Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Knot at The Place

Posted: November 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Knot at The Place

 Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Knot at The Place, November 20

Umanoove

Mai Lisa Guindo, the arm of Angela Venturini, Dane Hurst, Mathieu Geffré, Oliver Chapman, Sara Harton and Sam Costello in The Knot (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Choreographer Didy Veldman describes The Knot as an enquiry into contemporary marriage. She writes, ‘Together with my collaborators and dancers, we have explored different aspects of marriage, our fears, expectations, the meaning of “forever” and the wedding party.’ This is not the first time Veldman has translated the results of an enquiry into choreographic form. In The Happiness Project — her first work for her company, Umanoove, in 2017 — she interrogated the idea of happiness and built a response in the theatricality of the performance. She also built the musical framework around a single composer and musician, Alexander Balanescu.

In The Knot Veldman calls on much larger musical forces: Igor Stravinsky’s iconic score, Les Noces, an intricately rhythmic work inspired by a traditional Russian peasant wedding. For a contemporary exploration of marriage this is challenging for while it might anchor Veldman’s purview ‘over the last 100 years’, its ritual aspect contrasts with a contemporary view of marriage that, as Veldman writes in the program note, ‘could even be seen as part of our throw-away culture.’

To have more freedom and space for her choreographic ideas Veldman invited composer Ben Foskett to provide additional sections that would ‘weave in and out of Stravinsky’s dense sound world’. The dreamy opening of The Knot is one of these as the seven dancers (Oliver Chapman, Sam Costello, Sara Harton, Dane Hurst, Mathieu Geffré, Mai Lisa Guindo and Angela Venturini) enter in a procession wearing only their undergarments with their wedding attire draped neatly over their arms. The men form a line on one side of the stage and the women on the other and all attend to their respective sartorial and cosmetic preparations. In a concession to choreographic style the performers do not include shoes over the socks — they mime them into place — which diminishes the sense of nuptial formality but the introduction is nevertheless elegant in its simplicity and its choreographic ritual is close to Stravinsky’s conception. Paradoxically, when Scene 1 of Les Noces follows Foskett’s opening, Veldman’s choreography abandons ritual for long-limbed, exuberant sliding steps that suggest the party has started before the nuptials.

Conventionally, the start of the enquiry into contemporary marriage is the traditional couple at the altar — Harton is the bride and Hurst her groom — even if Costello has to coax a dazed Hurst into kneeling and Geffré has to place a bouquet in his rigid hand. It’s not an auspicious beginning but Veldman seems to relish the humour as she piles up other ideas like snapshots in a wedding album: Geffré makes a predatory move on Chapman, who is not interested; a disconsolate Harton then sits down beside Geffré who offers her an imaginary ring in a box that she refuses. Costello takes her place and again Geffré finds his advances rebuffed so he takes out a torch and looks for someone in the audience while the other three couples are dancing up a storm to Foskett’s jazz rhythms. There’s a same sex ceremony for Geffré and Chapman, a brief discussion about what is desirable in a partner, a scene with the women taking off their dresses to catch the eyes of the men, Costello tossing the bouquet and an invitation to some of the audience to be part of the wedding party on stage.

The problem is that Veldman’s tightly conceived snapshot observations lose intensity in their staged context. Unlike in The Happiness Project, the role of the dancing is here one of independent display that suits the abilities and predilections of the dancers rather than connecting the theatrical ideas into any kind of choreographic enquiry, while Ben Ormerod’s lighting and Joana Dias’ set of numerous chairs and hanging lights, while serving as a metaphor for ritual, only emphasizes the bland volume of the stage.

When Bronislava Nijinska first choreographed Les Noces in 1923, she embodied in her conception her convictions and ideas about the role of women in marriage and sculpted those convictions and ideas in a choreographic form that matched the rhythms of the score precisely. Veldman understandably steers clear of Nijinska’s enormous influence on the score, yet without finding her own form for her choreographic enquiry that is anchored in her chosen scores, she risks allowing the images she has created to float free of both her intellectual framework and her personal convictions. What does she really think of marriage? The Knot is just too loose to be an effective answer.


Julie Cunningham: To Be Me at Laban Theatre

Posted: November 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Julie Cunningham: To Be Me at Laban Theatre

Julie Cunningham: To Be Me, Laban Theatre, November 9

Julie Cunningham

Julie Cunningham by Rick Guest

Julie Cunningham’s program, To Be Me, presented at Laban Theatre, follows less than a month after her performance of m/y that was part of Reckonings at Sadler’s Wells. Both performances are a celebration of self, in part inspired by Monique Wittig’s 1973 novel, The Lesbian Body, in which the author articulates ‘feminine desire’ through her experimental use of language. In the 1990s Judith Butler questioned the idea that gender is biologically innate suggesting that it complies instead with the individual’s adherence to social norms, that it is in other words performative. Whilst we all to various degrees articulate our own identities around existing cultural narratives, Butler argues for the freedom to express one’s own gendered life.

