Carlos Acosta, A Celebration of Thirty Years In Dance

Posted: October 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Carlos Acosta, A Celebration of Thirty Years In Dance

Carlos Acosta: A Celebration of Thirty Years in Dance, Royal Albert Hall, October 2

Acosta

Carlos Acosta with Acosta Danza (photo: Manuel Vasson)

There’s a lot to celebrate in what Carlos Acosta has to show for his 30 years in dance, not least his ploughing of the benefits he received as a young dancer back into the rich soil of Cuba in the form of a company, Acosta Danza, and a dance academy in Havana that opened last year. For those who want to see Acosta himself in action he is still in fine and seemingly effortless form and worth watching. It is the package in which this 30-year celebration is presented at the Royal Albert Hall that leaves something to be desired and a few questions. The celebration has the feel of a public relations event in the form of a performance rather than the other way round; Acosta is essentially a guest artist in his own company and is the focus of the evening.

One of the valuable decisions is to present Acosta Danza on its own merits in Alrededor no hay nada with choreography by Goyo Montero to recorded poems by Joaquin Sabina and Vinicius de Moraes. Although there is no printed translation of the poems, their rhythmic structure and the sound of the syllables are beautifully embodied in the choreography and in the elegant, pliant athleticism of the dancers. Each poem is treated as a separate movement within the whole, generating cohesive, often humorous choreographic miniatures in which the contrasts of everyday life in Havana find their expression; they seem to breathe with the sound and colour, exuberance and violence, joy and sadness of the city.

The evening opens with a Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui duet, Mermaid, to a score by Cherkaoui and Woojae Park played live on bells, geomungo and piano. The association of Acosta and Cherkaoui is not immediately evident; there is a connection through the Sadler’s Wells roster of associates but watching Acosta dance this duet is to sense a fish out of water, whereas the fluid Marta Ortega as the mermaid, even on pointe, is much more within her realm.

The final work on the first part of the program is Christopher Bruce’s Rooster choreographed on iconic songs of the Rolling Stones. Bruce writes, ‘In my teens I lived with these songs. I have taken eight tracks and linked them with themes present in the lyrics.’ As with Alrededor no hay nada, there are no printed lyrics but the punchy rhythms and inspired instrumentation (this was before the death of Brian Jones) are all you need to conjure up the cocky chauvinism of the greased-back rockers who strut their stuff in front of an acquiescent female gaze. And yet in this performance, with Acosta as chief rooster, something has got lost in translation. It starts with Tina MacHugh’s lighting whose original intensity and colour seems to have been filtered through a kind of purple haze which also affects the appearance of Marian Bruce’s costumes: they lose their punch. And for a choreographic treatment that bounces off the walls, there aren’t any walls to bounce off in the airy space of the Royal Albert Hall stage so the energy dissipates. That leaves the best efforts of the dancers to rescue Rooster but here again the accuracy of Bruce’s playful, extrovert gestures and attitudes is little more than an approximation; the men are cocks but not cocky and even the charisma of Acosta becomes an apology for self-assertion. Rooster deserves better.

The second half of the program is the complete Carmen as conceived and choreographed by Acosta to the arrangement by Rodion Shchedrin of Bizet’s score with additional music by Martin Yates. The orchestra under the baton of Paul Murphy is perched high above and to the left of the stage. Although the choreography is uneven in its disparate influences, it suits the company well. With Laura Rodriguez as Carmen and Javier Rojas as Don José the narrative line never falters and Acosta’s presence as Escamillio does not overshadow them. Rodriguez moulds her prodigious technique to express the willfulness, seduction and scorn in the choreography, while Rojas maintains a youthful naivety whose burgeoning passion is drawn to his murderous solution by forces he cannot control. Acosta’s suave Escamillio borrows more from the Royal Ballet than from the bullring, but in Carlos Luis Blanco as the embodiment of a bull the raw, earthy masculinity of Carmen’s macho narrative is complete. In its strong, percussive ensemble work and convincing characters Carmen gives the company a chance to cut their technical teeth on a dramatic narrative, a process Acosta can pass on to his dancers with the authority of experience. That is worth celebrating.


