Toneelhuis/FC Bergman, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el

Posted: February 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Toneelhuis/FC Bergman, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el

Toneelhuis/FC Bergman, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el, Barbican, January 31

Paul Kuijer in 300 el x 50 el x 30 el (photo: Kurt van der Elst)

In the book of Genesis the dimensions of Noah’s Ark are given as 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high, but Toneelhuis/FC Bergman’s 300 el x 50 el x 30 el, presented as part of the 2018 London International Mime Festival, has left biblical history to the imagination and focuses instead on the current environmental and political crises facing Western society. Not that there is any sense of impending doom in the opening scene of a fisherman by a pond in sedentary contemplation and endless cigarette smoke. On any one of three screens, however, we see an old man (Paul Kuijer) lying in bed in a small wooden hut, an incarnation perhaps of Noah himself. As the black scrim rises to reveal a community of six ramshackle huts tottering around the perimeter of a leaf-covered clearing, we watch Kuijer unstick the monitors on his chest, pick up a hammer and plod outside into the clearing where cinematic space and theatrical space merge for the first time. Kuijer disappears into the pine forest to build his ark — we hear his hammer blows — while a camera and crew travel continuously around the community staring into the back of each hut long enough at each pass to reveal, with mordant exaggeration, successive tableaux vivants of unfolding domestic dramas. Lingering on the surreal, these portraits of ‘ordinary madness’ are a reflection — and there is no shortage of reflection in this allegory of the Ark — of such contemporary malaises as insatiability, depression, sexual dysfunction, escapism and estrangement. The seamlessly integrated live screening makes members of the audience voyeurs in a community that is, like the show itself, a product of our own making; we are peering ineluctably into our own lives.

So entrenched is the sense of habit and gnawing oppression that the only way out is an act of rebellion. We learn the secret of the young woman at the piano who sneaks across the clearing to play war games with her lover. They plan their escape using the map on his hut wall and attempt to leave with their suitcases commando-like across the clearing. The small community, however, is sensitive to any danger to its hermetic boundaries and emerges into the clearing to close ranks around the lovers, punishing the young man by forcing him back to his hut and nailing it shut. The accompaniment of Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons adds an additional chill to the staging and yet there is a certain comfort in the music, a recognition of a familiar composition that exists only for the ears of the audience watching from a distance. But how far away are we and where does Toneelhuis/FC Bergman place us in relation to the unfolding narrative?

If the story of Noah’s Ark alluded to in the title can be used as a clue for interpretation, one can read 300 el x 50 el x 30 el in light of current European political events (even though it was created well before Brexit, in 2011). The small insular community becomes a metaphor for tightening border controls while the mood of suspicion and isolation reflects a right-wing xenophobic mentality brooding with violence. Over the course of the performance the voyeurism of the camera subtly turns to vigilance and surveillance as the rhythm of filming matches the unfolding moral tale. The event that brings the community together is the death of the young man, who blows himself up with his stash of gunpowder fuses. The fisherman, moving off his seat for the first time, initiates an act of penitence by immersing his head repeatedly in the pond; other characters emerge slowly from their huts with buckets of water and join in the ritual. Nina Simone’s Sinner Man provides the mood and rhythm of a simple, redemptive dance in which the entire community participates.

Of course the flood is still on its way; these are intimations of disaster, not the disaster itself and penitence is the beginning not the end. Toneelhuis/FC Bergman suggests that if redemption is at all possible in the sense of a desire to heal society’s current ills it cannot be achieved through such rituals of seclusion, but rather by the opposite, by opening hearts and minds to ‘others’, to the establishment of a common humanity. The last-minute emergence into the clearing of an entire village of ‘outsiders’, let in by one of the young women, suggests such a change to the social and political equilibrium. Today’s hope, in other words, is an ethic of inclusion.


