Sweetshop Revolution: I loved you & I loved you

Posted: July 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sweetshop Revolution, I loved you & I loved you, The Place, July 30

Faith Prendergast, Daniel Whiley and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke in Sally Marie's I loved you & I loved you (photo: ©Danilo Moroni)

Faith Prendergast, Daniel Whiley and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke in I loved you & I loved you (photo: ©Danilo Moroni)

I had already fallen in love with the title, the story of Welsh composer Morfydd Owen and the publicity image by Danilo Moroni of Faith Prendergast, Karl Fargerlund-Brekke and Daniel Whiley that heralded the new work by Sally Marie but having had the opportunity last night to see its work-in-progress form as part of Fringe at The Place, I can say I loved you & I loved you goes beyond my expectations. Let me count the ways.

The way Prendergast anticipates the first note of music with a subtle turn of her head after which she inhabits the music and the music inhabits her as if she is the composer (which she is). The way she moves and the way her eyes make her movement an entire story with the emotional breadth of a tragic life. I loved you & I loved you is a dark work about a beautiful and gifted composer who at 26 died mysteriously on a kitchen table at the hands of her husband, Ernest Jones, but Prendergast brings out the simple joy and beauty embedded in the music (played by Brian Ellsbury) that keeps the light from dying.

The way Daniel Whiley (as Ernest Jones) matches Prendergast in sensitivity. Whiley has a powerful physique matched by an intelligence and humility that remind me of Paul White. Like Prendergast he illustrates his story through his eyes and head while his body shapes the emotions. Initially he shares Prendergast cheerfully enough with his rival for her affections, Fargerlund-Brekke, but gradually reveals a streak of menace. His solo of bare-chested, breathy exertions shows a contorted, analytical soul who is soon consumed by the sexual theories (as a psychoanalyst Jones was a close associate of Freud) that he demonstrates in a self-absorbed, rhythmical anal dance.

The way Fargerlund-Brekke (as Elliot Crawshay-Williams, ‘the man she longed to love’) plays a half-hearted game of tennis with Whiley in the garden as he smiles his way through his coy, self-deprecatory story that he delivers with more conviction than his serve and pisses off his opponent no end. He is a gentle romantic unaware of his rival’s morbid preoccupation with theories of control. His role in the work’s story is cursory at this point, but in the three weeks before Edinburgh Marie promises to bring it to the significance it holds in the title.

The way soprano Ellen Williams colours the music and the way Ellsbury plays Owen’s works on the upright piano (he is the first pianist to record Owen’s solo piano works). And the way Owen herself phrases her music with both strength and gentleness.

And finally the way Marie has entered into this story with her entire creative being and has not only drawn the elements together in a poignant dance theatre production but has filled it with a love of and admiration for her subject. That’s why the photograph, the title, the story and the performance have a creative unity that doesn’t lie. This is a gem.

I loved you & I loved you is co-produced with Coreo Cymru and Chapter in association with Galeri, Caernarfon and National Theatre Wales and supported by both Arts Council England and Wales

GOlive in Oxford

Posted: July 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

GOlive, Burton Taylor studio, Oxford Playhouse, July 18

Susan Kempster in My Own Private Movie (photo: Maurizio Malangone)

Susan Kempster in My Own Private Movie (photo: Maurizio Malangone)

Critic turned critic-entrepreneur Donald Hutera is creating and curating opportunities for dancers to perform who might otherwise have few occasions to show their work. Oxford is a first for GOlive and there is a further outing at the Chesil Theatre in Winchester on July 24. The venues are small — the original GOlive venue at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town holds 60 people and the Burton-Taylor studio seats 50 — but their intimacy works well for the small-scale works Hutera is presenting. One of the advantages of this proximity is the value given to the subtleties of communication; there are elements of this evening’s program that provide a master class in the art of integrating the head and eyes in the moving body, a vital aspect that is all too often overlooked in dance training.

When Anuradha Chaturvedi performs her solo, Quicksilver, to a score by Jeremy Thurlow, her dancing is not only attuned rhythmically to the music but has a refreshing clarity of expression because her eyes, head and hands are in constant communication with the rest of her body. She gives the impression of being centred and focused from within and there is a direct line of communication from inside to the audience. I am reminded of something Henri Cartier-Bresson said about a photographic image: it is formed of a line between they eye, the heart, and the head. In a photographic image that line stops at the plane of the image; in dance it is carried through the entire body. In the duet Chaturvedi dances with Meena Selva Anand, Silent Melody, to music by Bikram Ghosh, the same elements are present but there is an added complexity — and beauty — in that the two dancers are communicating with each other at the same time they are communicating with us. It is mesmerizing.

Marie-Louise Crawley performs as part of Avid for Ovid, an umbrella title for a new ensemble of Oxford area dance and music artists who bring ideas and methods from Roman pantomime to the telling of ancient myths. When she wears a neutral mask for her solo, Myrrha, she makes her body express what the face cannot but her head with its smooth, china-white exterior is also expressive because it is precisely tuned with the rest of the body. Crawley spent six years performing with Ariane Mnouchkine in her Théâtre du Soleil so she knows the rigour of and the responsibility for working with the mask. It is fascinating to see how the very lack of innate expression in the mask — its animal-like emotionless state — contrasts with the body’s emotional turmoil. Through Crawley’s articulate arms and expressive plastic shapes we can feel her inner workings of fear and despair in the telling of her incestuous story. Her hands on her womb become a leitmotif of birth and of the unrelenting hand of fate.

