Ian Abbott at Tanzmesse 2018

Posted: September 10th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Coverage, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Tanzmesse 2018

Ian Abbott at Tanzmesse, Dusseldorf, Aug 29 – Sep 1 2018


Oona Doherty

Oona Doherty in HOPE HUNT & The Ascension into Lazarus (photo: Simon Harrison)

Tanzmesse 2018 is the first under the new directorship of Dieter Jaenicke. In his introduction he talks of this edition as one of change, a stepping stone towards something different in 2020: “Tanzmesse is going to change in the direction of an ideas fair where the most important topics (which are moving the international dance world) will be discussed and performed: topics like migration, democracy, on how to deal with the post colonial division of the world and its resources…from now on contemporary dance, contemporary ballet and urban dance will be presented on an equal level.”
Solos by Hodworks (Hungary) is a joyful, carefully crafted hour by Adrienn Hod with three exquisite performers (Emese Cuhorka, Csaba Molnar and Imre Vass). Hod has created a Generation Game prize belt of ever changing 4-6 minute solo choreographic scenes for an audience in the round. With each scene chained together by the end/start level of emotional intensity it’s an interesting way to view the range and versatility of the performers alongside the dozen or more miniature ideas that Hod wants to explore wrapped in a faux-fur creature singing big numbers from Cats and Disney classics, a gentle lingering hug for a single audience member, a hyper-inflated word stream outlining the trouble of the choreographic process or a sweet pepper eating trial. Solossits well in the late night cabaret slot of Tanzmesse and adds to the reputation of both Hod and Hodworks.
Crépuscule des Océans by Daniel Leveillé Danse (Canada) self describes as ‘a human tide, animated by opposing currents: busy, but at the same time on guard — concentrated to make no mistakes — resistant, ambitious and obsessive.’ The reality is a woeful 55 minutes in the 1200-seater Capitol Theatre of seven dancers, naked for 70% of the time, pairing up in small areas of the stage to repeat the same 8 minutes of out-of-time tippytoe-tensing, 80s-lungeing-with-pointy-fingers choreography to piano music by Jean-Sébastien Durocher. Heralded in the 1990s as the Canadian pioneer of presenting the unclothed body on stage, Leveillé’s concept or choreography appears not to have changed since; how ironic to be presenting this 11-year-old work on Jaenicke’s first program of ‘change’. As Crépuscule des Océans lurches on, one dancer makes three clear mistakes, forgetting the choreography and freezing in one group section and making two large stumbles elsewhere; as the audience leaves after a smattering of slow claps, there is angry talk of wasted time, the mistakes and the possibility of what could have been experienced on stage instead.
There is a suite of talks each day with one entitled The Future of Performing Arts Market featuring Sophie Travers (APAM), Jaenicke (Tanzmesse), Asa Richardsdottir (Ice Hot) and Alain Paré (Cinars): four current performing arts markets talking about their future? Unsurprisingly there is no real sense of what the future might look like because the speakers have no desire to erase their own presence and with no input from anyone outside a performing arts market there is no alternative perspective; the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. If the purpose of these events (the majority of which are still replicating near 30-year-old models) is to act as a meeting point, to stimulate new relationships and to ‘offer more space for communication, exchange and contact’ then we need voices from outside (in both programming and construction) to widen possibilities and ensure representation and intersectionality are considered at the centre of future editions.
In the Women’s Voices in Choreography talk, chair Andrea Snyder from American Dance Abroad highlighted the percentage of women represented in each part of the programme; it’s around a third. For every two performances or pitches by a male in the biggest dance trade fair in the world there is one by a female. This is unacceptable. Insightful contributions from the floor by Emma-Jayne Park (Scotland) and Annabelle Guérédrat (Martinique) as well as by Christine Bonansea (USA) on the panel are counterbalanced with some eyebrow-raising talk from other women in the room on how ‘women lack ambition and lack the ability to be strategic.’ There is a call for a consistent sisterhood that does not keep cutting each other down and a clear call for action in the Tanzmesse evaluation where we should demand an equal number of performances and programming slots for women as a minimum in future editions.
Alongside the talks programme there are some fifty 20-minute open studio/pitching slots over the two days where artists can offer a flavour of something new that is coming down the pipeline to generate interest in future international touring or building co-production partnerships. Seeta Patel presents a polished 8-minute excerpt of her bharatanatyam reimagining of The Rite of Spring that will tour the UK with 6 dancers from May 2019 and scale up to the Sadler’s Wells main stage with 12 dancers in 2021. Group bharatanatyam is a rarity and it is refreshing to see the intricate patterns multiplied and echoed across many bodies as the power and collective sound of the jattis leave me wanting to see and hear more.
HOPE HUNT & The Ascension into Lazarus (HHATAIL) by Oona Doherty blasts the dusty roof off Tanzmesse 2018 and if the rarely-heard decibel level of applause and the length of standing ovation are anything to go by, then the Belfast-based performer/choreographer is about to collect some serious air miles. With the audience starting out on the street, sardined on the narrow paths outside the FFT Kammerspiele, an ageing Volkswagen blaring 90s UK dance music screeches to a halt, the driver pops the boot and out onto the concrete night floor lands Doherty. As she discovers her Bambi legs and staggers into and out of the crowd, up and down the road, the audience begins to absorb her, spits her out and takes her back, in an exchange of energy that stays charged till the end. Dressed in three stripes, Shockwaves hair and gold-chained neck, Doherty screams at us to get inside into the black as we are about to witness ‘a man who is many men telling his story, a hunt for hope as we are twisted and contorted with ideas of masculinity, morality and nostaligia.’ With HHATAIL we are in the arc of an eruption; Doherty coughs and conjures up words, memories and choreographies that bite and nestle under the skin offering us a glimpse of an underclass, of Belfast and of a resistance. As we continue to see the repeated crunch of her body biting the floor it is her energy and performance that stains the mind. Injecting a fire and spirit into the audience against the relentless Tanzmesse schedule and the wearisome neoliberal politics of the West HHATAIL is testament to the quality of Doherty’s dramaturgy and performance.
There is a growing presence of work made for non-theatrical spaces at Tanzmesse and a highlight of that programme is DISCOFOOT by CCN Ballet de Lorraine (Petter Jacobsson and Thomas Caley). Two teams of 11 classically-trained dancers in short short gold lamé shorts, play/perform football with a mirrored disco football to a bass-heavy disco soundtrack played over two 10-minute halves on a marked out 5-a-side pitch outside Forum with a referee, live DJ and a set of ice-dance judges marking their performance alongside goals scored. It’s an absolute hoot and demonstrates a rarely seen lighter side of large-scale ballet companies. Tackling via the splits, twerk grinding whilst holding the ball up and with elaborate simulation when a foul has been committed, all demonstrate a clear knowledge of football with a wry sense of the growing theatricalisation and entertainment arena in which football and dance sits. As a model it could be exported to other events; imagine at the UK Dance Showcase having a 5-a-side beach version of DISCOFOOT with Avant Garde Dance vs Ladd Light and Emberton or Russell Maliphant vs Barrowland Ballet.
On the final day there is an addition of an ‘Urban Dance Art Day’ with a programme curated by Takao Baba at Welkunstzimmer presenting a conversation, Urban Dance Goes Theatre, and two 90-minute showcase blocks of works (in progress, excerpted, improvised) by the likes of The Ruggeds, Gladness, House as well as two 15-minute excerpts of longer works, Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច by Nick Power and Tangle by Kinetic Art. Presented on the classic taped b-boy cardboard floor we’re offered a series of quarter-baked ideas and a poor sound system so we’re unable to hear the names of performers and what the works are about. The only work to come out with any sense of quality, presentation or theatricality is Power’s: the audience is placed in a cypher, providing energy for the two b-boys (Erak Mith and Aaron Lim) as they skirt the edges, playfully mock the tropes of the genre and each other and fake and play like boxers in the ring sussing out their opponent before attempting to land the knockout blow/move. Nevertheless, presenting ‘Urban Dance Art Day’ in this context shortchanges the audience but more pertinently reveals an uneasy, ongoing attempt by presenters to box/shoehorn hip hop culture into existing theatrical conventions.
With advisors Malco Oliveros, Christian Watty and Carolelinda Dickey, Jaenicke’s first Tanzmesse displays not only an embarrassing lack of female choreographers and performers across the performance and pitching programme, but a geographical exclusion of dance from vast tracts of the world like Africa, the Middle East and South/Central America. I have only written about a very small percentage of the programme and one of hundreds of possible routes through the event but until the gender and geographical bias is acknowledged and altered then Tanzmesse will continue to feel like a central meeting place in Europe where the elite wield their power, position and privilege and deepen the chasm between those who are here and those who are not.


