Dance Umbrella 2017: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami

Posted: October 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami

Dance Umbrella: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami, Battersea Power Station, October 11

Satchie Noro in Origami in front of the Battersea Power Station (photo: Johnny Stephens)

Origami’s free performance opened London’s 2017 Dance Umbrella Festival and was subsequently performed in four other London locations.

If we were to imagine the American artist Donald Judd dozing in his studio, he might have been dreaming of a bright red container on the Thames riverfront set against the profile and the silhouetted cranes of Battersea Power Station on a drizzly, misty evening. An audience gathers in front of the parked 40-foot container on the terrace in front of Circus West Village Piazza, which is the point at which Judd’s dream vies with reality. On a balcony just above and to the side of the container, as if they are sitting in a covered theatre box, residents from the block of flats have settled down to watch the spectacle. Dance Umbrella is turning open air spaces into theatres and bringing dance to new audiences.

Origami is as much about the experience of watching it as it is about the performance itself. What Satchie Noro and Silvain Ohl have created is an awareness of both scale and contrast and as if the inherent contrast between a container and a solo dancer is not enough, the evening’s floodlit landscape of the refurbished power station rises like a monumental set behind them. Fred Costa’s sound score seems to arise from the same industrial, riverside setting and continues as a collage of music, speech and urban sounds that merge with the installation’s own mechanical rasp to wrap the visual reverie in a timeless and borderless aural space. Despite the sense of imposing gravitational force all around, the experience of watching the performance is somehow unearthly.

Origami is generally thought of as the Japanese art of paper folding, but the development of the science and mathematics of origami has led to research where hard materials, oxyacetylene cuts and metal hinges replace the traditional paper and folds. What Ohl has conceived in slicing up his container is a rigid origami pattern which we see initially in profile as essentially flat, but when its inverted triangular section slowly winches open on its hinges we experience a three-dimensional origami flooded with light. The light in turn softens the industrial edges of the metal to prepare for the emergence of a human element. At first we see two elegantly pointed feet swimming languidly in the air but as the geometric space unfurls, we see the feet are joined to a female figure dressed in green trousers and layered blue and red tops suspended by her hips on a trapeze. The playful colours are reminiscent Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, though Noro’s shades of blue and green are minute flecks of colour against the giant red surface.

Noro’s childlike nonchalance and sense of adventure within this layered interaction of material and light, of mass and space, of small and industrially large is what gives Origami its dreamlike aspect. Her agile motion animates the space and plays with the juxtaposition of scale. At the top corner of the container close to the balcony she seems to be within reach of the spectators, drawing them into the action, and when all we can see is her hands gripping the top of a container wall she’s hiding behind, such a tiny detail is clearly recorded as an extension of her invisible form.

Once the rigid origami begins to open, its two mobile sections continue to move, almost imperceptibly, until the end. Noro’s negotiation of both the material of the container and the spaces between its elements shares this elongation of time; she moves slowly and smoothly, an ability derived from her training in classical dance and circus arts. She is as comfortable hanging in space and from the steel ropes that connect the three sections as she is climbing on their exterior surfaces or sliding down their edges. She occasionally punctuates the arc of her movement with static poses like a classical sculpture in the pediment of the upturned triangle, or draping herself over its apex, drawing our attention to the architectural shapes and spaces that the origami pattern suggests.

Just in front of the standing audience three children follow Noro’s every move with their eyes and bodies, daring each other to accomplish on the damp terrace what she is achieving up above. It is only at the end when Noro drops lightly from the trapeze to the floor of the container and disappears into the welcoming light of its interior that the children finally awake from their dreams of aerial adventure.


Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven

Posted: October 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven

Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven, Barbican, October 14

Rocío Molina in Fallen from Heaven (photo: djfrat)

There’s a suggestion of flamenco in Rocío Molina’s image (see above) on the cover of Dance Umbrella’s program for Fallen from Heaven but the stage set — a white screen, a bare white floor with a drum kit, a beat box, and two electric guitars propped up against chairs — does not immediately corroborate it. Another suggestion comes from a program note stating Molina has ‘coined her own artistic language based on a reinvented traditional flamenco style’ but following the opening acid rock number by the four musicians who then leave the stage, expectations are left wide open. When the lights reveal the voluptuous Molina alone on stage in her white flamenco dress poised as Botticelli’s Venus in a scalloped shell, images collide. Molina displays the silent vestiges of flamenco in her raised arms, coiled wrist and fingers and slow, silent clapping before descending to the floor like a muffled chrysalis about to emerge as a new form: birth and death at the same time, or what Joseph Schumpeter called in economic terms ‘creative destruction’. She slides across the floor with a marked disdain for fluidity, her body and dress morphing into the shape of insects whose upended legs and feet wilfully contort the upright elongation of the classic form. If the body is doing its best to rub out its flamenco traces, there is still the dress to dispose of, which Molina slips off with less modesty than coyness; her arms cover her chest and groin with more precision than Botticelli until her attendant musicians arrive to place an ample jacket over her shoulders under which she changes into her next costume. We have almost arrived at the point in the press release where Molina ‘borrows from feminine, masculine and animalistic codes to give a very personal performance about womanhood’.

