Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor, Sadler’s Wells, February 8

Viktor

Eddie Martinez and Ophelia Young in Viktor (photo: Meyer Originals)

Peter Pabst’s set locates Viktor in a deep underground cavern surrounded on three sides by high earthen walls on which wooden ladders lean like the interior of a fortified rampart; at intervals during the performance Andrey Berezin shovels earth from the top on to the stage, an aural as much as a visual rhythm of burial. At the foot of one of the walls, rather incongruously, stands an upright piano. Even more incongruously Julie Shanahan enters armless in a scarlet dress, coming to rest like a smiling Roman goddess as Khachaturian’s Masquerade waltz swirls around her until Dominique Mercy brings a fur coat, places it over her shoulders and escorts her out. In this starkly beautiful opening scene, Pina Bausch merges the conceptions of Pabst’s sepulchral set and Marion Cito’s bright, witty costumes in her choreographic evocation of Rome, the Eternal City that inspired Viktor following an invitation to coproduce with Teatro Argentina di Roma and a company visit. There is none of the city’s classical columns or grandiose baroque architecture here but an imaginary locus in which Viktor’s symbiotic themes of death, antiquity, life and beauty play out over the next three hours, ricocheting from one surreal association to the next: from a living statue to a marriage ceremony for the dead, from bargaining two sheep on the black market to furniture auctions, from flirtations to sexual assault, from undressing to cross dressing to the men sitting in a row putting on makeup, from fur coats stored in a fridge to a human fountain. The imagination wanders deliriously from entrance to entrance, each one setting up the expectation of a narrative that never quite fits with the previous one and brings time to a temporary halt. It’s an exquisitely judged choreographic rhythm to which the musical inputs by Matthias Burkert add a range of emotional highlights, from Russian symphonic music to New Orleans jazz to Italian folk songs.

Three hours may seem a long time, but in identifying the underlying nature of time and experience in these traces of her exploration — and those of her dancers who helped create the material — Bausch has synthesized them by condensing the time and experience into a theatrical setting. We are re-living those experiences in their reconvened form. Bausch was aware of the significance of the present moment as a tangible appearance on the surface of history, and in Viktor she has chosen rather to delve into that fertile ground of the past — underneath the streets — to portray what lies above. It is a miracle she accomplishes this in a mere three hours.

There is no doubt that death hangs over Viktor but there are also the luscious, smiling processions, the ensemble gestural dances and the rapturous swinging that are like shoots appearing above the ground after winter, and the bright colours and flowing design of Cito’s costumes on the elegant dancers are themselves a sign of radiance that punctuates the darker layers of Bausch’s vision. And she never fails to highlight the small absurdities of life that she presents on stage for our delight.

Bausch died nine years ago, so all her works the company has performed since then are, in a poignant yet real sense, memento mori — perhaps none more so, given its themes, than Viktor. It thus has a double resonance, reminding us of Bausch’s genius at transforming experience into a transcendent choreographic language of Tanztheater and of the indivisibility of life and death. We shall never again know what Bausch is thinking in the present, but only what was in her mind at the time of a particular work. Unlike a photograph that sets the past exactly as it appeared at the moment it was taken, a choreographic work can only be an approximation of what it was during the choreographer’s lifetime. For Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch we would seem to be on safe ground — some of the performers were in the original work — and although the level of performance is uneven in terms of experience, Viktor is shot through with conviction and colour to the extent we can see what the work must have been like from its creation in May 1986 up until Bausch’s death in June 2009.

Early on we learn that Viktor is itself a voice from the grave, a ghostly presence who through a woman’s lips in a man’s voice asks permission to remain for the performance insisting he is very quiet and closes the door when there is a draught. How tantalizing to imagine Bausch writing her spectral self into each performance.


Sadler’s Wells Sampled

Posted: February 8th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sadler’s Wells Sampled

Sadler’s Sampled, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, February 3

Candoco

Victoria Fox and Welly O’Brien in Caroline Bowditch’s Dedicated to…(photo: Brian Hartley)

As Alistair Spalding writes in his welcome note to Sampled, the evening offers audiences ‘the opportunity to experience a range of world-class artists and dance styles in one evening, at a reduced price’. There is also an educational element in the filmed interviews with artists or directors before each work on stage that help to bridge the gap between dance and audience. The nine works on display are eclectic so there is something for everyone, from Mikhail Fokine’s Dying Swan through Jesús Carmona’s flamenco Soléa Del Campanillo to Yeah Yellow’s b-boy Sunshine. It’s a performative smorgasbord, but unlike a restaurant menu it is impossible to pick and choose what you want to see. This may be partly what Sampled hopes to achieve — the possibility that an unfamiliar taste might develop into a new craving — but such a rich menu of performances is not the kind of dance programming that favours the taster who is after a gastronomic experience. It doesn’t take long to realise the programming idea is less a format designed to inspire young dancers and encourage new audiences than a marketing ploy to promote the upcoming season, a point at which public relations acumen clashes with the art form itself.

