Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells

Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells, July 26

McGregor

Wayne McGregor © Rick Guest

In the program for Company Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography, dramaturg Uzma Hameed writes eloquently about the ideas and processes by which McGregor arrived at this creation. It is one of the finest introductory essays to appear in a Sadler’s Wells program, but while Hameed addresses the semantic significance of each of the elements of the title — Auto/self, Bio/life and Graphos/writing — that clarify the creative input, what she does not and cannot address is the choreographic form these ideas take and their effect on an audience. 

McGregor has never been one to favour clarity of meaning in his choreographic oeuvre. However, from her inside knowledge Hamzeed reveals some of the elements in his life that have influenced his choice of choreographic material — ‘a school photo, a poem about Icarus, a family history of twins, an Olivier de Sagazan film, influences of Meredith Monk, Robert Irwin, Beckett, Cuningham and more’ — but she also acknowledges McGregor’s ‘sense of continuous palimpsesting aspects of life encoded in choreography, overwritten by genetic code, in collaboration with software architect Nick Rothwell and transforming in every iteration.’ Add in the substantial collaboration of musician Jlin’s eclectic score, of set designer Ben Cullen Williams and lighting designer Lucy Carter and the contribution of costume designer Aitor Throup and the palimpsesting takes on the complexity of a genetic code. Where is McGregor in all this? It is, after all, the sequencing of his own genome that forms the basis of the work. In sitting through all 23 episodes of Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells the answer is everywhere and nowhere.

Everywhere because this is what he continues to do in his projects for his own company: mine the scientific community for inspiration and collaboration then create a work with fine dancers and high production values that is overdosed on inspiration and underpowered in terms of choreographic invention. The suggestion of an interesting work always appears as the curtain rises but there is a self-indulgent gene in McGregor’s work that quickly degrades the sense of cutting edge to déjà vu; the process has become formulaic. Atomos was based on cognitive science, Autobiography on genetics. 

And nowhere because in invoking the fragment as a structural form of autobiography linked to his genetic code McGregor loses himself in the science. The fragment has been the trope of self-narrative for decades as writers and artists have used it to convey the layered and idiosyncratic experience of being. As Roland Barthes would have it, the body is the text. By leaning on the science of the body, McGregor uses choreographic fragmentation to reveal aspects of his biography but ends up concealing them under an inexhaustible appropriation of ideas, steps and gestural phrases that borrow from classical ballet and yoga with little contextual meaning. His genetic inspiration reveals itself in a vocabulary of hooked limbs and arms and rotating torsos that evoke the movements of chromosomes and their diagrammatic visual rendering (as does the lighting), but by overloading the language of his dancers with a pseudo-scientific aesthetic McGregor renders their expressive bodies — and thus his own autobiography — paradoxically bland; he retreats into a notional authorship that lacks the authority of ‘auto’ and the pathos and idiosyncracy of ‘bio’; what is left is the grandstanding ‘graphos’. 

In the program there is a photographic portrait of McGregor by Rick Guest; he gazes over our left shoulder into the distance with his eyes closed, viewing his inner landscape while appearing to be present to our gaze. This stance is symptomatic of Autobiography. Rothwell’s software includes an algorithm based on McGregor’s genetic code that decides the order of the 23 sections; this evening the algorithm places section 1, titled Avatar, at the beginning but each evening the order will be unique. For McGregor this is thrilling because ‘the piece suddenly becomes a living archive of a collection of decisions,’ but for an audience that sees the work only once it is simply a solipsistic conceit that doesn’t take into account the inherent rhythm and punctuation of each section, not to mention its lighting and musical cues. If the opening section this evening feels like an opening, the last few have the flagging pace of a never-ending end; lighting effects overlap, musical tracks butt against each other and the choreography becomes an exercise in prolonged absurdity. Perhaps that is the cost to the audience of giving McGregor the satisfaction of playing with his algorithmic toy. 


Holy Body Tattoo, Godspeed You! Black Emperor: monumental at Barbican Hall

Posted: July 26th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Holy Body Tattoo, Godspeed You! Black Emperor: monumental at Barbican Hall

Holy Body Tattoo with Godspeed You! Black Emperor: monumental at Barbican Hall, July 13

monumental

Holy Body Tattoo and Godspeed You! Black Emperor in monumental (photo: Yannick Grandmont)

monumental is partly a live, updated performance of their 1997 debut album, F#A#∞, by the Montreal band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and partly an integrated response by the dance company, Holy Body Tattoo. The stage is divided between a raised platform with an array of instruments and amplifiers for the nine musicians and, in front of it, pedestals of varying heights for the nine dancers. The musicians create a wall of sound with electro-acoustic strings, tape loops and a vibrant percussive section that sounds somewhere between a revolutionary anthem and a lament; its dissonance refers to a view of society as a cancer but the romantic swell of its key progressions carves out a place for emotional resistance. The choreography, originally by Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras but restaged recently by Gingras, expresses the affect of a cancerous society as anxious compulsion. It is the combined forces of music and choreography that create this monumental ode to an ever-present moment.

