Ultima Vez, Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted: March 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ultima Vez, Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ultima VezMockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour, Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 1

Ultima Vez Mockumentary
Flavio d’Andrea, Anabel Lopez and the cast in Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour (photo © Danny Willems)

Since he started his Brussels-based company, Ultima Vez, in 1986 the prolific choreographer, filmmaker and director Wim Vandekeybus has sought innovative approaches to dance and theatre beginning with his first work, What the Body Does Not Remember. One might say that he has established choreography as a form of discourse on a wide variety of subjects that preoccupy him — myth, belief, faith, subconscious desires, dreams, life and death. (In May the Brighton Festival will be presenting his latest work, TrapTown, that questions conflict and freedom). As in modernist architecture’s mantra of ‘form follows function’, each production takes on a form that grows out of the subject but Vandekeybus nonetheless remains true to a physical movement vocabulary that embodies tension and conflict, risk and impulse, intuition and instinct, passion and endurance. In his recent work, Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour, presented at Queen Elizabeth Hall, he draws on the different cultural traditions of his seven performers — Anabel Lopez, Maria Kolegova, Jason Quarles, Wouter Bruneel, Yun Liu, Flavio d’Andrea and Saïd Gharbi — to create an ironic, perhaps even caustic documentary of salvation.

In an era of unprecedented migration with its underlying plurality of faiths, Vandekeybus broadens the scope of Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour to include any religious remit that promises the kind of salvation where utopia and dystopia are interwoven. The set with its circular centre conceived by Vandekeybus and Meryem Bayram describes a nondescript place reminiscent of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker in which three men and two women have been saved as the ‘chosen ones’ and as in Stalker, there is no way out. It is into the midst of this circle, dominated by a transparent halo-like ceiling, that Bruneel, a big-bellied, lusty western psychologist in orange safety overalls, suddenly appears: his ‘corpse’ drops through the halo and lands with a thud on the ground. His body is ‘still warm’ and the community, already conversant with the notion of a saviour and convinced he is a sign of divine intervention, revives him. Ironically Bruneel’s unexpected arrival sets off a cacophonous dispute about belief, death and preparations for the next life. Even if the location of the space is indeterminate, we learn from Bruneel that the world as we know it is in a state of disintegration, suggesting this is a purgatorial staging post; hence the importance of signs that might lead to a possible way out.  

The internal conflicts, cultural differences, and encounters between the characters are played out as physical and verbal commotions against a rumbling score by Charo Calvo in which Vandekeybus’s characteristic muscular idiom articulates their grief, desires, hopes and sense of resignation. Although a spoken text devised by Bart Meuleman and Ultima Vez predominates as the main expressive form in Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour, it is the heightened physicality of both voice and body that unleashes the full dynamics of the contradictory forces within the community. Lurking close to the surface of the bonds that tie the seven people in their precarious existence is a violence that threatens to destroy them. 

Vandekeybus’ timely reflection on the power of belief is based not so much on the presence but rather the absence of ‘the child’. We learn that Lopez is a mother whose son has died; early in the piece she is addressed as Martha. Gharbi, a blind seer who represents spiritual clarity, suggests she has to let go of her dead child if she wants him to forgive her. The deliberate conflation of her personal salvation with the biblical Martha’s acceptance of Christ’s resurrection is further corroborated when her son, once freed from her motherly love, is lowered down into the space like an effigy and immediately recognized by the community as proof of the saviour’s existence. Armed with this conviction they clamber enthusiastically over the audience to proselytize in their respective languages till they make their exit through the auditorium doors, leaving the blind Gharbi on stage communicating with the sound of his clicking fingers alone. Vandekeybus thus ends his provocative interrogation of faith with Gharbi’s quiet, meditative gesture that in its simplicity elicits a response from the audience without any misplaced belief or truth assigned to it.  

Mockumentary of A Contemporary Saviour is a reminder from continental Europe of the robust role choreography can play in philosophical debate. In this country we are not familiar with it being used in this way and it pushes hard, if uncomfortably, against a prevalence of aesthetic movement that risks limiting the art form’s full development. 


National Dance Company Wales in Awakening at Riverfront Theatre

Posted: March 5th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on National Dance Company Wales in Awakening at Riverfront Theatre

National Dance Company Wales: Awakening, Riverfront Theatre, Newport, March 1

NCDWales
NDCWales in Afterimage (photo: Rhys Cozens)

Opening their Spring 2019 season, Awakening, in Newport, National Dance Company Wales offers ‘three unique dances to amuse and amaze’. With two premières — Fernando Melo’s Afterimage and resident choreographer Caroline Finn’s RevellersMass — alongside Marcos Morau’s Tundra from 2017 we are welcomed with a five-minute pre-show speech by the new artistic director, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, outlining his support for the ‘brilliant performers’ on stage alongside the plurality of what dance can be and the benefits it offers to our communities, stages and studios across Wales.

Tundra is a 30-minute work for eight dancers that ‘tears pages from the Russian history books on folk dance, mass parades and revolution, revitalising old ideas with renewed meaning. It’s as mesmerizingly beautiful as it is robotically precise.’ If you’re going to self-define to these high expectations then you have to have the skill, discipline and technique to execute; unfortunately the NDCWales dancers do not. 

