Posted: August 12th, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: Chess Dillon-Reams, Cristina MacKerron, Edinburgh Fringe, May-We-Go-Round?, The Hiccup Project | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Hiccup Project
The Hiccup Project, May-We-Go-Round?, Dance Base, Edinburgh Fringe, August 9
Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron in May-We-Go-Round? (photo: Maria Falconer)
“If you never tell anyone the truth about yourself, eventually you start to forget. The love, the heartbreak, the joy, the despair, the things I did that were good, the things I did that were shameful – if I kept them all inside, my memories of them would start to disappear. And then I would disappear.” – Cassandra Clare
The lost art of bedroom choreography is flung out of the wardrobe and up to the Edinburgh Fringe with gusto. May-We-Go-Round? cycles through a 60 minute excavation of past loves and exorcises them in the style of Taylor Swift. We meet Ian, Elliott (with a double t), Luke, the fit PE teacher, and oodles more as Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron narrate each other’s temporary heartbreak via shared direct address, full sass choreography and bedroom dance routines.
The face is where we as humans connect with each other; we don’t look at the suppleness of the spine or a hyper-extended leg to feel closer to a performer; we can admire it but it inevitably distances us. Chess’s and Cristina’s faces are things of elastic wonder; eyebrows on the go slow, tightly mouthed squeals of delight or throwing us two barrels of side eye — they perform with their whole bodies and we drink them in entirely. There’s a real guts and guns approach to the quality of movement — a throw-your-body-on-the-line-and-leave-nothing-behind — and this spirit engenders a forgiveness for any lack of technically sound unison, unfinished moves or broken lines.
May-We-Go-Round? acts as a connector to our own histories, a show with two performers we can relate to and it triggers memories of Dreamphone, Now 42 and Smash Hits. The Hiccup Project have cleverly tapped into a 90s nostalgia kick and it disarms the normally reserved contemporary dance audience. Their audio bibliography is clear (Spice Girls, Craig David and Cher) and how they describe and execute their work (not a mention of the word dance in the description) resonates with the majority of the under-35, female audience who were having a noticeably good time. Chess and Cristina are full of empathy and it’s impossible not to like them.
“The strong bond of friendship is not always a balanced equation; friendship is not always about giving and taking in equal shares. Instead, friendship is grounded in a feeling that you know exactly who will be there for you when you need something, no matter what or when.” – Simon Sinek
Their relationship and familiarity with each other is clear and strong; the work is embedded in their bodies allowing their performance to shine through in the detail. Working with Antonia Grove and Lou Cope on the dramaturgy has resulted in a tightly-woven and well-constructed work. In the sections between the narration and movement they break the fourth wall and gift the audience a generous quadruple vodka and a dash of cranberry or explain the reasoning behind Chess’s excessively red face. These sections aren’t gimmicky but fit the tone, mood and enhance the connection between performers and audience.
There’s a growing crop of independent female choreographic voices that are excavating their own past and using comedy intelligently to bring audiences towards them: Sarah Blanc, Justine Reeve, Skye Reynolds, and Rhiannon Faith. The Hiccup Project’s choreographic candyfloss can be added to that list. I look forward to Now That’s What I Call The Hiccup Project 2.
“Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Under its influence, ordinary songs take on dimensions and powers, like emotional superheroes.” Kate Christensen
Posted: August 12th, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Edinburgh Fringe, Jack Webb, Keren Smail, Martyn Garside, Rachael O'Neill, Rrose, THE END | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: Jack Webb’s THE END
Jack Webb, THE END, Dance Base, Edinburgh Fringe, August 10
From Jack Webb’s THE END (photo: See Imagine Define / Sid Scott)
“As if febrile waves were trembling there, pools of madness… something devouring that could lick a man all over like a flame, annihilate him, with a pleasure never known before.” – Anaïs Nin
We are greeted by three cradling, fevered ghosts (Martyn Garside, Rachael O’Neill and Keren Smail), individual nodes who re-animate to find and fold themselves into the arms of another. Their approach and contact triggers a rejection of touch as one of the dancers melts out of the frozen embrace to find another moment of solitude. This passing of energy and breath continues long after the house lights dim and I begin to see the residue of bodies that are no longer there. Through repetition there is generosity. It is here after eight or nine minutes that I begin to notice new details: how the gait of the body shifts, where a gaze rests, and this repetition begins to sharpen my focus.
In THE END movements and moods are built, cradled, and re-presented enabling you to see them from different angles. A circular footwork pattern that oscillates between walking backwards in a circle and moving it forwards with a change of rhythm is a simple gesture, but placed on repeat through a low level of haze that softens the bodies and casts pools of light and shadows across the stage, it becomes bewitching. Each tight metronomic step and shift in weight pulls me deeper into an alternative choreographic landscape. With residues of the sinuous form of Krump, where movement and emotion are released by alternative parts of the body, Webb frames dozens of striking images, like Smail chewing on Garside’s elbow, their limbs isolated and out of sync, bodies needing to be set and re-set and reverberating to a different beat.
There’s a scenographic deftness that erases any division between the choreography, soundtrack and lighting — the composite parts are chiming to define a mood, intensity and focus that aligns. Four floor-mounted, magenta strip lights and a soundtrack featuring Swallows and Mediate by Rrose offers experimental drone techno that sets ears to fervour and makes knees wobble with its bass.
“Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.” – Samuel Beckett
With a clear philosophical framework and intention behind the work, Webb offers some guiding words in the programme: “THE END is an invitation to look at ourselves, our world and to consider what we leave behind”. In the 55-minute performance Webb invites audiences to linger, spend time and burrow amidst his choreography. The intensity from being contained in a 60-seat studio theatre in close proximity to a frenzy of movement and back-lit, silhouetted faces of ecstasy is a perfect antidote to the 3000+ performances at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Webb carves his choreography from a different stone and it is entirely refreshing. He resists clean line and lyrical arcs and emphasises jittery glitches and the degradation of a movement. Seeing Garside in raptures, totally embodied and living inside the moment is incredible to watch; his total being is immersed in physical and emotional fireworks.
