Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

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

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

Gianluca Vincentini Wild Card

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal

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

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

Hardy Animal

Laura Dannequin in Hardy Animal (photo: Paul Blakemore)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Jan Martens / GRIP, Rule of Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dance Umbrella 2017: Let Me Change Your Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell

Posted: October 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Visual Art | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell

Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell, National Gallery, September 18.

Edgar Degas, Preparation for the Class about 1877 Pastel on paper, The Burrell Collection

As a dancer I have for many years felt an affinity for the works of Edgar Degas who for the last 20 years of his life found an enduring subject in the dancers and dance culture of Paris at the end of the nineteenth century. The current exhibition at the National Gallery, Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell, marks the centenary of Degas’ death on September 27, 1917, and is loaned for the most part from the Burrell Collection in Glasgow while its permanent home undergoes refurbishment. Drawn in Colour, curated by Julien Domercq, also includes works from the National Gallery’s own collection.

Degas’ drawings, paintings and pastels of dancers, some of which form part of the exhibition, are inured in the practice and performance of ballet at the Opéra Garnier in Paris. He was born too late (1834) to know the height of romantic ballet in the city but before he died, although his health was frail and his eyesight poor, he attended the first performances in Paris of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1909. (There are two pastels in the exhibition called simply Russian Dancers, dated 1899, which are, according to Alexandre Benois, figures from the Russian folk dance or Hopak, in Fokine’s ballet Le Festin at that 1909 performance).

Since Degas died during the First World War his estate was auctioned in Paris before the war ended. Maynard Keynes, then a humble Treasury adviser but also a keen art collector, used funds borrowed from the United States for the war effort to send himself and the then director of the National Gallery, Sir Charles Holmes, to Paris to bid on the Degas estate. The sound of the guns could be heard from the auction room but although Keynes and Holmes managed to bring home some works for the national collection, they did not return with any works by the artist himself. Sir William Burrell had already started collecting Degas around 1910, amassing 22 works by the time he gifted them, with his entire collection, to the city of Glasgow in 1944. All 22 are assembled in this exhibition, the first time they have been seen together outside Glasgow.

The exhibition is divided into three rooms organized around the themes of Modern Life, Dancers, and Private Worlds; Degas’ interest in the new middle class preoccupations with horse racing (Longchamp held its first race in 1857) and with ballet at the Opéra Garnier (opened in 1875) coincided with his interest in the passing gesture, in traces of movement, in the unique framing of subjects that sits somewhere between the Japanese print and the photographic snapshot and, it is evident, in his love of the intimacy and sensuality of the female form. Degas might have been a photographer — he became proficient in the use of a camera that he purchased in 1895 — but drawing and painting in colour was his particular medium. He sometimes merged the two techniques as in an oil painting, After the Bath, from 1896, which he painted from one of his own photographs. Perhaps I am imagining it, but while its sensuality of form is as equally present as in the bathers drawn from life on the same wall, its flatness of plane belongs more to the nature of the photograph than to the directness of the artist’s own eye.

It is in his use of pastels that Degas found a medium that most successfully united his emotions, his eye and his subject, an effervescence of cross-hatched lines and colour that extend beyond the subjects themselves to express both a sense of movement and his feelings towards them. Red is a tone that is particularly evident in this collection of works, from the red hair of many of his dancers and their tulle skirts to the orgy of red that is the National Gallery’s own Combing the Hair (1896). All the paintings in the exhibition focus on the female form, either at work (Laundresses, 1882-4), at leisure (At the Jewellers, about 1887), dancers rehearsing (Dancers on a Bench, 1898) or preparing their toilette (Woman in a Tub, 1896-1901). If one is prepared to allow this sensuality to arise from the canvas, then Degas, Drawn in Colour allows us behind the eyes and into the life of a famously protective artist; if not, the ‘shocking voyeurism’ of which he is accused by reviewers like Rachel Spence in the Financial Times (writing about the parallel Degas: A Passion for Perfection at the Fitzwilliam Museum) becomes an excuse to use his work as a keyhole through which to observe the private life of the artist.

 

Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell is at The National Gallery until May 7, 2018. Admission free, donations welcome.  


