Eleesha Drennan: Channel Rose

Posted: March 3rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Eleesha Drennan, Channel Rose, The Place, February 28

Viivi Keskinen in Eleesha Drennan's Channel Rose (photo: ©Nicole Guarino Photography)

Viivi Keskinen in Eleesha Drennan’s Channel Rose (photo: ©Nicole Guarino Photography)

Eleesha Drennan’s Channel Rose (as in a TV station for Utopia-related content) is one of those rare physical statements with an intelligence that develops along a unique and mysterious path in which all the elements — the movement, the lighting and the live music — come together without faltering. Its completeness is the kind of unity characteristic of classical art: harmony of form and content. Drennan has dug deep into her choreographic heart to find a harmony that lies at the core of the disparate elements of her work; she calls it Utopia, but I think in looking for Utopia she has discovered something else: inspired creativity. “I am motivated to create a dialogue between thought and physical sensation”, she writes, but what if physical sensation — and dance in particular — is a way of thinking? Wouldn’t dialogue then give way to a physical stream of consciousness? It seems this is what Drennan has convincingly achieved; she forces us to think without words.

Although Channel Rose is predominantly abstract, there are material elements — a pile of sand, one red stiletto shoe, a fish bowl with water on a stand — that are sufficient to anchor a sense of narrative. At the beginning Drennan (who performs Annabeth Berkeley’s role this evening) sets the stage with a scenario that could go anywhere: to a variation of La Vie en Rose, Viivi Keskinen (‘a wild witch woman…struggling for control and power’) is building a wedding cake of a sandcastle next to the fish bowl; Kenny Wing Tao Ho (‘an ethereal wizard…who wants nothing more than to fly’) is lying on the floor exercising his wings and Drennan (‘a free-spirited gypsy woman’) is coming to terms with having lost one of her smart red stiletto shoes. Each of the dancers will interact with the water, the shoe or the sand — or all three — in the course of the work. Saxophonist Simon Haram stands modestly to one side in front of his music stand and percussionist Julian Warburton is the commander of an impressive array of instruments whose architecture is beautifully outlined by Guy Hoare’s lighting.

Keskinen destroys her sandcastle in a fit of pique, washing the sand off her hands in the fish bowl, and as the music starts – Fragment for solo saxophone by John Woolrich – she walks back towards Drennan but Drennan is hobbling gracefully forward to the front and Wing Tao Ho gets up to calm Keskinen, setting off a fit of trembling hands like a fringe of madness around her. She brushes him off and falls at Drennan’s feet, wrapping around her legs like an anchor while Wing Tao Ho tries to take off across the stage with the wind in his face and arms like propellers. Over the next 60 minutes this trio with their individual goals and strong, contrasting characters will remain true to themselves while playing off each other with endless variations. The performers (musicians included) are so caught up in the movement that it is impossible to watch them all and catch the ebb and flow of energy flowing through each, but wherever you focus there is something remarkable going on internally that is reflected in the face and gestures on the outside. Keskinen in particular has a rich supply of expression both in her face and body that constitutes a coherent trail of thought from beginning to end, from her possessed, finger-frenzied passages through the sly sense of wonder when she puts on the rose-tinted glasses to the climactic moment when she lifts Wing Tao Ho and spins him wildly before propelling him on his way.

Mark Bowden is responsible for the musical choices from John Woolrich, Andy Scott, Iannis Xenakis, Louiguy and Graham Fitkin, and provides three of his own, one for solo saxophone, one for solo percussion and one for saxophone and vibraphone. The quality of the works and the artistry with which Warburton and Haram play them create a dynamic structure for Channel Rose through which the dance flows and in which it sometimes gets thrillingly entwined. The influence works both ways: when Haram sits out the final Rebonds B for solo percussion he puts on the rose-tinted glasses to watch the dance.

There are only three costumes and Nia Thomson has entered into the imagination of the work to create three ‘characters’ that reflect their wearers and the way they move. They also respond beautifully to Hoare’s lighting which in turn sculpts the space around them and sets them free.

