Robert Clark: Promises of Happiness

Posted: May 24th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Robert Clark, Promises of Happiness, The Place, May 15

Janina Rajakangas, Stephen Moynihan, Martha Pasakopoulou and Kip Johnson revealing the colour of happiness (photo: Bronwen Sharp)

Janina Rajakangas, Stephen Moynihan, Martha Pasakopoulou and Kip Johnson revealing the colour of happiness (photo: Bronwen Sharp)

There are two ways a choreographer can affect an audience: by leaving the impact of a work to the imagination of the viewer or by dictating what he or she wants to achieve. Promises of Happiness falls into the latter category though Robert Clark does it in such a fun, warm-hearted way that the audience appears happy to accept his proposal (which is the goal of the work). Over two years ago Clark started a project in which he looked at the idea of happiness, what causes or provokes it in us and how it exhibits itself physically, both internally and externally. Clark is a dancer not a neuroscientist so he has approached the subject primarily through the body — through gesture and other physical manifestations of happiness — on the basis that it takes an external cause to bring about an internal reaction. In effect, Clark has made Promises of Happiness a kind of sensory sounding board for stimulating a reaction from each member of the audience. While it is the nature of dance to inspire this kind of interaction, Clark wants to make sure his audience leaves the theatre neither neutral nor upset; he wants them to come out smiling and in his quartet of dancers (Kip Johnson, Stephen Moynihan, Janina Rajakangas and Martha Pasakopoulou) he has every chance of succeeding. Clark does not preach happiness but suggests ways of experiencing it by irresistible example.

It starts in the bar (a good place to start) before the show; the cast collects responses from the audience for their happiness survey. What makes you happy? On our way into the auditorium we receive a gold envelope with A Promise of Happiness printed on it like a formal invitation and on stage Pasakopoulou is at a microphone reading out some of the responses to the survey while Johnson brings in fresh data.

With a mixture of wit and heartfelt sincerity, Clark tries hard to reach everyone in the audience throughout the performance, either by direct challenge (hugs, a five pound note or a cup of tea), indirectly (the revelation of secrets like the colour of happiness), by suggestion (the sensual appeal of the kiss) or by appealing to the crowd (inciting the audience to get to their feet to applaud Pasakopoulou’s dance solo ‘because that is what she doesn’t get enough of’.) Once you start to enter into the spirit of Promises of Happiness you begin to smile (that’s the idea) and from the start the four dancers makes it easy with exuberant slapstick (silly walks and running), unabashed self-awareness and an irrepressible sense of humour.

You could argue that for the price of a ticket to The Place you could buy a self-help guide to happiness in which you could pick up some useful tips on the subject, but Clark’s work suggests something more, something that is elusive in our society. In using dance to express notions of happiness, he is highlighting the vital link between an expressive body and our sense of self (if you haven’t already heard it, listen to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on the subject). It is not that those members of the audience who are not dancers should immediately sign up to a dance class (though why not?) but that they should not miss in Clark’s promises the physical means to express them; we are not, as Sir Ken Robinson points out in his talk, ‘brains on sticks.’

In the midst of Clark’s physical stimuli he reminds us that emotions (the words ‘motion’ and ‘emotion’, I learned recently, come from the same root) are also an essential ingredient of happiness and, of the emotions, perhaps the strongest is love. Pasakopoulou asks us to close our eyes and think of someone special. ‘Imagine this person standing in front of you; notice the details. How do you feel about this person? Think of three reasons why this person is so special.’ When the moment comes to open the gold envelope with its promise of happiness, we return to this person. “We invite you to take this feeling, consider it a little more…and when you are ready, to call them and share your words and that feeling with them.” In the closing moments of Promises of Happiness the dancers slowly withdraw leaving us to listen to recordings of each of them in poignant phone conversation with their special person; you can sense the happiness these messages afford, both for the giver and the recipient. But if you prefer to give your message in person, Pasakopoulou has provided a recipe for Martha’s Greek Cheese Pie that you can cook and present on that auspicious occasion. If anyone would like the recipe, I would be very happy to send it to you.


Vincent Dance Theatre: Underworld

Posted: May 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Vincent Dance Theatre, Underworld, Brighton Corn Exchange, May 12

Vincent Dance Theatre in Underworld (photo: Julia Parsons)

Vincent Dance Theatre in Underworld (photo: Julia Parsons)

Charlotte Vincent’s set is beautiful, the kind that draws you in so you don’t realise you’re sitting in a theatre; you’re in the set. In fact you are sitting in the apse of a cathedral looking down the nave with its endless rows of chairs to a refectory table at the far end around which the performers are gathered. It’s all beautifully lit (by Jason Taylor) to give weight and depth and there’s a mist hanging over the nave as if we are on a battlefield. Underworld seems to borrow from both these landscapes in its depiction of humanity trying to rise above the level of the sordid earth to heaven. Well, maybe. Vincent has always a perspective or two up her sleeve that she drops into the action until you’re not quite sure what you have just seen.

Underworld ‘draws on the myth of Orpheus & Eurydice and explores the art of not looking back.’ For the life of me I don’t see this though there is a mythological aspect to the work, not least in its duration of two and a quarter hours (there is a longer version) without a break. The audience is invited to ‘come and go as they please’ but the action never lets up so there is no need for a break unless you really need to have a pee. Besides, you wouldn’t want to miss anything. It’s a perpetual motion event in which the performers never leave the stage; they come down the nave or retreat to their table that is lit like a Caravaggio painting to keep the smaller details ever visible. One senses the energy back there; whoever happens to be at the table forms a small chorus seated in repose or in attention to their friends’ performance. They cajole, applaud, encourage or disparage with equal vehemence and once refreshed — at one point a chef noisily serves up a chalky concoction they tip over their heads — they return to the battlefield to fight or pray. There is a lot of praying at different moments in Underworld and in the kneeling and abasement you can almost feel the coldness of the flagstones. The gestures are similar but what they recite seems to follow a laissez-faire religious policy covering Christianity and Buddhism (perhaps more). Gavin Bryars’ score captures all these elements: mystery, violence and redemption, coloured with sound design by Mic Pool over which Patrycia Kujawska adds from time to time her own soulful voice on violin. Underworld shows Vincent seamlessly marrying scenography, music and action to produce a monumental mythic vision; it’s a remarkable achievement.