Susie Crow, a stalwart of the Oxford dance scene, is also instrumental in Avid for Ovid; her personification of Tisiphone is an instructive contrast to Crawley because while she has no mask she finds a stillness in her face as if it is one. Crow, who danced with the Royal Ballet, has a naturally classical line and she constructs her solo on the spiral that is as present in the classical fifth position as it is all the way up the body into the head and shoulders. Crow mastered this form some time ago and relishes in the freedom it gives her to move. Tisiphone is a fury in classical legend and although Crow herself hardly fits the description, her movement conjures up Tisiphone’s fiery character in the forceful sweep of her choreography. Malcolm Atkins’ lovely score for both pieces colours the dramatic elements in a way that informs the movement without dictating to it. Unfortunately I missed the third Avid for Ovid segment by Segolene Tarte, who performed Lyacaon the night before.

The strength of Sue Lewis’s female trio, Fascination, is in the physical drive of Catrin Lewis, Effie McGuire and Natasha Wade but is undermined by its weakness in communication. Perhaps Fascination suffers from its juxtaposition to the four previous works because it is immediately apparent that the movement of the dancers’ eyes and heads is focused inwards (if anywhere), which places the audience in a similar relation to a viewer in an art gallery. Interestingly, Fascination is based on the recurring pattern of three women in Picasso’s paintings but the spatial tension that keeps his women on the canvas does not hold the choreography together on the stage. The elements Lewis has taken from these paintings and woven into her choreography express a purely physical realm — even Adrian Corker’s music seems to flow by on another plane — that has lost something in translation.

The evening begins with Susan Kempster’s My Own Private Movie, a conceptual work about personal communication in a wired environment saturated with iPods, iPhones and social media. At the start of the performance, Kempster hands each member of the audience a mini iPod with a pre-recorded track of music, text and, for some, instructions. She apologizes in advance that some of the iPods may not work, in which case there is nothing to be done but listen to the performance in silence. Ironically Kempster’s own iPod malfunctions at the moment she signals all of us to turn on the device, which seems to feed into the theme perfectly. Those members of the audience who receive instructions descend to the stage, change places, turn and wait, listening for the next instruction. Their vacant expression is indicative of inner process, and Kempster’s idea is to show us the contrast between that inner process and being fully in the external reality. Because she is the only one without an iPod, her role is rather more poetic than it might have been as she stops to listen for signs of life, for a sense of community with her wired cast; she is the only one who is free to act. It shows in the eyes and head.

Leila McMillan, Family Portrait

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

Leila McMillan, Family Portrait, The Borough Hall, Greenwich Dance, June 12

Family Portait (photo: Manuel Vasquez)

Family Portait (photo: Manuel Vasquez)

“What moves me is the actor who can move me, if only for an instant. True theatre is a balance between truth and poetry. “ Ariane Mnouchkine

If, like me, you hadn’t heard of the contemporary dance technique of Flying Low and Passing Through, you can look online for founder David Zambrano to get a full account of what he teaches. Briefly, he discovered over the course of rehabilitation for his injured feet how to use the floor to develop the dynamics of the rest of his body. Once he had regained the strength in his feet, Zambrano developed his technique that his friends jokingly referred to as Flying Low. Passing Through is a further development of his technique through improvisation. Choreographer Leila McMillan teaches the technique and has based her new work on its principles, though Family Portrait is perhaps less a demonstration of the technique as it is a framework for the improvisational play of one-upmanship that McMillan and the cast have developed.

It is hard to imagine a more heterogeneous family than this one: Faith Prendergast, Karl William Fagerlund Brekke, Karolina Kraczkowska, Monsur Ali, Martha Passakopoulou, Typhaine Delaup and Danilo Caruso. McMillan clearly relishes the diversity of the performers, not only of their characters but of their physical attributes — most noticeably the disparity in sizes between Brekke and Prendergast. What unites them is a wicked sense of humour that Paolo Fiorentini has brought out in his costumes topped with a selection of rakish hats that make these children chic and colourful on top of their natural exuberance. The set by I. Carlos is enclosed on three sides by banks of seating in The Borough Hall at Greenwich Dance, a stage emptied of furniture except for guitarist Domenico Angarano’s seat and musical equipment in one corner. Ben Pacey and Emerald Faerie light the stage to the intimate scale of the family with a selection of floor lamps and hanging chandeliers created by Faerie herself.

Silence descends on the room, a long silence in the dark broken by the creaking hinges of a metal door and the sound of scampering feet. The siblings emerge from the shadows in a tight group with what seems like trepidation but each is already wondering how best to upstage the others. This is no collection of shrinking violets; the stage is their frame and they make a point of presenting their best face to each of the three sides of the auditorium as if posing for a photographer. Each successive pose becomes a little more complicated, elongated and manipulated as the improvisation develops according to the machinations of each character. Delaup soon emerges as a provocateur, always smiling even while she is obstructing someone from the frame or throwing herself into it. Kraczkowska is the eccentric, duly unconcerned with all that is going on around her but managing to take centre stage whenever possible. There is something of the clown in her that permeates the flying low and passing through, giving it a character that is all her own.

