Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre

Posted: August 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre

Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre, July 28

A Positive Life_1

Michael Kelland, Katie Albon, Jerome Wilks and Becca Thomas in Johnny Autin’s A Positive Life

Blue Cloud Scratch is a partnership between Cloud Dance Festival and Blue Elephant Theatre, providing valuable opportunities for small-scale new work.

Lewys Holt doesn’t look like he’s going to dance his Phrases at all as he languishes on the stage watching the audience shuffling in watching him. It’s a standoff but he wins by moving first, walking to a microphone near the exit so it’s not clear if he’s leaving or staying. Then he talks about the link between apples and doctors but what he really wants is the doctor not the apple. He’s not really sick; he just needs to move a little, which he does. He thinks on his feet like all dancers do, except the thoughts are a long way from his feet because Holt is long and lanky. But he’s well connected so he moves well, really well. His phrases start with the same jump, like a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, and accumulate eloquently. And he’s got a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour, so after his mouth fixation, when the slideshow of postcard towns ending in ‘–mouth’ doesn’t start when it should, we all laugh with him. He’s engaging like that, a natural performer. It’s all pulled out of the air, or his brain, in the moment. And he keeps us in the moment until it ends.

Out of the wings comes a man with a chair (Craig Bennett of Indefinite Article Dance Theatre); gravity is present and a heavy game. Belinda Grantham follows with another chair. She and Bennett exchange seats but it’s territorial and not in the least genteel. If they used their voices they would growl, but they don’t; they use their bodies like words, their eyes like daggers and move in surly sentences on a game board. It’s a dislocated conversation without resolution. Fern Maia lightens up the equation, leaving space for a solution. But the two women climbing on Bennett is no solution because he’s strong enough to move both their objections aside. That’s Momentum. It’s a momentum that can’t be stopped, an accident about to happen.

There’s a deliberate irony in using A Positive Life as the title of a work about sex, love and relationships in an HIV world, especially for teenage audiences for whom choreographer Johnny Autin is preparing this work. It’s really engaging, so he will have no difficulty in getting his message across. But what is the message? When Becca Thomas dances her story of being raped at a party in which she drinks herself out of control, she does it so powerfully it’s beautiful. When Michael Kelland dances his overhung distress on one side of the stage while the others watch he does it so well we sympathise. Perhaps the full work (of which this is only a part) will balance the equation. Ken Loach finds a way in his films to make socio-political comment while we can still feel sympathy for the characters: he shows the rude consequences. Autin doesn’t, at least not yet. He needs to make his socio-political stance clear in the choreography, otherwise he might end up giving mixed messages.

I love ballet. I really do. But it’s hard to get excited about a company called Point(e) Taken Dance Theatre; it’s just too self-referential and cute and Ian Parsons’ Dual Deviation has a similar quality. Arabesques and pirouettes are such immediately recognizable signs of ballet that without the right framing they can lose their appeal and their meaning all at once. Dual Deviation desperately needs framing; it could borrow the guile of Phrases, the weight of Momentum, or the engagement of A Positive Life but without these kinds of qualities it is too blandly abstract and the chosen tracks of Ezio Bosso don’t provide any contrast. Something else stands out: the lines of the dancers are long and clean but their technique seems to stop at the neck. Nami Furukawa is the only one of the four women to make a gesture of her head. That is worth watching. Point(e) taken?

Thank goodness for Dickson Mbi’s ShowTime in which he creeps out from the darkness crouched on his toes, beetling around the stage like an ominous caryatid broken loose from a gothic cathedral. His dark, brooding figure breathes cool, quiet strength. There is no program note because the performance is what it is: Mbi using his impressive technique in the service of his choreographic imagination. He dances to a track by Jocelyn Pook from Akram Khan’s Desh in which he contrasts twisted lyrical violence to the innocence in the music: just him and the music; nothing else is needed.

You wouldn’t think the angelic, smiling Rachel Elderkin could murder a tomato, but she does. Perhaps she is simply the accomplice of choreographer Alice Weber, just doing what she’s told. But she’s so calculating, spending the first few minutes of Pomodoro picking from a crackling plastic supermarket container a selection of tomatoes that she presets precisely on the stage. There are plump ones and little ones that roll like red marbles. The way Elderkin does it gives the tomatoes  human qualities: adults and children in a park, perhaps. Once the tomatoes are set the game begins, which is when Elderkin steps slowly, coquettishly across the stage like fate in disguise and knowingly crushes a tomato under her bare foot, splattering its seeds and juice. Weber juxtaposes the action with a blues song of Bessie Smith dreaming of being dead. The contrast between Smith’s dark, stirring voice and Elderkin’s indiscriminate act is striking and suggests there is something more here. Weber’s imagination has grasped a powerful allegorical image that needs pushing further. How many more tomatoes will have to perish before she finds it?


