uses an audience plant who goes by the name of Myriam to dissolve the divide between audience and performers. It starts when Neil Callaghan takes off his underwear to which Myriam reacts with untrammeled delight and an infectious laugh. Any further instances of nakedness (of which there are plenty) send her into whoops of laughter, and she’s one of the first to request water at the false intermission. It’s as if Stuart is not sure the British audience will enter into the spirit of the performance as she had intended; she drives home the illusion in Kristof Von Boven’s witty conversation with the pianist Stefan Rusconi — whispered into a microphone — in which he comments on the politics of the day as well as on Myriam’s ‘outrageous’ behaviour.

Until Our Hearts Stop is, as a title, an exhortation to the performers to push their limits to the point of physical and psychological exhaustion, but where Pina Bausch, for example, broke down the theatrical framework to explore her interest in what moved people, Stuart uses the limits of her dancers to manipulate theatrical conventions. Until Our Hearts Stop is an expression of intimacy but not, because of the graphic exaggeration of the means employed, a call for intimacy; closeness does not strip down to its emotional components and reach under skin. Until Our Hearts Stop thus turns in on itself like an exercise that, for all its ludic intensity, leaves little room for the imagination.

In the pre-show talk Stuart said she wanted to ‘create a space I can’t see in the world but where I’d like to be.’ By virtue of the unquestionable integrity of Until Our Hearts Stop she has created that space, but you have to enter the theatre to experience it.


Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal

Posted: November 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal

Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal, Seligman Theatre, Chapter, November 17

Hardy Animal

Laura Dannequin in Hardy Animal (photo: Paul Blakemore)

Very broadly speaking there are two kinds of pain: the first one, acute pain, is a very useful kind of pain, because it’s pain that tells me when to remove my hand from the heat source that is burning it, or to stop running if I’ve just torn my hamstring…The second type of pain, chronic or maladaptive pain, can be defined as …pain that extends beyond the time that healing would have thought to have occurred after trauma or surgery. At the point when acute pain slips into chronic pain, what happens is that although the tissues that were initially injured have healed, pain messages keep getting fired via electric impulses along the nerve fibres, up the spinal cord and into the brain where the pain is perceived as very real. (From the bookwork of Hardy Animal)

For a work that addresses chronic back pain, Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal has a smooth, sculptural quality that belies the nature of its subject. Written on the edge of anger and frustration with a sardonic sense of the absurd, it is an ode to Dannequin’s search for a solution to the debilitating pain in her lower back, from vague diagnoses to disbelief, and from snake oil treatments to unrelieved disappointments. As a dancer she has known what the dancing body is capable of and what it feels like to move freely without fear, but she suddenly found herself confronted with what she calls ‘a negative loop of persistent pain’. There are elements of both a musical composition and a lecture here — at one point she reads from notes on what could be either a music stand or a lectern — but Dannequin’s textual score and her unembellished performative treatment of the story have transformed it into a remarkable piece of somatic theatre where motion and emotion confront each other.

Hardy Animal frames stillness as a memory of movement in the same way the nerves remember pain after the initial injury has healed. Dannequin instead instills movement in our imagination through the dynamic motion of her score, making us move on a journey from the ‘biological body’ in front of us to the ‘memory body’ that has the capacity to dance without pain. What is moving us is her will, and as we reach the climax of Hardy Animal, it is her will that sets her in motion.

The piece begins in darkness with Dannequin’s voice telling us what she would like to accomplish during the performance; it is a hungry voice that remembers what it was like to eat, a tired voice that wants to get up and dance just to show that it can. Later, in the isolated image of her uncovered back — illuminated at first by two torchlights held by two front-row members of the audience — we see a soft muscular voice. With her back towards us, Dannequin uses both her recorded voice and her own in this sequence; with the recording her body is motionless, but when she speaks the reverberations of her words work their way into her neck and back so subtly but directly that they become gestures in their own right. And even though the stage is quite spacious, the focus is on Dannequin’s upper body framed in a soft light that reveals the two aspects of Hardy Animal that define it: her voice which constantly mediates between the mind and body, and the physical condition of her back. Without the voice the back would have suffered in silence, and without the chronic pain in her back there would be no subject.

