London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional

Posted: July 28th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional

London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional, The Place, June 21

From London Contemporary Dance School's Postgraduate to Professional

Eleanor Sikorski in Comebacks I thought of later (photo: Marta Barina)

The London Contemporary Dance School’s evening of Postgraduate to Professional dance, now in its third year, offers choreography from a current postgraduate student (Marcus Foo), alumni (Feet off the Ground Dance, Helen Cox, and Eleanor Sikorski) and faculty (Mickael Marso Riviere). As an evening of dance it falls somewhere between a showcase for the school and a choreographic platform, but its predictably uneven quality makes it an unwieldy concept.

The first work, Éter, by Feet off the Ground Dance, an all-female group who describe their mission as ‘contact improvisation and partnering for performance’ is just that: contact improvisation and partnering for performance. But where is the performance? Beginnings, as Ben Duke (another graduate of London Contemporary Dance School) quips at the beginning of Paradise Lost as he searches for his place in the text, are vital for capturing the attention of the audience. But the opening minutes of Éter, in which two women inch slowly sideways, on hands and knees, forehead to forehead, along either side of a diagonal shaft of light has little to recommend it but the contact. The lighting is dim and pulsating and the live score is a low-level wash of sound that makes the sensory compass unable to find its bearings. Most significantly the performance appears to extend class-based contact improvisation exercises on to the stage without any spatial framework. The action of Éter develops with two other women, but without the objectivity that an audience brings, the whole never takes on a performative quality. It is significant that the program note lacks any identifying feature of the work.

Foo’s Automaton Animalia is another piece of choreography that starts in the mist and gets lost. The program note is telling: ‘If I look hard enough, if I could will my mind to look beyond the arch, I might still see it. Maybe it’s still there, just not really here anymore.’ There is an archway of crates we can see through a backlit haze, and five performers moving slowly, mysteriously as they dismantle it and reconfigure it. At least there is a visual focus, but the choreographic concept has no legs; it turns on itself with a score that fails to inspire it. Inspire is to ‘breathe in’ and education is to ‘lead out’, but here the breathing is restricted and the exit is obscured. Creation is the victim.

I wrote about Cox’s de/construct after I saw it at Roehampton University’s Footprint Dance Festival earlier this year. Interestingly her program note has changed focus. ‘Reflect on a time in your life when you were in a period of transition. It is sometimes said that this space in between is the most creative, but also the most vulnerable. Using the dancing body, I move through this space, deconstructing routines and listening to the infinite possibilities of what lies between.’ But this version doesn’t take into account the organic, tree-like hemp dress she wears at the beginning, which ties her to the landscape of her original conception. Once she sloughs it off she is wearing everyday clothes that are closer to the idea of a dancing body exploring the creative space. Somewhere in between the two is the true nature of Cox’s work.

Sikorski’s Comebacks I thought of later substitutes a quote from Shelley for a program note: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” The register is slightly off, for Sikorski’s ‘songs’ are not so much sweet as bitingly funny and the sadness is in her derisive tales of sexual misadventure. Comebacks consists of spoken texts about grunting male chauvinism, minimal musical accompaniment on a portable keyboard, to Sikorski’s vitriolic physical responses to her tales. The poignancy of the performance is as much in the wit of Sikorski’s ribaldry as in her self-deprecatory realization of her inability to think up the comebacks at the moment they were needed. The great strength of Comebacks is in its mastery of the anecdotal form and its scathing celebration of male failings.

Riviere brings the evening to a close with his Éteins Pas, a reworked version of a 2009 piece he made at The Place during Choreodrome. It is inspired ‘by the idea of life after death, with many ideas coming from reading stories about out-of-body experiences.’ Riviere is bold at the beginning to remain supine and motionless for some time; all we hear is the air conditioning. Then he adds the smallest gestures of fingers and hands, ripples through his back to rise on to his knees and to stand, looking slightly sheepish as he looks at us for the first time as if saying, ‘I am not really supposed to be here.’ But having traced his revival with such sensibility, Riviere then subverts it with a display of breaking technique to a driving track by Armand Amar. It comes all too soon and all too easily; Éteins Pas in effect bridges two languages without acknowledging the bridge.


Marie Chouinard: Double Bill

Posted: July 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Marie Chouinard: Double Bill

Marie Chouinard, Double Bill, Sadler’s Wells, June 20

The company in HenriMichaux: Mouvements (photo: Sylvie-Ann Paré)

Marie Chouinard’s company in Henri Michaux: Mouvements (photo: Sylvie-Ann Paré)

There is something remarkable about the theatrical output of Québec. A province of Canada, large in surface area but small in population, it has produced artists of startling originality in the theatre (Robert Lepage), circus (Cirque du Soleil, Les Septs doigts de la Main, Cirque Éloise), and above all in dance (Carbone 14, Louise Lecavalier, LaLaLa Human Steps, O Vertigo, Cas Public, Fortier Danse Création, Daniel Leveillé, Montréal Danse, Dave St-Pierre, Le Patin Libre, Virginie Brunelle, and Marie Chouinard, to name but a few). Nearly all these companies have their origins in Montreal, an island city one third of the size of London with one fifth of its population. Rebellious roots have become smoother over the years but there are everywhere vestiges of independent thinking that refuse to retire. You don’t invite someone like Marie Chouinard to London, as Sadler’s Wells has done, without expecting a little discomfort. Chouinard’s double bill is uncompromisingly original, even startlingly eccentric, but her conviction in carrying through her idiosyncratic vision means her works unerringly challenge conceptions about dance. She doesn’t appear to build on the ideas of others, nor even to borrow from her own works, but resolutely enters into a new universe suggested by the nature of each new project. Her London program contains two works, the first of which, Soft virtuosity, still humid, on the edge, wipes clean the choreographic (and aural) palette and prepares for the extraordinary Henri Michaux: Mouvements that follows.

