ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

Posted: June 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms, Shoreditch Town Hall, June 8

These Rooms

Justine Cooper in These Rooms (photo: Pat Redmond)

In the pantheon of dance commemorations commissioned by 14-18 NOW, These Rooms, which remembers an incident in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, is not a lavish spectacle like Akram Khan’s XENOS, nor a staged narrative with a literary source like Gary Clarke’s The Troth, but a theatrical rendering based on archival material and witness accounts that takes history’s many facets into account. A collaboration between ANU and CoisCéim Dance Theatre and presented as part of this year’s LIFT, These Rooms doesn’t try to glorify the dead but to bring them back to life, to give them a chance to explain what happened. In the North King Street Massacre there were casualties on both sides; the voices of victims and survivors are heard amid the rush and adrenalin of the promenade performance created in the maze of spaces in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. While Owen Boss’s meticulous designs that Ciaran Bagnall has lit suggest the rooms in which the original action took place, the costumes of Niamh Lunny, the hair and make-up of Lucy Browne and Chloe Bourke and the musical indications of Dennis Clohessy and Carl Kennedy place the events on the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre in 1966, making These Rooms a commemoration within a commemoration. Tragedy in the face of loss never descends to the level of melodrama but is rendered in profound states of danced gesture, while grief and despair are matched with bleak humour and resilience. All eight performers are note perfect in their emotional involvement: Justine Cooper, Damian Gildea, Úna Kavanagh, Niamh McCann, Jonathan Mitchell, Robbie O’Connor, Emma O’Kane and Matthew Williamson.

These Rooms does not aim to trace the entire scope of the Easter Rising, but takes one of the key skirmishes — where Irish rebels had occupied numerous small buildings and had barricaded the streets — as a simulacrum of the bold attempt to establish an Irish Republic. One of the controversial aspects of the North King Street Massacre was the indiscriminate nature of the killings; whoever lived in the houses was considered a rebel and the British troops were given the order to take no prisoners. Yet one of the transformative elements of the production is the portrayal of death, however violent, as a moment of release. The image of Williamson’s filigree hands and wide-eyed, slow-motion tumbling down the stairs after being shot is memorable.

The violence in the street is constantly suggested by the tensions between the men and women inside. Threads of stories are started then interrupted by our urgent relocation to another ‘safer’ room or corridor only to be reprised and resolved later; one cohort might see the representation of a story the other will hear recounted, but by the end we have all taken in the full picture. The audience both observes and participates for the direction of David Bolger and Louise Lowe invites us to join in the action — whether it’s sitting around in the pub, blowing up balloons, playing darts, dancing with the women, responding to questions or eating bread and jam.

Before the performance starts, the audience is divided into two cohorts that follow two separate narrative paths, one nuanced by the perspective of the Irish rebels and the other of the British troops. I start in the pub while Caterina starts in the barracks of the South Staffordshire Regiment. The sheer complexity of the logistics for the eight performers to make these two threads coherent for the audience is breathtaking for neither cohort is aware of the other until we meet in the pub to watch the 1966 tickertape parade on the bar’s television screen. Having witnessed a view of the events from the inside — particularly through the experiences of the women who in their support for the rebels had to bear the brunt of the violence and its consequences — this solemn filmed memorial appears to smooth out all the pain of history. And the story of a British soldier who thought he was being sent to France and was unprepared to kill civilians reminds us how much ‘official history’, no matter from which side, is heavy with silences.

Honouring the dead is itself a minefield of codified ritual pitting the political power and authority of the state over the privations and losses of those directly affected. These Rooms brings these two aspects into stark and uneasy cohabitation. After watching the televised parade we are ushered out the door with a solicitous word of encouragement. There is no place for applause.


Akram Khan Company, XENOS, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: June 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Akram Khan Company, XENOS, Sadler’s Wells

Akram Khan Company, XENOS, Sadler’s Wells, May 30

Xenos

Akram Khan in XENOS (photo © Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts program for the First World War centenary, XENOS is billed as a commemoration of an Indian soldier in the trenches representing the more than a million mobilized from what was then a colony of the British Empire. But it is also billed as the final full-length solo Akram Khan will choreograph on himself. So what, or who, is XENOS actually commemorating? Sarah Crompton titles her program article, ‘A new myth’ in which she discusses with Khan the making of XENOS, its creative components and the summation of his career. She concludes that the new myth is ‘to help everyone remember.’ Remember what? Both Khan’s role and the production itself are equivocal in their response.