The next tableaux deal rather messily with the masculine code in which Molina self-consciously pulls flamenco through the ringer of cross-dressing (herself as buxom toreador in white tights, black sports bra and black plastic knee pads) and overt sexual imagery like her codpiece of ejaculating crisps. Her provocative tone degrades her treatment of male stereotypes to a parody, but while she mocks them she fails to avoid clichés of her own, particularly the superficial projection of woman as sexual object surrounded by admiring men. When Molina steps into a box to pull on a transparent latex skirt drenched in a sticky carmine substance with which she subsequently paints the floor in choreographic strokes, her statement loses the biting gender critique that performance artists and female choreographers before her (like Charlotte Vincent) have expressed, because she treats it, through an overhead camera, too literally as image. It is this indulgence in the mere visual effect of images that makes a muddle of the many tableaux, costume changes, entrances and exits that constitute Fallen from Heaven. Molina inhabits her material too superficially to build a convincing picture out of these various elements and her performance suffers by not moving beyond the safe boundaries of modest déjà vu. Some of the responsibility for this must also lie with Carlos Marquerie whose roles as co-artistic director, dramaturg, stage and lighting designer are too deeply embedded in the production to ignore.

The one thread that remains constant throughout Fallen from Heaven is the virtuosity of Molina’s rhythmic, percussive footwork that, in her interaction with the musicians, proves an impressive (and un-reconstituted) element of her art, even if it loses its spirited theatricality through being used unsparingly as a running commentary. It is only later in the work, when the fallout from heaven has strewn the stage with plastic carnations, red paint and bunches of plastic grapes that Molina seems to come into her own as a flamenco exorcist in search of Dionysus. Guitarist Eduardo Trassiera plays memorably, but Molina has difficulty navigating the end. With nothing left but her indefatigable energy and a raft of costume clichés, she plays to the crowd (and in the crowd) unashamedly as if she’s the heroic survivor of an unjust plot by the flamenco gods — all male — to banish her from the classical heaven. Her revenge is to bring the audience to its feet.

 

Rocío Molina performed Fallen from Heaven (Caída del Cielo), part of Dance Umbrella 2017, at the Barbican 12-14 October. www.danceumbrella.co.uk  


Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell

Posted: October 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Visual Art | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell

Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell, National Gallery, September 18.

Edgar Degas, Preparation for the Class about 1877 Pastel on paper, The Burrell Collection

As a dancer I have for many years felt an affinity for the works of Edgar Degas who for the last 20 years of his life found an enduring subject in the dancers and dance culture of Paris at the end of the nineteenth century. The current exhibition at the National Gallery, Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell, marks the centenary of Degas’ death on September 27, 1917, and is loaned for the most part from the Burrell Collection in Glasgow while its permanent home undergoes refurbishment. Drawn in Colour, curated by Julien Domercq, also includes works from the National Gallery’s own collection.

Degas’ drawings, paintings and pastels of dancers, some of which form part of the exhibition, are inured in the practice and performance of ballet at the Opéra Garnier in Paris. He was born too late (1834) to know the height of romantic ballet in the city but before he died, although his health was frail and his eyesight poor, he attended the first performances in Paris of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1909. (There are two pastels in the exhibition called simply Russian Dancers, dated 1899, which are, according to Alexandre Benois, figures from the Russian folk dance or Hopak, in Fokine’s ballet Le Festin at that 1909 performance).

Since Degas died during the First World War his estate was auctioned in Paris before the war ended. Maynard Keynes, then a humble Treasury adviser but also a keen art collector, used funds borrowed from the United States for the war effort to send himself and the then director of the National Gallery, Sir Charles Holmes, to Paris to bid on the Degas estate. The sound of the guns could be heard from the auction room but although Keynes and Holmes managed to bring home some works for the national collection, they did not return with any works by the artist himself. Sir William Burrell had already started collecting Degas around 1910, amassing 22 works by the time he gifted them, with his entire collection, to the city of Glasgow in 1944. All 22 are assembled in this exhibition, the first time they have been seen together outside Glasgow.

The exhibition is divided into three rooms organized around the themes of Modern Life, Dancers, and Private Worlds; Degas’ interest in the new middle class preoccupations with horse racing (Longchamp held its first race in 1857) and with ballet at the Opéra Garnier (opened in 1875) coincided with his interest in the passing gesture, in traces of movement, in the unique framing of subjects that sits somewhere between the Japanese print and the photographic snapshot and, it is evident, in his love of the intimacy and sensuality of the female form. Degas might have been a photographer — he became proficient in the use of a camera that he purchased in 1895 — but drawing and painting in colour was his particular medium. He sometimes merged the two techniques as in an oil painting, After the Bath, from 1896, which he painted from one of his own photographs. Perhaps I am imagining it, but while its sensuality of form is as equally present as in the bathers drawn from life on the same wall, its flatness of plane belongs more to the nature of the photograph than to the directness of the artist’s own eye.