The music was recorded at the approach of the millennium while the original choreography was created post-9/11 in 2005. A lot had happened in those intervening years to dash the promise of a new century and unleash violent socio-political forces from which the world is still reeling. In the monologue from the album’s opening The Dead Flag Blues guitarist Efrim Menuck intones, ‘The car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel. And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides. And a dark wind blows. The government is corrupt and we’re on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn. We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death…’ It’s a dark, dark place but it’s not so hard to distinguish its outlines on the current geopolitical map even from the comfort of our seats in the Barbican Hall.

As we check our phones for the latest news on the current government’s Machiavellian tactics to bring about a no-deal Brexit with the invocation of upholding the will of the people the issue of our individual ability to determine the course of our lives is sorely challenged. Against this foreground the performance of monumental serves as both cathartic experience and rallying cry, a channel for our secret or not-so-secret frustrations at the level of lying and dissemblance in the geopolitical arena and the ever-impinging disquiet and uncertainty in our personal sphere. As artist Jenny Holzer’s first of 21 projected aphorisms states, ‘Some days you wake up and immediately start to worry. Nothing in particular is wrong. It’s just the suspicion that forces are aligning quietly and there will be trouble.’

Raised on their pedestals in Marilène Bastien’s black-and-white city outfits the dancers play constantly with their corporal and psychological equilibrium in an environment of competition and insecurity. They are physically isolated from one another, enacting their individual psychoses in the form of frenetic tics and gestures, but also acting like a small society, calling out commands, shouting at and cussing each other and stamping their feet in unison. Caroline Gravel is the first to lose her footing; it appears at first to be accidental but the slipping and getting up becomes an entropic motif that permeates the group until the tension they have accumulated atop the pedestals drops to the floor and dissipates. It’s as if they have all descended from their high-rise offices to gather for a drink but although there are now opportunities for contact and support their underlying anxiety creates a pandemic of social chaos and disorder instead. Fights break out, individuals are ostracized and threatened and balance is overthrown; it is the sheer physical exertion of the dance that communicates the affect of the crisis we are in, bringing out the element of despair that underscores the music. As the level of commitment ramps up between musicians and dancers the emotional apotheosis of monumental reveals itself paradoxically in a stage littered with spent bodies while three dancers with searchlights reveal the havoc.

Over a recording of Menuck’s opening monologue the dancers take stock and turn to the audience, kneeling on the front of the stage to deliver a message of hope but words fail them; their angst has consumed any possibility of reconciliation. One by one they fidget quietly and disperse leaving Neil Sochasky as the last dazed inhabitant of an emotionally exhausted landscape; the formidable energy of monumental has been entirely transferred to the audience.

Godspeed you! Black Emperor.


Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios, June 24

Edvardsen

Mette Edvardsen’s No Title (photo: Lilia Mestre)

In this first edition of Fest en Fest, curators Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard establish a benchmark for their festival in works with a rigorous choreographic approach to language. Karen Røise Kielland used it in A Slow Escape to compress a vast geographical journey on to a small stage, while Mette Edvardsen uses its negation in No Title to extrapolate the space of a small stage into the vast landscape of imagination.

At her last appearance in London, at the 2012 Dance Umbrella, Edvardsen presented a project called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, where she gathered a group of like-minded dancers to each commit a book to memory in the same way that dancers memorize a sequence of steps. The performance was in reading the story or poetry from memory to an audience of one (at a time) in a public library. No Title’s approach to language requires a similar closeness and concentration between performer and audience but Edvardsen’s craft has evolved around her own authorship and an expanded sense of theatrical space.

No Title (2014) is part of a trilogy of works with Black (2011) and We to be (2015) that explore the notions of appearance and disappearance through language. As Edvardsen observes in an interview with Eva Decaesstecker, ‘When I was making Black I thought it was the end of something, that I had closed a circle. I painted all my objects (from previous pieces) black in order to make them disappear, and with this removal of objects came language.’ In Black Edvardsen used language to make the objects reappear, whereas in No Title she uses negation in language to suggest disappearance. ‘The beginning is gone. The space is empty,’ she starts. When a word is invoked its sound signifies a reality with which it is associated; both the sound of the word (the signifier) and its reality (the signified) pass through our brain to corroborate the signification. But when the negation of a word is invoked, the signification is short-circuited; it becomes a space. As Edvardsen continues her series of verbal negations she creates a space on stage that represents the full potential of what has nominally disappeared. At the same time she constantly reminds us of the irreducible presence of the speaker — ‘Me not gone’, as she says — amongst what has disappeared or fallen away. The role of the choreographer in such an approach to choreographic writing that makes the signification of words a key element is to divest the creative language of any extraneous meaning. With a minimum of means Edvardsen eloquently demonstrates this to the point that No Title reveals the stage as a vibrant space from which all associative clutter has been removed. It is a lesson for any choreographer who takes space for granted as a container to fill with movement.

