Bouchra Ouizguen, Compagnie O, Corbeaux

Posted: August 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bouchra Ouizguen, Compagnie O, Corbeaux

Bouchra Ouizguen, Corbeaux, Serpentine Pavilion, July 14

Bouchra Ouizguen’s Compagnie O in Corbeaux (photo: Hasnae El Ouarga)

The idea of performing Bouchra Ouizguen‘s dark, brooding Corbeaux (crows) as part of this year’s Shubbak Festival in Francis Kéré’s light, airy 2017 Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens is a symbiotic one. Kéré conceived the structure with its curved blue walls made of stacked triangular assemblies of timber and an orange canopy roof as an ‘architectural version of a big tree’ in Gando, his home town in Burkina Faso, where villagers would use its shade as a locus for activities. Both the Pavilion and Ouizguen’s choreography are a form of gathering; Kéré has built a congenial space for people to congregate in the heart of London, while Ouizguen has built a work for an outside space inspired by the collective behaviour of crows. The audience assembles like villagers underneath Kéré’s tree, standing with their backs to its airy walls, watching Ouizguen’s women — ten Moroccan performers and eight London-based — enter slowly, one by one at intervals in the dark. Once in place, they perch upright in triangular patterns in relation to each other and to the audience. Dressed in black with white headscarves, they stand motionless with eyes closed until the last woman joins the group. The stillness and silence are then suddenly broken by an eruption of visceral chanting wrenched from the abdomen up to the throat of each woman. It is not age but experience that shows in their faces and a fierce insistence that drives the rhythmic pulse of their gestures. They remain rooted to the same spot throughout this atavistic ritual and it is the subtle differences in the power these women generate in their gestures that attune our eyes to ‘hear’ the force of their voices.

Based on early Persian literature, the performance shares the investment in repetitive movement typical of Sufi dance in an attempt to transcend physicality by fully embracing and expressing corporeality. Here Ouizguen’s performers achieve a similar effect through harnessing the repetition of their piercing, guttural cries with the physical rocking forwards and backwards of their heads and necks. Some of the women accent the outbreath and others the inbreath to effect a see-saw rippling of sound that ricochets against the bodies of the audience with contrapuntal force. After twenty minutes, following a hidden pattern of quietus, the performers slowly one by one come to rest till only one continues the wild, rhythmic chant and movement which finally subsides to stillness and silence like the undulations of a pebble on the surface of a lake. Once the surface has settled the women drift out into the night but leave their emotional presence carved into the space of Kéré’s pierced walls.

This is it. There is no narrative, barely a beginning and no apparent end. We are engulfed in sound and the physical force that produces it, like being overtaken by a storm that suddenly arises out of nowhere, expends its energy and moves on; it is closer to nature than to theatre. Ouizguen has stated that Corbeaux is not so much a spectacle but an escape from the traditional mode of production for the stage. “I envisioned Marrakech station with this flock of ageless crows, like a living event, a sonorous sculpture whose power and urgency flows to infinity.” Perhaps Kéré had not envisioned such a gathering under his tree-like pavilion and neither, perhaps, had Ouizguen imagined such a genial space to be the setting of her brooding, sonorous sculpture but it was a bold feat of imagination to put the two together and let them play off each other’s life-affirming qualities.

This UK première of Corbeaux was presented by Shubbak as part of Park Nights, the Serpentine Pavilion’s annual series of summer events in partnership with Serpentine Galleries and Tate Modern. 


Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi (AΦE), WHIST

Posted: August 9th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi (AΦE), WHIST

AΦE, WHIST, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, July 31

WHIST, by AΦE (photo: Paul Plews)

Good stories are like those noble wild animals that make their home in hidden spots, and you must often settle down at the entrance of the caves and woods and lie in wait for them a long time.” – Herman Hesse

WHIST is the first major work for Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi who formed the company AΦE in 2013. Inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud, it invites us on a journey exploring the fears, desires and unconscious minds of a fictional family. Wearing a Samsung Gear virtual reality (VR) headset and headphones this is a solo experience (for a maximum of 20 people at a time) in the carpeted third-floor foyer of the Festival Theatre. After a pre-show briefing and orientation by the FOH staff we are invited to put on the headset and headphones and to follow the early instructions for triggering scenes by lining up our gaze with a small blue dot.
It’s made clear that there are 76 different perspectives and that who/what/where we look at when we’re ‘inside’ WHIST determines the next scene we watch; it’s a classic branching narrative device that is very prominent in non-linear video game design. Imagine a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book where the agency rests entirely with you; you map out your own path and are responsible for your next 45 minutes.

At times we’ll want to escape our polluted reality…not augment it with digital debris.”- Clyde DeSouza

The fantasy dream space of lust and Oedipal urges that Freud explored is ripe territory for a theatrical VR response; alongside their technology partner, Happy Finish, AΦE has created 20+ filmed scenes set variously in a dilapidated cottage, photographic studios and warehouses where you are introduced to the family gnawing on human hearts, waltzing with bird cages and evaporating into ping pong balls. With the headset on you’re limited in your ‘real’ movement and aren’t able to move through the VR space; you’re a static witness to the three- or four-minute filmed scenes from a single fixed camera perspective not of your choosing. I’m invited into this world though I’m unsure of my role. Am I an invisible voyeur? An additional family member? Something/one else? Without the clarity of who I am and my relationship to those around me it’s difficult to emotionally invest or empathise. The perspective changes across the scenes; sometimes we assume the head of the father, sometimes the camera is at knee height, sometimes on a silver platter and other times we’re inside a CCTV camera. Our virtual scale oscillates regularly but I’m unsure for what purpose.