Angarano’s guitar accompaniment enters into the sense of fun, plucking notes and playing riffs on the behaviour of the family, colouring it as well as taking it on a journey. In a sense he wills the dancers to continue without directing them.

The opening section is quite slow and subtle as the performers attune to each other’s movement tics and traits but the improvisation soon starts to open up as Prendergast and Passakopoulou drag Delaup out the frame and the subsequent groupings become more hilarious and bizarre: Brekke is upturned, the hats are passed around, Kraczkowska removes Prendergast by her overalls as if she is a carrier bag and there are headlocks and tripping over each other in the clambering for position. The Japanese have a saying that the nail that sticks up is always beaten down, and Brekke seems to suffer from the truth of this as he is cuddled, straddled and bent over to the height of his siblings. He subsequently uses his height to disguise himself as a lampstand until Kraczkowska tries to lift him into the light socket. Passakopoulou presents the lining of her jacket as a bullfighter’s cape, Kraczowska delivers a breathtaking improvisation in the middle of the bustle and then everyone is running. Angarano gets swept to his feet and enters into the rhythmic swirl as the children fly around the room. The hustling and scurrying reaches a climax when Brekke throws himself to the ground in what appears to be a series of fits. The mood changes to one of inward contemplation and the more extrovert siblings begin to tire. Ali and Caruso, like late developers, start to emerge into the light but nothing, it seems, will tire Kraczkowska’s imagination and drive; she makes wings of Passakopoulou’s shirt, picks up Prendergast again and tries to plug her into one of the lamps and finally puts on all the hats, framing herself between two lampstands as the others withdraw to watch the remnants of their family portrait. The lamps dim, Angarano resolves the music beautifully and all is quiet again.


For those who missed it in performance, there is a showing of Family Portrait on film on July 31

On December 3 Leila McMillan is curating a Wild Card evening at the Lilian Baylis


LCDS Graduation performances at The Place

Posted: July 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

LCDS Graduation performances, The Place, July 7

Going for broke: Laura Lorenzi in Igor and Moreno's Wolves will be watching (photo: Stephen Berkeley-White)

Going for broke: Laura Lorenzi in Igor and Moreno’s Wolves will be watching (photo: Stephen Berkeley-White)

A graduate performance is a form of theatre that can easily lose its shape. Its purpose is to showcase students who have spent the last three years in the school acquiring technique, character and endurance and who are ready to leave the nest. But the choreographers chosen by the school to create vehicles for the graduating students may want to showcase their own work at the expense of highlighting particular qualities in the performers.

This was one of two evenings where all four commissions for graduates were shown together. The concept of Shay Kuebler’s render akin to ‘explore elements of the individual with the group’ promoted the group rather than the individual. The entire cast is costumed in black (by Lydia Cawson) which binds them together visually to the point the individual disappears. Perhaps that is the point, but it’s a shame to hide the talents of someone like Jordan Adjadi whose achievement is nevertheless to shine in a work that sheds no light on the dancers. Renaud Weiser is so caught up in his letters and video in A smile petal that the dancers remain subservient to the concept. Each dancer has a letter affixed to his or her skin; in a line, the dancers spell words or their own names. It might be a good ruse as an exercise at the beginning of the three-year course, but a shame at the end to ignore the movement qualities of dancers like Théo Pendle who is used only enough to show his potential. The final work, Told and Collapsed by Kerry Nichols, is inspired by the last moments of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg before their execution in 1953. It is more menacing in its eclectic score than in the choreography which defaults to a McGregor-like physicality that provides little for the dancers to tackle emotionally. Amongst its complex patterns of duets, however, Mari Ishida is revealed dancing in a way one longs to see in a performance.

At the beginning of the evening there are two miniatures. I imagine Richard Alston’s choreography is de rigeur in a graduation performance at The Place, but it is deceptively difficult to dance well and Hymnos, to the eponymous score by Peter Maxwell Davies, falls rather flat. There is little in Alston’s work beside rigorous musicality and form so it requires a maturity and technical mastery that quickly show up weaknesses in its interpreters if either the one or the other is missing. The second miniature is Twin High Maintenance Machine by Ellen Slatkin and Yue Tong Kwan choreographed to Experiences No. 2 by John Cage with words by e.e. cummings. Slatkin and Kwan are both choreographers and performers of the work, which is a brave choice but as performers they are not challenged by the gestural nature of their duet and as this is a graduation of dancers rather than a choreographic showcase, they fall between two stools.

The one work of the evening that showcases both the dancers and the choreographers is Igor and Moreno’s Wolves Will be Watching. The name and its concept are metaphors for the stage at which the dancers find themselves: naked in experience, open to opportunities and ready to meet the challenges of what lies ahead. At the beginning it is as if the dancers emerge from a state of grace, wandering on stage under subdued lighting to find their clothes in piles against the back wall. The sensuality of the scene takes the breath away and the time the dancers take to help each other into their clothes relaxes us before the outrageously bright lights (on the white stage) and the roaming chorus of screaming. Nothing quite introduces the eight dancers as forcefully as this and they do not hold back. Neither do Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas in their uncompromising onslaught on the senses — not least on the sense of humour — and they are helped in this by the visual éclat of the costumes by Sophie Bellin Hansen. Interestingly some of the influences for the work include the worlds of fashion and photography (in particular Guy Bourdin, David Lachapelle and Cindy Sherman) in which a performative element and a whacky imagination are fused. Perhaps there is a natural law at work here because this particular group performing Wolves will be watching includes a lot of the naturally colourful characters in the graduating year. In the course of the work each dancer is given the space to show his or her self and each is challenged by the creative process to establish a strong theatrical presence. They all succeed and one of the delightful surprises (there are many) is Amarnah Osajivbe-Amuludun’s beautiful singing voice. For the audience the work blows apart the formality of the graduation evening and gives us space to delight in all the elements and ideas the work brings to the stage. Igor and Moreno have given a gift to the dancers and through the dancers a gift to the audience.

