Aurélien Bory / Kaori Ito, Plexus

Aurélien Bory/Kaori Ito, Plexus, Sadler’s Wells, January 22

Kaori Ito suspended in Pierre Dequivre's forest of cables in Plexus (photo: Aglae Bory)

Kaori Ito suspended in Pierre Dequivre’s forest of cables in Plexus (photo: Aglae Bory)

Aurélien Bory’s Plexus is, according to the choreographer, an exploration of ‘the memory of a body substantially shaped by dance.’ The body in question belongs to Kaori Ito and it becomes the player inside a fabulously stringed instrument dreamed up by Pierre Dequivre and constructed by the Atelier de la fiancée du pirate: a forest of 5,000 tensile cables covering the stage from floor to ceiling that moves in its entirety as a giant swing. Ito and the set are as united as musician and instrument: Ito is its heart and sets it free.

Appropriately it is with heartbeats that the work opens. Ito in a creamy silk chemise appears in front of a black parachute silk fabric with an amplified stethoscope that she places over her heart to take her pulse. We hear her heartbeat and the sound of silk. She takes her jugular pulse, pulls the instrument over her hair, claps it roughly over parts of her torso, sending it into convulsions like a puppet being moved violently by an invisible hand: this is the body of the musician who now withdraws through the fabric into the stringed instrument as if into a womb, pulling the silk behind her.

‘Plexus’ comes from the Latin meaning ‘intertwining’. From this point Ito’s physical play is entwined not only with the cables but with Joan Cambon’s electronic score and Arno Veyrat’s lighting. As she stands still in this steel forest, her world is crushed and expanded in quick succession by rotating planes of light. She leans forward and back against the wires, coming to rest without any visible form of support and then like a trapped, wild spirit strikes out at the cables as if she is plucking them, pounding on the amplified floor before suspending herself horizontally.

Veyrat can make spaces transparent or opaque, can pick out Ito’s form behind the cables, merge her with them or make her disappear like a magic trick. He can make the cables look like a downpour of thin, vertical rain through which Ito walks, or like branches through which she has to find her path. And yet Ito is never dominated by the scale of the set; she appears to control it, even setting it in motion like a child on a giant swing, thrashing from side to side to increase the momentum until the entire Sadler’s Wells stage seems to be in motion. When we see her naked, striated torso advancing through the cables in a shallow zigzag path, halting at each side of the stage to part the wires and step through, the set shrinks to her stature.

Bory also makes ‘intertwining’ a metaphor for the ‘dialogue between Kaori’s inner world and the outside world.’ Returning to images of the womb, Ito weaves a silk cloth like an umbilical cord through the cables to form a circle in which she stands, her head just visible above the cloth and we see her floating above the stage as if suspended in fluid, slowly sinking and rising again to the surface. Wanting to break out Ito begins to swing the set front and back like a sailor aloft on the rigging. She descends to the floor and is tossed ashore as if the ship has gone aground to the sound of waves washing up and crashing. She reappears in a long black crepe cape and flies up the cables to dive down like a fish with exotic fins. Underneath her cape she manifests a protective skin of metallic squares that glisten in the light and rustle like gravel in a thunderous tide as she moves within it. She merges one last time into the dark while Veyrat sets the storm clouds swirling over the cables. Just light remains now, a golden light that slowly fades. The body has metamorphosed and left; the instrument is still. Magical.


Plexus is presented as part of the London International Mime Festival

Gandini Juggling, 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures

Gandini Juggling, 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures, Linbury Studio Theatre, January 13

Gandini Juggling in 4x4: Ephemeral Architectures (photo: Beinn Muir)

Gandini Juggling in 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures (photo: Beinn Muir)

Directed by Sean Gandini with four jugglers and four classically trained dancers choreographed by Ludovic Ondiviela, a score by Nimrod Borenstein (Suspended opus 69) and lighting by Guy Hoare, 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures relishes its cross-fertilization of art forms to give us a glimpse beyond conceptual ideas to what dance and juggling do so well: spatial stimulation. Gandini’s program note itself is an inspired expression of collaboration: ‘This piece is a return to our love of pure patterns and mathematics, our roots in imagining juggling as a form of dance.’

After the Camerata Alma Vira take their places at the back of the stage — a setting that suggests both classical concert and travelling band — the four dancers and four jugglers enter in a line. This is the opening proposal that sets the tone for the subsequent development. The jugglers begin juggling balls while the dancers’ arms circle above their heads and drop down to slap their thighs, together setting up spatial and aural rhythms enhanced by light. There are solos, the first by Kieran Stoneley that is expansive with lovely lines and then by Owen Reynolds who states the mathematical formula for a juggling act and then performs it. With the introduction of Borenstein’s music (hopefully it will be recorded by now) there is an additional mathematical layer: when the jugglers exchange clubs across a line of advancing dancers it is as if arms, legs and clubs are all dancing to the musical rhythms.

Although the Gandini jugglers are brilliant technicians (I can’t take my eyes off them any more than they can take their eyes off the objects they are juggling), they are relaxed and in their relaxation they dance. There is something in their insouciant virtuosity that reminds me of the dancers in a Pina Bausch work. Every now and then they drop a ball or a club or a ring but it doesn’t seem to matter; they have a self-deprecating humour that is built into the art. There’s a scene where Owen Reynolds juggles three or four balls perfectly. Dancers Erin O’Toole and Kate Byrne are either side of him on pointe like malevolent fairies urging him to juggle more balls. He does and while he’s juggling they bourrée in place with a vengeance. When Reynolds succeeds, they clap enthusiastically but when he drops a ball they stop with a loud sigh of disappointment. The audience laughs. But is there a parallel scene where two jugglers stand round a dancer urging more and more pirouettes? No, and this signals the one flaw in 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures: the four jugglers are at the height of their art and constantly push its limits but Ondiviela and his four dancers seem constrained by their classical dance; they can’t simply let go of their training and enter into the movement with the same freedom as the jugglers accomplish their feats.