This is the choreographic challenge Cunningham takes up in the first half of the program: a solo created on herself, m/e, that borrows from Wittig’s experimentation in language and Butler’s intellectual argument to confer on her dancing body a confidence and freedom that surpass the physical. Wittig’s novel seems to have set Cunningham free to unravel the multifaceted performative possibilities of her body as if she has emptied herself of the outward trappings of any previous dance form she has known — Merce Cunningham and Michael Clark are strong influences — and kept only what is necessary for her own ‘writing’.

m/e opens with Cunningham facing back; dressed casually in a t-shirt, track suit top and pants, she tries out steps to the nimble rhythms of Fever Ray’s To the moon and back, demonstrating the fluid possibilities of free choice through her ability to move in whatever direction at whatever moment and speed. Her style is sparse but with an understated eloquence that derives from her singular choreographic instrument: not only a body that is articulate and beautifully extended but a gaze that remains within the confines of the stage rather than projecting itself beyond it; when she looks in our direction it is as if she is in a studio and we are behind the mirror. It is this duality of extension and containment, of exterior and interior, that makes the section she dances to the Andante of Shostakovich’s piano concerto No. 2 such a revelation. She does not allow the emotion of the music to move her but imposes her own quiet will on it; it is her spatial relation to the musical phrasing that attunes her sense of identity. After this meditative interlude Cunningham interrogates the first of two pieces, Triangles, by composer Nell Catchpole in which she experiments with vocabulary as Wittig may have experimented with language; she plays a conceptual game with a blue ball that makes a re-appearance from m/y before returning to her upbeat exploration of space to Catchpole’s second piece, Skipping, where you can almost sense her changing her mind, dodging and darting like a sprite with dizzying self-confidence. Having exhausted her experimentation she walks forward as if to say, ‘I still haven’t really showed you who I am’ and walks calmly into the wings. True to the spirit of containment, she does not return for a bow.

To Be Me is also the title of the second work, set to Kate Tempest’s spoken word, in which Cunningham is joined by Hannah Burfield, Eleanor Perry and Seira Winning. They are all costumed (by Stevie Stewart and Cunningham with a hint of Clark) as mirrored pairs, one pair in red tops and black tights, the other in black tops and red tights. At the beginning the lights stay up in the auditorium as Cunningham arrives on stage with her cast to exchange knowing glances with every one of us as we listen to Antony and the Johnsons song, For Today I am a Boy; she lets the song and its message play over us on its own terms. The inspiration of To Be Me is the ancient myth of Tiresias, the blind clairvoyant who was turned from male into female and back into male, in which Cunningham continues from m/e to further recite the fluid embodiment of both male and female narratives in a choreographic pairing, mirroring, crossing and rupturing between the four performers. She doesn’t have quite the same freedom of self-expression as in her solo, but her musicality enables her to harvest the images, narrative threads and the rhythms of Tempest’s language and to translate them for the quartet into a counterpoint of movements whose precision and abstraction embody the sheer potential of gender performativity. And she does so with wit and joy, the occasional half smile testifying to the pleasure and confidence of self-discovery.


Shobana Jeyasingh Dance: Contagion at the British Library

Posted: November 9th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Shobana Jeyasingh Dance: Contagion at the British Library

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Contagion, British Library, November 2

Contagion

Noora Kela (not in this cast) in Contagion (photo: Chris Nash)

The fact that the first wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic erupted across the globe in the last year of the First World War has contributed to its sidelining in our collective memory where the memorialization of the war has taken precedence. Yet according to recent calculations it killed far more people than the warring nations combined and while troop movements inevitably contributed to the spread of the virus, its devastating effects on the armed forces may also have been one of the factors that led to the end of hostilities. It is therefore appropriate that 14-18 NOW has commissioned a work about the pandemic as part of its commemoration program. Shobana Jeyasingh’s Contagion is precisely what one would expect of her work: carefully thought through, well researched, and adapted to the choreographic form with a wealth of visual, aural and corporal metaphors.

In the absence of the fathers, husbands and brothers who had been called up to fight, Jeyasingh’s all-female cast — Avatâra Ayuso, Catarina Carvalho, Vânia Doutel Vaz, Sunbee Han, Rachel Maybank, Estela Merlos, Emily Pottage and Ruth Voon — represents the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters whose ‘acts of kindness’, as she writes, ‘were the only beacons of kindness in an otherwise dark world.’

The spread of the pandemic followed its own logic but with the dearth of viral science and a lack of any health measures it seemed to strike indiscriminately. Even this aspect has been assimilated into Contagion by presenting it in places that are not customarily dance venues. Merle Hensel’s white rectangular plinths can drop into any size of communal space, from Winchester Great Hall to the British Library mezzanine, serving as seating, beds and sarcophagi — the macabre order of architectural elements encountered in the course of the disease — and as lighting boxes and projection surfaces. With the performers’ plain, neutral-coloured leotards, their bodies become opaque under Yaron Abulafia’s lighting and seemingly transparent through Nina Dunn’s projections, a visual battlefield on which the symptom of creeping cyanosis spreads as well as the movement of the virus entering the cellular microcosm and reaching its noxious tentacles throughout it. The patterns on the bodies are reminiscent of the lurid stippling the artist Egon Schiele used to define the volumes of his painted nudes. He died of the flu in 1918, just three days after losing his pregnant wife to it. Families were wiped out ‘in the blink of an eye’.