In a bid to market the season, Sampled is crammed so full of a season’s worth of extracts that it cannot add up to a coherent program and at two and a half hours it risks choreographic overload. With its staged works, free front-of-house films, VR offerings and workshops, Sampled is a cross between a festival and a convention; what it achieves, however, is getting people through the doors into the foyers and auditorium — the place is packed and what a wonderful idea to make part of the stalls a promenade area — but the success of Sampled will be measured in quantitative rather than qualitative metrics, as in how many of these newcomers will become new audience members at Sadler’s Wells.

There are interviews in the printed program with some of the performers in which one of the standard questions is about their first experience of dance. Inevitably they respond that it was a single evening’s work that inspired them to dance. It makes the case for underwriting opportunities for younger children to see the truly world-class repertoire Sadler’s Wells puts on throughout the year rather than making Sampled their point of entry. The tired little ballerina in front of me who had to wait almost two hours to see the four minutes of Zenaida Yanowsky’s The Dying Swan might have been hoping for a more propitious path to inspiration.

The majority of works in Sampled are extracts, and some that look like extracts are just very short works, like The Dying Swan and works by BBC Young Dancers Nafisah Baba, Jodelle Douglas and Harry Barnes. Marco Goecke’s Wir sagen uns Dunkels for Nederlands Dans Theater 2 is a full work, though it could have been easily — and advantageously — reduced for Sampled to one of its four movements. When Baba rises joyously into the air in her solo, Inescapable, it is the first time in 30 minutes that dance’s vertical dimension has been explored and Carmona reminds us soon afterwards, on top of his virtuosity, how many choreographic dimensions there are to be explored. Alexander Whitley’s Kin, a duet for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Jenna Roberts and Mathias Dingman, suffers the fate of many extracts in that however beautifully constructed and danced, it has an air of being lost, while Humanhood’s photograph in the program is far more enigmatic than the extract of their production, ZERO, which seems drowned in production values. The extract from Caroline Bowditch’s Dedicated to… for Candoco is, despite its orphaned state, still a little jewel beautifully danced by Welly O’Brien and Victoria Fox (and co-director Ben Wright’s witty, avuncular introduction augurs well for the company), while Yeah Yellow’s Sunshine is rich and loud in b-boy virtuosity. Whitley features again in a pre-performance showing in the Pina Bausch room of Celestial Bodies, a VR film of an extract from his 8 Minutes, a collaboration between the Guardian’s VR team and Whitley’s company. Just outside the room, on the film wall, are two screens, one showing the National Youth Dance Company (run by Sadler’s Wells) in sequences from Damien Jalet’s Tarataseismic on location in Hull, and the other showing two young b-girls, the sisters Eddie and Terra talking and dancing on Terra’s 8th birthday. Directed by Ben Williams for BCTV (Breakin’ Convention’s professional development course for film makers), the film has unsurprisingly won multiple awards. Now that’s an inspiration worth sampling.


English National Ballet, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and La Sylphide

Posted: January 23rd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and La Sylphide

English National Ballet, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, and La Sylphide, London Colisseum, January 20

Publicity photo for English National Ballet’s double bill (photo: Jason Bell)

There are several elements that link Roland Petit’s 1946 creation, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and August Bournonville’s 1836 creation, La Sylphide that English National Ballet presented at the Colisseum. Both are set in the past, both treat the fragile nature of life and death, and both exteriorize the anguish of the principal characters (the unnamed young man in his Parisian garret and James in his Scottish baronial hall) in the figure of a femme fatale who exists largely in the imagination of the men but manifests in ethereal or earthly form on stage. These can be thought of as contemporary human sensations conveyed within a historical setting, but the historical setting — its sets, lighting and costume — however beautifully conceived, is never enough to convince an audience of the authenticity of the re-staging.

Le Jeune Homme et La Mort was created in Paris one year after the end of the second world war when most of the audience and performers would have experienced five years of either fighting, losses, German occupation or all three. That kind of experience is impossible to recreate, but it can be translated. Walter Benjamin makes a case in his essay The Task of the Translator, that transmitting information (in this case, the choreographic and visual elements) is to transmit the inessential. The essential is contained in what is additional to the information, the original emotional force of the work. In Le Jeune Homme et La Mort there is no chemistry between Isaac Hernandez and Begoñia Cao which gives Hernandez nothing to rage against. He rages against gravity, but not against his inner turmoil and Cao plays her role so outside his existential head that in showing him the noose she could be a member of cabin crew demonstrating safety procedures before takeoff.

