The Bolshoi Ballet 2018 Livestream of The Nutcracker

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Bolshoi Ballet 2018 Livestream of The Nutcracker

The Bolshoi Ballet, The Nutcracker, Livestream, Brighton, December 27

Margarita Shrainer and Semyon Chudin in a scene from The Nutcracker

For the nine years I danced in Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens I performed The Nutcracker so many times — from mid-December to early January every year — that the ballet has become synonymous with Christmas. Even thirty years later the association is so specific that it’s enough for me to hear a few notes of Tchaikovsky’s score to be immersed once again not so much in seasonal celebrations but in the sensory atmosphere of the theatre at that time of year. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens’ production by Fernand Nault was a colourful retelling of the E.T.A. Hoffman story with lots of children in the first act playing themselves at the Stahlbaum Christmas party and even more playing mice in the ensuing battle with the toy soldiers. The company dancers played elegant, but far too young parents in Act I before the women rushed off to change for the Snow scene while the men fought on against the mice; we were all back for the divertissements in Act II. The memory of that particular production is so engraved on my mind that it has been difficult to watch another Nutcracker with any objectivity. 

Many productions present The Nutcracker as a ‘fun-for-all-the-family’ entertainment, an association that has given Tchaikovsky’s score, despite itself, a false superficiality. The invitation to see the live streaming of Yuri Grigorovich’s 1966 version for the Bolshoi Ballet has broken that spell. The performance was broadcast live on December 23, with a reprise the following week. Directed by Isabelle Julien for Pathé Live, it gives you in effect ‘the best seat in the house’ while also offering glimpses of the dancers warming up on stage before the curtain. In the intermission Katia Novikova interviews the great ballerina Ludmila Semenyaka about Grigorovich’s vision for The Nutcracker and the role of Marie she once danced; she talks with her eyes and hands as if the wonder of discovery is forever embodied. 

Grigorovich’s staging interprets the narrative as Marie’s journey from childhood to adulthood. As explained in Novikova’s introduction, Tchaikovsky’s music for The Nutcracker was influenced by the death of his beloved sister Sasha; it has been suggested that the character of Marie came to embody his feelings towards his sister. Grigorovich’s treatment restores the score, played here by the Bolshoi orchestra under the baton of Pavel Klinichev, to a sense of self-worth without betraying the spirit of Marius Petipa’s exacting storyline. The principal characters — Margarita Shrainer as Marie, Semyon Chudin as the Nutcracker and Denis Savin as Drosselmeyer — weave in and out of the two acts as characters whose paths are integral to the entire story rather than as observers or instigators of their own entertainment. At the same time Shrainer’s identity as Marie in both acts lends a sophisticated choreographic continuity between them in which her sense of youthful anticipation and fulfillment is entirely believable. Chudin has a younger alter-ego as the Nutcracker — unfortunately unattributed in the program — whose diminutive, articulate body is played with, fought over, damaged and repaired before giving his life for Marie in the battle against the Mouse King (Alexander Vodopetov) and his army of mice. It is only after seeing the guests depart ‘outside’ the house that we return inside to see the limp body of the Nutcracker under the tree slowly awaken as the Prince. The simplicity and gravitas of this transformation both in the music and the choreography matches the sublime yet deceptively simple opening of the grand pas de deux in the second act; both are moments that indicate clearly this is no longer a children’s ballet but a sophisticated paean to youthful metamorphosis. The national dances Petipa had sketched as divertissements become in Grigorovich’s scheme a metaphor for the richness of cross-cultural exchange. 

Grigorovich’s collaborator, the late Simon Virsaladze, was responsible for the original designs of both set and costumes. He plays with the sense of scale, using the grand Stahlbaum home as a visual reference from which the environment in subsequent scenes grows ever larger as part of a psychological framework rather than a purely visual one; his sense of colour and period costume creates a unity with Grigorovich’s choreography and Tchaikovsky’s score. 

The abundant energy of the performance and one or two suggestions of nervous effort may have been because Grigorovich was reportedly in the audience that night. For the 610th performance of a work he created 52 years ago, it retains its freshness and appeal but more importantly recalibrates the drama of Tchaikovsky’s score in relation to Petipa’s synopsis. 


Kamala Devam Company: Ankusha and Other Mysteries at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Posted: December 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Kamala Devam Company: Ankusha and Other Mysteries at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Kamala Devam Company, Ankusha and Other Mysteries, Bernie Grant Arts Centre, December 1

Franco Conquista, Kamala Devam and Tamzen Moulding in Ankusha (photo: Vipul Sangoi)

Kamala Devam has a lot going for her and she is making the most of it. Ankusha and Other Mysteries, presented at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, is an ambitious program of five works, four of which she has choreographed on herself or on her company, and the fifth is the 2013 film, The Art of Defining Me, which confounds the political box-ticking of cultural assimilation in which she is inevitably caught up. As she quips in the film, she’s the ‘white pinup girl for Indian dance in England’. As a child of California Hippies she began learning bharatanatyam at the age of five and has reached a level where she can command the stage in a classical solo. She also studied western contemporary dance so inevitably her style blurs the edges of both techniques; this is what makes her fascinating to watch. The energy and motivation of a contemporary arm movement will suddenly make an appearance in the course of a bharatanatyam solo, and in contemporary work her clarity of gesture derives from her classical training. 

