BalletBoyz theTalent 2014

BalletBoyz theTalent, Linbury Studio Theatre, September 16

BalletBoyz The Talent in Christopher Wheeldon's Mesmerics (photo: Elliott Franks)

BalletBoyz theTalent in Christopher Wheeldon’s Mesmerics (photo: Elliott Franks)

The images in the program are familiar: semi-naked, muscular young men curving through the air or wound around each other like antiseptic ads for lycra. Last year this rather saccharine, homoerotic aesthetic permeated the stage work of the company as if choreographers Russell Maliphant and Liam Scarlett had been seduced into perpetuating the notion that a group of young men with fine physiques and plenty of testosterone think only of dressing down, playing war games and showing off to each other. This year’s trio of Royal Ballet choreographers — Alexander Whitely, Kristen McNally and Christopher Wheeldon — seems capable of breaking this spell, but what will the company look like if they are successful?

Whitely seems most susceptible to the company aesthetic in his The Murmuring. He projects a quote from Robert Burns on the backdrop that proves prescient for the evening, if not for the work itself: Look abroad thro’ Nature’s range, Nature’s mighty law is change. Ironically, his groupings of undulating bodies facing some unknown challenge in the downstage wing alternating with a cypher-like semicircle of young men watching one of their own writhing in the middle seems business as usual: dynamic shapes of muscular isolation and contortion in short athletic bursts of mock aggression that just as quickly wind down into ambulatory mode before starting up again. Like the lighting by Jackie Shemesh Whitely focuses on the bodies of the boyz and in so doing his choreographic idea is subsumed.

In Kristen McNally’s wittily titled Metheus it is her choreographic idea that begins to draw attention away from the dancers, as much by pattern as by humour (a much-needed ingredient for the company). With live music by Johnny Greenwood, comic lighting cues and some playful characterization, Metheus pries open some unused potential of the company. By the end of the evening Wheeldon has continued the process by putting the boyz through their dancing paces in Mesmerics, coaxing them through the complex rhythms of four Philip Glass compositions (played live) in some seriously classical choreography that tests their technique and stagecraft to the limit. But a funny thing happens: the boyz’ aesthetic has not prepared them to deal with this level of sophisticated choreography and although they manage to keep the energy going their manufactured personality drops away. Artistic directors Michael Nunn and William Trevitt make the mistake of projecting a gratuitous promotional film of the company between Metheus and Mesmerics as if to resuscitate their aesthetic, but it only serves to emphasize how much McNally has already challenged, and how much Wheeldon is about to challenge the status quo: mixed messages that brand the evening’s bill as neither one thing nor the other.

 


Dance and mathematics

Another fortuitous confluence of ideas: driving home one morning last week I heard part of an interview with Sir Ken Robinson. I was captivated by his articulate and confident championing of creativity in education and, as an example, of dance as a subject with equal importance to mathematics. ‘We are not brains on a stick,’ he pointed out with characteristic wit. ‘We are embodied…Our physical condition, how we relate to ourselves physically, is of fundamental importance in our sense of self.’ Robinson was once on the board of the Royal Ballet, but he is not promoting his special interest nor is he being merely controversial. He is making the point that any educational syllabus suffocates creativity because of the way it promotes certain subjects over others. In a TED talk in 2006 he said, ‘There isn’t an educational system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics…As children grown up we start to educate them progressively from the waist up, and then we focus on their heads…’ He cites the example of Gillian Lynne who was not happy at regular school until her mother was encouraged to take her to dance school where she discovered people like her who couldn’t sit still, who had to move to think.

Robinson’s talk has been viewed over 28 million times unsurprisingly, but I began to wonder how Robinson’s vision for dance could be embodied in a syllabus without getting stymied by the insistence of this style over that, or this school of technique over another.

At the end of the week I attended a showing, through the initiative of Independent Dance, of Becky Edmunds’ documentary Turn Your Fucking Head at Siobhan Davies Studio. Edmunds’ film documents the final Solo Performance Commissioning Solo taught by Deborah Hay to a group of twenty dancers at the Findhorn Community Foundation in which Hay’s frequent incitement to ‘turn your fucking head’ is her more mischievous version of ‘think outside the box’. Hay was present and following the film gave a talk on the process of her research. Hay does not associate herself with any style; she comes from the American dance revolution that bubbled to the surface at Judson Church in New York in the 60s and she subsequently worked with Merce Cunningham and John Cage, both of whom influenced her thought processes. By the end of the talk, which spanned the last ten years of her research diary suffused with a lifetime experience, I felt confident Hay’s approach is what Robinson may have had in mind when suggesting dance could be taught at the same level as mathematics. One caveat: at the beginning Hay discloses with a wry smile that her research is ‘impossible’. She doesn’t teach, she questions. ‘Questions are made to expand the way we perceive; they are not questions to be answered.’ The material for her syllabus consists of the number of cells in the body. In the 1970s it was thought there were five million cells, which was more manageable than the zillion or so now, but dance, in Hay’s universe, is the interaction of these cells with time and space. ‘I replace movement with my understanding of time and space.’ What our mind (wherever it is) can bring to this interaction is responsible for the individuality of our responses. If there is a pitfall in Hay’s approach, it is that students may feel drawn to imitate the kind of dance Hay herself embodied, as if the form belongs to the process. This would be anathema to Hay; turn your fucking head, after all, is a militant call to focus on our own bodies, not someone else’s. ‘Focusing on my own body is dance; focusing is bound by time and space. Noticing is not.’ She talks with self-deprecating humour, not suggesting for a moment that she has any answers at all, but what she wants to instill is the freedom of the body to express itself in movement without worrying about getting it wrong. ‘Dance is how I learn without thinking.’

Sign me up.