We begin to see the end of THE END about 10 minutes out as the rejection of touch at the beginning is inverted: running, wrist clasps and spinning increases: an urgency takes over, building a rhythm incrementally to a point where the dancers lungs give up, their bodies unable to rise again from the repeated falls. They are spent and exhausted, at an end. As they get up slowly and leave, the audience is alone with the stage and its echoes. THE END will not suit all who encounter it but if dance, choreography and audience tastes are to alter and diversify then we need to embrace difference and find more room for voices like Webb’s. THE END is a sensitive and generous performance and with Webb’s rare craft he enables audiences to see, sharpen their focus and stay with difference until the end.
“Not so bad this ending because one is getting used to endings: life like Morse, a series of dots and dashes, never forming a paragraph.” – Graham Greene
Posted: July 2nd, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: Alisdair Macindoe, Antony Hamilton, LIFT Festival, Meeting | Comments Off on Antony Hamilton & Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting
Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting, Battersea Arts Centre, June 28
Alisdair Macindoe and Antony Hamilton in Meeting (photo: Gregory Lorenzutti)
“What destroys a man more quickly than to work, think and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure — as a mere automaton of duty?” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Bodies as automatons? It’s a philosophical question that sits at the heart of choreography. Can dancers deliver the same movement, at the same intensity again and again without deviation or wrinkle? Both Antony Hamilton originating the choreography and Alisdair Macindoe inventing the bots and polyrhythmic composition dissolve the seam between choreography and composition. Their meshing as a performance duo with highly tuned musicality is a feast of call and response and displays acres of tensile strength. Imagine the microseconds before the gun of a 100m race is fired: Macindoe and Hamilton don’t go on the ‘b’ of the bang, they play in the space when the lips begin to close and formulate the hum of the ‘b’.
With the 55 minute performance split into three sections, the first sees Hamilton and Macindoe inhabiting the 4-metre radius circle of bots (64 pieces of wood measuring no more than 20 x 15 x 10 centimtres with a pencil attached to a pivoting mechanism on the side, tapping the floor at different intervals); this intensity of focus and action does not allow our gaze to wander or be distracted by any superfluous activity. It deepens the connection between audience and performers as we’re all submerged in this tight frame for the first 25 minutes; it is relentless adventure with feats of physical and verbal memory.
“Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.” – Theodore Dreiser
Hamilton and Macindoe are human gnomons casting shadows and carving air as they latch on to one of the many polyrhythms created by the orchestra. The primary choreographic language employed is popping (sometimes known as the robot dance), building staccato patterns through the isolation of muscles in their arms, neck and torso. The style ensures a crisp, cool and technically impressive feat yet Macindoe does not match Hamilton’s skill. The difference is clear and Macindoe is not able to execute and pop as the softness of a contemporary training blunts the edges required.
As Hamilton slowly breaks the circle of bots, we see his b-boy history as he softly baby freezes over the boundary of bots, shifting his weight as he meets the floor and begins to reconfigure them into a new formation. With a series of miniature robotic henges casting dawn-length shadows across the stage we began to see and hear a transformation. There is a delicacy in play in the second section — a balance between sound, motion, the sound of motion and the motion of sound. The sonic palette has shifted too as miniature trays, blocks and alternative materials are placed underneath the pencils and as they strike down alternative tones reverberate and the monochromatic drum march has been replaced with a textured soundscape.
“Ah, thou hast made my heart captive in the endless meshes of thy music.” – Rabindranath Tagore
Time is often foregrounded; from the unfinished and rewound repeated movements glitching in our eyes, to the complex musical time signatures pulsing in our ears — we know that time exists but are unsure at which speed it is being played out. This invisibility is remembered at the end as the dancers leak off stage and the audience is serenaded for the last five minutes by the orchestra. Even though the bodies are no longer present, the interweaving of choreography and composition ensures a physical residue in the audience memory. As the tones shift I see their bodies echo in the space, popping, patterning and replaying movement sequences that were present a few moments before.
There were dozens of moments of virtuosity: from an eyes-closed verbal recall of a numeric pattern at Mach 1 making them sound like a pair of Australian market traders bamboozling the audience’s ears, to a tight hand sandwich duet at close proximity as they pivot and twist, using their palms as records moving in and out of a jukebox at speed. As an audience we’ve been internally tightened and our gears wound watching these feats without breathing or shuffling in the rich and sparse landscape Hamilton and Macindoe have created. Meeting is a quietly rich encounter between man, machine, motion and sound that rewards your attention with mesmeric human feats and meditative sonic patterns.
Posted: June 20th, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Baroness Jane Campbell, Chris Henry, David Hevey, Deaf Men Dancing, Dr. Paul Darke, Mark Smith | Comments Off on Deaf Men Dancing, Let Us Tell You A Story…
Let Us Tell You A Story…, Deaf Men Dancing, Surgeon’s Hall Museums, Edinburgh, June 15
Let Us Tell You A Story (photo: Ian Abbott)
“Think you of the fact that a deaf person cannot hear. Then, what deafness may we not all possess? What senses do we lack that we cannot see and cannot hear another world all around us?” – Frank Herbert
Let Us Tell You A Story… by Deaf Men Dancing (DMD) is one of a number of artistic commissions inspired by eight of the UK’s medical museums. Mark Smith, founder and artistic director of DMD, spent time at the Thackray Museum in Leeds which holds a collection of nearly 1,000 objects relating to deafness, including Queen Victoria’s ear trumpet.
This suite of commissions (DMD, Julie McNamara, Francesca Martinez and David Hevey) are not only inspired by the collections but are also being presented in those same spaces — including the Hunterian and Science Museums, Bethlem Museum of the Mind and the Royal College of Physicians — to open up dialogue, debate and challenge entrenched assumptions. Medical institutions are often hundreds of years old and use a scientific language that perpetuates the medical model rather than adapting the language to the current social model of disability. Walking around the Surgeon’s Hall Museums for an hour looking at hundreds of isolated body parts in jars and preserved examples of tumour-riddled ears or gangrenous hands amplified my bodily awareness before going in to watch the commissions.
How language is used and the choice of words is a delicate issue not only in culture and disability but in medicine, too. In the post-show conversation some audience members called attention to the descriptions on some jars that used the word ‘mongoloid’ and ‘abnormality’ in reference to someone who had learning disabilities. Chris Henry, the director of heritage at the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, was unapologetic as he framed the dialogue and context of the museums in terms of pathology (the study of disease) whilst recognising the need to offer a social context for the language that may have been deemed appropriate at the time of labelling.