Underworld is primarily physical; the events and actions, sometimes distressing sometimes morbid mixed with a strong sense of sardonic humour, elicit a physical response from the audience and it argues its case in body language that defies translation. The location does not change, nor the overall dichotomy of light and dark, heaven and hell. It has a musical structure akin to a theme and variations rather than a dramatic one; it is not linear but circular.

All eight performers deserve mention: Robert Clark, Greig Cooke, Antonia Grove, Patrycja Kujawska, Silvia Mercuriali, Janusz Orlik, Phil Sanger and Josh Wille. Mercuriali, Sanger and Wille were part of Phoenix Dance Theatre when Underworld was first commissioned in 2012 as a collaboration between Vincent Dance Theatre and Phoenix; the trio has returned for this restaging. It is the unity among all eight performers and the intensity of their punishing, bruising performance that keeps our attention; they are all warriors of the stage who have fought many a battle together under the banner of Vincent’s leadership.

At BDE in 2010 I saw Vincent’s If We Go On. It was an uncompromising (and I mean uncompromising) dissection of the performance process, reducing the theatrical presentation to a point of no return: a case of theatrical existentialism. Vincent had the courage to take her proposition as far as she could take it, coming up against the nature of performance (and some hostility in the audience) in the process. If We Go On couldn’t go on, and in Underworld there are traces of that questioning of theatrical convention. How far can you go to set alight a funeral pyre of chairs on stage? How close can Clark come to setting himself alight? How naked can Kujawska be to step into a bath on stage and have a shower (courtesy of Clark with a watering can)? None of these events go to their full conclusion but the attempt is made. This is not a matter, respectively, of health and safety, of the sanctity of life or of modesty but a statement of how artificial theatre can be. There is also a Brechtian scene where Kujawska performs in a makeshift proscenium of chairs and sacking to an audience of Sanger who claps as she makes successive entrances. So while the energy and exhaustion of the cast hurtling into each other and hurdling over the chairs is palpable and real, these mock events hold us back from reality and remind us we are in the theatre. And yet at the end of the action the performers eschew the conventional bows and simply retire to their table while Orlik adusts the chairs in their rows, leaving the audience unsure of its relationship to the cast and to what has just happened. It is Vincent’s playful, destabilizing intelligence at work, pulling the theatrical rug from under our feet yet again.

 


The Royal Ballet: Woolf Works

Posted: May 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

The Royal Ballet, Woolf Works, Royal Opera House, May 13

Federico Bonelli and Alessandra Ferri in Wayne McGregor's Woolf Works (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Federico Bonelli and Alessandra Ferri in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Anyone who knows Wayne McGregor’s work to date would be hard pressed to guess he is the choreographer of the first act of Woolf Works, infused with literary weight and embodied in the lithe, tragic figure of Alessandra Ferri as Virginia Woolf. The act dances like a story; characters enter and leave through giant wooden frames that revolve slowly as they wait to be filled with or emptied of portraits from the past: lovers, her husband, and a soldier killed in the First World War. By her presence alone, it seems, Ferri holds McGregor’s hand and gently traces her movements. Her quality has a stillness that is foreign to the choreographer but he has made this work with her in mind and appears to follow her lead whenever she is on stage. In an interview with Sarah Crompton, Ferri, who returns to the Royal Opera House stage at the age of 52, puts her finger gently but firmly on the phenomenon we are seeing: “You have baggage which a young dancer cannot have because it comes with experience in life and on stage. I feel I am refined to the essential. Companies now, the world over, are very young. When I grew up here in this Company we had dancers like Antoinette Sibley and Merle Park who had a lot of experience. Michael Somes was still here. They had theatrical weight. Now, because the repertory requires these 20-year-old bodies, companies are very young and I think there is a link missing.’ She fills that gap; when she is alone, as she turns in on herself with soft, beguiling spirals, she is at her most expressive. As soon as the men begin to partner her — Federico Bonelli as her young lover or Gary Avis as her husband Leonard — McGregor’s choreography does not maintain those qualities and like a flower that is inexpertly pruned she withdraws from being Woolf to being manipulated. In her sapphic relations with the playful Francesca Hayward and Beatriz Stix-Brunell she is more at ease; women in McGregor’s universe know how to relate to each other.

Max Richter’s score is at its most refined in the first act, flowing like memories and ticking like time. The literary nature infects the scenic elements, too, not in its linear narrative but in the painting of inner emotions and thoughts, the stream of consciousness for which Woolf’s output was celebrated. Lucy Carter moulds Ferri and her lovers in an almost palpable emotion of light and haze and Ciguë’s frames change the perspective of now and then with a simplicity that belies — or because of — their scale. However, the panorama of Woolf’s garden at Monk’s House that is projected through the frames onto the backdrop takes us into the realm of an exhibition (for which much of the program resembles the catalogue).