Soft virtuosity ‘explores different time schemes…through various forms of perambulation…’ which borrow heavily from forms of disability; the dancers, dressed in black against a white backdrop, start their perambulations with a series of crippled walks across the stage, extricating the shape from the condition with impassive clarity. They may be difficult to watch at first but Chouinard makes us see them in terms of their shape and rhythm, not in terms of their pathology. They are no more ‘silly walks’ than the turned-out gait of the ballet dancer or of dancing on pointe.

A couple sits turning in tantric embrace on a turntable near the front of the stage. Chouinard uses live projection to multiply their image on the entire backdrop like a phantasmagoric vision focusing on their faces as they turn, from joy to despair. Behind them the dancers cross in ever more complex rhythms and shapes, using their own voices like wild calls; they meet and part, embrace without touching, chillingly disconnected; there is a feral quality that pushes any residual discomfort into atavistic confrontation. Chouinard is evidently coming from a darker place, from what appears to be a disordered universe that is nevertheless more real that we might wish to admit. Composer Louis Duffort is more understanding; his score, reminiscent of the more experimental tracks on Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, is a collage of organ, guitar, rumbling percussion, the descending arc of a siren and other found or manufactured sounds; where Chouinard provokes, Duffort soothes.

Chouinard pushes the limits of slow-motion movement (butoh is one of her inspirations), borrowing the technology of film to inspire and enhance the movement of her dancers. They move from one side of the stage to the other like a shackled Rodin frieze, their faces and torsos projected on to the backdrop above them. It is a double reality on two scales, like looking at a specimen under a magnifying glass then looking away. For those reviewers ready with an editing pencil, it is worth remembering John Cage’s quoted zen aphorism: ‘if something is boring after only two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all but very interesting.’ It is its very duration that makes this scene so effective and engraves it into the imagination.

Chouinard designs the lighting, sets, costumes and props. Her palette in these two works is monochrome and she gives maximum emphasis to the shape and movement of her creation with an intellectual rigour that cuts through any half measures to lay bare the raw physical and erotic material of dance.

In Henri Michaux: Mouvements Chouinard delves so completely into the work of Belgian artist Henri Michaux that the 64 India ink sketches that make up his book Mouvements take on three dimensions and a life of their own through the energy and artistry of the dancers embodying their hallucinatory, anthropomorphic qualities. Chouinard uses the drawings as a score, and like the marks of a painter, she makes marks that coalesce into brief dances of rich invention and seering force. Each image or page of images is projected on to the white backdrop and a dancer, dressed in black like the ink, sketches it in movement. All the images remain on the screen so we can follow Chouinard’s interpretation. The process develops in complexity as groups of dancers take on the more challenging images — or when several miniature images appear on a single page. At one point Carol Prieur with a microphone lies down under a trap of the floor where she recites Michaux’s accompanying poem in its original French (translated in the program notes), bringing its surreal imagery surging to life. Dufort as composer enters Chouinard’s universe with equal power without dividing our attention from the movement language; his rhythms correspond with Chouinard’s choreography and provide her with the musical trajectory for her steps. And all ten dancers, from the elongated Valeria Galluccio to the explosive Prieur, never let up. The integraton of text, movement, music and setting builds into a complete theatrical experience that etches itself on the imagination long after the lights go out.

In the afterword to his poem, Michaux wrote of his belief his images would be ‘finally expressed far from words.’ Chouinard has done him proud.


Joan Clevillé Dance, Plan B for Utopia

Posted: July 8th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Joan Clevillé Dance, Plan B for Utopia

Joan Clevillé Dance, Plan B for Utopia, Battersea Arts Centre, June 2

John Kendall and Solène Weinachter in Plan B for Utopia (photo: Nicole Guarino)

John Kendall and Solène Weinachter in Plan B for Utopia (photo: Nicole Guarino)

The United Kingdom’s constitutional crisis triggered by the EU referendum gives Joan Clevillé’s Plan B for Utopia a timely relevance — and an unintended irony — especially when he writes in the program note that it concerns ‘the impact of our decisions on others and the environment around us, about what happens when things don’t go according to plan…’ The derivation of the term ‘utopia’ comes from the Greek for ‘nowhere’, which is, until Article 50 is (or isn’t) invoked, the political situation in which the UK currently finds itself, and since there was evidently no Plan A for Brexit, Plan B is being pieced together on an ad hoc basis while both sides machinate in a dystopian political environment with daggers drawn.

