Peter Wright, Wrights & Wrongs, My Life in Dance

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

Peter Wright, Wrights and Wrongs, Oberon Press         

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Herstory, Hairstory, History: A portrait of Uchenna Dance

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

Herstory Hairstory History: A Portrait of Uchenna Dance

Uchenna Dance in the studio (photo: Ian Abbott)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

One of Janis Claxton's Popup Duets (photo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Akademi, Staycation/Vacation

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

Akademi, Staycation/Vacation, Rich Mix, July 15

Kesha Raithatha in Traces (photo: Simon Richardson)

Kesha Raithatha in Traces (photo: Simon Richardson)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Self Revealed

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

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

Skye Reynolds in Pitch (photo: Lucas Kao)

Skye Reynolds in Pitch (photo: Lucas Kao)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre

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

Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre, July 28

A Positive Life_1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An introduction to Groundwork Pro in Cardiff

Posted: August 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on An introduction to Groundwork Pro in Cardiff

A multi-modal introduction to Groundwork Pro, Chapter, June 8

Groundwork Pro, working from the group up (photo: James Merryweather)

Groundwork Pro, working from the ground up (photo: James Merryweather)

When a young Gillian Lynn was taken by her mother to see a psychiatrist to assess her ability to learn, the wise man observed to her mother there was nothing wrong with her: she just needed to dance. Fortunately her mother followed his advice and Lynn found to her amazement that at dance school there were other kids who could not sit still; they had to dance in order to think.

Joanna Young and Deborah Light took this notion on board in their inaugural session of Groundwork Pro, a new Cardiff-based, artist-led collective, on the final day of Dance Roads at Chapter in Cardiff. The confluence of this workshop with Dance Roads, featuring dancers from five EU countries, was not coincidental. Referencing the cultural state of affairs the EU referendum threatened to affect, Young and Light titled it, Are We Independent or Interdependent Artists?

By definition ‘independent’ means free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority. In purely artistic terms each artist in the room is independent. But when training, performing opportunities and funding structures are taken into account, the notion of independence is no longer sufficient. A dance infrastructure in which artists can grow and thrive together in a relation of interdependence is necessary. The EU itself is an interdependent infrastructure in the political sphere and the result of the UK referendum has underlined just how fragile and volatile such a structure can be. There is nothing natural about any social structure; it is constructed according to the wishes and the constraints of the people it sets out to serve. It has to remain relevant. This in itself creates interdependence not as a requirement but as an effect of careful, continued planning. When the structure no longer serves the needs of its community, its effectiveness is diminished. By inviting artists in Wales to meet with their international peers from France, Holland, Italy and Roumania in a physical workshop, Young and Light wanted to provide an opportunity for open exchange, provocative questions and play, through which they hoped to clarify a basis on which to build a thriving dance community in Wales.

Because dancers use their bodies to think, Young and Light devised ways to articulate ideas in movement. Walking around the room is one way, loosening up our interactions with people we may not know; or by choosing three objects in the room and placing them somewhere inside the circle we have made, stating why that particular object and why that particular place. Humour arises from this kind of interaction and humour is a potent means of breaking down barriers. Closing our eyes and walking slowly from one end of the room to the other involves trust and group coordination. No strategies were formed during these exercises but we were becoming a unified group and when we were asked questions by Young or Light the responses and the freedom with which they were expressed were revelatory. We wrote phrases on long pieces of paper, or we called out an idea that someone else noted down. Discussing together whilst sitting on the floor was another strategy (this is groundwork after all). The process was like performing a guided improvisation. Actually it was a guided improvisation in which our moves and expressions formed the content of the work.