Even though Khan was born in a south London borough to Bangladeshi parents, his dancing roots are in his classical kathak training, which makes his portrayal of ‘X’ — who dramaturg Ruth Little describes as ‘no man and everyman, the unknown and the eternal soldier, alone in a foreign land…’ — unquestionably poignant. The opening of XENOS (meaning ‘foreigner’ or ‘stranger’) is a masterful depiction of ‘X’ at the convergence of dance and conflict. As we arrive in the auditorium of Sadler’s Wells, vocalist Aditya Prakash and percussionist BC Manjunath are seated on stage performing a classical concert unperturbed by our lack of attention. Mirella Weingarten’s set is a study in absence: empty, dusty chairs, an abandoned swing and a low table covered in a fine layer of earth below a string of bare light bulbs and an array of ropes leading up an incline towards the back. It is a deserted interior scene that anticipates the passing of the present into a bleak future. It is only with an amplified electrical short circuit and a temporary blackout that the audience becomes attentive and subsides into silence; the concert continues and Khan enters as if discharged violently from a traumatic past. The music serves to revive him and he begins a haltingly remembered kathak dance; at times Manjunath has to prompt him with the chanted rhythms and the three men build up a haunting image of life interrupted and changed forever. Khan is in a sense playing himself, remembering past glories from a conflicted present, his mature body reliving what it could once do so effortlessly. More electrical short circuits and an extended black out lead us to a plangent space and time where the snake-like ropes draw Khan and all the furniture inexorably up the slope as if by an outside force — the original tug of war — and over the top.

The parapet remains throughout XENOS as the locus of the trenches and of Khan’s place in this desolate world; he connects a rope like a field cable to what appears to be a gramophone to hear a crackly recording of the names of fallen Indian soldiers, one of whom died laying cables in the mud. The horn of the gramophone later becomes a searchlight, but with these surreal allusions the connection to the First World War begins to veer off into the discursive themes of myth and evolution. Khan invokes Prometheus, the Greek Titan who is credited with the creation of man from clay and who stole fire from Zeus to facilitate the development of civilization — and its unintended consequence, war. Khan’s depiction of evolution seems to cover the period from Mowgli to the Mahabharata, subtly shifting the focus of XENOS from the representation of colonial ‘X’ into the current myth of Khan himself. It’s as if ‘X’ has offloaded his ‘otherness’ and has returned home, which is now in Wimbledon.

In the Crompton interview, Khan acknowledges an Indian academic who had thought remembrance was ‘a white thing’. This notion had spurred Khan to delve into the archives of Indian involvement in the First World War, which in turn imbued his empathetic memorialization of ‘X’ at the beginning of XENOS. However, any further attempt at excavating the memory of these forgotten soldiers from oblivion is lost in the meandering rhetoric and the ‘whiteness’ of this lavish monument of a production.

By the time lighting designer Michael Hulls, composer Vincenzo Lamagna and sound engineer Julien Deloison introduce that glorious go-to expression of sorrowful beauty, Mozart’s Lacrimosa from his Requiem mass, blasted from a Schechtian gallery of musicians suspended in light above the stage, the commemoration has turned fully on Kahn: the end of the war has become conflated with the end of his solo career.


Gary Clarke and Akademi, The Troth at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted: May 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gary Clarke and Akademi, The Troth at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Gary Clarke and Akademi, The Troth, Queen Elizabeth Hall, May 5

The Troth

Subhash Viman Gorania and Vidya Patel in The Troth (photo: Simon Richardson)

The original review was published online in pulseconnects and appears here by kind permission of its editor, Sanjeevini Dutta. 

Gary Clarke’s choreographic adaptation of The Troth at Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Alchemy is based on a love story (Usne Kaha Tha in its original Hindi) written in 1915 by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri that is set against the background of India’s involvement as part of the British Empire in the First World War.

As a youth Lehna Singh (Subhash Viman Gorania) meets Leela (Vidya Patel), like Romeo meeting Juliet, at a market festival and falls in love with her. When he bumps into her some years later, he learns she is betrothed. He answers a recruitment call to join the British Army and begins training. Eighteen years into the story, on the outbreak of the First World War, he discovers that his Captain (Songhay Toldon) is Leela’s husband and father of their son, Bodha (Dom Coffey), who is also leaving for the front. On their departure Leela takes Lehna aside and makes him promise to protect her family at all costs. Driven by his love for Leela and his sense of duty, Lehna fulfills his promise at the cost of his own life.

There is in the relationship between Lehna and Leela a metaphor for the ties between India and the British Raj, whether Guleri meant it or not. The British Army’s inducements to Indians like Lehna to protect the Empire were more calculatingly material — a contemporary recruitment poster offers shoes and food in return for the sacrifice of their lives — but the honourable relationship between country and beloved motherland had the same tragic consequences.

Despite its historical context, there is no horror in the re-telling of this story; dance can’t do horror very well and even the projected archival film footage of Indian soldiers on the front is quite sanitized, filmed from a safe distance behind the lines and suffused with subtle propaganda. One photograph of a pair of disintegrating legs attached to their boots in the mud is the only graphic image, a reminder of the fate of 60,000 Indian soldiers in the conflict. Shri Sriram’s percussive sound score rattles with bullets and explosions at high intensity and the dancers run at full tilt and fly to the ground in the chaos of battle but the reiteration of such physical exertion becomes a choreographic trope unless Clarke is suggesting the naivety of gymnastic preparations for modern warfare. The staged vigour of the soldiers on the battlefield is not far removed from the earlier men’s dances in the market, but how can one possibly approach on stage the conditions under which these soldiers had to exist in the trenches?