The opening work of Ankusha and Other Mysteriesis a case in point. Less of Meis a solo Devam created in 2014 in which she ‘reflects on the space she has inside her’ following surgery to remove a cyst. Sitting on the floor facing away from us, she seems to tell the story through her expressive back while using text to provide her thought processes. It’s a gem of a work that explores her disbelief in losing an internal growth only to find the body is still miraculously fully functional without it. It is reminiscent of Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal; both works are concerned with deepening the psychological and somatic understanding of the body as an expressive medium while using the body as the means of investigation. 

Seeing the short film, The Art Of Defining Me, directed by Devam and Seeta Patel, in the interval between Less of Meand Devam’s bharatanatyam solo, Jati-Swara-Leela, is to watch the very fluid question of identity first in satirical theory and then in practice. It says a lot about the pioneering work of Patel and Devam that five years after the film’s launch its influence can be felt in the programing of such works as Patel’s Not Today’s Yesterdayand Devam’s Ankusha and Other Mysteries.

In the great Indian tradition of the intimate, often improvised connection between dancer and accompaniment, Jati-Swara-Leelais graced with three accomplished musicians on stage playing a composition by Prathap Ramachandra: Danny Keane on cello, the versatile Pirashanna Thevarajah on percussion and Swati Seshadri as nattuvana. Choreographing on herself and costumed by Martina Trottman, Devam naturally inhabits the traditional style and at the same time suffuses it with contemporary sensibility; for all her refinement of bharatanatyam gesture and pose, she employs a spatial awareness and attack that redefines the form in her own image. 

The title of the next work, Babushka vs. Renaissance Man, points to another amalgam of cultural identity but despite the geographical allusions Devam describes it as ‘a choreographic investigation into the meeting points between the movement cultures of popping and kalaripayattu, a South Indian martial art’. The solo, set on popper Kamila Lewandowska, extends Devam’s choreographic evolution by negotiating a dialogue between two separate dance forms on a body that is not her own but it’s a more artificial composite than Jati-Swari-Leela where her intrinsic ability to channel two forms is entirely organic. It also raises the question of what you do once the two dance forms have met; Devam has made the introduction and Lewandowska’s body engages in the conversation but the choreographic form of Babushka vs. Renaissance Man remains too self-consciously contained to fully develop the relationship. 

The final work, Ankusha, moves in another direction in which Devam develops the action through three performers: herself, Tamzen Moulding and Franco Conquista. An ankusha is an elephant goad but Devam suggests it’s symbolic connotation as the Hindu god Lord Ganesha directing souls toward their destiny and keeping them on track. Ankusha keeps the vast theme of fate intimate in the way the paths of the three performers wrap tightly around and over each other, but while the philosophical idea is clear the acrobatic authority of Moulding and Conquista, who are both circus performers, too easily governs the narrative elements. Nevertheless Devam is clearly taking the lessons of Ankusha to push — and pull — the boundaries of her work in a direction that arises from her own unique identity. 


Eva Recacha: Aftermath at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: December 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Eva Recacha: Aftermath at Lilian Baylis Studio

Eva Recacha: Aftermath at Lilian Baylis Studio, October 25

Eva Recacha

Eleanor Sikorski and Charlotte McLean in Aftermath (photo: Jackie Shemesh)

How do you choreograph ennui? Eva Recacha has tackled it in her latest work, Aftermath, which was commissioned by Sadler’s Wells as part of its 20th anniversary, and received its world première at Lilian Baylis Studio. As a state of mind, ennui is not about what ishappening but about what isn’t, which had become a central concern of Recacha after becoming a mother and experiencing the ‘social isolation that can accompany this new role.’ Dancers have to move in order to think and prolonged inaction is akin to a slowing down of creative brain activity. Recacha has called Aftermath an ‘ode to pointlessness’ but this is perhaps as much a self-deprecatory acknowledgement of her starved creativity as it is a challenge to define her subject. In a post-show talk she described her transition from choreographer to mother as one in which she had no time for creative work and no sense of when that time might become available; beyond the celebration and excitement of motherhood it was for her a period of tedium that caused a feeling of inadequacy. Aftermath derives its keen sense of the absurd from trying to put a finger on the malaise she felt.

