Dance Umbrella 2017: Tordre

Posted: November 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Tordre

Dance Umbrella 2017, Rachid Ouramdane, Tordre, artsdepot, October 17

Lora Juodkaite and Annie Hanauer in Rachid Ouramdane’s Tordre (photo: Patrick Imbert)

The first sensation on walking into the auditorium at artsdepot is one of harmony. Sylvain Giraudeau’s set for Rachid Ouramdane’s Tordre, presented as part of Dance Umbrella’s 2017 festival, is like the contour of a shell, a gently curving light grey wall at the back of the stage that is evenly lit by Stéphane Graillot. Two metal pipes of different lengths descend like abstract sprinklers each with a lateral arm parallel to the floor. ‘Tordre’ (literally, to twist) comes from the same family of words as torsion or torque, and while there is an expectation of circular movement in Giraudeau’s set, the only immediate indication is a small electric fan at the foot of the rear wall that turns back and forth on its axis. Just as you’re getting used to this soothing conception, the music starts and two dancers, Annie Hanauer and Lora Juodkaite, make a flourishing entrance from opposite sides of the stage. The recorded soundtrack from the musical Funny Girl gets stuck in a groove, so Hanauer and Juodkaite repeat their entrances again and again. If you didn’t already know her, you can’t help noticing Hanauer has a prosthetic lower left arm — but that’s the point; this is a gently provocative opening gambit in which attention is deliberately drawn to Hanauer because of her perceived disability. Yet by the time the two dancers have made five or six entrances, we have come to accept it and are drawn instead into the comic absurdity of their repeating groove and their subtly different dynamics in entering and departing.

Having introduced them with a broad smile, Ouramdane begins to delve down into their individual strengths, presenting first Juodkaite and then Hanauer in separate solos to his own music that reveal their unique approaches to dance. We see Juodkaite initially turning very slowly and evenly like a clockwork dancer on a stand before she melts into luxuriant postures like spirals within spirals, belying her strength in her effortless flexion. Ouramdane pays no more attention to Hanauer’s prosthetic arm but creates for her a mesmerizing, extended solo that takes her movement beyond a virtuosic level to an emotional plane where he leaves us to distill our perceptions. Later in a choreographed, eloquent response to Nina Simone’s song, Feelings, Hanauer enters unerringly into the phrasing with its lyricism, its hesitations, and its questioning. The two solos mark a progression from a literal, physical notion of Hanauer’s disability to a more abstract and emotional understanding of how disability can itself engender ability and, with resilient determination, emerge as artistry. Hanauer expresses herself as the dancer she is without settling for a physical absence that might somehow diminish her.

Juodkaite doesn’t appear to have any disability but rather a unique ability to spin endlessly without losing balance or presence. And yet this ability did not arise out of nowhere; she has been practicing spinning, or movement gyration, every day since she was a small child as a form of psychological strengthening. To see her spinning is, like seeing Hanauer at first, to notice the exception before the exception becomes, in its artistic transformation, a heightened emotional experience. TS Eliot, referring to time in his poem, Burnt Norton, wrote of ‘the still point of the turning world’ where ‘past and future are gathered’:

‘Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.’

Juodkaite, in spatial terms, has made her dance the turning (gyroscopic) point where she finds her equilibrium in the turning world. And turn she does, with variations of speed and a rich articulation of her arms that are reflected in the turning, horizontal metal arms above her. She spins around the stage with perfect composure in ever decreasing circles, setting up a hypnotic moving image that, like Hanauer, removes us beyond the virtuosity. In one of the few interactions in this section of solos, Hanauer intercepts Juodkaite, gently receiving her into her open arms before releasing her once again; the dynamics seem effortless and timeless.

Tordre is both a dance performance and a documentary in movement, for as soon as there is talk of obstacles there is a response in biography. In her final spinning solo, Juodkaite relates anecdotes about her early life with her sister as if the spinning is in itself a form of remembering. But Ouramdane is careful to balance biographic attention with his meditation on difference and artistic ability. He reveals in both Juodkaite and Hanauer a way of moving that is generated by the obstacles and is not simply a result of them. This notion goes to the very heart of dis/ability and thus in its abstract treatment, Tordre is more powerful and far-reaching than the presentation of two remarkable artists on stage. Another connotation of ‘twist’ is to change perceptions; Ouramdane, Juodkaite and Hanauer together show how this can be done.


Dance Umbrella 2017: Shoreditch Takeover

Posted: October 31st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Shoreditch Takeover

Dance Umbrella 2017, Shoreditch Takeover, Shoreditch Town Hall, October 28

Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan (photo: Luc Depreitere)

The final party of Dance Umbrella 2017 at Shoreditch Town Hall continues the festival’s experiments in matching dance and architecture, the body and its forms of expression. The theme of Shoreditch Takeover could well be the power of the moving word: Julie Cunningham & Company’s Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows is inspired by the writings of French feminist and literary theorist Monique Wittig; Lisbeth Gruwez embodies the songs of poet Bob Dylan, and Vanessa Kisuule performs a selection of her own poetry. For the word-weary there is Charles Linehan’s 18-minute choreographic film, The Shadow Drone Project, that loops silently in a space of its own throughout the evening. Shoreditch Town Hall was never designed for dance, but this pairing of dance and spoken word neatly blends its municipal role with a temporary focus on communicative performance.