An introduction to Groundwork Pro in Cardiff

Posted: August 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on An introduction to Groundwork Pro in Cardiff

A multi-modal introduction to Groundwork Pro, Chapter, June 8

Groundwork Pro, working from the group up (photo: James Merryweather)

Groundwork Pro, working from the ground up (photo: James Merryweather)

When a young Gillian Lynn was taken by her mother to see a psychiatrist to assess her ability to learn, the wise man observed to her mother there was nothing wrong with her: she just needed to dance. Fortunately her mother followed his advice and Lynn found to her amazement that at dance school there were other kids who could not sit still; they had to dance in order to think.

Joanna Young and Deborah Light took this notion on board in their inaugural session of Groundwork Pro, a new Cardiff-based, artist-led collective, on the final day of Dance Roads at Chapter in Cardiff. The confluence of this workshop with Dance Roads, featuring dancers from five EU countries, was not coincidental. Referencing the cultural state of affairs the EU referendum threatened to affect, Young and Light titled it, Are We Independent or Interdependent Artists?

By definition ‘independent’ means free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority. In purely artistic terms each artist in the room is independent. But when training, performing opportunities and funding structures are taken into account, the notion of independence is no longer sufficient. A dance infrastructure in which artists can grow and thrive together in a relation of interdependence is necessary. The EU itself is an interdependent infrastructure in the political sphere and the result of the UK referendum has underlined just how fragile and volatile such a structure can be. There is nothing natural about any social structure; it is constructed according to the wishes and the constraints of the people it sets out to serve. It has to remain relevant. This in itself creates interdependence not as a requirement but as an effect of careful, continued planning. When the structure no longer serves the needs of its community, its effectiveness is diminished. By inviting artists in Wales to meet with their international peers from France, Holland, Italy and Roumania in a physical workshop, Young and Light wanted to provide an opportunity for open exchange, provocative questions and play, through which they hoped to clarify a basis on which to build a thriving dance community in Wales.

Because dancers use their bodies to think, Young and Light devised ways to articulate ideas in movement. Walking around the room is one way, loosening up our interactions with people we may not know; or by choosing three objects in the room and placing them somewhere inside the circle we have made, stating why that particular object and why that particular place. Humour arises from this kind of interaction and humour is a potent means of breaking down barriers. Closing our eyes and walking slowly from one end of the room to the other involves trust and group coordination. No strategies were formed during these exercises but we were becoming a unified group and when we were asked questions by Young or Light the responses and the freedom with which they were expressed were revelatory. We wrote phrases on long pieces of paper, or we called out an idea that someone else noted down. Discussing together whilst sitting on the floor was another strategy (this is groundwork after all). The process was like performing a guided improvisation. Actually it was a guided improvisation in which our moves and expressions formed the content of the work.

Groundwork Pro is an experiment, currently running a 6-month pilot. Its aim is to create a hub of activities in Cardiff that allow dancers and choreographers to develop their art as a community while connecting with developments in the UK and internationally. Activities include classes — teaching will be shared between Wales-based artists and their UK and international counterparts — and performances. Groundwork Pro also wants to highlight the work of practitioners in Wales and to provide artists with paid work that sustains and nourishes their practice. Supported by Coreo Cymru and Chapter in terms of studio space, reduced ticket prices and other support in kind, Groundwork Pro is funded by Arts Council Wales which allows assistance to Wales-based artists for travel, accommodation, access needs and childcare, as needed. Artists from outside Wales are welcome to attend events but the access fund is limited to Wales-based artists.

Groundwork Pro is now creating the opportunities that fulfill what the participants in the room felt were important. Such a structure is fragile, and in a sense needs to remain fragile to be able to respond to new demands, new directions, to keep alive the interdependence. It is equally vital that the participants, or members, of Groundwork Pro, support it actively and creatively so it doesn’t become a co-dependence. There will be ups and downs, but this is groundbreaking, as in laying the foundations for a new structure. What is built on this new structure will be the fruit of not just the initial meeting but of all the interactions and activities created for the purpose of nurturing the dance community in Cardiff and in all of Wales.

The Groundwork Pro team is Joanna Young, Chloe Loftus, Jessie Brett, Beth Powlesland and Deborah Light. For more information on activities and schedules, visit www.groundworkpro.com.


