Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

Posted: June 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord, The Place, June 16

Linyekula

Jeannot Kumbonyeki in Faustin Linyekula’s In Search of Dinozord (photo: Steve Gunther)

Faustin Linyekula is a dancer and choreographer based in Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is safe to say his country has had a volatile existence over the last century at the hands of colonial exploiters and of its own successive political regimes since gaining independence in 1960. Profits from its vast natural resources have funded bitterly internecine wars that claimed the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people between 1996 and 2003 alone. The names of its presidents Lumumba, Mobutu and Kabila have filled newspaper headlines but at The Place in London recently, as part of LIFT’s 2018 program, Linyekula and a handful of colleagues have recalled both the rich complexity of their country and its tortured legacy through the powerful theatrical mediums of dance and storytelling. In Search of Dinozord, as its name suggests, sets out on a journey without knowing if it will find what it is looking for or even what or where it may be. Did the journey really take place? The question is irrelevant, for the journey enters the emotional intensity of memory in which the distinctions between reality and imagination are forever blurred.

The setting is visually sparse yet charged with significance. A wide strip of crimson material hangs vertically on the back wall from floor to ceiling next to a large plywood panel; a group of performers huddle around a battered red metal trunk on one side and on the other a man sits in front of a typewriter at a desk in preparation for writing. Linyekula, his face daubed in white, stands behind a low wooden frame waiting to nudge his laptop into action. What he unleashes is the sound of helicopter blades layered into a frantic, screaming cauldron of sound that is Nierica by the French experimental and conceptual composer Joachim Montessuis; Linyekula sings through it, his trembling hands becoming a motif that will later spread to the bodies of his dancers, a fretful image of disease, fear or pain. Nierica is the sonic earthquake of the past from which the present performance can begin: creativity out of chaos.

The political history of the Democratic Republic of Congo is never far from the surface of In Search of Dinozord but Linyekula focuses instead, as with his current infrastructure projects in Kisangani, on building a new cultural landscape in which the future can thrive. This was also one of the dreams of his friend Richard Kabako who died of the plague on his way into exile. Kabako was a poet and playwright whose writings are kept in that red metal trunk and some of whose stories are related by Linyekula and singer Hlengiwe Lushaba during the performance. The man behind the typewriter is the theatre director Antoine Vumilia Muhindo some of whose aphorisms are projected on to the plywood screen. Muhindo was sentenced to life imprisonment in the infamous Makala prison in Kinshasa but managed to escape after nine years. And there’s a video appearance on a makeshift screen of another of Linyekula’s friends, the exiled actor and storyteller Maurice Mbwiti. It’s as if the stage has become the ground on which a new history of the Congo and its diaspora is being devised.

Linyekula has stated that ‘My only true country is my body’ and it is in the body that the search for Dinozord takes place. Linyekula convincingly appropriates a predominantly western play list — from Mozart to Arvo Pärt, from Jimi Hendrix to Montessuis — into the bodies of his performers. Pärt’s short organ works are seamlessly worked into the soundscape his three dancers (Jeannot Kumbonyeki, Papy Ebotani and Yves Mwamba) starkly inhabit while Lushaba’s extraordinary vocal range delivers a cappella sections of Mozart’s Requiem that are shorn of all western ecclesiastical references. But it is Kumbonyeki’s response to Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile where the body is transfigured, raising his krumping to the explosive levels of Hendrix’s mastery of the guitar. If Linyekula has honoured the dead with a discursive Requiem, in this final act he conjures up the passion of the Resurrection.

In Search of Dinozord is an open-ended performance in the sense that nothing seems finished but what is presented is complete. It takes you out of a familiar, tightly constructed theatrical framework where you know when to laugh, when to applaud and where individuality can so easily become the focus of a performance. This is a broad landscape in which a small group of charismatic performers carry the forgotten dreams of an entire country.


A Truefitt Collective Triple Bill of Love & Spaghetti at Blue Elephant

Posted: June 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Truefitt Collective Triple Bill of Love & Spaghetti at Blue Elephant

Love & Spaghetti, Triple Bill, Blue Elephant Theatre, May 31

Love & Spaghetti

Eva Escrich Gonzalez and Jay Yule in Love & Spaghetti (photo: Ross Truefitt)

Blue Elephant Theatre’s importance in London’s dance infrastructure is that you can’t hide in production values what you present on its tiny stage. What you see are the bare essentials of artistic endeavor that will always be the true starting point of any work. And because you can’t put more than a handful of people on the stage and the audience is very close, this is intimate dance, and as such it is unforgiving. That this triple bill, curated by Kasia Truefitt of A Truefitt Collective, survives the ordeal is already a measure of its success. The title of the evening — Love & Spaghetti — lumps together a commonly misunderstood subject with a commonly misunderstood pasta dish, but while each of the three works clearly chooses love as a central ingredient, spaghetti is relegated to a metaphor for the tangled relations love engenders.