Dannequin’s journey is made possible by speaking out with brutal directness and elegantly sharpened wit not only to the medical profession, the healing profession, the quacks, the disbelieving and the incompetent, but to her own body. She has argued with it so passionately and exhaustively that she has perhaps shamed it into grudging admiration, coming to terms with the pain through dogged determination and patient preparation. There’s a resolution to Hardy Animal, and it’s not the voice that resolves it but the body. Released by a recording of the largo from Bach’s keyboard concerto in F minor, her body eases into a fluid, understated dance of muted ecstasy.

 

Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal was presented at Chapter as part of Cardiff Dance Festival, a biennial event that circulates ideas, images and movement in a heady mix of choreographic thinking.


Jan Martens / GRIP, Rule of Three

Posted: November 16th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jan Martens / GRIP, Rule of Three

Jan Martens / GRIP, Rule of Three, Lilian Baylis Studio, October 20

Steven Michel, Courtney Robertson, NAH and Julien Josse in Rule of Three (photo: Phile Deprez)

In Rule of Three Jan Martens has written short stories for the body that we then read in performance. Some of the stories are as short as fragments but he glues them all together like a linear collage set to a driving beat by drummer NAH. Written for three performers — Julien Josse, Steven Michel and Courtney Robertson — the fragments are organised according to a hand-written index projected at the beginning of the show with titles like Suddenly Afraid, Gum Dance, Sandwalker, Dog Hair, Throat Dance, Writing and Unwriting. Unlike a book we don’t have the choice of dipping in where we want to; the order of the index is the order we are going to see the stories in performance.

In a program note by Rudi Meulemans, Martens puts Rule of Three within a context we can readily appreciate: the exponential multiplication of stories and observations, comments and images on social media. ‘You could compare it to a Facebook wall or news websites which today feature entertainment and funny videos alongside major news items and even scientific articles. From a cute video of cats to a tragic news item.’ He suggests this assault on the senses has led to ‘concentration disturbances’ that overload our brain with a plethora of impulses while ‘at the same time the value of each distinct element vanishes’. But while the phenomenon he describes is in its nature eclectic, Rule of Three has a unity that originates solely from Martens’ choreographic mind.

For a start he indicates a unity of time by telling us what we are going to see and the order in which we are going to see it, while the unity of place is inherent in the stage setting, modulated by light and colour, that remains constant. But most significant is the use Martens makes of the body as language, expressing nothing other than itself. This is abundantly clear in a remarkable development, two-thirds of the way through Rule of Three, when NAH throws up his sticks and leaves. We are left in a silence that reverberates for a minute or so and then settles like a change from a major to a minor key. Making the modulation visible, the dancers take off their clothes and spend the rest of the performance nonchalantly testing the silence of their bodies, either alone or with each other in the space, and checking their language with that of the audience. As the section continues, the divide between our respective languages grows wider until the silence and the nakedness together become a shout of celebration, not in a utopian sense but simply as unadorned language.

A second influence Meulemans cites for Rule of Three is more telling of Martens’ creative process: the short-story collections of the American writer, Lydia Davis. These stories, some of which are no longer than a couple of lines, are a combination of wry, detailed observation and meticulous construction; we hear a recording of one of them, Dog Hair, in the performance. Both Davis and Martens are concerned about writing, what it can achieve and how to achieve it. Many of Davis’s short stories and her one novel, The End of the Story, are as much an elaborate questioning of language and form as they are vehicles for a story or observation. In Rule of Three Martens develops the idea in ways not dissimilar to Davis with juxtaposed, unrelated episodes that are centred on the musical input. It’s a more abstract approach that sees the three dancers in repetitive, mathematically precise patterns of walking or running interspersed with fractured solos and more emotionally charged images that draw on sensuality, the extravagant selfie or implied violence (where Jan Fedinger’s misty red lighting is particularly effective). This is the first time Martens has used live music as part of the creation. NAH’s drumming and drum programming, which Martens describes as ‘a strange mix of Steve Reich and Einsturzende Neubaten in a hardcore punk sauce’ are the staves on which the choreographic language is threaded; its insistent beat is a strident, sometimes blindingly loud accompaniment that flirts with the line between supporting the rhythmic dance and dominating it.