Neither did Guleri intend to write an anti-war tract; he was more concerned with the qualities of the heart. Hence, while Clarke’s treatment of The Troth can only approximate the war experiences, he shows more convincingly — because we can relate more easily with it and because dance can do it so well — the romance of Guleri’s story.

Clarke, as choreographer and director, takes the story at face value, and in Patel he has a convincing heroine for whom Gorania is quite understandably willing to sacrifice himself. But in framing the story on the troth between Lehna and Leela Clarke and producer, Akademi, risk subsuming the broader political picture into a romantic evocation of the past. This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, and The Troth is part of a cultural outpouring marking its remembrance. Next month, for example, Akram Khan’s full-scale solo Xenos ‘conjures the shell-shocked dream of a colonial soldier in the context of the First World War’ while English National Ballet will reprise its Lest We Forget program in September. The tendency of such works, and of the commemorative purposes underlying them, is to focus on the effects of war rather than on its causes; hence the stories of loss, love, loyalty, heroism and pity (‘The poetry is in the pity’, as Wilfred Owen wrote in a preface to his war poems). And yet in using these emotional stories as a means of memorialization, are we not in danger of forgetting the political forces that engendered them, those same political forces that continue to preside over the act of remembrance?

In Clarke’s previous work, Coal, about the 1984/85 coal miner’s strike, he contextualizes political force by juxtaposing the lives of the miners and their families with an appearance by a belligerent Mrs. Thatcher. It is this tension that holds the work together but in The Troththe use of archival film as historical context is little more than background and barely offsets the lack of narrative tension in the story. Perhaps Clarke could have found a way to use the political metaphor in the story but that would have run the risk of a post-colonial reading at odds with the commemorative intention of the work.


Wayne Parsons Dance, Meeting and Vestige at The Place 2018

Posted: May 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Wayne Parsons Dance, Meeting and Vestige at The Place 2018

Wayne Parsons Dance, Double Bill: Meeting & Vestige, The Place, April 28

Meeting

Katie Lusby and Wayne Parsons in an earlier Meeting (photo: ASH)

In his introductory note to the evening’s program, Wayne Parsons writes that the double bill of Meeting and Vestige ‘charts the development of my work over the past 5 years’ and adds that Meeting was the work that launched his company at The Place in Resolution! 2013. If this is point A, and presumably Vestige is the more recent point B, a line can be drawn between them that traces Parsons’ development. So what does this line reveal? An interest in narrative is evident in both works along with the mechanism of memory: in Meeting it is the body memory that dancers employ to recall movement to a particular music, while in Vestige it is the evocation through memory of a person who has died. As a dancer, Parsons would know the former only too well, and perhaps experienced it in the remaking of Meeting with Katie Lusby. In Vestige the three characters closest to the deceased take turns in remembering her in words and action while she illustrates her side of the picture through dance alone. On a more psychological level, the male dancer in Meeting (Parsons himself) and the portrayal of the husband in Vestige both display a chauvinist approach to truth and a rejection of the opinion of others that is often accompanied by a sardonic smile.

Meeting is an accomplished work that in its brief 15 minutes suggests a maturity of conception with an ease of style. It shows the two dancers rehearsing sequences of movement they are in the process of remembering. Body memory is never quite the same for two different bodies, and Meeting plays on this ambiguity. Parsons suggests a phrase and Lusby responds with her version, be it as small as a variation in the hand, or as major as a change in the order of a sequence. Lusby is constantly smiling with the pleasure of going through the motions of remembering while Parsons smiles but often with the pleasure of correcting Lusby and asserting his own recall. The sense of humour in Meeting goes beyond the smiles, however, expressing an evident delight in the physical play and in the gentle one-upmanship on both sides but underneath Parsons subtly modifies the notion of recollection from shared suggestion to a controlling physical manipulation and then to sexual innuendo from which Lusby releases herself in the final gesture. Meeting extracts a number of possibilities from its subject that all are inherent within it and it is Parsons’ seemingly effortless slippage from one to the other while maintaining a consistent choreographic vocabulary that mark the work’s sense of completeness.

All these traits find their way into Vestige with one major difference; the narrative has become literal rather than choreographic. In working with author Ankur Bahl and a dramaturg Pooja Ghai Parsons has allowed the influence of the word to become central to an understanding of the plot and to its reenactment rather than implicit within a choreographic framework. The focus of the story is Livia, a socialite (Grace Jabbari) who relives her posthumous fame as recalled by the three people who were closest to her: husband Killian (Ian Garside), a ‘fan-girl archivist’ named Suki (Sonya Cullingford) and Cath, a ‘needy portrait artist’ (Katie Lusby). The story opens with the death of Livia so her subsequent re-embodiment serves to corroborate or reject the memories of others, like a celebrity biopic in which interviews with friends and family are juxtaposed with live footage and an eclectic playlist (designed by Angus MacRae). Vestige is entirely fictional but it borrows the biopic form to piece together a discordant portrait between the glitter of public life and private despair. Jabbari dances her life while interacting as both subject and object of the others’ verbal memories. Her duet with Garside shifts from a broken waltz of longing for tenderness and attention — “She could only fall in love to a waltz” — to his callous resistance if not rejection. This is where Parsons’ choreographic manipulation provides a link to Meeting and is a powerful image of selective truth. But by the time Jabbari takes the floor in the final sequence the weight of the verbal narrative intrudes too literally on the choreographic invention; collapsing too often evokes breakdown but is not enough to convey the full range of emotional turmoil.