While the aesthetics of Contagion derive from the virus’s pathology the performers embody both the intensity of the victims’ physical attributes and the emotional response of those caring for them. The work begins with gestures of supplication in the face of the onslaught and closes with stoically resilient gestures in retreat; in between we hear the harsh inhalations from damaged lungs or see victims sitting shivering in delirium on the plinths, their faces distorted and fearful. The intricate pairing of dancers becomes a metaphor for the way the virus replicated itself, with bodies locking together and falling away behind the plinths juxtaposed with archival footage of soldiers offloading their stretchers.

Graeme Miller’s soundscape, in which accounts from the Indian poet Tripathi Nirali and an extract by Francisco Henriques Loureiro from the Collier Archive in the Imperial War Museum are embedded, is conveyed through the intimacy of headphones, as well as a children’s rhyme repeated to a flickering moving image of a girl skipping:

I had a bird
It’s name was Enza
I opened the window
And in flew Enza.

Nothing, it seems, can contrast the everyday devastation more poignantly than the ludic preoccupations of children but like all the creative inputs in Contagion their significance has a menacing undertone; the projection of birds in flight and the wild flapping of wings we hear conflate innocence with the avian origins of the pandemic.

In drawing together diverse fields of artistic expression, Jeyasingh’s gem of choreographic intensity extricates from relative oblivion a historical event that in its impact on world populations was more devastating than the war it outlived. While commemoration of the First World War seems more concerned with patriotism and the political rhetoric surrounding death, a viral war has no battle lines so there is no possibility of one side declaring victory over another. Irrespective of nationality, Contagion reminds us that compassion is the great healer and that art, as Columbian artist Doris Salcedo suggests, ‘brings into experience those aspects of reality that our society ignores and keeps in obscurity’.

 

(For those who missed it, Contagion at Winchester Great Hall was filmed and can be found on YouTube.)


Dance Umbrella 2018: Le Patin Libre in Threshold at Alexandra Palace

Posted: November 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Le Patin Libre in Threshold at Alexandra Palace

Le Patin Libre, Threshold, Alexandra Palace Ice Rink, October 21

Le Patin Libre

Taylor Dilley in Le Patin Libre’s Threshold (photo: Romain Guilbault)

Seeing Le Patin Libre’s Vertical Influences on the ice at Alexandra Palace as part of Dance Umbrella in 2014 was a revelation, and a pleasure to see the company again on the ice at Somerset House in 2016, part reprise and part an essay of ideas for a new work. That new work, Seuil (Threshold), which premiered at Montreal’s season of international dance, Danse Danse, in April, returned to Alexandra Palace to fill the final slots in this year’s Dance Umbrella. Now in its 40th year, Dance Umbrella has a vision that looks at the outer reaches of the dance universe where the choreographic process may refer as much to ideas and cultural history as to the moving body. The stimulation of its programming questions the nature of dance by refusing to frame it, or in some cases by shredding it à la Banksy within the frame.

Le Patin Libre’s visual references — the ice rink, the skates and the freezing environment — anchor it within a framework of amateur pastime or of Olympic competition but its choreographic interest lies somewhere in between. The scale of Vertical Influences derived from the sheer speed and arc of it gliding motifs and its flock patterns; in Threshold the patterns are still there but have gained additional hints of abstract narrative in which the threshold of the group dynamic is challenged. Falling out and falling — the accident — have become linked motifs and the partnering takes advantage of locking skates and elements of contact improvisation. At the same time the creative inputs of music (Jasmin Boivin) and lighting (Lucy Carter with Sean Gleason) remain familiar.

One aspect of the performance that has changed is the audience perspective. For the first half of Vertical Influences the audience was seated high on one side of the rink lending the trails of speed and form a heroic stature. In the second half the audience was invited to sit on one end of the rink to watch from a different angle and the choreography was scaled, both broadly and intimately, to enhance the experience. For Threshold Le Patin Libre has eschewed heroic scale for a single, ground-level perspective for both halves of the program; the audience is divided at one end of the ice or the other. In an arena this size, the distance between the ends creates a problem of visual register: if a narrative element or one of Hamel’s virtuosic accents works for one end it is unlikely to read with the same clarity for the other. And although the choreography is not mirrored, there is an element of duplication so the performance is delivered proportionately to the two ends of the rink.

Operating at the mid point of the ice is an obvious compromise, and one of the motifs that works beautifully is the gliding formation from side to side across the ice of interweaving bodies, like lines of a poem. It is the kind of motif that is unique to skating but its gliding displacement patterns could equally have their inspiration in George Balanchine’s Serenade and they have a similar emotional mystery.

