The British Paraorchestra and Friends, The Nature of Why at Bristol Old Vic

Posted: May 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The British Paraorchestra and Friends, The Nature of Why at Bristol Old Vic

The British Paraorchestra and Friends, The Nature of Why, Bristol Old Vic, May 12

The Nature of Why

The Nature of Why (photo: Paul Blakemore)

Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” – Richard Feynman

Set amongst the giddy theatrical delights of Mayfest is the world premiere of The Nature of Why by The British Paraorchestra and Friends; a physics-crunching, joyous, 70-minute musical adventure on the stage of the Bristol Old Vic. Commissioned by Unlimited it features a new score from Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, choreography and co-direction from Caroline Bowditch and is conducted and co-directed by Charles Hazlewood. The Nature of Why is framed by The British Paraorchestra as ‘merging dance and live music into an epic performance that brims with emotion and physical beauty…it takes inspiration from the unconventional curiosity of Nobel prize-winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, and his search for meaning in the world around us. The Nature of Why promises to be an up-close-and-personal dance experience like no other.’

The choreography embellishes the idea of a magnet and how it attracts or repulses bodies, not only between the dancers but also in their intermingling with the audience which leaves a playful and non-threatening level of interaction in its wake: The Nature of Why revels in the intimacy and connections it forges between the audience and performers. Before we enter the auditorium there is a clear invitation from Bowditch and Hazlewood that viewing and altering our perspective is welcome and will create different sonic and visual opportunities for us. Set across nine distinct orchestral movements, audience members are invited to move in and around the stage in between the clearly defined sections whilst a pre-recorded conversation from Feynman talks about magnets and why; watching the dancers (KJ Clarke-Davies, Victoria Fox, Marta Masiero and Alex McCabe) twine, mesh and envelop themselves around each other and audience members or standing next to Adrian Lee as he shreds his electric guitar whilst the 10-piece string orchestra is dialing up the intensity four feet behind you is a rare privilege.

The body is an instrument which only gives off music when it is used as a body. Always an orchestra, and just as music traverses walls, so sensuality traverses the body and reaches up to ecstasy.” – Anais Nin

The British Paraorchestra is the world’s only large-scale ensemble for disabled musicians and Gregory’s rousing and anthemic score is executed with aplomb. It delivers a musical environment that enables the dancers to dig into and under their innate fibrous musicality; Masiero demonstrates an ease in playing and improvising with the young children in the audience who are present in the matinee performance. Gregory’s score, whilst fulfilling the needs of the performers, also leaves a residue of sonic satisfaction with the audience that left my body moving and pulsing with an emotional connection amplified by the intimacy created by the performers.

Bowditch and Hazlewood highlight that Audio Description (provided by Rationale Productions) is available for each performance and you can take up the invitation if you want. It is wise to do so as the voice and performance of the live audio describer adds an additional layer to the performance which reinforces the choices and intention of the creative team; the joy and tone in hearing a smiling voice subjectively describe abstract choreography in plain English is both a challenge and a delight. When a dancer merges with a double bass and is wheelbarrowed across the stage I close my eyes listening to the audio voice, the score and the reaction of the audience. Rationale Productions are doing some pioneering work with Audio Description and it is clear they are woven into the creation process from the beginning; the integrity of, and familiarity with all parts of the production delivers a level of performance equal to those on stage.

My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.” – Fernando Pessoa

The Nature of Why has a number of scenographic and thematic echoes from two recent productions: Marc Brew Company’s BrewBand (in which Masiero and McCabe featured prominently) fluidly exchanges the roles of dancer and musician and blurs the roles of each skill set, and Claire Cunningham’s and Jess Curtis’s The Way You Look (at me) Tonight which brought the audience on stage, had a depth of intimacy and asked a suite of complex philosophical questions. Bowditch, Cunningham and Brew are a trio of dance makers who have spent a number of years in Scotland forging a reputation for delivering ambitious and emotionally resonant work; with Brew’s departure to Oakland as Artistic Director of Axis Dance (USA) and Bowditch’s forthcoming appointment as Executive Director of Arts Access Victoria (AUS), it leaves Cunningham as the last of the trinity in Glasgow and Scotland, choreographically, a poorer place.

As a wider Mayfest observation, MAYK (co-directed by Matthew Austin and Kate Yedigaroff) have trusted and amplified a significant suite of makers from Bristol; that investment in the people based in the city is exemplary and an antidote to the majority of other UK-based theatre, dance and performance festivals that buy in work from out of town much to the detriment of the artists in their own city. Alongside The British Paraorchestra, there were works from Verity Standen, Sabrina Shirazi, Caroline Williams and Hannah Sullivan.

For a work with so many collaborators, constituent parts and a roving audience, The Nature of Why is a remarkably coherent experience; it creates a space where people can feel comfortable and connected to others, nourishes our ears, bodies and minds whilst nestling itself in the cracks of our memories as we leave the stage in high spirits.


Gary Clarke and Akademi, The Troth at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted: May 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gary Clarke and Akademi, The Troth at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Gary Clarke and Akademi, The Troth, Queen Elizabeth Hall, May 5

The Troth

Subhash Viman Gorania and Vidya Patel in The Troth (photo: Simon Richardson)

The original review was published online in pulseconnects and appears here by kind permission of its editor, Sanjeevini Dutta. 

Gary Clarke’s choreographic adaptation of The Troth at Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Alchemy is based on a love story (Usne Kaha Tha in its original Hindi) written in 1915 by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri that is set against the background of India’s involvement as part of the British Empire in the First World War.