With an air of religious menace in the opening scene we have eight bodies smoothly and footlessly hovering about the stage in competitive Japanese walking patterns, their bell skirts covering their feet as they glide across floor in formations of treacle. This is followed by an attempt at choreographic precision that sits somewhere between a multi-part canon, a pedestrian domino rally and a kaleidoscopic image but executed by more than a quarter of the company surprisingly poorly for a national organisation. If a work demands such a degree of precision and musicality then dancers cannot be one or two beats behind or five degrees out of alignment, especially when Joseff Fletcher’s back-lit lighting exposes and emphasises the exact site of legs, arms and torsos. The discrepancies draw our attention because only five bodies are adhering to the choreographic instruction. Choreographically it is a work full of illusion that succeeds in the front-to-back cluster as we see bodies slowly tipping off balance like pendulums and then reversing back to centre. It’s visually clever and would be more satisfying if it were better rehearsed.

Afterimage by Fernando Melo is a 20-minute work for six dancers that uses the effect of Pepper’s Ghost to make figures appear and disappear in this look at loss, memories and sliding door moments. It describes itself as ‘a journey of fleeting images; of appearance and disappearance. Mirrors are used on stage to form a unique theatrical experience where the past and the present collide with a poetic and creative style of dance.’ Sat at table with two chairs we see encounters between pairs of people who move on and off stage, in and out of light delivering letters from beyond the grave or from another time. Melo’s regular artistic team of Shumpei Nemoto, Yoko Seyama and Peter Lundin make the company look great. It’s a study of simple movement and a bundle of what-ifs that match the stillness, mood and reverence that the work demands. 

However if you’ve seen Melo’s work before, Afterimage is essentially a recycling/stitching together of three of his previous commissions for other companies: If walls could speakLes Enfants du paradis and Pepper’s Ghost. We have the same table, the same chairs, the same mirror, the same mood. As a choreographer for hire this is not unusual; with any commission what you’re getting is a time-limited licence for an existing product and a name that enhances your own brand and gets you into new touring territories.

Finn’s Revellers’ Mass ‘delves into a world of ritual as an unlikely group gathers for a dinner party, where etiquette is put to the test. Curious choreography and characters are inspired by historical paintings.’ Finn’s première for nine dancers is a presentation of Dionysian revelry. There is excess, but for a 30-minute portrayal of a rousing banquet it is just too clean and dainty; no one is letting go. I lack a belief in what is being presented because the dancers don’t appear to believe in what they’re doing: artifice leaks out their bodies and faces. Revelry has to be embodied, as Gareth Chambers showed in his Excess at Chapter last summer where he explored revelry’s sweaty and transgressive relationship to ecstasy and pleasure. Throwing together movement, a hotchpotch of soundtracks, multiple lighting designs and a water-filled trough on stage smacks of choreographic masking. And we need to talk about the ending which cheapens an already lightweight work.

Do I believe in the dancers? Do I believe in what they’re being asked to do and are they able to deliver it? In Afterimage yes, in Revellers’ Mess and Tundra, no. If the financially safest and largest dance company in Wales is presenting apolitical, light, under-rehearsed entertainment at the opening of their Spring season, what message does that send to the rest of the ecology? NDCWales receives a similar amount of public subsidy and operates at a similar scale to Scottish Dance Theatre but the difference in the quality of dancers and choreographic choices is marked; when you’re in receipt of the highest public subsidy the critical lens should be at its sharpest. This triple bill has been inherited by Ó Conchúir (he came into post late last year) and it will be interesting to see how the company moves forward under his artistic leadership. 


Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso double bill at The Place

Posted: March 5th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso double bill at The Place

Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso double bill at The Place, March 2

Masui-Tirabasso
Publicity images for Léa Tirabasso and Yukiko Masui’s double bill

In a well-curated double bill of works by two choreographers each creates a context for the other. On the surface and in their treatment of their respective subjects Yukiko Masui’s Falling Family and Léa Tirabasso’s The Ephemeral Life of an Octopus are quite different, but each is based on a personal experience about the nature of life and death. The subsequent self-questioning creates a bridge between the works that allows us to confront mortality in ways that, as Masui writes, are ‘simply not expressible in speech.’ While Masui takes us into her Falling Family with a heightened sensibility that creates feelings of empathy, Tirabasso’s The Ephemeral Life Of An Octopus leads us through the confusion and corrosion of life’s breakdown with a confrontational performance that ends up counter-intuitively expressing an exhilarating sense of joy. 

Falling Family builds on the metaphor of dominoes; different arrangements of coloured tiles are used throughout the work while the four performers — Julie Ann Minaai, Annakanako Mohri, Daniel Phung and Yumino Seki — demonstrate within a loosely defined family structure their support for each other, their interdependence, and their disorientation and vulnerability when one of them is no longer there. As Masui writes, the work ‘taps into the dark, conflicted, emotional space that cracks open when we encounter a loved one’s illness, mental breakdown or even death.’ 

The subtlety of Masui’s conception reflects the passage of time in meticulously constructed moments that suggest rather than define until metaphor and narrative become so intimately entwined that they coalesce. She introduces us to the members of the family one by one in separate sections delineated by Ben Moon’s lighting and Ezra Axelrod’s spliced snippets of Japanese conversation. As the work unfolds, relationships begin to overlap and then build up in a choreographic layering in which the characters move with a resigned sense of self-control that their use of articulate gesture further refines; Mohri’s opening hand gestures of everyday life in Moon’s precise downlight sets the tone for the entire work. Seki’s quiet presence is the one that starts to retreat into itself; Axelrod’s score becomes plangent in its final evocation of drama, leaving Mohri — reflecting perhaps Masui’s own response — challenging fate in a final, uplifting solo of rage against the dying of the light. 