The Rose and the Bulbul

Posted: September 28th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Rose and the Bulbul

The Rose and the Bulbul, Lauderdale House, Waterlow Park, July 30,

The cast of The Rose and the Bulbul (photo: Simon Richardson)

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” – Jo Cox, MP

At school I had a little notebook of historical dates in which each page was dedicated to a king or queen of England, starting with William the Conqueror. Most, if not all the events duly transcribed were battles; the more modern the monarch, the further afield the battles. This dry tally of dates and facts told from a singular imperial perspective constituted my early knowledge of history. The idea of weaving comparative history through dance, music and spoken word was inconceivable, let alone the notion of studying history in an environment of landscape gardening. Yet this is exactly what Sanjeevini Dutta and Kali Chandrasegaram dreamed up, along with writer Kamal Kaan, director Sita Thomas and producer Kadam, for The Rose and the Bulbul. It is at once a celebration of gardens, a moral tale about love and acceptance, a history of two cultures and an exuberant, fête-like procession of flowing silks, finely delineated steps and musical rhythms that bring the paths, trees and water features of Waterlow Park alive to a new reality.

The seed of the idea came from the gardens in Stockwood Park near Luton where many styles — from mediaeval to Elizabethan to Victorian — are laid out. Stockwood Park also has an Asian garden planned along the landscape principles — scaled down significantly — of India’s Mughal empire, which ran parallel to our own Tudor period and continued into the Victorian era. The creative team behind The Rose and the Bulbul has drawn together these two parallel influences by mingling Tudor music, Indian chanting and song, bharatanatyam, kathak and contemporary dance, and what Kaan has done in the scripting is to weave the history of these gardens into a modern allegory of social integration.

The history is implicit in the architectural parallels and in the cross-fertilization of literature, dance and music. The Earl of Lauderdale inherited the house around the same time the Taj Mahal, the apotheosis of Mughal architecture and landscape gardening, was being completed in Agra; the Persian word for a walled garden (a feature of Mughal gardens) came into the English language as ‘paradise’; the nightingale (bulbul) and the rose can be found in Sufi poetry as an expression of longing and creativity, and classical and contemporary dance has always embodied current attitudes to social and political discourse.

We can join in the pleasure of seeing the gardens around Lauderdale House at each stage of this promenade performance against the darkening skies and rising breezes of an English summer’s day. At the same time the story’s axiomatic philosophy (much of it based on the Sufi poet Rumi) is released like a scent by the musicians, actors and dancers as they enact one of the many tableaux before setting off on a path to the next one, adults, children and baby carriages in tow. The Rose and the Bulbul is thus a fable of cultural synergies experienced live through poetry, music and dance, but it is also a visual allegory told in colour and form projected against the history of house and garden. In a story of ‘love and acceptance of the outsider’ between two people ‘who come truly to understand their present only through a journey into each other’s past’, the intermingling of cultural expressions is an intoxicating immersion into the value of social and political unity.

 

This review was commissioned by and first appeared in Pulse Magazine and appears with the kind permission of the editor. 


Jacky Lansley: Choreographies

Posted: September 22nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Book | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jacky Lansley: Choreographies

Jacky Lansley, Choreographies, published by Intellect Books (2017)

Jacky Lansley, Choreographies (cover photo: Hugo Glendinning, collage Emily Dann)

Jacky Lansley’s long career began as a dancer in the Royal Ballet before her fertile imagination and radical mind led her to enroll in what was then called the London School of Contemporary Dance in 1971. On the surface that transition sounds like a simple linear progression but consider it again in the light of what it involved. To become a dancer in the Royal Ballet requires a body that has the potential to master the classical form, extraordinary talent and years of strict discipline. Lansley would have danced there in the final years of Sir Frederick Ashton’s artistic directorship before Kenneth MacMillan was appointed to replace him in 1970. For Lansley to transfer from this rarified atmosphere of classical tradition to what she calls ‘a space for dance to explore and interact with…interdisciplinary influences’ must have taken a huge leap of faith and a willingness to embrace the unknown. She doesn’t touch on the reasons for this life-changing decision — Choreographies is about the motivations behind her work rather than behind the author — but she found at LSCD artists like Sally Potter, Diana Davies and Dennis Greenwood for whom she felt a close affinity. It was here she could begin to explore contemporary issues like feminism, racism and homophobia through a fresh, multi-disciplinary approach to choreography that could be expressed outside the traditional framework — as when she and Potter transposed a classical entrance from the wings to meet in the middle of a loch in full evening dress and flippers in Lochgilphead (1974). As I read about this and other early works like Park Cafeteria (1975), Death and the Maiden (1975), Rabies (1976) and Mounting (1977) with enticing photographs, I kept on wishing I had seen them.