The line from Meeting to Vestige suggests a development of influences in which Parsons’ own initial inspiration has been modified beyond his natural ability to mould it. His strength is to infuse movement with its own power of telling, which is what will give shape once again to memory.


Gandini Juggling and Alexander Whitley, Spring at artsdepot

Posted: April 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gandini Juggling and Alexander Whitley, Spring at artsdepot

Gandini Juggling and Alexander Whitley, Spring, artsdepot, April 12

Gandini Juggling and Alexander Whitley Company in Spring (photo: Martin McLachlan)

Ever since Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä-Hokkala began Gandini Juggling in 1991 their fertile imaginations have sought to present their art in innovative ways, expanding the traditional form of juggling into the spaces offered by theatrical and choreographic structures. Ylä-Hokkala had a background in rhythmic gymnastics and both she and Gandini performed with Ra-Ra Zoo, one of the UK’s New Circus groups of the 1980s that pioneered a theatrical approach to circus arts. Among circus artists at that time there was a surge of interest in the crossover between dance and juggling but Gandini and Ylä-Hokkala went a stage further. For the first decade of their company they worked with dancer Gill Clarke to explore ways in which a movement vocabulary of the body could inform their performance which meant not only taking class with Clarke but working with her on a choreographic approach to organizing their material. Several works were created in this way and dance became an integral part of Gandini Juggling’s performances. One can’t help feeling the legacy of Clarke, who died in 2011, in the trio of projects Gandini Juggling has instigated over the last three years with three different forms of dance: classical ballet in 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures with choreographer Ludovic Ondiviela; bharatanatyam in Sigma with dancer/choreographer Seeta Patel and contemporary in Spring with choreographer Alexander Whitley that artsdepot has supported and recently presented as part of CircusFest 2018.

In each of these projects the performance is not simply a juxtaposition of juggling and dance but the outcome of a process of mutual questioning in which each art form explores ways to integrate its essential qualities into the other’s mode of expression. It’s a complex relationship that requires willingness on both sides for immersion in, and exchange with the alternative discipline and even then the end product is not a guaranteed fusion. In 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures Ondiviela was unable to imbue classical ballet with the ludic virtuosity of juggling, causing a qualitative rift between the two. In Sigma Patel had no problem with matching the gestural dexterity and rhythmic vigour of bharatanatyam but the two forms belong to such different heritages that the seams had difficulty being drawn together. In Spring, however, Whitley and Gandini Juggling have achieved a fusion that in every aspect releases and capitalizes on the potential for such collaboration. The three dancers from Whitley’s company (Yu-Hsien Wu, Tia Hockey and Leon Poulton) and the five performers from Gandini Juggling (jugglers Dominik Harant, Kati Ylä-Hokkala, Kim Huynh, Liza van Brakel, Tristan Curty and dancer Erin O’Toole) create a seamless display that is neither juggling nor dance but somewhere elevated in between. The jugglers merge into the fluidity of the dance while maintaining a strict attention to their skills and the dancers riff on their body phrases as if they are juggling their bodies in space. When they work together they are often indistinguishable, as in the floor routines of complex leg patterns that have the intricacy of knitting, and playful juggling routines in which the dancers participate.

From the very opening when Curty sets the tone by informing us dryly that this is the beginning, a sense of humour pervades the performance that is closer to a sense of growing wonder; both juggling and dance are imbued with a never-ending flow of invention and skill like two minds so deep in dialogue that ideas bounce continually from one to the other.

With its percussive rhythms, playful dissonances and vivid sound effects that drive the dance as much as the juggling, Gabriel Prokofiev’s score is central to the work. Words are tossed in multiple languages, counts are whispered and colours chanted, merging in an out of the music to form a soundscape that is part circus, part club and part effervescent happening. Guy Hoare’s lighting is a celebration of colour that plays with the score as much as with the bodies that Lydia Cawson has costumed in neutral grey. He lights the performers against initially bright primary shades of red, blue and yellow then moves to black and white with coloured shadows. High sidelights pick out the trajectory and colour of the balls and rings as they reach the top of their arc and Hoare has fun adjusting perspective while intermingling and multiplying projected shadows and silhouettes against brightly-coloured washes.

Spring is indeed an appropriate title: the show is an exuberant, irrepressible manifestation of colour and rhythm for which the creators have joined forces in a coordinated gasp of elemental wonder.

 

For detailed information about the history and art of Gandini Juggling, see Thomas JM Wilson’s Juggling Trajectories: Gandini Juggling 1991-2015 to which I am indebted for the background to this review. 