Coming into the elegantly proportioned Assembly Hall for Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows, there is a heightened sense of order in the rectangle of black floor, the haphazard arrangement of lyre-backed chairs — some upturned or leaning against another like the silent aftermath of a domestic quarrel — and Richard Godin’s diffused lighting with the faintest whiff of haze. Three women enter in the dark; Anna Martine Freeman sits but in a gentle light Hannah Burfield and Londiwe Khoza start to recreate in halting, abstract terms their personal quarrel to which the mute chairs bear witness, an irretrievable chasm within the suggestion of an embrace. Freeman remains silent, untying her boots as she recalls through her skin the discomfort of the injurious past, when from behind the audience Cunningham enters noisily into the present like a latecomer in a skimpy black outfit supported on high-heeled boots and topped with a long unruly blonde wig. She minces directly to Freeman and climbs over her like an exotic dancer called upon to perform for a client. Cunningham’s raw, explicit imagery contrasts emotionally and spatially with duet of Burfield and Khoza, who wait for the right moment to slip away. Off come the wig and boots as Cunningham explores the relationship between Wittig’s textual imagery (delivered by Freeman) and her own. But while Freeman gives a forceful, emotionally mature reading through her gestures and the very texture of her voice, Cunningham’s response feels self-conscious, lacking the emotional potency conveyed in the spoken words. By the time Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows finishes, the order in the room has been replaced by a sense of unease.

Downstairs in the Council Chamber, Vanessa Kisuule presents a colourful set of her poems, following on from Freeman in delivering not only the words but the gestures that carry them. Dance is a non-verbal art form but used in the right way Kisuule reminds us these silent gestures move through figures of speech and poetic images in celebration of the sensual non-verbal eloquence of the poetry. Kisuule whets the appetite with a poem entitled Rosé, and follows it with a ribald tale about shaving assholes (‘the crassist of bathroom ballets’) before delivering in a soft patina of an American accent a dark, poignant reflection on Martin Luther King told through the voice of one of his lovers. Effusive, expressive and irrepressible, Kisuule then reads a touching tribute to her Ugandan grandmother before a final bullet-point poem of irreverent reflections.

Back upstairs after the intermission, Lisbeth Gruwez and musician/composer Maarten Van Cauwenberghe stand behind the sound console with the relaxed attitude of old friends and the nervous excitement of waiting for the audience to settle. Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan is what’s written on the tin, like the iconic covers of Dylan’s early vinyl LPs resting on the floor against the console. Van Cauwenberghe slips out a record on to a turntable and lowers the needle while Gruwez stands in bare feet and casual clothes, an image of expectancy in a field of energy. These are early songs, fresh, acoustic and enthusiastic; again we are reminded that words move and transport us into the worlds they create through the sensuality of sound and inflection. It is difficult to establish exactly where Gruwez positions herself in these songs though she is rhythmically attuned and the odd gesture picks out an accent in the poetic sequence of words. She is neither illustrating the songs, nor simply doing her own thing with them; it’s as if she has turned the rasp and lilt of Dylan’s dancing voice inside out and given it powerful, fluid gestures and an intense gaze; at times she even resembles Dylan. She relishes the verbal musicality, capturing the idiosyncrasies of Dylan’s alliterations, the expansiveness of his metaphors, and the minimalism of his synecdoche with exuberant delight and elegant nonchalance, but at the same time her gestures set up other images. Walking slowly upstage in Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, her white silk shirt sticking to her skin and emphasizing the muscular rippling in her back, she is like the lonely hero in Wim Wenders’s film Paris Texas; in the glorious Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands we see her floating bare-legged on the floor in a pool of light that Van Cauwenberghe guides around and over her, reflecting in the shiny black surface a seamless depiction of femininity in Western art from Venus to St Theresa. Catching her breath, she tenderly asks the audience ‘Is everyone all right’? Gruwez is very much at ease on stage; she comments on her own actions and jokes with Van Cauwenberghe in asides between songs and then climbs back inside the voice, romping delightfully through Subterranean Homesick Blues before inviting us to select a song (Hurricane is chosen), take off our shoes and join her on the stage to dance Bob Dylan together.

In the intermission, there were too many people in the room watching Linehan’s film projection, The Shadow Drone Project, to be able to stand back and contemplate Karolis Janulis’ (already) long-distance photography from a drone of dancing figures in various landscapes. We returned after Gruwez and before the DJ had started up in the Council Chambers. Linehan has made choreographic poetry of the aerial photography by featuring the extended shadows of dancers in the late sunshine; we are watching their patterns superimposed on the dancing patterns of the landscape or shoreline. It’s a serenely simple concept and the result takes dancing to another distant realm, totally enchanting and surreal at the same time.