But there are so many moments in the work that are infused with a ludic sense of exploration. O’Toole hones her juggling skills and the jugglers dance a phrase of Scottish dance; the rhythm of the coloured balls is continued in the girls’ underwear; Byrne dances quick phrases while the balls Reynolds is juggling are in the air; both dancers and jugglers use their voices to state mathematical patterns as well as to comment on their skills (‘A bit wonky’ says Sakari Männistö as one of the balls flies off its orbit). The most impressive moments occur when the jugglers exchange clubs over the heads of the dancers like a canopy of flying tears enhancing the musical rhythms. Hoare’s lighting is an essential ingredient: he makes the rhythms visible. Gandini refers to Hoare’s passion for geometry and architecture and writes that they quickly found they spoke similar languages. 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures is all about the similarities in languages and how they can be brought into a creative focus, but in its exploration it inadvertently asks the same question of classical dance as the Mock Turtle asks of Alice: ‘Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?’

When Reynolds stands alone on stage suggesting five possible ways to finish the show, the fourth (I can’t remember the first three) is to expound on the profound similarities between the two art forms. He means the two art forms of juggling and dance, but as we have seen, 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures comprises four art forms that each contributes to the creative vision of the work. Reynolds avoids the issue by choosing the fifth option which is a juggler standing alone on stage deciding how to finish the show.


4×4: Ephemeral Architectures is presented as part of the London International Mime Festival





Vuong 10

Vuong 10, JW3, January 14

Kenny Wing Tao Ho and Maren Fidje Bjørneseth in Vuong 10 (photo ©Carole Edrich -

Kenny Wing Tao Ho and Maren Fidje Bjørneseth in Vuong 10 (photo ©Carole Edrich –

Vuong 10 is the creation of a core of choreographers and dancers who came together at King’s Place in 2013 on the occasion of the first evening of Randomworks curated by Wayne McGregor: Catarina Carvalho, Michael John Harper (both dancers with Wayne McGregor|Random Dance) and Nina Kov. They presented a short piece to music composed by Leafcutter John and violist Max Baillie called Vuong 10 and what we see this evening at JV3 is a development of that auspicious beginning with dancers Kenny Wing Tao Ho and Maren Fidje Bjørneseth. Of course in hindsight one could say that from this particular group something fascinating would surely evolve, but the process was probably not so clear (neither, if we discount the role of God, was the creation of the world). Seeing Vuong 10 on only its second outing (it premiered at Rich Mix in December) it is now evident that something rather remarkable did emerge from this collaboration, a kind of spark-made-flesh that thrills the imagination and challenges the ephemeral nature of dance. Given the primeval — rather than the proposed futuristic — content I feel the costumes by Bella Gonshorovitz are a little fussy; costumes that aim for a naked look can sometimes distract more than nakedness itself. The stage also appears too clean and the lighting by Karl Oskar Sørdall is constrained by this neutral staging, but there is no doubt about the movement language as interpreted by Bjørneseth and Wing Tao Ho: it has a visceral sense of entanglement and intrusion that is enthralling.

Vuong 10 is an intimate work both in subject matter — an exploration of the sense of touch at a time when it has been lost — and in its details: malleable facial gestures and frail, tendril-like fingernails like Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter. If you’re not up close you miss it. It is a work that is nevertheless complex in form, the overall arch of experience torn into fragments of intense physical exploration that may be movement or sound or both. As the publicity states, Vuong 10 is a contemporary music concert as well as a contemporary dance piece.

It is also a disquieting work, perhaps intentionally. From the very first image of the two dancers facing each other across the stage in silent, animated communication, we are not clear what relation they have. They could be Adam and Eve arguing or the last two beings left alive coming across one another by chance, trying to grapple with the unaccustomed act of meeting. Their physical vocabulary evolves in part from this contorted attempt at speech and in part from the windswept landscape of the score that acts as the exegetic soundtrack of their minds. Not knowing exactly how the task of creation was shared between the three choreographers, it is remarkable they found a coherent physical language to embody the score. Their courage to explore the musical language and the uncompromising presentation of their findings combine to make Vuong 10 an intoxicating, at times erotic experience, not least because Bjørneseth and Wing Tao Ho remove their own boundaries and inhibitions to express the rawness of the choreography. Wing Tao Ho’s solo, in particular, is the spark that lights the entire production. The conflagration from that spark would be, to put it mildly, mind-blowing. It doesn’t quite happen here, but Vuong 10 is pointing in a very exciting direction.

