Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: September 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells

Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells, September 13

Natalia Osipova

Natalia Osipova (photo: Rick Guest)

Natalia Osipova is one of the great exponents of classical ballet because of both her fearless technique and her interpretive sensibility. That she is interested in exploring other forms of dance is no surprise, but her choice of choreographers for Pure Dance, a Sadler’s Wells co-production with New York City Centre, doesn’t always work in her favour. In an interview with Sarah Crompton she says, “…I have chosen the choreographers and partners I wanted to work with and through them I express myself.” It is on this question of expression that Pure Dance hinges. A great classical ballet like Giselle or Swan Lake — or a more contemporary masterpiece like John Cranko’s Onegin — requires the faithful expression of its choreography rather than the self expression of its prima ballerina. An interpreter like Osipova can step inside such choreography and express it on an emotional, spiritual and physical level because all these levels exist within it and within her. The irony of Pure Dance is that in a program she has designed to explore new avenues of expression we can’t always find her.

The meditative duet from Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading is not an ideal opener; divorced from its choreographic and scenic context it appears out of nowhere, but Tudor’s understanding of classical technique and gesture gives Osipova something to which she can give life. Everything necessary to the work is contained within it and although neither Osipova nor her partner David Hallberg seem entirely at ease at the beginning, their interpretation grows with the notion of memory that Tudor evokes with such refinement to Antonin Dvořák’s chamber string music. There is an autumnal sense in the work that is not only associated with falling leaves but with memories of falling in love; the recurring theme in the choreography is falling away and being swept up and here Osipova and Hallberg express the delicacy and poignancy of the emotion without having to add anything extraneous.

The contrast with Iván Pérez’s Flutter, choreographed on Nico Muhly’s Mothertongue, is marked. The manner in which Osipova and partner Jonathan Goddard repeat their opening sequence of capering down stage like two commedia dell’ artefigures from darkness into Nigel Edwards’ light and withdraw again is a metaphor for the emergence and disappearance of expression. There is fine partnering between the two, but Goddard’s technical affinity with the choreography upstages Osipova who is left to emote on its surface in the absence of an appropriate vehicle for her.

In Roy Assaf’s Six Years Later Osipova shares the stage with Jason Kittelberger, with whom she appeared two years ago in her first Sadler’s Wells production. This is a more successful balance between the two in what is essentially a choreographed dialogue between two old friends with qualities that recur in much Israeli choreography of tenderness juxtaposed with violence. The dynamics of the relationship are suggested by a progression from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to Marmalade’s Reflections of my life where it is cut off in mid flight with an abrupt blackout. The choreography focuses on what lies between the two rather than on what each brings to the dialogue; six years before might have been more interesting.

As soon as Osipova and Hallberg begin to dance Alexei Ratmansky’s Valse Triste there is a welcome sense of connection between performers, choreography and music that lights up the stage. Ratmansky knows the qualities of both dancers and how to bring them out. There is also a Russian connection; as Osipova explains to Crompton, “When the three of us are standing together we feel like close souls.” Here, as in Tudor’s work, all expression is contained within the choreography and both dancers come alive in getting inside it.

The program also includes two solos, In Absentia for Hallberg by Kim Brandstrup, and Ave Maria for Osipova by Yuka Oishi. Brandstrup uses Bach’s haunting Chaconne in D minor for solo violin as the basis of a performative rehearsal, as if the music is circulating in Hallberg’s head while he sits listening or gets up to go over the steps he has just learned. It’s an intimate portrait that is given another dimension by Jean Kalman’s lighting. In Oishi’s Ave Maria Franz Schubert’s music, Adam Carrée’s lighting and Stewart J. Charlesworth’s white dress frame Osipova in playful innocence while Oishi’s lightning quick classical steps pay tribute to her devilish technique. Osipova is clearly having fun but it’s a confectionary portrait that starkly underlines the difference between self-expression and expressive choreography.


Simone Mousset: The Passion of Andrea 2 at Touch Wood

Posted: September 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Simone Mousset: The Passion of Andrea 2 at Touch Wood

Simone Mousset, The Passion of Andrea 2, Touch Wood, September 6

Simone Mousset

Luke Divall, Lewys Holt and Mathis Kleinschnittger in rehearsal (photo: Simone Mousset)

Masquerading under a working title, The Passion of Andrea 2 ‘claims to be a second version of a piece from many, many years ago inspired by feelings of insecurity and confusion in a world of competition, threat, suspicion, and violence.’ We shall probably never know what The Passion of Andrea was like, but Simone Mousset’s sequel lands fully formed on the Touch Wood stage at The Place following a mere three-and-a-half days of rehearsal with Luke Divall, Lewys Holt and Mathis Kleinschnittger. Each introduces himself as a professional dancer named Andrea which is where the clarity begins to unravel. What brings them together is their ‘favourite trio’ that they rehearse with childlike abandon and perfunctory brilliance until a perceived error occurs and the trio breaks off in clamorous recriminations and comic-strip violence.