The opening is set somewhere in the stillness of the mind, in the heart of tedium itself. Kaspersophie’s set design is clearly not a domestic scene; it’s more like a clinical laboratory for the study of tedium with white walls, a couple of chairs (one upturned), a pile of toilet rolls, and red arrows on the floor to stimulate some kind of direction. The two patients are Charlotte Mclean, who lies prone and lifeless like an accident victim and Eleanor Sikorski, who although alive and sitting on a chair staring at the audience, lacks evident motivation. Time passes in a series of blackouts (part of Jackie Shemesh’s clinical grammar of lighting) and the only sound is piped birdsong (part of Alberto Ruiz Soler’s musical motivation). Recacha must have been aware that as long as there is life there is still energy, however small. It comes from Sikorski’s voice and while the message is bland — a series of statistics about ambition — there is something in its sardonic delivery that wakes up Mclean. It’s as if Sikorski is the idling conscience and Mclean its flattened ego. Once a connection has been made, however, the level of energy ramps up with the conscience changing from ignition to vituperative encouragement (“Stick to it, for fuck’s sake!”) until Mclean breaks out in an unintelligible rant.

Having established this desolate territory of the mind, Recacha is ready to recognize its positive value and sets out to challenge its engulfing presence with a generous dose of humour; Aftermath is thus both an uplifting narrative of internal psychological combat and its end product. Her highlighting of the toilet roll as variously a sculpture, a projectile, and a banner is an apposite metaphor.

Sikorski’s conscience is a fickle figure at best, pulling back her encouragement when Mclean’s creative energy is beginning to flow again, disdainfully tapping her green nails on the white chair beneath her pink dress until Mclean calms down (we learn later from Sikorski that the colour pink makes people calmer). But to function she also needs Mclean; it’s a love-hate relationship that sees their mutual dependency assuaged and exacerbated in oscillating fashion. It’s perfect casting with Sikorski as the acerbic, calculating wit and Mclean as the mercurial creative force; their two trajectories start on a fragile thread and fuse together to the point of familiarity and mutual admiration.

With its cross between The Private Life Of The Brain and Monty Python, Aftermath is as much an exploration of ennui as a picture of the divergent elements of artistic endeavour. For a choreographer who has experienced motherhood, perhaps the two are conjoined.The press release for Aftermath explains that ‘during the making of the show, Recacha carried out an outreach program for mothers and their small children, immersing herself again in that period of early childcare and its impact on the mother’s sense of identity and agency.’ While it must have taken Recacha back to the sense of tedium that inspired Aftermath, the Sadler’s Wells commission has given her an opportunity to move forward into the studio and to find within her own experience material for a work that in its level of craft, its wit and absurdity, shows no sign of creative lethargy.


BalletBoyz: Young Men at Wilton’s Music Hall

Posted: November 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on BalletBoyz: Young Men at Wilton’s Music Hall

BalletBoyz, Young Men at Wilton’s Music Hall, November 14

BalletBoyz

Matthew Rees in a clip from the film of Young Men (photo: BalletBoyz)

BalletBoyz’ artistic directors, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, decided early on that Young Men would be ‘a slightly abstracted version of soldiering and war’ rather than having a philosophical or political stance, and that it would avoid any identification of one side over another. The original 2014 stage production with choreography by Iván Pérez, music by Keaton Henson, costumes by Katherine Watt and lighting by Andrew Ellis was commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Sadler’s Wells before morphing into a film that premiered on BBC2 on Armistice Day 2017. Now, at Wilton’s Music Hall, the two productions have been combined to mark the centenary of Armistice. With the stages of development so closely following the timeline of the First World War the directors’ claims of abstraction are problematic.

Since 2000, BalletBoyz has made a name for itself as a company of male dancers. While the age and physical qualities of these young men are close to those who set off from the platforms of Victoria Station with such eagerness to get across to France to fight for their country, they never quite separate the soldier from the Boyz with the exception of Matthew Rees who plays the role of a young sergeant with more than a hint of authenticity; had he not joined BalletBoyz he would have completed his first stage application to join The Royal Marines. Playing a sadistic parade-ground sergeant he anchors what narrative there is with his erratic and threatening behaviour that might now be ascribed to battle fatigue. Pérez, whose choreography for the original stage production was adapted for the film, uses Rees as the tension that holds the small company of seven young men together, but the effects of fatigue — from the highly physical routines on the parade ground and no man’s land to the scenes in the misty trenches — have an aesthetic rather than a psychological value. He takes military actions, whether it’s drill, shell shock or dying on the battlefield, and smoothes them into balletic exercises. It’s the choreographic equivalent of singing commemorative hymns, an attempt to bridge the gap between the unknowable experience of the trenches and peacetime civilian life.

One of the characters in Timothy Findley’s novel,The Wars, is a mother who has just seen her son leave on a troop ship. She walks out of the sermon in church the following day in a moment of acute incomprehension: “What does it mean – to kill your children? Kill them and then…go in there and sing about it! What does that mean?” One hundred years on it is a question that is still unanswered.