Dad Dancing

Dad Dancing, Battersea Arts Centre, November 13, 2014

The core cast of Dad Dancing including the elusive Andy Webb

Left to right: Adrian Heafford, Rosie Heafford, David Hemsley, Alexandrina Hemsley, Andy Webb and Helena Webb

There were two December performances in London about dads, quite different in scope but united in focus. One was Dad Dancing at the Battersea Arts Centre and the other was Giulio d’Anna’s Parkin’son at The Place (which I have written about when it was performed as part of the Sick! Festival in 2013). The former is about the relationship between three dancing daughters and their non-dancing fathers (though the fathers successfully challenged the non-dancing aspect) and the latter about the relationship between a dancing son and his non-dancing father who has Parkinsons. In both performances the dads are on stage (except for the choreographed absence of Andy Webb), and both works are beautifully crafted and emotionally charged. Dad Dancing sets out to highlight the positive aspects of the father-daughter relationship but in the process the dads reveal a sometimes vulnerable underside that is touchingly human. Parkin’son is built around a more combative relationship that nevertheless contains a mutual love and respect but after close to 100 national and international performances and the creeping effects of the disease, father and son have to consider winding down. I hope Dad Dancing has a shot at 100 performances because it opens up a dialogue with the public about fathers (whether present or absent); the candour of the discourse and the raw enthusiasm of the onstage dads are cathartic.

The form of Dad Dancing is loosely set up as a theme and variations. The opening theme is all the daughters (Rosie Heafford, Alexandrina Hemsley and Helena Webb) with their respective fathers, Adrian, David and Andy (Andy actually never appears except on film as he is working but his contribution is full of surprises). So there are three pairs of pointed feet and two pairs of not so pointed feet doing a little shuffling, heel-and-toe routine. They are well rehearsed and move pretty much in unison until it comes to bending forward.

In the next section, Andy in a filmed message asks for an understudy. No volunteers, but a unilateral choice by the cast. This was my moment; I had the honour that evening of being Andy Webb, to walk in his footsteps. Literally. I was given written instructions as to how many steps to take in answer to certain quantitative questions that are displayed on a card for the benefit of the audience. ‘How many times have you been married?’ I take one step forward; David to my left takes a few more. None of the girls move. ‘How many children have you had?’ Three steps for me. The girls are rooted to the spot. I can’t remember where David ended up. For ‘How many jobs have you had?’ my instructions are to walk to the front of the stage.

Now for the solo variations; one of the daughters chooses three pieces of music from their iTunes playlist so whoever is dancing has to improvise. David hasn’t danced since his days in the Royal Tank Regiment; not promising for a solo performance, but he takes to the stage with natural rhythm. Having completed his three variations — one jazzy, one classical and one dubstep — he capers off jauntily to a waiting chair.

Rosie, Alexandrina and Helena establish their credentials by dancing like leaping gazelles after which the local supporting cast of seventeen (of all ages) joins in a long line to relate anecdotes about their respective fathers (when I saw the preview of Dad Dancing there were only the principal five on stage with Andy still at work). This is where the Dad Dancing Project is like a touchstone; nobody speaks ill of their father but there are some notable gaps in some of the relationships. Dad Dancing started off as a small-scale collaboration between three dancers and their fathers, but it has developed into a social phenomenon that recognizes the role of fathers in the lives of their children even if they have been absent. Hearing these anecdotes provides a welcome moment to reflect on our own fathers.

Each dad dances his three variations (Andy is filmed) as does each of the girls. The most candid moment is when the dads talk about the birth of their daughter, a place in which humour mitigates their emotional recall. Helena calls Andy on speakerphone to share another personal memory: his reaction to her disclosing she had started using the pill. She told her dad first on the understanding he would tell her mother.

At one point the entire cast has prepared a card on which each has written his or her hope for their respective father. They stand in a line presenting these cards to the audience and read them aloud, one by one. It is what Roland Barthes might call the punctum of a photograph, the moment when Dad Dancing reaches its emotional pinnacle and draws the evening to what might be a close. But then Adrian rides his bike around the stage with a light on his helmet to talk about his work as a geologist. It is true he hasn’t had this opportunity like the other dads, but its place in the show makes it seem one story too many. After Adrian the full cast returns to the stage to dance and invites audience members to join. Many do, and there is a celebratory feeling in the room. We all have dads but not only is it uncommon for children to perform with them, it is similarly uncommon to see them honoured in this way. Dad Dancing should be a national campaign; a lot of good can come out of it.

Dad Dancing is a co-production between Second Hand Dance and Battersea Arts Centre, co-commissioned by Battersea Arts Centre and South East Dance. Supported by Arts Council England, The Thistle Trust, Awards for All and Wandsworth Council.


Royal Danish Ballet, Bournonville Celebration

Royal Danish Ballet, Bournonville Celebration, Peacock Theatre, January 9

Femke Slot in Napoli (not as seen at The Peacock). Photo © Costin Radu

Femke Slot in Napoli (not as seen at The Peacock). Photo © Costin Radu

To paraphrase a line from Hamlet, there is something not quite right in the state of Denmark. Watching dancers of the Royal Danish Ballet on Friday at the Peacock Theatre is a disappointment and it shouldn’t be. The nineteenth century repertory of August Bournonville is rarely seen here and the dancers are clearly at a high level of training (they are not all, as advertised, principals and soloists, but the two men from the corps de ballet — Sebastian Haynes and Andreas Kaas — are scheduled to dance Prince Siegfried later this year so while we might feel deceived by the marketing we shouldn’t be deceived by company categories).