Nakamura and Fourmi have created a number of other shorter screen, interactive and stage works before WHIST and are also members of the Jasmin Vardimon Company (Vardimon is the creative mentor for WHIST). The visually rich spectacle that has become Vardimon’s signature is laced throughout the work; be it a performer emerging from a wicker basket frantically scrawling indecipherable chalk symbols on the floor or an eerie motionless accordion player barely pressing the keys yet the sounds make it into your ear, the images stay with you.

It is a predisposition of human nature to consider an unpleasant idea untrue, and then it is easy to find arguments against it.” – Sigmund Freud

WHIST (named after Whist House in Kent where the work was filmed) defines itself as a ‘one-hour experience merging physical theatre, interactive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies and an art installation, in an environment that blurs the boundaries between consciousness and unconsciousness, reality and fiction, the physical and the virtual’. I find this language hugely alienating; in a cultural landscape of marketing hyperbole this description signals to a niche crowd and does little to provide clear and plain English entry points to the 92% of non-arts attenders.

An audience will predominantly experience a work only once and I found my first experience of WHIST quite unsatisfying; it’s physically limiting, generates a huge sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) as there are 75 other possible scenarios that I’ve not seen, and the technological fidelity and finish isn’t as crisp as it could be (you can often see the glitches where the 360 degree cameras meet and bodies warp momentarily). However, I went in for a second time — now familiar with the rules, the technology and the characters I had the chance to play with the interactivity of the work and it was richly rewarding. I found some of those alternative branching narratives (unlocking 3 new scenes along the way) and whereas in the first experience I didn’t feel in control and had a real sense of time rushing past me, during the second time there was a chance for greater depth, focus and the ability to find some of the triggers and nuances that are artfully hidden in the work. There’s a suite of scientific research from eye tracking studies that reveals hot spots and how our eyes are often drawn to movement that emerges from stillness on a screen/stage; I made a commitment to focus on one character in my second experience, tracking their journey and watching their reaction and interactions with others even though at times I knew there were other things happening outside my 80-degree viewing angle and that the other 280 degrees would have to go unwatched.

Just before the credits roll you’re given a number on screen which if you enter into AΦE’s website will translate into a loose interpretation/analysis of the route you’ve taken through WHIST. Using some faux Freudian language it’s desired aim is ‘to inspire questions, reflections and insights into the unique meaning the performance may have for you.’ However it comes across more like the end-of-the-pier Zoltar fortune telling machine from Big dishing out the same message to anyone who’s gullible enough to feed it some money (there was a LOT of repetition when I entered my two separate numbers).

Although there is little visible dancing in WHIST, but there is a definite choreographic consideration and execution in how our solo bodies experience those that are presented to us and the world they inhabit. WHIST rewards the audience and encourages multiple viewings as it unlocks more scenes, greater depth, hidden easter eggs and more of that luscious branching narrative.


Preethi Athreya, Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project

Posted: August 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Preethi Athreya, Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project

Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project, Alchemy Festival, Southbank, May 21

The act of jumping in Conditions of Carriage

This review was commissioned by PulseConnects and was published in the Summer 2017 edition of Pulse. It appears here with the kind consent of the editor.

It is a game played by an invisible hand with one team of ten players on a square, red-carpeted floor with a broad, raised rim on all four sides, like a trampoline without the elastic. The height of the rim is determined by the height the players can jump, landing in a deep squat, and its width is just enough to take three players standing one behind the other. The dimensions of the floor area are roughly equal to the height of three players. Even though I am imagining these dimensions, such mathematical rules are at the heart of Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project, conceived by Preethi Athreya, who is also one of the players. Jumping is a dynamic physical action that is expressively neutral, and while the repetitive nature of Athreya’s game focuses our attention on the act of jumping, the patterns of the performers reveal the implicit rules governing each player’s game.

Like a chamber orchestra of athletes whose bodies are their instruments, each player has their own score but the composition of the work is evident only when they all play together. The performers are thus in a constant state of alert, watching intently when to join the game, when to leave and when to accent the score with their individual variations. In music we tend to take for granted the complexity of an orchestral score in the listening, and similarly the complexity of Conditions of Carriage is concealed in the seeing. The rhythmical texture of the ensemble has a meditative quality, enhanced by the transcendent look in the eyes of the performers. Since there is no conductor, timing is provided by a recorded musical score, by individuals calling out numbers or by internal choreographic rules.

At one point the jumping turns into variations on a traditional Indian game of kabbadi where one contestant strives to tag his or her opponent while the opponent vigorously defends from any touch by fast foot and body work. It is an exciting, virtuosic interlude played in pairs that leads into the final section that is slower, more circular, more harmonious.

The men and women are dressed alike in singlets, shorts and trainers but the massed, non-competitive nature of the choreography allays any suggestion of a sport while the repetitive use of a sports movement allays any suggestion of dance. In addition Athreya has chosen performers who do not immediately suggest the ostensible effects of training in either sport or dance and with an age range of mid-20s to mid 40’s she has also thrown out the familiar social makeup of sports teams and dance companies. Conditions of Carriage is thus a performance that rises up from the fabric of society and brings audience and performers together through a common activity in an uncommon format.