Channel Rose is a work that is governed by its search for freedom and finds it unexpectedly under its own feet. In the end the rose-tinted glasses are unnecessary; rather than being an ideal beyond our reach, Drennan shows us that Utopia is a reality to be discovered in our dancing bodies.

 

 

Eleesha Drennan is the recipient of the 2014 Sky Academy Arts Scholarship

The creative producer of Channel Rose is Tess Howell

 


1898: Contemporary Dance Festival

Posted: February 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

1898: Contemporary Dance Festival, Print Room at The Coronet, February 23

Choreographers of 1898: Hubert Essakow, Kirill Burlov, Tamarin Stott, Mbulelo Ndabeni

Choreographers of 1898: Hubert Essakow, Kirill Burlov, Tamarin Stott, Mbulelo Ndabeni

The good news is The Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill, built by WGR Sprague in 1898, has a new lease of life as Print Room at The Coronet under the artistic direction of Anda Winters. Winters, who founded Print Room in Westbourne Grove in 2010, is planning to bring her new home to its original splendor as a cinema and performing arts space. If you are lucky enough to get tickets for the current show, 1898: Contemporary Dance Festival, curated by Winters and Artistic Associate Hubert Essakow to celebrate the theatre’s founding, you are attending the first live performance there in almost a century and sitting on the very stage where Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry once performed.

Because the auditorium is being renovated, both the audience and the performing area are arranged across the old stage; if we could look through the wall on the left we would see the auditorium. What designer Hannah Hall has devised is a stage at one end like the corner of a box, all in white, with a side wall that curves seamlessly round to the back and a white floor that flows from the curved baseboards to the open front and side of the stage area. The wall allows for projections and is solid enough to take weight; the open sides are for seating. Any reserved seating is for the performers, including a dilapidated period sofa next to me that looks as if it could tell a few stories. The feeling is intimate, and the whiff of fin-de-siècle intoxicating.

This is immediately evoked in Essakow’s Adieu; Erik Satie’s wistful Gnossienne No. 3 and some Debussy songs of romantic sensibility, sweet suffering and passion swirl around ‘the ghosts of past performances at The Coronet…’ which include a sensual, all-embracing femme fatale, Naomi Sorkin, looking remarkably like Sarah Bernhardt in a long silk dress, black cape and wide brimmed hat. There are two beautiful youths (David Ledger and Cree Barnett Williams) whose promising hold on each other is undermined throughout by Bernhardt’s seduction of them both: those passionate, half-closed eyelids know no limit. We even hear Bernhardt’s own voice returning to the stage in a ghostly recording. Adieu is not so much saying goodbye as immersing the characters in the fleeting sense of beauty, love and parting that the word — especially in French — brings to mind.

While the trio wafts silently into the night, Kirill Burlov appears somewhat disheveled, dressed in a white collarless shirt and black high-waisted breeches that were in better shape earlier in the evening before he started getting in to the absinthe. The appropriately named Absinthe is essentially a solo for two dancers, with a similarly disheveled Rob McNeil as the demon of the infamous green goddess seeping out of the walls and plaguing Burlov’s poetic imagination. All the choreography is reflected in their eyes, the dazed lids, the staring expressions, the desperate searching for reality in an increasingly hallucinatory phantasmagoria. This inner state is reflected in Platon Buravicky’s manic score but the focus of the work is Burlov’s dark, unhinged choreography and the partnering with McNeil; despite the hallucinations their awareness of each other’s presence is so attuned that the partnering is, to the sober, like a dream until Burlov passes out between O’Brien’s legs and the green goddess dematerializes.

Tamarin Stott’s response to the theatre, Scene to be Seen, is more tightly choreographed, but then her subject is the contrast between tight-lipped etiquette and freedom, what she calls the social exterior and the private interior. She begins with her feet at either end of the century, dressed in a corseted cream dress with a smartphone in her hand as she sits on the side of the stage where her beau (Nathan Young) is getting annoyed with her apparent disregard for him. This simmering antagonism informs the undercurrent of violence in the partnering, one misunderstood gesture following another until it seems something has changed forever. That would be enough for a short piece, but on top of this Stott wants to ‘reflect on…the extraordinary changes witnessed over (the theatre’s) lifetime…’ which is more the role of an archivist than of a choreographer. Neither is she helped by Ryan Cockerham’s score that is so densely signposted and annotated that it leaves little room for the dance or our imagination. A little dip into Burlov’s absinthe might have helped both.