 


Hillel Kogan: We Love Arabs

Hillel Kogan, We Love Arabs, Teatro Enrico Cecchetti, Civitanova Marche, August 9

I was very kindly invited to attend one of the two weekends of Civitanova Danza by its director, Gilberto Santini. After an afternoon panel discussion on Dance and Audience, there were three evening performances in three different theatres.

HIllel Kogan and Adi Boutros in We Love Arabs (photo: Gadi Dagon)

Hillel Kogan and Adi Boutros in We Love Arabs (photo: Gadi Dagon)

There is a police presence in the theatre this evening which is unusual for a dance festival but not surprising given the subject and timing of the performance: We Love Arabs treats in choreographic form coexistence between an Israeli and an Arab. What better moment for this carefully modulated, sardonic work by Hillel Kogan in which the only casualties are our preconceptions.

The stage is small and Kogan is alone in the light, looking down, balancing on one leg while the other hovers in counterbalance. It is a stance that reflects perfectly the precarious nature of Kogan’s proposal. He breaks off abruptly to share his thoughts with the audience, talking slowly with long, hesitant pauses. This is cerebral choreography and the very tortuousness of the argument is a vehicle for an ironic — to the point of absurdity — exposé of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He speaks in English with a translation into Italian projected on to the backdrop (which perhaps makes Kogan’s delivery even slower to accommodate the delayed reactions of the audience). ‘Where we stand in space defines the way we move,’ he suggests. The problem is there are some parts of the space that ‘I feel are rejecting me. They are not me…it is not a pleasant feeling at all.’ His introverted movement phrases explore the stage while reflecting his internal thought process until he distills it in a startling conclusion: ‘The space that is not me belongs to an Arab…It frightens me…What can I do with that as an element?’ Adi Boutros answers the question with his entrance, thus initiating the choreographic resolution.

After introductions, Kogan, who asks all the questions and answers most of them — he is the only one with a microphone — carries on his banter, unaware (in his stage persona) that he is constantly tying himself up in irony. Boutros answers when required, more with his eyes than with his voice, his willingness to participate leading Kogan further towards crossing the barriers he tries to impose. ‘We have to identify one another,’ says Kogan, getting Boutros to draw a Star of David on his t-shirt. ‘That’s funny that you start with the downward triangle,’ he balks. In return he draws a crescent shape on Boutros’ forehead. ‘What did you draw on me? Boutros asks. ‘It’s like a brioche on top of a minaret. ‘But I’m a Christian.’ Next Kogan divides the stage with an ‘imaginary big wall’ so that each will have his own space: ‘You are on one side and I am on the other but we are equal facing the wall. You understand?’ Kogan gives Boutros the directive to mirror his movements that he then delivers at breakneck speed. ‘Good, good,’ concedes Kogan. ‘Let’s try some improvisation. What kind of improvisation have you done?’ ‘Contact improvisation’ replies Boutros. ‘No… no contact’ responds Kogan quickly. ‘No, show me who you are. It’s like an identity card in movement…very nice, but don’t show me what dancer you are but what person you are. You understand the difference?’

Up until now Kogan keeps his distance from Boutros, but the distance is diminishing, the façade is dropping. ‘We are now going to explore objects from daily life.’ He takes a knife and fork, gives Boutros the knife and keeps the fork. They improvise around each other and end up in a ballroom pose, forehead against forehead, hand on the other’s waist, Boutros’ knife raised behind Kogan’s back, the fork at Boutros’ waist. Kogan defuses the image by taking the knife in his mouth and puts the fork in Boutros’ mouth. ‘Now we are going to explore something else…It’s about responsibility….I want to work with hummus, because that for me is the symbol of being Israeli… but (on reflection) it comes from you.’ Kogan pastes hummus on his own face before doing the same for Boutros. You sense they are beginning to enjoy each other’s company. ‘The last part is a dream,’ explains Kogan. The Andante to Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 starts up and smoke is fired on to the stage. Irony gives way to allegory. The two engage in a slow-motion homoerotic battle in which Boutros ends up at the top end of a press-up while Kogan niftily inserts his body under him and turns over to face him. They roll over and Kogan pulls Boutros down to him. There is another fluff of smoke and they run around the stage lifting each other with a contagious sense of exhilaration. Boutros upturns Kogan, holding him round the waist as he looks at us through his legs. ‘Put me down on the edge of the stage,’ directs Kogan. They descend into the audience, holding hands and joining with members of the front row. Kogan asks the soundman to crank up the Mozart to emotional dream level while Boutros fetches the bowl of hummus and Kogan fetches some pita. It’s as over-the-top in its emotion as the earlier irony was over-the-top in its starkness. They break bread, share the hummus with each other then offer pieces to the audience, a simple communion with a Jew and an Arab and the public. Now that’s a dream.

 

 


Paul White in Martin del Amo’s Anatomy of an Afternoon

Martin del Amo, Paul White, Anatomy of an Afternoon, Purcell Room, July 11

Paul White in Martin del Amo's Anatomy of an Afternoon (photo: www.okeedokee.co)

Paul White in Martin del Amo’s Anatomy of an Afternoon (photo: www.okeedokee.co)

While other dancers have portrayed Vaslav Nijinsky or danced his roles, Paul White is perhaps the only one whose expressive palette can approach that androgynous, feral quality that haunts the extraordinary images of ‘the god of the dance.’ Last year White appeared at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Meryl Tankard’s The Oracle, a work inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring which Nijinsky had first choreographed one hundred years before. Tankard’s treatment and White’s performance were as much an exploration of the music as they were of the ‘conflicting forces of nature and man, masculinity and femininity, violence and nurturing, strength and vulnerability’ in Nijinsky himself.