Crying with Laughter and Score 10 at The Old Market

Posted: January 31st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Crying with Laughter and Score 10 at The Old Market

Crying with Laughter and Score 10, The Old Market, Hove, January 27

Score 10

Belinda Papavasiliou, Harley Ovens, Rosa Firbank and Jessica Miller in Score 10 (photo: Alice Underwood)

The double bill, Crying with Laughter by Bite Dance and Score 10 by Pickett Improv, at The Old Market theatre in Hove presents two pieces that ask similar questions from different perspectives about action and interaction in performance. Zoë Bishop and Alice White do so by looking at physical comedy and laughter; director Hannah Pickett with dancers, Belinda Papavasiliou, Harley Ovens, Jessica Miller, Rosa Firbank and composer Iain Paxon, through sound and dance improvisation.

Crying with Laughter opens with a black-and-white video of Bishop and White making exaggerated facial expressions inspired by the repertoire of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy as they themselves sit on stage watching it with their backs to us, like giggling spectators at their own performance. At the end of the video, at the sound of bursting applause (far too loud) Bishop and White bow effusively to the audience. The enactment is reminiscent of vaudeville — a rather incongruous mixing of genres — to which the immaculate, matching costumes by Michelle Bristow also seem to allude. Bishop and White then sit again, this time facing us, to impart a gallery of silent gestures and postures of laughter that turn into laughing audibly at an invisible act in which we, the viewers, are implicit. This is the basic alternating structure of Crying with Laugher that Bishop and White repeat with small variations to crackly 78 recordings, including another video based on their slapstick. Towards the end the laughter veers into hysterical crying — the opposite poles of comedy and tragedy to which the title of the work refers. What is missing throughout this choreography of laughter and crying is the comic act itself, the situational context that is the galvanizing element between action and interaction, between the performer and the audience; without it, all that remains is a superficial focus on gestural mimicry. With their final dance routines there is a return to vaudeville where both Bishop and White appear more at ease; it is as if they are skating on the surface of the dark undercurrents of comedy without wanting to fall in, leaving them neither entirely in nor entirely out of its grasp.

Pickett Improv’s Score 10 uses percussive and electric sound as the basis for the interactive improvisation both between Paxon and the dancers and among the dancers themselves. Arranged around a score of choreographic instructions, the dancers initiate or respond to each other’s movement, develop it or remove themselves from it in an alternation of duets, solos, and quartets. It’s a fascinating process to watch for like a five-way conversation made up of physical and spatial interventions and observations, nobody quite knows what the other is about to say nor how she is going to react. Paxon provides the percussive continuum, gently coaxing responses from the performers rather than dictating — apart from a couple of time cues — while the performers start and stop, enter or leave as they feel the desire to complete the current phrase. The art of improvisation is to join these phrases into a credible arc of communication over the whole work rather than making a series of independent expressions; to succeed requires experience and a marked physical and spatial intelligence (dance is, after all, a mode of thinking through the body). In this way the nature of Score 10 sets in motion a circular frequency that passes from Paxon’s percussion through the dancers and back, throwing up images and phrases that thrive on the very absence of narrative association to allow, when all goes well, for something organic to emerge between sound and movement. Miller and Firbank have the stronger ‘voices’, excelling at the compositional immediacy allowed by the improvisational structure while supporting and challenging the interventions of Papavasiliou and Ovens. Their familiarity with improvisation and with each other (as part of Swallowsfeet Collective) shows in their individual contributions and in their partnering. When Miller’s hand finds the semaphore equivalence of one of Paxon’s sounds, it seems so right it sets up an alternating rhythm that leads to a dynamic thrusting and resisting duet with Firbank like a heated argument that ends in smiles of complicity. By the end all four dancers are taking their improvisation for a walk with the freedom of familiarity and experiment. As an audience we enter this circulation of actions not so much by trying to figure out how much of the piece is improvised and how much is rehearsed, but rather by sharing the interactive flow of movement and sound.

With Paxon’s final time cue the dancers begin to wind down, settling with a slow metronome mark to stillness and then silence.