Ian Abbot at Edinburgh Fringe, Part I, August 2018

Posted: August 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbot at Edinburgh Fringe, Part I, August 2018

The Troth (Usne Kaha Tha), Army at The Fringe, August 16

Edinburgh Fringe

Daniel Hay-Gordon with members of the cast in The Troth (photo: Simon Richardson)

When Akademi chose Gary Clarke to direct and choreograph The Troth (a short story written in 1915 by the scholar Chandradhar Sharma Guleri) there was much consternation within the South Asian dance community. The organisation that receives Arts Council England investment to support and develop South Asian dance artists had actively chosen to employ a white, male contemporary dance choreographer for their signature WWI project.

Clarke is someone who has little connection to the South Asian community, the history of the Sikh Rifles in WWI or a familiarity with the myriad South Asian dance forms. The Troth features six dancers (Dom Coffey, Daniel Hay-Gordon, Vidya Patel, Deepraj Singh, Songhay Toldon and Subhash Viman Gorania) who gamely deliver what Clarke asks of them in a frothy piece of hollow melodramatic entertainment that serves only to reinforce the reputation of Akademi and Clarke.

Recycling a significant number of minutes and tropes from Clarke’s previous work COAL (1915 Belgium looks choreographically very similar to a Yorkshire 1980s coal mine) we see a yearning Patel mourn and repetitively deploy the Kathak spin as the dizzying emotional losses pile up (husband, son and first love). With the men thrashing, flopping, crawling and nearly dying for 25 minutes the only visual and/or historical point of interest is the archival footage/photography drawn from the Imperial War Museum and the Council of National Army Museum showing how colonial Britain captured on celluloid these choreographed moments of formation marching, trench digging and hospitalisation.

With an inexplicably homoerotic British/German soldier cameo from Hay-Gordon (also Assistant Director) there’s a black-leather-glove-biting sequence that has so little dramaturgical relevance and is so artistically and culturally out context and that it smacks of a signature self-indulgent move; I wonder how this section didn’t trigger Lou Cope’s dramaturgical alarm.

After seeing The Troth it is clear why Mira Kaushik (its Executive Producer and Director of Akademi) chose Clarke for this commission; riding off the back of Clarke’s commercial success of COAL across the UK, Akademi wanted a piece of that relevance. However, in their desire to build audiences in new territories, by employing a white male choreographer they have committed a bizarre act of reverse colonial exoticisation and by doing so continue the erasure of South Asian dance choreographers in the UK. The empire strikes back.

