Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field

Posted: January 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field

Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field, Tramway, Glasgow, October 13

The dancers in Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field (photo: Pari Naderi)

I once read in my physics book that the universe begs to be observed, that energy travels and transfers when people pay attention.” – Jasmine Warga

I’ve written this in two parts; my first set of words were noted down soon after seeing Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field at Tramway, capturing the intensity of feeling on the performance night and then again 10 weeks later, at a distance to the work, seeing what residue remains with me.

This Bright Field is in itself a work in two parts running consecutively but with a small break in between that invites us to consider proximity, scale and experiences of togetherness. Following two international commissions from Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, it offers the audience a chance to see how Clinkard (with artistic collaborator Leah Marojevic) crafts a large-scale work with a company of his own dancers. In The Listening Room, the piece he choreographed on the 24 dancers of Danza Cuba last year, Clinkard demonstrated a rare ability that profiled the individuality of the dancers whilst creating a conceptually satisfying choreographic approach with a performance rigour on a large scale. What would Clinkard do with dancers of his own choosing with a longer creation and rehearsal process? Part 1 of This Bright Field is an intimate, 15-minute interaction on stage seeing (and not seeing) the dancers up close and in the round; Part 2 is back in the orthodox seating bank for a 60-minute formal presentation.

In the comprehensively informative written program Clinkard offers the following:
“What are the inherent politics of theatre spaces? What kind of spectatorship do they encourage in you, the audience? Mindful that scale and proximity to the action affect our sense of self, the way we relate to others and the way we receive a performance, I decided to re-orientate the audience-performer relationship to provide you with two distinct perspectives in the hope of refreshing your experience of dancing and dancers in larger theatres.” And Marojevic adds: “Throughout his body of work, the invite for audiences remains the same; to come as you are, to be within yourself, within time, experiencing quality, surprise, colour and ambience; to receive the work through your own history by engaging your present senses.”

There is warmth generated through the ability to see all four sides of a work and all four sides of a dancer; a 15-minute amuse-bouche continues the Clinkardesque trope from Of Land and Tongue of letting the dancers in his company reveal themselves, connect with the audience and have a number of delightful interactions framed by choreographic tasks. Here the dancers have agency to fill and flourish in their own rhythm, intimacy and moments of exchange with the audience; here is the Clinkard I expected.

Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” – Tom Stoppard

How does a choreographer change scale? Clinkard brings us close in Part 1 and then pushes us away in Part 2. It feels even more distancing as we had a taste of the intimacy that was possible, but with 12 dancers on a large stage for a small audience (limited by a maximum of three slots of 100 people each in Part 1) this tension between proximity and scale leaves me unsettled. With over 500 entrances and exits in Part 2, running, rolling and lurching upstage, the dancers exist in a constant state of leaving and never staying; this disruption dilutes any sense of connection or extended presence that might have been forged with the dancers from Part 1. It is to be applauded that Clinkard is attempting to invert the staid practices of large-scale dance, but the gap of 25 minutes between the end of Part 1 and the beginning of Part 2 ensures any momentum and intimacy that was built has dissolved by the time we get back to the auditorium.

Ten weeks later, the work has faded slightly. Alongside the eruption of white noise and percussion from composer and performer James Keane, the bright white field backdrop, white flooring and the impact of teal waves of the dancers flooding from downstage to upstage in their glacial staccato roles has disappeared. There are flaws and there are holes in memory and then there is Steph McMann (at seven months pregnant) and Leah Marojevic who exercise their innate watchability in a sitting duet with intimate gestures, unfurling wrists and torso shifts. Together they conjure up a magnetism via a suite of mundane gestures whilst the waves of bodies wash, run and make visual noise behind them.

Clinkard has brought together distinguished collaborators including the lighting designer Guy Hoare who offers a sensuality of multiple light baths in dialogue with the dancers, bathing them in an eight-parcan stage-left wash that subtly creates visual texture and emotion, drawing our focus closer to the nude form of Marojevic as she rediscovers the possibility of her body and sinews. There are echoes in Part 1 of Clinkard’s earlier piece Ordinary Courage with the softbox lighting heightening the intimacy levels by bringing the sky down closer. Within the construction of Part 2 there are multiple parts which vibrate in isolation and fail to listen to each other; I find I’m looking for glue and left with multiple questions. Why this order? How do the multiple parts belong together? What are the feelings that were close and are now distant? Clinkard is dealing with us in temperature — embracing us in warmth before moving to tepid then to a cryogenic icy distance and then back to cool. There are multiple works and multiple feelings in play within This Bright Field but I left on the night feeling unsure but bombarded by brightness; on reflection the dazzle has dimmed considerably and I’m left thinking of other works of his which shone a lot brighter.