In another commission from 14-18 NOW, They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson’s film of the First World War offers a salient explanation. Footage of training, battle conditions and the Armistice from the archives of the Imperial War Museum has been digitally enhanced to bring the action hauntingly to full colour and speed. The commentary throughout is from soldiers who were involved in every aspect of the fighting. At the very end, as one soldier tries to re-find his place in society, he observes that nobody is interested in hearing about the war; nobody wants to know.

So if Young Men sets out commemorate the war, what aspect is it commemorating? Youth would be an obvious answer; the enthusiasm in the country to sign up for service galvanized a generation of young men from all backgrounds. For many survivors war was the crucible in which their maturity was rudely forged but for those who died or were maimed, it was the devastation of youth. The youthful culture alone of BalletBoyz, as conveyed in Young Men, is clearly incommensurate with the range of experiences in the trenches.

In the program, Nunn and Trevitt write of their wish to acknowledge ‘the tenacity and great courage of women’. Elizabeth McGorian and Jennifer White join the company for both the film and the stage performance as, respectively, mother and sweetheart of Bradley Waller’s character. Their presence broadens the emotional palette of Young Men, but the superficiality of the male material gives McGorian and White little scope for the development of tenacity and great courage beyond their token roles.

With a commemorative stance that values entertainment over substance, what is left of Young Men is an aesthetic approach to war that is little short of a romantic myth. The project is thus complicit not in remembering but in forgetting what happened to an entire generation of young men — not once but three times.


Rambert2 Triple Bill and Rambert’s Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: November 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rambert2 Triple Bill and Rambert’s Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells

Rambert2  Mixed Bill and Rambert’s Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells, November 6

Rambert2

Joshua Barwick and Salomé Pressac in publicity shot for Rambert2 (photo: Nicholas Guttridge and Benoit Swan Pouffer)

Rambert 2 is, according to the publicity surrounding its launch, the newly-formed junior company of Rambert, made up of 13 dancers (nine of whom were trained in the UK) from an audition of 800 international applicants. The name relates it to companies like NDT2 or Ailey II but its reality is different. The dancers’ contract is part of an MA in Professional Dance Performance accredited by Kent University which makes Rambert2 more like a conservatory company on the model of Laban’s Transitions or London Contemporary Dance School’s EDGE except that it has the advantage of being able to use the name of a prestigious company in its advertising and, with support from the Linbury Trust, is offering the students a tax-free bursary to cover tuition fees and the equivalent of a London Living Wage. The competitive stakes in the city’s postgraduate dance ecology have been raised. The MA lasts 15 months, and the Rambert School is already posting for auditions in early 2019 for the next cohort with a new lineup of choreographers; the ‘newly-formed junior company of Rambert’ is set to become an annual event.

The project was devised and planned by Rambert’s executive director, Helen Shute, its then artistic director Mark Baldwin and Rambert School principal, Amanda Britton. Three choreographers were chosen for the first Rambert2 cohort: Rafael Bonachela, Sharon Eyal and Benoit Swan Pouffer, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey and for ten years the artistic director of New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. With Baldwin’s departure around the time of the first auditions, Shute invited Pouffer to oversee them and subsequently appointed him as guest artistic director of the main company while ‘a thorough and rigorous process’ is in place to find Baldwin’s successor *. Since Bonachela and Eyal each provided a seminal work from their existing repertoire, Pouffer found himself in the fortunate position of being able to handpick 13 dancers from 800 on whom to create a new work.

Like the publicity surrounding it, Rambert2’s program at Sadler’s Wells (who commissioned this inaugural season) blurs the distinction between a repertoire and a conservatory model; the former is based on the impact of the program while the latter aims to give all the dancers a chance to experience each choreographer’s work. Bonachela’s E2 7SD is a duet and Eyal’s Killer Pig is set on seven dancers; Pouffer obliges by making Grey Matter the only work that uses all 13 dancers, but it is the impact of the program that prevails on a durational, visual and aural level.

The program is a display and celebration of youthful energy that devours all in its thirst for experience. Grey Matter may be a lament for memory loss but the synapses around the brain malfunction — personified by Faye Stoeser — are still fully charged and sensual, and go about their cerebral tasks costumed by Cottweiller to the throbbing Ghettofuturism of GAIKA. E2 7SD is a love-hate duet — wrapped in Oswaldo Macia and Santiago Posada’s sound sculpture and lovingly re-staged by Antonia Grove — between a towering Conor Kerrigan and a feisty Aishwarya Raut that has the rawness and angst of teen spirit but ends up oddly sentimental, while Killer Pig, at a relentless 45 minutes, is a visceral paean to club culture and sensuality engulfed in a body-beating aural collage by Ori Lichtik. I saw it some years ago in a nightclub in Tel-Aviv and its sinuous, androgynous energy completely silenced the capacity clientele.