If these graduate performances represent what the dancers have to show for their three years, they are, with a few exceptions, disappointing. I can’t help feeling the dancers have a lot more to give, that their potential is hardly mined. This phenomenon might well play into the hands of such heavy-hitting choreographers as Akram Khan, Hofesh Schechter and Lloyd Newson whose recent much publicized argument is that the standard of training in the major UK schools is not up to (international) par. Wouldn’t the challenge for this heavily subsidized trio be to devote some of their time to working with the future graduates of these major dance institutions to open their eyes (and bodies) to what might be demanded of them? In an artistic discipline that relies more on example than on rhetoric it would certainly stretch the graduates in the right direction.

Dutch National Ballet, Cinderella

Posted: July 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Dutch National Ballet, Cinderella, London Coliseum, July 8

The cast of Dutch National Ballet in Cinderella in front of Basil Twist's tree (photo: Angela Sterling)

The cast of Dutch National Ballet in Cinderella in front of Basil Twist’s tree (photo: Angela Sterling)

“Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described. One of these is the sensibility — unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it — that goes by the cult name of “Camp.” Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” Susan Sontag, On Camp

Cinderella, whether in the version of the Brothers Grimm or of that of Perrault, is an uplifting tale of virtue overcoming adversity that lends itself perfectly to the romantic nature of classical ballet. Or at least it did; perhaps it is contemporary sensibility that militates against the creation in balletic form of fairy tales with their wide-eyed wonderment and youthful innocence. Christopher Wheeldon’s version of Cinderella that the Dutch National Ballet brought for the first time to the UK at the London Coliseum last week as part of the Sadler’s Wells season still uses Prokofiev’s uplifting score to anchor its heart (and it still does, despite the editing to fit Wheeldon’s and Craig Lucas’s libretto), but his choreography has a sense of artifice that inflates subtlety into exaggeration. Nothing illustrates this better than the entrance of Matthew Golding as the Prince into Cinderella’s lowly cottage in the third act. He has been searching for the girl with whom he has fallen in love at the Ball and who mysteriously disappeared at the stroke of midnight without a trace — except for a golden slipper. The Prince is visiting everyone on his guest list to find the foot (and the girl) that matches this slipper and he springs into the room like a bull (one can imagine him preparing along the pathway outside) in a series of jetés culminating in a double saut-de-basque and a flourish in the middle of the kitchen. The exaggeration of the step and the seriousness with which Golding performs it is pure Camp. I am not suggesting Wheeldon is making fun of the situation but it does suggest a failure to get to grips with the fairy tale on its own terms. The fault is not helped by Golding’s difficulty in finding subtle shades of princely character. The one time the Prince relaxes is when he is played as a young boy by Mingus de Swaan (a student at the National Ballet Academy Amsterdam) dashing along the palace corridors wooden sword in hand and jumping over the back of the sofas. What happened, one wonders, to that prankster charm in the older prince? It resurfaces briefly in the first act when he mocks the ancestral portraits and when in the guise of his equerry he mimics the stepsisters in front of Cinderella but later at the Ball when the music wills him to soften in the presence of the effulgent Cinderella Golding gets all serious in the partnering demands Wheeldon imposes that leave no room for (dare I mention it?) an expression of tenderness. This leaves Cinderella (Anna Tsygankova) in a fix because she doesn’t get a chance to see the Prince — let alone communicate with him — as he manipulates her almost clinically across his back and over his shoulders in what is a show of lifts and steps rather than a show of relationship through the lifts and steps (something Sir Frederick Ashton was brilliant at doing with equal artifice but more subtlety). With such a tentative chemistry between them, the fairytale loses its heart.

The one moment we get to see Tsygankova as a radiant Cinderella is when the court slowly recedes to reveal her entrance at the Ball; she doesn’t have to do anything but be herself. It is the first time I have seen her dance, but that moment is enough to suggest Wheeldon has for the rest of Cinderella obscured her in steps rather than revealed her in choreography and for much of the time she is transported by a quartet of muscular male ‘fates’ instead of being allowed to determine her own path. (If she can hide her slipper on the mantelpiece by herself, why does she need the four fates to push her atop the kitchen table to retrieve it?)

The one character to whom Wheeldon gives a sense of freedom is the Prince’s friend Benjamin (Remi Wörtmeyer) who keeps in character with his rambunctious younger self (Floris Faes) while pulling off some of the most challengingly fluid variations of the evening. But he is not allowed entirely off the hook: he falls rather improbably for stepsister Clementine (Nadia Yanowsky) who has been used by Wheeldon for comic purposes (along with sister Edwina and mother Hortensia) to the point of caricature. It is as if Wheeldon has worked with each of the characters separately in different rooms without developing a credible relationship that unites them over the three acts.