Although Clevillé’s research for Plan B for Utopia takes a serious look at socio-political concerns, designer Matthias Strahm’s setting of a clownish, colourful world of building blocks and a cardboard box full of props derives from the more popular vision of utopia as an ideal society in which the hopes and dreams of humanity are realised. The values underlying a utopian society — equality, liberty, and justice, among others — are predicated on a dissatisfaction with the present, as suggested in Solène Weinachter’s opening question: ‘Why is it easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the world changing for the better? How do we start a conversation about changing the world?’ Her partner John Kendall replies, as he slowly cocks his head close to the microphone: ‘Good question.’ Weinachter is the voluble, adrenalized partner constantly taking the initiative while Kendall is calmer and more subdued; they form a vulnerable pair whose contrasting approaches to progress do not augur well for their own. Dressed alike in yellow checked shirts and black pants we first see them balancing building blocks on the upended cardboard box, an image of the fragility, if not the impossibility, of their world. Weinachter is desperate to affect the future while Kendall is content with the present. He sets off on a hedonistic display of disco dancing and mating, but she is not interested, her face neutral, questioning; she smiles to the audience, trying to extricate herself from Kendall’s pursuit, but he persists. Not one to be fazed, she upends him over her shoulder and takes the microphone. With Kendall immobilized she answers her own question by talking about the gap between rich and poor, the degradation of the environment, the dismantling of social policies, economic growth and progress, consumerism and the ease with which we are distracted and entertained. Only when she has finished does she ask Kendall how he is. (‘A little sick’). Getting his feet back on the ground, Kendall then lip-synchs Over the Rainbow while from behind the puppeteer Weinachter manipulates his arms with wire hangers from the cardboard box. The contrast between the rosy idealism of the song and the manipulation of the singer is stark but its symbolism is subverted by the comic pathos of the scene.

The problem is not one of performance but of perspective. In a subsequent scene Kendall sprays haze around Weinachter like insecticide as she begins the story of the man in the magic forest. It’s a tour de force with a battery of onomatopoeic sounds through which we glimpse the moral of the story somewhere in the background: Weinachter’s performance is so good in itself that it upstages the content. Again towards the end, when Weinachter implements Plan B (for Birthday) and magics a cake with a single candle and a paper crown with which she anoints King John, she breaks into a rollingly fast mix of French and English with exploding voice and gestures that leave Kendall dazed and confused. She unwraps his ‘cadeau’ of an electronic keyboard programmed to play Happy Birthday and then picks out the tune of Imagine which she sings two octaves too low and out of tune. No matter, Plan B is too desperate to fail. She even gets the audience to sing along. Kendall, whose distress increases with Weinachter’s every effort, collapses in tears. She sits in the cardboard box frantically miming a campervan, a boat, an aeroplane — anything, even Marat dying in his bath — until she succeeds in reviving his spirits.

It’s a spectacular climax of performance, but the final scene descends from pathos to bathos — an inherent danger in a work where the dialectic forces are insufficiently balanced. Kendall and Weinachter play a game of wooden blocks to Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World, gently lowering their symbolic wooden house from mouth to elbow to fingers to the floor so as not to disturb the illusion of a happy ending.

Despite the imbalance of perspective, Plan B for Utopia is not a weak work; its structure is tight, its performance is powerful but most importantly its sincerity is unquestionable. Clevillé himself has both an engagingly serious side and a keen sense of humour that together reveal a passionate, imaginative voice. With his strong desire to set up a dialogue with his audience, the more he can harmonise these strengths of character in his work, the greater the balance and the impact it will have.


Marcus Waterloo, We have bled

Posted: July 1st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Film | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marcus Waterloo, We have bled

Marcus Waterloo, We Have Bled, Frame Film Festival, Rose Theatre, June 10

Rosa Antuña in a still from We have bled

Rosa Antuña in a still from We have bled

The director of We have bled, Marcus Waterloo, was not able to attend the film’s showing due to illness, but the film’s producer, André Semenza, very kindly agreed to ask him my questions about his approach to the film. I have used some of Waterloo’s responses written from hospital.

Apart from the opportunity to see dance live on stage, film is the most effective medium for capturing the dance elements of movement, line, rhythm, and colour. But a seat in the theatre offers both a fixed distance to the dancers and a fixed perspective. Film has the advantage of moving the audience exactly where the director wants; both the distance and perspective can change as well as the frame of vision and the clarity of focus.

A film by Marcus Waterloo, We have bled, shown at the Frame Film Festival in Kingston, emphasised these advantages so much it stood out for pushing beyond ‘dance on film’ and even ‘dance as film’ to a mature creative genre of ‘film as dance’. Waterloo was director of photography for another film at Frame, the full length Sea Without Shore (2015) by directors André Semenza and Fernanda Lippi, with whom he has worked since 1998, notably on Ashes of God (2003). His cinematography is rich in colour, meticulously framed and he has a feel for choreographic space; he doesn’t simply follow dancers but enhances their movement with his camera work. For some time Waterloo has also directed, filmed and edited his own short dance films, of which We Have Bled is the most recent and the longest he has made in this genre.

Waterloo did not start with a vision for the film; as he writes, ‘Everything started with Fernanda and André, and the possibilities that came up when Rosa was in town; we felt “let’s get together and see what happens.” I know that something always happens when we get together, a sort of magic. I was not going to bring the camera to the first rehearsal but I did, and I am so glad I did.’

Waterloo joined the three dancers — Lippi, Rosa Antuña and Kirill Burlov — in a dance studio observing through his lens ‘…the interactions and natural energies between the people’ that Lippi had orchestrated through task-oriented choreography and improvisation. He was interested simply in ‘watching people; people, like little creatures, and what the creatures are up to…It’s as if I want to swim and flow with other humans. There is no ‘grand statement’ — it’s simply part of the process of being human, the poetry of it…It’s like dancing with other people.’

It was in the first edit that Waterloo perceived in the images what he describes as, ‘a compassionate look at the turmoil in our relationships; when we exhaust ourselves and can turn to a place of surrender and acceptance. We cannot be anything else but human, it’s an inevitability of life: to acknowledge we will hurt a little on the way.’