Even the venue, under Hungerford Footbridge, places the context of the performance beyond sport and dance, in a public space where any passerby can stop to watch, a reflection of Alchemy Festival’s mandate to ‘showcase the dynamic creativity and cultural connections between South Asia and the UK.’ Nevertheless, the site’s shade and air currents are not conducive to the performers’ muscular exertion; far from their habitually warm climate, they prepare as if about to run a marathon and tend to their legs afterwards with equal diligence. But for us it’s worth all the effort.


Ian Abbott previews Mamoru Iriguchi’s Eaten

Posted: August 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Preview | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott previews Mamoru Iriguchi’s Eaten

Mamoru Gets Eaten…By A Narrator, Dance Base, November 25, 2016

Mamoru Iriguchi as Lionel in Eaten (photo: Ian Abbott)

Ian Abbott saw Mamoru Iriguchi’s Eaten as a sharing in November last year. He has since added to his preview in advance of Iriguchi’s performance of Eaten at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

What I offer here is an outsider’s inside perspective on Mamoru Iriguchi’s continued research and development of Eaten, his work for families. Eaten explores what eating and being eaten mean in nature as well as on our tables; its particular focus is on the offering of one’s body (wholly or partially) for consumption by others.

Continuing to work with long-term collaborators Nikki Tomlinson and Selina Papoutseli, Iriguchi’s Eaten is a series of observations and reflections on the wider context, culture and debate around what we eat. Until now Iriguchi has taken on multiple roles that include the eater, the eaten and many others in between. However, with Tomlinson and Papoutseli he is looking to introduce an additional presence of narrator to see how it might shift the dynamic and reading of the work.

Narrators usually adopt one of two roles: the omniscient and the limited. In the former, the narrator does not participate in the story but knowing everything that has ever happened or will happen views it from outside, supplying comments and evaluations often directly to the audience with such techniques as flashback and anticipation to convey understanding and to heighten any necessary tension. In the latter, the narrator is a protagonist embedded inside the story and is thus restricted to interactions that do not transcend the chronology of the work; we can’t know anything of which the narrator is unaware.

Iriguchi often presents solo work that challenge ideas of duality. In 4D Cinema he played with time, bent perceptions of what is live and what is recorded whilst playing versions of himself and Marlene Dietrich. In Eaten he is again skewering two-ness through his choice of language, illustrative examples and performance persona. There is a charm and a total believability when in the first half of the 25-minute sharing he plays Lionel (the Mamoru-eating lion) and Mamoru (Lionel’s main course). With a slight shift of vocal range and anatomical straightening the oscillation between the two roles is clear and what we get is a philosophically and morally complex conversation delivered in simple and precise detail about who should eat and/or be eaten.

After a delightful section where the joy of unbridled movement takes over as Mamoru teaches Lionel to waltz, there is a short section that exemplifies the relationship between narrator and other:

Mamoru:        “I feel strange Lionel, I’m melting”
Lionel:             “We’re melting together”

With stillness in play and Lionel pushing raspberries out through his lips like an almighty poop, we see emerging from Lionel’s bottom a black morph-suited Professor Poo of Pooniversity. Eaten’s idea of melting between time, bodies, and first and third persons has an absurd and workable logic that constantly reveals itself like a matryoshka doll. Our identities are not fixed, our food is not fixed, our life is not fixed: why should our narration and performances be fixed?

At this moment Tomlinson (previously acting as a temporary, seated narrator in the first half) steps into the dormant Lionel costume; it is now the turn of Professor Poo to drive the narrative forward in the second half as Lionel/narrator takes a fixed position, barely moving for the remainder of the sharing. Professor Poo asks children and grown-ups what we should and shouldn’t eat whilst delivering the telling line: “You aren’t just what you eat; you are what you eat eats.

Eaten posits different beliefs and it is left open for the audience to interpret what is right for them. The narrator lightly frames the landscape so Mamoru/Lionel/Professor Poo is able to riff between the bowels of logic and absurdism.

With Tomlinson, Papoutseli and Iriguchi there are already three narrative stomachs that Eaten has to pass through before anything emerges on stage. It’s clear that as a solo performer Iriguchi doesn’t like to make work alone and the presence of Tomlinson and Papoutseli over the past decade in the studio has created a structure of challenge, nurture and support which ensures there’s no mixing up of the I, your and you with who’s who and who’s poo.

As post-truth politics and fake news cycles continue to grow, the melting narrative of Eaten can help us ask from whom do we want to receive our food narrative: a poo, a lion, the media or the government? There are plenty of unreliable narrators in the global food narrative, but what Iriguchi is offering for consumption through Eaten is a considered, open and downright hilarious perspective on the impact of food and human choices on our planet.


Organic Entity, Triple Bill

Posted: August 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Organic Entity, Triple Bill

Organic Entity, Triple Bill, TripSpace, June 10

Salah El Brogy in The Moment (photo: Danilo Moroni)

Organic Entity is an enterprising collaboration between three dance choreographers — Anna Watkins, Neus Gil Cortés and Salah El Brogy — to make a full evening of dance with a variety of approaches and styles that the individual choreographers would be unable furnish by themselves. It’s a model that deserves attention but is not without risks, the first of which is with whom to collaborate and — which is directly related to the first — which works to present. Watkins, Cortés and El Brogy seem to have found a viable cohesion; Organic Entity is thus both a title and an indication of the way the three works unpack and make their offerings to the audience. In Human Animal Watkins researches evolution, making a solo for Carmine De Amicis that sees a struggle within his body between animal and human conditions. In Left Cortés looks inside Léa Tirabasso and Rosie Terry Toogood to mine their psychological states and El Brogy in his solo The Moment establishes a spiritual dimension that is altogether human. Each work acts as a counterbalance and commentary on the other two; it all makes for a very interesting evening.