Dance Umbrella 2017: Trois Grandes Fugues

Posted: October 24th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Trois Grandes Fugues

Dance Umbrella 2017, Lyon Opera Ballet, Trois Grandes Fugues, Sadler’s Wells, October 19

Graziella Lorriaux, Elsa Monguillot de Mirman, Jacqueline Bâby and Coralie Levieux in Maguy Marin’s Grosse Fugue (photo: Bernard Stofleth)

In a welcome visit to Dance Umbrella’s 2017 festival, Lyon Opera Ballet’s program of three distinct responses to the same score — in this case Beethoven’s Die Grosse Fugue, op.133 — is an enlightened way of seeing the music through the eyes of each choreographer. And such is the variation in response — even taking into account the different recordings used — that the music is in turn affected by the choreography and sounds quite distinct with each performance. Originally written for string quartet, Lucinda Childs’ Grande Fugue (2016) employs a score transcribed for string orchestra; Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Die Grosse Fuge (1992) here uses a 2006 recording by the Debussy Quartet and Maguy Marin prefers a 1968 recording by Quartetto Italiano for her Grosse Fugue (2001).

Childs’ use of a string orchestra transcription inevitably softens the music, rounding its edges and subduing the meticulous clarity and brio of the original four instruments; if the string quartet version is white, the string orchestra version is in shades of grey, which happens to be the starting point for the production design, lighting and costumes by Childs’ long-time collaborator, Dominique Drillot. Childs, whose name came to international attention with her choreography for Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach in 1976, is known for her minimalist vocabulary that is expressed here as repetitive patterns with frequent changes of direction. Created for six couples, Childs adds extended arabesque lines to the inherent minimalism of Grande Fugue to give it a neoclassical patina; her linear conception responds deferentially to the complexity of the score without exploring its emotional heights or depths.

De Keersmaeker, on the other hand, accents the up beat of the musical phrases to raise the choreography into the air while grounding Beethoven’s powerful shifts of emotion through the bodies of her dancers. Her intention was to choreograph Die Grosse Fugue with ‘a masculine vocabulary, non-classical and sexual’ to which she alludes in the black and white formal evening wear worn by the six male and two female performers. If the costumes also relate to the classical nature of Beethoven’s composition, de Keersmaeker’s exuberant exploration of space and gestural form, pushed to the limit by the dancers, gives it an exhilarating, contemporary energy. Through her trademark use of hand and arm movements that fold and extend, her flying lifts and spirited floor rolls she reimagines the music as dance, finding new meaning in the score by underlining the continuity of movement between musical and choreographic composition. Within this intimate and playful reading, De Keersmaeker makes no gender distinction in developing a series of variations that draw her eight dancers — and the contrasting forces within the score — seamlessly together. The beauty of de Keersmaeker’s Die Grosse Fuge, and its power in performance, is that the music, choreography and imagery complement each other in an all-embracing unity that finds its climax in the final uplifting chord with the dancers left suspended in the air by Jan Joris Lamers’ perfectly timed blackout.

Marin chooses a slower recording (we are by now becoming attuned to the score) and also a freer vocabulary of inner emotional turmoil that gives her Grosse Fugue an existential feeling. Choreographed for four women (Jacqueline Bâby, Coralie Levieux, Graziella Lorriaux and Elsa Monguillot de Mirman), the vocabulary of tense syncopated movements and clenched gestures seems to derive from an exploration of states of frustration and despondence, reminiscent of photographs of the patients of nineteenth-century neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in which the body articulates inner suffering and desperation.

Marin and lighting designer François Renard allow us to listen to the opening bars of the overture in the dark before the four women burst on to the black stage in Chantal Cloupet’s shades of red, carmine and vermillion, beginning an intimate, witty, sometimes heated conversation between themselves that constantly echoes the dialogue of the four instruments. They find moments to support each other in their instability and also give into their own silent unease but wherever they may be on stage Marin’s spatial construction conveys a unified field of emotional highs and lows, a powerful dynamic for breaking through an impasse that Beethoven himself may have experienced in overcoming his deafness at the time of Die Grosse Fugue’s composition; there is both empathy and catharsis in the fusion of the two art forms. In the halting section before the finale, the four women stop on the edge of the stage in an idiosyncratic family portrait before launching themselves into a gloriously abandoned recapitulation of their conversation in which they end up sliding supine to the floor with an energy that reverberates well beyond the final chord. When the lights come up they are still there.


Dance Umbrella 2017: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami

Posted: October 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami

Dance Umbrella: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami, Battersea Power Station, October 11

Satchie Noro in Origami in front of the Battersea Power Station (photo: Johnny Stephens)

Origami’s free performance opened London’s 2017 Dance Umbrella Festival and was subsequently performed in four other London locations.