Nobody needs to tell Le Patin Libre — Alexandre Hamel, Pascale Jodoin, Samory Ba, Taylor Dilley and Jasmin Boivin — how to skate, but two outside influences have left their mark on Threshold, particularly on the second half. Choreographer Anne Plamondon has worked on individual vocabulary, notably a solo for Ba that extrudes his natural elegance into more classical forms, and dramaturg Ruth Little (whose Dance Umbrella Motive Force lecture is online) has carved out of the swirl of lines and speed a kind of form, be it an elegy on loss or individuality, a cinematic plot or an essay in dynamic structure and rhythm in which skating patterns form the grammar.

For a company that has already pushed the contextual boundaries of skating, the question for Threshold is which way it is facing, in or out. The new work is a step forward, but still very much along the lines of Vertical Influences, suggesting Le Patin Libre may be susceptible to holding on too safely to its initial inspiration. In the spirit of Dance Umbrella, the company might consider for its next move not so much a dramaturgical ordering of internal events within their form, but an external choreographic change in concept that, while harnessing their vital energy, speed, and dynamic balance takes them further outside their frame.


Dance Umbrella 2018: Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer

Posted: October 26th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer

Dimitris Papaioannou, The Great Tamer, Sadler’s Wells, October 16

Papaioannou

A scene from Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer (photo: Julian Mommert)

Dimitris Papaioannou is an image maker. His work, The Great Tamer, presented at Sadler’s Wells as part of this year’s Dance Umbrella, is yet another unique expression of Pina Bausch’s dance theatre legacy, though he does not so much choreograph on the body as use the body as an element in his choreographic manipulation of images. Both the body and the images are in turn dependent on a scenography that anchors the entire work. At once the prow of a ship, the surface of the moon or the scaly, fenestrated skin of a mythological globe, Tina Tzoka’s set is the archaeological repository for Papaioannou’s narrative. Costumed by Aggelos Mendis and under the lighting of Evina Vassilakopoulou, the bodies of his performers emerge on to or are dug up from the depths of the stage as a succession of images that form a complex, slow-release system of cross-cultural references over the course of an hour and fourty minutes. One could spend the evening forensically identifying the images, which might be easier — though less rewarding — than connecting them to the arc of Papaioannou’s vision. The Great Tamer is more like a cinematic montage that relies for its effect on the cumulative association of its individual sequences whose pace Papaioannou carefully controls. He is in no rush to run his images by us — if it takes ten minutes to brush up the debris from a broken plaster cast and put it in a plastic bag, we have that much time to appreciate the ruse — but he also risks losing us in the wealth of connections and references that make up the work. True to the nature of his wordless reflections there is no synopsis in the program to use as a guide; instead he uses the grammar of strong, sometimes visceral imagery, wit and potent juxtaposition to set out his visual landscape. In his post-show talk (which you can find online thanks to a partnership between Dance Umbrella and Middlesex University’s ResCen) Papaioannou’s landscape comes not only from his own fertile imagination but also from that of his performers during improvisation sessions. However, he is the one who sets the tasks and organizes the trajectory of the resulting imagery.

His ten performers are named in the program but their personalities are subservient to the rendering of Papaioannou’s visual vocabulary. His almost dispassionate use of bodies as corporal fragments, mythological hybrid beings, fully suited astronauts or as painterly tableaux vivants reduces the emotional impact of the performers and in a work that evidently relishes the naked body the effect is more clinical than sensual. Papaioannou has been making work for more than thirty years so he knows what he is doing; the challenge in seeing The Great Tamer is to identify where it lands in our own universe. There are images of pure circus that in their surreal associations, like the performer who digs his rooted shoes out of the floor and walks off on his hands, destabilize or perhaps redirect our poetic appreciation, while others, like the man with his fist excavating the womb of a supine woman as she slithers off stage are unsettlingly oblique.

Archaeology is a metaphor throughout The Great Tamer; it is the act of uncovering or digging up artifacts that connects our knowledge of ancient civilizations with current history. The astronaut excavates not only floating moon rocks — Papaioannou is a master of theatrical illusion — but a naked body, a figure of Christ arising from his tomb. It is as if he is joining the dots between the achievements of his own country’s cultural heritage and the development of Western culture via Mantegna, Botticelli, Rembrandt and the NASA space program. Within this excavation of historical time as the great tamer, the decision to incorporate fragments of Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz (famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey) into Kostas Michopoulos’s sound design may also be referencing Sigmund Freud’s work on the excavation of memory in Vienna. In this game of free association, Walter Benjamin’s use in Berlin Chronicle of the same metaphor of digging uncovers one of many possible clues in understanding the intricate layering of The Great Tamer: ‘Memory is not an instrument for surveying the past but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, just as the earth is the medium in which dead cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.’


Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: October 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Reckonings: Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva & Alesandra Seutin at Sadler’s Wells, October 13

BLKDOG

The cast in Botis Seva’s BLKDOG (photo: Johan Persson)

Marking its refurbishment 20 years ago as a production house catering uniquely to dance, Sadler’s Wells has commissioned 20 new works, three of which form Reckonings, a celebration of the future featuring UK-based choreographers Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva and Alesandra Seutin. Sadler’s Wells has lavished its production capacity on each and the result is a richly textured triple bill unified by Tom Visser’s lighting that demarcates regions of the stage into which the dancers can withdraw from sight and from which they can emerge; there are no theatrical exits and entrances. This corresponds particularly with the fluid spatial staging of Cunningham’s m/y and with Nell Catchpole’s engulfing interior soundscape. The work is a translation into choreographic form of Monique Wittig’s attempt in her novel, The Lesbian Body, to ‘create a new language that can function outside the dominant structures of patriarchal power’. It is not the cast of six women — Cunningham, Eleanor Perry, Hannah Burfield, Seira Winning, Sara Ruddock and Stephanie McMann — that suggests a lesbian discourse but the subtle structures that link them together, a fine weaving of almost abstract strands with sapphic overtones that creates a space in which no muscular, patriarchal figure would ever feel comfortable; the performers, dressed in Alexa Pollman’s body suits with diaphanous outer layers, seem to relish this independence. It is a pleasure to watch the way Cunningham opens up the space with such intellectual rigour; it starts in muffled containment as if the cast is an operatic chorus in a prison cell and develops into a sense of lightness and emancipation that Catchpole’s score reaffirms in its trajectory from dark clouds of industrial effluence to the open air, from interior rumblings to serene silence.

After the first intermission the contrasting, dark masculine energy of Seva’s BLKDOG is immediately palpable. In combination with Visser’s lighting, Ryan Dawson Laight’s wrapped anonymous costumes and Torben Lars Sylvest’s visceral score, Seva has invented a haunting, powerful reflection on depression inspired by Sally Brampton’s Shoot The Damn Dog. It was Winston Churchill who termed his depressive condition ‘The Black Dog’ from which Seva derives the title of his work and on top of Sylvest’s score are recorded voices from an imagined therapy session: ‘Let’s start with how you’re feeling.’ Set in a hip hop vocabulary on six dancers — Joshua Nash, Jordan Douglas, Ezra Owen, Victoria Shulungu, Shangomola Edunjobi and Naima Souhair — BLKDOG seethes with an inner malaise that explodes in tight, controlled gestures and broods in hooded acquiescence. Seva has developed an intricate and eloquent language within an urban context that manages simultaneously to get inside the head and flow through the body, seamlessly bridging emotional abstraction and a harrowing social narrative — an effect that is more Crystal Pite than Hofesh Schechter. In a work that depends for its affect on precision in both individual gesture and unison articulation it is a tribute to the dancers and to the rehearsal director Ekin Bernay that Seva’s conception is so fully embodied.

Like the two previous works, Seutin’s Boy Breaking Glass has a literary inspiration, this time through Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem of the same name. Breaking glass becomes in Seutin’s conception a metaphor for breaking through what may seem transparent but proves impassable, otherwise known as inequality of opportunity. She writes that five other authors ‘were all invaluable in my research about inequality, the act of survival and self-love.’ The problem is that however clear Seutin may be in her intellectual research such clarity fails to coalesce on the stage. From the outset there is a contrast between the formal volumes of the set — a broad white platform at the back for her five-piece band with a white dance floor bordered in black for her seven dancers — and the informal, folk-inspired choreography ‘inspired by Senegalese and Southern African traditional and social dances’. Visser’s liminal lighting is again on display but he seems unsure how to unite these contrasts. The members of the band are visually dominant which gives an importance to their presence and their music over the narrative taking place on the stage below them, while Randolph Matthews as the central figure among the dancers — the victim of inequality — is a vocalist. Attention on the primary theme is thus dispersed among the performative elements and while they are independently rich in expression, Seutin and her dramaturg/co-director Maxwell Golden have not succeeded in synchronizing their full value.


Igor and Moreno: Idiot-Syncrasy at The Place

Posted: October 15th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Igor and Moreno: Idiot-Syncrasy at The Place

Igor and Moreno, Idiot-Syncrasy, The Place, October 9

Idiot-Syncrasy

Moreno Solinas and Igor Urzelai in Idiot-Syncrasy (photo: Alicia Clarke)

The packed house for this one night reprise of Idiot-Syncrasy at The Place (who originally commissioned it) and the fervour with which it was received is an indication of its revered status. Created in 2015, Idiot-Syncrasy is the triumph of an idea (changing the world) over form (jumping), and yet the form is so completely seeped in the idea that it becomes its rich evocation. It’s also hard to imagine anyone other than its choreographers, Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas, performing this work as quite independently of their stage presence its geography, sentiment and generosity are rooted in their biographies. Urzelai is from San Sebastian in the Basque Country and Solinas is from Sardinia, both autonomous regions with a defiant sense of cultural and political identity. At the beginning of Idiot-Syncrasy Urzelai and Solinas stand side by side in silence on Kaspersophie’s expansive white stage dressed in jeans, windjackets and sneakers, communicating a sense of self-assurance and composure as they slowly and deliberately scope the audience. And then, almost imperceptibly they begin to sing a cappella extracts of Procurade e moderare, a nineteenth century Sardinian revolutionary song — recently adopted as the Sardinian national anthem — with a text by Francesco Ignazio Mannu aimed at the ruling House of Savoy. At first we hear only the fine harmonies of the two voices, but the spirit of the song is enshrined in it and as the voices gain strength and Urzelai and Solinas add a heel-bouncing emphasis it transforms into a revolutionary march with all its pride and defiance.