It is in his use of pastels that Degas found a medium that most successfully united his emotions, his eye and his subject, an effervescence of cross-hatched lines and colour that extend beyond the subjects themselves to express both a sense of movement and his feelings towards them. Red is a tone that is particularly evident in this collection of works, from the red hair of many of his dancers and their tulle skirts to the orgy of red that is the National Gallery’s own Combing the Hair (1896). All the paintings in the exhibition focus on the female form, either at work (Laundresses, 1882-4), at leisure (At the Jewellers, about 1887), dancers rehearsing (Dancers on a Bench, 1898) or preparing their toilette (Woman in a Tub, 1896-1901). If one is prepared to allow this sensuality to arise from the canvas, then Degas, Drawn in Colour allows us behind the eyes and into the life of a famously protective artist; if not, the ‘shocking voyeurism’ of which he is accused by reviewers like Rachel Spence in the Financial Times (writing about the parallel Degas: A Passion for Perfection at the Fitzwilliam Museum) becomes an excuse to use his work as a keyhole through which to observe the private life of the artist.

 

Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell is at The National Gallery until May 7, 2018. Admission free, donations welcome.  


Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage)

Posted: October 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage)

Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage), The Place, October 7

François Testory as Medea (photo: Manuel Vason)

Just how Medea (Written in Rage) ended up on the stage of The Place is an example of cooperation between a raft of organisations (NFA International Arts & Culture, SACD, Institut Français, Arts Council England, Theatre of Europe, FOLKE, Southeast Dance and The Place) that shows how Europe can work together seamlessly in the realm of arts production. The artistic team is also multi-national, where Lia Prentaki and Nelson Fernandez are the producers of a Neil Bartlett translation, adaptation and direction of a Jean-René Lemoine play — Médée, poème enragé — with actor François Testory, music composition by Phil Von and lighting by Chahine Yavroyan. There is an ironic coincidence of timing between this no-holds-barred 90-minute monologue of Medea’s vengeful family relations and the pathological UK Conservative Party seeking to subvert with similar sang-froid but less éclat the very union that made this kind of production possible.

Were Testory a demagogue, you could sense the rapt audience would follow him unquestioningly because of the commanding nature of his performance, dissolving convincingly from a male portraying a female to the female being portrayed. Von, onstage with a battery of sound equipment and musical instruments, steps in on occasion to prompt Medea to explain a particularly unsavoury action or her reason for doing it, and she obliges. Medea, in turn, asks Von to fast forward or rewind the details of her story, and he obliges. Yavroyan’s dramatic, hazy lighting and Mr. Pearl’s haute couture gown and platform shoes place the visual centre of the performance on the charismatic presence of Testory himself, specifically on his eloquent face and hands and the network of sinews and muscles that animates them. From these articulate physical instruments arises a voice that when singing the aria E lucevan le stelle has a wealth of emotion but when recounting his sordid tale has a disarmingly dispassionate tone; it is the words themselves that carry the horror of the images that Lemoine/Bartlett/Testory conjure up in giving Medea the opportunity to tell her own tale from the beginning. This is fertile and congenial ground for Bartlett who over the years has given voice to historical and literary figures, conjuring them up from oblivion and notoriety in theatrical performances that merge the personal and the political, spectacle and intimacy. Medea (Written in Rage) is no exception.

The story draws on Euripides’ play and on Medea’s famous monologues as well as from other versions of the classical legend and modern references. Medea invokes the spirit of similar mythical figures in bearing witness to the love and pain that run through her story of betrayal and bloody revenge. Lemoine riddles the text with ambivalence, layering meanings and imbuing the ancient legend with current undertones so that as a genderless, stateless, and raceless figure, Medea’s tragic story resonates with the sorrow of exile, the drama of being an ‘outsider’, of never belonging. There are echoes of the current refugee crisis, of sexual, racial and gender discrimination and exploitation that infuse the horror with grief and the desolation of a life that paradoxically seems to find a form of liberation only in violence. For the sake of Jason, Medea is disloyal to her father and kills her brother, betrays herself and becomes ‘occidentale’ in a vain attempt to please her partner. When Jason abandons her for a younger woman she punishes him by drowning their two sons and poisoning his new bride. There is neither justification nor condonation of the violence: Medea writes herself in rage. The character and the story are one and the same; rage is both the historical context and the personal response.