In La Sylphide, despite the impeccable qualifications of Frank Andersen, Eva Kloborg and Anne Marie Vessel Schluter who have brought the production from its home at The Royal Danish Ballet, the performers lack the emotional sensitivity to astonish. Here the story is not so far removed from contemporary experience — unrequited love, the illusion of attraction and the despondency of having made the wrong decisions — but these need to be expressed in the context of romanticism whose principal aspects, as Jane Pritchard writes in the program, are ‘the dual fascination with the supernatural and the customs of remote exotic countries.’ It’s difficult today to conceive of Scotland as exotic, but the supernatural still has its allure. As the Sylph, Jurgita Dronina dances with all the technical precision one could want but there is something hard-edged about her interpretation that cannot be compared to what Théophile Gautier wrote of Fanny Elssler in a production of the original La Sylphide in 1838, that she ‘appeared and vanished like an impalpable vision, now here, now there’. Similarly, both Aaron Robison as James and Daniel Kraus as Gurn are convincing in their translation of the Bournonville style but Robison has difficulty differentiating between the presence of Dronina and the illusion of the Sylph, which leads to him expressing his feelings with contemporary shorthand gestures like snapping his hand and head as if to say ‘Damn, I missed her again.’ Kraus doesn’t have the same difficulty because Effie is flesh and bone in the form of Crystal Costa, a last-minute substitution for Connie Vowles. But Costa’s costume gives her the perplexing appearance of a school girl which withholds all belief in her betrothal to either James or Gurn, and Sarah Kundi’s mime as Madge may be accurate in terms of text, but lacks the conviction to convey the darkness and savage predictability of internal fate. By contrast, the two older men, Bimse and Bumse (James Streeter and Fabian Reimair) feeling the aches and pains from being pushed hither and thither, are entirely successful in imparting to the audience their condition.

If the older ballets are not stories that belong exclusively to the era of their creation but have what Benjamin called the essential element of ‘translatability’ then the question is how to translate them so as to make them relevant to the performers (for it is the performers who ultimately translate a ballet). Perhaps in the quest for technical brilliance the development of the psychological and emotional aspects of a character might be seen as secondary. Looking from today’s perspective at extracts of Jean Babilée in the original production of Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, his technique is dated but his muscular conviction translated into the steps defies time. The language of the feet, as Gautier wrote, may be universal and everywhere understood, but something in this double bill has been lost in translation.


Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala, Sadler’s Wells, November 30

Zen Jefferson, Saku Koistinen, Mikel Murphy, and Erik Nevin (photo: Colm Hogan)

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake makes a journey through the reductive division in Christian culture between light and dark, and between God (good) and the devil (evil) to lay bare what he calls ‘the root of much suffering and confusion’. He sets his story around his home in County Longford in Ireland whose many lakes are home to flocks of migrating swans but his principal characters — the overbearing mother who wants her introspective son to marry, the woman he falls in love with and the magician who has cast a spell on her — have much in common with the plot of the ballet of the same name produced in Moscow in 1875 to Tchaikovsky’s famous score. It is as if Keegan-Dolan has taken the Russian myth and re-mythologized it in the image of Ireland, and because the lakes and swans are tangible and the narrative is taken from local news and national history, his Swan Lake is grounded in a conflictual social and political reality of a kind the romantic ballet of Imperial Russia could never have acknowledged.

There is in actor Mikel Murphy, whom Keegan-Dolan casts as The Holy Man, a distant relation to the wicked magician, Von Rothbart, though at the beginning of Swan Lake he is the one who is under a spell, stripped to his underwear and tethered by the neck to a concrete block, bleating like a goat. It is not hard to see the image of a plundered Ireland tethered to England’s oppressive rule. Then three ‘watchers’ (Saku Koistinen, Zen Jefferson and Erik Nevin) release him, wash him down, beat him dry with red towels and prepare him for interrogation. In Keegan-Dolan’s psychological landscape it is only those representing the dominant culture of oppression — be it political, religious or matriarchal — who speak; while tethered Murphy can only bleat but once freed and offered an informant’s seat at the oppressor’s table, he talks the talk — but not before he’s had a cup of tea and a few biscuits.

It’s an enigmatic but brilliantly staged beginning to what is in effect the re-telling and re-enactment of a story in which Murphy is the sole narrator because the other principal witnesses are the victims of his crimes: one drowned and the other shot. Under Adam Silverman’s lighting and with Hyemi Shin’s evocative costumes, Sabine Dargent’s set is a makeshift restaging of the events with trusses, curtains, ladders, plastic sheeting, theatre boxes and props for the benefit of the audience whose role is to listen and to pass judgement: morality with its oppressive mores and prejudices is on trial.