As a youth Lehna Singh (Subhash Viman Gorania) meets Leela (Vidya Patel), like Romeo meeting Juliet, at a market festival and falls in love with her. When he bumps into her some years later, he learns she is betrothed. He answers a recruitment call to join the British Army and begins training. Eighteen years into the story, on the outbreak of the First World War, he discovers that his Captain (Songhay Toldon) is Leela’s husband and father of their son, Bodha (Dom Coffey), who is also leaving for the front. On their departure Leela takes Lehna aside and makes him promise to protect her family at all costs. Driven by his love for Leela and his sense of duty, Lehna fulfills his promise at the cost of his own life.

There is in the relationship between Lehna and Leela a metaphor for the ties between India and the British Raj, whether Guleri meant it or not. The British Army’s inducements to Indians like Lehna to protect the Empire were more calculatingly material — a contemporary recruitment poster offers shoes and food in return for the sacrifice of their lives — but the honourable relationship between country and beloved motherland had the same tragic consequences.

Despite its historical context, there is no horror in the re-telling of this story; dance can’t do horror very well and even the projected archival film footage of Indian soldiers on the front is quite sanitized, filmed from a safe distance behind the lines and suffused with subtle propaganda. One photograph of a pair of disintegrating legs attached to their boots in the mud is the only graphic image, a reminder of the fate of 60,000 Indian soldiers in the conflict. Shri Sriram’s percussive sound score rattles with bullets and explosions at high intensity and the dancers run at full tilt and fly to the ground in the chaos of battle but the reiteration of such physical exertion becomes a choreographic trope unless Clarke is suggesting the naivety of gymnastic preparations for modern warfare. The staged vigour of the soldiers on the battlefield is not far removed from the earlier men’s dances in the market, but how can one possibly approach on stage the conditions under which these soldiers had to exist in the trenches?

Neither did Guleri intend to write an anti-war tract; he was more concerned with the qualities of the heart. Hence, while Clarke’s treatment of The Troth can only approximate the war experiences, he shows more convincingly — because we can relate more easily with it and because dance can do it so well — the romance of Guleri’s story.

Clarke, as choreographer and director, takes the story at face value, and in Patel he has a convincing heroine for whom Gorania is quite understandably willing to sacrifice himself. But in framing the story on the troth between Lehna and Leela Clarke and producer, Akademi, risk subsuming the broader political picture into a romantic evocation of the past. This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, and The Troth is part of a cultural outpouring marking its remembrance. Next month, for example, Akram Khan’s full-scale solo Xenos ‘conjures the shell-shocked dream of a colonial soldier in the context of the First World War’ while English National Ballet will reprise its Lest We Forget program in September. The tendency of such works, and of the commemorative purposes underlying them, is to focus on the effects of war rather than on its causes; hence the stories of loss, love, loyalty, heroism and pity (‘The poetry is in the pity’, as Wilfred Owen wrote in a preface to his war poems). And yet in using these emotional stories as a means of memorialization, are we not in danger of forgetting the political forces that engendered them, those same political forces that continue to preside over the act of remembrance?

In Clarke’s previous work, Coal, about the 1984/85 coal miner’s strike, he contextualizes political force by juxtaposing the lives of the miners and their families with an appearance by a belligerent Mrs. Thatcher. It is this tension that holds the work together but in The Troththe use of archival film as historical context is little more than background and barely offsets the lack of narrative tension in the story. Perhaps Clarke could have found a way to use the political metaphor in the story but that would have run the risk of a post-colonial reading at odds with the commemorative intention of the work.


Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18

Posted: May 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18

Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18, May 12

Ula Liagaitė

Ula Liagaitė performing Duet That Happened (photo: Lukas Mykolaitis)

Imagine a whirlwind approaching and the one idea you have is to penetrate it so you can experience the eye of the storm. Francis Alÿs, an artist who is known for his sardonic political statements through mediated events in which he himself often performs, did exactly this over a period of ten years and recorded it in a video, Tornado. The work could be understood as a metaphor for entering into the nature of a phenomenon through its exterior appearance and of getting mixed up in the unpredictability of the encounter. Ula Liagaitė, who trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, was inspired by Alÿs to imagine how she might adapt his poetics of the unattainable in choreographic terms. Her body has the same materiality but the whirlwind has become a cylindrical metal sculpture by Liagaitė’s sister, Bartė, a free-standing structure with a vertical axle connecting two broad, horizontal cylinders, part double boiler — the initial lighting gives it a copper colour — and part smooth industrial gearing.

Liagaitė prepares for the encounter in a choreographic prelude based of a mix of boxing and classical dance comprising fast footwork, hands held close to the chest and the bobbing, ducking gestures invoked against an invisible sparring partner; she is both protective and pugnacious. She punctuates the sparring by dropping to the floor like a puppet whose strings have been loosened. Wearing a casual, loose-fitting, gold-coloured robe, Liagaitė’s dancing figure contrasts with the stillness of the cylindrical construction; in the darkened studio with a single light that spills on both we witness the close but unresolved relationship between the two. Finally, when she is ready — and as Mikas Zabulionis’ rumbling score reaches a shrill climax — she crosses the short distance to the cylinders to begin her duet.