Woolf Works is called a triptych because it joins three scenes from three of Woolf’s novels like an altarpiece of her life. The first, I Now, I Then is based on Mrs Dalloway, the second, Becomings, on Orlando and the third, Tuesday, on The Waves. Apart from Watson’s histrionics as a shell-shocked soldier, the fragile sensibility of I Now, I Then gives way to an excuse for McGregor’s standard overextended vocabulary in the time-travelling, shape-shifting central depiction of Becomings. Needless to say Ferri is nowhere to be seen, replaced by a willowy Natalia Osipova who, despite the choreographic desecration of the Woolf altar, makes an extraordinary statement of hyperextended sensuality. Around her is a chaos of couples and brutish couplings (McGregor has not mastered the idea of partnering) racing across a black reflective floor in exotic costumes of the centuries (by Moritz Junge) like figures by Hieronymous Bosch on ecstasy. It looks as if the choreographer has thrown everything he can into Becomings that the presence of Ferri elsewhere would not permit. It is also an occasion for a high-quality light show unleashed by both Carter’s ingenuity and the Opera House’s resources. The function of lighting is traditionally to illuminate the dancers but the level of production here puts lighting on a choreographic level.

The final panel, as Ravi Deepres’ slow motion film of waves suggests rather redundantly, is from The Waves. Ferri is the central character again so McGregor is on his best behaviour, or almost. This is the scene where Woolf ends her life (she drowned herself in 1941 by walking into the river Ouse weighted down by stones in her pockets). The panel opens with a reading by Gillian Anderson of Woolf’s final letter to Leonard, a scene that doesn’t immediately suggest Ferri being partnered by a semi-naked Bonelli; it is an interaction that interferes with her lonely, tragic state of mind. There are children who rise on a lift at the back underneath the waves and play games on the shore with rope. They are the children of Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell (though this is only evident if you read the program) in the form of Sarah Lamb. Ferri sits contemplating, then turns to watch her sister and nieces playing. She gathers her shawl and wanders slowly around the stage while other characters rise on the lift as if arriving on a platform at rush hour to surge on to the stage. McGregor revels in choreographic distraction so it takes concentration to follow Ferri as she keeps her meditative pace around the stage until she arrives in front of the crowd, facing them. Then she is inextricably upended by assorted men and passed between them as if her final parting were a social event. In The Waves she writes about death as ‘active, positive like all the rest, exciting; and of great importance — as an experience. The one experience I shall never describe.’ The choreography fails to take up the challenge. The projected waves gather velocity, the chorus retreats and Bonelli is left to drag Ferri’s dry body to its resting place.

When the curtain rises Ferri is alone on stage to receive the applause; it is apt, not only out of respect for the artist she is, but because she is the saviour of Woolf, not only of the Works but of the woman.

 


Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform

Posted: May 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform, Testbed 1 @ The Doodle Bar, Battersea, May 6

Konstantina Skalionta and Lucia Schweigert

Konstantina Skalionta and Lucia Schweigert (photo: Abigail Yue Wang)

The Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform is ‘a new dance platform showcasing topical, physical and experimental dance works by emerging female choreographers.’ Its two producers are Konstantina Skalionta and Lucia Schweigert and this is their second event (a third is being planned for November). In a competitive cultural environment where initiatives seem to come to fruition or quietly die by virtue of their success or failure at the hands of Arts Council funding, it is heartening to find such entrepreneurs taking their dreams into their own hands and finding a way to make them work. There is no home theatre so the platform is conceived to take place in spaces not traditionally intended for dance. This one, part of Wandsworth Fringe 2015, is at Testbed1 @ The Doodle Bar in an old industrial building just behind the Royal College of Arts campus in Battersea. Three traps of black Marley on a concrete floor with vertically hung, coloured neon tubes mark the stage area but dancers are not confined to this. In other spaces of the building there are film projectors and fabric installations (by Bea Bonafini and Laura Elias) so the audience can mill around during the event.

Giulia Tacconi in Chance (photo: Abigail Yue Wang)

Giulia Tacconi in Chance (photo: Abigail Yue Wang)

I was only able to attend the dress rehearsal so I missed the full promenade performance by Giulia Tacconi called Chance in which she dances around, amongst and with audience members. ‘When our body scans and researches movement, the most interesting and satisfying moments are the moments of surprise when the body creates new actions, gestures and feelings. They are so-called ‘chances’… From what I understand in talking with Tacconi, the ‘surprise’ is in both the body of the dancer and of the audience member with whom she chooses to interact: improvised contact in which both dancer and audience emerge with new experiences. Sorry I missed it.

Mara Vivas in Trace (photo: Abigail Yue Wang)

Mara Vivas in Trace (photo: Abigail Yue Wang)

The first work on the program is a solo, Trace, conceived and danced by Mara Vivas and inspired by photographer Jon Crispin’s Willard Asylum Suitcase Project in which he has photographed suitcases stored in the Asylum long after the deaths of their owners. Photography is all about memory, a sliver of experience that remains alive for as long as the photograph lasts. In Crispin’s project he is not only recording the present but opening up the past. Vivas translates the suitcase into a freestanding dress (conceived by Matthias Strahm) in which she is both the contents and their stored memories. It is an idea that translates beautifully into dance and Vivas has the clarity of language to bring it to haunting reality. Her strong features remind me of photographs of Frida Kahlo and the intriguing black dress she wears has a bodice with vertical grillwork reminiscent of a cell door. Vivas traces memory, fixing her eyes on the past and using her arms as feelers around her, at one moment obsessively picking out details of her dress and at another searching space for a familiar compass sighting. She is both constrained by her dress and then excitedly dances it to a Hugo Diaz tango. There is a weight in her presence and a lightness in her sensibility as she sails out over the water, finally stepping out of her dress on to dry land and releasing the memories; she has gone but the dress and its traces remain.