If we were to imagine the American artist Donald Judd dozing in his studio, he might have been dreaming of a bright red container on the Thames riverfront set against the profile and the silhouetted cranes of Battersea Power Station on a drizzly, misty evening. An audience gathers in front of the parked 40-foot container on the terrace in front of Circus West Village Piazza, which is the point at which Judd’s dream vies with reality. On a balcony just above and to the side of the container, as if they are sitting in a covered theatre box, residents from the block of flats have settled down to watch the spectacle. Dance Umbrella is turning open air spaces into theatres and bringing dance to new audiences.

Origami is as much about the experience of watching it as it is about the performance itself. What Satchie Noro and Silvain Ohl have created is an awareness of both scale and contrast and as if the inherent contrast between a container and a solo dancer is not enough, the evening’s floodlit landscape of the refurbished power station rises like a monumental set behind them. Fred Costa’s sound score seems to arise from the same industrial, riverside setting and continues as a collage of music, speech and urban sounds that merge with the installation’s own mechanical rasp to wrap the visual reverie in a timeless and borderless aural space. Despite the sense of imposing gravitational force all around, the experience of watching the performance is somehow unearthly.

Origami is generally thought of as the Japanese art of paper folding, but the development of the science and mathematics of origami has led to research where hard materials, oxyacetylene cuts and metal hinges replace the traditional paper and folds. What Ohl has conceived in slicing up his container is a rigid origami pattern which we see initially in profile as essentially flat, but when its inverted triangular section slowly winches open on its hinges we experience a three-dimensional origami flooded with light. The light in turn softens the industrial edges of the metal to prepare for the emergence of a human element. At first we see two elegantly pointed feet swimming languidly in the air but as the geometric space unfurls, we see the feet are joined to a female figure dressed in green trousers and layered blue and red tops suspended by her hips on a trapeze. The playful colours are reminiscent Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, though Noro’s shades of blue and green are minute flecks of colour against the giant red surface.

Noro’s childlike nonchalance and sense of adventure within this layered interaction of material and light, of mass and space, of small and industrially large is what gives Origami its dreamlike aspect. Her agile motion animates the space and plays with the juxtaposition of scale. At the top corner of the container close to the balcony she seems to be within reach of the spectators, drawing them into the action, and when all we can see is her hands gripping the top of a container wall she’s hiding behind, such a tiny detail is clearly recorded as an extension of her invisible form.

Once the rigid origami begins to open, its two mobile sections continue to move, almost imperceptibly, until the end. Noro’s negotiation of both the material of the container and the spaces between its elements shares this elongation of time; she moves slowly and smoothly, an ability derived from her training in classical dance and circus arts. She is as comfortable hanging in space and from the steel ropes that connect the three sections as she is climbing on their exterior surfaces or sliding down their edges. She occasionally punctuates the arc of her movement with static poses like a classical sculpture in the pediment of the upturned triangle, or draping herself over its apex, drawing our attention to the architectural shapes and spaces that the origami pattern suggests.

Just in front of the standing audience three children follow Noro’s every move with their eyes and bodies, daring each other to accomplish on the damp terrace what she is achieving up above. It is only at the end when Noro drops lightly from the trapeze to the floor of the container and disappears into the welcoming light of its interior that the children finally awake from their dreams of aerial adventure.


Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven

Posted: October 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven

Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven, Barbican, October 14

Rocío Molina in Fallen from Heaven (photo: djfrat)

There’s a suggestion of flamenco in Rocío Molina’s image (see above) on the cover of Dance Umbrella’s program for Fallen from Heaven but the stage set — a white screen, a bare white floor with a drum kit, a beat box, and two electric guitars propped up against chairs — does not immediately corroborate it. Another suggestion comes from a program note stating Molina has ‘coined her own artistic language based on a reinvented traditional flamenco style’ but following the opening acid rock number by the four musicians who then leave the stage, expectations are left wide open. When the lights reveal the voluptuous Molina alone on stage in her white flamenco dress poised as Botticelli’s Venus in a scalloped shell, images collide. Molina displays the silent vestiges of flamenco in her raised arms, coiled wrist and fingers and slow, silent clapping before descending to the floor like a muffled chrysalis about to emerge as a new form: birth and death at the same time, or what Joseph Schumpeter called in economic terms ‘creative destruction’. She slides across the floor with a marked disdain for fluidity, her body and dress morphing into the shape of insects whose upended legs and feet wilfully contort the upright elongation of the classic form. If the body is doing its best to rub out its flamenco traces, there is still the dress to dispose of, which Molina slips off with less modesty than coyness; her arms cover her chest and groin with more precision than Botticelli until her attendant musicians arrive to place an ample jacket over her shoulders under which she changes into her next costume. We have almost arrived at the point in the press release where Molina ‘borrows from feminine, masculine and animalistic codes to give a very personal performance about womanhood’.