Killer Pig might have worked better if it had closed the evening after E2 7SD but instead it was preceded by Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances performed by the main company. A protest against the brutal Pinochet régime in Chile doesn’t fit between a Hackney Road postcode and a Tel Aviv nightclub, either in spirit or in choreography. For some undisclosed reason the classic work is being withdrawn from Rambert’s repertoire two years after reviving it and the company has chosen this inaugural season of Rambert2 to cast it off. There’s perhaps a coded message in the composite photograph by Pouffer and Nicholas Guttridge on the company poster and program cover. In the shadowed background stands Rambert’s Joshua Barwick as one of the dead in Ghost Dances. He has lost his skeletal mask that lies in the foreground by the statuesque pose of Rambert2’s Salomé Pressac wearing, we are told, Simon Albo. Her front leg has been photographically distorted and her thigh retouched to generate a muscular anomaly but her outstretched arm and upturned hand are aligned to give the mischievous impression of pushing Barwick defiantly off the stage.

*Pouffer was appointed Artistic Director of Rambert on December 12, 2018.


Tom Dale Company: I infinite at The Place

Posted: November 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Tom Dale Company: I infinite at The Place

Tom Dale Company, I infinite, The Place, October 17

I infinite

Barret Hodgson’s digital lighting effects in I infinite (photo: Barret Hodgson)

Although Tom Dale’s I infinite is performed on the stage at The Place, the immersive nature of its digital technology does not fit well with the model of a conventional theatre. To present it here requires the adaptation of the stage to a white box space and its public bar area to an antechamber in which we are asked to leave our bags, jackets and shoes and to don a loose grey kimono-like jacket; the traditional ritual of attending a theatre performance is subverted. Once inside the space there is no conventional seating but a limited number of white benches or low plinths, some of which, we are told, will be used by the dancer, Jemima Brown. Monitors are present to direct the audience flow when needed. There is no front, no fixed perspective from which to view the performance so those who don’t have a seat are encouraged to wander around the space, stand still, sit, crouch or lie down; leaning against the stretched fabric walls is not advised. Once the performance is under way, however, all the preparations make sense; the exquisite atmosphere video artist Barret Hodgson creates with light and projections around Brown can only work with these kinds of parameters. Dale and Hodgson seem to be spearheading a form of theatrical environment that requires something more like a gallery space to house it where audiences will be accustomed to the all-consuming aesthetic such an immersive experience demands. Until then, touring something like I infinite in conventional theatres will always appear to be the future adapting itself to an antediluvian present.

Dale and Hodgson have been involved in this kind of work for some time. Five years ago I saw Refugees of the Septic Heart that Dale choreographed and for which Hodgson designed the projections alongside a lighting designer, a set designer, six dancers, music and text. The complex overlapping of creative inputs proved less cumulative than distracting, but it might have been the effect of experimenting with digital technology in a conventional theatre setting. With I infinite the digital inputs have been set free of the proscenium stage and the performative elements have been reduced to the essentials of light, sound and movement.

Dales’s extended choreographic solo for Brown gives the performance the texture of a dance work but its true subject is the relationship between movement and digital technology, not as equal constituent elements but as a demonstration of the latter’s ‘efforts to perfect itself as it constantly tries to re-create or reproduce nature.’ Brown’s role thus appears subservient to the digital evocation of light and space in setting up a neat and vital distinction between the finite digital technology and infinite human expression. Paradoxically inside the white box space the visual effect of the digital light patterns, especially in conjunction with haze, conveys an uncanny sense of infinity whereas Brown’s body suggests a finite landscape within it. At one point she disappears below the horizontal plane of light/haze and we are looking out on the universe from the top of a mountain. Even if the audience all around is implicated figuratively in the action, Brown’s smooth and articulate dynamic is indispensable as a contrasting focus of our attention, but as a display of possibilities it is Hodgson’s digital sleight of hand that makes I infinite memorable. Dale and Hodgson have evolved their creative venture as a vivid demonstration of the possibilities such a carefully controlled scenographic environment can offer, but in terms of a theatrical experience there is still some progress to be made on a choreographic vision to match it.


Dance Umbrella 2018: Colin Dunne’s Concert at The Pit

Posted: October 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Colin Dunne’s Concert at The Pit

Colin Dunne, Concert, The Pit, Barbican, October 17

Colin Dunne

Colin Dunne and Tommie Potts in Concert (photo: Maurice Gunning)

Colin Dunne is a virtuoso traditional Irish dancer whose latest work, Concert, presented in the intimacy of The Barbican’s Pit as part of Dance Umbrella, is a homage to the virtuoso traditional Irish fiddler Tommie Potts. Potts was, according to the program note, a ‘singular and complex figure in the history of Irish traditional music’ who died in 1988 and whose sole album recorded in his lifetime, The Liffey Banks, is the basis for Dunne’s work. The album ‘reflects the complex contradictions in Potts’ musical career: his deep appreciation of traditional music alongside a desire to break it apart.’ The same two artistic poles might describe the arc of Dunne’s carefully constructed dance homage.