Liagaitė writes in the program note that, like the experience of watching Tornado, ‘this piece is about a particular feeling that there’s always something bigger than us.’ The duet that is about to happen is already inevitable because the two objects, one human and one mechanical, are drawn to each other by both the object’s offer of experience and Liagaitė’s will to accept it. She approaches the object with reverence before familiarizing herself with its surfaces; there is something of an encounter between two lovers, sensing the perimeters of the body and its contours. However, getting inside the structure was never going to be seamless; Liagaitė has set herself the choreographic task of climbing into a sculptural object that is static — unlike the whirlwind — in order to fulfil its promise of motion. A slight hesitation is perhaps expected at the threshold of a new experience, but once the resistance is overcome Liagaitė sets the cylinders turning from her invisible place inside. We only hear her breathy voice above the whirling sound as a witness of her achievement: ‘I might just be here in the heart of the storm…I feel like I have no control over this thing…’ The duet has started and the pair remains in a dynamic, poetic embrace until the end.

This is the most successful part of the performance — and perhaps the crux of Liagaitė’s vision for the work — in which light, sound and the sensual duet of body and machine converge. As an acknowledgement of the idea of a whirlwind, Liagaitė loses her gown somewhere in the depths of the structure so that when she rises above its turning rim her naked torso is juxtaposed with the polished surfaces and the lighting projects flame-like reflections on her body. Shadows and burnished metal turn slowly before us as Liagaitė’s dancing body sits calmly, climbs or leans out from her mechanical partner in perfect equilibrium, urging on the revolutions to heighten the sense of motion and emotion in her union. She drops down to the floor holding on to the rim and lets the dynamic of the whirling cylinders dictate her momentum of repeated phrases of abandoned falling, slithering and turning. There is a question of who is in control, but as the momentum dies down and the cylinders come to rest, she finds composure sitting on the rim, flushed but with a sense of regret, as if to say, ‘I’ve achieved what I wanted but I’m sorry it’s over.’ Fetching her gown and putting it on she returns to her sparring in the single light until the darkness and a sense of calm descend. The duet has happened.


Vilma Pitrinaitė, We cie, Somaholidays at New Baltic Dance’18

Posted: May 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vilma Pitrinaitė, We cie, Somaholidays at New Baltic Dance’18

Vilma Pitrinaitė, We cie, Somaholidays, New Baltic Dance’18, Vilnius, May 11

Somaholidays

Publicity shot for Somaholidays (photo: Mantas Stabačinskas, collage: Nicholas Matranga)

From the few works and works-in-progress I was able to see at New Baltic Dance’18, the emphasis was on the body as subject, on its expressive nature as an eloquent biological and physical means of communication before any psychological or narrative expectation is placed on it. This is the thrust of Vaidas Jauniškis’s introduction to the festival brochure ‘Hearing The Body’. As he writes, ‘I believe that before diving into new work, all creators of dance consider not only what they wish to say but also what the body says on that particular topic and how, at the end of the day, it adjusts the concept and original idea.’

From the beginning of Vilma Pitrinaitė’s Somaholidays it is the bodies of the three dancers (Pitrinaitė, Mantas Stabačinskas and Darius Algis Stankevičius) that are the focus of attention; we rely on associations, visual references and transposed personal experiences to discern in these bodies a discourse that corroborates or interrogates our own. The discourse is based on Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, Brave New World, where ‘…if ever anything unpleasant should somehow happen — why, there is always soma to give us a holiday from the facts.’ Huxley was one of the first intellectuals to experiment with controlled mescaline and LSD trips in the 1950s and wrote about it with evident relish in a separate essay, The Doors of Perception. In Brave New World, soma had become a readily available pharmaceutical product to take one’s mind off the numbing reality of everyday life. What Pitrinaitė has done is to imagine the daily routine of three friends as a series of repetitive, mechanical, interconnected and interlocking physical phrases; we might be able to hear them dancing were it not for Arūnas Periokas’ manic mash-up of a booming, relentless clubbing beat — 120 beats to the minute — that overlays and drives the performance. What the bodies paradoxically achieve in the course of the performance is a trance-like intensity of complex patterns that in themselves constitute an altered reality.

We enter the performance in lighthearted mode through a projected film of the three friends hiking up a wooded hillside to reach a sunny clearing at the top, then lying in the grass to rest. The camera sees the trio from above, an eye that mediates a simple narrative that is easily recognizable and relaxed. On screen the figures are not full size so when the action metamorphoses to the stage the three dancers appear at first like giants posing in the dark for an imaginary photograph. From the blackout Vladas Serstobojevas’ light scans up from the floor to reveal Rūta Junevičiutė’s spring costume collection in forest patterns and colours: first the sneakers, then the sylvan leggings, followed by tight, tie-died t-shirts; tanned faces unfurl last behind sunglasses. The three are linked around the shoulders and waists, the two men looking cool on either side of Pitrinaitė whose face is raised in a fixed, satiated smile.

This is a holiday snap, one of the rare if not the only moment of stillness in the piece. Once the three start moving they never stop; movement becomes a form of thought, or perhaps a self-induced physical substitute for non-thinking. Because of the small scale of the theatre and Junevičiutė’s stage design of a continuous white rectangle like an unrolled photographer’s backdrop, the figures appear constantly as close-up body portraits; we cannot escape the onslaught of physical energy. By the end of the 40 minutes I am exhausted.

There is another aspect to Somaholidays’ bodily discourse: Pitrinaitė has chosen to work with dancers of different generations, so the signals their bodies emit add to the richness of the discourse. In his introduction, Jauniškis refers to age as another limitation that has been challenged and overcome in the drive to broaden the dance body’s acceptance as a physical instrument, citing the 50-year performance career of Yvonne Rainer. On stage there is no disparity in quality between the three performers, only in the selection of vocabulary, so they all merge into one continuously evolving form.