This year White returned to the Southbank with Martin del Amo’s Anatomy of an Afternoon, loosely based on Nijinsky’s first choreographic work, the 1912 L’Après-midi d’un Faune in which he himself danced the faun. By divorcing his work from Claude Debussy’s original music Del Amo focuses on the nature of Nijinsky’s role, leading White that much closer to a portrayal of the man himself. In this sense, for those who were fortunate enough to see it, Tankard’s treatment of Nijinsky in the person of White prepares us for Del Amo’s treatment of White as Nijinsky and it is the interpretive qualities of White make both works not only rich but deeply moving.

In Nijinsky’s original work, an indolent faun is aroused by the sight of nymphs; one in particular becomes the object of his desire. In Anatomy of an Afternoon Del Amo takes away the object of the faun’s desire and directs it inward; the object of desire becomes White himself, who, while acknowledging the presence of the audience, maintains a cat-like aloofness from our attention (an attention heightened perhaps by an update email from the customer relations officer at Southbank Centre advising that the performance ‘contains some nudity’). Del Amo and White thus lead us on our own reverie, and it is not the performer that is unclothed in the process but the audience.

The score for Anatomy of an Afternoon is composed by Mark Bradshaw for a trio of musicians: Ivan Cheng on clarinet, Nic de Jong on laptop (for the field recordings and sound collage) and Adam Dickson on celeste. It makes for a rather other-worldly soundscape that fits the subject, ’that mysterious in-between-time, that lengthy period during the day which continues what the morning has set in motion and the evening hasn’t yet concluded – a time full of possibility and promise’ in which Nijinsky/White has ample room to reveal his enigmatic nature.

The choreography has already begun by the time we enter the auditorium. White in a pale green t-shirt and beige jeans is dreamily looking up into a spotlight like the Little Prince looking at a star. The three musicians are also at rest, grouped around the celeste just to his side. White’s movement is minimal, more studied animal than human, with time to concentrate or simply gaze. Part of the research for the work involved two visits to the zoo and White is clearly the focus of our attention like the prize leopard that fails at first to move in the way we expect. White’s head and eyes change focus but his body remains still as the audience fidgets and shuffles to their seats. As stillness and silence finally descend, the door opens to let a latecomer in despite the warnings that latecomers will not be admitted. Who would want to miss this performance?

The celeste player seems poised to begin but White waits a little longer for the audience to resettle. He looks away over his left shoulder, to the front, frowning, peering forward, head back, impassive, his left hand feeling the space to his side, his eyes and head following. The arms rest, the head returns to neutral and his feet still haven’t moved. As he sees White’s hand coming through his field of vision Dickson plays the first notes on the celeste. As White begins to move we see his animal posture and gestures but can’t help interpret them as human. Del Amo and White play this parallel ambiguity beautifully and it is enhanced by White’s prodigious strength and control. His feline quality is broken only once when he pounces on an invisible foe with an uncharacteristically heavy landing; he licks his thumb then balances on his haunches transmitting weight from one foot to the other without the least apparent effort. There are quotes from the Nijinsky faun, turned in and sideways both upside down and on his feet, in a lazy yawn and in his unselfconscious sexual arousal that leads from his undressing (to his underwear) to lying down on his own t-shirt in a consummation of desire. It is soon after this, towards the end of the work, that White  sheds the duality of his role unequivocally; we have been watching him behind imaginary bars but the animal now becomes all too human as the sweat glistens on his back and the exertion of the performance begins to tell. He returns to his initial movements, a weary but still clearly articulated, introspective act in a public space. As the lights go down he stands frowning at the audience as if he is waking from a dream and is uncomfortable at being observed.


Louise Lecavalier, So Blue

Louise Lecavalier, So Blue, Queen Elizabeth Hall, July 2

Louise Lecavalier in So Blue (photo: André Cornellier)

Louise Lecavalier in So Blue (photo: André Cornellier)

Louise Lecavalier is perhaps best known as the muse of Édouard Lock in the formative years of LALALA Human Steps. She has danced with David Bowie and Frank Zappa and many choreographers — including the late Nigel Charnock —have created works for her, but I have never until this evening seen her in work she has created on herself. After a lifetime of assimilating the vocabulary of other choreographers she is now free to explore her own movement. As she writes in the program notes, ‘I wanted to allow the body to say everything it wants to say or can surprise itself by revealing, without censoring it, so that out of this profusion of spontaneous movements, something true and beyond our control emerges, something that exposes some of the meanderings, states of confusion, excesses and contradictions we’re made of — both the darkness that inhabits us and the unbearable lightness of being and of the soul.’

While there are inevitably traits of previous choreographers in her movement (as she candidly says in her post show talk, she worked so hard to master the details of everything anyone asked her to do that the movement became as much hers as anyone else’s), it is refreshing to see her in her own right as if she has returned after fourty years of performing to say with all humility, this is the real me. With her blond hair cut short on one side, a touch of Bowie in her elegant, sharp features, she comes across as someone who has both demons to exorcise and serenity to enjoy.

There are three stages in So Blue, and it is hard not to associate these stages with those in Lecavalier’s own life. The first section — the longest of the three — is Lecavalier alone on stage, her gestures expressive in all dimensions, frenetic at times and at peace at others, doing exactly what she sets out to do in a blend of trance-like sorcery and sheer physical prowess. There is an electric fan on one side of the stage to cool her down and blow her out again into this intricate writing of her images. A partner (Frédéric Tavernini) appears in the second section and prematurely disappears — because of the wing setup at the Queen Elizabeth Hall he seems to climb down into the ground — and there are sounds of children in the score (Lecavalier’s twin girls are in the audience) that bring out the gamine in her. In the third section the partner re-emerges from the ground and remains till the end. Tavernini is a perfect foil for Lecavalier, a gruff bear of a man with his own scars but with the gentleness of one who cares intensely about his partner. He moves smoothly and with arms like broad wings he can wrap Lecavalier within his body — for her a haven as much as a battle ground, a solid base to which she can cling for safety and from which she can launch herself with her voracious appetite for corporeal expression. Tavernini exhausts himself in trying to restrain her, to manipulate her into submission but Lecavalier is not one to submit: having shed her former selves to reveal her true self in So Blue she has found a new freedom in all its stunning fragility and strength. By the time the darkness consumes the stage there is no sense of ending and when Lecavalier returns for the post show talk there is a seamless continuity between herself and her onstage persona.