The sound of a ticking clock in Watkins’ work suggests a time-lapse treatment of evolution and the first we see of De Amicis he is lying on the floor as physical material ready to transform. Over the course of his development his bird-like head gestures on top of a raw, muscled body take on a more human form as he rises on to his two feet in the confines of an imaginary cage. De Amicis writhes with intensity to the percussive score by Andy Pape but Watkins’ portrayal is more masochistic ritual than evolutionary path; the power of De Amicis is too self-consciously human to be convincingly feral with the result Human Animal spirals around its own frenetic physicality rather than expressing either the animal in the human or the human in the animal.

This is where the elemental solo by El Brogy acts as a telling counterbalance of how an earthy presence in a human body can be expressed. Although The Moment comes at the end of the program, El Brogy’s performance reaches back to Human Animal and provides a resolution to De Amicis’s evolutionary path. That’s the way this evening of dance interrelates. There is nothing self-conscious or restrained in El Brogy’s presence; his improvisation goes to spiritual places with a disarming physical power. At the beginning we see him crouched with his head between his arms, his body rising and collapsing under some existential weight. When he rises, his arms are like birds and his hands like wings and his wild hair obscures the sharp features of his face. He is a force of nature who uses natural gestures to tell his story: his hands go through the motions of washing, bathing, drinking, eating but these are merely stages on a journey he is remembering and reliving. Movements spring and unspring from his body in all directions just as memories dart into focus at the speed of thought; his head and eyes are in complete accord with the gestures of his body as if his dance arises from an inner necessity. El Brogy is at times volatile and at others reflective, always mindful of the moment he is trying to recapture. To his own sound design, he takes us on a journey through his own time; the dance is the journey. Watching him is to connect viscerally with his animist experience, and he takes us far beyond the realms of the theatre, like his finger raised to the sky with a smile of recognition.

I had first seen Gil Cortés’ Left at Emerge Festival in 2015 and was impressed by her mature handling of psychological frailty. Here she has reworked it with two women instead of a man and a woman and has restaged the dynamic between them to the same musical input from Philip Samartzis, Mica Levi and Zoe Keating. I admire this ability to revisit a work and bring something new to it, an acknowledgement that as she develops as a choreographer and as a person she can return to older works with new experience. And I imagine within the context of Organic Entity’s triple bill, Left seemed to fit neatly between the physical and spiritual aspects of the bookending works. Tirabasso is the febrile victim of a psychological struggle that Toogood incarnates with the dispassionate, dark menace of a spider-like presence. Gil Cortés takes us unerringly through the shadowed terror of sensing an internal assailant to the stages of capture and possession until Toogood melts into the background leaving Tirabasso to wonder if it had all been a figment of her imagination. It’s a lot to fit into a short work, but Gil Cortés is as assured in her handling of the subject as the two performers are in the roles she has given them.


Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Posted: July 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement, Shubbak Festival, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Mithkal Alzghair, Rami Farah and Samil Taskin in Trio

A pair of black boots alone on the stage before the start of Mithkal Alzghair’s Solo is a bleak image of displacement that has many connotations. When Alzghair enters the stage bearing a neatly folded white sheet in his outstretched arms, places it carefully on the floor before putting on the boots, the images and gestures are stark but full of meaning. Although Alzghair’s references may not be immediately evident to a western audience, he transfers to the spectator his raw experience through the emotional conviction with which he invests each and every movement.

Alzghair grew up in Syria and currently lives in exile in Europe; what he brings to the stage is what his body remembers from its heritage without any overt narrative or political propaganda. In exploring how steps and everyday gestures are transformed by external forms of coercion, Alzghair uses dance as a metaphor for freedom and culture that can be diminished but never erased. His hands behind his back suggest forced restraint, his arms raised above his head denote surrender and his stripping down to his underwear with his jeans around his ankles forewarns of a violence that can only be imagined; as he pivots and falls repeatedly in an attempt to maintain his footing his unbuckled belt thrashes on the floor like a whip. But however repressed and subjugated he may be, he maintains the essential rhythms of the dance throughout. Alzghair connects us to Syria through traces of traditional music and fragments of rhythmic dance steps he and his friends once performed at weddings and other festivities. There are deep, angular steps that surge into the ground to rise up out of it in joy and ecstasy, and small rhythmical foot shuffling like a recitative he maintains throughout Solo; these steps become in themselves an expression of displacement through exile and his unflinching gaze serves to remind us of the pain such upheaval entails. Suddenly Alzghair includes a high military kick that jars our frame of reference; he kneels, bends over with his hands crossed behind him and tries to continue the rhythms on his knees and then in very low, knotted steps until he collapses in a cross-legged heap. He endures and he survives but the past leaves a diminishing trace on the present; now that he is outside his Syrian cultural context, he has to explore the act of physical recollection of what has been left behind. Despite its air of fragility, Solo is a muscular protest against cultural oppression and its concomitant displacement and serves notice that it is culture that defines people before any notion of politics.