For another opinion on The Troth see the review by Nicholas Minns and Caterina Albano

UniverSoul Circus and SHIFT, Underbelly Circus Hub, August 15

Billed as “Hip Hop Under The Big Top”, this was the European debut of UniverSoul Circus after touring the US for 25 years. Our hosts Cheyenne Rose-Dailey and Lucky Malatsi introduced a dozen acts drawn from Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, USA, Guinea, Mongolia — and more — for a riotous 55 minutes of sugar joy and technical circus wizardry climaxing in a flawlessly smooth 12-piece Mongolian teeterboard act with four people balanced atop each other. Alongside the rainbow-wigged and whistle-mouthed Fresh the Clownsss charged with keeping the disappointingly small crowd entertained in between the acts there are nice touches of audience participation with lip syncing to paint rollers and the ever-present oversized inflatable balls slapped around the venue as each succeeding act is readied.

Unfortunately when I attended, the bone breakers contortionists were, “due to unforeseen circumstances” unavailable and although there were a couple of hip hop call and responses from our hosts alongside the odd east coast track, it would be hard to call this ‘hip hop under the big top’. Nevertheless in the increasingly white, able-bodied and middle-class fringe landscape, UniverSoul Circus should be celebrated for the exquisite technical execution, charismatic audience engagement and attention to detail in every act. In an active choice from founder Cedric Walker every member of the cast (and safety crew dressed in exquisitely tailored suits and bow ties) is a person of colour.

Seeing UniverSoul Circus after the recent gal-dem women and non-binary people takeover of the Guardian’s Weekend some of the thoughts of gal-dem’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Liv Little came to mind: “As a black person I feel very undervalued as a consumer. If mainstream media and TV and film valued people of colour, you would see a lot more of us behind the screen and on the screen. So one of the most important things is who is getting to tell the story.”

I had seen SHIFT by Barely Methodical Troupe (BMT) immediately before UniverSoul Circus, a scheduling that emphasised the gulf in class, finish and care between the two companies’ works, yet SHIFT was in the smaller Circus Hub venue and still had at least double the audience. After their breakout hit Bromance in 2014 and having made and toured their previous work Kin (directed by Ben Duke) at last year’s fringe BMT appear to be a company ploughing a barren field. They need to take some time out to recharge, find inspiration from other places and come back with a quality product. Choreographed and co-directed by Ella Guildfoyle, the premise of SHIFT is loosely tied to a set of tricks, experimentation and testing the boundaries of multiple-sized blue industrial resistance bands alongside some appalling attempts at comedy/acting in between the predictable set pieces. Perhaps in their original run at Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May SHIFT was tighter, the performers less tired and the rush of a première had elevated safety endorphins, but in the middle of a body-and-energy-sapping run at the fringe SHIFT was lacking in care and the choreographic details were fraying. There were at least four tricks that resulted in stumbles and almost fail/falls demonstrating a weary set of limbs that were clearly not intentional; it’s close to this point that circus can become dangerous if those who are catching and responsible for each other on stage aren’t able to ensure standards of safety.

With a cast of four (Louis Gift, Esmeralda Nikolajeff, Elihu Vazquez and Charlie Wheeller) the only person to emerge with any distinction is Vazquez with a set of fresh b-boy skills, freezes and combinations that flickered temporarily but he is sorely underutilised throughout the rest of the show; his demonstrable control and ability to hold an audience’s attention is a pleasure to watch.


Ian Abbott on Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban

Posted: July 27th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban

Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade: K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban, July 17

Oloyade

The cast in Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P. Macbeth (photo: Stefano Ottaviano)

A man who aspires to rise above the mediocre, to be something more than the ordinary, surely deserves admiration, even if he fails and loses a fortune on account of his ambitions… if one has failed only where others have not had the courage or will to try, there is consolation — indeed, deep satisfaction — to be gained from his observation when looking back over one’s life.” – Kazuo Ishiguro

Riding, reworking and interpreting classic works of western literature is the default setting for a lot of UK male-led dance companies of late; Lost Dog’s Paradise Lost/Juliet & Romeo, Mark Bruce Company’s The Odyssey and Dracula, Avant Garde Dance’s Fagin’s Twist, James Wilton Dance’s Leviathan and James Cousins Company’s Rosalind are just some of the examples. Often framed as an opportunity to attract new or theatre audiences to dance, it could be seen as a smart marketing device or a poverty of original ideas. Macbeth has a particularly strong hold on current choreographic minds with Company Chordelia’s Lady Macbeth Unsex Me Here, Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth and now K.R.U.M.P Macbeth by Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade all undertaking the Shakespearean Scottish play in the last 12 months.

At 55 minutes long with a cast of four (Amanda Pekfou, Jordan Franklin, Dean Stewart and Vincent Maduabueke) this is Oloyade’s first full-length theatrical work after spending a number of years performing with Boy Blue Entertainment, making shorter works at Breakin’ Convention as well as being an excellent exponent and teacher of krump. Whereas others may ply their trade at Resolution, building up experience in other platforms, or refining the work back in the studio Oloyade has chosen to premiere K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Laban after an earlier showing of a few sections at Redbridge Drama Centre in May. Macbeth is a text full of hooks and angles of approach: power, murder, psychological warfare and familial tyranny. Mix this with the depth of emotion, delicate and explosive qualities and body shuddering invigoration that krump has in the cypher or battle and K.R.U.M.P Macbeth has a suite of possibilities; unfortunately it fails at nearly everything it attempts.