Vasanthi Argouin, Francesca Sgolmin and Rosa Manzi Reid in Contemplating Distraction (photo: Abigail Yue Wang)

Vasanthi Argouin, Francesca Sgolmin and Rosa Manzi Reid in Contemplating Distraction (photo: Abigail Yue Wang)

Rosa Manzi Reid’s Contemplating Distraction ‘explores the close relationship between focus and distraction in improvisation.’ The three performers — Reid, Vasanthi Argouin and Francesca Sgolmin — form Rian Dance. Coincidentally, ‘rian’ is an Irish word that means ‘trace’ or a path made by the passage of movement. The three women enter one by one and sit quietly on chairs as if in a waiting room. The movement is minimal, starting with half a smile and a surreptitious gaze and accumulating with successively larger movements of hand and body set to a musical hum arranged by Jonjo Keefe. Contemplating Distraction has a clear grammar with points of emphasis and stasis that keep it moving along its path in a playful way until it wanders off beyond the iron columns and the lights. All that is missing is the alchemy of presence that invests each gesture with a meaning beyond its physical expression.

Agnese Lanza and Julie Havelund in Acts of Attending (photo: Abigail Yue Wang)

Agnese Lanza and Julie Havelund in Acts of Attending (photo: Abigail Yue Wang)

In Acts of Attending Julie Havelund and Agnese Lanza draw inspiration from their audience through observation. As there were only two photographers and a ahandful of artists watching, their rehearsal may not be representative of their performance but they demonstrated the idea. ‘We take information from what we see, what we hear and what is around us and elaborate them through movement.’ Lanza holds a voice recorder as the two stand together on stage observing and recording the detailed movement and attributes of (in this case) the cameraman. They had previously recorded their observations of the space in which they will be performing and it is these two recordings that form the aural structure of their ‘elaboration.’ It is part of their Interpares Project which ‘allows a sense of “inter-pares” between ourselves and the shared space to emerge from the work.’ Spatial observation is one thing, spatial awareness another; it is these two elements that play with each other and sometimes in contradistinction during the performance. The use of Handel’s Lascia Ch’io Pianga suspends the space on another dimension but the choreography here remains grounded. Then we are back to the physical attributes of the cameraman that Lanza and Havelund enact from their recording before switching off the recorder and turning out the lights. Perhaps it is the quantitative rather than qualitative approach to their observation that restricts their response; something is holding them back, but it may again be the lack of a sufficient pool of human material.

Another coincidence of the platform is that one of the two films on show is about observation and movement. The Body Canvas, co-directed by Julie Schmidt Andreasen (who danced in Mara Vivas’ Triptych at Resolution! 2015) and Paul Vernon, makes a compelling visual link between the graphic artist’s eye and the dancer’s body: both are performing and the film is in turn a performance of their interaction, a depiction of the body drawn in space. The other film is Urban Constellations by Fenia Kotsopoulou in which dance and urban space are juxtaposed: wildness of movement against a concrete landscape, improvisation against choreographed architecture. The screen is divided by a line that descends slowly over the course of the four-minute film like an image being scanned; above is black and white that slowly displaces the colour. The Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform moves in the other direction, displacing the black and white of cultural expectations with the colour of creative realization. Bravo.

 


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Ahnen

Posted: April 30th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Ahnen, Sadler’s Wells, April 25

Dominique Mercy, Lutz Förster, Michael Strecker in Ahnen (photo: Laszlo Szito)

Dominique Mercy, Lutz Förster, Michael Strecker in Ahnen (photo: Laszlo Szito)

Pina Bausch once said in an interview, “Don’t try to understand me. Pay attention to the piece and then you’ll know.” At two hours and 30 minutes, some critics have found it difficult to pay attention to Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s Ahnen and resolve the issue by suggesting the work would be improved by editing (which means shortening). When asked what he was trying to say in a work he had just played, Beethoven apparently simply played it again. With digital recording technology we can listen to music over and over again whenever we wish and come to ‘understand’ it in the way Beethoven meant, but this is not the case with dance. In one viewing one cannot possibly understand the complex layering of fragments that constitute Ahnen; but you can pay attention. In the same way we cannot possibly understand the complexity of daily life but we can pay attention to what is going on around us. We can notice how people walk in the street, how they hold themselves, how they look, how they sit at a café table sipping coffee, what they are eating and what dietary trend they might be following; how people argue amongst themselves, how violence can seep into a conversation and how gestures speak volumes. How old age has its serenity and its loneliness and how desperately funny some situations are. How unconnected events carry on in the background while something else is happening right in front of us and yet in the visual plane, like a photograph, they are connected. How we think, how fear can dominate our thinking, how memories hold us in their powerful gaze, how the erotic can manifest so suggestively or be suppressed, how rituals can inform our way of life, how the actions of others can appear to start and end without warning as we pass by. How we victimize others in our thoughts and imagine ways of dealing with them; how appearances can be deceptive; how we might hide our true feelings; how music affects our perception, how landscape affects our mood. How newspaper images can appear surreal in the context of our viewing. Bausch is an acute observer of human life and she trained her company to observe. Each of her works is the sublimation into a theatrical form of months of observation by the entire company, of choreographic ideas, of questions and responses, of images, of musical suggestions, possible set designs and endless editing. And yet what may have started as personal observations or reflections has a universal value. If we pay attention we may even see ourselves.

Bausch once said, “Each person in the audience is part of the piece in a way; you bring your own experience, your own fantasy, your own feeling in response to what you see. There is something happening inside. You only understand it if you just let that happen; it’s not something you can do with your intellect.”