The stage at the Peacock is tiny, a cramped recital space rather than a regally appointed opera house model. At the beginning of the evening, when the four women step on to the stage to begin A Folktale they look out of scale and there is no space for them to fully express the choreographic patterns, especially when the three men join the fray. I can’t imagine principals and soloists of the Royal Ballet performing in such a theatre in Copenhagen even if the city were unfortunate enough to have one. Neither is there any scenery for these primarily narrative ballets; a blue cyclorama just isn’t the way to present the Royal Danish Ballet dancing Bournonville in London after an absence of ten years. All the photos in the printed program show the company on a generous stage with a crowd of extras, romantic sets, and lighting to enhance all the elements. I don’t suppose the Royal Danish Theatre uses LEDs to light the stage, but the Peacock does. As if this amateur setting is not enough (let’s not mention the appalling quality of muffled sound) there is an injury to one of the principal men, Alban Lendorf, which must have happened close to the show time because adjusted cast lists were only available to latecomers. In the intricate art of partnering the sudden loss of one can mean the instability of both. It is one of the glories of Bournonville that male and female roles have equal billing and Kaas danced Lendorf’s role in the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano with assurance, but Diana Cuni seemed less at ease. By contrast, Marcin Kupinski (replacing Kaas) seemed to relish the opportunity to dance with Sebastian Haynes in Bournonville’s caricature of the English love of horse racing, Jockey Dance.

Bournonville’s choreography is notoriously difficult to master, and the expressive beats and jumps – particularly for the men – come across most successfully here, the strength in the legs balanced by the grace in the upper body. But mastery of the more humble steps — like the en-dedans turns that inevitably end a solo — prove more elusive. Evidently the works that are not disrupted by last-minute changes fare better. The second act of La Sylphide is where Gudrun Bojesen embodies the romantic spirit beautifully and Sorella Englund as Madge shows what mime can be even if you don’t understand the story. In the pas de trois from Conservatoire it is Ulrik Birkkjær who seems to relish the uplifting Bournonville style.

There are only twelve dancers in this touring group and in the final work, Act 3 of Napoli, there are twelve roles. Another effect of the injury to Lendorf is that he can’t be replaced. A change of cast notice that did make it into the program says that Birkkjær will replace Lendorf in Napoli, but Birkkjær is already in it. Lots of shuffling around, perhaps at the last minute with little or no time to rehearse, is destabilizing and the evening’s performance of this upbeat work suffers from a lack of cohesion and confidence.

Let’s put the disappointment down to a bad day; they happen. And let us hope performances are better this evening and that the full company can return to London in circumstances more befitting its stature. Nevertheless, this is evidently a show on a shoestring (not, however, reflected in the ticket prices) on a tour managed by the already overburdened Birkkjær, that does not do justice either to the dancers or to the rich tradition of Bournonville himself. Somewhere in the wings perhaps his ghost is trying to squeeze by.


PS  It escaped my attention that Alban Lendorf was dancing Swan Lake just down the road at the Coliseum with Tamara Rojo and English National Ballet the night before. His appearance as guest artist had been announced the previous September so were the Bournonville Celebration dates in London arranged around his appearances with ENB or the other way round? Either way, this was bad planning for the Danish dancers, but not for ENB: Lendorf was unable to dance in the three Bournonville performances but he partnered Rojo again on January 14 and 17.

Rambert New Choreography

Rambert New Choreographers, The Place, December 16

Dane Hurst in O'dabo (photo: John Ross)

Dane Hurst in O’dabo (photo: John Ross)

A student handed in a paper to his professor. The next time the professor saw the student he asked him if he considered the paper the best he could have done. Nonplussed, the student reflected, re-read his text, made some changes and re-submitted the paper the following day. When the professor saw him again he asked the same question. The student thought he must have missed something and decided to rework the paper one final time. On submitting it again, and faced with the same question, he replied with conviction, “Yes, sir.” “Then I will read it,” responded the professor.

A ticket-paying member of an audience, like the professor, has a similar expectation of the work he or she is about to see. Even if the performance comprises new choreography from dancers within a company trying their hand at the form, one wants to see works that have found their final form. Works that are still in a process of evolution should remain in the studio or be shown in an open rehearsal. As the evening in question involves Rambert, what excuse could possibly be wanting to open the doors of their new home for such a purpose?

Of five works on the program at The Place, only one has found its form, and that is Dane Hurst’s paean to Nelson Mandela, O’dabo. The other four, for all their crafting, are closer to sketches: interesting only in the context of the final form but as the final form they lose their cogency. Artistic Director of Rambert, Mark Baldwin, explains at the beginning of the evening that this annual platform is a necessary step for aspiring choreographers within the company towards making work for the main stage. Patricia Okenwa, who is working towards her first commission for the company in 2016, admits in her program notes that No. 1 Convergence is a process, but this is not her first attempt at choreography; she is experienced in this program and should, with a commission in the offing, be closer to bringing the parts of No. 1 Convergence into a formal unity. Choreographed on six dancers, the convergence of patterns is evident but the convergence of overall form is not.

Luke Ahmet’s duet Unspoken Dialect starts from an interesting premise of making internal dialogue visible, but it is a premise that lends itself more to a solo than to a duet. Adam Blyde and Carolyn Bolton in effect perform two solos that happen to intersect on the same stage at the same time. They are both striking dancers but the reason for them dancing together is missing and this detracts from the ideas Ahmet sets out to develop.

Some ideas for choreography seem destined not to translate and Simone Damberg Würtz’s RIFT, based on an old ad from her native Denmark illustrating the fatal consequences of not wearing a seatbelt whilst driving is a case in point. It might have helped to create the aural impact of a crash to set a clear, dramatic context, but instead Damberg Würtz takes an existential idea of ‘the unshakeable sense of guilt a death can have on the conscience’ on which to base her physical exploration. Such cerebral concerns reduce dance space and time in RIFT to a stillness unrelieved by an accompanying Danish text that, if it has significance for Damberg Würtz, is not shared with those of us in the audience who don’t understand Danish.