The eloquently somber lighting (by Séverine Rième) and everyday clothing are in the same register for Trio, which follows without a pause, resuming the notions of Solo with dancers Rami Farah and Samil Taskin. Alzghair introduces into the reality of displacement the mutual support among a group of friends. The Syrian conflict again becomes the invisible backdrop to the fragility of human life, to notions of home, comradeship and memory that fulminate quietly throughout the work and question our sense of comfort. Yet at the same time the three men embody a profound yet humble humanity that is uplifting. The shuffling foot rhythms of Solo are repeated here but are intimately felt like a bond between the three men rather than performed. To simple dance patterns and solos are added sequences of sotto voce clapping and the linking of arms. The cloth Alzghair brought in for Solo is unfolded by Farah and Taskin and gripped in their fists above their heads, a sacred memory of home, perhaps, against which we see only the men’s shadows. They continue to shuffle in subtly changing patterns creating a sense of uncertainty and trepidation as they weave in and out of the light as if avoiding attention. Alzghair breaks into a folk step that the other two follow and then the trio reforms until the invisible force of coercion makes itself felt once again in ominous gestures of kneeling and collapsing, while the stripping of their shirts gives the men a heightened sense of vulnerability. But the feet keep up the folk rhythms whenever possible as a metaphor for keeping alive in a seemingly hopeless situation. The way Farah makes a ritual of folding up the t-shirts and the white cloth speaks longingly of absence and loss as Alzghair and Taskin whirl around the stage and spin off, a momentary sense of elation and freedom before the three join together on another arduous journey. In terms of gesture there is little to differentiate between movement transformed by external coercion and that transformed by one’s own arduous exertion. The men drop like ripe fruit but help each other up and continue, now dispersing slowly to the edges of the diaspora of the stage as the light dies with a sense of interminably drawn-out time and ineffable space engulfed in crushing silence.

This UK première of Displacement was produced by Sadler’s Wells as part of the Shubbak Festival of contemporary Arab Culture.


Nathaniel Rackowe & Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched

Posted: July 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Installation, Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Nathaniel Rackowe & Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched

Nathaniel Rackowe and Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched, Fold Gallery, July 15

Martina Conti and Stine Nilsen in (Un)touched (photo: Noah Da Costa)

Nathaniel Rackowe’s exhibition Threshold at Fold Gallery in Fitzrovia includes some recent wall-based light works and the diptych (Un)touched, a collaborative installation the artist has developed with choreographer Angela Woodhouse. Boundaries are a key motif Rackowe explores by pushing the edges of both form and matter. The wall-based works use fluorescent tubes and coated glass panels whose planes juxtapose and superimpose. Characteristically, Rackowe engages with light not so much as a medium but rather as a means to dissolve the material edges of the panels into transparent and reflective layers of evanescent colour. Echoing Rackowe’s ideas, Woodhouse in (Un)touched interpolates her own investigation of boundaries through movement. Their collaboration has developed over a period of three years and one can feel the maturing of the process in the work’s synergies. Woodhouse has an intuitive ability to find spaces in the choreographic firmament that have not been explored and where collaboration offers new creative possibilities, while Rackowe’s concepts of form, space and light welcome such an approach.

The material framework of (Un)touched consists of two separate structures that take up the central floor area of the gallery. The first is an elongated rectangular grid made of neatly detailed industrial panels of perforated steel and expanded mesh interspersed with ones of coated glass; the second is a low square steel platform covered with reinforced glass on which the audience can stand. The two structures relate to each other as a nave to the apse of a church and the way they both fit into the gallery makes it seem as they were made specifically for it.

Woodhouse interfaces the materiality of these structures with the choreographed movement of two dancers, Stine Nilsen and Martina Conti. The audience is invited to walk around while Nilsen and Conti wander through the maze of intersecting planes as if engaging in a game of silent encounters that are only fulfilled in the mirroring of the dancers’ movements through glass and in their fading reflections. Occasionally they hold the gaze of a member of the audience, so that watching them we experience mutating levels of intimacy that emerge and then recede into a proximity that is never achieved. The sequencing of fluorescent lighting that in turn makes the glass panels transparent (fleetingly bringing dancers and audience into close visual proximity) and opaque (reflecting an image of both dancers and audience back on themselves) intensifies the interplay of presence and absence, of invisibility and appearance. In addition the perforated steel panels create pixelated images of the dancers’ bodies placed behind them, whilst open spaces in the structure reveal the fullness of the body and intermittent blackouts reset our threshold of vision. It is in these multiple views that the full value of (Un)touched emerges and where the visions of Rackowe and Woodhouse meet. The dancers breathe life into the inert structure and partner it through the choreographic journey while the audience becomes an integral part of such a journey through the visual permutations of each change of perspective.