With no director, dramaturg or outside eye present according to the programme notes, Oloyade as choreographer is left holding responsibility for the blocking, movement and stagecraft, but his theatrical inexperience is brutally exposed with a raft of saggy scenes, continual slow movement of limbs that do not result in tension or emotional engagement, a number of moments inexplicably playing upstage left, and a stick-stabbing shadow death scene that would fit better in a 1970s schlocky horror film. The staccato nature of K.R.U.M.P Macbeth feels like a diluted version of a York Notes guide to a Chinese whisper broadcast of the original Shakespearian play. It is unrecognisable as Macbeth and Oloyade offers no alternative artistic interpretation, little depth of research/inquiry and no emotional narrative to help us feel anything towards any character.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Choreographically Oloyade has constricted the form and at the same time constricted the work; it is full of unnecessary blockages with the dancers waiting for the obvious musical changes from Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante’s dominant soundtrack stretching out the movement without developing the narrative, and attempts at synchronised krump are inadequate with the stomps out at least 50% of the time. There is an uneven quality in their jabs, isolation/physical punctuation and our eyes are consistently drawn to those dancers who are unable to keep time. Mixing and/or blending krump with contemporary knee slides and fake rifle holding neither satisfies the krump purist nor brings a new choreographic vocabulary to those unfamiliar with the form; we’re left with a sticky choreographic mess that is only exacerbated when in the final scene ‘KRUMP’ is blurted out over the soundtrack offering all the subtlety of a hip hop anvil. Can you imagine a Scottish Dance Theatre soundtrack blaring ‘CONTEMPORARY DANCE’ in a climactic scene or Ballet Cymru using a ‘BALLET’ audio sting in the final moments? When the stage is bathed in red the Goddess of Blunt Instruments is making it obvious: we know what is going on.

Within the company there are dancers with individual talent and virtuosity; Maduabueke offers charged flickers of intensity whilst Stewart delivers some moments of choreographic power and complexity, but there is so little glue, context or relationship forged between them that it erases any of the possibilities.

When Oloyade presented his eight-minute work Hell’s Gate 7 at Breakin’ Convention last year there were interesting relational dynamics, power and theatrical possibilities demonstrating that he has choreographic talent, but the leap from an eight to a 55-minute work is too big. The stagecraft, direction and dramaturgy need consideration and attention if he wants to make a full-length theatrical work. Within the individual scenes of K.R.U.M.P Macbeth there are interesting shorter sections that either could be harvested and sit alone in their own right as smaller pieces or re-worked and expanded.

This is a wider issue that a lot of hip hop dance artists are facing: how to make the shift from making micro works to a full evening. There is a gap that needs filling around the 25-30 minute work that could be presented in a double bill that would enable that growth, choreographic expansion and depth of idea to be tested. Often the ego and the ambition says Yes, I can make a full-length work, but would an architect make the step from designing a conservatory to building an entire town? But perhaps Oloyade can take comfort in what Kurt Vonnegutonce wrote: “And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”


Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende, Black Holes

Posted: July 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende, Black Holes

Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende, Black Holes, The Place, June 21

Black Holes

Seke Chimutengwende and Alexandrina Hemsley in Black Holes (photo: Katarzyna Perlak)

How do you know I’m real? I’m not real. I’m just like you. You don’t exist in this society. If you did people wouldn’t be seeking equal rights. You’re not real. If you were you’d have some status among the nations of the world. So we’re both myths. I do not come to you as a reality; I come to you as a myth. Because that’s what black people are. Myths. I came from a dream that black man dreamed long ago. I’m actually a present sent to you by your ancestors.” – Sun Ra

Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende are darkness newscasters exposing the black holes in white history. Black Holes is a cosmic 70-minute orbit that sees them ‘speculating on how to be with their bodies that carry histories of marginalisation and anti-blackness’ while combining ‘elements of Science Fiction and personal narrative to propel the personal and the mythic onto a cosmic scale.’

With a substantial co-authored text delivered alongside their labours, improvisations and choreography we are at once distanced by their static delivery and use of an Afrosurreal language (after D. Scot Miller’s Afrosurreal Manifesto) before being brought proximate by their lived realities of racism, persistent micro-aggressions and the all too familiar fetishization of black hair. They are sayers delivering strange news from another star; a deliberate and disturbing fleshing of ignored personal and conquered histories including Alexandrina recalling how she had her neck pinched in a jazz club in Gloucester.

I’m trying to speak to write the truth. I’m trying to be clear. I’m not interested in being fancy, or even original. Clarity and truth will be plenty, if I can only achieve them.” – Octavia. E. Butler

Arriving into the Robin Howard Dance Theatre I am unsure what we are watching with Alexandrina and Seke already on stage lit beautifully by Simeon Miller’s design that could have been plucked from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Are they the last two survivors on a space ship crashed into an unknown star? Are they interplanetary buccaneers looting the corpses of a long dead splinter cell? Or are they a pair of prophets oscillating between the portals of our world and theirs? Their physical language remains consistent throughout with Seke using his willowy spine-flicking and flashing-out limbs as he rides the score; he is all dart while Alexandrina is totally coily; internalised, groove-filled musicality roaring through her body playing between the desire for stillness and the necessity for movement.

With a set design by Rosie Elnile and Eleanor Sikorski that features afrofuturist asteroids (large, black plastic-wrapped cumbersome cuboids tied with thin chains), both performers labour deliberately, pulling these objects/histories/anchors around the stage at regular intervals leaving slow glacial pushing patterns behind; the weight of their intention and the heaviness of their labour leaves much residue on the eyes long after the 70 minutes have elapsed.

This success permits us to hope that after thirty or forty years of observation on the new Planet [Neptune], we may employ it, in its turn, for the discovery of the one following it in its order of distances from the Sun. Thus, at least, we should unhappily soon fall among bodies invisible by reason of their immense distance, but whose orbits might yet be traced in a succession of ages, with the greatest exactness, by the theory of Secular Inequalities.” – Urbain Le Verrier

Black Holes uses orbit as a mode of creation and as a means of receiving. We see and hear repeated choreographic patterns, poetic text and black light; sometimes the asteroids are downstage, sometimes clustered, sometimes circled. These movements are not invisibled by stage hands in the dark quietly making ready for the next scene; instead we see Alexandrina and Seke as the movers taking the time that time takes to place them where they want; an exercise in space and patience. Hearing repeated phrases (“It was like the bath was already empty and you take the plug out while the bathtub goes into the plughole”) and encountering familiar physicalities leaves space for other imagined and existing works that Black Holes sits alongside; Rachael Young’s Nightclubbing, Project O’s Voodoo, Reni-Eddo Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race and Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm‘s Br’er Cotton.