The visual contrast between Fallen Families and Tirabasso’s The Ephemeral Life Of An Octopus is marked. Nicolas Tremblay’s high-voltage lighting keeps the levels high on a white stage littered with black microphone cables while the subtle hues of Giulia Scrimieri’s costumes are replaced by bright splashes of coloured swimwear for the four extrovert performers: Caterina Barbosa in Prussian blue, Alistair Goldsmith in pink, Joachim Maudet in green and Rosie Terry Toogood in bright orange. Stark juxtapositions abound, perhaps none more so than that of the romantic third movement of Brahms’ second piano concerto with the flagrantly staccato, animalistic contortions of the performers (Gabrielle Moleta is listed as Animal Transformation Coach). But given the work is informed by Tirabasso’s own experience with ovarian cancer, such contrasts are not as virulent as might appear; the romantic notion of life that Brahms lays before us has no place in it for the contemplation of disease. 

Tirabasso’s metaphors derive from philosopher Thomas Stern’s essay, The Human and the Octopus, in which he takes his own illness as a starting point for discussing the relationship of mind and body, quoting on the one hand from Proust who sees the mind with which we identify as trapped inside the body of an alien — an octopus — and on the other from JM Coetze for whom the flesh of the body and its susceptibility to pain is an incontrovertible reminder of our humanity. In The Ephemeral Life of an Octopus, Tirabasso uses the dance body as a thick brush with which to paint these conflicting notions. 

Corrosive metaphors of physical breakdown are not unfamiliar in art but there is an undercurrent of wit in Tirabasso’s choreography, in her choice of music (including an original composition by Martin Durov), in the colour and light of the production and in the relentless play of healthy bodies in a compulsive setting of dis-ease that negotiates a path between spirit and flesh, between intellect and play that taken as a whole borders on an unequivocal celebration of life. 


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Bon Voyage, Bob… at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 24th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Bon Voyage, Bob… at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Bon Voyage, Bob…, Sadler’s Wells, February 22

Au Revoir, Bob...
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Au Revoir, Bob… (photo: Mats Bäcker)

The two full-length works created last year on Pina Bausch’s company by choreographers Dimitris Papaioannou and Alan Lucien Øyen and presented recently at Sadler’s Wells mark a watershed in the company’s post-Bausch existence. Bausch died in June 2009 and while both the current works deal with her death they do so in inverse ways. In Since She Papaioannou creates a memorial to Bausch in which his half of the company (each choreographer has a cast of sixteen dancers) is working with him from the outside looking in. By contrast in Bon Voyage, Bob… Øyen has created a memorial in which his half of the company is still very much on the inside looking out. There is a clear sense that ten years after her sudden disappearance Papaioannou and Øyen have each allowed the company to publicly commemorate Bausch in works she has not authored, but their respective creative approach suggests that closure for the entire company has not yet been realised.

Øyen accepted without hesitation the invitation to choreograph a new piece for the company as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He knew Bausch’s work mostly through videos, and had only seen the company perform seven years after the choreographer’s death but, as Sarah Crompton observes in the program, his creative approach turned out to be close to Bausch’s own method of gathering material from the dancers and slowly weaving their different narratives into a work. Bon Voyage, Bob… is thus uncannily Bauschian in its shape and vocabulary, with her characteristic intersection of theatre and dance — so much so that Øyen’s cast gives the appearance of having choreographed much of the work themselves. Its form resembles a long psychoanalytical session in which the dancers replay the past in the present with an overwhelming sense of resignation; dreams fail to realize because ‘they have already been dreamt’. 

Alex Eales’ set is designed as the backstage area of an unseen work (presumably by Bausch) whose scenes revolve to be used as the backdrop to the company’s own existential drama; it is as if Bon Voyage, Bob… comes together whenever the dancers happen to be off stage. Andrey Berezin is the psychoanalyst in the first scene firing questions at Héléna Pikon sitting across from him at a table recounting the death of her brother. Throughout there is a feeling of guilt, helplessness, and disquiet as memories of dead brothers, dead fathers, and stories of loss become the displaced tropes of Bausch’s own death. Øyen structures the work as a linked ritual of obsequies that allows each of the sixteen dancers to express their feelings in solos of either verbal narrative or movement. It is especially poignant to see the older members of the company speaking Bausch’s gestures naturally through their bodies while the younger dancers who never knew her, such as Çaǧdaş Ermis and Stephanie Troyak, absorb them with stunning eloquence. 

However the ‘work’ of mourning that Bon Voyage, Bob… represents does not seem to have enabled what, in psychoanalytic terms, would be a ‘working through’ the suffering that can lead to new levels of freedom and expression. When Rainer Behr angrily assembles a pile of chairs shouting, ‘This is all our shit!’, the depth of pain ten years after the event is heartbreakingly palpable, but it is also clear how far Øyen has retreated from this deeply personal outpouring. And as if three hours of saying goodbye is not enough to make the point, he allows an empty chair to remain in the spotlight as the curtain falls around which the company reassembles for the bows.