As a prelude to the final section, Martens correlates writing and the body with a projected statement that ‘life is too serious for me to go on writing…there are other things I should be doing instead.’ Nakedness and silence become deafening metaphors for the life-affirming antidotes of simplicity and calm to sensory overload. 


Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Posted: November 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Dance Umbrella 2017, Out of the System, Rich Mix, October 16

Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay (photo: Pari Naderi)

In another creative twist in the development of Dance Umbrella under the artistic direction of Emma Gladstone, Out of the System is a mini festival within the festival curated by guest programmer, Freddie Opoku-Addaie. He describes the title as a metaphor for the presence of diverse dance cultures within vocational and non-vocational structures outside the regular framework of dance presentation — not to mention the inclusion of bands Yaaba Funk & DJ Kweku Aacht, and Kioko who perform on successive evenings. It is also, like the Shoreditch Takeover, a crossover between dance curation and building management; this one involves four distinct works by artists from five countries in three different spaces within Rich Mix over two nights (which is a shame, as I miss Alesandra Seutin’s Across The Souvenir). Both here and at the Town Hall the programs weave together loose associations with what we might consider to be dance and turn them into a wealth of experience that can change that perception profoundly. There is a sense of open-ended raw material here, even if the works are finished: La Macana’s Ven seems to arise directly out of the audience; Sello Pesa’s After Tears throws time out of the window, and the improvisational energy of Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay wants to break out of the confines of the stage and take over the entire floor.

I had seen Ven two years ago at Costa Contemporánea in Andalucia, and it is one of those works that can bury itself in the recesses of your memory and come out again unchanged. The intricate timing of the interaction between Caterina Varela and Alexis Fernández is breathtaking but it is also polished: it has to be. They are like two circus performers who eschew trapeze and ropes for the instruments of their own bodies; they climb on each other, jump on each other, lift each other, balance and counterbalance in a defiant flow of impossibility that resolves through the strength and sensitivity of their well-honed skills. Against such precision, the couple’s apparent nonchalance is matched by the delightfully offbeat songs of Einstuerzende Neubauten.

Sello Pesa’s After Tears undoes all preconceptions. Described as an investigation of ‘the mourning process and the strategies people use in order to cope with death’, it’s like a private ritual to which the Soweto-born Pesa has invited us. He makes no pretense of a performance as he practices yoga on a red rug at the entrance to the third-floor space; we aren’t sure if this is part of the work, so we watch until we are ushered through the door to pick up a folding chair and wait behind a curved shoreline of red tape. In his own time Pesa moves his rug into the space with a pair of boots, a couple of crates of beer and a transistor radio playing a local station as the central focus and sole source of sound. Pesa gives an eerie sense we aren’t in the same room and yet his trance-like presence is all-pervasive. He rolls himself up in the rug and lies like the deceased, but then wears the rug around his shoulders and his head like an enigmatic, animated spiritual guide before bludgeoning it with fists and boots to mark his resolve. He seems to span both the realms of the living and the dead so as to come to grips with the inner conflict of the ‘South African tradition of returning a person’s spirit to its rightful destination’. Utterly compelling, After Tears returns dance to its ritual roots, revealing new dimensions in both movement and performance.

There is little doubt, however, about the performative nature of the collaboration between Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay. Whatever inner resources well up from within their minds and bodies are fully expressed in energetic and sensual form. The collaboration between an American contemporary dancer with Southern Baptist genes and a British flamenco dancer with roots in Jamaica and Ghana is just the beginning; what they share goes beyond their recent origins to ‘explore the connections between who they believe themselves to be, and the unconscious parts that make up who they are’. As they play off each other’s physical styles and sartorial taste, their individuality merges with an infectious sense of delight at the connections made — a body percussion sequence with guitarist Guillermo Guillén borders on the ecstatic — and like old friends they can complete each other’s rhythmic phrases. But there’s more here; we tend to think of flamenco as a Spanish phenomenon with Moorish origins, but recent research suggests a link, through the rhythmic musical structures, to the Spanish slave trade with the New World. In Clay, images of flamenco merge with South American religious iconography as Thomas adorns Graves as a participant in a Holy Week procession and wheels her across the stage. The two women finish playfully to Guillén’s accompaniment, like two sisters from the distant past revelling in their common roots.