This is not the case for the scenic elements. Thanks to the team of Julian Crouch, Basil Twist, Natasha Katz and Daniel Brodie one scene flows imaginatively and seamlessly into the next through a scrupulous balance of lighting (Katz), scenic elements (Crouch) and video projection (Brodie) — even if the projected map of Europe the Prince is studying appears the wrong way round. Twist’s contribution is the magical image of the carriage that flies Cinderella out of Act 1 and a tree that we see grow from Cinderella’s tears on her mother’s grave into a glorious green arbour that embraces the entire wedding party at the end. It is this tree that reveals the true arc of the story.

Wheeldon’s version of Cinderella is a co-production with San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet. Both companies wanted a new full-evening work from Wheeldon; the former settled for a new Cinderella and the latter didn’t have one in its repertoire. Clearly fairy tales (not to mention Shakespeare’s and Lewis Caroll’s tales too) and ballet go together and have commercial appeal, but the formula is essentially looing backwards. I can’t help feeling Wheeldon’s talents would be better used to look forward to a new kind of work on his own terms. His imagination seemed to blossom in his single-act non-narrative works for San Francisco Ballet — Ghosts and Number Nine, in particular, that the company presented at Sadler’s Wells in 2012. British ballet has been searching for a new form of full-evening classical work ever since the death of Sir Kenneth MacMillan almost 25 years ago. With his experience of the classical form, his creative team, and as both Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist and Artistic Associate of the Royal Ballet, Wheeldon is in the right place at the right time to find it.

Lola Maury, Two to Tune

Posted: July 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Lola Maury, Two to Tune, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, June 24

James Morgan and Laureline Richard in Two to Tune (photo: Richard Davenport)

James Morgan and Laureline Richard in Two to Tune (photo: Richard Davenport)

“The value of the theatre consists not in proclaiming rules for human behaviour, but in its ability to awaken, through this mirroring of life, personal responsibility and freedom of action.” Rudolf Laban (The Mastery of Movement)

Choreography is already a participatory art, both in its process and in its performance, so when Lola Maury — Visiting Alumni Artist at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama choreographing for their Brink Festival — adds participatory game concepts into the choreographic mix of Two to Tune, it is the game that gives the work its unique character. Rather than a linear narrative the work consists of a succession of gestural images, improvisational in quality, that form a physical dialogue between the two players, James Morgan and Laureline Richard. It is a game in which mutual understanding and acceptance rather than winning are the goals, which gives the ludic nature of the work both a physical and a spiritual aspect. In this I am reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s description of a dancer as a cross between a nun and a boxer, though Richard in particular has the lean muscularity of a long distance runner. Costume designer Clare McGarrigle concurs, giving the players shorts and singlets that speak of both sport and of stylish comfort.

Two to Tune is a small-scale work with abundant energy and a pared-down aesthetic that needs the intimacy of a pared-down theatre for us to read the expressions and catch the details. With the limited rig in the Webber Douglas Studio lighting designer Agostina Califano has sculpted a perfectly scaled underground tryst where Morgan and Richard spar. The game is divided into seamless acts, starting with a prelude in stillness as the two stand side by side looking out at the audience with a gesture of hand over heart as if listening to an invisible umpire reading them the rules. The score by Alberto Ruiz shrouds the freeze-frame actions that follow in neutral sound but as the game develops he incorporates the voices of Igor Urzelai, Moreno Solinas and Eleanor Sikorski into a choir that sounds as if it was — convincingly for the setting — recorded under a bridge at night. It provides a vault of sound in which attention can focus on the interaction of the two players and their gestural references to wrestling, swordplay, boxing, dueling and perhaps to arcane arts. The way Richard articulates her gestures gives them the appearance of a spell that Morgan deftly parries, but the way she comments on her gestures with her expressive face gives her the upper hand, whether curling her lip in distaste or transforming a biking gesture into a narrative of tough individuality. Morgan is more neutral in his use of facial gestures but his endurance keeps Richard on her toes as she finds ways to wear him down, reducing him at one point to a pummeled, willowy adversary to her boxing.

The nature of the game is unclear until the very end; we are left to deduce the rules and the goal from the actions of the players. In this way, Two to Tune relates as much to the tuning of Morgan and Richard as to the tuning of the audience into the nature of their contest. They appear to be stalking each other in a game of strategy, less on the level of a board game (though they make carefully considered moves and react to the moves of the other) as on the physical gestural game of scissor/paper/rock but there is also an ominous, intangible subtext that the brooding score captures. Gestures develop in intensity and complexity, sometimes resting in mid expression then continuing as if in the process of declaiming a speech or waving an arm in defiance. Between Morgan and Richard there is also a sensual, sometimes tender, element to the game, an unspoken attraction and repulsion as they strive to enter the each other’s comfort zone. The speed and space of their moves increases until they are running to the rolling, pounding drumming in the score; they come close to colliding but one of the rules of the game appears to be they cannot touch even in close proximity at high speed. It makes for an exciting dynamic as they constantly test each other, learn about each other and tune in to each other. The way the game resolves, quite suddenly, as they come together in partnership is quite magical, suggesting everything that has happened in the prior 35 minutes has been working towards this moment: the accord of two instruments. It is also a resolution for the audience: we share in the harmony and are reminded of the origins of gesture and dance.