Mercan Dede’s score, culled from his CD Breath, and Alain Lortie’s lighting both underpin and frame Lecavalier’s choreography beautifully, giving rise to a sense that So Blue is a process of imprinting one interpretive layer upon another to produce not just a colour, but an intense colour.


Sara Marasso

Sara Marasso

Dance is often characterized as an ephemeral art; it communicates on a non-verbal level, its images are fleeting and cannot be recalled in the same way as a piece of music. It is a medium that can all too easily elude fixity in the senses after the end of a performance, even though the memory has scanned it all.  So what happens to our memory of dance? It is beyond the scope of this article (and of my knowledge) to answer this question, but there are irrefutably moments of dance performances that sear themselves – through the eyeballs as it were – into memory and never leave, so we can infer there is an accessible cerebral repository somewhere. If this ability to remember moments of a dance could be expanded into an ability to ‘read’ dance — it is interesting in this connection that the French talk of choreographic writing (écriture) — would audiences be drawn more readily to dance?

I remember a performance of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet in the mid-1970s, but it wasn’t Nureyev or Fonteyn who caught my attention as much as a gesture of a corps dancer revealing one of the groups of Capulets or Montagues who had been fatally wounded in a sword fight. Pina Bausch’s works are memorable for their play on memory: choreographic images that derive from that very place, perhaps, where they are stored.

Bausch came to mind when I saw a performance at Interplay, a street dance festival in Turin. It was a trio of women choreographed by Sara Marasso in a piece called No strings attached #3, and it was arresting principally because of the expressive power of Marasso herself, an intense, beautiful head supported on a spare but ruggedly articulate frame. She dances with a silent mimic quality and her long arms seem to be able to create meaning out of space. But what struck me most was her face for it did not register any emotional control over the rest of her body but responded to impulses in the same way as her torso, arms and legs.

A few days later I came across a passage in Laurence Louppe’s Poetics of Contemporary Dance (in translation) where she discusses the fundamental change in expression that was part of the contemporary dance evolution: ‘Firstly, (the contemporary dance body) had to allow the body to take the expressive role that facial expression had hitherto monopolized.’ Then Louppe quotes from Hanya Holm: The face is of course the mirror of all that goes on, but it should not be more prominent than is intended and must not substitute for all that which isn’t going on in the body.

This clarified what I had seen in Marasso and which she conveyed so convincingly; there is an integrity to the physical expression when this occurs. Too often the face resorts to displaying its emotional leadership and distracts by its overemphasis. The two women with Marasso (Teresa Noronha Feio and Maura Dessi) tended to fall into this mode, which gave Marasso’s dancing by comparison a clarity of gesture in which each element of the body had its place. Interestingly a colleague found Marasso’s performance lacking in emotion because the face was not emoting. For me, the entire body was expressive and in harmony. The emotion came through the body’s gestures.

 


The Integrated Dance Summit

The Integrated Dance Summit, presented by Pavilion Dance South West and Foundation for Community Dance at Pavilion Dance, May 16-17

Rosa Vreeling and James O'Shea in The Point At Which It Last Made Sense (photo: Chris Nash)

Rosa Vreeling and James O’Shea in The Point At Which It Last Made Sense (photo: Chris Nash)

Integrated Dance — loosely defined in this context as the participation of able-bodied and less able-bodied dancers in a single performance (think of the analogy with Charles Hazlewood’s Paraorchestra performing with Coldplay at the 2012 Paralympics Closing Ceremony) — is a genre that runs the gamut from fully integrated to polarized with subtle gradations in between. A lot of discussion at the Summit devolved, not unsurprisingly, around the contribution of integrated dance to the efforts to improve health and social services, its potential to engage audiences, and its ability to raise awareness of the phenomenal contribution of the disabled in society — aspects I came to appreciate more fully over the course of the forums. But when it came to looking at the performances with a critical eye, I looked beyond these aspects to the visual, psychological and emotional levels that lead me into a work or out of it.  After all, these are not works about disability but about the ability of each performer to surmount their restrictions to create something that inspires. The performances that achieved this were those that effectively dissolved the barriers between able and disabled.

Both Falling in Love with Frida by Caroline Bowditch and The Point At Which It Last Made Sense by Robin Dingemans and Nick Bryson fall into this category. If the former is fully integrated, the latter goes one stage further by using James O’Shea’s powerful upper body (he is a Paralympic swimmer) and handsome beachcomber head to extrapolate the satire on marketing to a surreal level. Rosa Vreeling is O’Shea’s sensuous companion basking in self-adulation, while Nick Bryson’s dry humour as political commentator keeps the whole structure hanging irreverently in the air. Add understated costumes by Louise Bennetts, a clarity of vision from Guy Hoare’s lighting, marketing photos by Chris Nash that eloquently describe the work without need of words, and the package is irresistible. There’s a score, too, by Alessandro Bosetti but my eyes were so busy my ears couldn’t keep up.