Medea’s fate is weighted by her actions, but even more by the aggression hidden in the biases, intolerance and double standards that society imposes on her. ‘I am not guilty’, Medea claims towards the end of her tale. ‘Life is punishment enough.’ Testory’s high platform shoes well convey the difficult balancing act of a character at the boundaries of acceptability with the constant peril of stumbling but his restrained performance does not yield to dismay, nor allow us bathos. Medea’s story is ancient but still tragically topical, a sober act of drama whose horror seems to continue to repeat itself over time, its scale no longer mythical but far too human.


Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Posted: October 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Frauke Requardt & David Rosenberg’s DeadClub™, The Place, September 15

Requardt & Rosenberg’s DeadClub™ (photo: Manuel Vason)

The last time I saw a collaboration between Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg was at night in a freezing carpark on a deserted site near the Brighton Marina in 2012. The scope of Motor Show was to rein in the forces of an outdoor venue through a binaural technology that brought the action to the space between your ears; the scale was visually heroic and aurally intimate. In their fourth and most recent collaboration, DeadClub, they have assembled a similarly scaled performance in which the heroic resides in notions of memory and dream, and the intimate in the way the auditorium of The Place has been shrunk and transformed, thanks to Hannah Clark, to a raised gaming table within David Price’s auditory den. In keeping with a theme of random processes, we are each issued a raffle ticket that corresponds to our numbered, standing-only place around the perimeter of the table/stage. It’s a unique perspective from which to see the show, not only looking up at the performers but looking across at other members of the audience. We may have arrived with a friend, but our relationships have been shuffled in the DeadClub pack.

This kind of attention to detail brings the audience together as part of the show; we are not simply spectators but collectively share in the staged experience. In each place there’s a black and white party hat to match the decor, but putting it on is optional. At intervals, a spotlight scans the inside of the four sides of the square like a ball flying round a roulette wheel to stop in front of a randomly picked person (how randomly I’m not sure, as it never stopped in front of an empty space and on one occasion picked out Requardt herself for a cameo response). The highlighted person is either asked a question or becomes the focus of a particular dance. There are a lot of sleight-of-hand appearances and disappearances of the five performers emerging through trapdoors as if from an underworld and descending back into the depths like contortionist dolls; ‘severed arms’ and ‘stuffed crows’ drop on to the stage, small-scale plaster figures suddenly arrive out of the dark and appear to speak, while microphone stands and pianos rise up from below and once played descend again with all the logic of an arbitrary event. It is a phantasmagoria of the inexplicable and the absurd that borrows as much from Sigmund Freud as it does from neuro-psychological concepts about the function of remembering which, according to current models, serve to make sense of our present, aid in our socialization and help us to imagine the future.

It is this last function that fascinates Requardt and Rosenberg. Memories are not straightforward images from the past but composite mental reconstructions that we adapt to our present and future projections. As Dr. Denis McKeown, a senior lecturer in cognitive psychology at the University of Leeds, writes in the program notes, “Memories are like dreams. They are an internal world played upon by an internal consciousness, often outside our awareness.” Indeed, the visual vocabulary of DeadClub makes the analogy with dreams overt by gesturing not only to Surrealism but to film, a medium akin to remembering not so much because of its possibility of flashback but because of the malleability of its internal procedures. Like the moving image, Requardt and Rosenberg’s imagination is a fluid element that has the possibility of flying of its own volition but when it comes into contact with so many overtly theatrical effects held together with tape, screws and hinges, and magnified by our proximity to the stage, its wings are clipped. The sheer complexity of the staging is staggering but it draws our attention for the wrong reason: the theatricality is just too clunky, making DeadClub appear to be a raft of dream-like concepts trapped in the wrong medium.

The one technical asset that mediates between the ideas and the scenic elements is the lighting by Chahine Yavroyan for he can use his palette to smooth physical edges, focus on the essential action or reduce the stage to total darkness. His use of light allies the stage to the cinema: he allows the fluid traces of ideas in Valentina Formenti’s songs of death, in Neil Callaghan’s ghostly presence and in the solos by Jordan Ajadi and Owen Ridley-Demonik to exist apart from the substantive woodwork and machinery underneath them so as to express their intrinsic aural, dramatic and rhythmic poetry. These are the overriding successes of DeadClub, but outside these contemplative moments, even Yavroyan cannot avoid the theatrical framework becoming the centre of preoccupation.


Piergiorgio Milano, Denti

Posted: September 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Piergiorgio Milano, Denti

Piergiorgio Milano, Denti, Italian Cultural Institute, Belgravia, September 22

Piergiorgio Milano in Denti (© Milano)

‘Denti’ is the Italian for ‘teeth’ but Piergiorgio Milano has not created a work about this particular part of our physiognomy but rather around it. Teeth are resistant and sensitive, qualities that Milano brings to the work, and his grandmother taught him that to dream of losing your teeth signifies the subsequent loss of someone close to you. One night Milano dreamt of losing his teeth and the next day his grandmother passed away. This kind of circle of circumstances, of manifestation and extinction, memory and loss, is what Denti represents, invoking a circular space where reality and dream are looped together without possibility of resolution.