Edvardsen’s voice does not simply pronounce words but expresses its own muscular quality — ‘le grain de la voix’ in Roland Barthes’ terms — and she gives it even more power by sticking paper eyes over her closed eyelids. Blindness is the negation of sight, so the phenomenon of performing without seeing underlines the idea of extracting reality from the influence of words. Using her body to see, Edvardsen senses the physical limits of the space she is making either through touch or the sensation of proximity. At one point she traces in chalk a line on the ground from the back of the stage to the front, a feathery, uncertain line from source to completion. Putting aside the chalk she works her way back upstage making the motions of erasing the line with her hand but in her blindness misses it. ‘Line is gone’ she says, setting up a slippage between verbal negation and the physical attempt to achieve it.

Dance is often referred to as ephemeral but that doesn’t alter its ability to lodge itself in the emotional core of our being; while Edvardsen erases the appearances of her craft she never discards the core reality she signifies in her performance. As a writer of choreography she has created a work through its disappearance — even the title has gone — and at the end, as author, she also disappears. The stage we are left to ponder is far from empty; it resounds with the echoes of Edvardsen’s words and gestures and the chalk line is still there with the two paper eyes stuck to the proscenium. Even after she has left she remains pointing to her own withdrawal.


Dan Canham/Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz in Session at LIFT

Posted: July 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dan Canham/Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz in Session at LIFT

Dan Canham/Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz, Session, Bernie Grant Centre, June 23

Session

Session at Bernie Grant Centre

In the courtyard of Bernie Grant Centre we are seated on three sides of a square awaiting the start of Session, a presentation of LIFT 2018 and a collaboration between choreographer Dan Canham, the afrobeats powerhouse Empire Sounds and Tottenham’s own Steppaz Performing Arts Academy; on the fourth side is a tent covering the musicians’ instruments and equipment. This is like the front yard for Empire Sounds and Steppaz who both make their home at the Centre; the atmosphere is as much festive as it is familial.

Anyone who saw Canham’s Of Riders and Running Horses atop a chilly, multistorey car park in Farringdon as part of Dance Umbrella in 2015 will perhaps recognize the setting of a proscribed urban area that becomes the site of a choreographic metamorphosis. Canham’s role in the collaboration, then as now, is as a catalyst for the transformation of a recognizable dance style into an unfamiliar format. As he explains, “The Steppaz dancers come from a background of competitive hip hop but I’ve pushed them into territory they have never done before which is a bit slower and more spacious. I’ve also challenged them to do something more intimate to what they’ve been used to because the audience won’t be sitting in the dark — they will be right in their faces.”

When the musicians — Josh Donkor, Mike Akrofi, Desty Engele, Tim Pabifio and Aaron Donkor — begin to play it’s as if they are laying down tracks in the air to prepare for the dance performance; the Steppaz Elites rise up in twos from their seats among the audience and enter the arena with an energy and force that fills those tracks with an equally impeccable rhythm and drive. It’s a heady experience watching the confidence that exudes from these young women and that energizes the entire crowd in the courtyard; those who are standing behind the seats are instinctively pursuing their own rhythms. In the sense of a shared experience on common ground the performance of Session is one of community — it is publicized as ‘a battle cry and a love song, celebrating community, youth and belonging’ — but as solos arise out of the group as naturally as riffs on a theme, or as one choreographic formation morphs seamlessly into another, there is a formal aspect that begins to show through. Canham is listed as choreographer along with Abena Noel from Steppaz and Odilia Egyiawan with whom he worked on Of Riders and Running Horses, but he is also listed as director. How exactly Session came together from these individual inputs is impossible to tell by watching, but Canham has a knack of framing his projects in a way that hides his individual authorship and promotes their autonomy; it is his subject that always comes to the fore.

The relationship between dancers and musicians is reciprocal; this kind of constant exchange between the two is at the heart of non-western dance traditions. When one of the dancers sets a beat with forceful gestures of her entire body, the drumbeat anticipates her every move; it’s as if the sound is part of her gesture. At other times the relentless energy of the music becomes a force the dancers enter with a frenzy that is intoxicating.

About halfway through the performance the stage area clears to reveal a young girl, one of the Steppaz mini-Elites, who seems quite fearless in her ‘circle of public solitude’. As she begins her dance the precision of her arm gestures is so musical that you can see the beat. A contingent of mini-Elites swarm the stage and prove the future in Tottenham is equally as bright and dynamic as the present. They perform their routines with the energy and conviction of their elders, supported by the latter’s vocal encouragement from their seats in an exemplary transference of confidence and support. When the elders join in they combine their own expertise with the younger ones, extending the choreography to two generations in one declaration of piggy-back unity.