Groundwork Pro is an experiment, currently running a 6-month pilot. Its aim is to create a hub of activities in Cardiff that allow dancers and choreographers to develop their art as a community while connecting with developments in the UK and internationally. Activities include classes — teaching will be shared between Wales-based artists and their UK and international counterparts — and performances. Groundwork Pro also wants to highlight the work of practitioners in Wales and to provide artists with paid work that sustains and nourishes their practice. Supported by Coreo Cymru and Chapter in terms of studio space, reduced ticket prices and other support in kind, Groundwork Pro is funded by Arts Council Wales which allows assistance to Wales-based artists for travel, accommodation, access needs and childcare, as needed. Artists from outside Wales are welcome to attend events but the access fund is limited to Wales-based artists.

Groundwork Pro is now creating the opportunities that fulfill what the participants in the room felt were important. Such a structure is fragile, and in a sense needs to remain fragile to be able to respond to new demands, new directions, to keep alive the interdependence. It is equally vital that the participants, or members, of Groundwork Pro, support it actively and creatively so it doesn’t become a co-dependence. There will be ups and downs, but this is groundbreaking, as in laying the foundations for a new structure. What is built on this new structure will be the fruit of not just the initial meeting but of all the interactions and activities created for the purpose of nurturing the dance community in Cardiff and in all of Wales.

The Groundwork Pro team is Joanna Young, Chloe Loftus, Jessie Brett, Beth Powlesland and Deborah Light. For more information on activities and schedules, visit www.groundworkpro.com.


Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: hip hop culture

Posted: August 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: hip hop culture

Smother by 201 Dance Company, Skal by Lin Dylin and Bang! To The Heart by NUE Dance Company, Edinburgh Fringe, August 8 & 9

Smother by 201 Dance Company (photo: Cody Choi)

Smother by 201 Dance Company (photo: Cody Choi)

Our historical experience teaches us that men imitate one another, that their attitudes are statistically calculable, their opinions manipulable, and that man is therefore less an individual than an element in a mass.” – Milan Kundera

How do you translate a culture? West Side Story was a concept musical based on Romeo and Juliet that Jerome Robbins proposed to Leonard Bernstein in January 1949. It took another six years before playwright Arthur Laurents came up with the idea of two teenage gangs as the warring factions, one of them Puerto Rican, the other self-styled Americans. In November of the same year Stephen Sondheim joined the project as a lyricist and in August 1957 the stage version of West Side Story premiered in Washington D.C., with the film version released in October 1961. Successful translations take time to gestate, brew, fade and re-shape.

Feuding rivalries and gang culture are older than Shakespeare and it is within the embrace of West Side Story via the 90’s Sega Megadrive video game Streets of Rage that NUE Dance Company’s Bang! To The Heart resides. Heralding from Italy and presenting in the main space at Zoo, Bang! To The Heart offers the audience a large-scale, 60-minute work with 10 dancers, a complex set, multiple projections and an original soundtrack. The narrative premise is an exact replica of West Side Story – we have the Angels (Sharks) vs Zombies (Jets) fighting for supremacy; a gang member falls for a girl, loses the respect of his allies and has to make a decision whether to follow his heart or go back to his brothers. However, it is here that the similarities end as Bang! To The Heart is a graffiti cartoon fuelled with parkour bounding, a late night riot of outrageous bboy skills and facial exaggeration. With a number of distracting side panel screens projecting fluorescent animations of bodies glitching through an urban cityscape, the main focus lands on two large, reversible, wheeled walls that offer retractable ledges, staircases and scaffolding that allow the dancers to climb, bounce and launch themselves with consistent frequency. Rattling from scene to scene, face-off to face-off, the bboying is some of the best I’ve seen; extreme flexibility and strength sees crazy hollow backs, air flares and a whole suitcase of other power moves that wouldn’t be out of place at the bboy championships. It is physically impressive and the stamina is unrelenting; even in the last ten minutes with glistening brows none of the moves lose their edge. However, it isn’t all macho posturing. There are three female dancers who’s role is little more than moving wallpaper and street dance sirens calling to the bboys with their bodies; they are lifted and thrown around with brute force; without safe practice, damage to their bodies looks likely. Just because the bboys are at ease pushing the limits of their own physicality they should not jeopardise the safety of others within the company. With so much technical skill in the cast and heavy investment in production values, the company would benefit from a dramaturgical hand, otherwise Bang! To The Heart will fill its 22:20 kitsch slot and remain a slavish West Side Story imitation with lashings of bboy talent.