“The one thing I have that nobody else has or can duplicate is my sound. The sound of my life. Others may say similar things but they can’t say them like I do.” – Suzette Hinton
As an interrogation of a museum collection Smith has mined a rich history and with his dance training and previous practice in opera there is a theatrical and a choreographic accessibility to his work. As an audio landscape Let Us Tell You A Story… paid particular attention to how the audience experienced the work aurally and for me this was where it was most effective. From the piercing shrills of high frequency hearing tests to hearing in Smith’s own words in voice over (the first time he’s done this) there was a particularly potent vignette referencing Christianity where the soundtrack changed to a heavily muffled — almost imperceptible to my ear — version of the Lord’s Prayer. It was this proximity to a lived experience that brought me closest to the performance.
Let Us Tell You A Story… is Smith’s research process and personal passions made visible. I came away having learnt oodles about the history of the Deaf movement including the seminal 1880 Milan conference where a number of world experts banned sign language and forced people to use speech therapy instead of signing and how thousands of soldiers returned from war deaf yet this was hidden from the public and society at large. Each of the vignettes was presented in isolation and the work suffered dramaturgically as there was little glue holding the sections together. I felt myself wanting to dwell longer in each section. Learning about the magnitude of these events was thought-provoking, but in combination with movement, projection and a newly composed soundtrack, I was struggling to process it all before we were shifted into another period of history.
Coming in at just under 30 minutes, the performance was hampered by the uneven combination of dance technique and theatrical training in the three male dancers who are all on stage all of the time; I was always drawn to the weakest performer. Based on a structure of vignettes there were a number of solos but very little group work and the choreography often leant towards the literal. In the war scene, for example, we have a number of army crawls and hyper excessive facial expressions that did little to coax my empathy. There are fleeting moments of interaction with the audience where the performers share objects like feathers, balloons and clasp our hands; this could be developed more and encourage a greater sensory experience. With a slate grey palette for the costumes, each performer arrives and intermittently interacts with an oversized case with a detailed illustration of the ear on the outside; there’s real attention to detail from the other collaborators in the creative team lead by the excellent sound designer.
Although hampered by a stage depth of barely three metres, I feel that Let Us Tell You A Story… with some editing and dramaturgical input could suit the outdoor festival circuit. The vignette structure would welcome audiences that arrive mid-way through a performance and Smith’s theatrical leanings and the skills and energy of his performers may find a better home in this context.
“There are so many people, deaf or otherwise abled, who are so talented but overlooked or not given a chance to even get their foot in the door.” – Marlee Matlin
On the same bill I also saw David Hevey’s documentary, The Fight For Life, in which he captures — on digital celluloid rather than in formaldehyde — articulate, insightful yet bruising encounters with personal histories of disability. Dr. Paul Darke, who attended a school for disabled people, remembered how all the students in the school were anally and vaginally fingered twice a year by a medical consultant; accepted as normal and authorised by the school, the procedure lead to him feeling that ‘your body was theirs.’ Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton, who uses a wheelchair and ventilators to aid her breathing, went to hospital with pneumonia (although in a hazy state she was still conscious) where in her presence the doctor said to her husband: “You wouldn’t want us to intervene or resuscitate her because she’s very fragile.” Seeing the medical staff was making assumptions about her because of her disability, her husband rushed home and brought back her doctorate and examples of the work she had done and said, “She has pneumonia, treat her.” Baroness Campbell summed up her observation that decisions on the disability living allowance are often made by those with little experience of austerity with a devastating aphorism: ‘Nothing about us: without us.’
Led by the Research Centre for Museum’s and Galleries at the University of Leicester, this suite of new commissions is considered and asks questions around why certain bodies are highly valued and others are viewed problematically. It’s a welcome injection that rejects an idealised norm.
Posted: May 30th, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Aaron Nuttall, Adam Peck, Avant Garde Dance, Dani Harris-Walters, Fagin's Twist, Jackie Shemesh, Jemima Brown, Joshua James Smith, Lisa Hood, Maxwell Golden, Tony Adigun, Yann Seabra | Comments Off on Avant Garde Dance, Fagin’s Twist
Avant Garde Dance in Fagin’s Twist (photo: Rachel Cherry)
“But struggling with these better feelings was pride — the vice of the lowest and most debased creatures no less than of the high and self-assured.” – Charles Dickens
Avant Garde Dance (AG) has been going “against the grain” for the last 15 years under the auspices of artistic director, Tony Adigun. Having seen more than a dozen of their outdoor and indoor works, commissioned them to work on large-scale performances integrating community casts of 100 people, to working with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on the iconic performance Vesalii Icones by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, I awaited with curiosity the skewing of a Dickens classic.
Fagin’s Twist, co-produced by The Place, is AG’s largest tour to date with over 40 performances across 2016 and substantial support from Arts Council England and other co-commissioning partners. Working with the writer Maxwell Golden and dramaturg Adam Peck, the audience is presented with a simple storyboard narrative that focuses on Fagin (Joshua James Smith) forging in the workhouse, his adventures in the lair and his ultimate undoing by young master Twist.
Opening with the full company (8 dancers) rotating, snaking and snapping whilst passing a mid-size white hat box between them exposes an early weakness as the ability to blend prop handling and movement restricts them and doesn’t allow them the anatomical freedom to focus or execute with the required conviction. Slipping between theatre, hip hop styles and contemporary dance we’re introduced to a krumping Bill Sykes (Dani Harris-Walters), a breaking Artful Dodger (Aaron Nuttall) and a contemporary Nancy (Lisa Hood). Stylistically these fit their character traits — in the first act the jittery physical vocabulary and nimble b-boy flourishes of Nuttall add a depth of character as he breaks the fourth wall with a set of welcome narrations which aid the re-telling. Smith has also a certain dash about him, like a fencer darting across the stage with able command of both body and voice. With the five leads including Oliver Twist (Jemima Brown) mic’ed up we unfortunately see a lacklustre physicality seeping into the vocal performances; a lack of conviction in both body and voice, and an inconsistency across the two acts (this is the 12th performance on tour) caused my interest to wane.
The first act is a series of establishing speeches twinned with tutting and hip hop routines delving into Fagin, his gradual acceptance by Sykes, their joint escape, finding the lair and the introduction of Oliver. With a second act full of stage choreography for exposition purposes, the character definition breaks down and we are left with 8 moving bodies who’ve seemingly forgotten their original intentions and emotional relationships with each other. With a recurring motif of a low-crouched, puppet-armed jump that hints at A Clockwork Orange, the pack often comes together before splitting off into duets and trios that fall very close to “hip hop as mime” territory. There’s a fine line between showing a story and keeping the audience on the outside and telling a story and pulling us in.