Cued to piano music by Kai Engel, we see the dancers alone or in pairs, close up or at a distance, framed within the architectural space; within that frame there are others because Waterloo glances at the moving bodies through windows, through reflections in windows, through doorways, at the end of passages and from behind the studio’s barres. The motion of the camera sets up a tantalising superimposition of bodies and architecture moving in and out of focus within and through the frame — sometimes multiple frames within the same shot — at different rhythms. In the editing Waterloo thus sets up a poetic syntax that enhances what we see, building emotional traces like brush strokes on a canvas. This process, Waterloo writes, is like ‘excavating the human heart…The film is about people: you see straight into people’s hearts and souls, and what is possible — what great potential there is. Editing is about totally surrendering; it’s a natural response.’

The originality of We have bled is in its creation of an intoxicating juxtaposition of choreographic images to create the suggestion of a narrative. The starting point was not conceptual but instinctual: ‘I see the beauty of humans drifting past all the time, like a grand archaeological and architectural display. Filming is knowing where you are going to dig. You have an inkling that there is something under the surface, so “let’s set up and dig”. When something is revealed, you just continue digging…it’s a response, an experience…’

Marcus Waterloo’s website http://marcuswaterloo.com/

Vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/marcuswaterloo

 

Ten days after writing this, in the afternoon of July 11, 2016, Marcus Waterloo succumbed calmly to his illness.


Dance Roads 2016

Posted: June 23rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Roads 2016

Dance Roads 2016, Seligman Theatre, Chapter, Cardiff, June 8

Lucie Augeai and David Gernez in Nœuds at Dance Roads

Lucie Augeai and David Gernez in Nœuds

Dance Roads is an international touring initiative that supports choreographic development and provides artists with international exposure and networking opportunities on a biennial basis. The network is made up of organisations from five countries: The Netherlands, Wales, France, Italy and Roumania and is jointly coordinated. This performance at Chapter marks the final leg of the touring program.

Jasper van Luijk’s Yonder, danced by Jefta Tanate, is the most formally crafted of the five works on the evening’s program, a play of chiaroscuro in which Tanate moves naked through a field of lights. The stage resembles a photographic studio in which van Luijk has set up lights at various heights and angles. The choreographer cedes his place behind the camera to the audience and allows us to watch as Tanate manipulates the lights during his performative journey. There are thus two sources of movement, human and mechanical, interacting at different rhythms through the action of a single entity. When he is not swinging lights or swinging on them, Tanate moves with an almost automated articulation, his facial expression belying no emotion, nor betraying any narrative for his actions. This existential quality relates to what the program note for Yonder describes as ‘a search for the beginning and the end of time with the lifecycle of one man.’ I’m not sure many in the audience would pick up that notion while watching — I certainly didn’t — but there is a sense of time passing on a journey from darkness to light, from frenzied turning to stillness, from a sublime moment of elevation to a jarring fall to earth. What links these episodes is van Luijk’s paean to the male body that Tanate, without any apparent strain or self-consciousness, dances on the edge of his senses.

The poet Dylan Thomas lived constantly on the edge of his senses; Gwyn Emberton takes on the imagery of his poem Fern Hill in a short solo called Of the Earth, where I came from, originally choreographed on his own body but here danced by Albert Garcia. Emberton chooses not to set movement to Thomas’s words but with composer Benjamin Talbott delves into the sense of exploration in the poet’s memories of spending youthful days on his aunt’s farm. It starts with an image reminiscent of a portrait by Rollie McKenna of Thomas entwined in the branches of a tree: Garcia is in a headstand in shadows cast by tied, gnarled brushwood. Both poem and choreography are suffused with regret for the process of ageing but by setting his choreography on a younger body, Emberton sets up a tension between youth and age. Like the poetry, Of the Earth, where I came from has no rest as one image of the body switches suddenly or slowly, unfolding, unfurling and upending with a muscular fluidity that is nevertheless ageless.

In Noeuds (knots), Lucie Augeai and David Gernez (Compagnie Adéquate) perform a playful take on family relations (they are married) in a bright gestural duet that has elements of theatre, circus, mime, and dance. Their use of baroque music (Marin Marais) gives lively accents to their dialogue that allows the gestural forms, which look at first like conducting, to become the principal channel of expression. Noeuds does not, as its name suggests, describe an easy relationship. Augeai holds her breath with bulging cheeks while Gernez bares his teeth; he holds her tightly while she tries to escape. The initial pleasure builds to confrontation but Augeai does not submit; she gives as much as she gets. She has a way of using her eyes with the tilt of her head that conveys clarity of intention; the register is as high as laughter and as low as aggression. Gernez is her foil, against whom Augeai plays to comic and dramatic effect. He is driven to a final solo of male frustration after which Augeai diffuses it with her weaving pattern. The knots are subtly disentangled and they walk off together.

Claudia Catarzi’s Qui, Ora (here, now) is a minimal work that comes at the end of the middle section after two other works, so not an ideal place for audience concentration, which it needs. Qui, Ora is a choreographic response to immediate physical factors: space, a costume, the audience and sound. It has the feeling of an improvisation, stark in form with playful elements. If you put on a stiff and raspy-sounding coat, then your movements will necessarily emphasise its qualities; Catarzi dances the coat with birdlike attention and a dry sense of humour, sloughing it off at the point it appears to be dancing her. She responds to the space around her (and to a Johnny Cash song) with movements that are angular and loosely anarchic; it is like a play by Samuel Beckett with moments of dry wit, an element of the absurd and moments of pure poetic flow.