The works of Papaioannou and Øyen leave us inevitably with questions about the current state of the company and how it will proceed. Papaioannou suggests a way forward with the creative adoption of Bausch’s incredible legacy of dancers in alternative forms, while Øyen offers a solution that too easily resembles the former company in a new theatrical image. While it is impossible to know what Bausch would have wanted for her company after her death, it is doubtful she would have wished for it to be trapped in forever looking back; and yet her legacy is so intimately related to her works that finding a way forward without her is still fraught with challenges.


Resolution 2019: works by Lam, Rouzet and Martinez, and Vivas

Posted: February 21st, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2019: works by Lam, Rouzet and Martinez, and Vivas

Resolution 2019: works by Heather Lam, Rouzet and Martinez, and Mara Vivas, February 12

Resolution 2019_Vivas
Publicity images from Heather Lam, Rouzet and Martinez, and Mara Vivas

One can almost sense the curatorial hand putting these three works together on an apparent theme of insubstantiality. Hazel Lam ‘aims to highlight the power in gentleness’; Laura Rouzet and Alejandro Martinez set out to explore ‘genderless movement’ and Mara Vivas translates time into space. This is not so much a program of action but one of reflection where dance evolves from the physical to the metaphysical. In reality it is only Vivas who follows through by refusing to compromise.

It’s the set of Heather Lam’s Lighthouse that initiates us to the nature of the evening, a suspended forest of translucent soft pvc tubes arranged like the tentacles of underwater sculptures. Just upstage the seated figure of Lam sways in the tide to the chatter of the arriving audience until the lighting of Bert Van Dijck and Margot Jensens submerges us in this marine environment. Lam indulges in some innocent foreplay discovering the translucent tubes in which — a little disingenuously — she sets up some doubt as to the strength and reliability of the material. Only then does she give it her full weight and confidence as she climbs up, rolls down, and uses its pliability to create aerial shapes that offer a quiet meditation on the ability of the suspended body to express its equilibrium. Max Morris sets his score to the same register, creating with Lam what she sets out to achieve. And yet there is an underlying irony in the work that flaws its conception: Lam’s dependence for her ‘power of gentleness’ on a material that in the form of waste is suffocating our oceans and the balance of its ecosystem; there is a clash of ideas that are too mutually opposed to be overlooked. 

While the premise of Rouzet and Martinez swirls around its title, Ondule, only the opening matches its physicality. The couple is seen in a genderless mass eerily joined at the head in a costumed fringe so the two bodies behave as one. But the desire to extrapolate the idea into separate solos of popping, voguing and dancehall immediately exposes the gender patterns inherent in their respective movement; keeping their heads wrapped in material can’t hide what’s going on below. Rouzet’s costumes, set and projections are elaborate and Martinez is responsible for the lighting: they’re working hard and meticulously but the idea of genderless movement has escaped their scrutiny.  

Mara Vivas’ time/less is a courageous meditation on loss that carves absence out of the stage volume by translating time into space. The opening is sublime, with two women (Lynn Dichon and Tara Silverthorn) in Matthias Strahm’s burnt ochre dresses like classical sculptures in an asymmetrical relationship to one another, unable to move under the weight of grief. Where does movement come from, how does it manifest in the body and why? These are questions the two women seem to ponder for some time in silence; there are no shortcuts and Vivas is not interested in choreographic platitudes. The miracle is that we can’t decode a point of departure any more than we can see a fever passing; there is no intention, only an emotion that uncannily becomes motion. Silverthorn follows an invisible sinuous path in silent steps and as the dance develops the two women invoke each other and perhaps comfort each other in the sharing of the grief that has become the space between them. Silence becomes physical too, and just where we need some air Vivas introduces Filipe Sousa’s soundscape like a breath of light. If there is a weakness in time/less it’s that the solemnity that underpins its formality is sometimes undermined by the process of improvisation that helped create the work. The materials are all there and the landscape is carefully delineated but the fine line between the freedom to act out of inspiration and the constraints of formal expression are demanding — but not implacable — partners.


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Since She at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 19th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Since She at Sadler’s Wells
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch crossing to the other side in Since She (photo: Julian Mommert)

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Since She, Sadler’s Wells, February 16

Over two weeks Sadler’s Wells is presenting two full-length works that have been created on Pina Bausch’s company by choreographers Dimitris Papaioannou and Alan Lucien Øyen; each of the choreographers has worked with half of the dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal developing specific responses to their respective commissions. It is a major shift for the company that, since Bausch died in 2009, has been performing her repertoire as a kind of continuous wake around the world. 

Papaioannou, who has been deeply influenced by Bausch’s work since he first saw Café Mueller and Sacre du Printemps over thirty years ago, has essentially marked the end of this period with what appears to be a memorial in which he has superimposed the visual grid and cultural allusions of his own work (and his own creative team) on the heart of Bausch’s company. Tina Tzoka’s stage is dominated by a stack of charcoal grey foam blocks piled at the back of the stage that form interlocking plates not dissimilar to the tectonic configuration in The Great Tamer. Here it gives the set, under the lighting of Fernando Jacon and Stephanos Droussiotis, an archaeological aura as if we are below the rim of the living world, in an excavated underworld teeming with workers in Thanos Papastergiou’s costumes uncovering each other and revisiting the relics from their past. Since She is a dark, intricately layered procession of images that moves in all directions and hinges on precarious balance, cruel wounds and uprooted history bound in a common grief. And yet, despite quotations from Bausch — the chairs from Café Mueller, for example, form here a complicated bridge across the stage and act as a tangible leitmotiv to Papaioannou’s imagination  — the work doesn’t look back with regret or sorrow but marks a solemn occasion where the future might well begin. It is the company that is in the process of being excavated in a post-Bausch world, revealing itself in a new light; the dancers carry Papaioannou’s imagery superbly. 