Dunne first heard the music in 2001 while studying for a Masters in Contemporary Dance at the University of Limerick, so Concert is a project he has been considering over many years, collecting and refining his ideas. With the help of director Sinéad Rushe, sound designer Mel Mercier and lighting designer Colin Grenfell, he has organized his research as a sophisticated experiment in what appears to be a converted shed strewn with musical and dance materials — three plywood sheets of flooring, a turntable with the vinyl copy of The Liffey Banks, a piano, a fiddle, shoes, floor microphones, a cassette recorder and various speakers.

At the start he lays down his terms of engagement with a brief demonstration close to the front of the stage to give an idea for those in the audience like me who hadn’t seen him in Riverdance of the basic rhythmic patterns of traditional Irish step dance. Unfortunately I am in the third row and if I can see the rhythms of the dance distributed throughout his upper body his footwork is obscured by the two rows in front. As it progresses, however, it is clear Concert is conceptually and intellectually post-Riverdance; Dunne places himself in relation to traditional Irish dance in the way Potts did in relation to traditional Irish fiddle music. He describes Potts’ music as ‘slippery’ and his homage is in part to render its rhythmic irregularity in choreographic and theatrical form.

With the help of Mercier’s sound design Dunne brings to the stage the voice of Potts himself talking about his music; there is a synchronicity between the two. With adept editing they strike up a conversation that places them in the same aural universe. When Dunne later balances a sheet of plywood on its edge and has a video of Potts playing projected on to it, the two also share parallel physical universes. Mercier also plays with the autonomy of the various audio sources; in constructing his concert Dunne has to will his turntable to present Potts’ album as if the two are sharing their respective knowledge and experience, jamming together and exacting the same standards of reverence and relevance for their respective arts. He is in effect conversing with whatever drove Potts’ musicality, his rhythmic structure and notes, and he digs into his own dance as if interrogating Potts with an enthusiasm and drive that motivates his interpretations.

Concert is not simply about a meeting of minds, however; Dunne is reflecting on his own understanding of Irish dance and where he might take it. In bare feet on a piece of plywood with the use of floor microphones he explores the rhythm of steps and sound patterns as if to share with Potts what he is working on. He experiments with sampling the sound of his footfall along with his whistling and musical phrases on the piano and fiddle, creating an intriguing soundscape that accompanies his steps. Through Mercier’s adept editing, Potts offers his own characteristically terse critique.

But if Dunne’s communion with Potts has its personal, almost esoteric aspect, Concert is also an occasion for him to defy the accepted belief that the jigs and reels Potts recorded on The Liffey Banks are undanceable. It’s a challenge Dunne takes on with passion and humility. When he dances we see him entering into the music as if called by a siren into slippery, dangerous waters; he demonstrates his skill by resisting any possibility of being pulled down by the current. The effect is a buoyancy of footwork and mental agility that merges the idiosyncrasies of musician and dancer into a riveting performance within a performance.


St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake at The Coliseum

Posted: August 28th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake at The Coliseum

St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, Swan Lake, The Coliseum, London, August 23

Irena Kolesnikova in St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake (photo: Vladimir Zenzinov)

George Balanchine was a great admirer of the music of Tchaikovsky; both were Petersburgers and Balanchine felt that to understand Tchaikovsky’s music you had to know St. Petersburg. In introducing the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre to its London audience, founding director Konstantin Tachkin has included in its program not only information on Tchaikovsky and the company but on the city from which the music arose, its Imperial history, its architecture and its rich ballet heritage. It is the home of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, once known as the Imperial Ballet School, that has trained some of the great Russian dancers of the last century (including Balanchine) and where St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s principal Irena Kolesnikova graduated in 1998. By association with the history of St. Petersburg Tachkin lays out the expectation that what we are about to see has all the marks of authenticity but Swan Lake is built up of layers of cultural refinement gathered from many countries and traditions and its lasting appeal is based not only on its score but on its inspired choreographic language and stirring mythology. Classical ballet is essentially ephemeral; a production of Swan Lake relies each time on live performance for its inspiration and genius to be embodied and appreciated. If this doesn’t happen the ballet becomes a product, an approximation that resembles the original in its structure but fails to ignite an emotional response to its essential character. For all the expectation of authenticity, St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s touring production of Swan Lake fails to convince in performance.