“When I first read ‘On the Road,’ it helped me figure out how to live against the grain. Now I wonder how to be subversive when the subversive has become mainstream.” – Tony D’souza
I see a number of biographical echoes where you could replace Fagin with Adigun; having started life outside the system he recruits a merry band of accomplices who begin to scratch a living together. Success comes slowly as he is embraced by others, but responsibility weighs heavy for the health of the unit whilst younger and hungrier insiders begin to splinter as he takes his eye off his pocket watch. However, after 15 years can you continually go against the grain? Pushing doors open for others takes a lot of energy and being swallowed by the mainstream that is slowly de-teething and sanding the edges that made them want you in the first place is a tricky position for Adigun to hold. Akram Khan serves as a warning/inspiration.
Fagin’s Twist offers an entertaining night out for those new to dance theatre who might be a little Dickens curious and there’s a slick production mask scaffolding the work. Jackie Shemesh’s lighting design casts elongated shadows, hiding faces and bodies in the half-light whilst Yann Seabra’s set offers nooks, levels and holes for the dancers to weave and scuttle about in.
However, if it’s going to sing loud in the autumn tour and emerge as a signature work, then some dramaturgical repairs are in order to build bonds with the audience so we can begin to care rather than watching blunt fireworks; dancers should fill and execute their characters whilst injecting a consistent musicality into their performances and Adigun needs to bring some abrasion and grit back into his choreography.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller
Posted: May 29th, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Performance | Tags: 16+ a room, Ballet BC, Bill, Crystal Pite, Emily Molnar, Gai Behar, International Dance Festival Birmingham, Sharon Eyal, Solo Echo | Comments Off on Ballet BC, Birmingham Hippodrome
Ballet BC, Birmingham Hippodrome, May 20
Artists of Ballet BC in Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo (photo: Michael Slobodian)
Without the fanfare and hoopla that surrounded the recent English National Ballet all-female triple bill, She Said, it is testament to Ballet BC and International Dance Festival Birmingham that female choreographers are not a scarcity in either the former nor the latter. With this being the only UK date, a premiere and the debate around non-male choreographers, I don’t understand why “the national critics” weren’t present, choosing to review NDT2 and Northern Ballet instead.
As part of #TheBENCH, an event and wider choreographic support programme designed by 2Faced Dance Company to address the gender inequality in UK contemporary dance, Ballet BC’s Artistic Director Emily Molnar was invited to speak and offer an international perspective. With integrity, sense and articulate coherence in spades she responded and mentioned to the crowd that the company would be performing a programme of Crystal Pite, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar as well as one of her own works. After seeing Eyal and Behar’s most recent commission on Scottish Dance Theatre earlier in the year and the fervour surrounding Crystal Pite’s forthcoming work on a series of national companies including Scottish Ballet, it was impossible not to be curious.
“One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be a mere rushing on.”- D.H. Lawrence
Molnar’s work that premiered in 2013, 16+ a room, opened the evening. Riddled with detail, pace and luxurious unfurlings of time alongside a repeated slow and knowing presence of a stage walker who held a sign that read ‘This Is A Beginning’ or ‘This Is Not An End’, Molnar accentuated the visibility of time and allowed us to see all the full stops on stage. Almost imperceptible tremors in the bodies floated to the surface in the not quite stillness emphasising the control and fizz of the 16 company dancers. Building entrances and exits into the choreography nothing was wasted whilst oscillating between large packs of movement and intimate duets the piece became structurally familiar but no less impressive. With a lighting design like spots on a domino and an electric rasping soundtrack suiting the crispness of the taut choreographic vocabulary and Molnar’s staccato sock-sliding lunges and pulses 16+A Room was a satisfying start to proceedings.
“When you acknowledge the integrity of your solitude, and settle into its mystery, your relationships with others take on a new warmth, adventure and wonder.” – John O’Donohue
Pite’s Solo Echo left an emotional residue that I’ve only felt after watching the 1953 film Tokyo Story by Yasujirô Ozu. Both are a study of human connections, regret, present echoes and anticipation whilst leaving time for it to settle inside you. With an upstage set design of a constant drop of either snow, petals or sawdust and a sweeping piano and string soundtrack, I read Japanese cherry blossom in the spring, a time for renewal and rituals which were also present in the choreography. A recurring motif of the frozen run, giving space and a softness that supports others, showcased alternative qualities in seven dancers and their ability to connect with the audience and their material. Solo Echo has an emotional sting that remained inside the body long after the curtain had dropped.
“There is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever.” – Lord Byron
Bill is my second live encounter with an Eyal and Behar choreography. Here they remould bodies through anatomical adventures. We see the same limbs and torsos used by Molnar and Pite, yet the angles are skewed, bodies inverted and are presented with a fevered ballet and jelly-legged solos. The stage is flooded with choreography for 22 minutes; patterns of repetitive walking and clockwise rocking provide mesmeric satisfaction mixed with the occasional choreographic burst that is reminiscent of a 90s WWF move by The Bushwhackers beating their arms to a wide invisible drum. They enable the dancers to command the stage with a cat-walking focus whilst conveying the rapturous joy of movement. There’s a depth of field in play, real care for the scenography and texture of the world and a constant eye on the end; Eyal and Behar are always building, always layering and always in control of our gaze. There are echoes of Hofesh Shechter in as much as Eyal and Behar, like Shechter, have the ability to be 1% different, which sets them aside choreographically and spawns a band of imitators. Their craft is a pleasure to revel in.
The construction of triple bills is a delicate game; wanting to build progressively but not drown and leave an audience with an emotional unevenness. Ballet BC’s triple bill was pitched well with an appetising opener, rich and complex main and a finale with all the trimmings and flourishes; here’s a company that has developed a repertoire of more than 35 works since 2009, from William Forsythe to Aszure Barton, and is actively collaborating with The National Ballet of Canada and Frankfurt Ballet to support artists, choreographers and audiences alike. Imagine if British companies would do the same.