Cristina Lilienfeld’s work, Layers, is a meditation on skin and what it reveals of our inner emotional life. She uses her own skin as a material on which to receive our thoughts and feelings, and with which she projects a sensorial appreciation of the unfettered body. Disarmingly generous, she nevertheless protects the intimacy of her personal space in the very act of sharing it, playing with the tension between looking and being looked at and never failing to meet our gaze head on. In the opening section she reinforces the skin’s opacity by rolling and slithering her almost naked body on a mix of sand and flour to the sounds of rain and thunder and masks her face in her long, thick hair. It is a state of emotional turbulence in which she appears to be testing our gaze. “You are under my skin. You are in my heart,” she tells us, and invites us to write whatever comes to mind on her skin with her eyeliner pencils: artist and audience sharing the same material. “Thank you,” she responds, peeling off layers of skin-like patches from her body as she retreats. She reappears carrying a bowl of water. If the first part of Layers is a ritual covering of her skin, the second is a ritual cleansing. In between these two states, where Lilienfeld is naturally expressive, there are moments of ‘dancing’ which immediately signal something inherited or taken for granted. But there are also moments when she creates something mesmerising out of her unadulterated presence. In being naked — a metaphor for both freedom and vulnerability — the removal of physical and psychological layers creates in her an exuberance that makes emotion visible.

Dance Roads, as its name suggests, is a network of roads that is funded by the EU to convey choreographic expression from one country to another. While it is a pleasure to watch works that originate elsewhere, at the performative level the model offers neither integration nor differentiation between cultures, for the audience or for the dancers. What makes van Luijk’s work so different from that of Compagnie Adéquate, for example? What would happen if Catarzi were to create a work on Lilienfeld, or Lilienfeld on Tanate? It might be interesting to explore such questions in future collaborations so that the creative spirit finds new roads to follow.

 

It is ironic that this article on Dance Roads should be published on the eve of the EU referendum in which a majority of UK voters decided to leave the EU. The result may well mean Wales will no longer be eligible for the Dance Roads network. 


Until the Lions: Akram Khan Company at The Brighton Festival

Posted: June 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Until the Lions: Akram Khan Company at The Brighton Festival

Akram Khan Company, Until The Lions, Brighton Dome, May 27

Ching-Ying Chien in Until the Lions (photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Ching-Ying Chien in Until the Lions (photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Earlier this year I saw Peter Brook’s Battlefield at the Young Vic; it was his adaptation of five books from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Akram Khan made his debut at the age of 13 in Brook’s original nine-hour production of the Mahabharata. What a coincidence then, that Khan should present in the same year as Battlefield another story from the same saga, one of love, betrayal and revenge in an original reworking by Karthika Naïr that has become Until the Lions.

The title comes from an African proverb: ‘Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’ The lion in Naïr’s poem is Amba, the daughter of the King of Kashi who is abducted on her public swayamvara (betrothal) ceremony by Bheeshma, the son of the Kuru king. Vowing revenge on Bheeshma, Amba immolates herself and is reincarnated as the male warrior Shikhandi by whose hand Bheeshma meets his end on the battlefield. The dual role of Amba/Shikhandi is danced respectively by Ching-Ying Chien and Christine Joy Ritter; the role of Bheeshma is danced by Khan himself.

Until the Lions has Kahn’s signature symbolism and spirituality dressed in white and covered in haze, with arresting stagecraft and musical accompaniment (by Sohini Alam, David Azurza, Yaron Engler and Vincenzo Lamagna). The dancing of Chien and Ritter is what we have come to expect in Kahn’s international casts of exceptional artists whereas Kahn’s own performance, even if his presence is strong, lacks the flow and attack he once had. It is something he acknowledges, but it begs the question of why he didn’t find a younger dancer on whom to create the role. The result is a performance that has all the appearance of significance yet lacks its bite. There is a feeling that Nair’s poetry has not gained in the dancing, but is simply the starting point of something else, something defined more in the production values than in the content.

Brook’s space for Battlefield is spare, a vast stretched stage cloth with very few stage elements. This environment stands in stark contrast to the subject of the dialogue and enhances the production’s focus on the clarity of thought. Khan and his producer, Farook Chaudry, have taken a different path. The narrative involving three characters has been treated with a monumental production by conceiving it for the 360° Network of round artistic venues across the world. Created in the round, with Tim Yip’s vast slice of fissured tree trunk for a stage and with Michael Hulls’ lighting, the setting is to dance what the rock concert is to music. Michael Billington commented on Battlefield that ‘at a time when theatre is giddy with technology, you are struck by the way economical means are used to maximum effect.’ By contrast Hulls seems to be vying with the choreography for primacy.

The work premiered at The Roundhouse (a founding member of the 360° Network) in January. I didn’t see it there but at the Brighton Festival, which is not only one of 16 co-producers but also a co-commissioner of the work. The outside of the Brighton Dome is, like The Roundhouse, circular, but its concert hall is not configured for theatre in the round. It is at best an elongated semi-circle cut off by the stage, so fitting Until the Lions into this space required some spectacular fudging. The first thing you notice is the massive lighting rig to carry Hulls’ circular lighting conception and the second thing is the stage underneath it, a circular platform on top of the Dome’s regular stage.

So why did the Brighton Festival co-commission and co-produce a work that, as conceived, does not fit into its venue? Why co-commission it at all? How much of the Festival’s dance budget was taken up with this co-commission and what did it get from it? The questions are relevant because the dance programming of England’s prestigious festival in its 50th year is much thinner than the quality of English dance would suggest; the Festival has an opportunity if not a responsibility to present a challenging and varied dance program, rather than go for the prestigious names like Khan, or hook up with what happens to be touring with Dance Consortium (as it happened, NDT2). It’s ‘lazy’ programming and it has a deleterious effect on the country’s dance ecology.