It is perhaps no accident that Milano slowly enters the piano nobile like an insect hiding under a tattered raincoat, as if he were an alter ego of Franz Kafka’s Georg Sama. The initial stealth, however, soon gives sway to a surge of movement that appears to give the coat an independent animation. Milano treats it with both violent incomprehension and as a tender memory of another being, long gone, who can nevertheless still wrap him in her familiarity and scent.

The two pieces of music that Milano uses also suggest memory and loss: the first one is an old 78 recording of Enrico Caruso singing the aria Je Crois Entendre from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, and the second is Valzer di un giorno by Gianmaria Testa. Milano makes the crackling sound of the 78 the dense medium through which he plunges his body into memory. He is trained in circus and has the physical vocabulary to use every part of his body to make circles, to somersault, to undulate, to spiral and to curve; it is the flow of his movement that carries the emotion of the performance. The classical proportions of the piano nobile seem to struggle to contain these turbulent eddies, but Milano has also learned how to swim through hard surfaces, kneading the wooden floor with the resilience of his body to make it curiously soft; he moulds the floor to his will and leaves us to experience the shapes he has made. Both water and air are his metaphors; his choreography is like a stormy current let loose on a weightless body until the weight finally returns with the body’s stillness. In a humble gesture of resignation Milano bows, and remains bowed with his alter ego coat obscuring his head. It’s hard to applaud after that.


The Rose and the Bulbul

Posted: September 28th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Rose and the Bulbul

The Rose and the Bulbul, Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park, July 30,

The cast of The Rose and the Bulbul (photo: Simon Richardson)

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” – Jo Cox, MP

At school I had a little notebook of historical dates in which each page was dedicated to a king or queen of England, starting with William the Conqueror. Most, if not all the events duly transcribed were battles; the more modern the monarch, the further afield the battles. This dry tally of dates and facts told from a singular imperial perspective constituted my early knowledge of history. The idea of weaving comparative history through dance, music and spoken word was inconceivable, let alone the notion of studying history in an environment of landscape gardening. Yet this is exactly what Sanjeevini Dutta and Kali Chandrasegaram dreamed up, along with writer Kamal Kaan, director Sita Thomas and producer Kadam, for The Rose and the Bulbul. It is at once a celebration of gardens, a moral tale about love and acceptance, a history of two cultures and an exuberant, fête-like procession of flowing silks, finely delineated steps and musical rhythms that bring the paths, trees and water features of Waterlow Park alive to a new reality.

The seed of the idea came from the gardens in Stockwood Park near Luton where many styles — from mediaeval to Elizabethan to Victorian — are laid out. Stockwood Park also has an Asian garden planned along the landscape principles — scaled down significantly — of India’s Mughal empire, which ran parallel to our own Tudor period and continued into the Victorian era. The creative team behind The Rose and the Bulbul has drawn together these two parallel influences by mingling Tudor music, Indian chanting and song, bharatanatyam, kathak and contemporary dance, and what Kaan has done in the scripting is to weave the history of these gardens into a modern allegory of social integration.

The history is implicit in the architectural parallels and in the cross-fertilization of literature, dance and music. The Earl of Lauderdale inherited the house around the same time the Taj Mahal, the apotheosis of Mughal architecture and landscape gardening, was being completed in Agra; the Persian word for a walled garden (a feature of Mughal gardens) came into the English language as ‘paradise’; the nightingale (bulbul) and the rose can be found in Sufi poetry as an expression of longing and creativity, and classical and contemporary dance has always embodied current attitudes to social and political discourse.

We can join in the pleasure of seeing the gardens around Lauderdale House at each stage of this promenade performance against the darkening skies and rising breezes of an English summer’s day. At the same time the story’s axiomatic philosophy (much of it based on the Sufi poet Rumi) is released like a scent by the musicians, actors and dancers as they enact one of the many tableaux before setting off on a path to the next one, adults, children and baby carriages in tow. The Rose and the Bulbul is thus a fable of cultural synergies experienced live through poetry, music and dance, but it is also a visual allegory told in colour and form projected against the history of house and garden. In a story of ‘love and acceptance of the outsider’ between two people ‘who come truly to understand their present only through a journey into each other’s past’, the intermingling of cultural expressions is an intoxicating immersion into the value of social and political unity.

 

This review was commissioned by and first appeared in Pulse Magazine and appears with the kind permission of the editor. 