The next tableaux deal rather messily with the masculine code in which Molina self-consciously pulls flamenco through the ringer of cross-dressing (herself as buxom toreador in white tights, black sports bra and black plastic knee pads) and overt sexual imagery like her codpiece of ejaculating crisps. Her provocative tone degrades her treatment of male stereotypes to a parody, but while she mocks them she fails to avoid clichés of her own, particularly the superficial projection of woman as sexual object surrounded by admiring men. When Molina steps into a box to pull on a transparent latex skirt drenched in a sticky carmine substance with which she subsequently paints the floor in choreographic strokes, her statement loses the biting gender critique that performance artists and female choreographers before her (like Charlotte Vincent) have expressed, because she treats it, through an overhead camera, too literally as image. It is this indulgence in the mere visual effect of images that makes a muddle of the many tableaux, costume changes, entrances and exits that constitute Fallen from Heaven. Molina inhabits her material too superficially to build a convincing picture out of these various elements and her performance suffers by not moving beyond the safe boundaries of modest déjà vu. Some of the responsibility for this must also lie with Carlos Marquerie whose roles as co-artistic director, dramaturg, stage and lighting designer are too deeply embedded in the production to ignore.

The one thread that remains constant throughout Fallen from Heaven is the virtuosity of Molina’s rhythmic, percussive footwork that, in her interaction with the musicians, proves an impressive (and un-reconstituted) element of her art, even if it loses its spirited theatricality through being used unsparingly as a running commentary. It is only later in the work, when the fallout from heaven has strewn the stage with plastic carnations, red paint and bunches of plastic grapes that Molina seems to come into her own as a flamenco exorcist in search of Dionysus. Guitarist Eduardo Trassiera plays memorably, but Molina has difficulty navigating the end. With nothing left but her indefatigable energy and a raft of costume clichés, she plays to the crowd (and in the crowd) unashamedly as if she’s the heroic survivor of an unjust plot by the flamenco gods — all male — to banish her from the classical heaven. Her revenge is to bring the audience to its feet.

 

Rocío Molina performed Fallen from Heaven (Caída del Cielo), part of Dance Umbrella 2017, at the Barbican 12-14 October. www.danceumbrella.co.uk  


Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage)

Posted: October 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage)

Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage), The Place, October 7

François Testory as Medea (photo: Manuel Vason)

Just how Medea (Written in Rage) ended up on the stage of The Place is an example of cooperation between a raft of organisations (NFA International Arts & Culture, SACD, Institut Français, Arts Council England, Theatre of Europe, FOLKE, Southeast Dance and The Place) that shows how Europe can work together seamlessly in the realm of arts production. The artistic team is also multi-national, where Lia Prentaki and Nelson Fernandez are the producers of a Neil Bartlett translation, adaptation and direction of a Jean-René Lemoine play — Médée, poème enragé — with actor François Testory, music composition by Phil Von and lighting by Chahine Yavroyan. There is an ironic coincidence of timing between this no-holds-barred 90-minute monologue of Medea’s vengeful family relations and the pathological UK Conservative Party seeking to subvert with similar sang-froid but less éclat the very union that made this kind of production possible.

Were Testory a demagogue, you could sense the rapt audience would follow him unquestioningly because of the commanding nature of his performance, dissolving convincingly from a male portraying a female to the female being portrayed. Von, onstage with a battery of sound equipment and musical instruments, steps in on occasion to prompt Medea to explain a particularly unsavoury action or her reason for doing it, and she obliges. Medea, in turn, asks Von to fast forward or rewind the details of her story, and he obliges. Yavroyan’s dramatic, hazy lighting and Mr. Pearl’s haute couture gown and platform shoes place the visual centre of the performance on the charismatic presence of Testory himself, specifically on his eloquent face and hands and the network of sinews and muscles that animates them. From these articulate physical instruments arises a voice that when singing the aria E lucevan le stelle has a wealth of emotion but when recounting his sordid tale has a disarmingly dispassionate tone; it is the words themselves that carry the horror of the images that Lemoine/Bartlett/Testory conjure up in giving Medea the opportunity to tell her own tale from the beginning. This is fertile and congenial ground for Bartlett who over the years has given voice to historical and literary figures, conjuring them up from oblivion and notoriety in theatrical performances that merge the personal and the political, spectacle and intimacy. Medea (Written in Rage) is no exception.