Because of the spatial limitations of Blue Elephant, each work is physically small-scale, but that doesn’t mean the idea or the performance is similarly constrained. It is always preferable to have a small space and boundless ideas than small ideas and a boundless space. Marie Rambert began her ballet company — and the careers of Sir Frederick Ashton and Anthony Tudor — on the tiny stage of the Mercury Theatre, so space is no limitation to quality and ambition.

Elisha Hamilton’s Too Close to the Bone is an intimate concept that nevertheless asks for a dozen volunteers on stage, which requires a certain amount of squeezing. It is a performative exercise on power and confession where each of the volunteers in turn reads a statement from an envelope. They all have to indicate its truth or falsity by picking up a paper flower or by remaining in place. Hamilton’s role is at first to perform the turning, twisting minefield of mental processes in each calculated or spontaneous response. In the second half the roles are reversed: she performs to a text about the sexual exploitation of a girl at a party that is contained in a series of envelopes she asks her volunteers to read. Because of the problem of an inconsistent level of clarity in the reading, our attention is drawn both to the text and to Hamilton’s interpretation, like watching surtitles at an opera. But dance doesn’t need explanatory text; it can express the meaning — and a lot more — all alone.

Sorry Flowers Die by Jay Yule and Tommy Cattin is a work that thrives on intimacy by contrasting emotional and physical proximity with relational distance and space. They carefully lay out a two-cubit square of white tape that delineates the space of their domestic arrangement like a miniature reenactment of the opening scene in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. They can barely fit inside it let alone dance a mambo and as they jostle and manoeuvre around each other with burlesque exaggeration they punctuate their entanglements with a very British refrain of ‘Sorry!’ In a moment of slapstick exuberance Yule is ejected from the square and makes one of her own, much smaller, in front of the memento mori of expiring cut flowers. Seeing she’s enjoying her freedom (grooving happily to Cierro Mis Ojos), a piqued Cattin tries to muscle in but is in turn ejected. He tapes a much larger square that contains the other two and for a while he and Yule enjoy the space to be themselves until she gently but firmly takes up a section of his tape and ushers him out. Sorry Flowers Die has a lot more to it than Yule and Cattin allow; it is in a neat prose form that has a wealth of humour but hides its poetic and theatrical potential.

Truefitt’s Love & Spaghetti is the longest of the three works and builds on the preceding two to arrive (almost) at a form of cabaret. According to the program note, the work is based on a social experiment in which two strangers answered Arthur Aron’s ‘36 questions that can make you fall in love with anyone’. Some of the questions can be heard as part of a broader emotional context — Jo Cooper’s ironic choice of songs about love — in Truefitt’s adaptation of the experiment as a duet with Yule and Eva Escrich Gonzalez in which they embrace notions of connection and independence. Even spaghetti has an appearance as a length of tangled rope. There’s a wealth of ideas here, two excellent performers, and a subject that anyone can understand and enjoy. What it needs is a production that renders its voice as richly vibrant as what it’s saying.


Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018 at Laban

Posted: June 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018 at Laban

Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018, Laban, June 1

Transitions Dance Company

Transitions Dance Company in Jarkko Partanen’s Lovers (photo: Lidia Crisafulli)

Transitions is called a conservatoire dance company, which means it renews its dancers each year within Laban’s MA Dance Performance program and is designed to help these artists ‘fill the gap between formal training and their entry to the professional world.’ The artists are selected ‘through an intense and competitive international selection process’ so on the one hand Laban seems to suggest the BA level formal training for these dancers — including those from Laban itself — is not sufficient to give them a competitive chance of joining a professional company upon graduation, and at the same time the formation of Transitions relies on the ability of these dancers to be so competitive in an international audition process to win a place in the company.

The nature of Transitions — and of any conservatoire dance company — is thus somewhere between institutional and professional, and is essentially transient. The invited choreographers are not creating a repertoire that allows the company to mature and grow — there is no possibility of maturity and growth — but that enables the dancers to demonstrate what they have learned. One corollary of this approach is that all fourteen dancers are included in each work; no marked choreographic preference is given to an individual’s ability. The qualities of individual dancers may shine in a given work but only in the sense of an accent of colour or texture in a choreographic quilt. In effect the constraints of these triple bills show not so much the possibilities of the dancers and choreographers as the nature of the MA Dance Performance program itself.

This is certainly a more varied selection of works than last year and one that tests the dancers in quite different ways. Paradoxically, Jarkko Partanen’s work, Lovers, is the most challenging for its initial lack of any recognizable dance element. Partanen has organized the dancers ‘in such a way as to allow them to act, understand, and continue only through touch’ and in partnership with Laban’s Suzie Holmes has covered them in layers of foil and mesh that entirely obscure their identity; not only is their sight impaired but Partanen has evoked sightlessness in sculptural form. At the beginning there is an uncompromising lack of sound, too, leaving the audience to ponder in silence what appears to be a neat row of black plastic bags on the upper side of Fay Patterson’s square of floor lights. The initiation of movement is barely perceptible but as the dancers rise in their coverings Partanen’s vision is transferred to their sense of touch. Their challenge in subsequent couplings and grouping is to convey the sensory limitation as sensually and naturally as possible. When it is successful it is powerfully poignant, but if the level of gestural intention slackens or falters it can become comic. When a mirror ball descends and Rihanna’s Diamonds breaks the silence we feel a sense of relief as our sensory apparatus is restored but for the dancers the concentration must remain until the final, sightless exit.