Jacky Lansley: Choreographies

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Book | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jacky Lansley: Choreographies

Jacky Lansley, Choreographies, published by Intellect Books (2017)

Jacky Lansley, Choreographies (cover photo: Hugo Glendinning, collage Emily Dann)

Jacky Lansley’s long career began as a dancer in the Royal Ballet before her fertile imagination and radical mind led her to enroll in what was then called the London School of Contemporary Dance in 1971. On the surface that transition sounds like a simple linear progression but consider it again in the light of what it involved. To become a dancer in the Royal Ballet requires a body that has the potential to master the classical form, extraordinary talent and years of strict discipline. Lansley would have danced there in the final years of Sir Frederick Ashton’s artistic directorship before Kenneth MacMillan was appointed to replace him in 1970. For Lansley to transfer from this rarified atmosphere of classical tradition to what she calls ‘a space for dance to explore and interact with…interdisciplinary influences’ must have taken a huge leap of faith and a willingness to embrace the unknown. She doesn’t touch on the reasons for this life-changing decision — Choreographies is about the motivations behind her work rather than behind the author — but she found at LSCD artists like Sally Potter, Diana Davies and Dennis Greenwood for whom she felt a close affinity. It was here she could begin to explore contemporary issues like feminism, racism and homophobia through a fresh, multi-disciplinary approach to choreography that could be expressed outside the traditional framework — as when she and Potter transposed a classical entrance from the wings to meet in the middle of a loch in full evening dress and flippers in Lochgilphead (1974). As I read about this and other early works like Park Cafeteria (1975), Death and the Maiden (1975), Rabies (1976) and Mounting (1977) with enticing photographs, I kept on wishing I had seen them.

The subtitle of Choreographies is ‘Tracing the Materials of an Ephemeral Art Form’. Lansley looks back on her vast material archive with the archaeologist’s eye but she is also the subject of their excavation. It’s a delicate place to put oneself but her focus is collective, on the people with whom she worked and on the creative inputs they derived from visual arts, performance art and, in the case of The Impersonators (1982), an interest in music hall. Her rational parsing of her works provides an insight into their layers of meaning and metaphor, and her deconstructions of classical ballets — Giselle in I Giselle (1980), Petrouchka in L’Autre (1997) and Firebird in Les Diables (1998-9) — in the light of contemporary cultural politics relates to Walter Benjamin’s ideas about literary translation. Wherever possible she has included interviews with her former collaborators, and the chapter notes are as far-reaching and informative as the text itself. These inside perspectives remind us of the important contribution of choreography to the realm of ideas and to an understanding of the body as a thinking instrument.

For Lansley choreography is the art form ‘which most profoundly links the mind and the body’ and for the last 40 years she has been guided by the clash of values that drove her away from the ‘narcissistic, virtuosic and dramatic view of performance’ to the ‘radical community’ at LSCD where she and her colleagues could, in differentiation to key dance makers in the US, nurture ‘artistic, conceptual and theatrical strategies’. Looking back, it is clear her intuition led her to being in the right place at the right time; she now makes her own place and time at her Dancer’s Research Studio in Haggerston which has provided the context for some of her more recent works like Holding Space (2004), View from the Shore (2007), Guests Research (2010) and Guest Suites (2012). Her working period between LSCD and today is a huge swathe of British dance history in which she has continually evolved as a choreographer: she was a founding member of Richard Alston’s first company, Strider; she formed Limited Dance Company with Sally Potter (joined later by Rose English), and co-founded X6 Dance Space with Mary Prestidge, Maedée Duprès, Emilyn Claid and Fergus Early. The key aim of X6 was ‘to view and explore dance within its wider social context’ and to be responsible ‘for encouraging cross art form collaboration and creating spaces for the development of interdisciplinary performance and somatic training.’ It is symbolic that the wooden floor in X6’s original studio space in Butler’s Wharf is now the underpinning of the performance studio at Chisenhale Dance Studios that Lansley also co-founded. But while Lansley’s narrative inevitably weaves through a history of dance in the UK, it is the history of her works in this 40-year period that is the true subject of her book.

Choreographies also reads as a theoretical underpinning or an approach to the art of choreography that is still relevant today; too much choreography is made and played rather than written and read. As an extension of this metaphor of the literature of choreography, Lansley has also been keen to foster a critical response to the work in which she participated, facilitating a dialogue between new dance and the public in the form of New Dance Review that X6 Dance Space launched and fostered for its eleven-year existence.

I have dipped into my dog-eared copy of Choreographies on numerous journeys; fortunately its variegated format of text, photographs (many by Hugo Glendinning), choreographic notes, scores and reviews supports this time-lapse form of perusal. It also suggests it is not a book to be read and left to brood on a shelf but should be consulted regularly like a chiropractor. Reminding us that there can be no critical engagement with an art form that does not provoke a critical dialogue, Lansley’s voice makes an eloquent case for a written choreography that can be expressed and read as a counterpoint to the readily accessible product of a gradual shift to social conservatism. Choreographies is a timely call to arms that recognises choreography, in the words of critic and dance historian Laurence Louppe, as one of the most important artistic phenomena of our time.