Session is so much more than the sum of its parts. What Canham and his team have done is to frame a community dance form as something that moves not simply through a variety of individual bravura steps — though there are plenty of those to admire — but through a choreographic vision that raises the entire performance to a level of communal aspiration and hope. Session becomes a piece of theatre in its own right without changing its essential nature.


Company of Elders, Mixed Bill at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: July 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company of Elders, Mixed Bill at Lilian Baylis Studio

Company of Elders, Mixed Bill, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Company of Elders

Sadler’s Wells publicity photograph for Company of Elders (photo: Matt Austin)

The program of this mixed bill by Company of Elders is made up of three short works interspersed with three films, two from the Sadler’s Wells Learning and Engagement team about the company and one featuring the 2016 video portrait by Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Hugo Glendinning, of Betsy Field and Mary O’Mahony, both dancers in the company. What emerge from the first two films are two major themes in Company of Elders, social and artistic. This mixed bill shows unequivocally the social underpinning of the group of seventeen dancers who Sadler’s Wells describe rather patronizingly as ‘demonstrating the power of lifelong creativity and proving it is never too late to start dancing.’ What the program affirms less convincingly is the artistic vision that comes with the creation of works by numerous choreographers over the past 29 years. This year Seeta Patel, Adrienne Hart and Dickson Mbi still only scratch the surface of the artistic capability in these dancers. Is Sadler’s Wells using these choreographers to advertise ‘the power of lifelong creativity’ in their flagship over-60’s company or does it wish to see the company develop its artistic potential? What parameters dictate that all seventeen dancers have to appear on stage in each work, for example? When Field and O’Mahony appear in their filmed portrait, they are given the freedom to establish their identity within a proscribed frame, sitting at a table, and with a minimum of gestural means. What comes across is an artistic endeavor that highlights the two performers in a way the three stage performances do not. Patel, Hart and Mbi introduce short solos and duets to differentiate dancers from the crowd and some highlighting is achieved, either through text or gesture, but the group as social entity is what each performance seems to endorse. It is a shame, as the group will always be limited in its physical reach by what the weaker performers can do, just as in a younger company. The general effect of this kind of choreography as social organization is a romantic, stereotypical vision of what being older means: waving arms in a tight group is one of the tropes that turn up again and again. And why (except for Patel’s work) keep these seventeen individuals in brightly coloured t-shirts like children at a summer camp? Is it not possible to allow each performer to suggest a costume they treasure and work it into a performance? The resemblance of one performance to another suggests a ceiling of artistic decisions that governs Company of Elders. In what strata of society will you find such conformity among seventeen individuals? Only where it is imposed from the outside.

There are attempts in this mixed bill to break up this conformity. Patel in her Fragments, Not Forgotten finds inspiration in potent individual memories and uses a variety of groupings and a differentiation of gesture to indicate a more organic approach. In her A Tentative Place of Holding Hart unites the goals of Company of Elders with the inspiration of Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ ‘reversible destiny’; she uses more intimate gestures, gets the dancers off the ground in partnering lifts and a hopping step, and finishes with a plucky group challenge to the audience. Mbi in his Abyss separates the men and has them popping in slow motion and stamping out rhythms while he coaxes the women to develop the power of their arms in a semi-circular gestural dance that borders on wild. You begin to see possibilities opening up. A newcomer to the company, Monica Duck, clearly has rhythm in her bones. Mbi knows it and let’s us enjoy her movement, but Duck too quickly withdraws into the surrounding group as if such natural ebullience is frowned upon.

The employment of choreographers to create work on Company of Elders and to present that work on stage shifts its purpose in a parallel direction to its social benefits. The current mixed bill pushes the envelope of community dance closer towards the goal of artistic expression. If Sadler’s Wells is proud of their flagship company — and they should be — it is time to withhold the empty rhetoric of its Learning and Engagement team, stop patting itself on the back for presenting Company of Elders as bodies in a social ageing experiment and work towards bringing out the expressiveness of age as an artistic virtue. They might even consider paying them as artists.


Nederlands Dans Theater 1 at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Nederlands Dans Theater 1 at Sadler’s Wells

Nederlands Dans Theatre 1, León & Lightfoot, Pite and Goecke, Sadler’s Wells, June 26

Nederlands Dans Theater

Jon Bond, Roger Van der Poel, Aram Hasler and Rena Narumi in The Statement (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulu)

The first work on Nederlands Dans Theatre 1’s season at Sadler’s Wells plays uncomfortably between entertainment and oppression. It’s as if house choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot have abruptly interrupted the five dancers — Myrthe van Opstal, Chloé Albaret, Marne van Opstal, Roger Van der Poel and Jorge Nazal — in Shoot The Moon and leave us to observe the intensity of their unstable relationships on a revolving set of three rooms from which the only exit is through a door or window into the next one. The program note suggests each room contains its own love story, but the febrile gestural vocabulary, clinical partnering and the open mouths of despair suggest each individual is going through hell and has no psychological space for anyone else, while the pervasive trope of effortless high extensions suggest a compulsive narcissism. It is as if Ibsen’s dramas of domestic claustrophobia have met Virginia Woolf’s fragmented narratives without the nuanced psychology of the former and the acute formal tension of the latter. One might almost conclude that set, costumes and live, voyeuristic video of the dancers projected on the clerestory-level screen are all part of a hermetically sealed aesthetic of neurosis. León and Lightfoot choose Philip Glass’s Movement II from his Tirol Concerto for piano and orchestra to lend the work emotions that are absent from the choreography; it is not music on which the dancers rely for their musicality but rather a score to appease the audience.