Arts Council England, which funds both Akram Khan Company and the Brighton Festival, has a motto, ‘Great Art For All’. The motto has two elements: ‘great art’ and ‘for all’. Even if Khan is a well-known brand, great art does not necessarily equate with well-known names. And ‘for all’ implies that access to the great art is within the financial reach of a broad audience. An expensive work by a prestigious name means ticket prices are going to be high rather than broadly affordable and I can’t help feeling that with 16 co-producers and a co-commission, Until the Lions is roaring its way to the bank while the Festival is left strapped to build a dance program that does justice to the high quality of work that exists in the country (not to mention locally) with the public funds at its disposal. Perhaps a good starting point would be to appoint a dance producer; there is currently no mention of one listed under the Artistic Staff of the festival. There’s a music producer, a theatre producer, a classic music producer, and a family and children’s producer. For a festival that prides itself on its mandate to take ‘a new look at the arts’ and to have ‘the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture…’ that’s a stunning omission.


Liz Aggiss, Slap & Tickle

Posted: June 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Liz Aggiss, Slap & Tickle

Liz Aggiss, Slap & Tickle, Brighton Concert Hall, May 20

Liz Aggiss in Slap & Tickle (photo: Holly Revell)

Liz Aggiss in Slap & Tickle (photo: Holly Revell)

When I read Ian Abbott’s review of Liz Aggiss’s Slap & Tickle and took in the publicity image of a lascivious Aggiss astride a lit fluorescent tube on a red leather armchair, the two together confirmed an image of the show: irreverent, funny, and ripe with sexual innuendo. ‘Slap and tickle’, after all, is a British euphemism for foreplay. However, when I saw the show at the Brighton Festival soon after, these elements were framed in something altogether darker than I had imagined, with more bite.

Aggiss grew up ‘in a repressive era’ in a post-war Essex suburb, but she uses dance imagery that belongs to the 1930s Expressionism of the Weimar Republic and its satire of bourgeois values. We hear signature tunes from family BBC radio programs of the 50s whose naivety is cut through by the sexual politics of a later generation. ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’, she croons the beginning of Listen With Mother. ‘Well, it’s going to get worse.’ She strips back the dark underbelly of social mores and then rescues us from her gleeful dissection with her bawdy humour. Get Aggiss on a bad day, however, and Slap & Tickle would be murderously toxic.

But this evening she’s on her irreverent best behaviour. She even treats us to party games in the brief interludes between acts; the lucky winners of pass-the-parcel unwrap a yellow scarf with the printed black outline of a cock on it. There’s much penis envy among the losers. While playing pass-the-balloon the recorded voice of Emma Kilbey encourages us to rub them on our legs, or stuff them up our jumpers. ‘Let’s have a party’, insists Aggiss, and we do.

According to Aggiss’s trenchant text in the beautiful program booklet designed by Nerea Martinez de Lecea, ‘Slap & Tickle is a solo performance in three acts that decodes, in a disorientating display of contradictions, interpretations and propaganda: girls, ladies, women, mothers, pensioners and senior citizens.’ Pointing obliquely to the fact that when you get to be a pensioner or senior citizen your gender is considered superfluous, Aggiss, at the age of 63, is proof of the lie. She leads her female audience to revolt: ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Well, you shouldn’t be.’ And she means it.

The three acts of Slap & Tickle roughly follow three stages of sexual emancipation, from the ‘world of child’ in which ‘answers…are merely guidelines’ through the dismemberment of ‘romanticism, dominant narratives and social codification’ of adolescence, to the exhilarating realm where ‘puritan ethics and codes are banished’ and ‘wearing a tail, a red hat and no knickers is de rigeur.’ Aggiss has spent her life preparing this work and it is in the editing of her material that she manages to concentrate that experience in such a rich, seamless format. Like the collage work of Hannah Hoch (whom Aggiss cites as an influence), her consummate skill in choosing which element to superimpose on, or juxtapose with another makes her allusions and metaphors subversively and disturbingly entertaining. At the beginning of the first act she enters regally in a voluminous golden dress, her head hidden under a Vogue-ish gourd. She opens a fold of the dress to reveal a cloth doll that she drops repeatedly and dispassionately on the floor before discarding it. She raises the hem of her skirt to reveal one glass slipper and performs an expressive arm dance to Mrs Mills on the piano and professes shyness as she raises the hem of her dress further to reveal bare white legs with a whiff of permissiveness. Then she huffs and she puffs and sings the line about the old lady who swallowed a fly as she slips out of her dress to reveal ample knickers from which she retrieves bits of padding, coins and a number of ping pong balls. If she’s not slapping us out of our social servility she’s tickling our desire for moral clarity. ‘All instincts that do not find a vent without’, wrote Nietzsche, ‘turn inwards…’ Aggiss spent a childhood turning inwards; now is the time to ‘vent without’, challenging ‘expectations of what a mature female dancing body should be doing, why she should be doing it, and where it should be done.’ Just as she uses her subversive brand of vaudeville to articulate suppressed instincts, her dance takes inner movements and turns them into outward form — the Ausdruckstänz, or expressionist dance of Mary Wigman. Her rendition of Klaus Nomi singing The Cold Song in a black and white costume reminiscent of Nomi’s own signature suit, is not only beautifully crafted but is consistent with her theme of bringing the body into line with the unfettered mind: ‘…the body and voice are tethered by an invisible umbilical vocal cord that swings abruptly through buried truths and nasty realities, whilst simultaneously and repeatedly slamming against the on/off button.’ It’s a battle, ‘push and pull’, and if it gets too much, ‘Let’s all go down the Strand – Have a banana!’ Foreplay has turned into punishment and reward.