Posted: May 26th, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Festival | Tags: Navadisha 2016 | Comments Off on Navadisha 2016
Navadisha 2016, mac, Birmingham, May 20-22
Kesha Raithatha (photo: Ian Abbott)
“Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.” – Michel Foucault
Navadisha 2016 was a three-day conference produced by Anita Srivastava and co-produced by Piali Ray that sought “to stimulate, steer and secure the future of South Asian Dance as part of UK’s ever growing dance landscape”. The Navadisha team, with Chitra Sundaram acting as conference moderator and lead consultant, curated over 65 presenters and more than 20 performances attracting over 200 UK and international delegates who were ready to celebrate and deliberate new dynamics in South Asian dance.
It has been over 16 years since the last Navadisha when a young Akram Khan and Mavin Khoo presented their duet No Male Egos; Navadisha 2016 opened with a specially commissioned duet from Connor Scott (BBC Young Dancer 2015 winner) and Vidya Patel (BBC Young Dancer 2015 finalist) who jointly choreographed a light 5-minute work in a mere eight hours. Khan, Khoo and Shobana Jeyasingh each offered a keynote provocation and while Khan struggled with definition — “What the fuck is South Asian dance? I don’t know how to define it…” — Jeyasingh offered an arresting, personal and insightful response touching on pertinent issues: “Dance as a noble hobby”, and with respect to the classical and contemporary debate, “we share common soil, common roots and common sustenance.”
Over the course of the event there were some luminous contributions from individuals who articulated an alternative approach to, and use of, classical dance forms whilst demonstrating an integrity within their own practice:
Subathra Subramanium (Sadhana Dance) explored the rigour and collaborative process between bharatanatyam and science, charting expeditions to the Arctic Circle with audiences of bearded seals and walruses to the surgical precision of the operating theatre and identifying a shared dexterity between classical dancers and surgeons.
Hari Krishnan (inDance) offered a queer narrative and perspective from his practice as a choreographer. Presenting nudity, sexuality and intimate touch in and to this community is a radical act and I’d like to see other LGBTQ+ artists offered the chance to engage and contribute to this dialogue.
Lina Johansson (mimbre) presented insight and advice on how her company creates work for outdoor settings, recognising that audiences can begin to watch a piece at any moment and often wander off if their attention drops. She aims to craft work to capture and retain a diversity of ages.
Shalini Bhalla (Just Jhoom) opened a vital dialogue (often ignored in South Asian communities) around issues of mental health and depression. She shared her story of hospitalisation and of using the healing power of her dance practice to train over 250 instructors across the UK to teach the fitness and bollywood hybrid, Just Jhoom. She recognised the social value, community and friendship that comes from participants dancing together in class in a familiar environment.
Nova Bhattacharya (Nova Dance) offered an international perspective and was frustrated with the “fucking monochromatic viewpoint” in both the dominance and assimilation of American modern dance and European aesthetics into the Canadian dance ecology, and passionately advocated for a palette of voices and forms to be represented.
However, in a set of panels (often with 7, 8 and 9 people each having three minutes to speak in the 60-minute sessions) there was a lack of coherence and audience consideration mixed with a multitude of surface statements and extensive personal biographies. Many of the flooded panels had insufficient time and/or were poorly moderated, not allowing questions and response from the audience. With such an international panel of delegates, rich with experience and insight, the opportunity to engage in a rigorous debate was missed. There was little visible thread between the speakers whose consistent mode was that of broadcasting rather than listening and responding to peers.
“Creativity cannot be held within the confines of history. It needs to be honestly and harmoniously allowed to reinvent.” Aditi Mangaldas
There were nearly 15 panels across the three days, looking at: Changing lives / Inspiring Stories, New Narratives / New Perspectives, Professional development, mentoring and career progression, but one that stood out in the language used to describe it was: “Stars in our eyes: Part 1 – The Performer’s Perspective.” Five stellar and compelling performers from a range of South Asian dance practices (Aakash Odedra, Amina Khayyam, Seeta Patel, Shane Shambhu and Sonia Sabri) each shared how they see it: My vision, my goals, my dreams, my challenges!
The conference team often publicly referred to this set of artists as “Gen Next” or “Young Artists”, invoking a sense of power and using a patronising tone that I found unhealthy. Patel in her three minutes offered a provocation: “It is an exciting time which shouldn’t be patronised by a reference to ourselves as orientalised, antiquated museum pieces. Whether classical or contemporised, with integrity we can reach further from existing, limiting perceptions. To artists I ask: are we perpetuating a landscape of outdated perceptions that limit who we are and can be? To the powers that be: do you want an exotic other artist or an artist whose doesn’t rely upon cultural differences to make them great?” Her comments garnered a wealth of response in the room and on the hashtag #Navadisha16.
I sensed an unspoken power, faux etiquette or, to use a term cited by Patel on day one, an invisible hand at play manifesting itself in multiple ways throughout the conference. There is an unwillingness to engage in an open dialogue as the fear of retribution is high. Julia Carruthers, Programme Director at Warwick Arts Centre, in the Venue, Producer and Promoter panel called on the “aunty” or “akka” generation to move on and make way for new voices and new leaders. Anusha Subramanyam, Artistic Director of Beeja, in the How dance is enhancing people’s lives panel spoke of her frustration at the disparaging attitude towards her work as a choreographer working with young people with disabilities, in communities and other contexts.
Over the last three years I’ve experienced, led, partnered and convened a number of dance conferences, symposia, festivals and gatherings in different styles including: Association of Dance of the African Disapora’s Re:generations 2014, the Integrated Summit, Btown Throwdown and South Asian Dance Summit at Pavilion Dance South West as well as DanceLive15, Buzzcut and Rise 2016 in Scotland. Common threads across these events were: a sense of care for the artist and audience, providing a space for difference and the removal of ego for the greater good. Within Navadisha 2016 there was an invisible simmering and Kav Kaushik paraphrased Game of Thrones: “Winter is coming and the kingdom is focused on civil war.”
“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.” – N R Narayana Murthy
Throughout the conference there were a number of felicitations paying respect to pioneers in the field, from Naseem Khan OBE (on the 40th anniversary of her ground-breaking report, The Arts Britain Ignores) to Pratap Pawar, Pushkala Gopal and Nahid Siddiqui, three dance artists who inspired generations of students, dancers and teachers in the UK. Alongside this formal recognition a number of new ventures from Leena Patel, Kamala Devam, Shane Shambhu were publicly launched in front of a rich and illustrious makeup of guru’s and industry powers which felt a generous and unique celebration introduced by those further along in their career trajectory.