This is where idea and form first meet; the bounce becomes a jump and the jump becomes the iteration of a single choreographic idiom — somewhere between a hop and a jump — with multiple variations. The rhythmic constancy of the idiom becomes an affirmation of resilience while its patterns and incidents are occasions for personal narratives and humour. When the two continue jumping as they strip off their outer layers Urzelai is meticulous in the way he piles his clothing while Solinas discards his like a rebellious child. There are seemingly inconsequential exits that presage more purposeful re-entrances with a change of coloured t-shirts, for example, or a bounding delivery of a generous shot of heart-warming Patxaran to the entire audience. Throughout Idiot-Syncrasy the personal and the political cavort and overlap as if Urzelai and Solinas are reminding us that even the most mundane social actions have cumulative consequences.

It took some decades after Mannu’s Procurade e moderare before the Savoyards left Sardinia, and there is a long section of Idiot-Syncrasy that borrows from the folk traditions of Sardinia and the Basque Country accompanied by Alberto Ruiz Soler’s deep, rumbling drone that leaves behind the more personable interventions of the two performers and focuses, through discursive patterns of jumping, skating and turning, on the effort and grind of generations in both regions to achieve and maintain their goal of political autonomy. The realm of the metaphorical allows time for the audience to feel that effort and to participate in it without any overt indications of politicization or propaganda. This is the beauty of dance as a medium because the message is embodied rather than rhetorical and in adopting a vocabulary that is so guileless Urzelai and Solinas imbue what at first appears naive with the power of an epic history of camaraderie, generosity, and conviction as the four bottles of Patxaran continue to make their autonomous rounds of the audience.

Gradually Seth Rook Williams’ lighting indicates the diminishing of the epic scale as we return once again to the personal, to the individual orbits of these two charismatic idealists and their relationship to one other. The jumping calms to turning patterns and even a phrase of ballroom, with the two drawing closer until Solinas lifts Urzelai on to his back and they begin to sing a cappella again, not nationalist hymns but a brief medley of love songs in Italian, Spanish and Euskara. Both men are exhausted but continue to turn slowly, and we can hear in their vocal traces the emotion and determination of the journey they have made and will continue to make.


Seeta Patel and Lina Limosani: Not Today’s Yesterday at The Place

Posted: October 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Seeta Patel and Lina Limosani: Not Today’s Yesterday at The Place

Seeta Patel and Lina Limosani, Not Today’s Yesterday, The Place, October 3

Seeta Patel

Seeta Patel in Not Today’s Yesterday (photo: Stephen Berkeley-White)

This review was commissioned by and first appeared in Pulse and appears with the kind permission of its editor, Sanjeevini Dutta. 

Seeta Patel’s response to Brexit and Donald Trump is a post-colonial fable, Not Today’s Yesterday, that challenges not so much fake news as fake history. As a distinguished Bharatanatyam dancer, Patel takes a critical look behind the history of her art to discover some whitewash she aims to challenge. The past is the backstory of today, which is why the philosopher George Santayana claimed that ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ What Patel and choreographer Lina Limosani extrapolate from Santayana is that if history is whitewashed then not only is it of no value to remember but it fuels ‘a distorted sense of nationalism.’ Not Today’s Yesterdayis both a statement and an attempt to put some of the original colour back into history.

Paradoxically Patel and Limosani have co-opted whitewash as their metaphor which proscribes the colour palette to shades of black and white that imposes its own set of rules on the fable’s imagery, from Lydia Cawson’s costumes to Chris Faulds’ set to Guy Hoare’s sharply contrasted lighting. The text, written by Patel with script support from Sharmila Chauhan is in the form of a cautionary fable that begins in sparkling wonder and turns progressively cynical.

