Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane

Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane, Italian Cultural Institute, November 28

Elena Giannotti

Elena Giannotti in Lo Sguardo del Cane (photo: Eamonn O’Mahony)

Like the two works shown at Trip Space a few days before as part of Intercontinental Drifts (which also programs work at the Italian Cultural Centre), Elena Giannotti’s solo, Lo Sguardo del Cane (‘the dog’s gaze’), is engaging, playful, and experimental. But what Giannotti achieves with a calmness of demeanour and smoothness of motion is a sense of choreography as language that can communicate on a broad, cross art form level. She takes her point of departure from a painting by the renaissance artist Vittore Carpaccio of Saint Augustine in his study looking out at a spectral image of Saint Jerome. There is a small white dog seated on the floor that appears to be looking in the same direction as Saint Augustine but Carpaccio deliberately leaves the viewer in doubt as to whether its gaze is directed toward its master or past him at the ghostly vision (according to legend, Saint Jerome has just communicated with Saint Augustine his own imminent death).

With no musical accompaniment, Giannotti employs equal dexterity and ambiguity towards the movement of her own gaze. She stops quite still at various moments in her performance, staring intently at an undefined point in space; we might attempt to follow that line of vision, but we can also watch her in the act of seeing, just as we study Saint Augustine’s posture as he looks out of the window. We cannot see what he sees, but we know from his rapt attention that he has seen something. And just at the point we take in Giannotti’s still gaze, she begins to move again and our focus changes to the completeness of her expression, to the reiteration of phrases and to her accumulating vocabulary. Certain expressions stand out, like an impatient gesture of the hand or a petulant kick towards an unseen object, and as the choreography progresses we begin to recognize and acknowledge the return of repeated phrases. The effect is one of cinematic montage, of overlapping sections or phrases punctuated with the still gaze. Giannotti sketches scenes with the outlines of figures and expressions, fragments of larger stories of which we only get a glimpse; the moment we recognize them they disappear and overlap with other ones, like impalpable phantoms. As Giannotti repeats them, however, each fragment becomes more distinctive, the contours and features more intelligible to our eyes, filling all our senses with the impression of the movement and its afterimages.

Gaze thus becomes an action not only of the eyes but of the entire body. The direction of our eyes reflects the attention of our entire physiognomy, which is why the eyes are so important in choreographic use. If the eyes look in a direction that the rest of the body does not support, we are not convinced. This is as true for a suggestive glance, a coy aside or a political speech. Giannotti takes all these kinds of glances and freely distributes them in the space she is occupying, allowing her body to flow through her eyes. It is a spatial dialogue which, by the force of its argument and her sense of being ever present keeps our attention, even more acutely as there is no sound apart from the ambient noise of the audience in the room and of traffic outside in the street. There is a temporal sense involved, too. Giannotti’s patterns and traces overlap in space and in one sense are sequential, but like early twentieth-century experimentation with cinematic montage, each pattern or trace can be seen occurring in the same moment, overlapping in time. Giannotti compounds this by running in to the room at the beginning and spinning out at the end, suggesting all that happens in between occurs within a single moment of timeless concentration like a daydream or a vision. Which takes us back to Saint Augustine and his dog experiencing, in their separate but interwoven ways, the beatific apparition of Saint Jerome.


Intercontinental Drifts #4: Dan Watson and Matthias Sperling

Posted: December 6th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Intercontinental Drifts #4: Dan Watson and Matthias Sperling

Intercontinental Drifts #4, Dan Watson and Matthias Sperling, Trip Space, November 25

Rachel Krische and Matthias Sperling in Do Not Be Afraid (photo: Neil Wissink)

For its final 2017 Intercontinental Drifts program, Trip Space presents two duets: Largely Unsung by Dan Watson with Katherine Hollinson and Do Not Be Afraid by Matthias Sperling with Rachel Krische. Watching Largely Unsung is to enter a world of suggestion and allusion without coming to grips with either its title or its content, while Sperling introduces us to a super-hero duo from a large format comic book with a lot of brightly-coloured illustrations.

Watson writes in the program note that Largely Unsung is inspired by the music of the girl groups, a pop phenomenon of the late 1950s and 60s that channeled some darker subjects in a chic, popular style that sold millions of records. He is also interested in the phenomenon of backing singers with their nonsensical lyrics, flashy costumes and secondary stage identity. Watson, whose Jacket Dance I saw four years ago, describes himself as an artist ‘working somewhere between dance, performance and messing about’ but I am uncertain where Largely Unsung lies on this orbit. Visually, what Watson and Hollinson do satisfies the initial interest; both are engaging, even when engaged in doing very little, and the existence of a microphone on a stand and a clothes rack with two pairs of male and female evening wear hints at future possibilities. But the hesitation, abstraction and fragmentation of the movement phrases do not clarify what the microphone or clothes rack imply. When Watson and Hollinson finally do change into their formal wear — each at first into the menswear — it comes as a relief while the two remaining long, sequined dresses set up a further expectation. Perhaps Watson is leading us from one visual clue — or cue — to another as if preparing an intricate filmic journey that will resolve in the end, but this is only the conjecture of a tired swimmer looking for something on which to float. And while the choreographic language continues to deliver a mischievous sense of humour — a wagging tail sequence on all fours, a slinky hand on hip sequence, mincing walks, punching the air, and even a scaled-down light show behind a Folies-Bergères kicking routine — this seems more of a distraction than an exploratory path. Of course Watson and Hollinson do change into the sequined dresses and finally approach the microphone, at the back, off to the left, to harmonise a backing vocal together, but this one clear image is not enough to save Largely Unsung from a largely unfocused song.