Ruth Amarante repeatedly mounts to the top of the pile of foam blocks, makes her treacherous way down and disappears into a crack; a naked, swathed Breanna O’Mara slides down slowly head first, limbs interlaced in the unfolding motion of life toward death. To the sound of sawing emerges a head of John the Baptist that Papaioannou’s sleight-of-hand then turns into that of Medusa between the legs of Scott Jennings. Oleg Stepanov is a Hyeronimus Bosch-like figure stumbling across the stage on two poles stuffed through his trousers, Franko Schmidt a cymbal-carrying musical compère, and a chorus of high-heeled feet teasingly dances upstage behind a cardboard dress. Two upturned tables become boats on a sea of cardboard rollers: it’s a calm outing on the river until all the performers crowd onto one of them to evoke the classical crossing of the Styx by the souls of the deceased. Throughout Julie Anne Stanzak in an elegant black/gold evening gown presides goddess-like over the unravelling incidents and tableaux. 

The work ends with Michael Strecker collecting and piling on his back the bridge of chairs one by one until he collapses under their weight, while Amarante delicately surfs on the cardboard rolls under her bare feet, a ghostly figure wafting in the evening light along the seashore. The other dancers gather around her for a group photograph against a golden tombstone; as it gently lowers and the performers disperse into the dark on either side, stars shine through it to Tom Waits’ song Green Grass: ‘Don’t say goodbye to me, describe the sky to me’. Since She is, as Papaioannou admits, a love letter to Bausch that shows not only his debt to her imaginative world but his response to its rich, dark, impenetrable roots.


Resolution 2019: works by Vain, Minogue-Stone and Ben & Fred

Posted: February 13th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2019: works by Vain, Minogue-Stone and Ben & Fred

Resolution 2019: Works by Vendetta Vain, Elliot Minogue-Stone and Ben & Fred, January 29

Isabella Arboleda Tovar and Pauline Thuriot in Sighs, Cries and Lies (photo: Joon-Kim Young)

This year The Place has partnered with, among others, Jackson’s Lane, to cross-fertilize choreography with circus arts at Resolution. It’s a welcome initiative that hopefully develops the gene pool of both choreographic and circus expression rather than simply expanding the catchment area for Resolution’s artists. 

Vee Smith, who performs under the name of Vendetta Vain, trained at the National Centre for Circus Arts and Butterface is her first circus solo work. She is not the first to perform naked on a trapeze (though perhaps the first to do so at Resolution), but she approaches her performance with as little coyness and pudeur as apology. The title of her work is a derogatory noun for ‘an attractive woman with an undesirable face’, which is clearly understood to mean an attractive female body with an undesirable face. Vain makes this point quite evident by hiding her face, for most of the performance, under a muslin concoction tied loosely at the neck to which she attaches false eyelashes and a rude approximation of lips. But while our focus in Butterface is on the body and what Vain does with it, it is on our minds that Vain has focused her argument; the two don’t always acknowledge each other in the formation of her ‘message’.

There are two sets of projected texts, one that is designed to ease Vain into the performance as she enters behind two large feathers, and the other conveys the sexual animosity and stereotyping of the female circus artist as she performs on the trapeze. Because our eyes are watching her rather than the texts on the back wall, there is an argument that Butterface would benefit from Vain speaking the second set of texts while performing. It would give the taping together of her legs, for example, an edge of satirical wit over the comic absurdity of her actions. Vain’s choice of songs (FlawlessPaper Bag and She) show a natural sense of self-deprecatory humour and her subversive intelligence will not suffer fools. It’s a potent mixture.    

Elliot Minogue-Stone is a graduate of the incommensurable Orley Quick and the Hairy Heroines, inviting us in Sighs, Cries and Lies to ‘delve into platitudes, taboos, tangibility, big questions and odd sensations’ with the same lack of disambiguation he once brought to discussing big dogs and screwdriver heads. He takes an important step from performer to choreographer by creating Sighs, Cries and Lies on Isabella Arboleda Tovar and Pauline Thuriot who translate his sense of the absurd into another key. At first it’s a very low key, as the two bounce on to the stage in red shorts, white tops and trainers, arms enigmatically raised in front of their faces. But as Tovar begins to deck the stage in a wealth of props from a bright red shopping basket, the key begins to modulate. Sighs, Cries and Lies is not a work that can be defined by its external shape but by the paths that run through its apparent chaos, a physical grammar of associations and collisions that offer a fractured landscape of vulnerability. You make of it what you will; its meaning coalesces around a free association of props, popular songs, wit and repartee that Tovar and Thuriot weave into an emotional pattern that ultimately holds them — and us — together. 