Following Nilsen’s and Conti’s beguiling game in the ‘nave’, after a short pause the audience is invited into the ‘apse’ to congregate around the second structure; the two dancers reappear under the glass, as alive and motionless as fish seen from the surface of the water. Again the fluorescent tubes inside the structure and on the walls above it create changing degrees of transparency through the glass although our perspective is relatively fixed. We are invited to walk on the surface but the sense of standing over the dancers is an ambivalent pleasure as they move lithely beneath us. Because of the limited space under the glass, the intimacy between dancers is physical, sensual, as Conti nestles her head under Nilsen’s arm or Nilsen rolls over to embrace Conti’s shape. The two bodies seem suspended in the changing lights, making their shapes and forms flit between transient beauty and our own figures peering into the glass, our reflections descending to the ceiling. The entire performance challenges our mode of interaction with the subject, from voyeuristic distance to the intimacy of regard and tentative physical communication as Nilsen and Conti rediscover what touch might mean at the edges of proximity. They engage with each other and with the audience in such a calm, ordered way that although there is no musical accompaniment to the performance, the movement and light contain within them an implicit auditory sensation of serenity that reverberates through the small gallery, completing the sensory universe that Rackowe and Woodhouse have created. The applause at the end breaks the reverie and returns us to our reality.


Images Ballet Company

Posted: July 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Images Ballet Company

Images Ballet Company, Lilian Baylis Studio, June 13

(l to r) Briony Andrew, Courtney Reading, Eleonora Falovo, Maria Bruguet, Gwainn van der Bijl, and Jessica Harding in Liz Aggiss’s Scenes of Death and Disaster (photo: Billy Nichols)

Images Ballet Company is a showcase for the dancers who choose to specialize in classical ballet in their final year of professional training at London Studio Centre. The program at Lilian Baylis Studio tests this training in a broad spectrum of dance performance that challenges the students’ versatility and stretches their expressive abilities. While Artistic Director Jennifer Jackson’s own work of the evening, Distant Beauties, is the one work to merge classical technique with a classical image, Matthew Hart’s Concerto for Joyce and Dennis uses pointe work in a contemporary setting, and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s Handsfree uses classical articulation and elongation in an abstract work. Only Liz Aggiss, who comes from the august tradition of German Ausdruckstänz, makes the technique utterly subservient in her Scenes of Death and Destruction to a rich expressive approach to dance that just happens, in its irreverent approach to classical ballet structures, to deconstruct them with evident relish.

It might be said that this year-end showcase reflects the current prospects for students of classical ballet in this country and elsewhere, as Jackson is well aware (just consider Scottish Ballet’s recent program of works by Angelin Preljocaj and Crystal Pite). Her decision to include such a variety of styles will serve her dancers well as their comfort levels are tested from work to work. Shaun Reidman, the one male in the group, does not look entirely at home in Distant Beauties, but in Scenes of Death and Disaster he comes into his own as the figure of Death replete with black cloak and scythe. Eleonora Falovo carries the narrative in Concerto for Joyce and Dennis so convincingly as Joyce that she looks out through her eyes. This kind of transformation is at the heart of performance and Falovo’s natural ability to unite her technical ability with a high level of expressivity is a gift for dance narrative in whatever form it might take.

Jackson’s Distant Beauties is loosely based on the pas de six from the Petipa/Tchaikovsky ballet, Sleeping Beauty with which she would have been familiar in her days as a soloist with the Royal Ballet. Rather than getting her dancers to execute Petipa’s choreography, Jackson models the steps on the capacities of her dancers and ascribes contemporary values to the six Fairies of integrity, independence, humility, talent, resilience and confidence. By choosing Tom Armstrong to adapt Tchaikovsky’s score for a viola and flute (played live on stage by Rosie Bowker and Henrietta Hill), she has created a sparse aural environment which the dancers have the chance to fill with their ensemble work and solos. Classical technique is notoriously difficult to execute well, and not all the dancers do justice to the steps but they maintain the spirit behind them. Maria S. Catalayud managed both in her variation with a confidence that is a pleasure to see.

One of the characteristics that gives unity to the evening is the way Bowker and Hill play through the pauses between works, transitioning from one musical style to another as they wander like minstrels on stage. It allows the huge social gap between the Russian Imperial court and a care home to be bridged effortlessly along with the sterling efforts of the crew to transform the stage.

The central character of Concerto for Joyce and Dennis is modeled on Hart’s own grandmother whose physical condition has rendered her housebound and subject to a carer (Reidman) who doubles as her late husband. The cast enters into this poignant portrayal of memory and friendship with conviction, though the ideas in this narrative work carry a weight well beyond the scope of this performance; it is full of short scenes and episodes that strike me as the seed of a musical in which a larger, more diverse cast could more realistically portray the disparity in ages and physical (dis)abilities.

Handsfree, to the eponymous body-percussion score by Anna Meredith, is a response both to the music and to the sculpture of Dorothea Tanning. Set in rectangles of light that Runacre-Temple seems to relish, Handsfree is a complex rhythmical exercise in which the four dancers (Falovo, Catalayud, Courtney Reading, and Jessica Harding) engage with the music and with each other in close partnership where they seem to listen to the music in each other’s bodies. The exhilaration from the dancing and from the score itself is palpable, though the work seems more weighted towards Meredith than Tanning, missing a sufficiently visual component to satisfy the eye.

The title of Scenes of Death and Disaster accurately describes the progression of Aggiss’s work, from Reidman’s slow, cold, majestic entrance as the figure of death to the seven women with disheveled hair complaining about male choreographers of classical ballets who portray women as weak with a propensity for untimely deaths. Musically it progresses from its music box introduction through sampling of the ballet classics of Giselle, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet to earthy gypsy tunes and Highland bagpipes. Its irreverence for the classical canon belies the rigorous construction of the work and the expressivity required of the dancers to make it work. And work it does, with ferocious wit and satire both in what it says and the way the entire cast says it. That Jackson has the pragmatism and insight to program this broad scope of work is testament to her stewardship of the company.