Hagit Yakira’s The Ar/ct of Moving Forward celebrates the freedom of movement as a mode of expression. The dancers initially walk or run in one by one from alternate sides of the stage; it is like a choreographic form of introduction, but instead of moving forward towards the audience they move away from it, from downstage to upstage, glancing back to look at us and to allow us to look at them. As one exits upstage another enters downstage in a mirror-like procession. The range of movement accumulates and accelerates over the course of the work, reveling in an abandoned enthusiasm that is contagious. As in Lovers, there is more to this choreography than the doing of it; it requires presence over reserve, connection over isolation, solicitude over individuality. The surge of Sabio Janiak’s upbeat score adds to the work’s sense of travel as bubbling pockets of exuberance explode and dissolve in a continuous stream of humanity.

Richard Chappell’s When running starts and stops contains within its title a sense of what has gone before but introduces the articulation and flow of classical dance in an intriguing evocation of ‘animalistic physicality’. Created on eight dancers (there is an alternate cast of six with Orion Hart and Umut Ozdaloglu appearing in both) who form a band of friends caught up in a mysteriously undefined adventure, the work retains a muscular vocabulary that engages the dancers technically and allows individual expression within the whole. Albert E. Dean’s electronic score is implicated in the action like a ninth performer, playing counterpart to the physicality and marking the way forward, while Chappell’s choreographic grammar reveals a convincing ability to coax a story out of movement.


Vincent Dance Theatre, Shut Down, Onca Gallery, Brighton Festival

Posted: June 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vincent Dance Theatre, Shut Down, Onca Gallery, Brighton Festival

Vincent Dance Theatre, Shut Down, Onca Gallery, Brighton Festival, May 24

Shut Down

Janusz Orlik and Jack Sergison in Shut Down (photo: Bosie Vincent)

Shut Down is a confluence of the current sexual politics whirling around the #MeToo campaign and Charlotte Vincent’s 30-year concern with gender politics at the heart of her work since she started her company in 1994. It’s Vincent’s first all-male work, and as dancer Robert Clark explains at the beginning as if introducing a BBC documentary on the subject and very much aware that he is also one of the subjects under scrutiny, it’s ‘about men’. Shut Down appears at the Brighton Festival as a film installation at Onca Gallery, but it has also been conceived as a live performance. Bosie Vincent’s stunning visual transformation of the choreography projected on a row of six screens takes advantage of the medium to present the work not only in the context of a stage setting but also transposes sections to the landscape and architecture of East Sussex and Kent. By adjusting our gaze and focus from the particular to the panoramic, from the individual to the ensemble, and from interior to exterior, he adds layers of meaning to the conceptual framework of the choreography.

The stage setting will be familiar to those who have seen Vincent’s Motherland, with its black and white costumes on a white floor that extends up the back wall on which words and designs can be scrawled in charcoal as part of a shorthand that links ideas and emotions with choreographic gesture; we can read Vincent’s work as well as see it. In the case of Shut Down, the writing on the back wall of the theatre starts with the word MAN in capital letters — what Clark suggests is ‘the problem’ — and grows in the course of the work into a complex lexicography of descriptive, angry, caustic and mocking words and phrases about the current state of manhood. In her focus on gender inequality, Vincent has not held men in high esteem and has judged them, as in Motherland, in contradistinction to women. In Shut Down, there is no contradistinction, no emotional or behavioural reference; this is a roast in which men of three generations (Clark, Jake Evans, Janusz Orlik, Jack Sergison, Marcus Faulkner and James Rye) act out their stereotypes of masculinity in the absence of women.

In the program note, Vincent writes that ‘Shut Down grapples with the personal and the political: the urge to fight, to love, to come together, to be yourself, to be what’s expected of you, to break the rules. The work shines a fierce and sometimes funny light on misogyny, role modelling, fatherhood, ‘otherness’ and how we fail to engage with young men and their emotional needs. The voices of young people are urgent and moving in the work — they show us, as a society, where we really are.’