At the beginning of Do Not Be Afraid Sperling and Krische are released on to the stage through the back door like a jack-in-a-box duo, one tall and one short in garish super-hero outfits. It’s deliberately ridiculous and designed to make you laugh, but so is everything else in Do Not Be Afraid. The press release states the work ‘proposes that the dance performer’s superpower is the ability to make their mind visible for an audience, in and through their body’. Since body and mind are the fundamental materials of dance, this proposal seems self-evident, but by examining it in a ludic way with a comic-strip hero as interlocutor, Sperling can’t stop his tongue-in-cheek humour dominating the work. Costumes, competitive ballet steps, gymnastic display, theremin gestures and word games become the means by which he places dance outside its familiar context and sets it up for ridicule; in short, Do Not Be Afraid is a dance in the form of an intellectual conceit. If it were to be packaged as a children’s show, its clowning alone would undoubtedly prove successful, but its internal argument plays to a knowledge of dance and its conventions; it is above all an inside joke and there are many at Trip Space who get it.

Both Largely Unsung and Do Not Be Afraid express the ‘engaging, playful and experimental’ qualities in the work Intercontinental Drifts programs, but they also rely too conspicuously on the narrow confines of a dance audience. It is perhaps worth remembering the late French choreographer Maurice Béjart’s desire to make dance as an art in the 20th century as popular as the art of cinema. It is a call for dance to make the power and intelligence in the language of the body relevant for broad audiences without sacrificing the engagement, play and experiment on which new choreography thrives. While cinema has gone on to develop dramatically its own art form (I just saw Michael Haneke’s Happy End), the evolution of choreography can’t afford to turn in on itself. Nor can it afford to waffle at the back, off to the left.


Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop

Posted: November 27th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop

Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods, Until Our Hearts Stop, Sadler’s Wells, November 15

Claire Vivianne Subottke, Leyla Postalcioglu, Maria F. Scaroni, Jared Gradinger and Neil Callaghan in Until Our Hearts Stop (photo: Iris Janke)

The stage setting by Doris Dziersk for Meg Stuart’s Until Our Hearts Stop transforms the Sadler’s Wells stage, under the lighting of Jurgen Kolb and Gilles Roosen, into an unencumbered volume like a traditional American basement with its plain wooden panels and a single staircase at the back. It can also be thought of as what psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s calls a ‘transitional space’ — an in-between space open to possibilities and the imagination. It’s a space for play, and the playground of the theatre is where Stuart has set out the parameters of her game.

In a pre-show talk with Tim Etchells, Stuart, who is also known for her solo collaborations, spoke of how larger works take her to places she can’t go alone, and of the body as a ‘switching station’ where streams of influence flow through it into a shared pool of collective dreams. Both of these ideas are fundamental to the central theme of Until Our Hearts Stop which is the exploration of intimacy on a theatrical scale.

Dance is fundamentally different from the other arts in that its language is not words, lines, colours or musical notes but the body in space with its own contours and boundaries. In pushing these limits both spatially and psychologically in her search for intimacy, Stuart engages the transitional possibilities — the ‘switching station’ — of the body in a game where those limits are apt to dissolve: the absence of clothing in dance is a logical extension of its corporeal language. Stuart presents the naked body in Until Our Hearts Stop on a raw, unselfconscious scale that erodes its private and thus its erotic nature. She even leaves out suggestion; Claire Vivianne Sobottke and Maria F. Scaroni strip off to play with and explore each other’s bodies, slapping, splaying, pulling, pinching, and sniffing without limits not as a metaphor but as the lowest common denominator of physical intimacy.

Stuart employs games on other levels. The stage setting includes a drum kit, a piano and a bass guitar but when the nine performers enter there is no immediate differentiation between the six dancers and the three musicians; they disentangle over the course of the initial placement and replacement of individuals and groups. Gender is effectively masked in Nadine Grellinger’s initial costumes of jeans and sweatshirts and the touch of contact improvisation becomes the catalyst for the intimate games they are about to play. The framework of theatrical conventions is also called into question; there is no intermission as such, but where there would normally be a break the performers fabricate an intermission with offers of water, plates of fruit and a bottle of scotch that they deliver into the audience. Stuart also uses an audience plant who goes by the name of Myriam to dissolve the divide between audience and performers. It starts when Neil Callaghan takes off his underwear to which Myriam reacts with untrammeled delight and an infectious laugh. Any further instances of nakedness (of which there are plenty) send her into whoops of laughter, and she’s one of the first to request water at the false intermission. It’s as if Stuart is not sure the British audience will enter into the spirit of the performance as she had intended; she drives home the illusion in Kristof Von Boven’s witty conversation with the pianist Stefan Rusconi — whispered into a microphone — in which he comments on the politics of the day as well as on Myriam’s ‘outrageous’ behaviour.

Until Our Hearts Stop is, as a title, an exhortation to the performers to push their limits to the point of physical and psychological exhaustion, but where Pina Bausch, for example, broke down the theatrical framework to explore her interest in what moved people, Stuart uses the limits of her dancers to manipulate theatrical conventions. Until Our Hearts Stop is an expression of intimacy but not, because of the graphic exaggeration of the means employed, a call for intimacy; closeness does not strip down to its emotional components and reach under skin. Until Our Hearts Stop thus turns in on itself like an exercise that, for all its ludic intensity, leaves little room for the imagination.

In the pre-show talk Stuart said she wanted to ‘create a space I can’t see in the world but where I’d like to be.’ By virtue of the unquestionable integrity of Until Our Hearts Stop she has created that space, but you have to enter the theatre to experience it.


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.