Richard Alston Dance Company: Alston at Home

Posted: June 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Richard Alston Dance Company, Alston At Home, The Place, June 10

Nancy Nerantzi, Elly Braund and Oihana Vesga Bujanin Overdrive (photo: Chris Nash)

Nancy Nerantzi, Elly Braund and Oihana Vesga Bujan in Overdrive (photo: Chris Nash)

As a portrait of Richard Alston in the twentieth year of his company, Alston At Home shows his recent and current preoccupations with just one short work to anchor the perception of change over time. Without the revival of the miniature, Brisk Singing Duet danced by University of Michigan students Maeve McEwen and Michael Parmelee to the music of Rameau, the program shows an unfamiliar landscape on both the musical and the choreographic front. There are six works in all, three by Alston, one by Associate Director Martin Lawrance, one by Joseph Toonga and one by company dancer Ihsaan de Banya (the last two commissioned by The Place). Of the six works four are world premières.

Having just that afternoon seen the Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty (highly recommended), what immediately strikes me in all these works is not simply the bareness of the stage but the blandness of the costumes. When Alston chooses to portray two Polish expatriate friends dancing to Chopin’s mazurkas in Mazur the inelegant costumes — a wan-coloured suggestion of a waistcoat by Peter Todd over army green chinos — immediately temper the emotional connection between the dancers and their context. If these are two friends ‘sharing what they love and what they feel they have lost’, their camaraderie is rather strait-laced; no vodka shots here, no dark passions or even live ones: the odd touch here and the odd look there are all that connect them. Take away the idea of Polish expatriates altogether and you have an interesting double concerto for two accomplished dancers (Liam Riddick and guest Jonathan Goddard) whose connection to the mazurkas (played onstage by Jason Ridgway on an elegant grand piano) is primarily through its rhythms rather than through any emotional content with which Chopin imbued his music. What is left is their angular, swirling movement and the precision of their musical phrasing in an otherwise bloodless setting.

The third work by Alston is a restaging by Lawrance of Overdrive (2006) set to Terry Riley’s score Keyboard Studies #1. It is, as Alston writes, ‘one of a series of works I made responding to the excitement and energy of pure rhythm.’ It requires you to sit back and concentrate which, as the sixth work and following the second intermission, is a tough call. But then none of the works this evening belong in that category of program ‘closer’ because they all congregate around similar pallid visual settings and emotionally purified choreography without beginnings or ends. Riley’s score — and Alston’s choreography — starts at a running pace and continues relentlessly till it suddenly stops. There is an intellectual rigour here, a physical argument in which Alston follows Riley’s structure, but the appearance of Overdrive is not so much paired down as dry.

Lawrance created his new work, Opening Gambit, as a birthday offering for Alston’s anniversary but it is choreographed on the muscular music of Julia Wolfe’s Dark Full Ride Part 1. It seems an odd coupling, one that celebrates Alston’s rigour but falls short of being a celebratory work. Lawrance has tamed the music rather than letting its natural force get away; he is helped in this by the capacity of Riddick to dance precisely on the musical beat without losing any detail (amongst the women Oihana Vesga Bujan shares this gift). Riddick brings a stillness to the heart of each movement, however quick, that gives each shape its full value. The opening line of ten dancers leaning nonchalantly against the bare back wall under Zeynep Kepekli’s lighting is the one inspired scenic element of the evening.

Ihsaan de Banya’s new work, Rasengan, begins as if he and the two other huddled dancers (Vesga Bujan and Nicholas Bodych) are standing in an underwater current, growing their small hand gestures to whole body undulations. The score by Ryoji Ikeda gives little for the dancers to feed off; the sound and the movement glide along on separate parallel paths. De Banya has pliant material to work with and brings out their physical attributes — Bodych’s never-ending back bend is an image that remains — but he is less inventive with the space in which they move and the dynamic patterns they create. He might want to take himself out of his future work so he can see the broader dimensions of his choreography.

Joseph Toonga’s Unease sets up a spatial intrigue immediately with de Banya alone in a corner talking to himself about something serious while four others stand in the opposite corner watching him. As he slowly sidles off stage deep in thought, the quartet moves as a counterbalance in a solo for four dancers that in its physical isolations has the appearance of muscular angst within a classical dynamic. Unease seems to trace the assimilation of de Banya into, and his influence on the quartet; Nancy Nerantzi is instrumental in her duet with him in winding him closer to the group until they are all moving together. Mirroring the beginning, the quartet with de Banya now sidles off in slow motion while one woman distances herself to dance alone but she too is drawn back into their rhythm before the work finishes in slow motion lighting.

Unease suffers from being too similar in feeling (though not in detail) to the other works on the program. Alston at Home is broad in solicitude for the future direction of the company but on this showing the forms of creative endeavour show a remarkable sameness. The musical choices may be one factor but there is also an over-reliance in the choreography on the purely physical nature of dance which under-exploits the musical and spiritual qualities of the dancers.