Like a beautiful photographic image, Ahnen, like all of Bausch’s works, is wrapped in a seductive visual package; each small element — costumes (by Marion Cito) and props (from café tables to sewing machines to a full size walrus) — and the overall design that Peter Pabst makes into a single set like a frame through which we see the characters but which is also an integral part of the action. The stage is a forest of cacti, some giant some smaller, some like caricatures of silent semaphore and others, like the one dead centre, light-heartedly phallic. According to Sarah Crompton’s interview with Pabst in the program, there was a lot of fun in the making of this set. ‘The inspiration was “just a photograph of a landscape full of cactus which I thought was nice. Somehow Pina liked it too.”’ To make the model Pabst ‘went to the café where Bausch bought cakes each day and asked for a piping bag, which he filled with soft plaster and piped his cactus — all 60 of them.’ Once the production company had made them stage size, Pabst found the solution for the needles: an old factory on the outskirts of Wuppertal where they made brooms with nylon bristles. Helped by ‘everyone in the theatre’ to fix the needles in time for the opening, Pabst then blasted each spike with the heat of a paint stripper to make it less regular. “I started a third career as a hairdresser to cactus…It was very silly and very funny.” It is worth remembering this ludic creativity so as not to approach a work like Ahnen with too much seriousness. It is a notion that Christiana Morganti touches on: ‘I really don’t have anything to say; I just wanted to show you how I look…Actually I don’t give a shit. Actually I do give a shit but it doesn’t matter, right?’

Bausch again: “Dancers ask me always ‘What are we going to do; what will it be in the end?’ I can never answer this, because the thing is I don’t know too what it’s going to be. And somehow it happens. I just make the way it happens.”

There is a poignant sense of looking back in Ahnen, a respectful nostalgia that the music conveys, that Julie Anne Stanzak embodies so hauntingly with a love heart painted on her face looking wistfully at her past as she tries to rub clean her slate; that the great wind machine suggests as it blows newspapers across the stage while a stoic Jean Laurent Sasportes in American Indian headdress guards his ancestral ground; that is enshrined in Ditta Miranda Jasjfi making offerings to the egos of the house and the squirrels and touched with humour as Dominique Mercy, wrapped in a deckchair, sings L’Amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle from Carmen while Lutz Förster next to him translates it phrase by phrase to an impassive Michael Strecker replete with Manchurian whiskers and elongated eyes. There is an added poignancy to this nostaligia: Ahnen shows the company dealing with its own past while living fully in the present.

 

 

 

 


Natalie Reckert: Image

Posted: April 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Natalie Reckert, Image, Jacksons Lane, April 18

Natalie Reckert

Natalie Reckert

Natalie Reckert graduated from Circus Space in 2007 with hand balancing as a main discipline. Wanting to broaden her horizons, she spent a year at a dance school in her native Germany called Visions in Motion. Back in the UK she has performed with Stumble Dance Circus, The Sugar Beast Circus, The Generating Company and Collectif and Then (also on this Jacksons Lane Frantic Evening program with Acrojou). Image is, I believe, Reckert’s first attempt at creating a solo that brings together her skills and experience. ‘The desire to make a solo show came out of the research project Labor Cirque in Köln in 2013, an interdisciplinary attempt to understand the composition, dramaturgy and specific movement vocabulary of contemporary circus.’

Her skills in hand balancing are phenomenal and she is bubbling with ideas and ‘stability experiments’ to try out in front of us. At the very beginning she banishes us to the lobby with instructions to return after a minute. ‘It’s a social experiment,’ she says later. When we return she is standing on her hands and remains so until we are all seated and quiet (some time). Reckert has enough air in her lungs to maintain a monologue in whichever orientation she happens to be, and her monologue is carefully conceived to act as a rhythmic device for her performance. Phrases will repeat (‘My name is Natalie and I like doing handstands’) with engaging self-confidence and delivered with a devilishly dry sense of humour.

She has a predilection for stalking upside down amongst a dozen eggs with an accuracy of a mother hen (her agility has a birdlike quality) and to prove they are raw she deliberately falls on them one collapsing, messy handstand after another, like Michael Strecker sitting on the balloons in Tanztheater Wuppertal’s Auf dem Gebirge. But Pina Bausch framed Strecker’s actions in a surreal setting with a surreal costume and he is deadpan in his delivery. Also there is very little skill in popping a balloon by sitting on it. Reckert’s skill is evident in making the handstand and she is breaking the eggs to make a point. There is no point in Strecker’s act; that’s the point. Reckert also dances in Image, though she limits her movements to a gestural language that she performs upright and upside down to an electronic beat.

Now for an apparently controversial aspect. At the beginning of Image Reckert pulls from the wings a paper confection in the form of a flat-topped pyramid. When the time comes she drags it to centre stage and sets to ripping off the paper to reveal….a handstand table with its instantly recognizable invitation to perform a specific circus skill. Why is this controversial? She tells me afterwards that her fellow circus graduates are sharply divided as to whether to admit to the stage the props on which they learned their art or to leave them off (it would certainly be easier for Reckert to abandon the handstand table than for Collectif and Then to abandon their ropes or for Acrojou to abandon their German Wheel). Reckert decides to keep it in Image and performs some remarkable balances on it while keeping up her monologue or dancing her legs and a free arm with the coordination of a conductor, but whatever she does cannot hide the unmistakable circus signpost. It is as if she is still pulled between the desire to perform the skills she has learned so well and the desire to find a new form for her circus art.

Thinking of Bausch again, I wonder if before the form must come a creative, imaginative process to bring out unique elements within Reckert that will allow her physical skills to coalesce into an engaging, funny, visually coherent, skillful whole. She is quite capable of it; we all have many images, and this is only her first.