 

www.intellectbooks.co.uk


Orley Quick, Screwed

Posted: September 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Orley Quick, Screwed

Screwed, The Bunker, July 31

The stars of Screwed (photos and design: Michele Cadei)

Billed as ‘three evenings of curious, (dis)honest and unhinged dance performance’, Screwed distinguishes itself by its anti-hype. It also distinguishes itself by its entrepreneurial bravado and curatorial intuition. Orley Quick of Hairy Heroine fame has brought together this ‘weird, wild and wonderful variety of fresh, experimental performance’ as a complement to her As We Like It that she showed at Resolution in January: there are three performances of the Hairy Heroines shared with works by nine other artists over three evenings. It’s a huge undertaking, but Quick has pulled it off with unassuming flair. Introducing the evening, she explains that her choice of artists was based on a shared work ethic and respect; she has also put herself in the position of the audience in that she is seeing the works for the first time, a freshness of approach that creates its own excitement and unpredictability.

In this context of anti-hype and surprise the first work on this evening’s program is created and performed by a group named anthologyofamess which comprises on this occasion Mariana Camiloti, Antonio de la Fe, Petra Söör and Robert Vesty. EVOLVE, its title spelled in captcha form, is an improvisation based on ‘a relentless need to never ever stop’ that, while taking time to reveal its mystery, makes its journey the crowning achievement; each performer embellishes time and space with the concentrated effort to never arrive. Research that appeared at the time of the performance revealed that audiences remember moments of stillness more than movement, but in EVOLVE’s unerring line of constant evolution, these performers royally disprove it. Their spatial acuity, their inventiveness and their fluid forms may be hard to capture and slippery to hold in memory, but the effect is of a dream in which images vie with one another and superimpose in spatial freeform. But that’s the thing with dreams: they have an illogic and unreality that is memorable.

Sam Pardes wakes us up to the dream’s antithesis. Tapping. She seems in no particular hurry to prepare her performance, What Have I Got To Show For It? but as she prepares she works a seam of dogged humour with impeccable timing that keeps us laughing. She complains of aching feet, drinks some water, does a sound test and nonchalantly starts a routine that becomes the soundtrack to her life story. She’s just letting the tap motor turn over as she talks of her years in performing arts college in the U.S., her MFA at Roehampton, being a part-time nanny, her diagnosis with anxiety disorder, and of the meds that have made every part of her body balloon. She then confides that she’s prepared another dance for us, a budget dance. It’s a daily itemization of her frugal expenses with a tapped recitative but it’s just the prelude to her highly-charged and provocative message on the gap between the expectations of an arts education and its devastating economic and health implications. She takes a piece of paper from her bra and tells us the cost of her MFA in Choreography ($50,143.39), of her two loans and the calculated amounts of each monthly payment that will keep her sinking in debt for the next nine years. ‘How to begin a dance on this?’, she asks but she does, scraping, tapping, picking up speed and drumming virtuosity until she breaks off, kicks a little, shuffles and stops. She wants to say something but her glazed expression is fixed in the dying lights. Her mother was right (‘My baby’s a star’) but it’s sobering to consider the cost Pardes has incurred to put on this show.

Ryan Munroe is another choreographer who leaves the best till last, a climactic gesture on the final note of music that sets alight all that has gone before. Love me in chains – part 1 – Gal Dem is a duet in three parts for Cherylin Albert and Telisha McKenzie that the cryptic program note describes as ‘not that deep, but it’s deep.’ Albert and McKenzie are as richly expressive as the work is enigmatic, shading their imaginary world of whispered gestures, silent shouts and closed eyes with a contrasting dynamic of running, pushing and dancing to the beat. There’s a central section of read texts on cultural formism that obscures more than it enlightens, but it’s the quality of movement in Albert and McKenzie that establishes Munroe’s ability to warp space with his mix of shapes, dynamics and gesture underlaid by extracts from Sango (Conte a Todos), Merzbow (Requiem) and Astrolith (Kaisha Original Mix). Up until the moment of that final gesture I wasn’t really in Munroe’s orbit, but after it I was thirsting to see the work all over again.

Cher Nicolette Ho’s They is a duet for Elle Howard and Alexandra Pons to the well-oiled beat of Kotzky Vendivel’s Lift and is prefaced in the program note by a quotation from Isaiah: ‘They will soar on wings like eagles, They will run and not grow weary, They will walk and not be faint.’ The duet sets in motion the over-sized jackets of the two women as they take them off, swap them and share them as if exploring the limits of their friendship with an equal measure of intimacy and abandon. The partnering becomes more complex and intricate as the jackets take on the role of support; falling to their knees is a recurring motif for the two women, with its religious overtones. Having built up a sense of interdependence between Howard and Pons, their subsequent solos seem less assured until they join once again, bringing full circle the immanence implicit in the biblical quote.