Vincent shines a warm light on the young men and they play their role of foils to their elders with a poignant innocence. Evans is a particularly charismatic performer who is allowed the freedom to embrace the fullness of his ‘otherness’. The focus of Vincent’s scorn is on the older generation who are set up as white sexual predators, figures lacking empathy, lost, or all three; she does not let them evolve outside a visual and choreographic image that excoriates them, a generalized construct verging on misandry. Clark and Orlik seem destined to illustrate all that is wrong with men and are all too keen to plead guilty to all offences; they are placed on the firing line and given the rifles. There is no humour in Shut Down that is not caustic or sardonic, no play that is not illustrative of a breakdown in relations. The one who is allowed to escape this sense of failed masculinity is Sergison who is nevertheless balanced precariously between youth and the conflicted trap of manhood. In the final game of hide-and-seek where he is abandoned by the others, his frustration — ‘Guys, you always do this to me’ — is a moment where the imagery gains in power from the words and the words resonate with the imagery. Elsewhere in Shut Down the subject of maleness is too often betrayed by a verbal and conceptual content, underlined by Eben’flo’s raw, castigatory spoken word, that acts like a web in which the older men are hung out to dry. As the three generations dance around a burning fire towards the end in an act of communal resolution the filmed image is superimposed by Vincent’s crackling flames with their traditional connotation of Hell. These men don’t stand a chance.


Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18

Posted: May 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18

Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18, May 12

Ula Liagaitė

Ula Liagaitė performing Duet That Happened (photo: Lukas Mykolaitis)

Imagine a whirlwind approaching and the one idea you have is to penetrate it so you can experience the eye of the storm. Francis Alÿs, an artist who is known for his sardonic political statements through mediated events in which he himself often performs, did exactly this over a period of ten years and recorded it in a video, Tornado. The work could be understood as a metaphor for entering into the nature of a phenomenon through its exterior appearance and of getting mixed up in the unpredictability of the encounter. Ula Liagaitė, who trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, was inspired by Alÿs to imagine how she might adapt his poetics of the unattainable in choreographic terms. Her body has the same materiality but the whirlwind has become a cylindrical metal sculpture by Liagaitė’s sister, Bartė, a free-standing structure with a vertical axle connecting two broad, horizontal cylinders, part double boiler — the initial lighting gives it a copper colour — and part smooth industrial gearing.

Liagaitė prepares for the encounter in a choreographic prelude based of a mix of boxing and classical dance comprising fast footwork, hands held close to the chest and the bobbing, ducking gestures invoked against an invisible sparring partner; she is both protective and pugnacious. She punctuates the sparring by dropping to the floor like a puppet whose strings have been loosened. Wearing a casual, loose-fitting, gold-coloured robe, Liagaitė’s dancing figure contrasts with the stillness of the cylindrical construction; in the darkened studio with a single light that spills on both we witness the close but unresolved relationship between the two. Finally, when she is ready — and as Mikas Zabulionis’ rumbling score reaches a shrill climax — she crosses the short distance to the cylinders to begin her duet.

Liagaitė writes in the program note that, like the experience of watching Tornado, ‘this piece is about a particular feeling that there’s always something bigger than us.’ The duet that is about to happen is already inevitable because the two objects, one human and one mechanical, are drawn to each other by both the object’s offer of experience and Liagaitė’s will to accept it. She approaches the object with reverence before familiarizing herself with its surfaces; there is something of an encounter between two lovers, sensing the perimeters of the body and its contours. However, getting inside the structure was never going to be seamless; Liagaitė has set herself the choreographic task of climbing into a sculptural object that is static — unlike the whirlwind — in order to fulfil its promise of motion. A slight hesitation is perhaps expected at the threshold of a new experience, but once the resistance is overcome Liagaitė sets the cylinders turning from her invisible place inside. We only hear her breathy voice above the whirling sound as a witness of her achievement: ‘I might just be here in the heart of the storm…I feel like I have no control over this thing…’ The duet has started and the pair remains in a dynamic, poetic embrace until the end.

This is the most successful part of the performance — and perhaps the crux of Liagaitė’s vision for the work — in which light, sound and the sensual duet of body and machine converge. As an acknowledgement of the idea of a whirlwind, Liagaitė loses her gown somewhere in the depths of the structure so that when she rises above its turning rim her naked torso is juxtaposed with the polished surfaces and the lighting projects flame-like reflections on her body. Shadows and burnished metal turn slowly before us as Liagaitė’s dancing body sits calmly, climbs or leans out from her mechanical partner in perfect equilibrium, urging on the revolutions to heighten the sense of motion and emotion in her union. She drops down to the floor holding on to the rim and lets the dynamic of the whirling cylinders dictate her momentum of repeated phrases of abandoned falling, slithering and turning. There is a question of who is in control, but as the momentum dies down and the cylinders come to rest, she finds composure sitting on the rim, flushed but with a sense of regret, as if to say, ‘I’ve achieved what I wanted but I’m sorry it’s over.’ Fetching her gown and putting it on she returns to her sparring in the single light until the darkness and a sense of calm descend. The duet has happened.