I first heard Opoku-Addaie before I saw him, in a performance of Silence Speaks Volumes at BDE 2010 where his blood-curdling roar from the behind the audience announced his entrance. His voice has again preceded the choreographic action, this time not his own but of his own choosing. May the experiment continue.


Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place

Posted: November 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place

Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place, Laban Theatre, November 7

The cast on the set of Rahel Vonmoos’ to find a place (photo: Antigone Avdi)

When the subject of a dance work in a theatre is something as disturbing and destabilizing as displacement, the context of the performance — from the lighting, the set and costumes, to the comfortable seats in a warm auditorium and the bar just outside the door — becomes a screen through which an audience experiences it. When this filter is accompanied by the choreographic device of gestural abstraction, the subject of the work finds itself even further removed from its source; a work on displacement itself becomes a displacement. This is the conundrum posed by Rahel Vonmoos’ to find a place, performed at the Laban Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Even if crisis is written into it in the form of the dis-ease of movement, the fragmented groupings, the dislocation of projected images and the collage of discordant sounds, the production values of to find a place are too refined and the choreography too beautifully performed by Helka Kaski, Luke Birch, Morrighan MacGillivray and Samuel Kennedy to allow an audience to get to grips with the emotional and psychological complexities of the humanitarian crisis it addresses.

Vonmoos’ use of filmed projections on sheets of stretched silicon works well with the danced action; the opening visual sequence shows a crowd of people walking to and fro like a flock of humanity, slowed down in close-up to aimlessness and indecision; displacement, they seem to say, is a wandering with no direction home. The silhouettes of the dancers merge with the projected figures like blank, anonymous shapes against a mediatized throng. Apart from this extended opening scene, subsequent images are of landscapes and abstracted architecture, powerful reminders of events and places that have passed into memory, that float like fragments across the staggered placement of screens. There is a sense of time passing in the way the projected images spill from the screens on to the performers in the present or run in the background like the past.

I begin looking for individual clues to what Vonmoos wants to convey, but I have to wait till the end and beyond to let the accumulated response to the moving images — both of the dancers and the projections — find their mark. In the short term there is certainly a sense of puzzlement and confusion, which are states that arise from the condition of displacement, but it would be too easy to confuse this with a response to the work. Vonmoos has transferred the effects of displacement on to a painterly stage and turned them into symbols and marks on an artist’s canvas, yet the audience does not have the luxury of sitting in front of dance in the same way one can look at a painting (or listen to a recording of music) over time. Without a narrative, to find a place has to rely on constant movement — the essence of displacement, physically and psychologically — to convey meaning. Vonmoos also has the dancers suspend and modify the silicon sheets, tying them up, crumpling them or holding up a corner as if to sweep something underneath. If the projected images are memories, they are constantly vulnerable to disruption. The sheets also take on the roles of temporary bed sheets, shrouds and clothing.

There is a dry heat in the atmosphere of the work, where heat is not the kind in which to luxuriate but where you stand still to avoid exhaustion, where you get frustrated, in which you toss and turn at night. In this way Vonmoos imagines dis-ease and its effect on the body. The approach reminds me of Israeli choreographer, Arkadi Zaides, who studied the movements of Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian farmers and their lands seen in images filmed by the Palestinians themselves; against the film footage he takes up these same stances and gestures on stage as a choreographic form to show the effects of cultural aggression on the body. Vonmoos avoids the specific political questions but in abstracting the dis-ease of movement in the face of displacement, she asks the audience to re-translate the affect of the choreographic images to sense their original intent. It is a lot to ask of an audience or perhaps, in our relatively sheltered society, too little.

I can’t help noticing (not for the first time) that in the auditorium of one of London’s most prestigious contemporary dance conservatories with high enrolment figures, the audience is sparse. A work of art is only able to speak to those who are willing to experience it and to find a place has plenty to say; if the students who file through Laban don’t engage with the works that are shown there, what does that say about their engagement with the art they are studying or about Laban’s engagement in presenting them?