The story draws on Euripides’ play and on Medea’s famous monologues as well as from other versions of the classical legend and modern references. Medea invokes the spirit of similar mythical figures in bearing witness to the love and pain that run through her story of betrayal and bloody revenge. Lemoine riddles the text with ambivalence, layering meanings and imbuing the ancient legend with current undertones so that as a genderless, stateless, and raceless figure, Medea’s tragic story resonates with the sorrow of exile, the drama of being an ‘outsider’, of never belonging. There are echoes of the current refugee crisis, of sexual, racial and gender discrimination and exploitation that infuse the horror with grief and the desolation of a life that paradoxically seems to find a form of liberation only in violence. For the sake of Jason, Medea is disloyal to her father and kills her brother, betrays herself and becomes ‘occidentale’ in a vain attempt to please her partner. When Jason abandons her for a younger woman she punishes him by drowning their two sons and poisoning his new bride. There is neither justification nor condonation of the violence: Medea writes herself in rage. The character and the story are one and the same; rage is both the historical context and the personal response.

Medea’s fate is weighted by her actions, but even more by the aggression hidden in the biases, intolerance and double standards that society imposes on her. ‘I am not guilty’, Medea claims towards the end of her tale. ‘Life is punishment enough.’ Testory’s high platform shoes well convey the difficult balancing act of a character at the boundaries of acceptability with the constant peril of stumbling but his restrained performance does not yield to dismay, nor allow us bathos. Medea’s story is ancient but still tragically topical, a sober act of drama whose horror seems to continue to repeat itself over time, its scale no longer mythical but far too human.


Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Posted: October 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Frauke Requardt & David Rosenberg’s DeadClub™, The Place, September 15

Requardt & Rosenberg’s DeadClub™ (photo: Manuel Vason)

The last time I saw a collaboration between Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg was at night in a freezing carpark on a deserted site near the Brighton Marina in 2012. The scope of Motor Show was to rein in the forces of an outdoor venue through a binaural technology that brought the action to the space between your ears; the scale was visually heroic and aurally intimate. In their fourth and most recent collaboration, DeadClub, they have assembled a similarly scaled performance in which the heroic resides in notions of memory and dream, and the intimate in the way the auditorium of The Place has been shrunk and transformed, thanks to Hannah Clark, to a raised gaming table within David Price’s auditory den. In keeping with a theme of random processes, we are each issued a raffle ticket that corresponds to our numbered, standing-only place around the perimeter of the table/stage. It’s a unique perspective from which to see the show, not only looking up at the performers but looking across at other members of the audience. We may have arrived with a friend, but our relationships have been shuffled in the DeadClub pack.

This kind of attention to detail brings the audience together as part of the show; we are not simply spectators but collectively share in the staged experience. In each place there’s a black and white party hat to match the decor, but putting it on is optional. At intervals, a spotlight scans the inside of the four sides of the square like a ball flying round a roulette wheel to stop in front of a randomly picked person (how randomly I’m not sure, as it never stopped in front of an empty space and on one occasion picked out Requardt herself for a cameo response). The highlighted person is either asked a question or becomes the focus of a particular dance. There are a lot of sleight-of-hand appearances and disappearances of the five performers emerging through trapdoors as if from an underworld and descending back into the depths like contortionist dolls; ‘severed arms’ and ‘stuffed crows’ drop on to the stage, small-scale plaster figures suddenly arrive out of the dark and appear to speak, while microphone stands and pianos rise up from below and once played descend again with all the logic of an arbitrary event. It is a phantasmagoria of the inexplicable and the absurd that borrows as much from Sigmund Freud as it does from neuro-psychological concepts about the function of remembering which, according to current models, serve to make sense of our present, aid in our socialization and help us to imagine the future.

It is this last function that fascinates Requardt and Rosenberg. Memories are not straightforward images from the past but composite mental reconstructions that we adapt to our present and future projections. As Dr. Denis McKeown, a senior lecturer in cognitive psychology at the University of Leeds, writes in the program notes, “Memories are like dreams. They are an internal world played upon by an internal consciousness, often outside our awareness.” Indeed, the visual vocabulary of DeadClub makes the analogy with dreams overt by gesturing not only to Surrealism but to film, a medium akin to remembering not so much because of its possibility of flashback but because of the malleability of its internal procedures. Like the moving image, Requardt and Rosenberg’s imagination is a fluid element that has the possibility of flying of its own volition but when it comes into contact with so many overtly theatrical effects held together with tape, screws and hinges, and magnified by our proximity to the stage, its wings are clipped. The sheer complexity of the staging is staggering but it draws our attention for the wrong reason: the theatricality is just too clunky, making DeadClub appear to be a raft of dream-like concepts trapped in the wrong medium.

The one technical asset that mediates between the ideas and the scenic elements is the lighting by Chahine Yavroyan for he can use his palette to smooth physical edges, focus on the essential action or reduce the stage to total darkness. His use of light allies the stage to the cinema: he allows the fluid traces of ideas in Valentina Formenti’s songs of death, in Neil Callaghan’s ghostly presence and in the solos by Jordan Ajadi and Owen Ridley-Demonik to exist apart from the substantive woodwork and machinery underneath them so as to express their intrinsic aural, dramatic and rhythmic poetry. These are the overriding successes of DeadClub, but outside these contemplative moments, even Yavroyan cannot avoid the theatrical framework becoming the centre of preoccupation.