Vilma Pitrinaitė, We cie, Somaholidays at New Baltic Dance’18

Posted: May 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vilma Pitrinaitė, We cie, Somaholidays at New Baltic Dance’18

Vilma Pitrinaitė, We cie, Somaholidays, New Baltic Dance’18, Vilnius, May 11

Somaholidays

Publicity shot for Somaholidays (photo: Mantas Stabačinskas, collage: Nicholas Matranga)

From the few works and works-in-progress I was able to see at New Baltic Dance’18, the emphasis was on the body as subject, on its expressive nature as an eloquent biological and physical means of communication before any psychological or narrative expectation is placed on it. This is the thrust of Vaidas Jauniškis’s introduction to the festival brochure ‘Hearing The Body’. As he writes, ‘I believe that before diving into new work, all creators of dance consider not only what they wish to say but also what the body says on that particular topic and how, at the end of the day, it adjusts the concept and original idea.’

From the beginning of Vilma Pitrinaitė’s Somaholidays it is the bodies of the three dancers (Pitrinaitė, Mantas Stabačinskas and Darius Algis Stankevičius) that are the focus of attention; we rely on associations, visual references and transposed personal experiences to discern in these bodies a discourse that corroborates or interrogates our own. The discourse is based on Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, Brave New World, where ‘…if ever anything unpleasant should somehow happen — why, there is always soma to give us a holiday from the facts.’ Huxley was one of the first intellectuals to experiment with controlled mescaline and LSD trips in the 1950s and wrote about it with evident relish in a separate essay, The Doors of Perception. In Brave New World, soma had become a readily available pharmaceutical product to take one’s mind off the numbing reality of everyday life. What Pitrinaitė has done is to imagine the daily routine of three friends as a series of repetitive, mechanical, interconnected and interlocking physical phrases; we might be able to hear them dancing were it not for Arūnas Periokas’ manic mash-up of a booming, relentless clubbing beat — 120 beats to the minute — that overlays and drives the performance. What the bodies paradoxically achieve in the course of the performance is a trance-like intensity of complex patterns that in themselves constitute an altered reality.

We enter the performance in lighthearted mode through a projected film of the three friends hiking up a wooded hillside to reach a sunny clearing at the top, then lying in the grass to rest. The camera sees the trio from above, an eye that mediates a simple narrative that is easily recognizable and relaxed. On screen the figures are not full size so when the action metamorphoses to the stage the three dancers appear at first like giants posing in the dark for an imaginary photograph. From the blackout Vladas Serstobojevas’ light scans up from the floor to reveal Rūta Junevičiutė’s spring costume collection in forest patterns and colours: first the sneakers, then the sylvan leggings, followed by tight, tie-died t-shirts; tanned faces unfurl last behind sunglasses. The three are linked around the shoulders and waists, the two men looking cool on either side of Pitrinaitė whose face is raised in a fixed, satiated smile.

This is a holiday snap, one of the rare if not the only moment of stillness in the piece. Once the three start moving they never stop; movement becomes a form of thought, or perhaps a self-induced physical substitute for non-thinking. Because of the small scale of the theatre and Junevičiutė’s stage design of a continuous white rectangle like an unrolled photographer’s backdrop, the figures appear constantly as close-up body portraits; we cannot escape the onslaught of physical energy. By the end of the 40 minutes I am exhausted.

There is another aspect to Somaholidays’ bodily discourse: Pitrinaitė has chosen to work with dancers of different generations, so the signals their bodies emit add to the richness of the discourse. In his introduction, Jauniškis refers to age as another limitation that has been challenged and overcome in the drive to broaden the dance body’s acceptance as a physical instrument, citing the 50-year performance career of Yvonne Rainer. On stage there is no disparity in quality between the three performers, only in the selection of vocabulary, so they all merge into one continuously evolving form.

The climax — or flowering — of Somaholidays is its breaking out musically and choreographically into three separate variations. Each dancer performs to a chosen song that Periokas has incorporated seamlessly into the score and the variations come across as the ultimate reward of the respective bodies to express themselves as they wish, unfettered, as if the effect of soma has finally found its mark. This mood continues in a return to the filmed outing, with the three revitalized dancers descending the hill to their car discussing the absurd reality of rehearsal schedules.


Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen in Breath at Place des Arts

Posted: April 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen in Breath at Place des Arts

Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen, Breath, Cinquième Salle, Montreal, April 20

Breath

Kimmo Pohjonen and Tero Saarinen in Breath (photo: Mikki Kunttu)

As our senses accustom to the dark and rumbling atmosphere, Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen appear barefoot in hazard suits on two raised paths leading away from each other in a ‘V’ shape, an arid, post-apocalyptic landscape in which air seems to be the one element in short supply. The two men have not yet met; they are wholly involved in their individual survival. There are flashes of light, sometimes directly in our eyes as if we too are on this blasted heath, with the sound of electrical short-circuits amplified to a level of a burnt-out desolation. This is the Beckettian setting of Saarinen and Pohjonen’s new work, Breath, which received its world première at the Grand Théâtre in Quebec City on April 12 before moving to Montreal’s Cinquième Salle at Place des Arts as part of the Danse Danse program.