If the elements of Shoot the Moon were limited to conjuring up the images it portrays it would make an interesting study in the power of the unconscious to affect a choreographic outcome, but seeing the company’s assistant choreographer Marco Goecke’s Woke up Blind suggests an NDT 1 house aesthetic. Again the subject is love, as expressed in two songs Jeff Buckley recorded, his own You and I and Van Morrison’s The Way Young Lovers Do. The first person we see from a cast of seven is Nozal who hasn’t yet recovered from the tension of Shoot the Moon, but Buckley’s voice is also in a register of despair. At least Goecke is trying to match the fevered pitch of his choreography to Buckley’s overwrought state of delivery, but given its gestural similarity to Shoot the Moon and its translation onto technically precise dancing bodies, the effect barely shifts NDT 1’s tormented aesthetic.

It only takes a pause to rectify this. In The Statement, Crystal Pite uses four dancers — Aram Hasler, Rena Narumi, Jon Bond and Roger Van der Poel — to recreate a boardroom scene in an international investment office that has just fomented an international conflict in order to profit financially. On an otherwise dark stage, Jay Gower Taylor places a long, shiny oval table that Tom Visser lights from a similarly dimensioned hood above it; the concentration of light on the figures assembled around the perimeter dressed neatly and expensively by Pite and Joke Visser is intense. Their preoccupation is how to make a statement that exonerates their superiors without taking the blame themselves. Using a recorded one-act play by Jonathon Young with the voices of Young, Meg Roe, Colleen Wheeler and Andrew Wheeler, Pite choreographs to the accents and inflections of its tightly woven and increasingly confrontational argument. In extending choreography into mime and mime into choreography, Pite puts the polished virtuosity of the dancers at the service of gesture; nothing is gratuitous. In its message and expressive power, The Statement can be seen as a contemporary successor to Kurt Joos’s The Green Table.

It’s hard to return to the house style of León and Lightfoot in the final work, Stop-Motion, where love is replaced by ‘a process of farewell and transformation’, the revolving rooms by an empty space and Philip Glass by a mournful Max Richter. The set by León and Lightfoot with its chalk dust is visually arresting under Tom Bevoort’s lighting and its effect is evocative of the ephemeral nature of life. The large-scale, close-up video work, directed by Rahi Rezvani, conceived by León and Lightfoot and featuring their daughter Saura, is reminiscent of choreographer Édouard Lock’s interest in and integration of film and performance for La La La Human Steps. However the visual gratification of Stop-Motion is no substitute for psychological insight and emotional strength and while the choreographic use of space has changed from Shoot the Moon, the vocabulary remains within a narrow band of imagination that fails to release the full potential of these dancers beyond their shapes and extensions.


2018 Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Posted: June 30th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 2018 Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston, June 15

Ignition

Tina Omotosho, Stafan A Addaie and Danal Guy in MAN UP (photo: Gigi Gianella)

Rosie Whitney-Fish has taken a vision for dance and made it manifest. In an environment of financial scarcity where dance makers spend an inordinate amount of time writing applications for support from various cultural institutions, Whitney-Fish has grown DanceWest in four years from a seed of £1,000 of her own money into an organization that carries out a raft of community programs and projects centred around Lyric Hammersmith and co-founded Ignition Dance Festival with Kathryn Woodvine of Kingston Council. For the fifth festival DanceWest has been able to co-commission five mid-career choreographers — two solos, one duet, one trio and a quartet — whose works were seen for the first time recently at Kingston’s Rose Theatre.

As its name suggests, the festival is about igniting individual opportunities; each choreographer’s work can be seen for itself and while there is a curatorial hand in creating a viable program the interest of the festival is in the five singular approaches to creative expression. One of the parameters is that the commissions can only realistically cover a creation period of three weeks and while this may seem disadvantageous (though not unusual) to the creative process, some of the works have been in gestation for much longer: in the case of Jennifer Irons, for 20 years or more. With this much mental preparation, it was perhaps no surprise that her work, Yukon Ho!, arrived fully formed and bursting with life. Irons distills her formative years spent in the Yukon Territory in Northern Canada into a performative solo that integrates colourful anecdotes that are (almost) all true with her experience of dancing the can-can in the bars of Whitehorse. With assistance from writer Robert Churchill, Irons’ performance is as rich in texture as her delivery is timed to perfection and while she maintains a high voltage of humour there is a darker side not far behind it that comes with the Territory. In its present succinct form Yukon Ho! is a theatrical gem that holds light and dark in an unfathomable equilibrium.