Ian Abbott at Greenwich Fair

Posted: July 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Greenwich Fair

Greenwich Fair, Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, June 24 and 25

Far From The Norm’s Da Native in front of the statue of General Wolfe (photo: Ian Abbott)

Greenwich Fair is the opening weekend blitz of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (a 15-day celebration of street arts) featuring circus, theatre, games, live art and a suite of new dance works. GDIF has ‘a particular focus on the commissioning and development of outdoor work led by deaf and disabled artists and artists from diverse backgrounds’ and there was new small-scale outdoor work on show from Deaf Men Dancing, Far From The Norm and Avant Garde Dance.

Etta Ermini’s Culinary Duel sees two male dancers in chefs’ whites goofing around in tune with the fading relevance of TV cookery shows. In an under-rehearsed work where legs and limbs collide in contact and lift work, movements are not fully executed and lines are certainly not clean. However, none of this mattered to the 300+ audience who attended the Sunday afternoon because the underused star of the show was a remote controlled cooker which trundled around bumping into the chefs, approaching the audience and flapping its oven door like a hungry mouth. In amongst the frenzied whisking and flinging of Angel Delight there is a hunger for light entertainment, an amusing photo to post on social media and something to hold your attention for 20 minutes; by these standards Culinary Duel delivers in spades. Younger audiences were in raptures, screaming in delight at seeing a domestic appliance transformed into a living, dancing machine that succeeded in upstaging the humans.

On a similarly unpalatable menu, the premiere of Avant Garde Dance’s new outdoor work Table Manners, commissioned by Without Walls, describes itself as ‘a choreographic feast exploring human relationships through our cultural connections with food and dining, with a thought-provoking social subtext.’ The reality is somewhat different: an undercooked and disjointed collection of scenes that reheat tired food clichés that have little cultural relevance today. At 40 minutes, Table Manners sags dramatically between scenes as the three dancers tinker with fiddly adjustments needed to switch and extend the table surfaces, drawing our focus away from any choreography. Sasha Shadid proves particularly irksome as an over-officious, fake-dacting waiter, while Duwane Taylor and Julie Minaai are presented as 2D characters and struggle to exhibit any technique or musicality, with any subtlety being left in the pantry. Tony Adigun has choreographed a number of excellent outdoor works for Avant Garde (Taxi, Romeo & Juliet, Silver Tree) which have delivered greater complexity, signature choreography and an attention to musicality; with a severe edit there is potential in Table Manners but the audible sighs around me left my choreographic stomach rumbling.

Corazón a Corazón, performed by Deaf Men Dancing and Leo Hedman, was commissioned by GDIF, Without Walls, Brighton Festival and Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival. It is a 25-minute work inspired by Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman and was conceived, choreographed and directed by Mark Smith. Charlie Hembrow and Shane Pearson are Puig’s prisoners who form an intimate bond in their cell whilst suffering the brutality of Hedman’s baton-wielding guard. With a tango-inspired soundtrack and simple contemporary partner work, two beds provide the main set pieces, upended to represent bars, flipped in displays of dominance and skittled as Hembrow and Pearson seek solace under Hedman’s watchful eye. After seeing Smith’s previous work, Let Us Tell You A Story, his theatricality and overtly dramatic performance style is at home in the outdoor environment and his subtle integration of BSL rewards a close reading. However, an inexplicable and wild narrative shift 10 minutes out sees Hedman’s guard scampering up into the crows nest scaffold structure and transform the show into a burlesque-inspired rope aerial act lasting the remainder of the show. Hedman displays fine skill and technique but this shoehorned metamorphosis attempts to bring two entirely different worlds together with little subtlety or consideration for an audience.

The majority of work programmed for outdoor/street arts festivals is work that isn’t emotionally or politically resonant and chooses not to deal with alternative forms; this signalling that programmers believe audiences want the primary colour splat of Britain’s-Got-Talent-lite spectacles and don’t want to engage with complexity is misplaced. With the recent large-scale outpouring of support for alternative narratives and our ability to deal with complexity that have emerged in the wake of the London and Manchester terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire signifies we are able to talk, debate and dialogue about things of scale.

It is refreshing to see Botis Seva’s Far From The Norm’s Da Native, a work that actively refuses to locate itself and embraces multiple narrative readings, set against a geodesic dome decorated with three-sided patterned textiles that echo the cultural significance attached to weaving and cloth that exists in different non-Western cultures. Set in the shadow of Greenwich Park’s statue of Major-General James Wolfe (the 18th century British army officer posthumously dubbed ‘The Conqueror of Quebec’ for capturing Quebec City from the French), the territorial and colonial frame in which Da Native operates offers extra resonance; with nomads arriving from east/west and finding respite in the dome Da Native offers a series of tight choreographic rituals that look at community, home and departure. With a consistency of intense physical detonation and attack, Far From The Norm delivers a water-tight performance balancing moments of stillness atop the dome with searing choreographic ensemble work; images of drenched cloths being pulled from the dancers’ mouths like a magician’s mouth coil conjure up arid landscapes and dusty travels and leave an indelible mark on the audience. With a slight tweaking by shifting and extending the visual focus of the work to three sides (not just front on), Da Native has a great chance of being a work that offers alternative perspectives while rejecting the simplistic narrative of other outdoor festival works.