Dance Umbrella 2017: Let Me Change Your Name

Posted: November 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Let Me Change Your Name

Dance Umbrella 2017, Eun-Me Ahn, Let Me Change Your Name, The Place, October 24

Eun-Me Ahn’s company in Let Me Change Your Name (photo: Eunji Park)

Every performance I have seen at this year’s Dance Umbrella has a markedly sophisticated aesthetic; whatever the venue, the lighting and set design makes the performance a visual delight. The set for Eun-Me Ahn’s Let Me Change Your Name at The Place looks like a glistening ice rink in Andre Schulz’s even wash of ice-blue light. With the program image in mind (see above), it’s just waiting for something in lurid colours to emerge on to it. But after an introduction of some of Young-Gyu Jang’s icier music from his score of natural and composed sounds, three dancers in long black torso-hugging dresses walk on to the stage; like birds walking in formation they wheel around slowly and walk off. The same happens in mirror image on the other side. Dancers then slide in crouched on their hands and shins, paddling in a circular rhythm until they stand up and look fixedly at the audience before dropping down and continuing. Women hitch their dresses to their bare chests to be lifted off over the heads of their men, and a man rolls slowly across the stage with a woman draped nonchalantly over his haunches. It is Ahn’s way of introducing not only her band of accomplices (for this is a work she shares unequivocally with her dancers) but her clear sense of style that merges abstracted postures from commonplace human activity with the consciousness of image, the gentle strut, and the fixed, penetrating regard that belongs to the fashion catwalk. It’s a style that builds in intensity throughout the work as the dancers engage the audience with a candour that draws us into their world of energy, wit, sensuality and colour.

Ahn uses the issue of sensuality openly; coyness is not part of her choreographic palette. Her dancers are all attractive and they embody and display this quality knowingly and with a flirtatious sense of humour. As the spirited cast of four male and four female dancers in lurid neon unisex dresses appear and reappear from the wings, the colours themselves smile with Schulz’s complementary light washes, and the way the dresses are worn, slipped off, left off and thrown around in playful abandon is a joy to watch. The dancers share their physical exertion equally with indefatigable vigour, energy and virtuosity.

Ahn balances this youthful exuberance with a more reflective aspect, not so much of age but of experience. While her dancers speed up linear time with their effusive antics, Ahn’s presence on stage stretches it out vertically; in her solos there is the gravity of a quiet, shamanistic presence. She expresses a thinking body with gestures that are as rich as poetry and eloquent in any language. There is also something in her solos of an attempt that never quite happens, a testing of her powers with the youthful energy around her through a motif of hand to chest that can either overwhelm the other or be repulsed by the greater force — a force that has no gender differentiation. When Ahn performs one of her solos half naked, she is not flirting in the same way as the other dancers but sharing her secrets; in her universe, nakedness is the opposite of hiding. She gathers up the sloughed-off skins of discarded black dresses, making a nest of them underneath her own skirt like a matriarchal force casting a spell of renewal. As she leaves with her skins, the dancers erupt on to the stage to Jang’s riff on ‘fuck’ with hedonistic abandon, ramping up their individual antics within a choreographic framework that recaps some of the opening phrases.

Let Me Change Your Name is a deep pool of imagination that overflows in non-verbal representation. Ahn was a friend of Pina Bausch and they had a mutual admiration for each other’s work. Even if their respective creations are dissimilar, they shared an understanding of how to nurture their dancers. Bausch developed their qualities in the service of a theatrical stream of consciousness that she then edited and moulded to her particular conception of dance theatre. Ahn cultivates the personality of her dancers to amplify and fill out the relatively simple steps and actions of her choreography until they are indistinguishable; every gesture and step is brimming with ebullient spirit. In the post-show talk, Ahn displays the same irrepressible energy and unassuming freshness she brings to her work. The notion of vibrant colour, she says, came from an impulsive desire to change the darker tones of her personal wardrobe for brighter ones. Let Me Change Your Name could just as easily be an invitation to change our wardrobe, to lighten up, and to infect others with the euphoria of our transformation.

Let Me Change Your Name is also part of Korea/UK 2017-18, a year of cultural collaborations between South Korea and the UK.