Slap & Tickle engages fully with the audience in the music hall tradition so that however dark the material Aggiss finds a way into our minds with her irreverent humour and makes us laugh at our own wobbly moral compass. She has travelled a resolute path for the last 40 years and has emerged with ‘the determination to maintain female visibility, to snatch the dance performance space from the clutches of youth, and to contextualize the stage with a content driven world that speaks to and for other generations…’ ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Well it’s going to get a lot better.’

 

Liz Aggiss will be performing Slap & Tickle at The Place on June 17 and 18 at 8pm.  


Helen Cox, de/construct

Posted: May 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Helen Cox, de/construct

Helen Cox, de/construct, Footprint Dance Festival, Michaelis Theatre, May 14

Helen Cox in de/construct (photo: Lawrence Choi)

Helen Cox in de/construct (photo: Lawrence Choi)

I had seen Helen Cox at Resolution! in February 2014 in a piece called Lapse, co-created with Heather Stewart. Both Stewart and Cox seemed like pawns in a complex game of text and movement, so it was interesting to see Cox performing in her own right at Roehampton University’s Footprint Dance Festival. According to the program note, de/construct traces the patterns of growth found in natural landscapes; though the title has rational connotations, both the imagery and the music by Alog are decidedly organic. As the lights come up we see a small island of sinewy hemp rope and sacking (designed and made by Cherrie Lau) that envelops the kneeling Cox, fitted to her waist and trailing around her like a network of roots. It is not a heart that beats but hands that quiver as she grows slowly out of this material; her body takes on its distinctness, its edges clearly defined. She sloughs off the skin to revel in the space around her but Cox does not take this separation for granted; she looks back at it in breathless moments of stillness, drawn up to her full and immaculate balance. When she begins to move, the agency of her movement is neither inside nor outside her; she simply elongates and stretches her sinuous, smooth gestures around herself in circular patterns that have no end. Watching her is like hearing fragments of speech in the wind, but they are fragments of speech in another language, eerily incomprehensible yet fully formed and complete. She lowers herself to the ground, silently. More quivering hands and smooth, sweeping diagonal gestures across her body, like a conversation with the air, her face intently listening, her body somewhere between birth and independence in the natural world. de/construct is but a fragment but for a moment all social constructs, all structures of human life, dissolve.

de/construct was the last of eight varied works on the final evening at Roehampton’s Footprint Dance Festival, about which more later.


Costa Contemporánea 2015, Day 2

Posted: May 26th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Costa Contemporánea 2015, Day 2

Costa Contemporánea, Day 2, Anfiteatro Rodalquilar, September 3

Irene de Paz in Madejda (photo: Carlos de Paz)

This is the second instalment of a set of reviews from last year’s Costa Contemporánea. I had started it but never got around to finishing it. Re-reading my notes I feel I am back in the amphitheatre at Rodalquilar…

After the opening night, the three subsequent days of performances at Costa Contemporánea have a strong theme of physical theatre. Each performance is a unique take on the body as both image and instrument with an ecstatic fluid line that permeates the body mass. Irene de Paz is a circus artist, a tightrope walker with strong features and a bright smile that remains from beginning to end like an optimist who never gives up. The gusts of wind blowing through the amphitheatre would be enough to put off any funambulist but the smile persists and the performance of La Madeja proceeds, involving yards of red yarn in which de Paz ties and unties herself while walking back and forth or on the rope. The link between the tightrope and the yarn is not accidental; equating the knotting of woven cloth to the vital knots of her profession, De Paz dedicates La Madeja to those women weavers who saw their days pass while knotting threads. Furthermore, the funambulist and the weaver become metaphors for life: finding balance, taking steps back in order to move forward and resolving intricate problems. Her first step on the wire is entangled in yarn and by her last one she is free of obstructions. But during the performance De Paz seems to be fighting the elemental force of nature that is far more unpredictable; lightness and poise are at risk, even though the smile never fails.

I had seen Elias Aguirre dance a duet in Turin that took inspiration from the characteristics of insects. Aguirre’s control over his articulate body is prodigious and he turned it into a fascinating play of volume, line and space. He finds unusual states of being to portray — neither conceptual nor exaggerated — that lend themselves to his form of expression. In Longfade he inhabits a body that has been poisoned but is in the process of resisting the poison until it runs its course: the long fade to extinction. Facing his crisis in spatial terms, Aguirre is eloquent in movement: short phrases, silences, internal questioning, and hasty decisions connected in an overall arc of meaning. He takes his imbalance to extremes but always finds his equilibrium quietly and seductively. His face is intimately involved in his actions, giving an impression of carrying on a dialogue with the audience, or reading us a story in movement. Longfade is not a work with a beginning or end, but like a fragment it emerges into the light and disappears enigmatically leaving behind an extraordinary sensory trail.