Bowditch’s approach is more personal; she projects her life on to an alter ego that is Frida Kahlo; she does not try to be Frida but chooses her to channel her own history and aspirations and from whom she derives inspiration and encouragement. Kahlo was handicapped by a traffic accident at the age of 18, and Bowditch has suffered a genetic bone disorder since birth but both women have transformed their obstacles into their respective arts. In the emotional and openly erotic layering of the work we learn about both Bowditch and Kahlo, and about the unbounded force with which both women approach life. Katherina Radeva’s set and costumes are as vibrant as Bowditch herself in red skirt and blue blouse lying supine on a yellow table surrounded by yellow chairs in front of two green neon cacti against blue and white hangings. The music you hear as you arrive (the program notes tell us) is the music that played in Frida’s house, the music she lay down to. Bowditch lies on the table dreamily looking at herself in a hand mirror when the motherly figure of Yvonne Strain enters in indigenous Mexican dress to join her; she is the wholly integrated BSL interpreter whose grasp of the erotic texts provides some well-earned respect and laughter. There are two other members of the cast, Welly O’Brien and Nicole Guarino, whose youthful beauty and movement enhance the sensual quality of the action, laughing with arms and tongues and sharing lascivious glances. The generosity of spirit in the work includes a shot of Tequila for all members of the audience, some unforgettable lines (‘You drank to drown your sorrows but the damned things learned to swim’) and an all-too-human questioning of the marks or traces our lives might leave. It’s all about falling in love with Frida, but it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with Caroline Bowditch.

StopGap Dance Company’s The Awakening, choreographed by Chris Pavia, is performed on the West Terrace in glorious sunshine. The four dancers (Amy Butler, Nadenh Poan, Hannah Sampson and Tomos Young) rope off a square with thick black ribbon inside which all the action takes place. The creative line of the work is not easy to fathom, though the common gestures of awakening to the sun and sky are clear; I feel on the outside of Pavia’s thought process but the work has an integrity that draws me in, especially to Poan’s physical expressiveness in his wheelchair. Legs can be expressive but when a dancer has no control over them, the focus of expression is in the torso, arms and face. The Awakening is one of the works in which the dancers with disability are more interesting by comparison than the dancers without; perhaps because their physical and emotional process comes from a deeper source. What this Integrated Dance Summit reveals is that able-bodied dancers have to go that much further in all senses to be on a similar footing when performing with less able-bodied dancers. The Awakening thus creates a juxtaposition rather than an integration of abilities. It is the same with Pavia’s lovely, tentative solo of spirals for Sampson in which her arms are like rays of light. What could possibly correspond in the able-bodied to this, or to Poan’s freeing himself from his chair? He is suddenly in another unfamiliar element and it is an emotionally significant moment. At one point Poan takes Sampson’s arm like a guide or teacher, laying on his hands: a powerful metaphor for dance as a healing art. The work accelerates with Poan’s chair off balance, animated arms once more raised in a ritual of sun and air worship until all the performers slowly remove the bindings from their wrists, drop the material on the ground and promenade slowly around the square, discarding that which binds for a sense of freedom.

Marc Brew’s (i)land also lends itself to the terrace outside, this time overlooking the beach. There is an irony of bringing six tons of sand to build an island on a terrace within sight of the beach but there are technical reasons for it. On this tiny desert island topped by a mast and a vestige of rigging there are buried some seemingly unrelated objects that the Robinson Crusoe figure (Rob Heaslip) begins to uncover. What may be evident to us is not evident to Heaslip who builds with them a makeshift deck chair and settles down in the sun to rest. Up pops the head of Marc Brew from within the sand, a wonderful image like Christ rising from the dead. A third character (Rebecca Evans), dressed as The Lady of the Sea, wanders on to the island to complete the trio. The narrative follows the development of an escape plan with the limited resources available but it is Marc’s struggle from being buried to becoming mobile that holds my attention because his movements constantly express both fragility and determination. There are overtones of Lord of the Flies in Heaslip’s attempt to stop Brew from assembling his means of escape but the relationship between Heaslip and Evans and between Evans and Brew are barely defined by comparison. Once Brew’s means of escape is constructed (an antediluvian contraption with wheels and sails, somewhat like Da Vinci’s sketch of a helicopter), we want him to take off into the blue sky, but this alas is not within the production’s means. Evans returns to the sea, Heaslip remains on the lookout atop the mast, but Brew can only wheel away his contraption. Perhaps it is an allegory of dependence and independence, of freedom and restraint, of mobility and immobility but the contradictions within the work preclude a real sense of integration and appropriate resolution.

Arc Dance presents two works choreographed by Suzie Birchfield, a dancer who early on in her training developed Dystonia that has left her in a wheelchair. She has worked tirelessly over the last twelve years since establishing ActOne ArtsBase as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and advocate for accessible dance, which is the inclusion of people with disabilities in dance-related classes, workshops and performances. In Conversations with Dystonia Birchfield dances with Peter Baldwin and Tyrone Herlihy and in A Sense of Beauty Rosie Leak expands the trio into a quartet. In both works composer Nao Masuda provides a dexterous live accompaniment. Birchfield is both choreographer and central character in each work, a difficult balance to pull off at the best of times, but with the weight of her experience and advocacy it is almost impossible to avoid a polarization of disability: we are drawn in to her affliction so closely that the contrast with the athletic prowess of Baldwin and Herlihy is uncomfortable to watch. Yet there is a moment in Conversations with Dystonia — when Birchfield is supported on the equipment designed by Alex Harvey of Ockham’s Razor and slowly descends in a classical plié as she looks out with those lucid eyes — that is pure magic. The powerful metaphor of support is contrasted with the fragility of the body and force of mind; it is perhaps in itself a pure form of integration.