Peeping Tom, Mother (Moeder)

Posted: January 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Peeping Tom, Mother (Moeder)

Peeping Tom, Mother (Moeder), Barbican Theatre, January 24

Moeder

Hun-Mok Jun and Charlotte Clemens in Peeping Tom’s Mother (Moeder). Photo: Oleg Degtiarov

Peeping Tom’s Mother (Moeder), directed by Gabriela Carrizo and presented as part of this year’s London International Mime Festival, is set in a family-run museum where everything is linked by a creative umbilical cord to the literal, symbolic and surreal notions of motherhood. At the back we see through a glass window into a cubicle that suggests both the clean, aseptic delivery room of a hospital and, on the opposite end of existence, a morgue. It is here, in the opening scene, that a mother (Eurudike De Beul) breathes her last while her family and friends gather in the darkness of the space outside to mourn. The daughter (Marie Gyselbrecht) breaks down on the floor; her tears become a puddle of water in which she splashes but there is no water on the stage. Borrowing from the cinema, Carrizo matches Gyselbrecht’s every gesture with the amplified sounds of Maria Carolina Vieira’s hands splashing in a bowl of water inside the cubicle that has become, in the absence of the corpse, a Foley studio.

Thus begins a series of associative details within dream-like tableaux that exploit the inseparable link between the aesthetics and the affect of the uncanny as a physical language that intensifies the theatrical experience. We are in the hands of magicians of the unconscious who work in time (marked by birthdays and the closing hours of the museum) and a unity of space like a classical setting warped by the Eros and Thanatos of Freudian theory. Water is the substance of tears but also the substance of amniotic fluid in the womb; death and life are never far apart in Moeder, and are even at times superimposed. In a room off the main gallery art imitates life in an exhibit of a coffin with a naked man (Hun-Mok Jung) poised on all fours above it (see photo). It is called One Foot In The Grave, and the cleaner (Charlotte Clamens) clearly has a delightfully erotic attachment to it. As the museum closes for the day the attendant (Brandon Lagaert) covers it in a plastic sheet. Only then does Jung climb down, but he gets caught in the voluminous plastic and thrashes around to get free. “Fucking job”, he says as he gets up. “You were great today”, responds Lagaert. Life is a performance, or so it seems.

Of course theatre is an illusion, but Peeping Tom is adept at making the visceral illusion so convincing that it hurtles against our understanding with all the force of an uncomfortable reality. The treatment of Moeder is not a compassionate look at motherhood but a fractured, fragmented assault on our relationship to it and therein lies its force. The physical vocabulary of disintegration and dislocation as states of mind is phantasmagorical with an anchor resting on the very deep bed of the unconscious. Carrizo is aware of this and sprinkles accents of humour here and there to soften the blow, and watching her performers is to marvel at their abandoned energy and hyperflexibility as much as to flinch at the emotions they are expressing. The duet of Lagaert and Vieria that evinces their despair at the pathological condition of their daughter while De Beul plays damning chords on the organ is literally and emotionally staggering. Music is also a palliative, especially in De Beul’s rich, mellifluous voice singing Erbame dich from Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion or in the powerfully pitch-perfect association of Vieria’s final scream of giving birth in the Foley-studio-turned-birthing room with her gravelly rendering of Janis Joplin’s Cry Baby.

Moeder wades powerfully into a question that relates to the purpose of theatre; it weaves a path between making the shock of its revelations entertaining and clothing its entertainment in shocking imagery. When Gyselbrecht reaches into a still life on the wall she delivers the damp, resisting head of Jung; a drawing of a heart bleeds and the coffee machine is a much loved female called ‘baby’ with whom Gyselbrecht has a torrid affair (to the Sinatra song, I’m a Fool to Want You) that leads to a deadly electric climax. Perhaps because of the richness of creativity in Moeder there is also a danger that the humour extends to self-congratulation — after Gyselbrecht’s tears, the water becomes a Foley exhibit in itself — and in a cast of such extraordinary performers that their abilities become independent extrusions from the physical narrative. But as in the duet of Lagaert and Vieira or when Vieira amplifies the idea of distracting her crying baby by repeatedly somersaulting on to her back, the shock and the entertainment are seamlessly integrated.