The climax — or flowering — of Somaholidays is its breaking out musically and choreographically into three separate variations. Each dancer performs to a chosen song that Periokas has incorporated seamlessly into the score and the variations come across as the ultimate reward of the respective bodies to express themselves as they wish, unfettered, as if the effect of soma has finally found its mark. This mood continues in a return to the filmed outing, with the three revitalized dancers descending the hill to their car discussing the absurd reality of rehearsal schedules.


Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Formosa at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: May 13th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Formosa at Sadler’s Wells

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, Formosa, Sadler’s Wells, May 9

Formosa

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in Formosa (photo: HSU Ping)

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s new production Formosa, presented at Sadler’s Wells, is also the last work choreographed by its founder Lin Hwai-min who has announced he will retire as artistic director in 2019. From its avant-garde beginnings in the 1970s, the company has occupied a unique position in Taiwan and internationally, distinctively merging diverse artistic and cultural influences into an extensive repertoire of works in which local traditions, myths or history acquire contemporary significance.

In his work, Lin Hwai-min uses Taiwan as a source of inspiration to create imaginative microcosms that act as metaphors for the dynamics shaping geopolitics and societies more broadly. Such a correlation between micro- and macrocosm is also the underlying motif in this latest work, in which Taiwan itself is the protagonist (Ihla Formosa is the seventeenth century Portuguese name meaning ‘beautiful island’). Lin Hwai-min evokes its landscape of rice fields and oceans, rivers, valleys and towns through poetry, sound and movement that convey the expansive idea of cultures as ‘collective conditions of immersion in air, [water] and sign systems’. He achieves this synthesis by seamlessly imbuing the choreography with formal integrity and poetic vibrancy.

The empty stage is like a three-dimensional plane of infinite possibilities delineated only by white light as if we are peering into an open box. The twenty-four dancers in loose costumes of pale blues, greens and orange-browns are both the embodiment of place and lore, and of the Chinese ideograms that represent them. The initial white emptiness gradually fills with projected typefaces giving form to an intangible scenery by Chou Tung-yen and Very Mainstream Studio. It is like a world in the process of being created that resonates with a soundscape of music, found sounds and recorded readings. Words, as the programme notes suggest, are the starting point for Formosa. We use words to name and document, to represent and give meaning to the environments in which we live, but words can also become blurred over time as the stories we tell give way to new ones. It is this potential to convey meaning and the sensory qualities of resonance, rhythm and the graphic character of words to which the choreographic movement responds, shifting fluidly from floor rotations to elevation and arched extensions in a constant gathering and dissipation of form that at points isfrozen in temporary stillness. Like the shape of a Chinese ideogram that contains within its abstract form the concept and action it refers to, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s distinctive dance vocabulary conveys in gestures and steps both aerial lightness and earthy robustness: the rhythm of seasons, the swaying of grass and leaves or the flowing of streams, the tapping of feet resounding like rain and falling bodies dropping with the mighty weight of stones shattered by an earthquake.

The vibrant almost pastoral beginning teeming with activity and the unpredictable eruption of the elements acquires a more sinister quality in the second half of the performance. As we learn in an excerpt from Taiwanese poet Walis Nokan’s Pulling Back The Veil Of Silence, the flow of rivers is stopped by man’s fortifications: we see Huang Pei-hua as a solitary river increasingly surrounded by the menacing and aggressive clustering of the rest of the company. She dances her demise in what is a Sacre du Printempsfor our ecologically doomed times and the stage is increasingly filled with typefaces whose density makes them illegible: a collapse into incommunicability and violence. Fighting erupts and the dancers divide into two groups. Lin Hwai-min comments in the program notes, ‘There is a tradition of internal fighting on this island. But as I was working on the piece, I realised such conflict was everywhere. Taiwan is not unique… Look at what is happening everywhere. But I believe it has a universal appeal that is applicable to other countries.’ On stage, aggression and violence turn into disintegrating energies and a struggle for survival. The dancers fall to the floor; ideograms themselves fragment line by line until they dissolve into nothingness. Slowly one by one the dancers pull themselves up into a faltering motion that increasingly takes on the perpetual flow of waves that form and break, repeated in the concluding section by a film sequence of the ocean and a solitary figure who stands in a box of white light as at the beginning of the performance.

‘All things contrived are like a dream, illusion, bubble, shadow, and as a dewdrop or lightning. They should be regarded as such’, reads the Buddhist Diamond Sutra. Out of movement and light Formosacreates a world that is both dreamlike and illusionary, full of tumult and tenderness, a drop that contains an ever-changing ocean of possibilities.


Wayne Parsons Dance, Meeting and Vestige at The Place 2018

Posted: May 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Wayne Parsons Dance, Meeting and Vestige at The Place 2018

Wayne Parsons Dance, Double Bill: Meeting & Vestige, The Place, April 28

Meeting

Katie Lusby and Wayne Parsons in an earlier Meeting (photo: ASH)

In his introductory note to the evening’s program, Wayne Parsons writes that the double bill of Meeting and Vestige ‘charts the development of my work over the past 5 years’ and adds that Meeting was the work that launched his company at The Place in Resolution! 2013. If this is point A, and presumably Vestige is the more recent point B, a line can be drawn between them that traces Parsons’ development. So what does this line reveal? An interest in narrative is evident in both works along with the mechanism of memory: in Meeting it is the body memory that dancers employ to recall movement to a particular music, while in Vestige it is the evocation through memory of a person who has died. As a dancer, Parsons would know the former only too well, and perhaps experienced it in the remaking of Meeting with Katie Lusby. In Vestige the three characters closest to the deceased take turns in remembering her in words and action while she illustrates her side of the picture through dance alone. On a more psychological level, the male dancer in Meeting (Parsons himself) and the portrayal of the husband in Vestige both display a chauvinist approach to truth and a rejection of the opinion of others that is often accompanied by a sardonic smile.