Lacking any real sci-fi weight (Seke revealed in the post-show conversation that their writing process brought a number of Google-lite searches picking out language from Octavia E. Butler, Brian Cox and Sun-Ra etc. that they remixed and respliced with their own words), Black Holes successfully creates language runs that act as the Sun to the smaller choreographic planetary interventions and would suit a radio/streaming audience in their own right. In contrast to the rising tide of people of colour looking at Afrofuturism and untold/deleted histories, we are still awash in the saturated presence of abstract work that exists solely in the black hole of many white male egos jumping on the science/space/technology bandwagon in order to fill their choreographic deficiencies; Black Holes has more integrity, offers a place for stimulation and reflection and leaves a valuable indentation in head, heart and space.


Ian Abbott on the 2018 Birmingham International Dance Festival

Posted: June 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on the 2018 Birmingham International Dance Festival

Birmingham International Dance Festival, June 7 – 15

BIDF18

Becky Namgaud’s Rodadoras at BIDF18 (photo: Ian Abbott)

Settling into the cultural nooks and crannies of Brum over three weeks in June, Birmingham International Dance Festival — BIDF18 — returned to the city for a sixth edition under a new Midlands Dance united artistic leadership: Lucie Mirkova (interim artistic director) and Paul Russ (associate artistic director and CEO of Dance4). With the festival taking over a reduced sized Victoria Square (due to tram engineering works) the festival hub, stage, installations and refreshment trucks offered an outdoor base for the first ten days book-ended by two celebratory and free programs of work alongside some canny week-day programming (lunch and after work time slots) to attract city dwellers to encounter dance.

I will leave the suite of indoor work across the three weeks — Atomos by Company Wayne McGregor, Elements of Freestyle by ISH Dance Collective, Wasp by Rui Horta, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s studio program Polarity & Proximity and New Creation by Cecilia Bengolea and Florentina Holzinger — to other critical voices and focus instead on the work presented outdoors as there is often less written about work for this context. The only exception I’m making is to include the indoor performance of Kallo Collective’sOnly Bones v1.0.

Soil exists in a state of permanent duality; it represents a place of growth and fertility whilst it can also become a barren wasteland and the place where bodies are buried. Becky Namgaud’s Rodadoras takes Mexican femicide as its starting point, a brutal bodily trauma that dozens of Mexican women are still encountering every day. Rodadoras is a dance of the dead that has choreographic echoes of Damien Jalet’s Yama for Scottish Dance Theatre. We see a trio of dancers settled in a shallow soil pit, the bodies slowly vibrating into frenzied states of inbetweenness kicking up dirt and spraying those in the front row with the stuff of life and death. They slither above ground and undeaden themselves to reveal sullied limbs, torso and heads of hair but never faces. At 20 minutes long two of the dancers visibly tire in the third quarter as the strain and energy-sapping soil claims yet more bodies; however Namgaud has created a suite of haunting images on a delicate subject that unsettles and challenges the traditional outdoor arts festival content.

Infinite Womanhood is a collaboration between Vanhulle Dance Theatre and tabla player Mendi Mohinder. Laura Vanhulle is an exquisite technician; her lines are full, wholesome and delivered with zip. Her relationship with Mohinder is also a treat to experience as they walk and blur the musical line of who is leading and who is responding. Each accentuates and amplifies the other’s work with beats, physical punctuation and lashings of precision. Vanhulle uses a cushion to symbolize multiple female roles and identities that morph from baby to mop to mirror but she flashes over them in a suite of mimetic actions which underwhelms and feels dramaturgically thin; each one needs more room to expand, land and let us reflect on what she is trying to say. Mendi and Vanhulle’s execution and charisma just about paper over the conceptual cracks and ensure the 16 minutes fly by leaving me wanting to see more of them both.

On the international program of outdoor work on June 9, Roll Up, Roll Up harkens back to the classic hatting street/circus performers who have the ability to keep holding an attention, drip feeding trick after trick drawing out the maximum length of time to stop an audience from walking away. Although it contains very little dance it offers oodles of individual circus tricks, crowd-pleasing skills on the cyr wheel, juggling and a lot of audience interaction. Kieran Warner and Christopher Thomas of Simple Cypher have constructed an increasingly difficult juggling routine ending up with a 5 ball sequence dropping and feeding balls above and below creating unexpected rhythms and patterns; this is followed by a similar pattern on the cyr wheel resulting in a number of one handed holds with legs knitted frozen at unexpected angles ensuring mass applause. Simple Cypher know how to squeeze the juice out of every moment and Roll Up, Roll Up generates the longest and loudest applause on the Saturday program demonstrating that sometimes an outdoor audience just wants to be entertained.

Nottingham was the birthplace and playground of Torvil and Dean’s gold medal-winning ice dance routine and in remixing the Midlands heritage, BIDF18 presented the UK premiere of Bolero by Jesus Rubio Gamo. Set against an 18-minute extended remix of the iconic music by Ravel the two dancers set about a playful and repetitive feat of increasing physical exertion bringing unexpected partner lifts, rolls, skips, hops, holds and step patterns to a point of pleasure and exhaustion. Covering the stage like an ice rink, with barely a heel touching the floor and playing to all three sides of the increasingly buoyed audience we see both performers acknowledging their exhaustion and inviting the crowd to support them. Bolero could suit an extended and durational three-hour encounter as we would see the body begin to genuinely deteriorate as muscles begin to collapse, lactic acid hardens and lungs begin to burst; instead what we have is a delicate 20-minute sliver presented on fast forward and executed to perfection. Consider Bolero as your friendly neighbourhood introduction to outdoor endurance performance.