Greenwich Fair was 97% free (A View from the Bridge being the exception) and accessible to people who encountered the 40+ works around the Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark Gardens and Greenwich Park; however by spreading out to the park there was a dissipation of energy and a dispersal of audience over the opening weekend. In previous iterations I’ve attended the densely packed programme focused on a tight geographical location which builds an energy, buzz and ferocity of people – shows programmed back to back so that as soon as one finishes, an audience swarms from one to another and is swept along in the rhythm and waves of performance. Greenwich Fair sits amongst the larger GDIF which has multiple themed programs including Dancing City, finales and mass street events, but if the opening weekend is meant to build momentum for what follows and if the commentary and discussions on the quality of programmed work amongst the dozens of Xtrax delegates are anything to go by, then the omens are not good.


Knowbody II, Elixir Festival 2017

Posted: July 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Knowbody II, Elixir Festival 2017

Knowbody II, Elixir Festival, Sadler’s Wells, June 24

ELIXIR FESTIVAL at Sadler’s Wells, London, UK ; 22 June 2017 ; Credit : Johan Persson

Company of Elders in Shobana Jeyasingh’s Here (photo: Johan Persson)

Something interesting has happened to the bipartite formula for Sadler’s Wells’ Elixir dance festival celebrating lifelong creativity. Three year’s ago, the main stage performance Knowbody I was clearly the headliner of the festival while the Extracts, based predominantly on community dance, were the supporting acts. This year the quality of Knowbody II has declined while the first evening of Extracts has shown a marked advance in mature amateur dance to a middle ground between community dance and the main stage. One of the reasons is that the current programming of Elixir has not reflected what has been happening in mature dance in the intervening three years, both in this country and in Europe. Despite Sadler’s Wells membership of the large-scale, EU funded co-operation project, Dance On, Pass On, Dream On (DOPODO), that nine dance institutions from eight countries have developed to address ageism in the dance sector and in society, this year’s Elixir has the same format, some of the same performers, and the same division between professional and amateur companies as before. While the inclusion of Berlin’s Dance On Ensemble (a professional company for the over-40s) and some amateur performances from Holland, Germany and Denmark in the Extracts are welcome, it is a shame that Charlotta Öfverholm’s company Jus de la Vie, a signatory of the DOPODO agreement, could not be included on the main stage event this year. Öfverholm’s presence alone would have countered the tiresome absurdity of Annie-B Parson’s The Road Awaits Us and the misplaced, if respectful inclusion of Robert Cohan’s Forest Revisited. And if Elixir is addressing ageism in dance, why are such artists as Wendy Houstoun and Liz Aggiss, who are battling on the same front, missing from the lineup for the second time? But there is a much larger question that Sadler’s Wells’ own flagship Company of Elders raises that remains to be resolved.

There is a fundamental but vitally important distinction between presenting age on stage and celebrating age on stage. To watch Ana Laguna and Yvan Auzely on the main stage in Mats Ek’s Axe is to celebrate the unique contribution of the mature performer, and the same is true of the performance by Holland Dance of Jérôme Meyer and Isabelle Chaffaud’s My tasteful life in the first program of Extracts. It is not the difference between amateur and professional that counts but the degree to which performers can project their maturity in all its richness and complexity. This doesn’t happen, however, in Shobana Jeyasingh’s Here, choreographed for Company of Elders as part of Knowbody II; it opens promisingly with a wash of crimson costumes in glorious light but descends quickly to a composition of seated dancers waving arms, and such is the design of the chairs and the way the dancers are seated that a comparison with wheelchairs is unavoidable. This is a display of age dressed in glorious costumes and lights where the individuality of the dancers is replaced, in formal terms, by the identity of the group. If someone of Jeyasingh’s creativity cannot make a work on Company of Elders that celebrates their age, there is a problem. Perhaps the makeup of the company means she has had to create on the abilities of the weaker members to the detriment of the expressivity of the stronger ones, but no work of value can ensue from this compromise and the notion of a flagship company for mature dance sinks with it. For all the advantages Company of Elders receives as the Sadler’s Wells resident performance group for the over-60s — working with renowned choreographers, a highly visible platform, touring and high production values — its qualities are no more developed than its counterparts in Brighton, Ipswich, East London and Greenwich (all of whom were presented next door in Extracts). It would seem the opportunities laid at Company of Elders’ feet are being exploited rather than fully realised. Auditions may be one way forward and a re-selection of current members according to ability. And if Sadler’s Wells wants Company of Elders to share the main stage with professional dancers, shouldn’t they, too, be paid?

Another feature of this edition of Elixir that compromises its value is the presence of so many young dancers on the main stage program. Pascal Merighi, who choreographed a solo for Dominique Mercy at the last Elixir has for this one created a duet for Mercy and his daughter, Thusnelda. Why? In Forest Revisited, some of the dancers who once performed Robert Cohan’s Forest (Kenneth Tharp, Anne Donnelly, Linda Gibbs, and Christopher Bannerman, joined by a younger Paul Liburd) are seen teaching it to a new generation. Is Elixir becoming an intergenerational festival? Artistic director Alastair Spalding describes Elixir as ‘an evening featuring choreography created and danced by older artists’ while his programmers seem to be doing something else. What Extracts has confirmed, however, is that works for mature dancers are gaining in quality and interest; hopefully we won’t have to wait another three years for the next edition of Elixir festival to see mature dancers in a new category of work that is currently coming of age.