Meeting is an accomplished work that in its brief 15 minutes suggests a maturity of conception with an ease of style. It shows the two dancers rehearsing sequences of movement they are in the process of remembering. Body memory is never quite the same for two different bodies, and Meeting plays on this ambiguity. Parsons suggests a phrase and Lusby responds with her version, be it as small as a variation in the hand, or as major as a change in the order of a sequence. Lusby is constantly smiling with the pleasure of going through the motions of remembering while Parsons smiles but often with the pleasure of correcting Lusby and asserting his own recall. The sense of humour in Meeting goes beyond the smiles, however, expressing an evident delight in the physical play and in the gentle one-upmanship on both sides but underneath Parsons subtly modifies the notion of recollection from shared suggestion to a controlling physical manipulation and then to sexual innuendo from which Lusby releases herself in the final gesture. Meeting extracts a number of possibilities from its subject that all are inherent within it and it is Parsons’ seemingly effortless slippage from one to the other while maintaining a consistent choreographic vocabulary that mark the work’s sense of completeness.

All these traits find their way into Vestige with one major difference; the narrative has become literal rather than choreographic. In working with author Ankur Bahl and a dramaturg Pooja Ghai Parsons has allowed the influence of the word to become central to an understanding of the plot and to its reenactment rather than implicit within a choreographic framework. The focus of the story is Livia, a socialite (Grace Jabbari) who relives her posthumous fame as recalled by the three people who were closest to her: husband Killian (Ian Garside), a ‘fan-girl archivist’ named Suki (Sonya Cullingford) and Cath, a ‘needy portrait artist’ (Katie Lusby). The story opens with the death of Livia so her subsequent re-embodiment serves to corroborate or reject the memories of others, like a celebrity biopic in which interviews with friends and family are juxtaposed with live footage and an eclectic playlist (designed by Angus MacRae). Vestige is entirely fictional but it borrows the biopic form to piece together a discordant portrait between the glitter of public life and private despair. Jabbari dances her life while interacting as both subject and object of the others’ verbal memories. Her duet with Garside shifts from a broken waltz of longing for tenderness and attention — “She could only fall in love to a waltz” — to his callous resistance if not rejection. This is where Parsons’ choreographic manipulation provides a link to Meeting and is a powerful image of selective truth. But by the time Jabbari takes the floor in the final sequence the weight of the verbal narrative intrudes too literally on the choreographic invention; collapsing too often evokes breakdown but is not enough to convey the full range of emotional turmoil.

The line from Meeting to Vestige suggests a development of influences in which Parsons’ own initial inspiration has been modified beyond his natural ability to mould it. His strength is to infuse movement with its own power of telling, which is what will give shape once again to memory.


Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen in Breath at Place des Arts

Posted: April 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen in Breath at Place des Arts

Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen, Breath, Cinquième Salle, Montreal, April 20

Breath

Kimmo Pohjonen and Tero Saarinen in Breath (photo: Mikki Kunttu)

As our senses accustom to the dark and rumbling atmosphere, Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen appear barefoot in hazard suits on two raised paths leading away from each other in a ‘V’ shape, an arid, post-apocalyptic landscape in which air seems to be the one element in short supply. The two men have not yet met; they are wholly involved in their individual survival. There are flashes of light, sometimes directly in our eyes as if we too are on this blasted heath, with the sound of electrical short-circuits amplified to a level of a burnt-out desolation. This is the Beckettian setting of Saarinen and Pohjonen’s new work, Breath, which received its world première at the Grand Théâtre in Quebec City on April 12 before moving to Montreal’s Cinquième Salle at Place des Arts as part of the Danse Danse program.

Saarinen is a dancer and choreographer who has directed his eponymous company in Helsinki since 1996, while Pohjonen is an acclaimed Finnish composer and accordionist. Along with their individual artistry, each has brought long-term collaborators into the creative mix: Saarinen’s lighting and set designer, Mikki Kunttu, his costume designer Teemu Muurimäki, and Pohjonen’s sound designer, Tuomas Norvio. Breathstarts as a desolate journey nowhere, an existential supplication to an unknowable fate, but the richness of expression of the five collaborators turns the journey into one of sublime meaning as if by some alchemical process they transform their coordinated theatrical experience into a profoundly human revelation.

Pohjonen appears as a mythical figure, bruised and torn, wandering aimlessly with his electrified accordion strapped to his body like an armoured, serrated shell that he plays without seeming to move his hands. His sounds range from the breathless rasping of parched lungs to the full blast of a pipe organ and it is his intricate improvisation that gradually transfigures Saarinen’s persona from that of traumatised survivor to pilgrim in search of atonement. Over the course of Breaththeir symbiotic relationship, in which the visualization and aural expression of breath act as guides, brings their paths closer and closer together until their communication is complete.