As the lead festival image and driver of the social media hype, Didier Theron’s AIR & La Grande Phrase introduces his bouncing pink men to an avalanche of attention as they anarchically ambled, scrambled and rambled their way around unsuspecting shops, art galleries and iconic city centre landmarks filling camera rolls wherever they went. The pink suits (complete with an internal air filled inner tube) offered a range of inflatable choreographic possibilities that deceived the eye and played with perception: when they pliéd they shrank to an almost unfathomable height. Mixing deadpan audience interaction, running at speed up to and into the audience, leaning in and asking the crowd to bear their weight before nonchalantly wandering off and twocing a pram (and baby) generated consistent audience smiles. What looks like a simple improvisation with their environment and audiences in a funny costume is actually a raft of performance intelligence derived from dozens of performances, unexpected encounters and testing the boundaries of what an audience will accept. Since the work first premiered in 2013 Theron has brought his pink joy to cities across the world and Birmingham will not forget the bouncing pink men anytime soon.

Choreographed by Caroline Bowditch for Candoco Dance Company, Dedicated To is a solemn duet performed by Victoria Fox and Welly O’Brien that presents an entirely different energy and necessitates a different quality of attention. Set on two benches and referencing the death plaques you find on benches overlooking a favourite haunt, beach or viewpoint, Dedicated To creates a space for reflection and contemplation with intimate partner lifts, lakes of stillness and echoes of an invisible past. Although it is pleasant enough and Fox and O’Brien clearly embody a consistent performance tone, it stands out against the wider program of outdoor events as meandering and its plateau of interest brings the energy of the crowd down. This internalised focus would be more suited to a small-scale theatre where distractions are muted or to a curated outdoor program that doesn’t veer wildly from fizzing pink to rainbow bright to sludgey brown to polka dot tartan.

Kallo Collective’s Only Bones was the only indoor performance I saw (the second performance of Guide by Věra Ondrašíková & Collective I was booked to see was cancelled with less than 24 hours notice due to low ticket sales). Only Bones is a 45-minute whistle stop solo clown frenzy performed under a lampshade by Thom Monckton as a sketch show that rattled through dozens of physical skits displaying the dexterity and extremity of every part of Monckton’s body. With little room to rest or reset Monckton drew attention to a scab-picking finger duet like The Addams Family’s Thing, to a jelly neck lolling about and unable to hold the weight of his head, to a kneecap and Adam’s Apple isolation micro-solo that twitched, twerked and pulsed to the beat-glitching soundtrack. Monckton is an accomplished and highly watchable wordless performer with a suite of waving and popping skills that underpin his comedic clowning; using Mr. Bean-like noises to emphasize and punctuate his anatomical isolation he had the audience hollering with laughter.

Sitting through the entire day of outdoor work the tone was wild and it was hard to find a through line if indeed there was one.  Maybe there was an internal expectation that a transient audience might only stay and engage for a single show as they follow the noises and discover the program while traversing the city rather than planning the day and investing in the entire program. Mix this with the often 10 to 30-minute gap between performances which dissolved any momentum or reason to stay in that area then audiences chose to leave and spend their time elsewhere. BIDF18 was in reality a selection of performances and not a festival; a festival needs glue, reasons to stay, socialise and lose yourself for a while. I haven’t even mentioned 2Faced Dance’s Moon, a dance and circus work for families with integrated Audio Description and British Sign Language or the irritating wastrels of Gravitas by Ofir Yudilevitch who inflated a mattress and bounced on it like children on a settee.

BIDF18 definitely felt different to the previous David Massingham-flavoured editions; there were less original mass spectacles although it felt like there were more artists that were new to the city. It is clearly a festival in transition which may have offered a glimpse towards a Midlands United future or has cleared the path for a new voice (imagine an artist-curated model of BIDF like Meltdown) to prepare the 2020 edition


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

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

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

The Nature of Why

The Nature of Why (photo: Paul Blakemore)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ian Abbott on Aerowaves, Spring Forward 2018 in Sofia

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

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

Forecasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Project O, Voodoo at The Art School, Glasgow

Posted: March 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Project O, Voodoo at The Art School, Glasgow

Project O, Voodoo, The Art School, Glasgow, March 7

Project O Voodoo

Jamila Johnson-Small and Alexandrina Hemsley in Voodoo (photo: Project O)

You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.” – Sojourner Truth

We… wait. We are…wait. We are ready…wait. We are ready for…wait. We are ready for you… wait.
Voodoo has a staged and staccato arrival with entry permitted in groups of five at a time. We are paused in the lobby, paused again midway up a staircase, paused again at the door to deposit all our time-keeping devices in a sealed black envelope and only then allowed to enter the performance arena. This is an example of power; power to disrupt and power to alter experience.

Project O is a collaboration between Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small and this is some of the text they offer on their website about the work: ‘Two brown women dance a dance to dance themselves out of the desire for and expectation of an aesthetic assimilation that upholds a system of white supremacy that is at once subtle, blatant and all pervasive. A dance as cartography, Project O map the movement of their memories and the gaps in their knowledge of what went on before, those histories that are repeatedly erased by being unspoken. Training their bodies to fall through time, communing with ghosts, conjuring new futures and describing a misremembered past, this dance is an ode to the present…Voodoo asks you to pay your respects, make peace with your dead and ours, lay down your defences and dance.’

As the audience enter and take their places on the benches or the floor, what looks like the end titles of a film — a continual projection of scrolling text — cites historical and contemporary examples of racism, control and power: when cocaine was removed from Coca Cola (1901), when Rosa Parks refused to switch seats (1955), when the Henry Ford Foundation purchased that same bus #2857 (2001), alongside incidents that Hemsley and Johnson-Small have encountered too.