Saarinen is a dancer and choreographer who has directed his eponymous company in Helsinki since 1996, while Pohjonen is an acclaimed Finnish composer and accordionist. Along with their individual artistry, each has brought long-term collaborators into the creative mix: Saarinen’s lighting and set designer, Mikki Kunttu, his costume designer Teemu Muurimäki, and Pohjonen’s sound designer, Tuomas Norvio. Breathstarts as a desolate journey nowhere, an existential supplication to an unknowable fate, but the richness of expression of the five collaborators turns the journey into one of sublime meaning as if by some alchemical process they transform their coordinated theatrical experience into a profoundly human revelation.

Pohjonen appears as a mythical figure, bruised and torn, wandering aimlessly with his electrified accordion strapped to his body like an armoured, serrated shell that he plays without seeming to move his hands. His sounds range from the breathless rasping of parched lungs to the full blast of a pipe organ and it is his intricate improvisation that gradually transfigures Saarinen’s persona from that of traumatised survivor to pilgrim in search of atonement. Over the course of Breaththeir symbiotic relationship, in which the visualization and aural expression of breath act as guides, brings their paths closer and closer together until their communication is complete.

Saarinen, without seeing him at first, hears Pohjonen’s notes with their percussive beat and responds to them like an automaton that has lost its programming: short staccato twists and turns of his body while his eyes stare ahead, sucking in what air he can inside the helmet of Muurimäki’s hazard suit. Pohjonen carries his instrument like a breathing machine, investing the landscape with the air on which both travellers depend. As they become aware of each other they use their voices in a guttural, unintelligible flow of grunted communication that paradoxically keeps them apart. It is the music that proves transformative; as it fills with richness and volume, both men discard their helmets and Saarinen’s movement becomes more fluid to the point of flight, as suggested by the metaphor of billowing material he sweeps around and over him. It is Pohjonen who manifests the power — sound is the metaphor for life — to which Saarinen is drawn inexorably but it is Saarinen who initiates the first steps to come into contact with him.

The musical notes may be instigated by Pohjonen and his accordion but it is Norvio who processes and amplifies them to fill the theatre as if they had the composition of air; heavy waltzes and redemptive chords merge with miked footfalls and electro beats to create a soundscape that becomes a cathartic journey from parched desert to cathedral nave.

In the same way, Kunttu’s visual environment initially engulfs us in its impenetrable density; this is the last place on earth to expect the faint glow of exit signs. If darkness is suffocating, Kunttu’s use of stroboscopic white light is a shock treatment to allow in some air, a visual defibrillation that breaks down Pohjonen’s and Saarinen’s movement into incipient spasms of activity. His subsequent washes of intense colour — blue and yellow — affirm the life-giving properties of light, of sky and sun, that seem to impregnate the white material of the costumes and to refresh the figures on their journey.

Saarinen quotes Samuel Beckett in the program: ‘Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.’ On a narrative level, Breathcan be understood as an allegory of a journey from despair to salvation, but on a purely theatrical level its creation of sensual unity through the inspired integration of sound, movement and light is what takes hold of the imagination and endures.


Sivan Rubinstein, Migration Through Dance at the Migration Museum

Posted: March 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Installation, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sivan Rubinstein, Migration Through Dance at the Migration Museum

Sivan Rubinstein, Migration Through Dance, The Migration Museum, March 14

Migration Through Dance

Migration Through Dance at the Migration Museum (photo: Paula Harrowing)

The mental concept and the physical details of maps guide the everyday course of human travel, where the features of a particular country or a city can be easily accessed online or in a guidebook. For migrants and refugees, the map is more of a geographical route of escape and arrival in a safe destination where the details of the map are perhaps less important than word-of-mouth knowledge of borders, checkpoints and pathways.

Sivan Rubinstein is one of the five choreographer/dancers who make up the current Swallowsfeet Collective. She has a family interest in maps — her father is a cartographer — and has thought deeply about their significance. She has used maps as signifiers of the world in which we live, as a philosophical entity that embraces all our activities. In MAPS that she presented in 2017 three dancers begin by creating a world map on a bare stage using white salt. As we sit around watching this map choreography, the shape of the world as we know it — or as we are used to seeing — takes form. The dancers describe it in terms of time differences and differentiate between the geological, the political and the social map. With their steps, meetings, confrontations and incantations they then transform it, erasing the contours, the seas and the landmasses with their bodies in a poetic analogy with the way governments have over the ages settled, pacified, conquered, seized, appropriated and robbed other lands as a measure of their power and influence. MAPS finishes, however, on a note of spiritual optimism with the tracing in the salt of a universal Mandala.

This year Rubinstein has developed the concept further, joining forces with the temporary home of the Migration Museum housed in the London Fire Brigade engine workshops on Albert Embankment in Lambeth and with Dr. Sarah Fine, a senior lecturer in philosophy at King’s College London to present Migration Through Dance.