As part of the conference and in partnership with International Dance Festival Birmingham there were a number of full-length performances and excerpts across the three days. Highlights came from Sooraj Subramaniam, whose classical Odissi was an elegant and emotive solo; Kesha Raithatha, who has been working with Eva Recacha, presented a taut Kathak-inspired contemporary work which would sit well in most small-scale dance houses across the UK and Hembharathy Palani’s Twine, bathed in a Tizer-lit haze, was a meditative trio on the notion of slowing down.
I noticed that some things were missing from the conference: there was no voice of young people or a young presence on the education panel and yet we saw groups from the ISTD or Centre for Advanced Dance Training perform on stage. There was no authentic voice of what it is like to go through and experience these systems; their voice was muted. There was no discussion about music, its relationship to dance and how it is fundamental not only to the teaching but also to the presentation of the classical forms. The relationship between guru and student would have been a ripe arena to explore, looking at reverence and power dynamics between two people. The majority of National Dance Network members were not present and those who were appeared only on days they were on a panel; Paul Russ, CEO and Artistic Director of Dance 4, admitted, “The unconscious bias needs to be acknowledged.” If the dance houses and dance development organisations who programme and support artists choose not to attend and engage against the backdrop of Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity and the monochromatic male leadership of dance organisations, both their own palette and that of their audiences are given little chance to broaden; the unconscious bias will remain until the “uncles” are removed.
In the closing plenary, “The Conference” (without consultation or engagement with delegates) made a series of recommendations: the need for further round table discussions; not waiting 16 years until the next event; passing the baton onto “gen next” and encouraging them to lead on the next Navadisha, and for venues to present more classical and contemporary Indian work across the UK. This was a very public offer and challenge to the “young artists” to create and mould the structures and opportunities to reflect the landscape they wish to engage with. If this is a ceding of power and relevance then I look forward to what the future holds as there are articulate, rigorous and original voices that have been constrained by power politics within the classical Indian dance ecology.
Posted: May 10th, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Bloody Nora, Eleanor Sikorski, Findhorn, Flora Wellesley-Wesley, Jonathan Burrows, lizaggiss, Lizz Aggiss, Matteo Fargion, Nora, Slap and Tickle | Comments Off on Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle
Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle, Universal Hall, Findhorn, May 7
Liz Aggiss in Slap and Tickle (photo: Joe Murray)
“Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you ALIVE.” – Sid Vicious
Liz Aggiss was forged in the cauldron of punk and her new feminist soup, Slap and Tickle, riffs on pishy old women, yummy mummies and flagrantly tosses collapsed floors and sexual taboos out the window. ‘Tis one of the finest crafted and hilarious hours I’ve spent in a theatre.
To witness lizaggiss (the performance persona and brand) in motion is to behold an artist in complete command of her visual world. She nudges the fourth wall, gives it the glad eye, but there’s always the hint that she could demolish it if she wanted. However, it’s also a space where I feel safe as she demonstrates consideration by building the audience’s hardiness to material that some might consider a little saucy. Mining childhood songs, witty word play and music hall standards, there are enough recognisable tropes to keep us comfortable. Through the presentation of her body and what it can do, has done and might do with us watching, it enabled me to consider my own body, the stories it holds and how we look at others. Are you sitting comfortably? You shouldn’t be.
“Make them laugh, make them cry, and back to laughter. What do people go to the theatre for? An emotional exercise. I am a servant of the people. I have never forgotten that.” – Mary Pickford
Slap and Tickle is a machine gun of visual joy; no sketch, sequence or quip outstays its welcome, and mixed in with the frippery and froth are some puncturing sentences which aren’t just close to the knuckle; they’re brushing your elbow with a cheese grater. “Are there any wet women in the house tonight?” she asks with her comedic timing and technique honed during her early 80s stints in cabaret and working men’s clubs; it’s a lean, slick and impressive performance (on only its second public outing) that doesn’t let go of your eyeballs or earballs throughout.
I recognised compositional echoes from her previous stage work, The English Channel: a single microphone, a box of props, and the use of multiple costumes and her body to conceal a wunderkammer of curiosities that are revealed as the performance progresses. There’s oodles of jerky early-modernist hand gestures (in reference to a series of pioneering female inter-war choreographers) mixed with rhythmic beat-filled speech; it’s a little bit rude, a little bit anarchic and actively resists neat definition but the narrative is universal and should be celebrated: Women and their Bodies.
“If I want to define myself, I first have to say, ‘I am a woman’; all other assertions will arise from this basic truth. A man never begins by positing himself as an individual of a certain sex: that he is a man is obvious.” – Simone de Beauvoir
Slap and Tickle is presented in Findhorn as part of Rise 2016, a three-day festival of contemporary dance and performance sensitively programmed by Karl Jay-Lewin. First on the same evening’s bill are Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley, aka Nora, who present a double bill of duets by Jonathan Burrows/Matteo Fargion and Liz Aggiss. It is the first time that Bloody Nora is programmed on the same night as Slap and Tickle and it is fascinating to see the tone, scenography, language and ribaldry of Aggiss channelled through two younger female bodies. It looks like an Aggiss, spits expletives like an Aggiss and smells like an Aggiss — yet the solo body has been split and removed from the mother ship. Now we have two distilled red Aggi imps morphing their bodies, accentuating our gaze and letting us linger in the land of the uncomfortable before they “fuck you’ed” into the distance.
There are tens of millions of female bodies and minds in the world that are aged 62 and over yet in our culture they’re almost invisible. Liz Aggiss resists that invisibility and in doing so has created over the past decade a body of live, film and other work that would benefit from the focus of a festival, symposium or conference to see how the works sit alongside the wider UK ecology.
Slap and Tickle is dance/comedy/art (delete as appropriate) that makes the audience snort, howl and cackle with laughter. It’s a rich and visual collage of womanhood and even though Aggiss actively embraces the maverick tag, she’s exploring and presenting a world that every woman can relate to. Let’s have a party.