Jacky Lansley, About Us, Oxford House Theatre

Posted: April 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jacky Lansley, About Us, Oxford House Theatre

Jacky Lansley, About Us, Oxford House Theatre, March 21

About Us

Esther Huss and Jacky Lansley in About Us (photo: Sarah Covington)

There is a certain latitude in the definition of the two words Jacky Lansley uses for her new work: About Us. Who exactly is ‘us’ and, depending on the answer to that question, what is it ‘about us’ that is the subject of the work? On one level, ‘us’ refers to the eight performers (six in the theatre and two on film), whose personal stories form the initial structure of the work. As Lansley writes in the program about the research process, ‘…I invited each of the performing artists to bring a story to the studio that was joyful, distressing or mundane. These stories were then explored through a range of physical and vocal disciplines to create live performance material…’ The stories value the ordinary and the everyday that Lansley then interrogates with a ‘wide range of visual, choreographic and conceptual stimuli’ to reveal their deeper significance. At the heart of the process is her conviction that ‘the personal is political’ and she links the two by applying refractive filters to the stories that through suggestion, analogy, parody or juxtaposition generate a construction of underlying themes and observations that emerge as a layered image of what we might call contemporary British society. Thus, by way of philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, the singularity of the eight performers’ experiences becomes the plurality of ‘us’ not in the sense of a self-regulating, enclosed group but as an open and imaginative relation of the individual to others.

Entering the theatre — a large rectangular area with two parallel lines of chairs facing each other across the performance space and at either end — we notice some of the chairs are already occupied by the performers (you can guess they are performers because Fergus Early is sitting in cricket whites holding a bat and Esther Huss is wearing sunglasses). Projected on the wall on either side is a reminder of the work’s inclusive premise, the word ‘Us’.

The sound score by Sylvia Hallett is like a stave on which the performance is threaded, for she has taken the voices of the recorded oral stories as a starting point for her composition. When we see and hear Ingrid MacKinnon (and her son, Max) on film, her dialogue is a coherent whole but with performers Huss and Jreena Green, Hallett takes a single phrase and repeats it as a musical riff on which the choreography is based or, in the case of Tim Taylor, composes his thoughts into a song in the style of Noel Coward. And is it fanciful to hear in her electronic treatment of Early’s rhythmic tapping of a bat in its crease the extrapolation of cricket’s colonial legacy to the rattle of a machine gun?

Roswitha Chesher’s beautifully filmed sequences, like Hallett’s score, move from the straightforward (interviews) to the surreal (Fergus and Ursula Early hissing and growling) to the delightfully frivolous (portraits in stylish hats). She films a tennis match that is reminiscent of the mimed game in Antonioni’s Blow Up but here represents a cultural environment of rules, sportsmanship, cooperation and competition that in the context of the great current leveler, Brexit, seem to have lost their meaning — or are perhaps in the process of searching for a new one — which makes the very question of ‘us’ even more relevant.

In one sense, About Us coalesces around this country’s ongoing political and social unrest and how individual circumstances feed into it. The value of artistic means is that they can make ‘us’ (in Nancy’s sense) think deeply through the imagination, and Lansley shows us to what extent the personal is political. At the same time she suggests the role of choreography, as both a mirror of the tangled web of cause and effect and as a means to resolve it, is an appropriate metaphor for a way forward. As dramaturg Ramsay Burt asks, ‘Are we perhaps choreographing hope…?’ The final section, however, goes far beyond this current political quandary to embrace the very survival of the planet. The original stories give way to projected statistics and quotations that form a didactic panorama about endangered species — not least about our own. Even if it’s still ‘about us’, the very enormity of the scope dwarfs the original frame of the work; how can these personal stories connect to the impending extinction of the planet as we know it?

Although there is a connection — Lansley points out that Britain’s colonial legacy includes the recreational hunting for wildlife trophies that has escalated into trafficking for profit — it seems the creative archaeology of the personal experience has suddenly been appropriated by an intellectual endgame. It’s as if an umpire, instead of allowing the players to reach their own result, has imposed on the game a prearranged conclusion. How ironic that this sounds like the mandate for Brexit.


Fabrizio Cassol and Alain Platel, Requiem pour L. at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Fabrizio Cassol and Alain Platel, Requiem pour L. at Sadler’s Wells

Fabrizio Cassol and Alain Platel, Requiem pour L., Sadler’s Wells, March 20

Requiem pour L.

Boule Mpanya with Niels Van Heertum on euphonium in Requiem pour L. (photo: Chris Van Der Burght)

It is immediately apparent in Alain Platel’s and Fabrizio Cassol’s Requiem pour L. that ‘L’ refers to Elle whom we see on a cinematic screen at the back of the stage. Filmed in close-up by Natan Rosseel she is dying peacefully at home, lying on a cushion surrounded by the partially cropped hands and faces of loved ones, her face tired, her eyes opening and closing slowly, her mouth going through the motions of swallowing, her expression one of neither content nor distress. The film is shot in black and white and slowed down considerably, so that heads pass in front of the lens with impossible slowness temporarily obscuring the woman’s face. Hands stroke her fair, softly frizzled hair and mouths whisper in her ear; a man’s face appears, possibly the woman’s son, for her smile and her gaze rest on him with a devotional intensity. Her entire being engages with him in some final, inaudible words before she closes her eyes again and lapses into a peaceful repose. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, her mouth falls open as death creeps up and life leaves her. The images convey not only the reality of this woman’s final moments but the fragility of life as it simply and effortlessly drains away. The video, edited by Simon Van Rompay, lasts for the duration of Requiem pour L. and is in itself a silent, reflective requiem in moving images.