Saarinen, without seeing him at first, hears Pohjonen’s notes with their percussive beat and responds to them like an automaton that has lost its programming: short staccato twists and turns of his body while his eyes stare ahead, sucking in what air he can inside the helmet of Muurimäki’s hazard suit. Pohjonen carries his instrument like a breathing machine, investing the landscape with the air on which both travellers depend. As they become aware of each other they use their voices in a guttural, unintelligible flow of grunted communication that paradoxically keeps them apart. It is the music that proves transformative; as it fills with richness and volume, both men discard their helmets and Saarinen’s movement becomes more fluid to the point of flight, as suggested by the metaphor of billowing material he sweeps around and over him. It is Pohjonen who manifests the power — sound is the metaphor for life — to which Saarinen is drawn inexorably but it is Saarinen who initiates the first steps to come into contact with him.

The musical notes may be instigated by Pohjonen and his accordion but it is Norvio who processes and amplifies them to fill the theatre as if they had the composition of air; heavy waltzes and redemptive chords merge with miked footfalls and electro beats to create a soundscape that becomes a cathartic journey from parched desert to cathedral nave.

In the same way, Kunttu’s visual environment initially engulfs us in its impenetrable density; this is the last place on earth to expect the faint glow of exit signs. If darkness is suffocating, Kunttu’s use of stroboscopic white light is a shock treatment to allow in some air, a visual defibrillation that breaks down Pohjonen’s and Saarinen’s movement into incipient spasms of activity. His subsequent washes of intense colour — blue and yellow — affirm the life-giving properties of light, of sky and sun, that seem to impregnate the white material of the costumes and to refresh the figures on their journey.

Saarinen quotes Samuel Beckett in the program: ‘Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.’ On a narrative level, Breathcan be understood as an allegory of a journey from despair to salvation, but on a purely theatrical level its creation of sensual unity through the inspired integration of sound, movement and light is what takes hold of the imagination and endures.


Gandini Juggling and Alexander Whitley, Spring at artsdepot

Posted: April 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gandini Juggling and Alexander Whitley, Spring at artsdepot

Gandini Juggling and Alexander Whitley, Spring, artsdepot, April 12

Gandini Juggling and Alexander Whitley Company in Spring (photo: Martin McLachlan)

Ever since Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä-Hokkala began Gandini Juggling in 1991 their fertile imaginations have sought to present their art in innovative ways, expanding the traditional form of juggling into the spaces offered by theatrical and choreographic structures. Ylä-Hokkala had a background in rhythmic gymnastics and both she and Gandini performed with Ra-Ra Zoo, one of the UK’s New Circus groups of the 1980s that pioneered a theatrical approach to circus arts. Among circus artists at that time there was a surge of interest in the crossover between dance and juggling but Gandini and Ylä-Hokkala went a stage further. For the first decade of their company they worked with dancer Gill Clarke to explore ways in which a movement vocabulary of the body could inform their performance which meant not only taking class with Clarke but working with her on a choreographic approach to organizing their material. Several works were created in this way and dance became an integral part of Gandini Juggling’s performances. One can’t help feeling the legacy of Clarke, who died in 2011, in the trio of projects Gandini Juggling has instigated over the last three years with three different forms of dance: classical ballet in 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures with choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela; bharatanatyam in Sigma with dancer/choreographer Seeta Patel and contemporary in Spring with choreographer Alexander Whitley that artsdepot has supported and recently presented as part of CircusFest 2018.

In each of these projects the performance is not simply a juxtaposition of juggling and dance but the outcome of a process of mutual questioning in which each art form explores ways to integrate its essential qualities into the other’s mode of expression. It’s a complex relationship that requires willingness on both sides for immersion in, and exchange with the alternative discipline and even then the end product is not a guaranteed fusion. In 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures Ondiviela was unable to imbue classical ballet with the ludic virtuosity of juggling, causing a qualitative rift between the two. In Sigma Patel had no problem with matching the gestural dexterity and rhythmic vigour of bharatanatyam but the two forms belong to such different heritages that the seams had difficulty being drawn together. In Spring, however, Whitley and Gandini Juggling have achieved a fusion that in every aspect releases and capitalizes on the potential for such collaboration. The three dancers from Whitley’s company (Yu-Hsien Wu, Tia Hockey and Leon Poulton) and the five performers from Gandini Juggling (jugglers Dominik Harant, Kati Ylä-Hokkala, Kim Huynh, Liza van Brakel, Tristan Curty and dancer Erin O’Toole) create a seamless display that is neither juggling nor dance but somewhere elevated in between. The jugglers merge into the fluidity of the dance while maintaining a strict attention to their skills and the dancers riff on their body phrases as if they are juggling their bodies in space. When they work together they are often indistinguishable, as in the floor routines of complex leg patterns that have the intricacy of knitting, and playful juggling routines in which the dancers participate.

From the very opening when Curty sets the tone by informing us dryly that this is the beginning, a sense of humour pervades the performance that is closer to a sense of growing wonder; both juggling and dance are imbued with a never-ending flow of invention and skill like two minds so deep in dialogue that ideas bounce continually from one to the other.

With its percussive rhythms, playful dissonances and vivid sound effects that drive the dance as much as the juggling, Gabriel Prokofiev’s score is central to the work. Words are tossed in multiple languages, counts are whispered and colours chanted, merging in an out of the music to form a soundscape that is part circus, part club and part effervescent happening. Guy Hoare’s lighting is a celebration of colour that plays with the score as much as with the bodies that Lydia Cawson has costumed in neutral grey. He lights the performers against initially bright primary shades of red, blue and yellow then moves to black and white with coloured shadows. High sidelights pick out the trajectory and colour of the balls and rings as they reach the top of their arc and Hoare has fun adjusting perspective while intermingling and multiplying projected shadows and silhouettes against brightly-coloured washes.