I had seen As We Like It at Resolution six months ago to the day but this is an opportunity to revisit the inimitable Hairy Heroines (Diogo Fernandes de Jesus, Tyrrell Foreshaw and Elliot Minogue-Stone) in a slightly extended cabaret version. With the audience crowded around the thrust stage in The Bunker all the irreverent intimacy that Quick and her heroines had spent so much energy and inspiration putting into the work is now seen close up in riotous detail, from the febrile petulance of Fernandes de Jesus to Minogue-Stone’s ingenuous wordplay to Foreshaw’s extravagant floorplay. Adding ten minutes to an original concentrated work has its hazards, but Quick and her dramaturg Karla Ptáček have maintained the thread of Shakespearean gender politics while elongating the narrative to a more natural life span — and prolonging the fun.

There’s not a whiff of Arts Council funding on the program and the house is full; I don’t know the balance of accounts for Screwed but on a curatorial level it’s a brilliant achievement. Uncertain times demand uncertain solutions; Orley Quick has discovered one and, with production support from Silvia Scrimieri, has made it stand out.


Tero Saarinen Company, Morphed

Posted: September 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tero Saarinen Company, Morphed

Tero Saarinen Company, Morphed, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, August 10

Tero Saarinen Company in Morphed (photo: Mikki Kunttu)

The appearance of Tero Saarinen Company as part of the Southbank Centre’s Nordic Matters brought a refined Finnish sensibility to the Festival Hall stage that reminded me of the architecture of Alvar Aalto: it establishes its individuality and subtle independence from its surroundings through the use of natural materials and sophisticated design. The stage setting by Mikki Kunttu for Saarinen’s Morphed (2014) — the one work on the evening’s program — immediately immerses us in this quintessentially Finnish quality by referencing the colours and materials of Aalto’s furniture design which in turn were influenced by the Finnish landscape. The two lines of evenly spaced ropes that hang on three sides of the stage form an enclosure around the rectangle of white on a black floor.
Based in Helsinki, Saarinen founded his company in 1996 ‘to promote a humane worldview and basic human values through the language of dance’. Perhaps because dance is performed in and on the body, it is an art that naturally eschews violence and in Morphed Saarinen traces states of mind and body from baseness and introspection to elevation and refinement in a group of seven men from his company. Despite its overtly male focus, Saarinen takes the clichés of maleness and turns them inside out. By the end we can associate with this ‘journey less traveled’ and find solace in its resolution. We first see the men in black fatigues and hoods prowling in fluid patterns of geometric complexity. For a work celebrating all aspects of maleness, this is as good a place to start as any, but with the sophisticated music of Esa-Pekka Salonen, Kunttu’s neat and beautifully lit abstraction of a forest and Teemu Muurimäki’s stylish costumes, it has to be said these men have already come in from the rugged outside. Initially Saarinen traces paths of weighted, pack-like formations but as the work develops individual performers begin to slide away from the pack to explore their own individuality in expressive gestures before they become subsumed once again within the group. Over the course of the work the gestures develop into solos, duets and trios that expand their reach and choreographic force as each man develops in his own right.
Part of the intrigue of Morphed is that Saarinen’s performers at first look less like dancers than wholesome, blonde, bearded Finnish men who exude masculinity without being macho. They could be athletes; if I recognized some sporting motifs in the choreography one of them derived from shot-putting. Placing these powerful bodies in this kind of environment is to transform them. Saarinen works with the physicality of bodies to explore the means of change; the blunt, earthbound postures of the dancers at the beginning gradually respond to the musical ideas to develop the poetry of their instruments while maintaining their connection, gaining in self-expression and articulation while allowing space for each other. Arms and torsos elongate and feet point beautifully, reminding us of Da Vinci’s maxim that beauty is in the extremities. One could almost imagine Salonen conducting the dancers to draw out their intrinsic qualities. The costumes and lighting are implicit partners in this process. Over the course of the performance the dancers remove the initial dark, heavy outer garments to reveal white shirts whose sleeves detach, like layers of skin, until it is the skin that remains. At the same time the lighting morphs in response, from  somber dawn to bright sunshine. In this sympathetic depiction of maleness, all the men — all but one — change from hooded prowlers to half-naked open channels of emotion. Saarinen takes us on a journey that could be our own. Indeed, he suggests it is our own and holds up his choreography as a mirror to guide us, avoiding exaggerated movement in order to include us within its measured articulation and rhythms. And although the cast is predominantly Finnish, there are two exceptions. David Scarantino is a dark-haired American whose presence avoids a sense of cultural homogeneity (Morphed is about men, after all, not just Finnish men), but it is Ima Iduozee, whose dark brown skin and lithe movement add an exotic, feline quality to his Finnish identity, who suggests he may be the catalyst of physical transformation within the context of Saarinen’s language. It is as if he has been there before and is returning to help his comrades morph into their spiritual dimension.