As Rubinstein says, ‘dance is the movement of the map’, and within the museum’s migratory environment she has again created the outlines of a world, not out of salt but out of white tape in a configuration by Hamish MacPherson. We sit around three sides but this is a participatory performance called Active Maps with guitar accompaniment from Liran Donin; those who wish to be involved are invited to populate the map. Rubinstein invites us to walk our own migration and to land where we consider home; there is a large concentration of feet over England. She then invites us in turn to stand somewhere on the map where we don’t feel welcome and where we have family or loved ones. If the map was a plan of a house, where might we build an extension? It is the kind of game that could be played on a stadium scale. Perhaps the most controversial suggestion is to pull up the tape and place the former borders of our world in a sticky heap in the centre. What results is a different kind of space made up of connections between us but the rolling up of geographical borders causes some discomfort because of our attachment to them. Rubinstein suggests we mark out our own world, but this is more problematic; the results seem to indicate as much our individual presence in a fluid landscape as it represents a new map. Interestingly there are very few borders but rather dots and open lines crossed by others, as if designed by Paul Klee. We are approaching what Rubinstein calls ‘a desire map’ in which our feet are grounded but our minds are free to roam. And then she suggests we pull up the result of our communal geography too and add the tape to the existing ball that is then ceremoniously and respectfully set to one side.

The final stage in Rubinstein’s project, Ports of Pass, gives the stage to five dancers from Loop Dance Company and Swallowsfeet Collective who dance their passports. What is it like to take on an identity as a travel document? Harriet Parker-Beldeau stamps herself with fists against her chest repeatedly and the effect of the gestures suggests not an administrative experience but an agonising one. It is a reminder of the psychological barriers that travel can throw up; the cueing like cattle at border controls, the questioning, flight restrictions, security checks and airport navigation; Daisy Farris pulls herself from one direction to another as if listening to contradictory announcements. There are intense walking paths where the performers pass each other but do not meet, breaking off into individual partnerships and groups that seek connections. As with maps, there is no ending to this journey; a final running pattern attains an expression of unison without ever arriving at a destination.

 

Active Maps is part of a research and dance production called MAPS, commissioned by Creative Europe’s EU-funded programme, Pivot Dance, The Place (UK), Dutch Dance Festival (Netherlands) and Operaestate Festival (Italy), and with the support of Arts Council England and King’s College London. Ports that Pass was commissioned by Loop Dance Company, and made with the support of Arts Council England, the Israeli Embassy in London, and Turner Contemporary, Margate.


Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Posted: February 28th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL, Hackney Showroom, February 23

BEAUTiFUL

Sandra Klimek, Tania Dimbelolo, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Flora Grant in BEAUTiFUL (photo: Dominic Farlam)

While London’s Fashion Week plies the city with young, attractive women advertising clothes as expressions of sexuality and style, five attractive young women costumed by Cristiano Casimiro and lit by Andy Hamer dance their sexuality in style in Sally Marie’s new full-length work, BEAUTiFUL, at Hackney Showroom.

Described as ‘an exploration of love and sexuality from a female perspective’, it is immediately evident from Hollie Dorman’s opening cabaret number — five showgirls in shiny costumes exuding sensuality — that this is a young female perspective. Marie has chosen her five dancers (Tania Dimbelolo, Flora Grant, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Sandra Klimek) from a lengthy selection process in which she auditioned 775 young women and given her subject, she was evidently looking for young women capable not so much of exploring love and sexuality but of scrutinizing them closely on their own terms. It takes a certain uncompromising stance to present such a perspective that is not watered down by stereotypes. Marie bestowed this stance on the initial title, BEAUTiFUK, which proved unpalatable to the marketing departments of touring venues but which nevertheless endures in the conception of the work (evidently you can dance it but you can’t say it). In such a process, the dancers need courage and self-confidence to reveal what they are not used to revealing in front of an audience. We are not talking about nudity so much as states of mind in which there is no room to hide behind a ‘character’ because the character and the person are one and the same. And if some of Casimiro’s costumes cover the body in a voluptuous white confection that has its own sense of fantasy, others cover them in transparent net over stylish underwear that seems like a constant state of undress.

The voice of BEAUTiFUL is in the form of text but the heartbeat is the sensuality of the dancing, especially where each of the performers has a moment of unadulterated self-expression. The intensity of their respective appropriation of movement and the variety of its forms suggests they each contributed to the choreography. Diembolo reaches deep to marry seamlessly choreography and a sense of self; Raineri lets her body undulate in Andy Pink’s aural air currents like a siren in a state of exquisite pain; Grant is inhabited by laughter and caprice; Kierbel is drunk on desire, and Klimek is the wise and worldly one with Sapphic propensities. These moments, however, contrast with a more generalized, even clichéd approach to sexuality in the ensemble sections.