Spring is indeed an appropriate title: the show is an exuberant, irrepressible manifestation of colour and rhythm for which the creators have joined forces in a coordinated gasp of elemental wonder.

 

For detailed information about the history and art of Gandini Juggling, see Thomas JM Wilson’s Juggling Trajectories: Gandini Juggling 1991-2015 to which I am indebted for the background to this review. 


Jacky Lansley, About Us, Oxford House Theatre

Posted: April 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jacky Lansley, About Us, Oxford House Theatre

Jacky Lansley, About Us, Oxford House Theatre, March 21

About Us

Esther Huss and Jacky Lansley in About Us (photo: Sarah Covington)

There is a certain latitude in the definition of the two words Jacky Lansley uses for her new work: About Us. Who exactly is ‘us’ and, depending on the answer to that question, what is it ‘about us’ that is the subject of the work? On one level, ‘us’ refers to the eight performers (six in the theatre and two on film), whose personal stories form the initial structure of the work. As Lansley writes in the program about the research process, ‘…I invited each of the performing artists to bring a story to the studio that was joyful, distressing or mundane. These stories were then explored through a range of physical and vocal disciplines to create live performance material…’ The stories value the ordinary and the everyday that Lansley then interrogates with a ‘wide range of visual, choreographic and conceptual stimuli’ to reveal their deeper significance. At the heart of the process is her conviction that ‘the personal is political’ and she links the two by applying refractive filters to the stories that through suggestion, analogy, parody or juxtaposition generate a construction of underlying themes and observations that emerge as a layered image of what we might call contemporary British society. Thus, by way of philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, the singularity of the eight performers’ experiences becomes the plurality of ‘us’ not in the sense of a self-regulating, enclosed group but as an open and imaginative relation of the individual to others.

Entering the theatre — a large rectangular area with two parallel lines of chairs facing each other across the performance space and at either end — we notice some of the chairs are already occupied by the performers (you can guess they are performers because Fergus Early is sitting in cricket whites holding a bat and Esther Huss is wearing sunglasses). Projected on the wall on either side is a reminder of the work’s inclusive premise, the word ‘Us’.

The sound score by Sylvia Hallett is like a stave on which the performance is threaded, for she has taken the voices of the recorded oral stories as a starting point for her composition. When we see and hear Ingrid MacKinnon (and her son, Max) on film, her dialogue is a coherent whole but with performers Huss and Jreena Green, Hallett takes a single phrase and repeats it as a musical riff on which the choreography is based or, in the case of Tim Taylor, composes his thoughts into a song in the style of Noel Coward. And is it fanciful to hear in her electronic treatment of Early’s rhythmic tapping of a bat in its crease the extrapolation of cricket’s colonial legacy to the rattle of a machine gun?

Roswitha Chesher’s beautifully filmed sequences, like Hallett’s score, move from the straightforward (interviews) to the surreal (Fergus and Ursula Early hissing and growling) to the delightfully frivolous (portraits in stylish hats). She films a tennis match that is reminiscent of the mimed game in Antonioni’s Blow Up but here represents a cultural environment of rules, sportsmanship, cooperation and competition that in the context of the great current leveler, Brexit, seem to have lost their meaning — or are perhaps in the process of searching for a new one — which makes the very question of ‘us’ even more relevant.

In one sense, About Us coalesces around this country’s ongoing political and social unrest and how individual circumstances feed into it. The value of artistic means is that they can make ‘us’ (in Nancy’s sense) think deeply through the imagination, and Lansley shows us to what extent the personal is political. At the same time she suggests the role of choreography, as both a mirror of the tangled web of cause and effect and as a means to resolve it, is an appropriate metaphor for a way forward. As dramaturg Ramsay Burt asks, ‘Are we perhaps choreographing hope…?’ The final section, however, goes far beyond this current political quandary to embrace the very survival of the planet. The original stories give way to projected statistics and quotations that form a didactic panorama about endangered species — not least about our own. Even if it’s still ‘about us’, the very enormity of the scope dwarfs the original frame of the work; how can these personal stories connect to the impending extinction of the planet as we know it?

Although there is a connection — Lansley points out that Britain’s colonial legacy includes the recreational hunting for wildlife trophies that has escalated into trafficking for profit — it seems the creative archaeology of the personal experience has suddenly been appropriated by an intellectual endgame. It’s as if an umpire, instead of allowing the players to reach their own result, has imposed on the game a prearranged conclusion. How ironic that this sounds like the mandate for Brexit.


Ian Abbott on Aerowaves, Spring Forward 2018 in Sofia

Posted: March 30th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Aerowaves, Spring Forward 2018 in Sofia

Ian Abbott on Aerowaves, Spring Forward 2018, Sofia, March 23-25

Forecasting

Barbara Matijevic and MacBook in Forecasting (photo: Yelena Remetin)

Spring Forward 2018 is a flipbook of European contemporary dance; 22 performances selected from over 580 applications from 40 countries and squashed into 2.5 days. It would have been 22 performances but for Oona Doherty’s last minute injury which put an end, for the second year running, to her performance of Hope Hunt (the one UK representation). Directed by John Ashford and managed by Anna Arthur, the Aerowaves network is an ever growing set of programmers, artists and writers injected each year into a different European city for three days with the help of a local delivery partner. Derida Dance Centre played host this time and offered a wealth of local knowledge, volunteers, walking guides and oodles more to ensure a smooth-ish international parachuting.