To make up for having to leave the condemned family home for a new build, the ailing Nancy O’Reilly (Dr. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman) gives her son Jimmy (Alexander Leonhartsberger) his father’s rifle as a birthday gift. It becomes for him an inert symbol of power in a life that has little promise as a result of depression, both mental and environmental. Finola (Rachel Poirier) is one of four sisters (with Anna Kaszuba, Carys Staton and Molly Walker) in the village along with three burly, bisexual watchers and a fine band of musicians (Aki, Mary Barnecutt and Danny Diamond) playing the music of Slow Moving Clouds. In his narrative, Murphy recalls the characters in relation to his various roles as parish priest, local politician and police chief revealing his determinant role in their lives and destiny. As the priest he admits to sexually abusing Finola and threatening her sisters if they were to reveal the truth; as a politician he takes advantage of Nancy and Jimmy for a photo opportunity and as police chief he pressures the depressed Jimmy into a fatal showdown. Within this narrative, but beyond Murphy’s control, Finola, the only village girl to express an interest in Jimmy, makes a fateful connection with him. Keegan-Dolan gets inside the psychology of his characters and expresses it in raw body imagery with overtones of traditional dance; at the beginning Jimmy doesn’t speak and barely moves, but when he senses love from and for Finola he unlocks his reticence and awkwardness with a freedom of gesture that is a first sign of healing. But that reductive division in Christian culture claws back any such redemption, shaming Finola into drowning herself in the lake which sends Jimmy back into deep depression with a rifle at his side. As police chief, Murphy forces a faceoff with him and has him shot by his officers (recalling the tragic shooting of John Carthy, a depressed Longford man who refused to be evicted from his home). Murphy has finished his worldly story but Swan Lake continues in an afterlife with clouds of feathers where the lovers are reunited and dance among their friends with the freedom of unconstrained, unfettered bodies in an environment without hypocrisy, connivance and political ill-will. It’s not so much the idea as the jubilant choreographic conviction that suggests there is hope.


Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

Posted: November 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card, Lilian Baylis Studio, November 23

Gianluca Vincentini Wild Card

Amarnah Ufuoma Amuludun and Stefania Pinato in Encounter One (photo: Danilo Moroni)

For his Wild Card program at Lilian Baylis Studio, Gianluca Vincentini presents dance makers based in the north of England: Carlos Pons Guerra, Crystal Zillwood and Jamaal Burkmar. Having been artistic director of VERVE (the postgraduate company of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance) for five years, Vincentini knows these dancers and choreographers well. Prior to the main program, he presents his own company, Möbius Dance, in a short film, Encounter One, with Amarnah Ufuoma Amuludun and Stefania Pinato, followed by a structured improvisation to guitar accompaniment by Otis Jones with the same two dancers among the pre-show audience in Fox Garden Court. According to its website, Möbius Dance has two dancers (Amuludun and Pinato) and four collaborators, all of whom are presented or represented in the film. The program note for Encounter One — ‘Can I allow myself to let boundary lines blur while being within myself and accept compromises as part of co-existence’ — is so fluid and open-ended that the presence of two bodies moving in space is enough to fulfil its premise, and they do. But for those who enjoy a little more meat, Pons Guerra’s O Maria on the main stage hits the spot.

Written for two women, a man and a ham, it is played by two women, a man and a ham but gender correspondence is not on the menu. Concepción (Marivi Da Silva) and Armando (Azzurra Ardovini) are at home one evening, though all we see is the domineering Concepción sitting at the dinner table in a dress as black as her eyes with the wrapped or bandaged figure of Armando at her feet. There’s another wrapped figure (Phil Sanger) lying a little distance from the table, and a wrapped ham on the table. Clearly Ryan Dawson Laight has had as much fun with the costumes as Barnaby Booth with the lighting. The relationship between Concepción and Armando is described as ‘an unhappy marriage’ but this is an understatement; the ties that bind have turned to rope and bondage. In a beatific vision, Sanger’s arising — or arousal — as anything-but-the-virgin Mary is the catalyst that releases poor Armando from his wrapping to reveal his true gender and entangles Mary with the leg of ham. The program note for O Maria serves notice of nudity and sexual references but the satirical treatment of suffocating religious hypocrisy in 1950’s Seville is positively seditious.

Evolutio is one of three solos Zillwood will include in her creation, Spiral. In it she examines evolution with a little scientific guidance and abundant inspiration. She enters the stage out of darkness, from a distance too far to comprehend. Her postures on that first diagonal towards the light suggest the successive stages of human evolution but in reverse order, finishing on her haunches before repeating the sequence; at the third attempt she evolves into a dancer. Zillwood moves quietly and lightly along her exploratory journey, dancing a language that derives from classical technique but which breaks into a series of organic images derived from the natural world: from invertebrate motion to a human embryo, from a bird in flight to an anthropoid marveling at the stars. Her final pose is balancing on her coccyx, floating in the vastness of evolutionary history. She sketches these images fluently and fluidly against the musical phrases of a haunting arrangement by Nigel Kennedy of a Polish folk song, Ederlezi, that she has digitally altered and extended to fit the dynamic range of her choreography. There is nothing of the anthropological museum in Evolutio; it reveals itself like the spark of an idea with an intelligence that matches Zillwood’s musicality.

Jamaal Burkmar presents The Calm, one of three works he created for the New Adventures Choreographer Award showcase he won in 2016. Inspired ‘by family, home and music’, The Calm is a quartet of solos to a quintet of funky, soulful songs. Burkmar focuses first on the songs, playing Angie Stone’s Makings of You in the dark, and a second, D’angelo’s Send It On, as the four dancers — Burkmar, Lucia Chocarro, Tom Davis Dunn and Kasichana Okene-Jameson — lie in a stylised heap on the floor. As a choreographic device the heap is clichéd and artificial; no effort is made to suggest how the dancers arrive in that place, nor in the heap, nor how they relate to each other. Nor does the rest of The Calm offer any further clarification, but focuses instead on the individual choreographic responses to the music. Here Burkmar and his dancers are far more interesting, especially Okene-Jameson who blasts into her theatrical space with a freedom and invention that is all her own; if the others make it happen, she lets it happen. She also uses the direction of her head and eyes as she dances, which takes her expression to a level that is as generous as it is self-reinforcing. The Calm, however, ends on a note that is as anti-climactic as it is predictable, with the music fading and the lights dying slowly on a heap of dancers.