Emerging into the light from a darkened stage Patel is dressed in a silver-grey robe on a pedestal in front of a reflecting screen; in another context she might be the embodiment of an Indian goddess telling her story of a bountiful land where people live in harmony, animals have no horns or claws, and forests are sacred, which is what Patel does so well, illustrating the enchantment of the story with the enchantment of her eloquent eyes, gestures and movements. But there’s a difference: the endgame is already in sight. She incorporates the dark complexity of her secular fable in gestures that begin to cross time and space where ancient and modern mythologies collide; at times she lip-syncs her recorded text so her mouth becomes an additional choreographic motif. From behind the screen she slides out what look like framed glass set squares that transform into a fleet of East India Company ships plying their trade while a hanging rope becomes a length of hair whose silken strands she braids and wraps around her head as a metaphor for ancestral bonds, lineage, and memory. This is the seductive, silver era of exchange between East and West but it turns into a dark epoch of conquest and exploitation just as the whitewashing begins. We hear Limosani’s audio collage of key phrases from war speeches by British and American leaders as Patel’s narrator effaces herself behind a screen of poured rivulets of white paint — an image made more powerful when she is further obscured by trying to clean it — and she becomes a dark force clashing horns and spitting claws in an exquisitely grotesque shadow puppet show behind the whitened screen.

Patel is still within the considerable range of her gestural artistry, but now the indignation of her unraveling fable takes her into new territory. Donning a transparent plastic crinoline and wearing her whitened, braided hair pinned with a diadem she begins a vaudeville romp as Queen Victoria, Empress of India, to Johann Strauss’s An Artist’s Life. It’s as if one of Gerald Scarfe’s more venomous satirical cartoons had taken to the stage. She finally folds her braid into the shape of a baby in her arms and holds it up. A shot is heard and the braid drops to the floor to recorded applause and the reprise of political voices in an operatic finale. Patel’s gestures are contorted and tense, her figure dark in a final rumble of thunder.

After each performance there’s a discussion curated by Ian Abbott to engage the audience in the issues of Not Today’s Yesterday: what happened, what did not happen and what could yet happen. It’s outspoken dance in an intelligent, provocative package.


William Forsythe: A Quiet Evening of Dance at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: October 10th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on William Forsythe: A Quiet Evening of Dance at Sadler’s Wells

William Forsythe, A Quiet Evening of Dance, Sadler’s Wells, October 4

William Forsythe

Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts in A Quiet Evening of Dance (photo: Bill Cooper)

William Forsythe tells Sarah Crompton in her program interview that his goal is ‘to make people see ballet better’ but it is immediately apparent in A Quiet Evening of Dance that in order to make us see ballet better he is also making us hear ballet better. The program is divided into two parts, the first of which has four sections and the second just one. The title of each section in the first part is related etymologically to the Greek logos, or word: PrologueCatalogue, Epilogue and Dialogue, though not a word is spoken; they are performed in silence, to birdsong or, as in Epilogue, to a solo piano score by Morton Feldman. Costume designer Dorothee Merg adds to the sense of silence by muffling the dancers’ footware in lightweight brightly-coloured warmers or thick socks. The effect of silence concentrates our visual appreciation of the movement as if we are watching mime, an effect heightened by Merg’s covering the dancers’ arms in long, coloured gloves. If the costumes aid the silence, so does the lighting of Tanja Rühl. The denuded space of the Sadler’s Wells stage is like a light box that casts no shadows and maintains an even intensity that give individual shapes and colours a consummate clarity.

In a visual environment that celebrates and enhances movement, Forsythe engages our attention in his plastic deconstruction of choreography into a catalogue of its structural components that he then rearticulates into diverse possibilities. For Forsythe, ‘choreography’s manifold incarnations are a perfect ecology of idea-logics; they do not insist on a single path to form-of-thought and persist in the hope of being without enduring’. In this way, action becomes visible as spatial duration, from its emergence to its disappearance or mutation into another movement that generates a further action — a modulation of bodily thoughts, and felt motion that communicates through and across bodies. This ‘physical thinking’ is what links a compelling evening, from silence to sound, and from choreographic logos to rich expression.

Forsythe’s dancers are classically trained but have a muscular elasticity that allows them to explore his range of physical ideas to a degree that stretches beyond accepted classical form. In the opening Prologue Parvaneh Scharafali and Ander Zabala engage in a play of gesture that moves effortlessly in space but with Jill Johnson and Christopher Roman in Catalogue Forsythe enlarges the play of gesture to a successive articulation of the entire body. As they stand side by side Johnson and Roman engage in form of extended pas de deux without the partnering: a long adagio in which they constantly exchange and challenge physical ideas, a couple of short variations, and a coda. It lasts long enough for us to grasp the rules of the game and perceive in its full catalogue of logos moments of flamboyance, nonchalance and wit.

Epilogue is a cumulative development in which Scharafali, Zabala, Johnson and Roman are joined by Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit in a vibrant use of body shapes and accented colours to layer responses to Morton Feldman’s piano music. The introduction of Yasit, as his moniker suggests, mixes up the vocabulary into a choreographic puzzle that would test any notator. This is the kind of unexpected conundrum in which Forsythe revels. Dialogue introduces two more dancers, Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts, whose exploration of space is a corporal dialogue of beginnings without ends, a fluid stream of ideas that coil classical ballet around the most contemporary dance and yet astonish in their unruffled virtuosity. They finish their dialogue neatly in fifth position with arms casually held behind their backs.