Ben & Fred’s The Juggling of Science brings together two jugglers, Frederike Gerstner and Ben Nicholson, in a light-hearted introduction to quantum physics. The recorded voice of Professor Circumference introduces his two understudies with the tone of Listen with Mother but the principles in ‘possibly the most fun science lecture you could hope to see’ are staged rather than heard. Gerstner is a scientist in a white lab coat at her desk waiting for Dr. Dextrose (Nicholson), to arrive. With their wit and an ability to illustrate complex scientific notions like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the construction of an atom, dark matter and neutrinos through juggling, Gerstner and Nicholson have created a gem of crossover stimulation. The problem is that the crossover bypasses almost completely the choreographic nature of Resolution’s program. In his collaborations with Seeta Patel and Alexander Whitley, Sean Gandini has shown how the disciplines of juggling and dance can learn from and stimulate each other, but The Juggling of Science frames itself resolutely and unapologetically within science; it’s not a question of the excellence of the work but of the programming choices of this ‘festival of new choreography’.


Ian Abbott on Impermanence Presents…

Posted: February 6th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Impermanence Presents…

Impermanence Presents…at Bristol Old Vic, January 2019

Jane Mason in Night Flying (photo: Benjamin J Borley)

Impermanence Presents… is the result of a meeting between Tom Morris and Impermanence Dance; a season of curated works (five in a row from the 15-19 January followed by one each in February, March and April) presented in the newly refurbished Weston Studio by Impermanence Dance. The season is completed (on April 25) with Impermanence’s latest iteration of BAAL on the main stage; Bristol may have a new addition for small scale and experimental dance presentation adding value to the programming at Wardrobe Theatre and Trinity Arts.

Consider for a moment Pink Suits, Figs in Wigs, Jane Mason, Laila Diallo, Crystal Zillwood, and Tom Thom: what they have in common is quiet, intimate technique combined with virtuosic movements laced with shocking, live art pop and big cabaret bombast. If you whisk these artists, their voices and sensibilities in a performance cauldron you would come out with something very close to an Impermanence show; the presentation of these artists demonstrates both a dissection and curation of Impermanence’s own DNA. I will focus on the two full-length works I saw in the first week; Night Flying by Jane Mason with David Williams and Solo For Two by Jean Abreu.

Jane Mason and The Choreography of Things™ is an anchor to which Mason returns after employing this performance mode in her previous works Singer(string, tape, stage weights, sewing machine), Life Forces (slides, cardboard tubes, projectors) and now Night Flying. Jane Mason and The Choreography of Things™ is one of two operating modes: Jane doing and Jane dancing. It is a rare skill to be able to sustain attention while demonstrating an alternative function of everyday objects, but she succeeds in unfolding a mirrored Jacob’s Ladder, scattering galaxies of fine-grained sand or revealing a reflective blanket/satellite. She imbues these objects with a sense of importance and handles them with a care and delicacy that reflects her as a choreographer and performer.

As we enter the studio we see all the composite parts (wigs, fan, guitar) laid out on the floor, to be revealed over the succeeding 70 minutes. We know what is coming but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying as the objects slowly make their way onto the stage through the bodies of the two performers. Night Flying self-defines as: ‘Drawing on ideas related to deep time, the night sky and landscapes of being, Jane Mason and her long-time collaborator David Williams explore a constellation of associations related to memory, change, wonder, scale and materiality’s imagination.’ It’s a choreography for the small hours, a choreography for the darkest part of the night, for the 4:07am in you when the streets and cities and landscapes are stilling, when the world has evacuated the day, when you are yet to meet the sunrise. 

The idea of choreography as a constellation or way of mapping the work is in play; there are clearly defined episodes when Mason and Williams orate themselves and their own histories, amplify their physicality when bedecked in cheap wigs, playing guitar or revelling in imitated bodies. While the ‘glue’ between these episodes isn’t always immediately clear, they exist together rather like planets in a bigger galaxy. 

The presence of Williams as performer and as co-creator alters the tone in comparison to Mason’s previous works but he slips into her orbit and complements the intensity and energy. Williams is a chameleon with significant solo moments as an end of the pier comedian/local radio DJ/bingo caller with exquisite rapid-fire, deadpan, witty wordplay; a gentle, sand-blowing floor sculptor or as lead dancer in his accurate skewering of the false curtain call modesty of European modern dance theatre with repeated bows, thumbs up and the humble chest touch. Together they fit.

As Mason describes the tale of her grandfather as author of an aviation manual on how to fly in low visibility, there is a neat parallel in how people may respond to the work. There are times when some may be unclear on what is going on and why certain things are happening but Mason and Williams are our deep space guides, inviting us and acknowledging us with a rich and considered visual terrain matched with an elegant deployment of language. Night Flying offers us a portal into significance and insignificance; it’s crafted with intimacy and delivered with poise. It’s everything and nothing. We are together and we are alone.

Jean Abreu’s Solo For Two is a 60-minute trio featuring Abreu (as choreographer and performer), Rita Carpinteiro and a robot: ‘Two dancers, two sides of the same coin, caught in a struggle to find their place in the world. A little robot called Macheba both interacts and observes the dancers, mirroring and absorbing our human identities.’ Guy Cools is on dramaturg duty and Michele Panegrossi is the creative technologist behind Macheba, which seems to be less a robot than a remote-controlled vehicle with a few basic modifications: a pivoting birdie that could turn on/off and nod, a palm sized projector intermittently casting green/grey visual noise and a sizeable bluetooth speaker giving directional sound capabilities. While recognizing that the creation of sophisticated robotics is an expensive process, Macheba is nevertheless distinctly underwhelming as a device and in the way it is used choreographically.