 

My friend Ian Abbott has also written about Carlos Pons Guerra’s De Nada Dance in a triple bill at mac last year. 


Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal

Posted: November 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal

Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal, Seligman Theatre, Chapter, November 17

Hardy Animal

Laura Dannequin in Hardy Animal (photo: Paul Blakemore)

Very broadly speaking there are two kinds of pain: the first one, acute pain, is a very useful kind of pain, because it’s pain that tells me when to remove my hand from the heat source that is burning it, or to stop running if I’ve just torn my hamstring…The second type of pain, chronic or maladaptive pain, can be defined as …pain that extends beyond the time that healing would have thought to have occurred after trauma or surgery. At the point when acute pain slips into chronic pain, what happens is that although the tissues that were initially injured have healed, pain messages keep getting fired via electric impulses along the nerve fibres, up the spinal cord and into the brain where the pain is perceived as very real. (From the bookwork of Hardy Animal)

For a work that addresses chronic back pain, Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal has a smooth, sculptural quality that belies the nature of its subject. Written on the edge of anger and frustration with a sardonic sense of the absurd, it is an ode to Dannequin’s search for a solution to the debilitating pain in her lower back, from vague diagnoses to disbelief, and from snake oil treatments to unrelieved disappointments. As a dancer she has known what the dancing body is capable of and what it feels like to move freely without fear, but she suddenly found herself confronted with what she calls ‘a negative loop of persistent pain’. There are elements of both a musical composition and a lecture here — at one point she reads from notes on what could be either a music stand or a lectern — but Dannequin’s textual score and her unembellished performative treatment of the story have transformed it into a remarkable piece of somatic theatre where motion and emotion confront each other.

Hardy Animal frames stillness as a memory of movement in the same way the nerves remember pain after the initial injury has healed. Dannequin instead instills movement in our imagination through the dynamic motion of her score, making us move on a journey from the ‘biological body’ in front of us to the ‘memory body’ that has the capacity to dance without pain. What is moving us is her will, and as we reach the climax of Hardy Animal, it is her will that sets her in motion.

The piece begins in darkness with Dannequin’s voice telling us what she would like to accomplish during the performance; it is a hungry voice that remembers what it was like to eat, a tired voice that wants to get up and dance just to show that it can. Later, in the isolated image of her uncovered back — illuminated at first by two torchlights held by two front-row members of the audience — we see a soft muscular voice. With her back towards us, Dannequin uses both her recorded voice and her own in this sequence; with the recording her body is motionless, but when she speaks the reverberations of her words work their way into her neck and back so subtly but directly that they become gestures in their own right. And even though the stage is quite spacious, the focus is on Dannequin’s upper body framed in a soft light that reveals the two aspects of Hardy Animal that define it: her voice which constantly mediates between the mind and body, and the physical condition of her back. Without the voice the back would have suffered in silence, and without the chronic pain in her back there would be no subject.

Dannequin’s journey is made possible by speaking out with brutal directness and elegantly sharpened wit not only to the medical profession, the healing profession, the quacks, the disbelieving and the incompetent, but to her own body. She has argued with it so passionately and exhaustively that she has perhaps shamed it into grudging admiration, coming to terms with the pain through dogged determination and patient preparation. There’s a resolution to Hardy Animal, and it’s not the voice that resolves it but the body. Released by a recording of the largo from Bach’s keyboard concerto in F minor, her body eases into a fluid, understated dance of muted ecstasy.

 

Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal was presented at Chapter as part of Cardiff Dance Festival, a biennial event that circulates ideas, images and movement in a heady mix of choreographic thinking.


Jan Martens / GRIP, Rule of Three

Posted: November 16th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jan Martens / GRIP, Rule of Three

Jan Martens / GRIP, Rule of Three, Lilian Baylis Studio, October 20

Steven Michel, Courtney Robertson, NAH and Julien Josse in Rule of Three (photo: Phile Deprez)

In Rule of Three Jan Martens has written short stories for the body that we then read in performance. Some of the stories are as short as fragments but he glues them all together like a linear collage set to a driving beat by drummer NAH. Written for three performers — Julien Josse, Steven Michel and Courtney Robertson — the fragments are organised according to a hand-written index projected at the beginning of the show with titles like Suddenly Afraid, Gum Dance, Sandwalker, Dog Hair, Throat Dance, Writing and Unwriting. Unlike a book we don’t have the choice of dipping in where we want to; the order of the index is the order we are going to see the stories in performance.