One final performance element of the Integrated Dance Summit is the Integrated Choreolab, ‘a partnership between South East Dance, Pavilion Dance South West and GDance to respond to the lack of development and choreographic opportunities for artists working in integrated dance.’ The three artists chosen (Noëmi Lakmaier, Kate Marsh and Mark Smith) were asked to choose their own collaborators. Lakmaier choose Rachel Gomme to perform a durational piece that took place over four hours outside on the South Terrace, of which I saw very little as it coincided with work going on inside. Marsh chose Welly O’Brien whom she has known since their days in Candoco Dance Company and Smith chose two dancers who suffer like him from deafness: Anthony Snowden and Kevin Jewell. Anyone thinking they had a good grasp of integrated dance before this Choreolab had yet another aspect to consider: the integration of artists with complementary or similar disabilities. Marsh has two arms, one hand, and two legs, while O’Brien has two arms, two hands and one leg (though I never noticed in Falling in Love with Frida), making a collective total of four arms, three hands and three legs. Marsh and O’Brien use their respective limbs as a composer might use a key signature: an intricately inventive composition both constrained and enriched by the imposition of a set of rules. Marsh and O’Brien know each other well and have a similar clarity and consistency in their collaboration tinged with a sense of humour that develops from an opening motif to a ratcheting up of cattiness in competitive gestures.

Mark Smith is, amongst other things, the artistic director of Deaf Men Dancing, so his collaboration with Snowden and Jewell sidesteps the Summit’s notion of integrated dance for an integration of dance with gesture and sign language. The music is by creative signer Pete Waller, aka Deafboyone, and it is Jewell’s pinpoint timing in his hand gestures to the first song that communicate extraordinary power. Smith explains in the subsequent Q&A that one of the causes of deafness is the scrambling of hair nerves in the ear that impede the incoming sound waves. As with other performances over the weekend, it is the transformation of these kinds of disabilities into a clear communication of overriding truth that makes integrated dance — in all its manifestations — not only a vital element within the broader dance field but a universally valid art form in itself. Two other writers were invited to comment on the Summit: Dave Young and Rebecca Nice. Their reviews can be read on the Pavilion Dance South West site.


Hubert Essakow: IGNIS

Hubert Essakow, IGNIS, The Print Room, February 11

Lukasz Przytarski, Jordi Calpe Serrats and Sara Kestelman in IGNIS (photo: Zadoc Nara)

Lukasz Przytarski, Jordi Calpe Serrats and Sara Kestelman in IGNIS (photo: Zadoc Nara)

Fire is the theme of Print Room Associate Artist and Choreographer Hubert Essakow’s new work, IGNIS, the second in a planned elemental trilogy that began with Flow, based on water. Ignis is a Latin word for fire but here fire is a metaphor for memories that have burned their way into both heart and mind.

The seating at The Print Room is intimate, arranged on three sides of the stage as if around a fireplace and Lee Newby’s polished steel back wall tilting slightly forward reflects the human forms on the shiny black stage as flickering embers. Within this heated landscape Essakow — with the help of dramaturg Laura Farnworth — succeeds in getting his cast to embody in those embers all the longing, desire and regret of a passionate life. It is a tall order, and something that dance alone is only partially equipped to handle but Essakow’s coup is to integrate the expressive power of actor Sara Kestelman (whose training in classical ballet still informs her quality of movement) with his three accomplished dancers (Noora Kela, Jordi Calpe Serrats and Lukasz Przytarski). She plays the older woman reflecting on her younger self (Kela) and her conflicted passions, sometimes watching the sporting of the youthful trio and sometimes participating; she sees everything, she notes everything and, more importantly, we read everything through her. Interestingly she doesn’t dominate the stage but like an alchemist transforms it.

Newby is also something of an alchemist because part of his polished steel wall transforms magically into a transparent screen with the help of Matthew Eagland’s lighting. IGNIS begins with the recumbent figure of Kela in light grey loose-fitting clothes reflected on both the floor and the back wall. Like someone licked by flames, she turns and twists the shimmering line of Jon Opstad’s score until she rises to a sitting position and stands looking at her image in the polished mirror. As she walks towards it Kestelman’s image appears through the screen gazing back at her fondly as if at a photograph. Kestelman fades to return seconds later with two young men at her side. Time dissolves in this mirage, and as Kela retreats from our focus Kestelman materialises on stage on the arms of her two youthful companions. In this way both cast and creative team unite in their evocation of time revisited, of remembered pleasure and pain. The four characters weave memories and past events in contrapuntal choreographic sequences in which the men have one phrase and the women another, followed by unison sections and phrases in canon that suggest the hesitation of selective memory (sitting, getting up, sitting again) and the sudden punctum when Kestelman claps her hands and the flood of memories comes to an abrupt end. “Here it almost ended…” she begins, a sculptural figure eloquently recalling a decisive moment in her life as the three dancers draw their arms slowly across their chests like the stretching of a bow. But the memories continue to play, small accelerating gestures of look and touch and rebuff that Essakow painstakingly builds into an intense physical argument. Kestelman watches raptly until the triangle resolves with the departure of Przytarski. Kela snaps at Serrats in a combative duet that finishes with the lovers lying together on the floor but Kestelman recalls the return of Przytarski and we see the tantalizing pull and push of her heart.

The two boys duel in solos and duets that Kestelman sees in reflection on the wall: reflections on reflections. “I know the scene can never be the same.” Her voice adds a further emotional element to the performance. Dancers are not used to flexing their vocal chords in the same way as the rest of their muscles and Kestelman’s voice has all the power of an athletic body. She also adapted or transposed her own poetry for IGNIS so there is a unity between mind and body whenever her voice emerges.

It is now the turn of the youthful trio to manipulate Kestelman as if she is no longer in control of her past: selective memory, or history re-writing itself. A touch sends a shiver through her; she tells Kela she failed to see the anguish to come. “Now I see him everywhere.” Serrats joins Przytarski in dancing with Kela; she moves from one to the other. Kestelman remains on the sidelines as they switch and battle, watching Kela in particular, but despite the passionate uncertainty of the time — or perhaps because of it — she has no regrets: “Charred and changed”, she affirms, “Burnt out embers flicker into life, a lick of flame, leaping from the ashes, sudden burst of fire, white hot, brilliant, bright, beautiful, alive. I am alive.”