Jacqui and David Morris: Nureyev, at the Curzon Mayfair

Posted: October 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jacqui and David Morris: Nureyev, at the Curzon Mayfair

Jacqui and David Morris, Nureyev, Curzon Mayfair, September 25

Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in Marguerite and Armand (photo: Frederika Davis)

Since Rudolf Nureyev defected to the West in 1961 there have been so many interviews, news items, reports, articles, performance videos, films and documentaries about him that a new documentary seems almost redundant. What sibling directors Jacqui and David Morris have evidently set out to achieve with their new biopic Nureyev is to expand the dancer’s life for the big screen by not only adding a theatrical treatment of his childhood but by placing his 32 years in the West within the context of the culture and politics of the Cold War. Dance lovers may already be familiar with much of the material — though there are hitherto unseen clips of his performances with Murray Louis, Paul Taylor and Martha Graham companies — but Nureyev is clearly conceived for a wider audience with, for some odd reason, a 12+ certification.

Just two months after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from space in 1961, placing the USSR’s technological achievements in full view of the world, Nureyev dealt a public relations bombshell to his native country by making a dash for freedom at Le Bourget Airport. Gagarin, the young hero and poster boy of the Soviet space program and Nureyev, the young soloist of the Kirov Ballet who had just created a sensation in the company’s Paris performances, may seem worlds apart* but in terms of soviet propaganda they were equally strategic and valuable icons. Nureyev’s defection was a devastating blow to the Soviet image and reprisals were taken against his family and fellow dancers. For Nureyev it was a huge risk whose personal price must have lain heavily on his conscience but he spent the rest of his life living and working voraciously — as the documentary demonstrates — to justify his belief in personal and artistic freedom; he beat the path subsequent classically-trained dancers have followed to experiment with contemporary dance forms. But even if he had left Russia, Russia never left him. The scenes of his return to his home city to visit his ailing mother and former teacher in 1989 for the first time since his defection are intensely moving not only as an insight into the heart of the man but as a reminder of how much he had maintained the values of Russian culture throughout his single-minded pursuit of a dancer’s life in the West.

Because the artist in Nureyev is indistinguishable from his person, the documentary invites us to discover both in what appears as a continuous performance, from footage of his dancing to interviews with Michael Parkinson and Dick Cavett to his detention in a New York police station to an intimate dinner party towards the end of his life in his Paris apartment; he is allowed to define himself in images and words, though rarely his own. There are a couple of clips from Patricia Foy’s 1991 documentary where he talks about his childhood but most of the comments come from his contemporaries, peers and critics as in the delightful appreciations by Antoinette Sibley, Yehudi Menuhin, Nigel Gosling and Clement Crisp.

Where Nureyev cannot represent himself is in his early years, for which the directors have substituted choreographic tableaux devised by Russell Maliphant. The invocation of Nureyev’s family in this way, like a film within a film, initially makes sense but as the tableaux try to cover his years in the Kirov school and company they no longer match the extraordinary self-will and charisma of their inspiration, a divergence that the superimposition of Nureyev’s early Kirov performances does little to mitigate. In an attempt to pull together the threads of the story, such cinematic devices, along with written quotations from various sources, generate a dense, rather fussy aesthetic that clutters rather than clarifies the rich canvas of archival material.

It seems in his single-minded desire to make up for lost time — he had only started training at the Kirov Ballet school at the age of 17 — Nureyev was drawn to older and more experienced dancers on whom to model himself and with whom to share his public and private life. One was Erik Bruhn whom he met soon after his defection and their mutual respect is captured in the wonderful footage of them working together at the barre in Vera Volkova’s studio in Copenhagen. The other legendary partnership on and off stage was with Margot Fonteyn and here again their relationship is allowed to speak poignantly through footage of their performances — the balcony scene and the tomb scene in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.

For the last decade of his life Nureyev was director of the Paris Opera Ballet, building a legacy that endures in the Nureyev Foundation, who supported the making of this documentary; in suggesting there hasn’t been anybody to replace him in the ballet world, Nureyev is a convincing tribute.

*One of the many items flung onstage during Nureyev’s first season in Paris was a headshot of Gagarin with a message at the bottom reading, Soar, Rudi, Soar! 


Jefta van Dinther: Dark Field Analysis at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: September 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jefta van Dinther: Dark Field Analysis at Lilian Baylis Studio

Jefta van Dinther, Dark Field Analysis, Lilian Baylis Studio, September 14

Jefta van Dinther

Jefta van Dinther’s Dark Field Analysis (photo ©Max Stürmer)

Dark field analysis is an alternative medical procedure using high-resolution dark field microscopy to observe live blood.