It is in Pierre Tappon’s Related that a clear choreographic idea begins to develop between the trio of Liam Francis, Antonia Hewitt and Stephen Wright. Tappon calls it a short story and sets up a stage of symbolic sculptural elements — a rock-like doorway and pedestal — on which and around which the characters dance. In the story, Hewitt appears to be a siren whose initial allure fails to win over the two men, perhaps because it is Francis who demonstrates a palpable allure in the fluidity of his dancing and the movement he is given to explore.

Hurst explains O’dabo (a Yoruba expression meaning ‘until I return’ or ‘goodbye’) as ‘a physical reaction to my reflections on the many faces of Nelson Mandela.’ Hurst, who was brought up in South Africa, has made the country his focus once before (The Window) in a Rambert choreographic evening, and his connection with his subject is visceral; his inspiration flows not only into his movement but through all the elements of the work — the first movement of Paul Gladstone Reid’s Symphony of Dust and Air, the richly coloured carpets laid out so carefully, Lucy Hansom’s lighting and Hurst’s costume of cloth and powder. He expresses in his body what he imagines it is like to build hope, to have a vision, to counter frailty, face defeat and emerge victorious and he has the courage to keep his choreographic language close to the ground, transforming his internal conviction into the physical symbolism of Mandela’s journey. This transformation breaks down only when Hurst defaults to classical technique in the form of turns and barrel rolls that appear more about the dancer than the master. If he can develop the early imagery and follow it through to its apotheosis rather than borrowing from a foreign idiom, O’dabo will gain in cohesion, something Mandela himself championed.


International Exposure 2014, Tel-Aviv

International Exposure 2014

I am very grateful to Hillel Kogan who initially suggested I attend this festival and to Rachel Grodjinowsky of the Suzanne Dellal Centre for making it possible.

Anyone among London dance audiences who may feel (like me) they know Israeli dance through the works of Israeli choreographers presented in the UK may well have been astonished by the wealth of imagination and beauty on display at International Exposure 2014 in Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theater* at the beginning of December. Open to the world, International Exposure is a showcase of new choreographic work by Israeli choreographers living in Israel.

Culture defines the way we imagine a country and the view of Israel culled from the works I have seen by Hofesh Shechter, Itzik Galili and Uri Ivgi is one of tension and oppression, an image corroborated by news reports of violence and political intransigence. I was expecting to see more of this kind of choreography in Tel Aviv but the first evening of works by Ohad Naharin, Project Secus, for the Batsheva Ensemble shows Israeli dance has moved on. Yes, there is an intensity in the work but one that comes from the dancers, and the tension is in the dynamics of the choreography. Each of the four works demonstrates the fluidity of the dancers’ bodies and the poetic imagination of Naharin, although the final work, Secus, caps them all with its sensuality and complexity. With Tel Aviv enjoying a late summer I felt I had landed in paradise.

There is an irony here: a predominantly oppressive choreographic output from Israeli choreographers living outside the country while choreographers inside it are creating works in which the freshness comes from the very desire to find a way through the darkness to a place of light. Apart from Naharin’s Project Secus, there are Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company’s Wallflower (created for Tel Aviv Art Museum’s sculpture gallery), Vertigo Dance Company’s Reshima, Dafi Dance Group’s In-Dependent and the lovely duet by Iris Erez, I’ll be right back. In other works this sense of light is enhanced by a keen sense of humour. Idan Sharabi presents a duet, Ours, that is choreographed to four of Joni Mitchell’s songs and to a witty stream of consciousness that relishes the absurd. Yossi Berg and Odad Graf’s 4 Men, Alice, Bach and the Deer seems to graft gaga with Monty Python; Hillel Kogan’s ability to carry the text to its illogical conclusion is brilliant (Kogan’s own satirical We Love Arabs was shown at the festival last year). Shani Gravot and Nevo Romano’s wry An Hour with All-Eaters includes fragments of a Bach partita in a simulation of a ‘one-hour visit to an archaeological site’ exploring the intimate landscape of their two naked bodies while Maria Kong overlays a talk-show format on a Buster Keaton soundtrack to produce perhaps the most surreal experience of the festival.

Interestingly, where choreographers choose to express violence and darkness the work is not entirely successful even if the experience of the dancers gives their performance a certain authority. The young woman who lectures the audience on sniper training in Kolben Dance Company’s Charlie Mandelbaum was indeed a sniper instructor during her military service, but the work as a whole wallows in its sense of angst. Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Killer Pig has an odd balance between its dark, menacing poetry and the sensual beauty of the movement; its subject is ambivalent but it is mesmerizing, especially in the nightclub atmosphere of Reading 3 in Tel Aviv Port where the dancers commanded total silence from the packed crowd. One work that approaches violence from a different angle is Noa Dar’s Skin. Dar takes skin as a metaphor for protective boundaries that can be subjected to endless aggression; the analogy is clear but in placing the audience around the performance ring in which the four dancers spar in brutal, unrelenting combat Dar creates a clear division between performance and reality that abstracts the violence without compromising its visceral charge.

A recent work by Ohad Naharin, The Hole, for the Batsheva company is performed in their studio in which an octagonal platform has been built that leaves space for a few rows of chairs around it and a raised corridor behind the audience on which the men begin the dramatic opening of the dance. Much of Israeli dance is built on the circle, and here the audience is also in the round, setting up an intense spatial dynamic with the dancers. The women emerge from under the platform and return at intervals while the men descend and return to the grid above the performance space. Rich in symbolism, spectacular in effect, The Hole is like a vortex that draws in the audience to its mystery.