Cassol’s reinterpretation of Wolfang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem, based on the traditional funeral mass, serves as both an accompaniment to Elle’s final journey and as a requiem for her death. Cassol had researched Mozart’s score in original manuscripts, both transcribing and reworking it for a band of predominantly African musicians and vocalists with whom he and Platel had already worked. His score reimagines the Requiem through two contrasting cultural traditions, European and African — or, as dramaturg Hildegard De Vuyst writes, as ‘a different kind of ceremony for mourning that is neither Western nor African’ — while Platel’s direction reinforces this duality by bringing them together.

The performance references a traditional ritual of leaving a stone on the tomb of a loved one as a personal memorial, a quiet act by each of the musicians that reflects the poignancy of the screened images. As João Barradas begins the Introitus on his accordion, the notes lend an eerie dimension to the ghost-like figures attending the dying woman on the screen. A change of rhythm interrupts the reverie as the other members of the band and vocalists enter; Cassol’s concept weaves non-Western cultural references to mourning in an array of vocal gestures and instrumental sounds (conducted by bass player Rodriguez Vangama) that generate contrasting registers and harmonies. In place of Mozart’s four soloists there are now three, a tenor (Owen Metsileng), soprano (Nobulumko Mngxekeza), and countertenor (Rodrigo Ferreira) who combine with three black voices from the oral tradition (Fredy Massamba, Boule Mpanya and Russell Tshiebua) to bring to the structure of the Catholic mass socially shared rituals and expressions of pain as well as celebration that prove compelling. On stage, however, Van Rompay’s slow motion, ethereal, images are seen in stark contrast to the monolithic maze of black podiums on which the movement of the musicians and performers is grounded, while overhead lighting places shadows on the lower parts of faces so that often a voice is heard but the mouth from which it issues cannot be seen. It is left to the non-place of Cassol’s reimagined Requiem to seek to bridge the divide — both aurally and spiritually — between the visual and performative planes of the work, though it is not entirely successful.

Cultures relate to death and ritualize mourning differently; in Western industrialized societies such practices have been increasingly sanitized and privatized. Death happens quietly behind closed doors and how we die is seldom discussed openly and even less seen publicly. At the risk of provocation, Platel and Cassol overturn this tradition and interrogate a western religious musical form with an alternative mourning tradition. Each in itself is a separate project that questions the order through which we understand a cultural offering, and in this respect Cassol’s score in itself sets up a meaningful perspective. However, the juxtaposition of his choreographed Requiem and the intensely private video is not enough to suggest a new cross-cultural framework for commemorating the dead. For that an entirely new grid — to borrow a term from Michel Foucault — would be needed to merge the two in a unified whole. This has not happened, leaving the two projects stranded in close proximity.


Russell Maliphant Company, maliphantworks2 at Coronet Print Room

Posted: March 19th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Russell Maliphant Company, maliphantworks2 at Coronet Print Room

Russell Maliphant Company, maliphantworks2, Coronet Print Room, March 13

Russell Maliphant

Russell Maliphant and Dana Fouras in Duet (photo: Tom Bowles)

Russell Maliphant’s week at the Coronet Print Room in Notting Hill is a very intimate affair, to which the chic délabré intimacy of the former Coronet theatre is ideally suited. It is one of those theatres whose atmosphere critic Cyril Beaumont described as having a ‘warmth and friendliness that gives the spectator the feeling of being a member of a pleasant club’ and there is a sense of the membership of this particular club coming to pay homage to one of their own. It is not exactly a full evening — the first intermission is longer than the first two works — and it’s a performance of re-immersion into a body of work that has a very recognizable form of craftsmanship in which the influence of sculpture is evident in the plasticity of the dance movement. There is no indication in the program when these works were created, but it doesn’t really matter; however new Maliphant’s works may be there is always an element of the retrospective in their presentation. His synonymous association with the lighting designer Michael Hulls serves to reinforce this familiarity; it is a given that all four stage works are choreographed and directed by Maliphant and all lighting designs are by Hulls.

Maliphant creates material forms with the body that Hulls transforms in light. Their opus is at its best an exquisite aesthetic experience — as those who saw their collaboration on Afterlight with Daniel Proietto as Nijinsky might attest — but too often lacks the inspiration to rise above precious familiarity. Of the four works on the program this evening, the visual and emotional gauge is more aligned with familiarity than with the exquisite. In the duet with Dana Fouras and Grace Jabbari, Two Times Two, the sculptural forms are reminiscent of Maliphant’s Rodin Project: classical marble figures moving in a kinetic dream. Andy Cowton’s score and Hulls’ lighting subject the forms to a process of dematerialization until the final slicing arm gestures diminish to beautiful swathes of light. Critical Mass performed by Maliphant and Mbi is a meditation on balance and posture as they are redefined by tension and suspension. There is dexterity of movement as the centres of the dancers’ and that of the composition shift and hold still, building a critical mass through repetition. Hulls’ lighting here is subtle, but in Dickson Mbi’s solo section of his duet with Jabbari, Still, he is trapped in Jan Urbanowski’s animation that with Hulls’ lighting covers him in a moving barcode on a gloomy ground. When Mbi dances it is worth watching; to superimpose a light project that all but obscures his movement and reduces it to a mere plastic aesthetic is to take advantage of the choreography, and to do it in a way that is unsettling on the eyes is tiresomely self-indulgent.