If you’re not messing up every now and then at practice, you’re not doing anything above your ability to progress.” – Crazy Legs

How do you adapt a culture? Baz Luhrmann, the director of Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge, Australia and Romeo and Juliet has just released The Get Down for Netflix, a glossy technicolour and romanticised fable on the birth of hip hop in the summer of 1977 in the Bronx. 12 episodes made for $120 million. The first six episodes are woven around a pair of young lovers who through music try to better themselves and move away from the culture and people that forged their personalities and life experience to date. With all four elements of hip hop — mc’ing, b-boying, graffiti, dj’ing — and plenty of Puma on show, Luhrmann integrates shots of original news footage in an attempt to transport us back to the Bronx, but at it’s heart, it’s a pond skimmer: dancing on top, unwilling to break the surface and burrow beneath a rich, politicised and complex culture.

Skal is a twenty-five minute work exploring macho culture within hip hop by the Swedish duo of Pontus Linder and Olov Ylinenpää (aka Lin Dylin). Dance Base presented Skal as part of Nord Dance, its festival of Scandinavian work, in November 2015 which is where I first saw it. After a second viewing I notice the visibility of child-like play and a depth of nostalgia that permeates the work. Linder and Ylinenpää start upstage seated on a picnic rug decorated with plants, records, soft furnishings and a slide projector. They oscillate between this quiet reflective space (which leaves the audience with little spectacle but the mundane re-arrangement of records or the watering of a plant) and the stage — the place where they play. Choreographically they’re reconfiguring windmills, belly swipes and air flares, slowing them down so we’re able to dissect them: we see battle tricks in duet and solo form broken down to reveal when momentum gathers and where delicate weight shifts take place. In a form that rewards either dizzying speed or precision freezes, Skal attempts to adapt the original into an alternative choreographic language; imagine bboys in treacle.

As two performers who are still active on the battle scene, Linder and Ylinenpää represent different sides of the bboy coin; Linder holds his footwork in high esteem, stylishly tinkering at the edges of the melodies whilst Ylinenpää is all power moves and physical prowess. There’s a comfort and unspoken solitude between them on stage and this settles in between the gaps of performance. When they return to the rug and strike up the slide projector we see a series of kaleidoscopic amorphous shapes oozing and lolling around. Silence and space are a rare presence in the hip hop world and consequently these 25 minutes feel unusual, which I appreciate; Skal is a quiet study of the bboy and Lin Dylin happily inverts the tropes that are usually associated with it to create a balanced and playful simplicity.

Our pleasures are not material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure — attractively packaged but inferior in content.” – Alan W Watts

In the UK there are a number of artists who frame themselves as making dance/theatre that uses hip hop as their primary movement language whilst mixing other styles and influences; Vicki Igbokwe, Botis Seva, Tony Adigun, Emma Jayne Park, Benji Reid and Robby Graham — a by no means an exhaustive list — are artists who are sensitive to the origins of hip hop, offer ambitious narratives for their audiences to engage with and have been pursuing theatrical presentations of their work for the last decade or more.

How do you dilute a culture? Smother by 201 Dance Company returns to the Fringe after a successful run last year that saw the company hoovering up a number of 4-star and 5-star reviews from EdFest Magazine, Broadway Baby and Scotsgay. Housed on the main stage at Zoo, the company of seven dancers explores the story of two men’s broken encounter whilst touching on the themes of addiction, obsession and commitment. 201 presents homosexual relationships in hip hop as sensitive territory but if you consider the history of hip hop and the funk styles of waacking, voguing and the balls that emerged in the late 70s and continue today there has been consistent and active communities within hip hop that are not defined by their sexuality. These communities kept themselves underground because of the intolerance of others to accept different types of bodies and beliefs; inside and outside hip hop the prejudices they encountered are still alive today, and I’m unsure whether attitudes are thawing or not.