One of the benefits/disadvantages of the Aerowaves format is that all work programmed has to be between 20 to 40 minutes (even if the original work is longer) which requires judicious pruning to ensure the heart of a work remains intact but removes any flab for the gluttonous Spring Forward crowd. The viewing pace is also accelerated; seeing 5 or 6 pieces a day at the Edinburgh Fringe was frenzy enough but at Spring Forward you’re seeing 21 works in 52 hours — one piece of contemporary dance every 2.5 hours — which affects how you see, how you process and how you articulate a response to each work.

Rita Gobi’s Volitant is a tightly constructed and deftly articulated solo with a choreographic vocabulary that is part ornithological, part sumo and part wrought spring. With a taped floor pattern of an arrow head of parallel white lines, our eyes are drawn to the points of tension in Gobi’s shoulders, cheeks and knees; it’s a contagious state amplified by the Morse code-, typewriter- and pong-inspired soundtrack by Dávid Szegő that accentuates her physical punctuation and treacle netball heel pivots. With a sympathetic monochromatic lighting design by Pavla Beranová emphasising the clarity of her movement through silhouette Gobi is an exquisite performer with the ability to build and choreograph a minimalist landscape worthy of greater attention.

Imagine a slug. Imagine a giant black rumbling slug. Imagine a giant black rumbling choreographic slug that can suck up, swallow and spit out naked humans at will. Welcome to Pietro Marullo’s WRECK from Insiemi Ireeali Company, an ambitious 40-minute scenography with a flawed narrative that could have dropped straight out of The Prisoner. With a huge black inflatable pillow taking the role of the Big Slug we watch it ooze and blob from side to side, rising up to demonstrate its power and mark its territory without any visible human intervention. After five minutes we are surprised to see it burp up a naked human who remains motionless in its slimy wake; the premise accrues over the next 10 minutes with naked bodies in solo, duo, trio and up to quartet being hoovered and deposited across the stage to an electronic noise glitch pulsing soundtrack. And then a switch occurs. The bodies, previously stilled, have thawed and begin to run, circle and cower in the path of Big Slug. At which point the narrative bottom falls out of the work. I almost believed we were being presented with a new terrain, a sci-fi otherness when suddenly it’s the tiny wizard curtain behind the curtain from The Wizard of Oz and we see it being manipulated for the remaining 15 minutes by a sixth naked body. Big Slug isn’t real. The bodies aren’t really being eaten, digested and reborn; it’s just an inflatable pillow wafting around the stage and audience with some naked performers. With interest waning I’m left soaked in disappointment in the possibilities that might have been.

Forecasting by Premiere Stratagème is intelligent, funny and conceptually rich; it responds to the increasing mass of YouTube content and society’s need to upload and document every facet of our lives. Performed by Barbara Matijevic the work begins with a Macbook Pro on stage alone on a metre high stand when a classic YouTube video of how to change your battery on your Macbook begins and Matijevic enters. Over the next 40 minutes Matijevic strategically places her hands, torso, face and other anatomies behind/around the Macbook over dozens of short videos so that it looks like she is, in turn, preparing a meal, indulging in a spot of toe sucking, having her face dog licked or firing dozens of rounds from a pistol. The skits trigger an almost constant laughter as she plays with perspective, inverts expected scenarios and uses her own body to echo and amplify the screen content; full body recoil after firing and suggestive eye rolls and raised eyebrows during the toe sucking demonstrates an accuracy and formidable control of her body. Sat alongside the suggested narratives and sweet jump cuts in the video (edited by Giuseppe Chico) Matijevic’s deadpan delivery ensures that Forecasting has a wide resonance with audience and the potential for a multiple cast expansion.

Like any festival or venue programme there are works that connect with an audience and those that don’t; a number of Spring Forward veterans felt two thirds of this 8th edition programme misfired and was one of the poorest in recent memory. It was no secret that  seeing Mathis Kleinschnittger in “Grrr, I’m Dancing”, where he rolls around the floor clutching three teddy bears, had caused a dozen French programmers to walk out the theatre and slam the door nosily behind them. As a Spring Forward first timer I can only respond to the work presented and would agree that 2018 was not a vintage program.

I could talk about the tired clichés of the two cis hetero male/female duets Rehearsal On Love and F63.9 from Finland and Bulgaria respectively, both choreographed by men and ‘exploring’ domestic violence in relationships. Or I could talk about Jordan Deschamps’ numbing and glacial ‘exploration’ of intimacy in the male sauna, Dédale, with four nude men flopping about under an orange street light. Or I could talk about the much-hyped Opus by Christos Papadopoulos of Leon & the Wolf that offered four dancers as human instruments articulating their body to the score and cadences of the string soundtrack. However when half the cast do not have the ability to pop, punctuate or articulate a movement it undermines the essence of the show and demonstrates poor casting, rehearsal and direction.

Spring Forward’s primary purpose (aside from brutal scheduling and presentation of dance) is as an international pollinator; it is the conversations and dialogue that manifest on the long walks between the venues that genuine exchange occurs. The value of people offering alternative perspectives on work, on ecologies in other countries and on choreographic possibilities for the future is rich and ensures that despite the misfiring class of 2018 people will return because bees need pollen and Spring Forward is a garden with a lot of flowers in it.