The essence of Swan Lake — redemption through love — is released in the music but it must also materialize on stage. In a narrative ballet the story is linked through mime whose meaning arises from the relationship between an established theatrical lexicon and the intention of the person using it. If the lexicon is clear but the intention is lacking, the meaning is lost. One example is when the Princess (Inna Svechnikova) arrives in Act 1; she is supposed to indicate to her son, Prince Siegfried (Bolshoi Ballet’s Denis Rodkin) that as he’s about to reach the age of 21 it’s time to think of getting married. In fact she’s arranged a ball at the palace the next day to invite a few eligible princesses for Siegfried to choose from. But by the time the Princess has left, we are none the wiser as to what she might have expressed as her mime is delivered in an inarticulate display of ornamented gesture; only a knowledge of the plot fills the narrative gap. Another example is the divorce of Rodkin’s mimed gestures toward Odette and Odile from any indication of his feelings for her. This uncertainty of any manifest intention renders St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s production a cardboard cutout of the original ballet. One gesture that has no trouble in communicating its intent is Odile’s contemptuous grimace as she throws her bouquet of flowers over the remorseful Siegfried.

Although Kolesnikova triumphs in this moment, she is not averse elsewhere to another form of obfuscation in her mime, that of hyperbole. Her swan-like gestures err on the side of melodrama to the extent that her interpretation of the duplicitous Odile seeps prematurely into the earlier appearances of the lyrical Odette.

When so much depends in a company of 44 dancers on the presence of its principal ballerina and her Bolshoi and Mariinsky guests, the focus of our attention is inevitably drawn to them and away from the story; as the ballet becomes a vehicle for the quality of stardom so the significance of the story is diminished. In Kolesnikova’s 32 fouettés — taken at a tempestuous tempo by conductor Vadim Nikitin — we are watching not the rapturous culmination of her deception over Siegfried but a resolute display of her technical achievement. The one figure in the production who matches his extrovert behaviour with commensurate physical prowess and gesture is Sergei Fedorkov’s court jester.

As Alexei Ratmansky’s recent reconstructions of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake reveal, there is a subtle balance between music, mime and choreography that makes the story comes to life through the integration of all its elements. Of course there are principal roles in the original narrative but they support the story through mime and dance that are intimately related. What Ratmansky has also unwittingly revealed is the misunderstanding in current productions of the classics where an over-reliance on technical display and self-expression removes from the narrative the logic — and the magic — of its creators.


André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre

Posted: August 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre

André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre, July 20

Kamienski

Karianne Andreassen and Harriet Waghorn in Bed (photo: Michelle Rose)

As a title, An Evening, A Beginning is in turn factual and hopeful. It is an evening of two new 30-minute choreographic works by André Kamienski but it is also their offering to the public in the hope they will have a future. Blue Elephant Theatre is a good place to start; there is no artist hierarchy in place and its ethos welcomes the unknown while its stage offers a charismatic incubator for experimentation. Kamienski, whose background is in ballroom dance, shows his natural understanding of space and movement in both works but it is his sense of theatre that makes this beginning promising. 

The first work is called X is M00N, a count-down scenario that borrows from science fiction in its focus on ‘the connections between physics, outer space and conspiracy theories.’ Choreographed on four dancers from London Studio Centre (Gabriella Bantick, Amy Cross, Abigail Attard Montalto and Tuva Svendsen), X is M00N is a vehicle for anxiety that finds its initial expression in the choice of music. To begin a work with six minutes of white noise is to engulf the action in an aural approximation of what Einstein described as a gravitational field; it creates a dense, viscous space in which the dancers slither into a series of freeze-frame poses as if trapped in space-time. Subsequent pieces by Christina Vantzou, Niels Frahm and Emptyset do little to allay the sense of running towards an impending disaster as Pixie Tan’s projected clock flicks ominously from M10N to M00N. Set designer Afra Zamara, in conjunction with Tan, has devised an angular neon tube installation at the rear of the stage that has the casual air of instability while Sherry Coenen’s lighting is darkly oppressive. It’s not the kind of environment you would expect to find classically-trained dancers, though there is at one point a reference to an exhausted, if not dying swan. Dressed in black with luminous chokers, the four women never quite enter into the harshness and peril suggested in their surroundings. Perhaps it is not in Kamienski’s heart to pursue such abstract anxiety, although in the section with Montalto’s choking voice and helpless, stifling gestures he finds not only a strikingly human expression of angst but an emotional form with which, as the next work reveals, his talent begins to find its voice.

Bed is nominally inspired by Tracey Emin’s installation My Bed in which an unmade bed holds within its display of personal effects an autobiography of intimate details. Kamienski focuses instead on the intimate relationship between two women (Karianne Andreassen and Harriet Waghorn) with only a suggestion of a bedroom, appropriating George Bernard Shaw’s definition of dancing as ‘a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.’ Even if the desire in question is conflicted, the fluency with which Kamienski treats it shows his affinity with questions of the heart and in Andreassen and Waghorn he has found two interpreters who understand what he wants. 