For a darker view of Slap and Tickle, see a review from the Brighton Festival by Nicholas Minns
Posted: April 16th, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Festival | Tags: Aby Watson, Alejandra Herrera Silva, Buzzcut Festival, Domestic Labour, Easter Performance, Fox Symphony, Foxy and Husk, Joe Wild, Jordan Lennie, Lucy McCormick, Puffing and Wooling, This is not a euphemism, Tilley and Dell | Comments Off on Buzzcut Festival
Buzzcut Festival, The Pearce Institute, Govan, April 6-10
Fox Symphony by Foxy and Husk, Easter Performance by Lucy McCormick, This is not a euphemism by Aby Watson, Domestic Labour by Alejandra Herrera Silva, and Puffing and Wooling by Tilley and Del
Alejandra Herrera Silva in Domestic Labour (photo: Hichek Dahes)
“Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But in fact they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.” – Margaret Fuller
This is Buzzcut, a place where nothing and no one is fixed. This is my second swim in Buzzcut and over four days I encountered 30 works that were either stage-based, one-to-one encounters, limited capacity, durational, participatory or installations — and it’s a place where all forms are welcome. I’m going to write about the ones that had a relationship with dance as well as the ones that linger long after the festival has closed its doors.
“An actor is never so great as when he reminds you of an animal — falling like a cat, lying like a dog, moving like a fox.” – Francois Truffaut
Fox Symphony is a theatrical rummage in the dustbins of class. Foxy and Husk (the performance persona of Isolde Godfrey) presents us with a grinning painted fox face combined with lavish theatrical costuming and millinery. The tone is set when we’re invited to rise and welcome Foxy in her rendition of God Save The Queen. Through a combination of pre-recorded audio interviews, Foxy is the slickly-timed physical vessel of Adele, an East End bagel (pronounced bygal) as well as of representatives from Scotland and Ireland. Deftly woven amongst these verbatim offerings are songs from Led Zep, Pulp and Mary Poppins (in the style of a Lip Sync Battle performance) offering an alternative lens on how class has been presented in the past 50 years. Godfrey finesses herself, the scenography and her wily video editing with delicious details like slurping milk through a straw and a confetti shower hidden inside an umbrella. However, through the re-presenting and editing of others she leaves little room for herself and I’m left wanting an authentic social comment from Godfrey before she scurries off into the night. Fox Symphony is without doubt a finely crafted and intelligent portrait of our relationship to class but what does the fox say?
“The major civilizing force in the world is not religion, it is sex.” – Hugh Hefner
Easter Performance is part of a suite of historical re-enactments of biblical stories that Lucy McCormick is embarking on and in the programme she defines this work as a ‘fuckstep-dubpunk morality play for the new age.’ Aided and abetted on stage by Joe Wild and Jordan Lennie we’re presented with alternative interpretations of the stories of Judas, Doubting Thomas, and Three Women Anointing Jesus. Dressed in tracksuit bottoms and a marker pen beard McCormick declares on mic that she’ll be playing Jesus tonight with Wild and Lennie playing the rest of the parts. For the next 25 minutes gender, sex, provocation and power are swirled in the Buzzcut blender and McCormick brings a physical urgency to the fore with acres of confidence, swagger and debauchery that sit perfectly in this late-night cabaret slot. Lennie tenderly carries McCormick off the stage while engaged in heavy petting and as they come down into the crowd, mount an audience table and continue to lock mouths, McCormick comes up for air on mic to ask one of the organisers of the event questions like “where’s the party after the show tonight?” and “are you having a good festival?” As McCormick purposely jars our watching rhythm, breaks realities and questions, I wonder if we are watching a performer, a party princess or Jesus french-kissing Judas? With her well-executed, commercial, twerking-fuelled routine, McCormick is eminently watchable, constantly demands our attention and self-degrades to keep us hooked. Doubting Thomas refers to the apostle who refused to believe the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles until he could see and feel for himself the wounds/holes received on the cross. As McCormick takes Wild’s fingers and guides them into every one of her bodily wounds/holes she looks directly out to the audience fully aware of what she’s doing and what we’re thinking in return. As a final act (clad in only her vest and kiss-smudged beard) McCormick crowd surfs her way over 25 metres to the back of the hall and sleeps safe in the knowledge that dozens of people can claim to have touched Jesus at Buzzcut.
“Electric flesh-arrows…traversing the body. A rainbow of colour strikes the eyelids. A foam of music falls over the ears. It is the gong of the orgasm.” – Anais Nin.
This is not a euphemism was first scratched last October at Camden People’s Theatre and Buzzcut is presenting the premiere. Aby Watson reveals an intimate four-screen film of an orgasmic oral encounter with someone she met on Tinder. Euphemism is the first work that Watson has defined as a “choreographic solo as opposed to a piece of theatre or contemporary performance” and it sits alongside her current PhD study Choreographing Clumsy on the subject of dyspraxia and choreographic practice. Watson is exposing both her choreographic practice and herself in an intimate exchange, whether in the opening five minutes as she sets up the TV’s or during the grin-inducing dance to You Sexy Thing and Let’s Get It On. It’s exposing, but on her terms and in her language and her delivery is infectious: “Both parties consented to the recording of the act and he knows what I’m doing with my copy — but I have no idea what he will do with his.” At Buzzcut this year there is support from Creative Scotland to increase the levels of accessibility across the festival through captioning, audio description and BSL interpretation as well as providing a silent area where people can rest from the frenzy of the festival. Euphemism is interpreted into BSL by Natalie MacDonald so although it’s framed as a solo, Robertson’s sympathetic and performative interpreting adds another layer of charm and personality to the work. Robertson is happy grinding to Hot Chocolate, offering facial interpretations and nuance alongside her hands; choreographically speaking it fits really well and there’s a chemistry between the two performers. When Watson asks the audience for someone to help her out, a man called Dickie offers. He comes on stage and is given a sign name with input from some mischievous audience members; Watson brings him up on several occasions to complete a number of tasks. Suddenly this solo is now a trio and it feels all the better for it; the BSL is blended well and I leave wanting to see more work with MacDonald interpreting with such style. Breaking the formal rhythm and structures of the performance through asides and explanations, Watson invites Dickie to the stage one last time to waltz. Together they begin, quickly finding a satisfying rhythm and connection and as the speed increases the lights begin to fade. This is definitely not a euphemism but the playground of an eminently engaging performer.