The texts, we are led to believe, originate with the cast and suggest with wry frankness how each of the five women relate to the subject. The standing microphone becomes a confidante to which the intimate details are entrusted but a microphone cannot keep a secret (on one or two occasions, however, the secrets do remain with the microphone because either the musical overlay is too pronounced or the delivery too unclear). At the beginning Klimek establishes a short tally of anecdotes about each of the performers: one of the women likes baking chocolate cakes, one finds it hard to come, one loves climbing mountains, one’s a virgin and one may be in love with her best friend. It’s true the texts become more explicit but this opening gambit is less like a plunge into their lives than a paddle and it’s hardly a devastating shot over the bows of current objectification.

If Marie’s avowed purpose in BEAUTiFUL is ‘slicing through the tissued layer of elusive truths and false assumptions by which many of us live’, there has to be a sharp instrument with which to detach what is false from what is true — the choreographic equivalents, for example, of satire or wit. There are glimpses of it in the choir of sweet voices and angelic poses that frame both graphic sexual imagery and lyrics, and in Grant’s chaste delivery of a scatological fragment about anal sex. However, without these kinds of deliberate juxtapositions of raw imagery and nonchalance that take the gaze of the audience into unfamiliar territory, the voice of BEAUTiFUL is engulfed in its heartbeat, the sensual pleasure of dance. And because dance is expressed through the body, Marie is perhaps closer to her stated purpose of generating ‘outrageous pleasure’ than she is of inspiring ‘insight’ and provoking ‘debate’. But without the latter, the stereotypes she wants to fracture remain intact.


A preview of Ballet British Columbia at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 27th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Interview, Preview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A preview of Ballet British Columbia at Sadler’s Wells

From an interview with Emily Molnar, artistic director of Ballet British Columbia

Ballet British Columbia

Artists of Ballet British Columbia in Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo (photo: Michael Slobodian)

On March 6 & 7 Ballet British Columbia will be performing on the Sadler’s Wells main stage. For those who might read into the company name images of evergreen forests, indigenous peoples, paintings by Emily Carr, a rugged Pacific Northwest coast and English weather, the association with ballet may not immediately spring to mind. But those who know the names of Crystal Pite and William Forsythe (both of whom feature large in the Sadler’s Wells program this summer), may be surprised to learn their connection runs through Ballet British Columbia (Ballet BC). The company, founded in 1986, is based in Vancouver and Pite, who was born in the province, started her dancing career there. In 1996 she joined William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt and when she returned to Vancouver she began to choreograph for various companies, including Ballet BC, and founded her own company, Kidd Pivot. In 2010 Pite and Kidd Pivot moved to Frankfurt as the resident company of Kunsterlhaus Mousonturm. The paths of Pite and Forsyth are in turn intermingled with the career of Emily Molnar, Ballet BC’s current artistic director. Molnar is a graduate of the National Ballet School in Toronto and a former member of the National Ballet of Canada before she, too, joined Ballet Frankfurt where she met Pite. Forsythe’s approach to constructing and deconstructing ballet was a huge influence on both dancers. Molnar returned to Vancouver as a principal dancer at Ballet BC and took over the artistic directorship in 2009. So while the company’s name serves to identify it geographically, its artistic lineage is very much aligned with Frankfurt.

Although she also makes work on the company, Molnar has spent the last nine years selecting a broad range of works from different choreographers to develop a dialogue on dance and performance with her audiences. To commission and create 40 new works for a company of 18 dancers and to maintain healthy home seasons in a theatre the size of Sadler’s Wells is evidence of the success of her approach. She describes herself as having been a difficult student because she would constantly question the school regime, the way dancers trained and the technical as well as psychological effect of such training on the dancer. This propensity for questioning fed into her approach to choreography — working with Forsythe must have been especially stimulating — and later to her artistic directorship of a company. She is constantly instilling in her dancers not so much the ‘how’ of a performance but the ‘why’, and in building her choice of works and programs she pays attention to ‘why’ an audience may set foot in the theatre and to the dialogue that inevitably ensues. She wants to reward her audiences for taking that step, but she also wants to lead them on a journey that may take them outside their familiar frame of reference.

The program at Sadler’s Wells comprises works by Pite (Solo Echo) and Molnar (16 + a room) along with a third by the contemporary female voice of Sharon Eyal (Bill), a dancer and choreographer who spent 23 years working with Ohad Naharin in Batsheva in Tel Aviv. Pite and Eyal (along with her collaborator Gai Behar) are recognized names in the UK, so Molnar will be the outsider, setting up the kind of dialogue with audiences here that she has pioneered in Vancouver. Augurs are good; the program was first aired at the International Dance Festival Birmingham in 2016 and my friend Ian Abbott was impressed not only by Molnar’s ‘integrity, sense and articulate coherence’ in her advocacy of female choreographers at a pre-performance event but by the company’s triple bill which he likened to a delectable three-course meal. Dance Consortium was so impressed by the bill of fare and presumably by the bill that it has chosen to tour Ballet British Columbia in the UK this year.

 

UK Tour Dates