Lost Dog, Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me)

Posted: July 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Lost Dog, Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me)

Lost Dog, Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me), Wilton’s Music Hall, July 19

Ben Duke as God in Paradise Lost (photo: Zoe Manders)

Ben Duke as God in Paradise Lost (photo: Zoe Manders)

The architecture of Wilton’s Music Hall is a performance in itself; without anything happening on stage the drama of the place is palpable and those responsible for its restoration are allowing the impression that all those conversations and performances of the past 150 years can still be heard within the texture of its walls. What Wilton’s perhaps never heard was a reading of the 10,000 lines of blank verse comprising John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the way Ben Duke displays his dog-eared copy of the poem at the beginning of his performance, hoping nobody in the audience will have read it, only confirms what we already know: we won’t be hearing it tonight either. Once he has found his place, however, he reads the last few lines so we know the ending, in case, he smiles dryly, he fails to reach that point in his performance. Like the Cambridge Buskers playing all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies in under four minutes, Duke prepares us for the impossible: one man playing the story of Creation from Day One to the present in an hour and a quarter.

He runs nimbly through the contents of Milton’s epic — God’s creation of the world, the faltering friendship with Lucifer, Adam and Eve, the temptation, and the banishment from the Garden of Eden — with a parallel interpretation derived from his own experiences of fatherhood and creative endeavour. The empty white stage (reminiscent of the circus ring in Duke’s It Needs Horses) seamlessly reconciles the building site for the creation of the world, the locus of the Garden of Eden, and his own living room where Duke plays God as a father of rambunctious children and as a choreographer who is not averse to reworking scenes that don’t work or if the cast takes too much liberty with his ideas. In other words, he plays God in his own image.

Like a heavenly broadcast of Desert Island Discs, Duke selects tracks from God’s record collection — from early influences of religious plainsong, through Bach and Handel to Richard Strauss, Nick Cave and Janis Joplin — to accompany the emotional highlights of his story. Indeed, there are moments when the tracks are the emotional highlights as Duke valiantly battles on with his narration behind a wall of sound. No music, however, can equal Duke’s own voice box as he conjures up the bubbling, molten plasma from which he fashions heaven and earth in his workmanlike hands and with which he later orchestrates the surgical removal of Adam’s rib to create Eve.

As the work’s full title — Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me) — suggests, Milton’s poem is both inspiration and pretext; Duke is constantly blurring time and place to embellish Milton’s story with anecdotal material of his own. God and Lucifer meet in a bar, exchange telephone numbers and eventually share a flat together but Lucifer’s jealousy arises from God’s desire for a child; Lucifer is not ready and leaves God to pursue his career. He shares his grievances with a group of angels who get drunk together and cause a violent disturbance, falling into the state of hell. God feels he has to start again and creates Adam (Duke in flesh-coloured tights with a fig leaf whose appearance in his living room traumatises one of his daughter’s friends). Adam is the contemporary male pondering questions of identity and masculinity and whose predilection for masturbation gives God the idea of creating Eve. Adam and Eve meet in a dance studio and fall in love, thinking they can make a living in contemporary dance. The relationship breaks down and Eve walks out into the garden. The snake (a talking sock on Duke’s hand) is a shrink who suggests Eve takes a therapeutic bite of the apple; feeling refreshed she returns to Adam and persuades him to take a bite. God is waiting to push the stop button but as Adam bites into the apple Jesus mistakenly head-butts his father in the balls while playing a game of tunnel. Creation can have its ups and downs. God grits his teeth: “What’s wrong with my fucking children?” Cooling off under a shower of water, he projects a bleak outlook for the world: bodies falling from a burning tower; the Ark; slaughtered lambs; a room full of childrens’ shoes; the nativity in straw and horse shit; Jesus preaching, his betrayal by Judas and his crucifixion. “There’s been a mistake,” cries God, seeing his son on the cross. “That’s my son. Can you take him down? Do you know who I am?” The shower stops. “Can I hold him?” asks Duke in the birthing room. “He looks limp; is he alright?” God and the new father share their vulnerability but while Milton’s God rues the outcome of his creation, Duke is in heaven with his.

God’s final track? The Battle Hymn of the Republic. It’s a rousing and suitably conflicted finale to a richly textured and finely crafted re-telling of the Creation.


London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional

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

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

From London Contemporary Dance School's Postgraduate to Professional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Marie Chouinard: Double Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Joan Clevillé Dance, Plan B for Utopia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Marcus Waterloo, We have bled

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

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

Rosa Antuña in a still from We have bled

Rosa Antuña in a still from We have bled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Dance Roads 2016

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

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

Lucie Augeai and David Gernez in Nœuds at Dance Roads

Lucie Augeai and David Gernez in Nœuds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Until the Lions: Akram Khan Company at The Brighton Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Liz Aggiss, Slap & Tickle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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