The final work, Duet, is a world premiere in which Maliphant dances with his wife and collaborator, Fouras; it is the first time in fifteen years that London audiences have the opportunity to see them dance together and it is a moment worth celebrating. There is a genuine sentimentality here that is in the vein of a recording of Caruso singing Una Furtiva Lagrima that emerges from Fouras’s sound score. Interestingly, Hulls keeps a respectful distance in lighting Duet which allows a very personal narrative of two lovers to emanate from the choreography. It is a polished performance of natural elegance and carries an emotional implication that is not lost on the audience.

What to make of the fifth work on the program, Other? It is a ten-minute video installation that is played on a loop in the theatre’s smaller studio that shows Maliphant and Fouras, on their respective sides of a split screen, embroiled in the turbulent surf off the Atlantic coast of West Cork, gesturing wildly and powerlessly in their evening dress against its incoming force. It is not clear if the installation was made specifically for this week’s program or was edited from original material to bolster the length of the evening. It is ‘made from footage originally conceived, directed and shot by Tim Etchells and Hugo Glendinning’, with a sound score by Fouras. Other could well illustrate the condition of the artist flailing against the forces of contemporary society in which impotence becomes the subject of a work of art, except that without a context the very artfulness of its solipsistic concept turns the work in on itself and robs it of any wider significance.


Ballet British Columbia’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet British Columbia’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Ballet British Columbia, Triple Bill, Sadler’s Wells, March 6

Ballet British Columbia

Scott Fowler and artists of Ballet British Columbia in Bill (photo: Chris Randle)

The UK tour of Ballet British Columbia that Dance Consortium has organized coincides with a change of government in Canada where the current liberal party under Justin Trudeau has filled up the cultural sector coffers the previous conservative party had spent years diminishing. Thus a medium-sized company from the West coast of Canada has been able to add to the country’s cultural profile in the UK and from the program Ballet BC offered at Sadler’s Wells it looks decidedly healthy. Artistic Director Emily Molnar’s opening choreography for this triple bill, 16+ a room, reminds us of the connection she has had with William Forsythe at Ballett Frankfurt although she has made the work very much in the image of her company. Only two of the current dancers remain from before Molnar became artistic director in 2009, so this is a group she has developed through exposing them to a rich gamut of commissioned works, choreographic methods and styles. It is a finely honed company that puts technical strength at the service of an engaging and generous choreographic language.

From the beginning of 16+ a room (2013) there is a sense of an intellectual approach to the physical language, as if the dancers are working out amongst themselves the problem Molnar has set them. At the same time the problem she has set — what would happen if you put 16 people in a room and started tipping it — creates its own dynamic of sliding, balancing, suspending and tilting that she wraps in a vocabulary of muscular classicism. Jordan Tuinman’s lighting provides a sense of both luminous intensity and architectural shift while Kate Burrows’ costumes give freedom to the contained force and articulate extension of the dancers. The energy that tips the room comes from the declamatory electronic score of Dirk Haubrich, providing a high-voltage current through its three sections to bind together the choreography, visual form and aural environment of 16+ a room into a single organic entity.

From Haubrich to Brahms is more of a musical step than it is to move from the style of Molnar to that of Crystal Pite. Each choreographer acknowledges a debt to Forsythe, and in Solo Echo (2012) Pite interpolates her vocabulary in the calm of Brahms’ chamber music (the Allegro non troppo from his Cello sonata in E minor and the Adagio affetusoso from his Cello sonata in F major). She quotes a poem by Mark Strand, Lines for Winter, in the program note, but Solo Echo is a poem in itself written on the bodies of the seven dancers and suggested in Jay Gower Taylor’s setting of falling snow. Between the exquisite opening solo of Brandon Alley and the ineffable sigh of his slumped body abandoned in the snow at the end is ‘a human journey from adolescence to adulthood’ that breathes with the emotional intricacy of the music. This is pre-Polaris Pite where the hive mentality has not yet coalesced; the sense of community is suggested rather through a constant tide of individual comings and goings, one motion inspiring another, not unlike the way the cello and piano weave their respective melodies yet maintain their respective voices. The unity of this intensely musical work is further enhanced by Pite and Joke Visser’s spare costumes of dark, pinstriped waistcoats and trousers while Tom Visser’s evocative lighting subtly indicates the shifting focus of our attention. If 16+ a room is extrovert and energetic, Solo Echo turns the dancers on themselves in a state of poignant reflection.