Artistic director, choreographer and dancer Andrea Walker is to be applauded for attempting to explore this area as few in the UK have done so to date. However, for over 55 minutes we are presented with a number of low-quality commercial street dance routines — truncated to match the length of a pre-existing musical tracks — interspersed with faux, angsty dacting (dance acting). The routines are loose, unsymmetrical and there is an inconsistency across the dancers in terms of who is and is not able to hit the beat or understand the musical texture and nuance required. The dacting sections bear no relationship to the routines (which repeat motifs and material multiple times) and the physical encounters offer a uni-dimensional representation of relationships that are angry, promiscuous and unsubtle. Walker is noticeably the weakest dancer; he gives himself a lead role, often front and centre of the arrow formation, yet his execution has little attack and is always a beat behind. Smother lacks emotional subtlety, historical awareness and presents a series of shallow sub-standard choreographies that could be found in an improvers street dance class at Pineapple. You have to know where hip hop has been to know where it can go.

Hip-hop artists, especially the older ones, are the ones who knew hip-hop was a worldwide phenomenon before the mainstream caught on, so hip-hop artists are forward thinkers. We want to stay with the new.” – Nas


Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Hiccup Project

Posted: August 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Hiccup Project

The Hiccup Project, May-We-Go-Round?, Dance Base, Edinburgh Fringe, August 9

Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron of The Hiccup Project (photo: Maria Falconer)

Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron in May-We-Go-Round? (photo: Maria Falconer)

If you never tell anyone the truth about yourself, eventually you start to forget. The love, the heartbreak, the joy, the despair, the things I did that were good, the things I did that were shameful – if I kept them all inside, my memories of them would start to disappear. And then I would disappear.” – Cassandra Clare

The lost art of bedroom choreography is flung out of the wardrobe and up to the Edinburgh Fringe with gusto. May-We-Go-Round? cycles through a 60 minute excavation of past loves and exorcises them in the style of Taylor Swift. We meet Ian, Elliott (with a double t), Luke, the fit PE teacher, and oodles more as Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron narrate each other’s temporary heartbreak via shared direct address, full sass choreography and bedroom dance routines.

The face is where we as humans connect with each other; we don’t look at the suppleness of the spine or a hyper-extended leg to feel closer to a performer; we can admire it but it inevitably distances us. Chess’s and Cristina’s faces are things of elastic wonder; eyebrows on the go slow, tightly mouthed squeals of delight or throwing us two barrels of side eye — they perform with their whole bodies and we drink them in entirely. There’s a real guts and guns approach to the quality of movement — a throw-your-body-on-the-line-and-leave-nothing-behind — and this spirit engenders a forgiveness for any lack of technically sound unison, unfinished moves or broken lines.

May-We-Go-Round? acts as a connector to our own histories, a show with two performers we can relate to and it triggers memories of Dreamphone, Now 42 and Smash Hits. The Hiccup Project have cleverly tapped into a 90s nostalgia kick and it disarms the normally reserved contemporary dance audience. Their audio bibliography is clear (Spice Girls, Craig David and Cher) and how they describe and execute their work (not a mention of the word dance in the description) resonates with the majority of the under-35, female audience who were having a noticeably good time. Chess and Cristina are full of empathy and it’s impossible not to like them.

The strong bond of friendship is not always a balanced equation; friendship is not always about giving and taking in equal shares. Instead, friendship is grounded in a feeling that you know exactly who will be there for you when you need something, no matter what or when.” – Simon Sinek

Their relationship and familiarity with each other is clear and strong; the work is embedded in their bodies allowing their performance to shine through in the detail. Working with Antonia Grove and Lou Cope on the dramaturgy has resulted in a tightly-woven and well-constructed work. In the sections between the narration and movement they break the fourth wall and gift the audience a generous quadruple vodka and a dash of cranberry or explain the reasoning behind Chess’s excessively red face. These sections aren’t gimmicky but fit the tone, mood and enhance the connection between performers and audience.