Abreu and Carpinteiro are admirable performers executing their movements with fine levels of punch and nuance, but what they are delivering is a choreographic vocabulary and narrative that is familiar, unnecessary and stale; how the work self describes and its translation into my audience reality is poles apart. Broken into around eight sections there are duets (where Carpinteiro displays fine physical execution by climbing all over, in and around Abreu whilst not touching the floor (echoing James Cousins’ There We Have Been seven years ago), solos (full of stuttering beginnings) and a particular passage that left me in a minor rage:

Contemporary Dance enters (stage left). Contemporary Dance continues to role, slap and sweat itself on the floor moving earnestly to an inconsequential soundtrack. Eight minutes pass. Contemporary Dance is enjoying the solo. The ceiling of the newly refurbished Weston Studio has some architectural merit but having attended three nights this week I can confirm the angle and lack of lower back support in row B leaves a considerable ache and discomfort in my body each night (I shall not be returning to the Weston Studio to see any more dance whilst this seating is in place). Contemporary Dance continues. We are still in a haze-filled semi-darkness. The robot has not moved. 

Both Night Flying and Solo For Two are made by artists who have been choreographing their own work for more than 10 years and performing for nearly double that; I’m left asking questions around the currency of ideas, audience connectivity and how artists continue to develop and exercise their practice. 

I recognise there is some comfort in familiarity (this is how the majority of film franchises, ballet and Company Wayne McGregor work) by following the tried and tested methods, ideas and executions, but Solo For Two left me with a conceptual hollowness, smelling the funding bid tick boxes (hello robot) and a weary emotional dissatisfaction. It is littered with the tired clichés that some artists/venues/curators working across dance are attempting to dismantle, ensuring audiences are not frustrated but embraced. 

A triple bill started the week featuring a solo from Bristol-based Laila Diallo — who choreographically christened the studio — recycling material from two previous works in a 25-minute short offering, a mix of pedestrian movement, a marking of the time/space with lx tape and a delicious recurring choreographic balancing astride a chair revealing mixed with a broken ballet technique; as a keeper of time and movement Diallo is a study of concentrated movement. 

I won’t mention the indulgent waste that was Ways of the Blue by Bandi Meszerics; the only redeeming feature being a knitted cyan balaclava tentacle beard that he wore for six minutes, but I do want to mention Tom Thom. Bookending the night in their double block colour boiler suits, slow-ankle-tapping and totem-pole-shuffling in the foyer on our arrival, Tom Thom continue at the interval until their stage time as the final part of the night. With their super worn soft leather footwear (even the soles had been worn away through the 1000s of repetitions) we are treated to a 15-minute remix of slow dance approaches to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax that never quite lets us get to crescendo. They are a classic performance art-pop cabaret duo with an act that makes audiences visibly recoil and cover their eyes in reaction to the way in which their shuffle/hug/dance manifests. An act of physical virtuosity.


Resolution 2019: works by Cisarikova, Green and Harris-Walters, January 25

Posted: February 3rd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2019: works by Cisarikova, Green and Harris-Walters, January 25

Resolution 2019: works by Cisarikova, Green and Harris-Walters, January 25

All the works on this evening’s Resolution program begin with cogent ideas that have strong emotional integrity. Michaela Cisarikova’s I Love Myself, Do You? examines the duality of identity and self-worth, Sara Green transforms her own experiences of major spinal surgery in Burnt Out and Dani Harris-Walters traces a journey in search of fatherhood in Happy Father’s Day. Both Cisarikova and Green use striking imagery at the start of their respective works while Harris-Walters uses his presence alone to reveal his biologically-inspired choreographic exploration. While each beginning holds promise, in a Darwinian sense Harris-Walters is the only one to keep that promise throughout, ensuring its survival somewhere in our choreographic imagination.

What happens to a work that begins well but trails off in interest? Where does the interest go and why? Ideas in choreographic terms are argued primarily through the body and visual imagery, working with music as an emotional and rhythmic support. Each of this evening’s works places the body in a central role; Cisarikova suggests ‘the old Cherokee fable of two wolves fighting within you’ by the initial entangled embrace between herself and Jenn Vogtle; Green divides her persona into four performers each shaking off their oversized jackets as a metaphor of disintegration, while Harris-Walters takes us through his own body’s encounter with the process of procreation. It could be argued that Harris-Walters has an advantage by using text; without it the physical component would not add up to much of an argument, but it is the way he gleefully pairs text with gestures and unassuming hip hop sequences that engages the imagination of the audience. Borrowing from his own material, this process of engagement is like a mating ritual that depends on the maintenance of stimulus for its successful outcome. 

I Love Myself, Do You? opens on a billowing swathe of greenish gold parachute silk suspended diagonally from an upper corner covering much of the stage. In the middle of the silk is a hole through which Vogtle is supposed to rise in the dark on the shoulders of someone hidden underneath but a premature lighting cue finds her on her way up a little unsteadily and the magic is lost; it is on such small details that the fate of visual imagery depends. More importantly, for its overpowering spatial influence, the silk seems to have a relatively small impact on the work’s concept; Cisarikova joins Vogtle in the centre opening for a duet, seen from the waist up, that has a sculptural quality of both a physical and a psychological battle, but when the silk is later withdrawn its significance is called into question. Simeon Miller’s lighting makes clever use of silhouette projections inside the silk that present alternative identities, but when Anna Guzak slides out from under the silk, her role in the duality of good and evil seems superfluous. Ross Allchurch’s score accompanies the work but is not sufficiently anchored to keep it together. 