She sits, then lies like Kela at the beginning, dancing with her arms, rolling gently one way then another, and arches her back to sit up. Przytarski lights a fire in a grill along the back of the stage, transforming the stage into line of flame. Bathed in the light, Kestelman conjures up the three youths who dance in response to the heat: her passion in all its complexity. The two boys help her to her feet but Kela remains on the ground looking up at her. There is a transferal of understanding from the one to the other as the fire burns low. Kestelman’s eyes brim with the clarity of memory but the eyes of the others are as if blinded for they cannot see into the future. Kela circles and leaves Kestelman forming a heart with her hands, potent symbol of her journey. As she stands reflected in the wall, the ghostlike trio appears briefly behind it and vanishes.


Resolution! 2014: Waldeinsamkeit, Stewart and Cox, Kuniskis

Resolution! 2014: Waldeinsamkeit Theatre, Heather Stewart and Helen Cox, Ieva Kuniskis, The Place, February 6

Rachel Burn in Women's Tales (photo: Judita Kuniskyte)

Rachel Burn in Women’s Tales (photo: Judita Kuniskyte)

One of the pleasures of attending Resolution! is that you never quite know what you are going to see. This evening’s program ranges from theatre with very little dance to dance with very little theatre to a fertile mix of the two.

The three creative minds behind Waldeinsamkeit Theatre all trained in theatre rather than in dance, which perhaps explains the heavy dependence on text in You must be the one to bury me. The title comes from the translation of the first part of an Arabic phrase that crops up in a language game a couple, Richard (Joseph Lynch) and Sophie (Stephanie Bain), plays. The second part reads, ‘for I cannot bear the thought of living without you.’ The arc of the narrative falls rather short of the title’s expectation; as Richard and Sophie’s relationship falls apart the conclusion reads more ‘I can’t bear the thought of living with you’. The contraction of a relationship into twenty minutes — from its online introduction to courtship to holiday to descent into routine to misunderstanding, jealousy and a final attempt at saving it — creates problems in the telling, though the opening scenes are refreshing in the fast-forward/playback mode in which they are played. But by the time a third party (Rea Mole) enters the picture late in the game like a fortune teller behind a screen, the humour dwindles away in an attempt to draw the increasingly drawn-out ends to a close: it needs to fast forward but there’s nowhere to go. Bain understandably wants to prolong the work but the problem is not so much the theatrical treatment as the narrative itself: ‘bury’ becomes less a metaphor for the strength of desire as for the weakness of the plot.

Heather Stewart and Helen Cox’s Lapse is intriguing. There is an integrity to the work that makes me want to see it again, but the subject is so cerebral that it puts me off. Shaped by Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget (an intense observation of each and every body movement Goldsmith made on June 16, 1997), Lapse has a similarly compulsive approach to movement while sparing us the details. To a reading of sections of the text by Robin Toller, Stewart and Cox perform movement phrases that repeat and syncopate in a matrix as astringent as it is precise. There is even a clock ticking to remind us of how relentless time can be when acutely observed. The reading by Toller gives lightness to the work while Stewart and Cox’s patterns lend it the complexity of a chess game or mathematical puzzle in which their neat technique and clean lines make their phrases almost hypnotic: the body as unemotional instrument. Toller accelerates his reading and Stewart and Cox move faster but not on his rhythm, playing a game of catch-up before they slow down to half-time. Toller eventually runs out of voice and the exhaustive catalog of movements grows silent, but he rallies with a commentary on, among other things, Lapse‘s ‘perverse inability to convey body language except through language.’ Thank goodness for Stewart and Cox. 

The opening haze of Ieva Kuniskis’ Women’s Tales draws its inspiration (so I learned later) from a scene in Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Nostalgia. Such a timeless sense of space — notwithstanding The Place’s initially over-enthusiastic haze machine — is a perfect setting (thanks to lighting designer Maria Klochkova) for this intricate weaving of four separate women’s stories.

Rachel Burn kneels on a bench with her legs tucked under her and Victoria Winter stands facing her. Andreea Padurariu brings in a flowerpot and defiantly tips both flowers and earth on to the floor, looking behind her with sly contempt to see if she is being observed before running off. She returns with a stash of letters and sits on a chair reading them, crumpling each one as she finishes it and dropping it on the floor. Helen Aschauer enters with a bowl of water that she places close to Burn, then paces up and down ranting at nobody in particular — sotto voce at first but the volume rises — interjecting at critical moments with a passionate prodding of her thigh and backside or a wild gesticulation of her arms: a physical and verbal monologue in a voluble language that has the flavour of a hot climate. Kuniskis builds her choreography from these carefully observed details, revealing her characters through their actions, developing their tics and idiosyncrasies into rich and imaginative dance that gives her work a sense of being grounded in the psychology of the earth (mirrored by the autumnal colours of Maiko Sakurai Karner’s costumes and a delicious Tupelo Blues by John Lee Hooker). Each woman’s quite independent tale is carefully superimposed on the others like a collage through which relationships are revealed by a sudden coincidence of gesture or by an act of sympathy.