Piergiorgio Milano, Denti

Posted: September 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Piergiorgio Milano, Denti

Piergiorgio Milano, Denti, Italian Cultural Institute, Belgravia, September 22

Piergiorgio Milano in Denti (© Milano)

‘Denti’ is the Italian for ‘teeth’ but Piergiorgio Milano has not created a work about this particular part of our physiognomy but rather around it. Teeth are resistant and sensitive, qualities that Milano brings to the work, and his grandmother taught him that to dream of losing your teeth signifies the subsequent loss of someone close to you. One night Milano dreamt of losing his teeth and the next day his grandmother passed away. This kind of circle of circumstances, of manifestation and extinction, memory and loss, is what Denti represents, invoking a circular space where reality and dream are looped together without possibility of resolution.

It is perhaps no accident that Milano slowly enters the piano nobile like an insect hiding under a tattered raincoat, as if he were an alter ego of Franz Kafka’s Georg Sama. The initial stealth, however, soon gives sway to a surge of movement that appears to give the coat an independent animation. Milano treats it with both violent incomprehension and as a tender memory of another being, long gone, who can nevertheless still wrap him in her familiarity and scent.

The two pieces of music that Milano uses also suggest memory and loss: the first one is an old 78 recording of Enrico Caruso singing the aria Je Crois Entendre from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, and the second is Valzer di un giorno by Gianmaria Testa. Milano makes the crackling sound of the 78 the dense medium through which he plunges his body into memory. He is trained in circus and has the physical vocabulary to use every part of his body to make circles, to somersault, to undulate, to spiral and to curve; it is the flow of his movement that carries the emotion of the performance. The classical proportions of the piano nobile seem to struggle to contain these turbulent eddies, but Milano has also learned how to swim through hard surfaces, kneading the wooden floor with the resilience of his body to make it curiously soft; he moulds the floor to his will and leaves us to experience the shapes he has made. Both water and air are his metaphors; his choreography is like a stormy current let loose on a weightless body until the weight finally returns with the body’s stillness. In a humble gesture of resignation Milano bows, and remains bowed with his alter ego coat obscuring his head. It’s hard to applaud after that.


Bouchra Ouizguen, Compagnie O, Corbeaux

Posted: August 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bouchra Ouizguen, Compagnie O, Corbeaux

Bouchra Ouizguen, Corbeaux, Serpentine Pavilion, July 14

Bouchra Ouizguen’s Compagnie O in Corbeaux (photo: Hasnae El Ouarga)

The idea of performing Bouchra Ouizguen‘s dark, brooding Corbeaux (crows) as part of this year’s Shubbak Festival in Francis Kéré’s light, airy 2017 Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens is a symbiotic one. Kéré conceived the structure with its curved blue walls made of stacked triangular assemblies of timber and an orange canopy roof as an ‘architectural version of a big tree’ in Gando, his home town in Burkina Faso, where villagers would use its shade as a locus for activities. Both the Pavilion and Ouizguen’s choreography are a form of gathering; Kéré has built a congenial space for people to congregate in the heart of London, while Ouizguen has built a work for an outside space inspired by the collective behaviour of crows. The audience assembles like villagers underneath Kéré’s tree, standing with their backs to its airy walls, watching Ouizguen’s women — ten Moroccan performers and eight London-based — enter slowly, one by one at intervals in the dark. Once in place, they perch upright in triangular patterns in relation to each other and to the audience. Dressed in black with white headscarves, they stand motionless with eyes closed until the last woman joins the group. The stillness and silence are then suddenly broken by an eruption of visceral chanting wrenched from the abdomen up to the throat of each woman. It is not age but experience that shows in their faces and a fierce insistence that drives the rhythmic pulse of their gestures. They remain rooted to the same spot throughout this atavistic ritual and it is the subtle differences in the power these women generate in their gestures that attune our eyes to ‘hear’ the force of their voices.

Based on early Persian literature, the performance shares the investment in repetitive movement typical of Sufi dance in an attempt to transcend physicality by fully embracing and expressing corporeality. Here Ouizguen’s performers achieve a similar effect through harnessing the repetition of their piercing, guttural cries with the physical rocking forwards and backwards of their heads and necks. Some of the women accent the outbreath and others the inbreath to effect a see-saw rippling of sound that ricochets against the bodies of the audience with contrapuntal force. After twenty minutes, following a hidden pattern of quietus, the performers slowly one by one come to rest till only one continues the wild, rhythmic chant and movement which finally subsides to stillness and silence like the undulations of a pebble on the surface of a lake. Once the surface has settled the women drift out into the night but leave their emotional presence carved into the space of Kéré’s pierced walls.