Scottish Dance Theatre: Miann

Posted: April 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Scottish Dance Theatre, Miann, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, April 9

Amy Hollinshead in Fleur Darkin's Miann (photo: Brian Hartley)

Amy Hollinshead in Fleur Darkin’s Miann (photo: Brian Hartley)

The word ‘miann’ is Gaelic for ‘the ardent desire to know God.’ Ardent is the operative word in Fleur Darkin’s new work for Scottish Dance Theatre not only in terms of the choreography but in the music of The One Ensemble who play live on stage. Miann is also a spiritual work that battles with death and separation not in philosophical terms but in a visceral, personal confrontation that commemorates Darkin’s stepfather. Darkin’s description of the work is every bit as passionate as her choreography: ‘I wanted to create a space that we could share. I wanted the music of The One Ensemble to ring out like a thunderstorm shaking our bodies. I wanted the dancers to remind us that life is felt before it is thought about. I wanted us to taste the fresh water, breathe in forest air and feel the willow under our bare feet. I wanted to prove that feelings are real. I wanted a space where the invisible might be felt. I wanted a space to honour my parent…I wanted to create a gift out of dance.’ Seeing Miann is to embrace these words in physical form.

With no curtain at the Queen Elizabeth Hall we have plenty of time to contemplate the set. Designed by Alexander Ruth and lit by Emma Jones, it looks as if it was conceived for in-the-round performance: a circle of white floor in the middle of which is what looks like a sundial or a sail on its mast. All around the white circle are bundles of dry branches and beyond them towards the back are the spaces for the four musicians and their instruments. On either side at the front of the stage are two urns of flowers that Audrey Rogero and Naomi Murray pick up and hold like living statues at the entrance to a cemetery. The smoke that issues from the urns is probably dry ice that looks like incense for there is no fragrance. I suspect Darkin’s original idea of immersing our olfactory senses in the production has been compromised by health and safety (another administrative incursion into the production is that after Rogero and Murray circulate with their urns through the audience and return backstage the QEH reminds us to turn off our mobile phones).

In her program note, Darkin references the Callanish stone circle on Lewis, a landscape in which she ‘wanted us all to get lost…with no story, no orientation points, only beckoning paths.’ When Amy Hollinshead first appears on stage she has muddied limbs and hands as if she has been running and slipping among the stones on a wet day; she carries with her the evidence of the wild countryside but it is not embodied in Ruth’s clean and dry construction. I keep wishing for a simple stage of turf or peat (I didn’t have long to see one in Peter Pabst’s set for Tanztheater Wuppertal’s Auf dem Gebirge). Hollinshead sets the physical tone of the choreography in jumping frenziedly, repeatedly, exhaustively to the sound of her exertion. It is a motif that will return poignantly at the end suffused with uncontrolled grief and anger. On this occasion it is the anticipation of Francesco Ferrari’s arrival — the loved one — who wraps her, after some trepidation on her part and some coaxing on his, in his long cloak (Ruth’s costumes, as one might expect from a fashion designer, excel here). The other dancers enter as different manifestations of filial grief: a stoic Quang Kien Van in a dance with ritual overtones, a tentative or agnostic Matthew Robinson and a maternal Aya Steigman carrying her child (Murray) clasped to her front. The ensuing mêlée of dancers running, rolling and hurling themselves to the floor is like a wild mating game of sensual, brutal proportions. But this is not narrative; this is raw, primal emotion expressed in familiar human patterns; the message is in the rawness not the patterns. Steigman and Murray work like demons to rip up part of the floor to reveal turf: a funeral plot before the grave is dug. Artur Grabarczyk dances a powerful, erotically charged duet with Murray while Steigman remains motionless on the grave and the other dancers make their reptilian way around the branches like the circular path of life. When Ferrari has completed his circle, Murray brings in a crown of flowers with which she finally crowns him like a chosen one. He watches Hollinshead don a black mourning shroud and the sundial/sail element becomes a metaphor for the river Styx that the Greeks represented as the division between life and death. As Ferrari passes through to the other side, Hollinshead tries to follow. Her final outburst and the communal response is an apotheosis in dance and music of heroic proportions.

The depth of Darkin’s emotion is clearly a powerful creative force. Her physical movement phrases have the authenticity of grief and anger and she has harnessed the force of the music to amplify them. She seems to drag her dancers into the ring and they give themselves fully to this production, a quality in Scottish Dance Theatre that is impressive. When I first saw them it was at the very beginning of Darkin’s appointment in a double bill of Jo Strømgren’s Winter, Again and Victor Quijada’s Second Coming; it was a wonderful cast but one of the difficulties with a change in artistic direction is a possible (some may say inevitable) shakeup in dancers. I hope Darkin can keep the present dancers together; they are well worth watching. In a performance like Miann there are enormous benefits when the dancers are used to each other, open to each other and familiar with the way they each move.

If only the setting could descend to the earthy intensity of the music, costumes and the choreography…

 


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge

Posted: April 20th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge, Sadler’s Wells, May 17

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Aug dem Gebirge (photo: Karl-Heinz Krauskopf)

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Auf dem Gebirge (photo: Karl-Heinz Krauskopf)

What a pleasure to see Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal again at Sadler’s Wells; quite apart from the stimulation of Bausch’s scintillating and dark imagination it is the quality of performance that is so refreshing. Dominique Mercy and Lutz Förster’s soft shoe duet in the second half of Auf dem Gebirge is brilliant in its shabby simplicity, in its evocation of master and servant, of old friends, of two clowns or tramps, all in one. Michael Strecker’s, fleshy, disfigured presence doesn’t miss a menacing beat throughout and Ditta Miranda Jasjfi’s tearful stand interrupted by the audience piling out to the bar in the intermission is theatrical presence on a stoic scale. The entire company is as note perfect as a fine symphony orchestra and they perform without their conductor. They reveal themselves in all their simplicity and complexity; that is what Bausch wanted of them. It occurred to me that for each member of the company the performance of Bausch’s works since her death must be a form of re-living her constant enquiry and coaxing (however hard that might have been) that are at the heart of each work. In her obituary of Bausch in 2009, Deborah Jowitt mourned for the company as ‘a particular, intimate extension of her own body and creative mind.’ Fortunately, like a family that has survived the departure of a parent, her company is still performing in her spirit.