“You don’t like it when a French housewife gets mad at you. If she gets steam behind her, she is an unstoppable creature.” – Peter Mayle
The fragility of domestic glasses, plates and women in Domestic Labour is amplified and then inverted by the presence, power and ability of Alejandra Herrera Silva. Male control and dominance is fiercely challenged and as the domestic choreography reveals itself Herrera Silva invites a number of willing male opponents to engage. Every action is expertly choreographed from the slow dribbling of red wine onto the white dresses and the deliberate revealing of messages on her chest to lifting a large and heavy water-filled box around the space. Herrera Silva invites a man (at least 1ft taller than her) to arm wrestle. At this stage she is dressed in a white t-shirt, 4-inch heels and wine-stained pants. As they lock hands and begin to wrestle, she ferociously stamps down a stack of over 30 dinner plates under her right foot as she battles for physical supremacy. In that moment, in a swirling crash of ceramic shards darting everywhere, Herrera Silva demonstrates where power really lies. Afterwards she thanks the male participant and dutifully cleans up the mess, often emitting audible sighs at the drudgery. Taking 24 drinking glasses for a walk on a lead over a hard marble floor creates ear-screeching discomfort but the image, sonic quality and trails of broken glass again inverts preconceptions of the domestic role of women. Inviting another tall man to pull her by her hair whilst she drags a table laden with glasses around the space creates a tension as glasses pop off the table as it scuffs along the floor, shattering onto the feet of the watching audience. Once again she thanks the man for pulling her by the hair and she begins to sweep up. Domestic Labour is a simple yet thrilling exhibition of power laced with intimacy and leaves Herrera Silva firmly in control.
“So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” – T. S. Eliot
In a festival that celebrates diversity, rebellion and risk, when everyone is revealing the self, playing with the extremes of live tattooing, induced vomiting and graphic anatomical presentation, how does a work stand out? By displaying a kindness and an awareness of those who encounter it. Welcome to the world of Puffing and Wooling by Tilley Milburn (singer songwriter and performance artist) and her best friend Del (a beautiful pink stuffed pig she discovered in Clinton Cards in Kent). This is a space that explores rest, relaxation and reflection, enabling people to be present. It creates a sense of renewal, lightness and connection in the ten people who enter the blanket with its candles, soft toys and low-level lighting. Lying on her side with a soft northern lilt Milburn and Del offer us gentle participatory instructions, basic meditation and a story of how her most important ted (Trevor Curly, whom I perchance am cradling throughout) came into her life. Showing intimate acts does not create intimacy with an audience; there is a lot of cathartic broadcasting across Buzzcut without the necessary consideration about what and how it is being received by those who encounter it. Encouraged to snuggle under blankets with strangers and listen with our eyes closed — this is a space where it is OK to be different and bring stillness into your life. And this is the most radical act of all.
Posted: March 2nd, 2016 | Author: Ian Abbott | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Azzurra Ardovini, Barnaby Booth, Carlos Pons Guerra, DeNada Dance Theatre, Ham and Passion, Marivi Da Silva, Phil Sanger | Comments Off on DeNada Dance Theatre, Ham and Passion
DeNada Dance Theatre, Ham and Passion, mac, Birmingham, February 25
Phil Sanger as the Virgin Mary in Ham and Passion (photo: Joe ‘Boneshaker’ Armitage)
I saw ham.
I saw passion.
I saw Ham and Passion.
Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many colours or notes, there are only so many flavours — it’s how you combine them that sets you apart. It’s an expression of the land where you are and the culture of that place. – Wolfgang Puck
Carlos Pons Guerra has created theatrical tapas, interweaving three courses with the same ingredients of power, identity and gender whilst managing to concoct distinct and contrasting choreography with a jus of Spain poured over the top. The etymology of ‘ham’ is an overacting inferior performer derived from the late 19th century and linked to the old minstrel song The Hamfat Man from 1863. Amateurs and actors on a low income were forced to employ cheaper substances like ham rind or pig grease to apply their make-up rather than the professionals’ use of sophisticated oils.
As an adventure in extravagant kitsch, Ham and Passion allows us to wallow and question our preconceptions of gender and sexuality by ramping up the absurdity quotient over the course of the evening. From the tender cries of the downtown pearl, Anna La Passionara, to the wanton urges of the Virgin Mary, Pons Guerra firmly directs our gaze on this world, and there’s very little ham fat on show.
Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their [ham and] passion. – Martha Graham
Passionara is a three-legged duet between a drag artiste and the titular motionless ham; playing out as a back stage pre-show mini-drama, Phil Sanger prepares to grace the stage, transforming into a bedazzling mirrorball with a dress and knife that winks, flashes and absorbs the light. Sanger is exceptional in finding the maudlin physical nuances amongst the swell of sentimental Spanish songs; combined with a heavily stylised lighting design from Barnaby Booth, we’re presented with the possibilities of how much (or how little) a performer chooses to reveal himself.
Young Man! (inspired by Jean Cocteau’s libretto for Roland Petit’s ballet Le Jeune Homme et la mort) exhibits an enticing duel between Azzurra Ardovini and Marivi Da Silva in the sexual frenzy of post-Franco Spain. The kitchen table and food again provide the scenic anchor as Ardovini and Da Silva oscillate roles between matador and bull, man and woman, full body munching, and ham masturbation while a surrealist stereo soundtrack audibly pans around the stage created an aurally nauseous experience before they march us towards a heroin injecting crescendo.
To say that gender is performative is a little different because for something to be performative means that it produces a series of effects. We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman.– Judith Butler
It is in the trio (quartet if you count the ham) of O Maria where we reach ‘Peak Ham’ as Catholicism’s very own Virgin Mary (played to sublime comic effect by Sanger) reveals her chastity belt is a little looser than history has lead us to believe. In a heady dessert of fleshy temptation and wild, abandoned hair whipped together by a dominatrix, Da Silva and Ardovini are the perfect physical foil to the simpering Virgin Mary. Gender has been tossed out of the window and what remains is power, temptation and the residue of a fixed identity. O Maria is the newest work in the evening and with the Virgin Mary Pons Guerra has created a character with a wealth of narrative possibilities to develop and explore in the future.
With an interval between each of the three courses my viewing rhythm was disturbed and so was unable to truly sink into Pons Guerra’s Spanish ham opera. Despite the finely crafted environment and extensive programme notes, I felt there was little ambiguity on display and no room for me to manoeuvre emotionally. I wanted my brain to do more; to fill a gap, discover a missing connection — but this fully-formed world asked very little of me. DeNada Dance Theatre’s Ham and Passion coalesces around the kitchen table and the presence of food in a riotous portrait of Spanish life. Pons Guerra has brought a fine set of ingredients for his guests but must be careful of potential choreographic gavage.