As we are faced towards the projection Hemsley and Johnson-Small are static, seated on a raised stage about 20 metres away at the back of the room each with a pair of reflective sunglasses facing us. They are glacial. We have to crane our necks to turn and see them up high under a double spot as they watch us, their subjects, motionless. I could watch them like this all night.

Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” – Toni Morrison

Voodoo is a durational event in either three or four 2-hour performance cycles for which you purchase a ticket for a single two-hour timed entry; my slot is the second wave of the evening which has BSL interpretation from Amy Cheskin. With the haze mounting a seated Cheskin starts interpreting the lyrics to Nina Simone’s Feeling Good (and later to Whitney Houstoun) with gumption and delicious emotional flourishes as Hemsley and Johnson-Small begin their first journey — to a pair of white cotton body bags in which they encase themselves and return to a motionless state; until their bodies are dragged into the centre of the space by a number of assistants who were responsible for our initial entrances. When we deposited our time-keeping devices we were being asked to erase our own time and enter into Project O’s rulespace where they enforce gaps, pauses, instructions and make us wait — an exercise in play and power.

Dragging and slamming bin bags of bones as they scatter across the runway, my memories of their movement is a language that belongs in the social dance and party scene; responsive limbs echoing the intricacies of the hip hop and bashment lines on the soundtrack. Remnants of bones are everywhere (designed by Naomi Kuyck-Cohen and Charley Fone), threaded on thin wires overhead like an oversized guitar neck and running the length of the 15-metre space alongside singular panels at floor level; we are dancing in a sea of bones. Hemsley and Johnson-Small howl into the bodies of some audience members, uninvited but gentle touches with their mouths breathing and moaning into the bodies of others. The transference of energies begin.

It’s not about supplication, it’s about power. It’s not about asking, it’s about demanding. It’s not about convincing those who are currently in power, it’s about changing the very face of power itself.” – Kimberle Williams Crenshaw

For me the focus of Voodoo isn’t so much about what Hemsley and Johnson-Small do, what they present, how they dance and what they offer; it is about the audience and how we react to their provocation, to their power and to the aggregation of own experience. With pre-recorded instructions they control us as a mass, herding us around the space like sheep; “take off your shoes”, “lie down” “let it rise”. There is a clear delineation between solo/collective audience and performer; there are no instructions to build energies between us. We are focussed on our own bodies and on those of Hemsley and Johnson-Small; we are building a relationship between them and us. The second half of the cycle shifts the focus inward even further as it morphs into a club night where we can dance for ourselves, no longer watching others, and begin to “let it rise” in our bodies. There is an unresolved tension between the instructions, the control and our release. The patterned beats and the predictability of the music choices offers a crutch for the audience as we exist on a participatory spectrum from internalised sonic ecstasy to self-removed wallflower awkwardness to average floppy-limbed wedding dance as ankles tap side to side not knowing how to control and let the body respond to the possibilities that the music provides. We are left amongst the tension and power crackles throughout. We begin to see a consistency of invitation, but are we here for complicity or confrontation?


Lost Dog, Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage

Posted: March 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Lost Dog, Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage

Lost Dog, Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage, February 19, Battersea Arts Centre

Juliet & Romeo

Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in Juliet & Romeo (photo: Jane Hobson)

Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” – Anais Nin

Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage is the latest 70 minute work from the pen and body of Lost Dog’s Ben Duke who frames the work as what he calls the real story of Romeo and Juliet. ‘It turns out they didn’t die in a tragic misunderstanding, they grew up and lived happily ever after. Well they lived at least. Now they’re 40ish, at least one of them is in the grips of a mid-life crisis, they feel constantly mocked by their teenage selves and haunted by the pressures of being the poster couple for romantic love. They have decided to confront their current struggles by putting on a performance – about themselves.’

The premise is a canny piece of audience and marketing catnip; a well-known play that has been presented and adapted hundreds of times on stage, film and in literature and is familiar to almost any audience. Duke offers a gentle shake of the original premise so the central relationship between Juliet and Romeo is extended a couple of decades and they’re now undergoing marriage therapy and their relationship is on the verge of dissolving.

And by the way, everything in life is writeable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

In his previous work, the award-winning Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me), Duke played a self-doubting, literary, anxious yet loveable Hugh Grant bumbler and it feels as if he has resuscitated the same character for his Romeo opposite the luminescent presence of Solène Weinachter as Juliet. The traversing of characters across choreographic landscapes is a recognised technique in Duke’s Lost Dog land. In his It Needs Horses, which won The Place Prize in 2011, the circus artist character of Anna Finkel was reprised in the subsequent Home For Broken Turns as one of five women (another being Weinachter). Seeing a character in a new environment but with a sense of familiarity is a neat dramaturgical device. It is as if in Juliet & Romeo Duke is suggesting we look back at Paradise Lost through the eyes of a 43-year-old Romeo.

Played in episodic flashbacks Duke and Weinachter offer us a number of theatrical and spoken memories in solo and duo, where they invite us (and each other) to look again at romantic encounters, painful moments and sliding doors that have led them to this fractured and tired state. Nestled alongside the memories are nine or ten identifiable pieces of music (from Desiree’s I’m Kissing You in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo and Juliet to Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence to Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights) which offer opportunities for the more formal moments of choreographic input as we see Duke’s performed awkwardness come to the fore. Giving form to an initial courtship groin thrust or to the clasping and anguished rotation of the limp body of Juliet, Duke is a master of narrative delivery.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Frost

With his theatrical, literary and choreographic background, Duke has been honing a style of delivery and output that suits his strengths and masks his weaknesses; when he introduces a new presence into his world there is a delicate line to tread in making that person look as strong or comfortable as he does. After shining brightly in two recent works (The North and Plan B For Utopia) by Joan Clevillé Dance, Weinachter has a tricksy time in out-dukeing Duke as the sympathy is almost always skewed towards his anxious male character rather than to the stronger female. Weinachter delivers everything that is asked of her but the production’s sensitivity levels could be tweaked to offer a more satisfying, non-patriarchal dominance.