In Burnt Out Sara Green, with assistant choreographer Sara Kaspersen, sets out to translate experiences and memories of surgery through the filters of illustration (Simon Gardner) and music (Burnt Outby Jamie Jay and Carlos Posada of Low Island). The opening sequence, with costumes (and perhaps makeup) by Auriol Williamson and strong (unattributed) lighting, holds the space together in a tight theatrical form that has emotional clout, but as the four performers (Olly Bell, Steff D’Arcy, Orion Hart and Murielle Werthauer) disperse the space dissolves into a long improvised freeform section like a series of filmic takes all joined together and superimposed. Perhaps Gardner’s creative input may have helped us decode this section, but watching performers in various permutations trying to scale the back wall on the open stage has limited allure. Green has already worked with Low Island on their music videos but their relationship is quite different here, more complex and less well defined. 

The beginning of Happy Father’s Day is almost accidental, rather like the meeting of a sperm and an egg around which the work revolves. But Harris-Walters hooks us unerringly into his monologue with allusions and an imaginative acronym of Seven-Up while identifying himself not only with the gang leader, Tess Tyrone, but as the biological hero of the story. Once the penny has dropped, he is fully in charge of the stage, and whatever he does uncannily insinuates or illustrates his path. The image that remains is the final one, where after a caterpillar-like spiral trajectory towards the centre of the stage his head slides into the spotlight of conception. Mission accomplished.


The Bolshoi Ballet 2019 Livestream of La Bayadère

Posted: January 28th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Bolshoi Ballet 2019 Livestream of La Bayadère
Bolshoi Ballet La Bayadère
The Bolshoi corps de ballet in the Kingdom of the Shades

The Bolshoi Ballet’s Livestream of La Bayadère, The Gate, January 20

Having seen the livestream of the Bolshoi’s Nutcracker and enjoyed the experience of seeing the production not only in the way it was choreographed but also in the way it was presented so clearly on film, the subsequent livestream of the Bolshoi’s La Bayadère is disappointing.

Considered the final masterpiece of choreographer Marius Petipa, the ballet was first presented at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1877 and comprised four acts. The first three detailed a complex story of love, betrayal, power and jealousy in an exotic Indian Raj context; the third act, known as the Kingdom of the Shades, is a white, ethereal composition of extraordinary beauty that imagines the meeting of the two lovers, Nikya and Solor, in the afterworld, free from the intrigues of the Rajah’s court. It is this act that is often presented alone as La Bayadère but whenever the complete ballet is produced the original four acts are often condensed to three — as in Yuri Grigorovich’s current Bolshoi production — based on Vakhtang Chabukiani’s 1941 version for the Kirov/Maryinsky Ballet: the first act is the introduction of the principal characters and the exposition of the story with lots of mime; the second is the death of Nikiya by poisoning prior to the wedding of Solor and the Rajah’s daughter Gamzatti with all its divertissements, and the final act is the Kingdom of the Shades

There have been many versions and reconstructions since 1877, each of which appears further and further away not so much from Petipa’s choreography, but from the circumstances of La Bayadère’s creation for what was then the Imperial Russian Ballet. That its Tsarist association survived the 1917 Revolution is a story of tenacity and political sleight-of-hand described in Christina Ezrahi’s fascinating book, Swans of the Kremlin, but even as it has become one of today’s most recognizable classical ballets, it is hard to engage in the story. Presenter Katya Novikova suggested the subject of La Bayadère was inspired by Tsarevich Alexander’s recent visit to India; certainly the Indian iconography and music is presented entirely through a western sensibility. The interest in the ballet, beyond the Kingdom of the Shades, lies more with the interpretation of the roles and the quality of the dancing.

In the first two acts, which depend heavily on mime, the performances of Olga Smirnova as Nikiya, Olga Marchenkova as Gamzatti and Artemy Belyakov as Solor never seem to gel, either within themselves, with each other or with the story; the love, jealousy and betrayal are indicated but not fully embodied. In a narrative that is essentially a western orientalist concoction, the portrayal of human values with which we can empathise is vital. The closest Smirnova comes to this — and the closest Petipa came to an oriental inspiration — is in her sensual confession of love for Solor at the feet of Gamzatti in the second act. 

Throughout La Bayadère we are, of course, only present through the subjectivity of the camera lens directed by Isabelle Julien for Pathé Live, and what the camera can see is not necessarily what the audience can see; the intimacy of the closeup is intrusive in a way that a regular view from the audience can never achieve. Classical ballet has prescribed ways of moving and telling stories that belong within the proscenium setting; when select cinematic processes translate these narrative elements to the big screen, they can affect our perception of the art form. Although we will watch intently every move and gesture of a principal dancer during a solo, it is always within the context of the stage setting. Julien’s focus during La Bayadère tends to replace the ‘best seat in the house’ for a contrived point of view; from a purely balletic perspective, it is false. This is particularly noticeable in the famous entrance of the 32 dancers in the Kingdom of the Shades. The choreography forms a slow, painterly procession of arabesque poses that can only be fully appreciated on the scale of the proscenium stage. Julien instead makes a cinematic choice to show only a part of the composition, one that focuses on a narrowly defined vertical angle that removes the magic of the horizontal effect. It is an instance of the live stream inserting its own visual interpretation of the ballet rather than respecting the conventions of balletic perspective; instead of enhancing that perspective through the camera, Julien removes us further from what Petipa had imagined.