Three works at the festival were created for museum spaces, though only one, Dana Ruttenberg’s delightful NABA 2 is performed in the setting for which it was designed. Choreographed for four performers dressed as gallery attendants (the real ones are also in attendance) it references with succinctness and wit both the art works on display in adjacent galleries and the imagined relationships they suggest. Wallflower is presented on a stage that resembles two white walls of a museum space, and Jasmeen Godder shows her choreographic research for CLIMAX in her studio in which we are as much participants as observers.

One choreographer stands out for his uncompromising stance: Arkadi Zaides interprets Julia Wolfe’s string quartet Dig Deep, but he chooses not to compete with the musicians or the music. Instead he sits ruminating on the side of the performance space while the quartet plays within its architecture of lamps, metal music stands and chairs. Once the quartet has finished, the members change places with Zaides who then begins his Response to ‘Dig Deep’. If Wolfe’s score is stormy, Zaides is the eye of the storm, his gaze searching in silence for the currents of the music and responding with undulations and circles within his body to what the musicians expressed with the dynamics of their bows on taut strings. It is this kind of visceral approach that imbues two other of Zaides’ works (not seen at the festival) that received a Critics Circle award the following evening: Archive and Capture Practice in which Zaides throws himself into the action of projected films (from the human rights organization B’Tselem) of Jewish soldiers and settlers attacking Palestinian residents in the Occupied Territories. They are works of choreographic outrage and indicate the presence within the cultural community of forces that are actively protesting the government’s hard line.

There are also shorter works, some complete and some in the process of development though it is not always easy to distinguish to which state they belong. Uri Shafir’s Fail Better is a cerebral view of the limitations imposed on the dancing body by ageing, but it reduces the dancing to a level of the absurd (the title comes from a quote by Beckett) that leaves little room for hope. Other works address in differing metaphors the issue of relationships and their consequences: boundaries, separation, independence and dependence. Sharon Vazanna’s Transparent Borders is particularly convincing and both Noa Shadur’s Shifters and Nadar Rosano’s Off-Line are rich choreographic ideas that feature compelling performances (Adi Boutrous in the former and Stav Stuz in the latter). Roy Assaf’s GIRLS (the full version) carries the least complicated program note (‘Five dancers in leotards dancing a dance’) that belies its sensual juxtaposition of innocence and experience.

At the heart of the festival are the dancers, who bring all the choreographic works alive with such remarkable passion and fluency (gaga, the training technique developed by Naharin, is a central influence). Those who stand out are the young man who dances a solo at the very end of Secus as the lights began to fade who has the dynamics of a Francis Bacon painting carved in space; Ofir Yudilevitch who dances in three contrasting works with unaffected eloquence; the intensity of Mor Nardimon in Skin, and the sultry calm of Olivia Court Mesa in Dafi Altabeb’s In-Dependent. If Barrack Marshall’s Wonderland relies as much on an eclectic list of musical tracks as choreographic invention to convey emotions, he has in Inbar Nemirovsky a dancer who turns everything he does into beauty. She is musical, intelligent and has that rich plastic quality of the Batsheva diaspora.

International Exposure has been an opportunity to begin to connect the dots in Israeli dance, from Rudolph Laban and German expressionist influence to Martha Graham to Ohad Naharin and gaga. If you read Hebrew or German, Gaby Aldor has gathered this research in a book that is waiting to be translated into English. Aldor is adviser to Talia Amar, curator of a remarkable exhibition, Out of the Circle: The Art of Dance in Israel, currently in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that features a wealth of archival material. Not only does it suggest that archival film has an enduring power to inspire but it celebrates the roots on which International Exposure is based.

Unfortunately there are no presenters from the UK at this year’s event, but hopefully the image of Israeli dance in London will not have to wait too long for its next update.


*The Suzanne Dellal centre, named after the daughter of a wealthy family in London who died too young, houses the two Batsheva companies as well as the Inbal Dance Theatre of which Barack Marshall is the new artistic director. The death of Suzanne Dellal has thus become a catalyst for a flourishing dance centre, directed for the past 25 years by a former dancer with Rambert and founder of Dance City, Yair Vardi.




Phoenix Dance Theatre: Mixed Programme 2014

Phoenix Dance Theatre in Darshan Singh Bhuller's Mapping (photo: Tony Nandi)

Phoenix Dance Theatre in Darshan Singh Bhuller’s Mapping (photo: Tony Nandi)

Phoenix Dance Theatre, Mixed programme, Linbury Studio Theatre, November 27


Christopher Bruce opens Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Mixed programme 2014 with Shift, choreographed to the last movement of Kenji Bunch’s Swing Shift. Although Bruce cuts this movement from its musical context he makes something complete and beautiful within it. In the present critical environment where length is an issue, it is too short. In its brief eight minutes Bruce creates a suite of lyrical dances for six dancers in 40’s costumes (from Bruce’s own wardrobe) like a letter written home in an effusive, youthful handwriting: Dear Mum and Dad, guess what we did today… There is that breathless quality of pure enjoyment mixed with images of daily toil that flow effortlessly through the dancers’ bodies as if the choreography was made on them (Bruce created Shift in 2007 and it has only just entered the Phoenix repertory). It doesn’t harm the piece either that the lighting is by John B Read who illuminates the movement as if from the inside. There’s another shade of Bruce in his next work, Shadows, to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for violin and piano. “To me, many of Arvo Pärt’s compositions evoke images of a European history and tradition steeped in over a thousand years of human experience and, frequently, suffering. These themes, and particularly the turbulence of twentieth century events, have influenced my reaction to his work.” In giving his reactions to the music colour and form (aided again by Read’s lighting), Bruce makes the music visible. Shadows describes the effect of an unseen external menace on the members of a family of four. There is a sense of sympathy and compassion, and in choosing Sam Vaherlehto as the father, Sandrine Monin as the mother, Vanessa Vince Pang as the daughter and Andreas Grimaldier as the son Bruce confers his emotional understanding with confidence. ‘The poetry is in the pity’ wrote Wilfred Owen in a preface to his war poems and in Shadows both the choreography and the music are in the tragedy of impending upheaval.