The poetic image […] is not an echo of the past. On the contrary: through the brilliance of any image, the distant past resounds with echoes.” – Gaston Bachelard

 

Here’s another review of This Bright Field


H2Dance, Strangers & Others

Posted: January 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on H2Dance, Strangers & Others

H2Dance, Strangers & Others, iC4C, Nottingham, 2nd December 2017

H2Dance with Strangers & Others

H2Dance with Strangers & Others (photo: Benedict Johnson)

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 Ruiz Zafon

If I am not a stranger, then I must be other. I have developed an alternative relationship with the latest work, Strangers & Others, of H2Dance (Heidi Rustgaard and Hanna Gillgren) by working as their writer-in-residence, talking to people at three of their tour dates (Colchester, Peterborough and Nottingham) to gauge and document their reactions to the work. H2Dance have described their intention for this work, which has only participants and no seated audience, in these terms: “Invited to look, touch, assume and judge, audiences choose how to respond, placing themselves into lines, groups and pairs. Witnessed only by the choreographers, they use appearance, physicality and behaviour as a guide to negotiate each other as they cooperate in silence.”

As writer-in-residence my interaction was solely with the audience before and after their participation in Strangers & Others, listening to them describe in detail the parts of that resonated with them. While this meant that all surprise was erased when I entered the studio at iC4C as one of the participants in the last performance on the last date of the Autumn 2017, this erasure enabled me to create a mechanical and objective plot of what happens in the studio over the course of 80 minutes but left me space to inhabit the incoming interactions without the emotional distraction of surprise.

As the gathering of 20 people begins in the foyer we are invited to wear Silent Discoesque headphones; I notice that some wearers have blue lights and some red on their headphones. I begin to think about the idea of a stranger and things that are strange to us. Strangers & Others is a stranger to me, to the collective us and we (as a body of people) are strange to each other. The word stranger has a history and resonance in the UK that is forged in childhood; we are told to not trust strangers, to question their intentions and reject any attempt at interaction. Its etymology suggests an “unknown person, foreigner” derived from the Old French estrangier. As a form of address to an unknown person, it is recorded from 1817, and has a meaning of “one who has stopped visiting” first recorded in the 1520s.

Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” Malcolm X

H2Dance invite us to construct a social choreography; we are architects of our own awkwardness through a set of solo, duet and group instructions offered through the headphones. A slow desensitisation occurs and as the instructions escalate we begin to un-strange each other whilst acclimatising to the rhythm of the work. Starting with “notice the space”, progressing to “take the hand of someone who is your equal” and finishing with “rub the bum of the person opposite” the voices of Rustgaard (my ear instructor) and Gillgren offer little inflexion, emotion or judgement and are the conductors of an ever-decreasing sense of erasure of our personal boundaries. If this is what happens after 80 minutes, imagine where an audience might be persuaded to go after 3hrs hour or half a day. It’s a choreographic alternative to Milgram social psychology experiments, a study which measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. How persuadeable are we? Here we are offered no reward but continue to be subservient to those voices in our ears.

Nestled in the stiffness of some of the bodies in the room a sense of childhood stranger scepticism lingers; the interactive and participative nature of Strangers & Others makes for an interesting combination as it is full of the childlike and playful possibilities which forge bonds, create gangs through awkward physical encounters. We continue to revisit each other. Encounters with those who are unknown to us as we get older can be equally fraught; the currency and resonance of #MeToo with the recent exposure of intimidation, sexual abuse and rape of women and men at the behest of those exercising their power is clearly present. H2Dance are whispering in our ear with an invitation to “stand next to someone you find sexy” and later on “point to the person you think is sexist” followed by “stroke the cheek of the person” and “put your hands on the chest of the person opposite”. It leaves you in a moral quandary — do I participate (as everyone else seems to be doing) or do I remove myself (as I’m uncomfortable with what is being asked of me)?

Strangers & Others deals in power, invitation and suggestion with Rustgaard and Gillgren having created a tightly crafted work that leaves your moral compass askew and lingers long in the mind after leaving the studio. Although we are told at the beginning that “any response is valid” this phrase is not repeated or emphasised; amongst the sensorial and social input of making judgements on people does this crucial phrase settle into the mind? Can we reject what is being asked of us? We are asked to consider a spectrum of: trust, class, privilege, income, homophobia, racism, age, sexuality and foreignness based entirely on sight, smell and touch. When we exit the space (one by one) we are greeted by a glass of prosecco and a new invitation; a chance to decompress the previous 80 minutes and to verbalise all that has gone before; we are no longer strange, we are now other.

There is an odd synchronicity in the way parallel lives veer to touch one another, change direction, and then come close again and again until they connect and hold for whatever it was that fate intended to happen.” Ann Rule


Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane

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

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

Elena Giannotti

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

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

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

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


Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Intercontinental Drifts #4: Dan Watson and Matthias Sperling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

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

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

Gianluca Vincentini Wild Card

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal

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

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

Hardy Animal

Laura Dannequin in Hardy Animal (photo: Paul Blakemore)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Jan Martens / GRIP, Rule of Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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