Les 7 doigts de la main: Traces

Posted: June 26th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Les 7 doigts de la main, Traces, Peacock Theatre, June 13

Les 7 doigts de la main in Traces (photo: Michael Meseke)

Les 7 doigts de la main in Traces (photo: Michael Meseke)

Any show that is billed as ‘the electrifying circus sensation’ demonstrates two aspects of its nature: its commercial success and its artistic hubris. And after ten years of touring there is a danger of a third: creative fatigue. Les sept doigts de la main (The 7 Fingers) is a circus troupe from Montreal set up in 2002 by seven founders to ‘bring a human scale to circus.’ It now has 15 creations and eight touring shows with which it has ‘extended its grasp around the globe.’ The company mixes such diverse circus forms as ‘acrobatics, avant-garde dance’ (whatever that is), ‘acting, physical comedy, music, song, spoken word, interactive video production, live DJ-ing and personal story telling.’ The seven performers (Kevin Beverley, Lucas Boutin, Anne-Marie Godin, Kai Johnson, Yann Leblanc, Harley McLeish and Enmeng Song) are trained in various forms of acrobatics — Cyr Wheel, Diabolo, Aerial Strap, Dance Trapeze, Chinese Pole, Hand to Hand, Hoop Diving and Teeterboard — which represent only the first circus form in the company mix. The others seem to have been picked up on the fly (Beverley is the only one to include dance in his biography). It is surprising the term ‘clowning’ does not feature anywhere in their training for the seven artists are required to keep the show moving with what the art of clowning can do so well: physical comedy, music and songs. The lack of any artfulness between the acrobatic acts of Traces (the piano playing is particularly hokey) is a structural weakness and makes the six men look like an immature boy band — all good-looking and powerfully built — with their one moll. In the creation of Traces, directors Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider appear to have concentrated first on the acrobatic acts and then strung them together with a strip of narrative to make a show. In the ten years since then circus companies have worked to bridge this creative imbalance (I was impressed with Circa recently) but however revolutionary Traces might have been in 2006 its story line seems dated now: ‘Traces takes place in a makeshift shelter, an unknown catastrophe waiting outside the doors of tarp and gaffer tape. In the face on an impending disaster they have determined that creation is the only antidote to destruction.’ So there you have it, and you can forget about it as soon as you have read it because it bears no pertinent relation to the show at all.

The set (conceived originally by Flavia Hevia) is indeed reminiscent of the inside of a makeshift camp with its layers of canvas hanging on the back wall held together with ropes, scaffolding and wires complemented with lights, a few school chairs, a battered upright piano and a dusty plush armchair. It is effective in its suggestion and possibility without the least hint of a circus environment. The theatre announcement is a clever, sardonic parody of the standard mobile phone/recording spiel and touches a rebellious note that makes the audience actually listen to it through their laughter. The show then begins with an eruption of restless energy as all the performers run in, spin, tumble and launch themselves and each other into the air. The youthful exuberance and skill is infectious, but the individual introductions that follow dispel any sense of impending doom and replace it with a saccharine bonhomie that remains for the rest of the show. Most of the present cast has joined the show only this year. Boutin is the old hand with three years experience and Godin has two years. So the majority of the cast of this ten-year-old ‘electrifying circus sensation’ are just beginning to break in their skills on the road. And it shows; the performers make up for a lack of experience with a youthful enthusiasm and bravado that palls. Only Boutin and Song stand out as mature performers: Boutin in his primary discipline of Chinese Pole in which he demonstrates a quality that is exciting in its seeming lack of effort and Song in Diabolo where he mixes dazzling skill with an assured presentation. Godin’s comic skit reading a book in the armchair starts off well but is not sustained, which is how Traces comes across as a whole; after ten years it is past its prime and adding two members to the cast since it was last seen in London in 2009 doesn’t disguise it.

Jane Mason, Nic Green & Hannah Sullivan

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

Jane Mason, Nic Green & Hannah Sullivan, The Point (June 5) and The Place (June 2) 

Jane Mason in Life Forces (photo: Magali Charrier)

Jane Mason in Life Forces (photo: Magali Charrier)

…”the manipulation of images in memory must always to some extent involve the psyche as a whole.” Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory

There have been three recent performances choreographed around and shot through with memory: Jane Mason’s Life Forces at The Point and Hannah Sullivan’s Echo Beach and Nic Green’s Fatherland in a double bill at The Place in collaboration with Battersea Arts Centre. All three women have woven memory around the presence of a father. In Sullivan’s case the starting point of Echo Beach is recollections of family life in which her father is the one who puts on the records; in Green’s case it is a father she met only once at the age of 16, and Mason delves into her father’s creativity through the discovery of his slide projector and archive of slides. Each work has, like memory itself, its clarity and obscurity, its fragility and solidity.

All three works are memorials, acts of remembering, but each takes on a very different form. Mason builds an intimate structure with elements her father would have used — paper straws, nails, a plumb line, a projector and two portable heaters — bringing them to life as the means of remembering like a memory room based on the ancient art of mnemonics. Devised with writer Phil Smith, whose onstage role is a father figure, Life Forces is a profound meditation on the roots and influences of creativity. It is a work that builds and maintains an intriguing dialogue between past and present, between the act of creating and what has already been created. And there is an element of Alice in Wonderland as the paper straws are first strewn across the stage and later grow into small columns and you feel the construction could go on forever. Mason has a quiet intensity about her that is the life force of the work, developing it element by element with concentrated deliberation, with Smith as a touchstone, an emotional base on whose shoulders she can climb with confidence.