The same cannot be said for Ivgi & Greben’s Document. Set to music by Tom Parkinson the work purports to ‘see five dancers grappling with the darkest aspects of human emotion.’ I am taking a wild guess here, but I don’t think either Uri Ivgi or Johan Greben have experienced the darkest aspects of human emotion closely enough to begin to choreograph them. Instead we see an approximation of what they imagine it might look like which resembles uncannily the vision of other choreographers searching for a similarly degenerate scenario. The dancers work really hard making the shapes but Document fails to reach beneath the surface.

I should confess that I have just finished performing a piece that Darshan Singh Bhuller choreographed recently for Gravity & Levity called Rites of War, so some of his preoccupations in Mapping like the radio-controlled device and the camera on stage projecting live images on to a screen are familiar. According to Bhuller, the work is inspired by his father’s move from East to West, though travel is only suggested in the opening. The musical mapping follows a parallel trajectory though the choreography is firmly in the west. Bhuller loves clean shapes and it is no surprise that he chooses Ben Mitchell to carve out a lovely arabesque line as he strides like a colossus over the tiny blue globe that races around and through his legs. Circles form a predominant theme in Mapping and in the centre of the sweeping, swirling forms is Sam Vaherlehto as a young explorer with camera in hand (perhaps Bhuller sending selfies to his father) quoting from the nuptial pyramid in Nijinska’s Les Noces. Vaherlehto seems to draw around him the other solos (Monin in particular has a lovely lyrical quality), duets and trios like a benevolent progenitor. He also has a sense of humour and thinks up a wonderful game. Laying down a line of white tape, he instructs his friends to lie on the floor with their feet or hands or heads on the tape. It would not be that interesting for the audience but a camera is placed high above the stage so the floor becomes vertical in its projection on the screen (see Tony Nandi’s photograph above). The game turns into a flight of fancy that sees dancers tumbling impossibly through the air to land effortlessly on their feet and hands, an acrobatic illusion that has the audience in thrall. The whole episode has a high feel-good factor mapping perhaps Bhuller’s own return from west to east.


Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance

Thomas Adès, See the Music, Hear the Dance, Sadler’s Wells, November 1

Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance (Design: AKA, photo: Johan Persson)

Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance (Design: AKA, photo: Johan Persson)

The subtitle of this evening’s celebration of the music of Thomas Adès — the second in Sadler’s Wells’ Composer Series — is where dance and music share their inherent qualities: See the Music, Hear the Dance. Such complementarity, however, can be elusive and this evening is no exception. With Wayne McGregor, whose Outlier (to Adès’ violin concerto, Concentric Paths) opens the evening, it is not so much the music we see as the space in which he develops his signature physical dynamics, a visual environment in which dance, set design and lighting take precedence over the music. Lucy Carter is here credited with both lighting and set design and it is her symbolic concentric motif that provides a visual link to Adès’ score rather than the dance. Created for New York City Ballet, Outlier opens with a quintet of dancers that is subdivided into a trio with a duet, two duets with a solo and a duet with a trio that remains motionless. In the second movement, Thomas Gould’s solo violin sings above the turbulence of the orchestra while the choreography for a trio of dancers hits some turbulence of its own in clumsy lifts and interlocking partnering between the two men. Nine dancers start the third movement in three trios glued one behind the other dancing in canon. Carter’s circles yield to a rectangle of light framing a duet to the solo violin that the other seven watch in silhouette. There is a final visual image of a white circle of light on the stage into which a dancer steps with the last splash of the violin.

Karole Armitage chooses Adès’ Life Story set to a poem of the same name by Tennessee Williams. There is a grand piano on stage with the soprano Claire Booth dazzling in sequins standing against it and Adès at the keyboard. Booth’s lovely soprano voice sings of the lazy aftermath of a first encounter between two lovers (danced by Emily Wagner and Ruka Hatua-Saar) lying on a bed ‘like rag dolls’ telling their life stories. It is not a context that immediately suggests pointe shoes and when one of Wagner’s shoes slips off her heel early in Life Story the intimacy of the setting is unforgiving. The classical vocabulary fails to find a correspondence with the jazzy score and the final manège to the line about people burning to death in hotel rooms just throws Williams’ cautionary tale to the wings.

Alexander Whitely created The Grit of the Oyster to Adès’ Piano Quintet. Both choreographer and composer are on stage in their respective dual roles and for the first time this evening the music and dance are in harmony. The Grit of the Oyster is a trio with three lyrical dancers (Whitely, Antonette Dayrit and Jessica Andrenacci) on a white rectangle of floor while the quintet plays behind. The lighting has the murkiness of an oyster bed with lime-green and blue costumes, but the fluidity of the choreography shines, particularly in Dayrit’s solos. During a turbulent musical passage she takes off her green top and puts on a white one, becoming a pearl. Whitely and Andrenacci return for a duet and at the opening of the third movement the trio whip through a fast section in unison. Dayrit dances one final, beautiful solo that leaves the musical line floating as the light fades.