The subtitle of Choreographies is ‘Tracing the Materials of an Ephemeral Art Form’. Lansley looks back on her vast material archive with the archaeologist’s eye but she is also the subject of their excavation. It’s a delicate place to put oneself but her focus is collective, on the people with whom she worked and on the creative inputs they derived from visual arts, performance art and, in the case of The Impersonators (1982), an interest in music hall. Her rational parsing of her works provides an insight into their layers of meaning and metaphor, and her deconstructions of classical ballets — Giselle in I Giselle (1980), Petrouchka in L’Autre (1997) and Firebird in Les Diables (1998-9) — in the light of contemporary cultural politics relates to Walter Benjamin’s ideas about literary translation. Wherever possible she has included interviews with her former collaborators, and the chapter notes are as far-reaching and informative as the text itself. These inside perspectives remind us of the important contribution of choreography to the realm of ideas and to an understanding of the body as a thinking instrument.

For Lansley choreography is the art form ‘which most profoundly links the mind and the body’ and for the last 40 years she has been guided by the clash of values that drove her away from the ‘narcissistic, virtuosic and dramatic view of performance’ to the ‘radical community’ at LSCD where she and her colleagues could, in differentiation to key dance makers in the US, nurture ‘artistic, conceptual and theatrical strategies’. Looking back, it is clear her intuition led her to being in the right place at the right time; she now makes her own place and time at her Dancer’s Research Studio in Haggerston which has provided the context for some of her more recent works like Holding Space (2004), View from the Shore (2007), Guests Research (2010) and Guest Suites (2012). Her working period between LSCD and today is a huge swathe of British dance history in which she has continually evolved as a choreographer: she was a founding member of Richard Alston’s first company, Strider; she formed Limited Dance Company with Sally Potter (joined later by Rose English), and co-founded X6 Dance Space with Mary Prestidge, Maedée Duprès, Emilyn Claid and Fergus Early. The key aim of X6 was ‘to view and explore dance within its wider social context’ and to be responsible ‘for encouraging cross art form collaboration and creating spaces for the development of interdisciplinary performance and somatic training.’ It is symbolic that the wooden floor in X6’s original studio space in Butler’s Wharf is now the underpinning of the performance studio at Chisenhale Dance Studios that Lansley also co-founded. But while Lansley’s narrative inevitably weaves through a history of dance in the UK, it is the history of her works in this 40-year period that is the true subject of her book.

Choreographies also reads as a theoretical underpinning or an approach to the art of choreography that is still relevant today; too much choreography is made and played rather than written and read. As an extension of this metaphor of the literature of choreography, Lansley has also been keen to foster a critical response to the work in which she participated, facilitating a dialogue between new dance and the public in the form of New Dance Review that X6 Dance Space launched and fostered for its eleven-year existence.

I have dipped into my dog-eared copy of Choreographies on numerous journeys; fortunately its variegated format of text, photographs (many by Hugo Glendinning), choreographic notes, scores and reviews supports this time-lapse form of perusal. It also suggests it is not a book to be read and left to brood on a shelf but should be consulted regularly like a chiropractor. Reminding us that there can be no critical engagement with an art form that does not provoke a critical dialogue, Lansley’s voice makes an eloquent case for a written choreography that can be expressed and read as a counterpoint to the readily accessible product of a gradual shift to social conservatism. Choreographies is a timely call to arms that recognises choreography, in the words of critic and dance historian Laurence Louppe, as one of the most important artistic phenomena of our time.

 

www.intellectbooks.co.uk


Orley Quick, Screwed

Posted: September 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Orley Quick, Screwed

Screwed, The Bunker, July 31

The stars of Screwed (photos and design: Michele Cadei)

Billed as ‘three evenings of curious, (dis)honest and unhinged dance performance’, Screwed distinguishes itself by its anti-hype. It also distinguishes itself by its entrepreneurial bravado and curatorial intuition. Orley Quick of Hairy Heroine fame has brought together this ‘weird, wild and wonderful variety of fresh, experimental performance’ as a complement to her As We Like It that she showed at Resolution in January: there are three performances of the Hairy Heroines shared with works by nine other artists over three evenings. It’s a huge undertaking, but Quick has pulled it off with unassuming flair. Introducing the evening, she explains that her choice of artists was based on a shared work ethic and respect; she has also put herself in the position of the audience in that she is seeing the works for the first time, a freshness of approach that creates its own excitement and unpredictability.