After the intermission Forsythe’s most recent work, Seventeen / Twenty One, beams with confidence, colour and music that are infectious from the outset; the choreographer is in scintillating and effulgent form. With the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau he has taken the ballet idiom closer to its courtly origins, but this is Forsythe’s baroque not that of Versailles; when Johnson enters for a duet with Roman she’s wearing a baseball cap. All the dancers generate a joy in the complexity of their tasks that matches the exuberance of Rameau’s orchestral miniatures; the score comes alive through their musicality. And if you think hip hop can’t be courtly, Forsythe gets “RubberLegz” Yasit to tie himself with exquisite musical timing into elegant knots from which he emerges serenely as if summoned suddenly by the King. In an evening of intellectual sensuality it’s a scene that brilliantly coalesces Forsythe’s exploration of choreographic form and ideas.


Dance Umbrella 2018: Annie-B Parson’s 17c at The Old Vic

Posted: October 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Annie-B Parson’s 17c at The Old Vic

Big Dance Theater: Annie-B Parson’s 17c at The Old Vic, September 27

Annie-B Parson

Big Dance Theater in Annie-B Parson’s 17c (photo: Manuel Harlan)

In its 40th anniversary season, Dance Umbrella opens appropriately with New York’s Big Dance Theater in a production of 17c directed by choreographer Annie-B Parson. Its inclusion in the program is both a sign of the intelligent and risk-taking selection process that characterises this annual festival and of the diverse strands that define contemporary dance. Parson’s choreographic approach to theatre cannot easily be pigeonholed, although the inspiration of Pina Bausch’s dance theatre is evident. As she says in the program interview, ‘Having been immersed in the prosaic, structural, and virtuosic pedestrianism of the early Judson Church dance-makers and second-gen Judsons, I was intoxicated by Bausch’s use of dance in relation to costume, sexuality, relationship, scenario and character.’ Parson’s development of the Bausch legacy diverges distinctively from other European examples, and it is indeed refreshing to see her New York take on dance theatre on a London stage — too little seems to cross the Atlantic these days — and the Old Vic, once the second home for Sadler’s Wells Ballet under the stewardship of Lilian Baylis, is an ideal setting for it.

On a structural level 17c is a reading of selected entries from the seventeenth century diary of Samuel Pepys as if it had been selected for a monthly book club meeting, probing what a contemporary reader might find or relate to in the author’s unashamed accounts of his daily routine. Although the diary is very much a product of another time, it turns out there is a lot that is surprisingly contemporary, from health concerns and pillow talk to sexual dalliances and outings to the theatre. Such obsessive detail in a diary inevitably draws comparisons with today’s social media confessional culture.

It goes without saying that Pepys as a prominent civil servant — he rose to be Chief Secretary to the Admiralty — would not have survived long in the current #MeToo media environment and yet his diary’s prosaic descriptions of his sexual exploits betray not a whiff of compromise. It is this transposition from 17c to 21c and back that gives the production its dynamic and its satirical sense of humour, as if Saturday Night Live was broadcasting an episode from Restoration London. Parson almost immediately places us in a simulacrum of a seventeenth century television studio by turning Jeff Larson’s video cameras on the audience to project back a vision of us seated in an intimate auditorium waiting for the play to start. Five bewigged characters in flourishes of elegantly tailored costumes (by Oana Botez) flit across the high-production stage (courtesy of Joanne Howard and Joe Levasseur) mixing archaic prose with contemporary idioms as if literary phraseology had imploded in a mash-up of innuendoes, cross-references and quotations from Euripides to Judith Butler and from the muted 17th century playwright Margaret Cavendish to Roland Barthes. Central to this treatment of Pepys’ diary is Parson’s championing of the lost voice of Pepys’ wife, Elizabeth (Bess), whose own diaries had been burned by her husband in a fit of pique. Since we cannot read her, Parsons brings her to life in movement through performer Elizabeth DeMent.

As a choreographer working in theatre Parson says in the program, ‘I believe strongly in both the supportive and poetic power of structures that stem from dance-making tools that are unique to choreography, forms that can hold both a narrative and an unrelated ongoing movement piece at once, allowing the two elements to collide and resonate with each other.’ Invoking Bess through her body rather than through her voice may seem like a small concession to a dance audience in what is a heavily texted and scripted work, but it is also one of the more obvious concessions in what is essentially a choreographic treatment of time and place. One of the happy ‘collisions’ in 17c is between the presence of Bess as a dancer and Pepys’ commentary in his diary of his wife’s decision to learn how to dance and how, characteristically, he becomes jealous of the dancing master, especially when Bess requires another month to study with him. ‘A gentleman never dances so well as a dancing master’, Pepys wryly comments.

In effectively illustrating a historical narrative while invoking the current consciousness of forgotten female voices Parson borrows from theatrical devices to create an awareness of our present. As a choreographer she uses a wide-ranging sense of spatial and temporal movement to influence the more theatrical aspects of 17c, maintaining an ambiguity of form that makes a case for the ongoing development of dance theatre.