Despite this imbalance, Duke appears quite at ease in his theatrical craft — his performance, conception and writing are excellent — but there is not enough choreographic sustenance to hold Juliet & Romeo together and the choice of musical numbers is on the light side. The instant recognition of the first three seconds of each track generates a slight titter that soon dissipates and as the scenes of physicality play out I began to switch off; the directorial spoon feels uncomfortably close to crashing against the teeth and offers just too little nourishment. Like the relationship it describes, Juliet & Romeo’s strengths are not sufficient to resolve its inherent weaknesses and its promise dies before its time.


Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field

Posted: January 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field

Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field, Tramway, Glasgow, October 13

The dancers in Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field (photo: Pari Naderi)

I once read in my physics book that the universe begs to be observed, that energy travels and transfers when people pay attention.” – Jasmine Warga

I’ve written this in two parts; my first set of words were noted down soon after seeing Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field at Tramway, capturing the intensity of feeling on the performance night and then again 10 weeks later, at a distance to the work, seeing what residue remains with me.

This Bright Field is in itself a work in two parts running consecutively but with a small break in between that invites us to consider proximity, scale and experiences of togetherness. Following two international commissions from Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, it offers the audience a chance to see how Clinkard (with artistic collaborator Leah Marojevic) crafts a large-scale work with a company of his own dancers. In The Listening Room, the piece he choreographed on the 24 dancers of Danza Cuba last year, Clinkard demonstrated a rare ability that profiled the individuality of the dancers whilst creating a conceptually satisfying choreographic approach with a performance rigour on a large scale. What would Clinkard do with dancers of his own choosing with a longer creation and rehearsal process? Part 1 of This Bright Field is an intimate, 15-minute interaction on stage seeing (and not seeing) the dancers up close and in the round; Part 2 is back in the orthodox seating bank for a 60-minute formal presentation.

In the comprehensively informative written program Clinkard offers the following:
“What are the inherent politics of theatre spaces? What kind of spectatorship do they encourage in you, the audience? Mindful that scale and proximity to the action affect our sense of self, the way we relate to others and the way we receive a performance, I decided to re-orientate the audience-performer relationship to provide you with two distinct perspectives in the hope of refreshing your experience of dancing and dancers in larger theatres.” And Marojevic adds: “Throughout his body of work, the invite for audiences remains the same; to come as you are, to be within yourself, within time, experiencing quality, surprise, colour and ambience; to receive the work through your own history by engaging your present senses.”

There is warmth generated through the ability to see all four sides of a work and all four sides of a dancer; a 15-minute amuse-bouche continues the Clinkardesque trope from Of Land and Tongue of letting the dancers in his company reveal themselves, connect with the audience and have a number of delightful interactions framed by choreographic tasks. Here the dancers have agency to fill and flourish in their own rhythm, intimacy and moments of exchange with the audience; here is the Clinkard I expected.

Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” – Tom Stoppard

How does a choreographer change scale? Clinkard brings us close in Part 1 and then pushes us away in Part 2. It feels even more distancing as we had a taste of the intimacy that was possible, but with 12 dancers on a large stage for a small audience (limited by a maximum of three slots of 100 people each in Part 1) this tension between proximity and scale leaves me unsettled. With over 500 entrances and exits in Part 2, running, rolling and lurching upstage, the dancers exist in a constant state of leaving and never staying; this disruption dilutes any sense of connection or extended presence that might have been forged with the dancers from Part 1. It is to be applauded that Clinkard is attempting to invert the staid practices of large-scale dance, but the gap of 25 minutes between the end of Part 1 and the beginning of Part 2 ensures any momentum and intimacy that was built has dissolved by the time we get back to the auditorium.

Ten weeks later, the work has faded slightly. Alongside the eruption of white noise and percussion from composer and performer James Keane, the bright white field backdrop, white flooring and the impact of teal waves of the dancers flooding from downstage to upstage in their glacial staccato roles has disappeared. There are flaws and there are holes in memory and then there is Steph McMann (at seven months pregnant) and Leah Marojevic who exercise their innate watchability in a sitting duet with intimate gestures, unfurling wrists and torso shifts. Together they conjure up a magnetism via a suite of mundane gestures whilst the waves of bodies wash, run and make visual noise behind them.

Clinkard has brought together distinguished collaborators including the lighting designer Guy Hoare who offers a sensuality of multiple light baths in dialogue with the dancers, bathing them in an eight-parcan stage-left wash that subtly creates visual texture and emotion, drawing our focus closer to the nude form of Marojevic as she rediscovers the possibility of her body and sinews. There are echoes in Part 1 of Clinkard’s earlier piece Ordinary Courage with the softbox lighting heightening the intimacy levels by bringing the sky down closer. Within the construction of Part 2 there are multiple parts which vibrate in isolation and fail to listen to each other; I find I’m looking for glue and left with multiple questions. Why this order? How do the multiple parts belong together? What are the feelings that were close and are now distant? Clinkard is dealing with us in temperature — embracing us in warmth before moving to tepid then to a cryogenic icy distance and then back to cool. There are multiple works and multiple feelings in play within This Bright Field but I left on the night feeling unsure but bombarded by brightness; on reflection the dazzle has dimmed considerably and I’m left thinking of other works of his which shone a lot brighter.

The poetic image […] is not an echo of the past. On the contrary: through the brilliance of any image, the distant past resounds with echoes.” – Gaston Bachelard

 

Here’s another review of This Bright Field