Another work that has been forming over time is Kloe Dean’s MAN UP, an ambitious trio that honours the memory of her father, Raymond, while addressing the issue of his depression and suicide. As Dean writes in the program, her work is ‘a chance to break the silence of a stigmatized subject which does not get enough attention…It’s time to MAN UP!’ Using texts her father left behind and working the dark duality of a rope as both a recreational cord and an instrument of self-destruction, Dean plays hope against despair in a series of intense tableaux between Stefano A. Addae and Danal Guy. Weaving her irrepressible way through these scenes is Tina Omotosho who remains unaware of the tragedy about to unfold but is the one left to mourn. While Dean’s imagery is powerful and eloquent, the construction of MAN UP needs only to find a theatrical and choreographic ‘way through’ to allow the whole to be far more than the sum of its parts.

Avatȃra Ayuso’s angel is inspired by both the invisible, vengeful presence in Luis Buñuel’s film The Exterminating Angel and the sport of fencing, but in its translation to the stage it is the latter that overshadows the former. One would imagine an avenging angel, foil in hand, dispensing altogether with full fencing gear for something more alluring to her dark and erotic play; her powers, after all, need no protection as her adversaries cannot see her. Alas, we cannot see her either; the obstruction of her face by the mask removes a vital element of her mimetic drama. In the latter part of angel Ayuso begins to contort her fencing postures into images that are more devilishly menacing as if she is warming to her motif, but it is too late to offset her literal preoccupation with the sport.

Paying tribute, by way of Federico Garcia Lorca’s elegy, to the dancer Antonia Mercé, ‘La Argentina’, Sam Quy’s La Lengua Flamenca points to the distinctly Spanish notion of duende, which, in Lorca’s words, ‘sears the blood like powdered glass, exhausts, rejects all sweet learned geometry, breaks with styles and relies on human suffering without solace…’ Perhaps Quy has erred on the side of historical appreciation rather than re-creation, for while the legacy of flamenco she and guitarist El Fernan de Tottenham bring to La Lengua Flamenca is rich, her performance is lacking the essential agonistic quality on which it depends for its conviction.

Cameron McMillan’s The Chimera Construct is a quartet for Jonathon Baker, George Baan, Nicholas Tredrea and Jade Brider that uses the Chimera of Greek mythology — ‘a multi-faceted beast, composed of parts of different wild creatures’ — as a construct of contemporary identity. Initially using animal masks to suggest differentiation, McMillan’s subsequent concern with the shapes and extensions of his hyper-flexible and hyper-extended dancers invokes instead a tame homogeneity. Perhaps applying a concept to a form can impart a meaning but The Chimera Construct needs to explore its physical vocabulary more convincingly to approach its notional concept.


Semperoper Ballett, All Forsythe at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: June 25th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Semperoper Ballett, All Forsythe at Sadler’s Wells

Semperoper Ballett, All Forsythe Program, Sadler’s Wells, June 21

Forsythe

Jiri Bubenicek in Enemy in the Figure (photo: Costin Radu)

William Forsythe’s name is synonymous with a vision of classical dance that is on the advanced edge of contemporary ballet and the opportunity to see an evening of his work in London is rare. The three works on Semperoper Ballett’s London première at Sadler’s Wells — In The Middle Somewhat Elevated, Neue Suite and Enemy in the Figure — are all vintage Forsythe from his time at the helm of Ballet Frankfurt. This is both the draw and the challenge for the company’s artistic director, Aaron Watkin, and his 18 dancers. Watkin has strong connections to Forsythe both as a dancer and as one of those responsible for staging his work around the world, but here he stands at the helm of his own company that the Forsythe brand has put on the international map.

Despite the close lineage of Forsythe, there is an impression in watching Semperoper Ballett that — with some exceptions — the dancers are doing the choreography rather than letting it happen. In the creation of In The Middle Somewhat Elevated Forsythe was fascinated with the ability of dance to arise autonomously from a state of pedestrian languor; it was as much the formal extensions to which he took ballet as how a dancer got there that interested him. The constant play within In The Middle Somewhat Elevated between doing nothing and pulling off a sequence that takes the breath away is what maintains a sense of excitement and risk in the work, qualities that the score by Thom Willems unequivocally reinforces. What we are missing on the Sadler’s Wells stage is that space for what isn’t happening before a step, the coolness of non-anticipation; what we are seeing is the premeditated preparation. This extra effort takes away from the élan of the steps themselves — not to mention the sense of risk — and alters their precise musicality. Some technical lapses on this first night performance contribute to the general lack of brilliance of the dancing, though the rapturous applause recognizes the continuing allure of the work.