Mousset frames the work within a game where Holt divides the audience into three teams; each has the explicit role of shouting a warning to its assigned Andrea whenever he might be facing a situation of mortal danger, of which there are many. Holt gives nicknames to each performer to be used as the warning cry: Divall is ‘short’, Kleinschnittger is ‘skinny’ and Holt, of course, is ‘best’. Each has his own finger gun in his pocket and when tempers fray out it comes to settle the argument. The heat of unpredictability requires our acute attention to save our respective heroes from being wasted; Divall suffers from a combination of Holt’s recklessness and his team’s slow reactions whereas Holt never hits the deck because of the irresolution of his accusers and the quick reaction of his team. The deviant behaviour, farcical humour, and fast-paced rhythm of the game galvanize the audience into action that in turn encourages a stream of asides and repartee between the Andreas and their supporters. The action fits neatly into the current zeitgeist of political discourse where doublespeak and fake news make a mockery of serious debate, conferring on The Passion of Andrea 2 a satirical edge that only becomes evident, like an echo, after the laughter dies down.

The structure of The Passion of Andrea 2 is in the form of a theme and variations where the Andreas collectively develop the theme of insecurity and confusion followed by delicious individual variations on ‘feeling uneasy’ before the piece returns to its original motif of the favourite trio. Divall, Kleinschnittger and Holt are ideally matched to spark off each other with delightful absurdity while maintaining the clarity of the work’s formal structure.

Touch Wood ‘offers artists the chance to show a short fragment of an early idea or a sketch of a work which is in its conception.’ At 15 minutes The Passion of Andrea 2 is a miniature work but complete in its form and content; it sits like a single movement in a musical structure — an allegro giacoso ma non troppo, perhaps — that suggests it could be linked to other self-contained but related movements as a way of extending this early (or late) sketch into a full-length work.

 

(with apologies to the creators of other works on this evening’s Touch Wood that we were not able to see)


Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal at Southbank Centre

Posted: September 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal at Southbank Centre

Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal, Southbank Centre, August 31

Alison Jaques in Scottish Dance Theatre’s Velvet Petal (photo: Jack Wrigley)

The way into Scottish Dance Theatre’s Velvet Petal is through a pair of portable coat racks carrying a rich assortment of chic clothing and fancy dress that the dancers put on, take off and exchange in an intimate exhibition of flamboyant identities. ‘Velvet petal’ is an apt description of this tactile, sensuous undersurface of the work that displays its flagrant sensuality with an impish grin. There’s also a central role for a well-used mattress, dragged around the stage to receive the next exhausted body or as a convenient space to make out; the entire cast, it seems, is open for erotic adventure.

The heady atmosphere choreographer Fleur Darkin wants to create in Velvet Petal is inspired by Patti Smith’s memories of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe at the Chelsea Hotel in New York that she describes in her book, Just Kids. Darkin releases her work from the biographical details and focuses instead on the record of innocence, of sexual fluidity and artistic experimentation in the couple’s search for individual identity and fulfilment. What struck Darkinwas ‘the love and commitment’ of Smith and Mapplethorpe that was revealed ‘in the values of the writing.’ Smith has that ability in her prose, poetry or lyrics to capture her impressions in imagery and conviction of equal intensity. The same can be said of Mapplethorpe’s provocative photographs of the male and female body that question the depiction of gender, stereotype and role-playing in New York as the AIDS crisis took hold; they underline a way of life that was vulnerable and perilous — he succumbed to AIDS in 1989 — but release from within that uncompromising vulnerability a ravishing beauty. In exploring these themes in Velvet Petal Darkin has set herself the challenge of expressing her own creativity in the values of her choreography.

A small selection of Mapplethorpe’s polaroids are projected against the mattress to underline the work’s provenance and to complement Emma Jones’ bedroom-studio lighting. The stage is engagingly fluid and awash in dancers and costumes but while Mapplethorpe exploited the performativity of the body to express androgynous, at times ambiguous, and ever beguiling individuals, Velvet Petal brings to mind the ambience of a fashion shoot where the fluidity of gender and role-playing is enacted as an enticing commodity. It is as if Darkin’s evocation of Mapplethorpe’s legacy has turned into one of display, a superficial show of sensuality within self-imposed conventions that are more entertaining than mordant. There’s a game of strip poker, for example, played with a couple and a skipping rope; the problem is it’s so utterly predictable that when the couple gets down to underwear the game stops.

In indulging individually and collectively what it might have felt like to be living in the creative heat of the Chelsea Hotel, the cast of Velvet Petal rarely embodies the experience. When Adrienne O’Leary becomes momentarily the bare-chested figure of Mapplethorpe’s model, the body builder Lisa Lyon, eroticism is watered down by a self-consciousness that is nowhere evident in the original photographs. All the performers in Scottish Dance Theatre are good at display; some seem to relish it and their visual allure is undeniable but Pauline Torzuoli stands out as finding in herself the quality of conviction that makes Darkin’s choreographic evocation begin to materialise.

In considering the sound track of Velvet Petal the glaring omission is the music of Patti Smith herself. It is eschewed for a saccharine selection of songs arranged by Torben Lars Sylvest that renders the intoxication of the Chelsea Hotel years rather too sober and mainstream. Perhaps it’s a musical rights issue, but the loss of an appropriate tone for the work — one that encompasses in the quality of the voice both the rasping poverty and delirious richness of bohemian life — points to a sense of compromise either in the creative process or in its manifestation.

The evening begins quite uniquely for a dance performance. In her musical research Darkin had discovered a little-known musician, Abul Mogard, and took the brave step of using her company’s appearance at the Purcell Room to introduce his music to a London audience. It’s a revelation, the kind of atonal electronic music to take you on a journey through closed eyes. But on the bare stage with Marja de Sanctis’ video projections the elongated figure of Harry Kane improvises a brief erotic trio with the mattress and the empty clothes rack that gets closer to the spirit of Mapplethorpe’s imagery than Velvet Petal ever quite allows.


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.