There is an asterisked note in the program that the piece ‘involves partial nudity’,  but apart from bare arms and legs the only nudity is in the voyeuristic suggestion of a steamy relationship. The program note invites us to ‘take a peek’ into ‘the partnership, connection and intimacy between two people’ but the engagement between Andreassen and Waghorn is such that they draw us inexorably into the room. We first see Andreassen preening herself langorously, eyes half closed, propped against the back wall that is draped in silk; there is an unmade bed but we don’t see it. Having already got up some time before we arrived and thrown on a t-shirt Waghorn reappears; we don’t know when the argument happened but there is tension in the air. Kamienski plots the affect of disenchantment as an intimate dialogue between the two women that channels both pleasure and pain in the ambiguity of their physical expressions and frames it in a partnering language that is both tender and forceful. His playlist of light piano, breathy vocal, strings and choral excerpts washes over the room, too, as the aural accompaniment to emotional upheaval. Just as expressions of pleasure and pain can be uncannily interchangeable, so earthly and spiritual paths overlap: Waghorn’s attempt to wash away Andreassen’s touch takes on a ritualistic cleansing and purification. The struggle finishes in silence, with only the heavy breathing of force and resistance filling the air, but for Kamienski, hopefully, it’s an auspicious beginning. 


Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios, June 23

Kielland

Karen Røise Kielland in A Slow Escape (photo: Rino Pucci)

Karen Røise Kielland’s A Slow Escape is one of seven works presented as part of a new dance festival in London, Fest en Fest, organized and curated by Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard of H2Dance. The festival aims to question ‘choreographic practice, the context for art production, current programming and aesthetic power structures’ through a series of talks, discussions and performances. In this first outing of the festival Gillgren, who is Swedish, and Rustgaard, who is Norwegian, have chosen works that arise from a predominantly Nordic geography and sensibility, none more so than A Slow Escape. It is based on two walks from Norway to Italy, one by Catherine H. Kølle in 1841 and the second by Kielland in 2011 following as closely as possible in Kølle’s footsteps. The evidence of Kølle’s trip — and the primary source for Kielland’s own — is contained in her diary of meticulous details like the colour of roofs, the topography or the number of paintings in a museum. The evidence for Kielland’s walk is contained in her edited field recordings, her spoken travelogue and an exhibition of mnemonic artifacts on the stage in front of her. Kølle also painted a series of watercolours of her travels in a shorthand style that predates painting by numbers, a visual corroboration Kielland references by inviting artist Tom Mason to join her on stage with an overhead projector and a pile of acetates on which he illustrates her travels in the manner of a graphic novel.

Kielland remains quite still throughout, poised as if chatting to the camera by the roadside with one foot resting on a stile, wearing a hazard jacket, holding a revolver in one hand and an umbrella in the other. We travel her entire journey in our imagination, fed by her pace of delivery, her walking guide to the history of Europe, her ongoing investigation into Kølle’s diaries — a historical riddle in itself — and by Mason’s imaginative fluency of line. It’s a brilliant collaborative adventure with dramaturgy by Marit Grimstad Egggen, advice from Christina Hauge, lighting by Ingeborg Staxrud Olerud, set and costume advice from Jennie Bringsaker and sound editing assistance from Erlend Hogstad.

A Slow Escape is also a commentary on how Europe has evolved since Kølle set out on her journey. While headlines in the daily Morgenbladet paper on the morning of Kølle’s departure of April 4, 1841 cited an economic crisis in Greece, and again on June 19, 2011 when Kielland left on her trip, the social and geographic aspects had changedforever; routes that Kølle described were no longer available to Kielland because of the expansion of transport infrastructure and some villages Kølle had passed through had since been drowned by hydroelectric projects. She also encounters sites that Kølle had never even imagined like the abandoned airport of Templehof near Berlin. Kølle’s dispassionate numerical annotations are ever present next to and contrasted with Kielland’s own commentary. Her diary was written in German Gothic script that no researcher, it seems, had ever bothered to read. Kølle was known as Norway’s first hiker and her walk to and from Venice was considered a matter of irrefutable fact, even according to her biographer. Over the course of her journey, however, Kielland’s reading of the script becomes more fluent and as she matches her own experience with Kølle’s she realizes that the diary includes passages about riding in coaches for some of the way. Her entire adventure, it seems, is based on a false premise. Her sense of deception on her arrival in Venice is aggravated by confounding the end of her project with the end of Europe as she had imagined it.

Kielland conjures up a walking map of Europe at a time when people barely walk any distance at all; she says at one point in her travelogue that she hasn’t met a soul all day and imagines Kølle having more people from whom to ask the way: ‘there is company in a voice,’ she observes. The act of talking mediates between mind and body and although she remains static for most of the performance — a remarkable endurance test in itself — Kielland’s words succeed in connecting us to the journey of the walking body she describes. A Slow Escape is thus the record of an ambulatory dance on the geographical scale of Europe that Kielland has compressed in all its richness to a small stage in Deptford at a time when the British government is in the very process of redrawing the map yet again.