This is it. There is no narrative, barely a beginning and no apparent end. We are engulfed in sound and the physical force that produces it, like being overtaken by a storm that suddenly arises out of nowhere, expends its energy and moves on; it is closer to nature than to theatre. Ouizguen has stated that Corbeaux is not so much a spectacle but an escape from the traditional mode of production for the stage. “I envisioned Marrakech station with this flock of ageless crows, like a living event, a sonorous sculpture whose power and urgency flows to infinity.” Perhaps Kéré had not envisioned such a gathering under his tree-like pavilion and neither, perhaps, had Ouizguen imagined such a genial space to be the setting of her brooding, sonorous sculpture but it was a bold feat of imagination to put the two together and let them play off each other’s life-affirming qualities.

This UK première of Corbeaux was presented by Shubbak as part of Park Nights, the Serpentine Pavilion’s annual series of summer events in partnership with Serpentine Galleries and Tate Modern. 


Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Posted: July 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement, Shubbak Festival, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Mithkal Alzghair, Rami Farah and Samil Taskin in Trio

A pair of black boots alone on the stage before the start of Mithkal Alzghair’s Solo is a bleak image of displacement that has many connotations. When Alzghair enters the stage bearing a neatly folded white sheet in his outstretched arms, places it carefully on the floor before putting on the boots, the images and gestures are stark but full of meaning. Although Alzghair’s references may not be immediately evident to a western audience, he transfers to the spectator his raw experience through the emotional conviction with which he invests each and every movement.

Alzghair grew up in Syria and currently lives in exile in Europe; what he brings to the stage is what his body remembers from its heritage without any overt narrative or political propaganda. In exploring how steps and everyday gestures are transformed by external forms of coercion, Alzghair uses dance as a metaphor for freedom and culture that can be diminished but never erased. His hands behind his back suggest forced restraint, his arms raised above his head denote surrender and his stripping down to his underwear with his jeans around his ankles forewarns of a violence that can only be imagined; as he pivots and falls repeatedly in an attempt to maintain his footing his unbuckled belt thrashes on the floor like a whip. But however repressed and subjugated he may be, he maintains the essential rhythms of the dance throughout. Alzghair connects us to Syria through traces of traditional music and fragments of rhythmic dance steps he and his friends once performed at weddings and other festivities. There are deep, angular steps that surge into the ground to rise up out of it in joy and ecstasy, and small rhythmical foot shuffling like a recitative he maintains throughout Solo; these steps become in themselves an expression of displacement through exile and his unflinching gaze serves to remind us of the pain such upheaval entails. Suddenly Alzghair includes a high military kick that jars our frame of reference; he kneels, bends over with his hands crossed behind him and tries to continue the rhythms on his knees and then in very low, knotted steps until he collapses in a cross-legged heap. He endures and he survives but the past leaves a diminishing trace on the present; now that he is outside his Syrian cultural context, he has to explore the act of physical recollection of what has been left behind. Despite its air of fragility, Solo is a muscular protest against cultural oppression and its concomitant displacement and serves notice that it is culture that defines people before any notion of politics.

The eloquently somber lighting (by Séverine Rième) and everyday clothing are in the same register for Trio, which follows without a pause, resuming the notions of Solo with dancers Rami Farah and Samil Taskin. Alzghair introduces into the reality of displacement the mutual support among a group of friends. The Syrian conflict again becomes the invisible backdrop to the fragility of human life, to notions of home, comradeship and memory that fulminate quietly throughout the work and question our sense of comfort. Yet at the same time the three men embody a profound yet humble humanity that is uplifting. The shuffling foot rhythms of Solo are repeated here but are intimately felt like a bond between the three men rather than performed. To simple dance patterns and solos are added sequences of sotto voce clapping and the linking of arms. The cloth Alzghair brought in for Solo is unfolded by Farah and Taskin and gripped in their fists above their heads, a sacred memory of home, perhaps, against which we see only the men’s shadows. They continue to shuffle in subtly changing patterns creating a sense of uncertainty and trepidation as they weave in and out of the light as if avoiding attention. Alzghair breaks into a folk step that the other two follow and then the trio reforms until the invisible force of coercion makes itself felt once again in ominous gestures of kneeling and collapsing, while the stripping of their shirts gives the men a heightened sense of vulnerability. But the feet keep up the folk rhythms whenever possible as a metaphor for keeping alive in a seemingly hopeless situation. The way Farah makes a ritual of folding up the t-shirts and the white cloth speaks longingly of absence and loss as Alzghair and Taskin whirl around the stage and spin off, a momentary sense of elation and freedom before the three join together on another arduous journey. In terms of gesture there is little to differentiate between movement transformed by external coercion and that transformed by one’s own arduous exertion. The men drop like ripe fruit but help each other up and continue, now dispersing slowly to the edges of the diaspora of the stage as the light dies with a sense of interminably drawn-out time and ineffable space engulfed in crushing silence.

This UK première of Displacement was produced by Sadler’s Wells as part of the Shubbak Festival of contemporary Arab Culture.