Another aspect of a Bausch performance is the completeness of the elements. The music is never simply an accompaniment but a calibrated tuning of the drama through Bausch’s long collaboration with Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider; Auf dem Gebirge’s score comprises a crackly recording of Billy Holiday’s powerful Strange Fruit, a symphonic anthem by Mendelssohn, rock and roll, songs sung by the dancers and a brass band playing on stage. And then there are the settings, the visual frame of the dramas. In an interview with set designer Peter Pabst in the program, Sarah Crompton reveals the way he worked with Bausch: ‘Pabst would spend time in rehearsals as Bausch asked the dancers questions and they responded. As he watched, ideas and images would come into his mind, and he would begin to place drawings and photographs on the large table where Bausch sat. “If she didn’t say anything, I would just take it away and try something else because apparently it was not good enough. I would never try to push anything — it had to be so good that she would react.” Pabst describes Auf dem Gebirge as a ‘collection of images which are created by the dancers on stage, so I don’t think I made a model.’ He found himself thinking of a ploughed field. “It was a period where Pina was interested in reducing dance. She liked the idea of having really difficult ground — grass in 1980, carnations in Nelken, and this” — ‘this’ being a stage with a slight rake covered in 10 cubic metres (or 2 tons) of soil.

Auf dem Gebirge (or to give it its full name, Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört, which translates as On the Mountain a Cry Was Heard) is stark, both in its burnt earth landscape with felled fir trees and smoke and in its choreographic imagery. The title refers to Herod’s murder of the innocents (Hannah Weibye nails it precisely) but even without this knowledge it is Bausch’s imagination — by definition outside the realm of rational dissection — that allows us the freedom to respond to her work in our own way. If we laugh — and there are moments of parody and surreal imagery in the darkness — cry, are outraged or annoyed, we will not be unmoved.

This is perhaps because Bausch shares her work with her dancers; she does not direct them to illustrate her observations (as a painter might direct his or her own imagination on to the canvas) but allows them to respond to her questioning. An idea in her head might appear on stage diffracted through a dancer’s own sensibility even if it remains anchored to her original stimulus. The resulting images, edited scrupulously by Bausch, do not form a linear narrative but are imbued with a time and place, many times and places, or the same time and place repeatedly. She deals in the perception of vertical time on stage — the intensity of fragments of time —while we in the audience might be concerned with horizontal time, looking for the links between those moments. In this sense her work is filmic, moving forwards, backwards and sideways, up and down to capture a form for her imagination. Perhaps Pabst’s style of working with Bausch is similar to the way the dancers worked with her. If they responded in a way that caught her imagination she could work with it. If not, it didn’t appear. It says a lot that these dancers were raised to always strive to bring out their full potential for Bausch; she was the choreographer but also, as she insisted, part of the audience. Now she is gone, they can strive only to perform these works to the best of their ability. It raises questions for the future, but for now we are fortunate to be able to see them at work.

From Thursday until Sunday this week the company will be performing another work from the 1980s: Ahnen. Treat yourself to a ticket if you can.

 


Jasmin Vardimon Company: MAZE

Posted: April 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Jasmin Vardimon Company & Turner Contemporary: MAZE, Winter Gardens, Margate, April 11

By Ian Abbott

An scene in Jasmin Vardimon Company's MAZE (photo: Martin Godwin)

An scene in Jasmin Vardimon Company’s MAZE (photo: Martin Godwin)

‘Show not what has been done, but what can be. How beautiful the world would be if there were a procedure for moving through labyrinths.’ (Umberto Eco)

Nothing has shifted.

MAZE offers no prologue, no rules and no explanation; therefore everything is permitted. As the audience (30 capacity) are de-coated, de-bagged and de-shoed in airlock settings and broken down from 30 to 10 we are eventually granted permission by a MAZE Guardian to enter. A labyrinth has but one path; to qualify as a maze there must be choices and it is when we’re finally permitted to enter one at a time that we are presented with our first choice. Left or right? Philosophically this idea of choice is central to the work; MAZE is an offer to engage, to play, to look and to share as much or as little as you’re willing to in a cathedral of foam with 20 performers for 35 minutes.

I entered MAZE twice (the one in the afternoon is a place where children are welcome and the one in the evening has some amended content and is suitable for adult eyes only). In the afternoon I gobbled up experiences and was hungry for content; I frenzied around MAZE, mimicking the intensity of the performers. The eruptions of movement, the slamming of self and others into foam walls was enhanced by the close proximity of my witnessing. The brutal and technical physicality which Vardimon’s choreography demands resonated much deeper for me than when it has previously been presented on a stage. I left MAZE drunk, having thrown, rolled and foamed myself senseless in this new world.

‘It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling-bond between two people.’ (Lewis Hyde)

For my second entrance I chose to behave differently; to dwell in spaces more, to follow performers, let experiences unfurl, deepen my interaction and actually taste the MAZE. This approach offered a rewarding and embedded experience; more akin to the agency experienced in a computer game. I oscillated between two single characters who were giving me tasks to complete with miniature rewards in return and it was this ability to alter the course (not of the whole) of my experience that created a tissue of connection between myself and MAZE. One time I alone witnessed a depraved act and after it was complete the perpetrator buried me in foam and escaped from me and the echoes of the space.