In a program note by Rudi Meulemans, Martens puts Rule of Three within a context we can readily appreciate: the exponential multiplication of stories and observations, comments and images on social media. ‘You could compare it to a Facebook wall or news websites which today feature entertainment and funny videos alongside major news items and even scientific articles. From a cute video of cats to a tragic news item.’ He suggests this assault on the senses has led to ‘concentration disturbances’ that overload our brain with a plethora of impulses while ‘at the same time the value of each distinct element vanishes’. But while the phenomenon he describes is in its nature eclectic, Rule of Three has a unity that originates solely from Martens’ choreographic mind.

For a start he indicates a unity of time by telling us what we are going to see and the order in which we are going to see it, while the unity of place is inherent in the stage setting, modulated by light and colour, that remains constant. But most significant is the use Martens makes of the body as language, expressing nothing other than itself. This is abundantly clear in a remarkable development, two-thirds of the way through Rule of Three, when NAH throws up his sticks and leaves. We are left in a silence that reverberates for a minute or so and then settles like a change from a major to a minor key. Making the modulation visible, the dancers take off their clothes and spend the rest of the performance nonchalantly testing the silence of their bodies, either alone or with each other in the space, and checking their language with that of the audience. As the section continues, the divide between our respective languages grows wider until the silence and the nakedness together become a shout of celebration, not in a utopian sense but simply as unadorned language.

A second influence Meulemans cites for Rule of Three is more telling of Martens’ creative process: the short-story collections of the American writer, Lydia Davis. These stories, some of which are no longer than a couple of lines, are a combination of wry, detailed observation and meticulous construction; we hear a recording of one of them, Dog Hair, in the performance. Both Davis and Martens are concerned about writing, what it can achieve and how to achieve it. Many of Davis’s short stories and her one novel, The End of the Story, are as much an elaborate questioning of language and form as they are vehicles for a story or observation. In Rule of Three Martens develops the idea in ways not dissimilar to Davis with juxtaposed, unrelated episodes that are centred on the musical input. It’s a more abstract approach that sees the three dancers in repetitive, mathematically precise patterns of walking or running interspersed with fractured solos and more emotionally charged images that draw on sensuality, the extravagant selfie or implied violence (where Jan Fedinger’s misty red lighting is particularly effective). This is the first time Martens has used live music as part of the creation. NAH’s drumming and drum programming, which Martens describes as ‘a strange mix of Steve Reich and Einsturzende Neubaten in a hardcore punk sauce’ are the staves on which the choreographic language is threaded; its insistent beat is a strident, sometimes blindingly loud accompaniment that flirts with the line between supporting the rhythmic dance and dominating it.

As a prelude to the final section, Martens correlates writing and the body with a projected statement that ‘life is too serious for me to go on writing…there are other things I should be doing instead.’ Nakedness and silence become deafening metaphors for the life-affirming antidotes of simplicity and calm to sensory overload. 


Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Posted: November 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Dance Umbrella 2017, Out of the System, Rich Mix, October 16

Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay (photo: Pari Naderi)

In another creative twist in the development of Dance Umbrella under the artistic direction of Emma Gladstone, Out of the System is a mini festival within the festival curated by guest programmer, Freddie Opoku-Addaie. He describes the title as a metaphor for the presence of diverse dance cultures within vocational and non-vocational structures outside the regular framework of dance presentation — not to mention the inclusion of bands Yaaba Funk & DJ Kweku Aacht, and Kioko who perform on successive evenings. It is also, like the Shoreditch Takeover, a crossover between dance curation and building management; this one involves four distinct works by artists from five countries in three different spaces within Rich Mix over two nights (which is a shame, as I miss Alesandra Seutin’s Across The Souvenir). Both here and at the Town Hall the programs weave together loose associations with what we might consider to be dance and turn them into a wealth of experience that can change that perception profoundly. There is a sense of open-ended raw material here, even if the works are finished: La Macana’s Ven seems to arise directly out of the audience; Sello Pesa’s After Tears throws time out of the window, and the improvisational energy of Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay wants to break out of the confines of the stage and take over the entire floor.

I had seen Ven two years ago at Costa Contemporánea in Andalucia, and it is one of those works that can bury itself in the recesses of your memory and come out again unchanged. The intricate timing of the interaction between Caterina Varela and Alexis Fernández is breathtaking but it is also polished: it has to be. They are like two circus performers who eschew trapeze and ropes for the instruments of their own bodies; they climb on each other, jump on each other, lift each other, balance and counterbalance in a defiant flow of impossibility that resolves through the strength and sensitivity of their well-honed skills. Against such precision, the couple’s apparent nonchalance is matched by the delightfully offbeat songs of Einstuerzende Neubauten.