Neue Suite premiered with Semperoper Ballett in 2012 but it’s sequence of eight duets derives from three previous works Forsythe made for his own company: Invisible Film (1995) to Handel’s Concerti Grossi op. 6, Workwithinwork (1998) to Berio’s Duett für 2 Violinen and Kammer/Kammer (2000) to the Allemande of Partita No. 1 by Bach. Roslyn Sulcas writes in the program, ‘Forsythe may not be interested in emotional contents in the narrative sense but he is definitely interested in the relationships and emotions that are created through physical interaction.’ It’s a wonderful insight into how to read these duets and the inclusion of Neue Suite is a welcome addition to the program by presenting Forsythe’s choreographic intelligence — as well as the dancers — in intimate detail. As relationships go there’s as much tension as there is emotion in the partnering but individually it’s the women who come off more relaxed and self-assured, especially Alice Mariani, Jenny Laudadio and Sanguen Lee. It is only in the final duet that Zarina Stahnke and Houston Thomas find common ground and a shared exhilaration.

Enemy in the Figure is a wild beast of a work that gives the company a chance to revel in the rich theatrical complexity that Forsythe can bring to the stage not only as choreographer but as designer of the set, costumes and lighting. An undulating plywood wall divides the stage diagonally and the lighting is provided by an industrial-sized lamp that is wheeled round the stage by the dancers with the excitement and precision of explorers in a cave. Enemy in the Figure is as much about what moves in front of the light as what might be happening in its shadows or invisibly behind the wall. The stage becomes a dream-like phantasmagoria peopled with energy where Forsythe, reunited with a score by Willems, enjoys breaking free of old theatrical conventions and creating new ones, splitting the stage into zones of cerebral activity connected by a pulsing cortex of rope. It’s immediately apparent this is a work that suits the company’s men in particular, allowing their range of physicality and imagination to let loose. There’s a duet for two men where legs fly like helicopter blades against the partition, memorable interventions by Jón Vallejo and a wildly articulated solo by Christian Bauch where his black, fringed outfit makes him look like the devil incarnate. If light brought this work to life it is its withdrawal that brings it slowly and silently to a close with only the sound of someone knocking on the plywood partition.


Alexandra Waierstall, And here we meet, Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: June 19th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alexandra Waierstall, And here we meet, Lilian Baylis Studio

Alexandra Waierstall, And here we meet, Lilan Baylis Studio, June 14

Waierstall

Evangelia Randou in Alexandra Waierstall’s And here we meet (photo: Katja Illner)

After recently seeing so many works commemorating events in the First World War it was a relief to be able to contemplate Alexandra Waierstall’s UK première of And here we meet at the Lilian Baylis Studio. A quiet, poetic and thoughtful meditation on our evolution, the form of the work is inspired, it would seem, by the enigmatic stories that Laurie Anderson delivers so beautifully, one of which (The beginning of memory) prefaces the performance. For And here we meet, Waierstall and dancer Dani Brown have revised a text found online about the mess we have made of the 200,000 years of our Anthropocene period, a startling list of factual observations on our current ecology and environment that will be familiar to many. It is as much the wryly impeccable logic of Anderson’s stories as the way in which they are related that make them so arresting: the dry tone of voice, the lilting accents, the artful timing and the flattening out of the ends of sentences that leave the words hanging in the air. Brown, who is also American, does this admirably while employing her body as an additional referent; the poetic nature of the words and sentences floats on the shapes she makes while Waierstall and Ansgar Kluge have together shaped the space with light — a small number of Christmas lights suspended close to the ground — that further modulate the body’s motion and its emotional effect.

Entering the stage in loose workout clothes, Brown is so in the moment and matter-of-fact that the poise of her voice comes as a surprise. She begins her story by indicating she will start with the end but then almost inconsequentially discards her clothes. We soon discover the end of the story is set in the future, 100 million years from now, when a group of post-Anthropocene explorers discovers our planet and finds its geology worth investigating. And here we meet is thus a vision of dystopia in which the naked human body serves as our archaeological guide to the present. In a metaphorical sense Waierstall has laid bare the current state of our environment but as the story proceeds, the simplicity of the body’s contours in the simplicity of the theatrical space raise it from the didactic to the poetic, from an apoplectic rant to an apocalyptic ode on the fate of mankind. In a constant alignment between words and movement, Brown’s voice seems to affect the articulation of her body and her gestures in turn add layers of meaning to the text. Every now and then her accent drops into a Southern drawl as a form of mordant exaggeration that continues into her body, as when from a crouched position with her tensed hands and fingers splayed over her head like a blind exotic oracle she describes the future discovery of our cities ‘empty from lack of food or drought’.