There’s a growing crop of independent female choreographic voices that are excavating their own past and using comedy intelligently to bring audiences towards them: Sarah Blanc, Justine Reeve, Skye Reynolds, and Rhiannon Faith. The Hiccup Project’s choreographic candyfloss can be added to that list. I look forward to Now That’s What I Call The Hiccup Project 2.

Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Under its influence, ordinary songs take on dimensions and powers, like emotional superheroes.” Kate Christensen


Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: Jack Webb’s THE END

Posted: August 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: Jack Webb’s THE END

Jack Webb, THE END, Dance Base, Edinburgh Fringe, August 10

From Jack Webb's THE END (photo: See Imagine Define / Sid Scott)

From Jack Webb’s THE END (photo: See Imagine Define / Sid Scott)

As if febrile waves were trembling there, pools of madness… something devouring that could lick a man all over like a flame, annihilate him, with a pleasure never known before.” – Anaïs Nin

We are greeted by three cradling, fevered ghosts (Martyn Garside, Rachael O’Neill and Keren Smail), individual nodes who re-animate to find and fold themselves into the arms of another. Their approach and contact triggers a rejection of touch as one of the dancers melts out of the frozen embrace to find another moment of solitude. This passing of energy and breath continues long after the house lights dim and I begin to see the residue of bodies that are no longer there. Through repetition there is generosity. It is here after eight or nine minutes that I begin to notice new details: how the gait of the body shifts, where a gaze rests, and this repetition begins to sharpen my focus.

In THE END movements and moods are built, cradled, and re-presented enabling you to see them from different angles. A circular footwork pattern that oscillates between walking backwards in a circle and moving it forwards with a change of rhythm is a simple gesture, but placed on repeat through a low level of haze that softens the bodies and casts pools of light and shadows across the stage, it becomes bewitching. Each tight metronomic step and shift in weight pulls me deeper into an alternative choreographic landscape. With residues of the sinuous form of Krump, where movement and emotion are released by alternative parts of the body, Webb frames dozens of striking images, like Smail chewing on Garside’s elbow, their limbs isolated and out of sync, bodies needing to be set and re-set and reverberating to a different beat.

There’s a scenographic deftness that erases any division between the choreography, soundtrack and lighting — the composite parts are chiming to define a mood, intensity and focus that aligns. Four floor-mounted, magenta strip lights and a soundtrack featuring Swallows and Mediate by Rrose offers experimental drone techno that sets ears to fervour and makes knees wobble with its bass.

Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.” – Samuel Beckett

With a clear philosophical framework and intention behind the work, Webb offers some guiding words in the programme: “THE END is an invitation to look at ourselves, our world and to consider what we leave behind”. In the 55-minute performance Webb invites audiences to linger, spend time and burrow amidst his choreography. The intensity from being contained in a 60-seat studio theatre in close proximity to a frenzy of movement and back-lit, silhouetted faces of ecstasy is a perfect antidote to the 3000+ performances at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Webb carves his choreography from a different stone and it is entirely refreshing. He resists clean line and lyrical arcs and emphasises jittery glitches and the degradation of a movement. Seeing Garside in raptures, totally embodied and living inside the moment is incredible to watch; his total being is immersed in physical and emotional fireworks.

We begin to see the end of THE END about 10 minutes out as the rejection of touch at the beginning is inverted: running, wrist clasps and spinning increases: an urgency takes over, building a rhythm incrementally to a point where the dancers lungs give up, their bodies unable to rise again from the repeated falls. They are spent and exhausted, at an end. As they get up slowly and leave, the audience is alone with the stage and its echoes. THE END will not suit all who encounter it but if dance, choreography and audience tastes are to alter and diversify then we need to embrace difference and find more room for voices like Webb’s. THE END is a sensitive and generous performance and with Webb’s rare craft he enables audiences to see, sharpen their focus and stay with difference until the end.

Not so bad this ending because one is getting used to endings: life like Morse, a series of dots and dashes, never forming a paragraph.” – Graham Greene