Sello Pesa’s After Tears undoes all preconceptions. Described as an investigation of ‘the mourning process and the strategies people use in order to cope with death’, it’s like a private ritual to which the Soweto-born Pesa has invited us. He makes no pretense of a performance as he practices yoga on a red rug at the entrance to the third-floor space; we aren’t sure if this is part of the work, so we watch until we are ushered through the door to pick up a folding chair and wait behind a curved shoreline of red tape. In his own time Pesa moves his rug into the space with a pair of boots, a couple of crates of beer and a transistor radio playing a local station as the central focus and sole source of sound. Pesa gives an eerie sense we aren’t in the same room and yet his trance-like presence is all-pervasive. He rolls himself up in the rug and lies like the deceased, but then wears the rug around his shoulders and his head like an enigmatic, animated spiritual guide before bludgeoning it with fists and boots to mark his resolve. He seems to span both the realms of the living and the dead so as to come to grips with the inner conflict of the ‘South African tradition of returning a person’s spirit to its rightful destination’. Utterly compelling, After Tears returns dance to its ritual roots, revealing new dimensions in both movement and performance.

There is little doubt, however, about the performative nature of the collaboration between Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay. Whatever inner resources well up from within their minds and bodies are fully expressed in energetic and sensual form. The collaboration between an American contemporary dancer with Southern Baptist genes and a British flamenco dancer with roots in Jamaica and Ghana is just the beginning; what they share goes beyond their recent origins to ‘explore the connections between who they believe themselves to be, and the unconscious parts that make up who they are’. As they play off each other’s physical styles and sartorial taste, their individuality merges with an infectious sense of delight at the connections made — a body percussion sequence with guitarist Guillermo Guillén borders on the ecstatic — and like old friends they can complete each other’s rhythmic phrases. But there’s more here; we tend to think of flamenco as a Spanish phenomenon with Moorish origins, but recent research suggests a link, through the rhythmic musical structures, to the Spanish slave trade with the New World. In Clay, images of flamenco merge with South American religious iconography as Thomas adorns Graves as a participant in a Holy Week procession and wheels her across the stage. The two women finish playfully to Guillén’s accompaniment, like two sisters from the distant past revelling in their common roots.

I first heard Opoku-Addaie before I saw him, in a performance of Silence Speaks Volumes at BDE 2010 where his blood-curdling roar from the behind the audience announced his entrance. His voice has again preceded the choreographic action, this time not his own but of his own choosing. May the experiment continue.


Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place

Posted: November 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place

Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place, Laban Theatre, November 7

The cast on the set of Rahel Vonmoos’ to find a place (photo: Antigone Avdi)

When the subject of a dance work in a theatre is something as disturbing and destabilizing as displacement, the context of the performance — from the lighting, the set and costumes, to the comfortable seats in a warm auditorium and the bar just outside the door — becomes a screen through which an audience experiences it. When this filter is accompanied by the choreographic device of gestural abstraction, the subject of the work finds itself even further removed from its source; a work on displacement itself becomes a displacement. This is the conundrum posed by Rahel Vonmoos’ to find a place, performed at the Laban Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday night. Even if crisis is written into it in the form of the dis-ease of movement, the fragmented groupings, the dislocation of projected images and the collage of discordant sounds, the production values of to find a place are too refined and the choreography too beautifully performed by Helka Kaski, Luke Birch, Morrighan MacGillivray and Samuel Kennedy to allow an audience to get to grips with the emotional and psychological complexities of the humanitarian crisis it addresses.

Vonmoos’ use of filmed projections on sheets of stretched silicon works well with the danced action; the opening visual sequence shows a crowd of people walking to and fro like a flock of humanity, slowed down in close-up to aimlessness and indecision; displacement, they seem to say, is a wandering with no direction home. The silhouettes of the dancers merge with the projected figures like blank, anonymous shapes against a mediatized throng. Apart from this extended opening scene, subsequent images are of landscapes and abstracted architecture, powerful reminders of events and places that have passed into memory, that float like fragments across the staggered placement of screens. There is a sense of time passing in the way the projected images spill from the screens on to the performers in the present or run in the background like the past.

I begin looking for individual clues to what Vonmoos wants to convey, but I have to wait till the end and beyond to let the accumulated response to the moving images — both of the dancers and the projections — find their mark. In the short term there is certainly a sense of puzzlement and confusion, which are states that arise from the condition of displacement, but it would be too easy to confuse this with a response to the work. Vonmoos has transferred the effects of displacement on to a painterly stage and turned them into symbols and marks on an artist’s canvas, yet the audience does not have the luxury of sitting in front of dance in the same way one can look at a painting (or listen to a recording of music) over time. Without a narrative, to find a place has to rely on constant movement — the essence of displacement, physically and psychologically — to convey meaning. Vonmoos also has the dancers suspend and modify the silicon sheets, tying them up, crumpling them or holding up a corner as if to sweep something underneath. If the projected images are memories, they are constantly vulnerable to disruption. The sheets also take on the roles of temporary bed sheets, shrouds and clothing.