After her rant, Aschauer returns to her bowl of water and washes Burn’s long hair. Winter’s pensive self-questioning leads her to comfort the disconsolate Padurariu. Aschauer takes off Burn’s cardigan to dry her hair before braiding it. Burn, who has been serenely meditative up to now suddenly erupts and clambers up Aschauer like a tree to perch briefly at the top, then knocks her down in her rush to the corner where Winter stood, but Winter has by now exchanged places and sits next to Aschauer, hand on her shoulder. There is a cinematic quality to Women’s Tales, with our focus shifting from one gesture or act to another like joining the dots of a broad canvas suffused with a dreamlike melancholy. Aschauer takes a sip of water from the bowl and removes her shoes. Burn returns to her bench, aided by Winter who then helps Aschauer put on Burn’s cardigan. Aschauer scribbles something on her knee and sets off at a delirious pace around the broken flower pot, tripping, falling, getting up, furiously writing in the air in one long flowing intensity. Meanwhile Winter is carefully piling up Padurariu’s crumpled letters on her lap, balancing them carefully in a paper pyramid. Just as the pile is complete, Padurariu stands up: it is her turn to tell her story, and she, unlike the others, comes forward into an imaginary spotlight as if to speak…but she cannot get a word out. She turns upstage and moonwalks to the music as if she is somehow elevated and continues to dance her story through her back, private and sensuous. Towards the end of her dance Aschauer begins to clean up the mess of the broken pot, Burn turns round quietly on her bench to face away and Winter sits in Padurariu’s chair: all four are ineluctably trapped in the web of their tales. It is only when Burn begins to sing a Lithuanian lullaby in a beautifully clear voice that the spell begins to break; Aschauer adds her voice as she sweeps and Winter joins in to form a trio as she picks up the crumpled letters. Padurariu ends her story and helps Aschauer with the cleaning. As each woman finishes her task she leaves, still singing; our ears strain to hear the final notes as our eyes accustom to the darkening light, somewhere between the end of the dream and waking.

 


Rambert at Theatre Royal Brighton

Rambert Dance Company, Theatre Royal Brighton, February 26

Miguel Altunaga in Christopher Bruce's Rooster (photo © Hugo Glendnning)

Miguel Altunaga in Christopher Bruce’s Rooster (photo © Hugo Glendinning)

‘Twelve dancers trapped in a hell of their own making’ is how Barak Marshall describes his work for Rambert, The Castaways. They are certainly trapped, in an intriguing design by Jon Bausor that recreates a sub basement where refuse ends up after falling from a shoot that features prominently out of reach on one of the walls. At first sight the dancers lie on the floor as if they have just been emptied out. Jon Savage is the first to stir and introduces the cast like a compere in an underground cabaret. It is a catchy beginning, the archetypes expressed effectively in Bausor’s costumes and in the believable mix of characters among the dozen Rambert dancers. Then the first track of an eclectic playlist ‘taking in Balkan folk, Yiddish pop and Soviet pomp’ (arranged by Robert Millett and played live in the orchestra pit) starts and a dance begins, formed, shaped and cropped out of nowhere. From here to the end there is a sense of pastiche choreography, episodes of gratuitous violence and argument interspersed with group dances that resemble each other too closely with their flair for flamboyant despair. The only sparks fly from Estella Merlos and Miguel Altunaga who could be playing Anita and Bernardo in a Yiddish version of West Side Story. Intriguingly, there are similar character traits between The Castaways and Christopher Bruce’s Rooster: Vanessa Kang comes in for bullying in both, which is a bit worrying, and the men are unashamedly macho.

Richard Alston’s Dutiful Ducks, taken from the title of the sound score by Charles Amirkhanian, is a solo for Dane Hurst that begins in full flood and ends all too abruptly a few minutes later. Hurst is completely at home in this sinuous, fluid work and dances it to perfection, every little inflection and change of direction clearly and cleanly depicted. It may be short but the memory lingers.

There is a connection between Alston and Merce Cunningham that goes some way to introducing the latter’s Sounddance, though it is by no means a natural segue. Cunningham is an acquired taste and, I imagine, an acquired style that is uncompromisingly modern with a classical base. Sounddance is, according to Nancy Dalva, ‘a dance about dance, and about dancing.’ What marks it is the apparent lack of motivation, or linear construction, and there is an absence of any conceit or ego even if the presence of Cunningham the creator (with a wry sense of humour) is ever present. It is thus an opportunity to observe each dancer in the act of dancing, which is a treat (Adam Blyde and newcomer Carolyn Bolton stand out in this work). To a score by David Tudor (played with deafening enthusiasm by Robert Millett), Sounddance unfolds from a velvet-draped rococo screen through which Blyde swirls into being like the creator himself (this was a role Cunningham danced). His physical control and smooth dynamic contains the seed of the whole piece. The other dancers appear from the same velvet drapes one by one, increasing the complexity of the spatial and sexual interactions until the stage is close to controlled chaos before the dancers split off, one by one in a reversal of their entrances, passing back through the same curtained womb from which they had emerged. Blyde winds up the proceedings by whirling off at high speed.

There is one more work: Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, which has remained out of the company’s repertoire for thirteen years. The eight songs of the Rolling Stones to which Bruce created the work date it back even further to the 60s and 70s. Rooster is, Bruce writes, ‘a celebration of the music and of the times these tracks were recorded.’ It is also a celebration particularly of the men in the cast: Miguel Altunaga, Mbulelo Ndabeni, Adam Blyde, Dane Hurst and Stephen Wright who strut and soar with all the cockiness and virtuosity of the music, which is where Bruce uncovers the keys of his choreography, from the more obvious jutting thrust and pumping wings of the rooster that appear throughout as a leitmotif to the the more subtle courtly flourish suggested by the harpsichord in Lady Jane. You don’t see gratuitous steps in his work. The same sensitivity drives the choice of vivid costumes by Marian Bruce and the superb lighting by Tina McHugh. All these elements come together to create moments of pure magic: Altunaga as the prancing dandy in Little Red Rooster, light fading on Patricia Okenwa as Not Fade Away begins, Hurst’s non-stop twisted and contorted aerial solo in Paint it Black, and Merlos hurling herself into the arms of four men who throw her high into the air, long red dress flying, at the end of Ruby Tuesday. And while Wright has a fling with Kang in Play with Fire, a feather from her red boa lodges in his hair like a lick of flame or a devil’s horn for the start of Sympathy with the Devil. You couldn’t ask for better.

Bruce not only develops his own language and ideas, but he develops his dancers both technically and expressively. The excitement is palpable on both sides of the curtain.