Waierstall’s visual depluming of the story to set it free of current contextual detail continues in the soundscape of her collaborator Volker Bertelmann, aka HAUSCHKA, in a composition that provides a perfect counterpart to her exploration through an other-worldly rhythmic evocation of a timeless past that defies a solid musical footprint. Waierstall had met Bertelmann after hearing about one of his projects inspired by abandoned cities and it is not hard to sense the similarity of their emotional approach to disappearance in And here we meet.

Whereas Laurie Anderson’s story is very much in the past, Brown’s is very much in the future. She ends her story with the kind of questions archaeologists might ask about the possible causes of their findings before slowly counting down from 10 to 4, where she breaks off. This is the point at which that vast span of horizontal time between past and future meet somewhere in the present with the appearance of Evangelia Randou. She is equally vulnerable in her lack of clothing, perhaps more so because she doesn’t speak; it’s as if she and Brown recognize each other but can’t remember where they met. Randou’s articulated avian gestures return to the birds of Anderson’s prologue, and for a moment she carries within her a hope that the future cannot comprehend. Brown retreats into the dark but it is not long before Randou, in a subdued gesture of disbelief, follows her. We have lost them both, but the poetry remains.


Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation) at the Barbican

Posted: June 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation) at the Barbican

Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation), Barbican Centre, June 12

Smack That

The cast in Rhiannon Faith’s Smack That (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulu)

The Pit at the Barbican is decked in balloons and pink folding chairs around its perimeter and as we enter a sextet of similarly dressed and wigged hostesses welcomes us with a drink (cider or water) and a snack (popcorn) before we take our seats. All the hostesses are called Bev and once seated we are each given a name tag that carries the same (m)atronymic with a descriptive forename; I am Specs Bev and Caterina is Pearl Bev. In the centre of the floor is a circular arrangement of identical boxes tied with pink bows from which the hostesses hand out one each with instructions not to open it before we are told. It’s like the setting of a giggly sixth form annual dance.

Choreographer and social activist Rhiannon Faith has a knack of wrapping up serious social concerns in settings that belie the nature of their subject. She and Maddy Morgan did it with Scary Shit, which dealt with their phobias and insecurities, and she follows up with a show about domestic abuse that starts with a party. But although the party is the way into Smack That, it is also a form of festive affirmation for the performers who have all been through abusive relationships and have come out of them stronger and wiser. In this sense Smack That is both a celebration of resilience over adversity and a call to action, for what Faith also does is to tap into solutions. In Scary Shit she introduced audiences to cognitive behavioural therapy and in Smack That she works with a domestic abuse charity, Safer Places, and introduces the J9 Domestic Abuse Initiative named in memory of Janine Mundy who was killed by her estranged husband in June 2003 while he was on police bail. Faith is responsible for making Harlow Playhouse the first J9 Venue in the UK, and the Barbican is now signed up and accredited, which means it has a safe place where victims of abuse can use a phone line to access information and a full support system. Look out for the pink J9 heart.

Presented by the Barbican as part of its 2018 season, Art of Change, Smack That takes the experiences of seven women (Rebekah Dunn, Valerie Ebuwa, Yukiko Masui, Maddy Morgan, Kim Quillen, Hollie Stevenson-Phipps and Casey Tohill) as a starting point for a conversation with the audience about domestic abuse. Six of those women — Quillen is on maternity leave — happen to be our hostesses, so this is not verbatim but autobiographical theatre (as Scary Shit had been), a fact that makes the setting disarmingly ambivalent. Just as the pervasiveness of domestic abuse (according to statistics, one in four women will experience it in their lifetime) far exceeds the social recognition, it is difficult to fully comprehend the reality behind Smack That in the performances of these six women. It is only half way through a light-hearted confessional party game when Stevenson-Phipps completes the statement, ‘Never have I ever…’ with ‘been grabbed by the throat’ that the atmosphere suddenly freezes; this is the moment in Smack That when we become aware of how domestic abuse can so easily go undetected until the victim has a chance to speak up. The somber atmosphere is soon relieved by the permission to open of our presents: party crackers and streamers (for immediate usage) along with information from the National Centre for Domestic Violence.

The theatrical form of Smack That cannot be dissociated from its social content; it is a reflection of the need to spread awareness of a pervasive but private violence and to offer help. As part of this engagement, Faith’s audition process was firstly to select women who had first-hand experience of domestic abuse who were willing to work together on stage; only three of the Bevs have formal dance training but the six women work so intimately together that it is solidarity that triumphs over individual qualities. Faith unites the Bevs through an egalitarian vocabulary of movement that extends beyond formal dance training, but at the same time she uses the expressive potential of Ebuwa, Masui and Morgan to add layers of gestural imagery to verbatim text as well as to portray physical and psychological states that are beyond words. It is here that Faith’s work as choreographer rather than director finds its emotional eloquence.

In its concern with social issues, Smack That follows naturally from Scary Shit, but in its loosening of choreographic imagery for theatrical articulation Faith has subtly changed the relationship of the audience to her work and of her work to society. The effects are already apparent.