In this context of anti-hype and surprise the first work on this evening’s program is created and performed by a group named anthologyofamess which comprises on this occasion Mariana Camiloti, Antonio de la Fe, Petra Söör and Robert Vesty. EVOLVE, its title spelled in captcha form, is an improvisation based on ‘a relentless need to never ever stop’ that, while taking time to reveal its mystery, makes its journey the crowning achievement; each performer embellishes time and space with the concentrated effort to never arrive. Research that appeared at the time of the performance revealed that audiences remember moments of stillness more than movement, but in EVOLVE’s unerring line of constant evolution, these performers royally disprove it. Their spatial acuity, their inventiveness and their fluid forms may be hard to capture and slippery to hold in memory, but the effect is of a dream in which images vie with one another and superimpose in spatial freeform. But that’s the thing with dreams: they have an illogic and unreality that is memorable.

Sam Pardes wakes us up to the dream’s antithesis. Tapping. She seems in no particular hurry to prepare her performance, What Have I Got To Show For It? but as she prepares she works a seam of dogged humour with impeccable timing that keeps us laughing. She complains of aching feet, drinks some water, does a sound test and nonchalantly starts a routine that becomes the soundtrack to her life story. She’s just letting the tap motor turn over as she talks of her years in performing arts college in the U.S., her MFA at Roehampton, being a part-time nanny, her diagnosis with anxiety disorder, and of the meds that have made every part of her body balloon. She then confides that she’s prepared another dance for us, a budget dance. It’s a daily itemization of her frugal expenses with a tapped recitative but it’s just the prelude to her highly-charged and provocative message on the gap between the expectations of an arts education and its devastating economic and health implications. She takes a piece of paper from her bra and tells us the cost of her MFA in Choreography ($50,143.39), of her two loans and the calculated amounts of each monthly payment that will keep her sinking in debt for the next nine years. ‘How to begin a dance on this?’, she asks but she does, scraping, tapping, picking up speed and drumming virtuosity until she breaks off, kicks a little, shuffles and stops. She wants to say something but her glazed expression is fixed in the dying lights. Her mother was right (‘My baby’s a star’) but it’s sobering to consider the cost Pardes has incurred to put on this show.

Ryan Munroe is another choreographer who leaves the best till last, a climactic gesture on the final note of music that sets alight all that has gone before. Love me in chains – part 1 – Gal Dem is a duet in three parts for Cherylin Albert and Telisha McKenzie that the cryptic program note describes as ‘not that deep, but it’s deep.’ Albert and McKenzie are as richly expressive as the work is enigmatic, shading their imaginary world of whispered gestures, silent shouts and closed eyes with a contrasting dynamic of running, pushing and dancing to the beat. There’s a central section of read texts on cultural formism that obscures more than it enlightens, but it’s the quality of movement in Albert and McKenzie that establishes Munroe’s ability to warp space with his mix of shapes, dynamics and gesture underlaid by extracts from Sango (Conte a Todos), Merzbow (Requiem) and Astrolith (Kaisha Original Mix). Up until the moment of that final gesture I wasn’t really in Munroe’s orbit, but after it I was thirsting to see the work all over again.

Cher Nicolette Ho’s They is a duet for Elle Howard and Alexandra Pons to the well-oiled beat of Kotzky Vendivel’s Lift and is prefaced in the program note by a quotation from Isaiah: ‘They will soar on wings like eagles, They will run and not grow weary, They will walk and not be faint.’ The duet sets in motion the over-sized jackets of the two women as they take them off, swap them and share them as if exploring the limits of their friendship with an equal measure of intimacy and abandon. The partnering becomes more complex and intricate as the jackets take on the role of support; falling to their knees is a recurring motif for the two women, with its religious overtones. Having built up a sense of interdependence between Howard and Pons, their subsequent solos seem less assured until they join once again, bringing full circle the immanence implicit in the biblical quote.

I had seen As We Like It at Resolution six months ago to the day but this is an opportunity to revisit the inimitable Hairy Heroines (Diogo Fernandes de Jesus, Tyrrell Foreshaw and Elliot Minogue-Stone) in a slightly extended cabaret version. With the audience crowded around the thrust stage in The Bunker all the irreverent intimacy that Quick and her heroines had spent so much energy and inspiration putting into the work is now seen close up in riotous detail, from the febrile petulance of Fernandes de Jesus to Minogue-Stone’s ingenuous wordplay to Foreshaw’s extravagant floorplay. Adding ten minutes to an original concentrated work has its hazards, but Quick and her dramaturg Karla Ptáček have maintained the thread of Shakespearean gender politics while elongating the narrative to a more natural life span — and prolonging the fun.

There’s not a whiff of Arts Council funding on the program and the house is full; I don’t know the balance of accounts for Screwed but on a curatorial level it’s a brilliant achievement. Uncertain times demand uncertain solutions; Orley Quick has discovered one and, with production support from Silvia Scrimieri, has made it stand out.