Nic Green in Fatherland (photo:

Nic Green in Fatherland (photo: Oliver Rudkin)

For Green that emotional base is missing and hers is an assertive struggle to find herself in what remains. Fatherland is the most radical of the three works because of this desire to impose an impression that has already faded from memory. Through text, song and live music (and a tipple of malt), what she finds and celebrates in a ritualistic way is her paternal Scottish heritage — represented by the imposing onstage presence of drummer Alasdair Campbell and piper Edward Seamn — to which she bares herself as if to stamp it with her own identity. It is the uncompromising nature of this identity and the sheer force of Green’s character that gives Fatherland its stature. Dramaturg Deborah Richardson-Webb has evidently worked hard to keep Green’s expansive passion so succinctly on the stage without reducing its power.

Hannah Sullivan in Echo Beach (photo: Paul Samuel White)

Hannah Sullivan in Echo Beach (photo: Paul Samuel White)

Sullivan’s memory is festooned with white pennants like a tent at a village fête; some have phrases cut into them like, ‘You Are Your Years’. One of the records her father played at home was Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins that gives the work its name. Sullivan’s preoccupation is social dancing and she lays out what she calls her ‘dance collection’ that she has been gathering since 1999 and which she describes as ‘dancing like everyone I know.’ It is memory made up of keen observation — of seeing her parents dance in the living room, of her granddad teaching her to waltz, of friends dancing at a wedding or strangers dancing in a bar — and a lively sense of humour that transforms her collection into living snapshots. She moves and groves quietly, alternating her dances with talking about her collection and her memories. It is interesting to read that Dan Canham has provided Sullivan movement advice — not, I think, in terms of her dancing but for everything in between. There is a clarity of purpose Canham brings to his own work that keeps the fragility of Echo Beach together with minimal resources. Credit goes also to dramaturg Alice Tatton-Brown.

Memory is highly personal and essentially internal. What Life Forces, Echo Beach and Fatherland have in common is they externalize memory, transforming an intimate structure into a theatrical presentation. Mason is the only one to go a step further by placing the audience on the stage, seating them in front of her with the curtains drawn behind them as if inviting them into her father’s attic or workshop at night. Of course it limits the number of people who can see Life Forces at any one time, but through this means Mason effectively draws us into her memory. Fatherland is bold enough in its imagery to withstand the spatial conventions of a full stage but Echo Beach has a dilemma: Sullivan has created it on the scale of a living room that suggests a floor lamp, a sofa and a gramophone but the stage bathes the room in too much space, too much light and replaces the imaginary gramophone with Yas Clarke’s sound design. There is nothing amiss with these production values in themselves, but with them Sullivan’s memory room tends to lose its bearings.

Stephanie Lake: Dual

Posted: June 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

Stephanie Lake, Dual, Théâtre de Chaillot, Paris, June 4

Ian Abbott

Alisdair Macindoe and Sara Black in Stephanie Lake's Dual (photo: Byron Perry)

Alisdair Macindoe and Sara Black in Stephanie Lake’s Dual (photo: Byron Perry)

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” William James

How can a single body act as a vessel for another?

Act I. Enter Alisdair Macindoe. He moves as if the floor is electrified and his body the conductor. Unable to commit to stillness and rest, pulses fizz through him — he’s physically dancing alone as a wild mass of trembling limbs for a dozen or more minutes. However, his mind is dancing elsewhere. As the driving, syncopated soundtrack by Robin Fox frenzied the air in the hot basement of Théâtre Chaillot, Macindoe with clean isolations and crisp pops would begin motifs before an invisible vacuum cleaner would suck him back to the start. It’s here in the unwinding and rewinding that the central inquiry of Dual lies: the surrender of control. Exit Macindoe.

ACT II. A shift in lighting design. The overhead stark white makes way for six warmer booms. Enter Sara Black. Her delicate solo of physical lyricism offers a tonal difference but her eyes are even further away and a sense that her body is not within her control. Black’s execution is flawless, disconcerting and the emotional detachment bordered on the dangerous but it is eminently watchable and strangely addictive. I imagine Lake, like a glowing maniacal brain, sitting at the lighting desk feeding telepathic signals to control her dancers.

“We adore chaos because we love to produce order.” MC Escher

Act III. A solo plus a solo equals what? Dual lets bodies inhabit the same space — at first alone and then together. What can two bodies achieve that a single body cannot? Together they build connections, make invisible pathways detectable and their bisections add extra layers to a previously presented solo narrative. Now we see a fit and a tessellation. The essence of this duet is alchemy.

“Placing one work of art near another makes one plus one equal three. Two artworks arranged alchemically leave each intact, transform both, and create a third thing.” Jerry Saltz

To forge a connection, we search for the eyes of another. Eyes are an important part of Dual. Here Lake considers them, erases their emotion, blurs their focus and limits their expression to see if we, the audience, can connect in a different way. Black and Macindoe’s eyes are possessed with intentional vacancy. A disconnection is reinforced.

At a little over 40 minutes Dual was an intensely satisfying experience filled with A x B = AB. In this equation, is the audience the = ? The staging for the evening is configured in traverse so throughout the work I’m able to see half an audience whose eyes are alive to shifts in light and speed and are tracing the movement on stage. It’s OK to surrender; Stephanie Lake is in control.