Two naked men sit casually on a green baize carpet as if caught in a moment of silence in the course of their conversation. Roger Sala Reyner is deep in thought with eyes closed but Juan Pablo Cámara’s eyes have a piercing fixity that borders on the non-human. Through the effect of cyborg lenses choreographer Jefta van Dinther already hints at the synthetic within the nonchalantly organic and familiar. The baize carpet sits on a larger dark grey rectangle of material that fills the space marked by the four sides of the seated audience; above the performance area hangs a low ceiling whose perimeter is defined by a slim strip of white LED light. Cristina Nyffeler’s scenography and Minna Tiikkainen’s lighting close down the space to a muffled intensity that gives the impression we are observers in a theatre within a theatre. Both men have wireless microphones through which sound designer David Kiers not only amplifies their voices but at times enhances them, effectively releasing them from the speaking bodies to fulfil an integral but autonomous part of the choreographic process.

As soon as the audience is seated around them, the two men do not so much start as continue their conversation. Cámara asks, “What is your earliest memory?” Reyner remembers his love of spinning, the sensation of speed and dizziness that resulted in a fall. “Did you cry?”, asks Cámara coldly, his intense stare seeing the accident behind his eyes. “No.” “Did you bleed?” The pulsating rhythm of the soundtrack begins to merge with the words that Cámara expels from his body with a muscular tension that results in a gestural exploration of the air around him. Lying back and looking around at the audience with a similar air of detachment Reyner recalls the red stain on his white clothing. “Have you ever penetrated someone else?” asks Cámara. “I mean literally getting under the skin of another being?” It is at this point that the performance itself takes us below the surface and carries us down with Reyner and Cámara through their nakedness into and under our own skin. If the subject of Dark Field Analysis is blood, as choreographer Jefta van Dinther states in the program, it ‘serves as an analogy for looking inwards and outwards: into and beyond ourselves’. Blood stands for ancestral lineage but also for evolutionary connections with animals; it is the shared exchange between predator and prey, but also the pulsating fluid of life and by extension the energy fueling robotics.

Dark Field Analysis is a sculptural piece whose volumes are defined by the masterful interaction of light and sound. Tiikainen effectively transforms the stage from the light of the opening conversation into a dark chamber in which we delve into the gestural vocabulary of human, animal and artificial agents through her own assimilation of technological or animal night vision; the certainty of focus and clarity is replaced by the unsettling disquiet of the unfamiliar. Kiers extrapolates this sensation through his ability to manipulate the human voice into the snarl of a predator or the mechanical rasp of a destructive robot unraveling the baize floor in the low red light. On another two occasions it is Reyner’s powerful voice that sings above the action as a reminder of the very human, emotional nature of the work. In the confluence of sound, light and action we effectively become part of an engrossing sensory exploration of the inner and outer worlds we inhabit.

In fully integrating the intellectual content of the work into the choreographic language of the body, van Dinther creates a visceral, immersive experience that is eminently contemporary. Whilst he is not alone in engaging with topics such as the relationship of humans to the ecosystem and the Anthropocene, as in Alexandra Waierstall’s And here we meet, or the definition of the self in relation to a biological makeup, as in Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography, van Dinther’s quest into a re-definition of subjectivity that encompasses organic and artificial agents is not only current but expressed through the very concept that defines such reassessment: affect. As a result, the concept does not encumber the performance but is a perceived feature whose intellectual resonance emerges as one of its volumes and remains long after the performance has ended. Appropriately it is Reyner and Cámara who pull the plug on their own conversation by climbing up, one on the shoulders of the other, to reach an imaginary switch that plunges us into darkness.


Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells

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

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

Natalia Osipova

Natalia Osipova (photo: Rick Guest)

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

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

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

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

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

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


Simone Mousset: The Passion of Andrea 2 at Touch Wood

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

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

Simone Mousset

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal at Southbank Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells

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

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

McGregor

Wayne McGregor © Rick Guest

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

monumental

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

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

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

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

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

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

Godspeed you! Black Emperor.


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

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

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

Edvardsen

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Session

Session at Bernie Grant Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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