Because of the rising wind outside, Nicolas Rambaud moves his production of ¡Valgo? to a spacious hall behind the amphitheatre where we sit on the floor. The work, whose title translates as What am I worth?, is a polemic about the value and self-worth of artists. It is a duet for Rambaud and a filmed alter-ego who is projected onto a fragile, tent-like screen and with whom Rambaud pursues a contentious dialogue. Rambaud is no wallflower and enjoys the role of demagogue; he also enjoys being outrageous. Since I don’t understand Spanish I have an hour to watch him rant in speech and dance, stripping down from blue overalls to his essentials and high heels and spraying sarcasm from an industrial crop sprayer strapped to his back. If Rambaud wants to draw attention to the value of the artist, he succeeds more successfully — from a purely physical perspective — to draw attention to himself: L’artiste, c’est moi. What is interesting, too, is that in the context of the contemporary Spanish dance at Costa Contemporanea there is a didactic quality in Rambaud’s work: an intellectual concept dressed in the physical. By contrast, and in simplistic terms, the Spanish contemporary dance I have seen is primarily physical with an inherent intelligence.


Cecilia Lisa Eliceche, Unison

Posted: May 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Cecilia Lisa Eliceche, Unison

Cecilia Lisa Eliceche, Unison, Lilian Baylis, May 7

Eveline Van Bauwel, Cecilia Lisa Eliceche, Michael Helland and Manon Santkin in Unison (photo:

Eveline Van Bauwel, Cecilia Lisa Eliceche, Michael Helland and Manon Santkin in Unison (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou)

“The frontier between the social and the political is essentially unstable and requires constant displacements and renegotiations between social agents.” – Chantal Mouffe, On the Political

There is something mischievous in the way Cecilia Lisa Eliceche meets the gaze of the audience around her in the Lilian Baylis studio; it’s a cross between intense and ludic and it informs the way she choreographs. Set on four dancers (Eliceche, Michael Helland, Manon Santkin, and Eveline Van Bauwel), her most recent work, Unison, distils the attraction of dance into its component elements of movement, pattern and rhythm in search of the nature of unison. Eliceche costumes her dancers in flesh-coloured unitards to emphasize their bodies as instruments of her choreographic exploration without signifying any particular genre.

The performance starts with a bare stage and the sound of a riotous celebration from one corner, beyond the wings. The celebration moves in silence to another corner where we hear it again, like an early display of stereo. Eliceche studied at the Performing Arts Research and Training Studios in Brussels and the influence of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s uncompromising stagecraft and intellectual rigour is evident. A curtain parts and the performers step through in their body suits with strings of South American folkloric chas chas (lamb hooves sewn on to fabric strips) stuck on various parts of their anatomy. They arrange themselves haphazardly in different areas of the space facing different ways and begin the first exercise in unison. Since they cannot see each other and the movements are silent, there is a contradiction between the intent of the choreography and its realisation; while aspiring to unison, the dancers never quite achieve it. This contradiction will remain at the heart of Eliceche’s exploration and define its choreographic form.

When Helland takes off his chas chas and begins a classical port de bras sequence in the centre of the space, the three others watch. It is a four-phrase moving sequence that he performs to all four directions of the audience, but as the other dancers join in, repeating the sequence in opposing and complementary directions, the classical idea of unison is, despite the form, elusive. In its place is a sinuous weaving of patterns that requires a sophisticated spatial awareness, but even this breaks down when the quartet becomes so interlocked it gets stuck in a corner; there’s no room to manoeuvre so the dancers regroup to set off again. It all seems part of the game as they check with each other which course to set. Unison starts to look more like a choreographic argument than an exposition of a concept even if choreography does not have the same clarity as thought. Nevertheless dance has its own intelligence and Eliceche is experimenting to find out how she can employ it.

A third section sees the quartet moving through a similar set of phrases but to a faster tempo with an accumulation of new material. The voice, like a child’s rendering of a steam engine, is brought into the equation as accompaniment and when the movement stops it is the breath that continues in unison. Here is the first statement by Eliceche of what unison might be rather than what it might not be. A fourth section reimagines unison by introducing contact improvisation. It is the first time the dancers connect with each other, fitting like puzzles within and around each other in dynamic sculptural forms that can at any time fall apart and be refashioned. The quartet takes their sculptural improvisation up the railing of the staircase like naughty children in a playground, but never abandon their choreographic task. A brief pause to drink some water suggests another sense of being together. The quartet put on their chas chas again to start a rhythmic sequence of phrases based on the initial sequence, using clapping and voice to further enhance the folk rhythm. They regroup, standing on one leg like herons, bending their upper body lower until they succumb to gravity and slowly unravel to the floor, redefining once more the boundaries of how they relate to each other. A final sequence takes up the opening phrases like a musical recapitulation: the turning bodies with outstretched arms that continue into the darkness.

There is clearly a lot more to Cecilia Lisa Eliceche’s Unison than meets the eye. It is a refreshing observation on dance, connecting many sources into one manifestation. It is messy in the way life refuses to conform to intellectual concepts but it’s also a social construct if you can unravel watching dance from socio-political theory. The above quote from Chantal Mouffe appears in the extensive program notes to the performance and it is not difficult to see a metaphor for Mouffe’s assertion in the way the dancers negotiate spatially. There is also a long essay by Belgian socio-theorist Rudi Laermans titled, ‘Being in Unison: Being in Common.’ Laermans references Eliceche’s work by answering the question, ‘What does the idea of unison actually suggest or imply, not only as a choreographic tool but also from a wider cultural or socio-political point of view?’ The essay provides an insight into the broad-ranging mind of Eliceche, into her choreographic processes and deconstructs the work itself. Laermans’ writing and Eliceche’s choreography form a powerful package, even if the former is not immediately evident in the latter. Tired of seeing the glossy productions of new work that serve to reinforce the singular idea of dance as sophisticated technique in the service of pre-conceptual amusement, Unison is a salutary and gutsy reminder of just how intelligent dance can be.