After the second intermission, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Bill (2010), originally created for Batsheva Dance Company with a score by Ori Lichtik, promises to further extend the scope of Ballet BC’s achievement. Unitards concentrate our attention on the structure of the body, its lines, shapes and gestures in four male solos that are respectively sensually outrageous, energetically comic, fluidly articulate, and stoically introspective. But the fifth, female solo begins to de-emphasise the individual to pave the way for the communal — a duality that pervades Israeli choreography. Expanding our focus to take in the entire stage at once, the nature of the visual game is searching the shifting unity of the 18 undulating, gesticulating dancers for subtle changes in rhythm and shape that Omer Sheizaf’s tonal lighting both emulates and encourages. Eyal and Behar extract sufficient differentiation within the group, but after the assertive individuality of the first two works Bill feels in its latter construction disconcertingly insubstantial. It is perhaps a case of the work’s formal integration into the company’s West coast ethos lacking the vital context of its social and cultural origins.

(Ian Abbott was the first to see this program at the Birmingham Hippodrome in 2016)


Sasha Waltz & Guests, Körper, at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 8th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sasha Waltz & Guests, Körper, at Sadler’s Wells

Sasha Waltz & Guests, Körper, Sadler’s Wells, March 1

Körper

A scene from Körper (photo: Bernd Uhlig)

Körper’s genes are good; it has worn well since it was created 18 years ago as part of Sasha Waltz & Guests’ trilogy about the human body, as strong visually as it is coherent conceptually and theatrically. It has no problem with its heart, nor with its lungs — despite evidence of quite heavy smoking — running for 75 minutes without a pause and never faltering. It looks at itself clinically, without vanity; it is clothed and unclothed, its flesh grabbed, pulled and stretched mercilessly, its structure deconstructed and reconstructed, its limbs labeled and mislabeled, measured, annotated and illustrated, its liquids drained, its organs identified, priced for transplant and its natural conception questioned.

Körper merges a ludic treatment of anatomy and ethics with an architectural plan and elevation (by Thomas Schenk, Heike Schuppelius and Waltz) that places the subject on a site of epic proportions enhanced by Hans Peter Kuhn’s contoured soundscape and by Valentin Gallé and Martin Hauk’s lighting. The strength of the performance within this environment belies the frailty of the bodily processes under scrutiny.

Reminiscent of the asymmetrical angles and planes of architect Daniel Liebeskind’s buildings, the stage set complements the intricate architecture of the body both as a concept and as the instrument of Waltz’s choreography: the physical body defines the space in which it moves as proximity and distance, as rhythm and pace of experience, and as the contours of sensory perception. Körper is in fact a subtle reflection on embodiment as a measure of being, as Clémentine Deluy’s enigmatic solo suggests with her long braided hair stretched on two poles that are rooted to her waist and extend the perimeters of her body’s boundaries. It is a moving physical image that in its duality of substance and non-substantiality establishes the incalculable measure of the body and the multidimentional architecture of Waltz’s work.

Throughout Körper Waltz punctuates the choreography with references to the visual and mythical history of the body. Behind a vertical vitrine, bare-skinned performers climb over and under each other as if the eighteenth-century wax anatomical models of Clemente Susini or Ercole Lelli had come alive and pressed their flesh against the glass or a molten version of Rodin’s Gates of Hell with Adam and Eve reaching for each other at its apex. There are centaur-like figures of a naked female torso astride a man’s legs; Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man traced on blackboards by each of four women, as well as Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of motion. Waltz merges these images within contemporary scenarios of bodily obsession and paranoia, commodification and treatment, peeling back the layers of corporeality by appropriating the tropes of anatomical and medical illustrations. As we see in Clyde Emmanuel Archer’s articulated, collapsing solo that dispassionately depicts traumatic paralysis, Waltz also questions what it means to be a body in exceptional circumstances.

A recurring motif is a spoken text describing an everyday bodily narrative (Luc Dunberry waking up, or Claudia de Serpa Soares’ menstrual pain, for example) in which the language of body parts does not correspond to their gestural illustration. The inconsistency between text and gesture suggests the disparity in the ways different cultures refer to the body, and underlines the articulation of self-identity and feeling. It also points to the approximation through which we know and talk about the body, the conundrum of being a body whilst making it at the same time a discursive object.

Körper wraps this intellectual questioning and passionate concern for the body in a sense of theatre that lives and breathes with its choreographer and director; Waltz, who appeared on the stage to receive the applause with her dancers, is clearly still at the helm of the company she founded with Jochen Sandig in 1993. Many of her dancers have remained with her almost since the beginning, growing into her way of moving as much as her way of thinking. It was the same with Pina Bausch’s company when she was alive, an expression of what Walter Benjamin described in terms of visual art as the ‘aura’ of an original. Unlike a painting, however, which has had the direct and unmitigated hand of the artist on the canvas, the guiding hand of the choreographer detaches from his or her work once it is no longer there. Since their deaths, the works created by Balanchine, Ashton, MacMillan, Cunningham, Graham and Bausch, for example, contain only a certificate of origin, not a live seal of approval. It is clear in Körper that this auric energy is in full flow, and it is a privilege to see it in action.