Adès’ Polaris is a huge orchestral work and Crystal Pite responds with a cast of 64 dancers in superbly designed identical black costumes (by Linda Chow) that leave only the face and hands bare. An articulated mass of curved, crustaceous black bodies with hands like dead leaves slithers on to the stage in silence like a menacing, malevolent energy. It becomes a circle with heads rising and descending again before it unravels and moves across the space with the addition of a circular wave formation. Still the music hasn’t started, but when it does Pite has prepared us; we have already seen it. Pite fills the stage in the same way the music fills our ears; here at last is a complete expression of See the Music, Hear the Dance. The mass retreats leaving two figures like flotsam on the beach who struggle to remain attached until they are ripped apart by invisible forces. For the individual roles Pite uses six dancers from her own company, Kidd Pivot, and they are mesmerizing in their control of the details and dynamics of the choreography. The mass is an elemental force crossing like tectonic plates or two massed armies confronting one another, and the sextet rises above it like instruments above the orchestral turmoil. At one point all 64 dancers form a single entity, crouching with arms to the side, hands pointing to the floor. All we see is the fingers quivering but the image is one of powerful kinetic energy. Pite’s artistic control over the stage elements — choreography, costumes, lighting (by Thomas Visser) and backdrop (by Jay Gower Taylor) — corresponds to the way Adès controls the instrumentation and the Britten Sinfonia he is conducting: Polaris is a confluence of two imaginations in tune with each other. On the final musical crescendo Adès’ hand is caught in the light as it rises above the pit, his finger pointing upwards like a blessing or a warning. The dancers halt and suddenly all that energy discharges into the audience as a storm of applause.

La Veronal: Siena

La Veronal: Siena, Dance Umbrella, Queen Elizabeth Hall, October 30

Titian's Venus of Urbino

Titian’s Venus of Urbino

Major art exhibitions often borrow works from museums around the world, but the Barcelona company La Veronal seems to have borrowed an entire room from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in which hangs Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Our seats in the Queen Elizabeth Hall are as it were behind a glass wall peering into the space. The details of the room are meticulously reproduced (courtesy of La Veronal and Enric Planas): benches facing the painting, a small descriptive plaque on the wall to its right, an attendant’s stool between the plaque and the doorway through which we see a corridor with red carpeting. The walls of the gallery rise to a classical cornice, and the lighting is diffuse with a soft spotlight on the face of Venus. The only thing missing is the ubiquitous audio guide though there are two recorded audio commentaries spliced into the score. Audio guides influence the way we see a work, but without the guide we may miss some useful context; it’s a choice we make each time we attend an exhibition. In Siena, there is no choice. Marcos Morau, director and choreographer of La Veronal, choses to provide a lot of recorded and spoken text (by Pablo Gisbert) but he strings it together in such a way that makes understanding problematic.

More dreamlike than rational, more abstract than logical, Siena is billed as ‘a haunting reflection on art and the human body (that) takes us on a journey through the history of art from Titian’s Venus of Urbino to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.’ That’s a long way to travel in an hour and almost impossible to digest in a single viewing. What comes through Morau’s dense layering of art, cinema and dance is a preoccupation with the nude female body as art object and with representation as a form of death. The result is a visually rich feast of symbols and images in which intellectual threads are undeniably present but woven in such a way as to be constantly unraveling. It makes you want to reach for an audio guide.

Manuel Rodríguez, an elongated, angular El Greco figure, brings the gallery to life as he enters through the doorway in a buttoned black suit, green shirt and red tie. He is both attendant and master of ceremonies, using his long limbs and torso to conduct events, knotting himself into tortured shapes and giving directions with equal facility. He turns to look at the painting. A blackout serves as a cinematic cut to a woman-in-green (Cristina Facco) sitting on a bench in front of the Venus. Rodríguez looks at her looking at the painting. Two fencers minus their rapiers enter, bow to each other and commence a danced duel of sharp thrusts and jabs. Rodríguez now serves as umpire to the duel. What are two fencers doing dueling in the Uffizi? We don’t know, but we are visually drawn in by the superimposition of images. A hospital bed with a body bag is wheeled into the gallery, an image of clinical mortality that runs throughout the work. Facco gets up from the bench, lies down on the bed and zips herself up in the bag. The fencers finish and wheel her off, waving goodbye like two astronauts about to enter their capsule. The young woman who wheeled in the bed now takes Facco’s place in front of the painting. The attendant looks at the lap dog in the painting with some interest. Sau-Ching Wong lies on the floor like Venus in a fencing outfit and talks about the constant mystery of seeing the naked female body over the centuries. A young woman undresses in the corner like Venus herself in contemporary form and lies on the gallery floor. Death stalks once again in the form of the hospital bed passing along the corridor.

Now that Morau has set out the central themes of death and representation, he plays with the elements in flashbacks, monologues (in Italian with English surtitles), two audio guide commentaries and a duet to the voices (so I was told) of Mussolini and Berlusconi. Adding these layers is one thing, but connecting them and bringing them to some kind of formal resolution is quite another. Morau’s poetry falters in a rather literal ripping out of the Titian canvas to reveal a funeral parlour and coffin (with Facco laid out) behind, while Rodríguez as a figure of death dressed in a shiny gray bodysuit looks as if he has climbed out of the pages of a comic book — a crude climax to the trajectory from Eros to Thanatos.

Siena is made up of so many fragmented, interacting episodes it is difficult to find a unifying element, unless we make Morau’s imagination the source — Siena as a kind of unintended autobiography. What does unite the entire work, however, is the sumptuous lighting (again a collaboration of La Veronal and Enric Planas) as one might expect from a director with roots in cinema and photography: the triumph of the visual over the intellectual.