Simon Versnel as the father and widowed husband, and Yi-Chun Liu as the pregnant mid-wife complete an extraordinary cast, and those are only the people we see on stage. Moeder is clearly an exceptional collaboration between Carrizo and her team that creates a flow of haunting images about motherhood from which there is no way out but on a gurney of contrasting emotions.


Yasmine Hugonnet, Le Récital des Postures

Posted: January 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Yasmine Hugonnet, Le Récital des Postures

Yasmine Hugonnet, Le Récital des Postures, Lilian Baylis Studio, January 19

Yasmine Hugonnet in Le Récital des Postures (photo: Anne-Laure Lechat)

Presented as part of the London International Mime Festival, Yasmine Hugonnet describes Le Récital des Postures as ‘a silent concert for one instrument – the human body’. As the lights come up in the silence of the bare stage we know from the program that the human form we see is that of Hugonnet but even if you know what she looks like this image would not corroborate that knowledge because her face is well hidden by her hair; under Dominique Dardant’s lighting her hair becomes a black extension of her black top and grey tights. She is standing in profile with her upper body bent forward, her hair almost touching the ground and her hands resting just in front of her knees. The longer she remains immobile in this pose the more our eyes adjust to seeing a living sculptural form with no passport-like identification. Hugonnet descends by subtle stages to lie prone like a stain on the floor recalling the shapes of Francis Bacon’s melting figures. She seems to empty into the shadow of her own body what once filled it. And then her two arms rise eerily from the shadows like two periscopes idly surveying the audience, her legs and flexed feet articulate the space behind her like beaks that Dardant subtly highlights, and her back ripples as if subjected to an invisible, childlike hand playing with a favourite toy. In this ‘slow burn’ evolution of postures Hugonnet intensifies the subtle stillness of being through the suggestion of touch, the thinly veiled threshold of pain, and the slow sensuality of sliding and crossing limbs.

Regaining her initial pose, she slips her black top effortlessly over her head to the ground. But how can you do that with tights? Her gesture immediately transforms to the utilitarian as she takes her hands to her waist to slip them off one foot at a time. At the moment she discards her clothes she makes an artistic decision that changes the development of the work; she can no longer maintain the formal approach she has used up to that point. Briefly after she rolls up her clothes, grey within black, and brushes them in a single abrupt gesture to the side of the stage, she keeps her hair pulled forward over her bowed head, naked but still faceless. But as soon as she unfurls to the point we can identify her she has moved from Bacon to Matisse or Bonnard; she has entered the figurative. She has also entered into the recognizable aesthetic of the female nude. She has, in a sense, let the cat out of the bag when she could have kept it inside to more effect, the cat being not simply the clothing but more importantly the self-identification. The abstraction of form and the blurred edges of autonomous movement that she evokes while covered are lost in her nakedness. Once set adrift on this broader stage, Hugonnet is never again able to disguise her identity, even though she pulls her hair in fanciful arrangements with hands and feet and even, in a whimsical gender reversal, twirled carefully and held as a moustache between nose and pouted lips. Where she had begun by forcing us to change the way we see her body, slowing down our vision to take in the full ambiguity of the postures she was making, she is now in the cross hairs of our sight and fleeing the newly-emerged clarity of her bodily form. She sets off on a journey of plastic shapes, borrowing from Egyptian friezes and dance vocabulary that through motion become sculptural fragments but she leaves us no time to take in her postures; her exposure has changed the dynamic of our gaze.

Intriguingly Hugonnet reclaims her original ambiguity through aural means. In the final section she kneels facing the audience in a single posture with a dispassionate, neutral gaze. Out of the stillness and silence we hear an eerie disembodied voice, animate yet inanimate for it seems to arise from Hugonnet’s mute posture. “We are going to dance together”, says the voice, “Let your imagination dance.” As she had once made us search for the human agency of her postures through our eyes, she now confounds our ears by being both ventriloquist and doll and challenges them rather than our eyes to search for the truth of her imposture.


Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma

Posted: January 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma

Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma, Lilian Baylis Studio, January 15

Iconographic collage of Seeta Patel in Sigma (photo: ASH)

In Sigma, presented at Lilian Baylis Studio as part of the 2018 London International Mime Festival, Sean Gandini, artistic director of Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, an accomplished bharatanatyam soloist and choreographer, propose a dialogue — or flirtation as Gandini calls it — between juggling and bharatanatyam. Sigma is the second of three such dialogues Gandini has curated, the first being with classical ballet (4×4 Ephemeral Architectures) and the third, Spring, with contemporary choreography by Alexander Whitley, which will premiere at Cambridge Junction next month.

The term ‘sigma’ means ‘sum of small parts’, aptly describing the structure of Gandini’s and Patel’s dialogue that examines aspects of their respective arts from their two distinct perspectives. Clearly nothing much will result from a dialogue where perspectives are too closely aligned, and on the surface there appears to be little in common between juggling and classical Indian dance. The history of juggling suggests it has always been an artistic form on the informal edges of entertainment; while it has developed its own virtuosic routines it has eschewed a formal musical or physical framework for the improvised freedom of the street or circus. By contrast, bharatanatyam has a long history of formalized representation with an improvisational core based on a close relationship with its musicians. In formalizing such a dialogue Gandini and Patel run the risk of either framing juggling too tightly or unframing bharatanatyam, but in their irrepressible curiosity they set out to explore how the geometries and dynamics of their respective arts intersect within their common experience of space and time.

By putting the two forms on the same stage, Sigma immediately reveals a formal affinity, a double intricacy of gesture and rhythm that initially sets the dialogue alight. It is in the inordinate physical dexterity, agility and coordination of hand and eye, as well as in the use of complex musical rhythms that the two art forms thrive. Seeing Patel’s refined hand gestures against the juggling hands of Kim Huynh and Kati Ylä Hokkala and to juxtapose the complex rhythms of bouncing balls with Patel’s and Indu Panday’s intricate footwork is to appreciate both arts in a fresh light. There are notable similarities, too, in the use of improvisation (uncommon in the western classical ballet tradition) and in the dynamic tension between concentration and relaxation that allows the performers of both forms to appear at ease as they negotiate demanding routines. Perhaps one of the most interesting developments in Sigma’s dialogue, one in which both art forms find themselves in new territory, is the section ‘Tribute to London’ in which both dance and juggling are performed to the syncopated rhythms of chanted tube station names. There are also some notable disagreements between the two forms: gesture in bharatanatyam is embedded in meaning, whereas in juggling it is a function of the dynamic act. This fundamental difference renders the section in which Patel and Huynh compete in physical expressivity rather flat because there is no standard of comparison. Another disagreement is in a contrasting sense of humour. Humour in juggling is a response both to the inherent illusion and the nonchalant virtuosity of the act. In bharatanatyam humour is embedded in the story that the artist expresses. Sigma carries no story in itself — except in the ethnological, autobiographical framing — so Patel and Panday are roped into Gandini’s sense of humour that appears to be less a result of dialogue than of acquiesence.

There is an external element in Sigma that enhances its presentation: the stage setting and Guy Hoare’s atmospheric lighting. What we see as we arrive is a bare stage with two bland, institutional dividers on wheels. As the performance unfolds, so do the screens, revealing mirrors on the hidden side that reflect both the audience and the performers. In the duet between Patel and Huyhn to the aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Panday and Hokkala circle the performers with the mirrored panels, extending the sculptural forms of the choreography to which Hoare’s lighting gives a visual unity even if the full effect is evident only to those sitting in the middle of the stalls.

Out of the sum of its many components, however, Sigma fails to create a cohesive whole. The initial exploration throws up ideas like balls and keeps the dialogue afloat, but the joint dynamics fall off, and balls drop as the exchange deconstructs into its constituent soliloquys. At the end illusion peters out with a muted chorus of regrets.


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.