There is a dry heat in the atmosphere of the work, where heat is not the kind in which to luxuriate but where you stand still to avoid exhaustion, where you get frustrated, in which you toss and turn at night. In this way Vonmoos imagines dis-ease and its effect on the body. The approach reminds me of Israeli choreographer, Arkadi Zaides, who studied the movements of Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian farmers and their lands seen in images filmed by the Palestinians themselves; against the film footage he takes up these same stances and gestures on stage as a choreographic form to show the effects of cultural aggression on the body. Vonmoos avoids the specific political questions but in abstracting the dis-ease of movement in the face of displacement, she asks the audience to re-translate the affect of the choreographic images to sense their original intent. It is a lot to ask of an audience or perhaps, in our relatively sheltered society, too little.

I can’t help noticing (not for the first time) that in the auditorium of one of London’s most prestigious contemporary dance conservatories with high enrolment figures, the audience is sparse. A work of art is only able to speak to those who are willing to experience it and to find a place has plenty to say; if the students who file through Laban don’t engage with the works that are shown there, what does that say about their engagement with the art they are studying or about Laban’s engagement in presenting them?


Dance Umbrella 2017: Let Me Change Your Name

Posted: November 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Let Me Change Your Name

Dance Umbrella 2017, Eun-Me Ahn, Let Me Change Your Name, The Place, October 24

Eun-Me Ahn’s company in Let Me Change Your Name (photo: Eunji Park)

Every performance I have seen at this year’s Dance Umbrella has a markedly sophisticated aesthetic; whatever the venue, the lighting and set design makes the performance a visual delight. The set for Eun-Me Ahn’s Let Me Change Your Name at The Place looks like a glistening ice rink in Andre Schulz’s even wash of ice-blue light. With the program image in mind (see above), it’s just waiting for something in lurid colours to emerge on to it. But after an introduction of some of Young-Gyu Jang’s icier music from his score of natural and composed sounds, three dancers in long black torso-hugging dresses walk on to the stage; like birds walking in formation they wheel around slowly and walk off. The same happens in mirror image on the other side. Dancers then slide in crouched on their hands and shins, paddling in a circular rhythm until they stand up and look fixedly at the audience before dropping down and continuing. Women hitch their dresses to their bare chests to be lifted off over the heads of their men, and a man rolls slowly across the stage with a woman draped nonchalantly over his haunches. It is Ahn’s way of introducing not only her band of accomplices (for this is a work she shares unequivocally with her dancers) but her clear sense of style that merges abstracted postures from commonplace human activity with the consciousness of image, the gentle strut, and the fixed, penetrating regard that belongs to the fashion catwalk. It’s a style that builds in intensity throughout the work as the dancers engage the audience with a candour that draws us into their world of energy, wit, sensuality and colour.

Ahn uses the issue of sensuality openly; coyness is not part of her choreographic palette. Her dancers are all attractive and they embody and display this quality knowingly and with a flirtatious sense of humour. As the spirited cast of four male and four female dancers in lurid neon unisex dresses appear and reappear from the wings, the colours themselves smile with Schulz’s complementary light washes, and the way the dresses are worn, slipped off, left off and thrown around in playful abandon is a joy to watch. The dancers share their physical exertion equally with indefatigable vigour, energy and virtuosity.

Ahn balances this youthful exuberance with a more reflective aspect, not so much of age but of experience. While her dancers speed up linear time with their effusive antics, Ahn’s presence on stage stretches it out vertically; in her solos there is the gravity of a quiet, shamanistic presence. She expresses a thinking body with gestures that are as rich as poetry and eloquent in any language. There is also something in her solos of an attempt that never quite happens, a testing of her powers with the youthful energy around her through a motif of hand to chest that can either overwhelm the other or be repulsed by the greater force — a force that has no gender differentiation. When Ahn performs one of her solos half naked, she is not flirting in the same way as the other dancers but sharing her secrets; in her universe, nakedness is the opposite of hiding. She gathers up the sloughed-off skins of discarded black dresses, making a nest of them underneath her own skirt like a matriarchal force casting a spell of renewal. As she leaves with her skins, the dancers erupt on to the stage to Jang’s riff on ‘fuck’ with hedonistic abandon, ramping up their individual antics within a choreographic framework that recaps some of the opening phrases.

Let Me Change Your Name is a deep pool of imagination that overflows in non-verbal representation. Ahn was a friend of Pina Bausch and they had a mutual admiration for each other’s work. Even if their respective creations are dissimilar, they shared an understanding of how to nurture their dancers. Bausch developed their qualities in the service of a theatrical stream of consciousness that she then edited and moulded to her particular conception of dance theatre. Ahn cultivates the personality of her dancers to amplify and fill out the relatively simple steps and actions of her choreography until they are indistinguishable; every gesture and step is brimming with ebullient spirit. In the post-show talk, Ahn displays the same irrepressible energy and unassuming freshness she brings to her work. The notion of vibrant colour, she says, came from an impulsive desire to change the darker tones of her personal wardrobe for brighter ones. Let Me Change Your Name could just as easily be an invitation to change our wardrobe, to lighten up, and to infect others with the euphoria of our transformation.

Let Me Change Your Name is also part of Korea/UK 2017-18, a year of cultural collaborations between South Korea and the UK.