In both performances, as I poured myself into the moment I was choosing to commit to, I recognised that there are many other moments (hidden exchanges, group choreographies, intimate moments of revelation) that are happening and I could be experiencing, but was not. I resolved this envy of the other and resisted the pull of what could be as these were the internal ceremonies and external theatres that I had chosen to be a part of.

The level of preparation and the ability to improvise when the performers had no control of what was going to happen or what an audience member would say to them left me feeling confident that they were able to deal with any interaction. This confidence and ability to shift and flex alongside the material triggered an instinct in me to acknowledge the intensity of the gaze and fix my eyes onto theirs.

You can decide to stand still and in that same act, you can decide you’re waiting for something. Nothing has shifted. Everything has shifted.

In such a highly controlled entrance and immersion in a space, the ending and exit of this clearly defined world felt inconsistent. We were offered the possibility of an awkward wedding dance duet outside the structure with one of the company and then left to drift away of our own accord. However, it will be the previous 35 minutes that linger longer as those exchanges are embossed on my skin and still ricocheting around my brain.

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are – if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.’ (Joseph Campbell)


Shobana Jeyasingh: Bayadère – The Ninth Life

Posted: April 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Shobana Jeyasingh: Bayadère – The Ninth Life, The Point, April 2

Shobana Jeyasingh's company in Bayadère - The Ninth Life (photo © Beinn Muir)

Shobana Jeyasingh’s company in Bayadère – The Ninth Life (photo © Beinn Muir)

I have to admit Shobana Jeyasingh’s new work, Bayadère – The Ninth Life baffled me at first; I couldn’t see a line through it. It is divided into three seamless acts but the first two look backwards in order for the third to move forwards. The past, like the ballast that it is, creates a certain resistance.

The work references the classical ballet, La Bayadère, choreographed in 1877 in Imperial Russia by the French ballet master Marius Petipa to a score by the Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus based on a story of Indian devadasi, or temple dancers. Jeyasingh’s attention is on the cultural inaccuracies in the production she saw some years ago: ‘I was bewitched by the choreography and the dancing. The poetic Kingdom of the Shades had me mesmerized. However I left the performance unsettled and with many unexpected questions. Why did the characters greet each other with such an un-Indian gesture? Why did the holy man (the fakir) move in an animal-like and servile manner? Why did the attendants of the golden dancing idol have blacked-up faces and dance so naively in contrast to the rest of the cast? Why was the Hindu temple dancer more reminiscent of an Ottoman Odalisque with matching water pot? I wondered just how much information about India was available to Europe at the time of the ballet’s creation in 1877.’

Such questions underlie a deeper concern, something Jeyasingh elaborated in a challenge to the dance community called Dance Making in the High Street at the recent Dance UK conference. The challenge is to cultural authenticity. Jeyasingh suggests the inaccuracies in La Bayadère stem less from ignorance in the west about India as from a deliberate manipulation of the facts to fit a contemporary image of the country’s culture. Jeyasingh cites a story from the nineteenth century ballet critic (and author of the scenario of Giselle) Théophile Gautier. Having seen a performance in London by Marie Taglioni in the role of a devadasi, Gauthier was perplexed by the appearance in 1838 of a troupe of genuine devadasi on tour in Paris. He tried to reconcile his vision of Taglioni with the genuine article in the person, particularly, of one of the dancers, Amany, about whom he wrote at length. Whatever his own feelings about Amany, Gautier realised that Parisian society was less interested in the real person than in the romantic fiction.

As an Indian choreographer living in England with an established company of dancers of several nationalities, Jeyasingh states that such cultural attitudes are still at play. ‘In dance we have an urge to see Indians produce art that delivers the comfort of knowing that it fulfills somebody else’s idea of what Indians do.’ At the conference two of her dancers, Avatâra Ayuso and Teerachai Thobumring, perform fragments of her Bayadère choreography that derive from what she calls ‘the high street’ of British choreography, a place where ‘people are in a constant stage of emergence.’ The dancing is authentic, luminous, intricate and emotionally powerful.

In effect, Jeyasingh has put these three elements together in her new work: it begins with the historical context of La Bayadère — a kind of lecture demonstration in which a blogger describes his experience of seeing a recent production as the dancers take on the roles of the scenario — followed by an exotic tableau of a devadasi (subtly embodied in the male body of Sooraj Subramaniam) being sniffed, tugged and inspected by an adoring public, and a final section in which Jeyasingh gives free rein to her own choreography. It is not without irony that the dancers enter in similar fashion to the famous entrance of the Kingdom of the Shades. Gabriel Prokofiev’s score samples that of Minkus but like Jeyasingh’s choreography finds its own contemporary identity.

I was more convinced of Jeyasingh’s position watching her Dance UK talk than watching Bayadère – The Ninth Life; at the conference the ideas and the choreography had a magical unity whereas the performance was like seeing the argument processed through three different choreographic filters. Of course at the conference she is addressing the dance community and its governing bodies — with whom she clearly has outstanding issues — whereas the new work is aimed at general audiences. But I am not convinced she needs to do this at all; Strange Blooms that I saw at the end of 2013 had already jettisoned any extraneous cultural identity. Jeyasingh has one of the most interesting minds working in choreography today but this recent effort to justify her position detracts from her full potential; poetry is one of the first elements to submit to the dictates of rational argument. Perhaps Bayadère – The Ninth Life is simply one of those necessary stages of Jeyasingh’s creativity that, once expressed, will lead to new work that will speak unerringly for itself.