In Beholder of Beauty Mbulelo Ndabeni also spans a century, between the first opera performed at The Coronet in 1898, The Geisha, and the 1999 romantic comedy film, Notting Hill. The opening is thrilling with an exotic Ndabeni in a white face with pursed red painted lips and a geisha’s red robe dancing with a breadth of movement that fills the space with an excitement that makes you feel you know what is going on inside. When he lets his head back and screams silently you feel he is crying for help. The score by Shirley J Thompson is intense but non-obtrusive; it is Ndabeni’s image that fills the stage. But then Notting Hill enters the picture, and for me the spell is broken. The appearance of Piedad Albarracin Seiquer in contemporary rehearsal clothes is a literary idea that doesn’t translate choreographically. When Ndabeni as geisha dances with her he clearly doesn’t speak the same language and when she dances alone, expressive as she is, she has no connection to him. It is rather prosaic after the poetry but Mdabeni turns back to the exotic by dancing in front of a projection of a lily in the process of opening. He seems to be both looking back to the spirit of 1898 and forward to the flowering of this new performance space.

 


Resolution! 2015: New Tapestry, Mara Vivas, .2Dot

Posted: February 26th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Resolution! 2015, New Tapestry, Vivas, .2Dot, The Place, February 19

Hege Eriksdatter Østefjells in Potatoes & Sauce (photo: Andreas Bergmann)

Hege Eriksdatter Østefjells in Potatoes & Sauce (photo: Andreas Bergmann)

Resolution! is The Place’s annual festival of new works presented by a range of diverse emerging dance artists…For every evening of the festival there are three short pieces where you get to see a snapshot of brand new work.

I put the above introduction from The Place website as a starting point for this piece because I am confused about the nature of Resolution! It seems less a ‘festival of new works’ than a festival of choreographic ideas in search of a work. On the other hand there are some works — like Hannah Buckley’s Woman with Eggs and .2Dot’s I’m sorry you’re leaving — that are not ‘snapshots of brand new work’ but the brand new work itself. So does Resolution! encourage the making of new works or the experimentation with choreographic ideas and form? If the former, not all the works on show appear complete, and if the latter, what is the difference between Resolution! and The Place Prize competition which is currently calling for choreographic ideas to be developed into new work?

But back to this evening: the more I think about New Tapestry’s Potatoes & Sauce the more complex I realise it is. It begins by concentrating our attention on the tactile sensation of skin on plastic as Hege Eriksdatter Østefjells’ feet and hands explore a rectangle of plastic sheet taped to the floor like an elongated entrance mat. This relates not only to Østefjells’ subsequent aerial work for which she uses a cascade of plastic tubing but also to the first section of (rather indistinct) recorded fragments that originate in coma dreams. There is thus a double suspension in which the dreams float in the air while Østefjells’ body appears to float and swim in a vertical current. The score by Tim Hecker adds another level of mystery to the eerie weightlessness of the whole that plays a gentle dance on the imagination. It is only the manipulation (and sound) of the tubes as Østefjells prepares a body or foothold that reminds us of the mechanics of aerial work but Potatoes & Sauce (the title is somewhere in the coma dream, too) is a welcome exploration of an under-appreciated dimension for dance.

Elisabeth Schilling, Julie Schmidt, Fabiola Santana in Triptych (photo: Karolina Bajda)

Elisabeth Schilling, Julie Schmidt and Fabiola Santana in Triptych (photo: Karolina Bajda)

Mara Vivas’ Triptych uses memory rather than text as the driver and keeps the physical language unflinchingly minimal. The three women (Elisabeth Schilling, Julie Schmidt and Fabiola Santana) are standing in a single sidelight almost shoulder-to-shoulder with their backs to us as we return to our seats. An unintended consequence of the material and fit of the costumes (by Susanne Stangl) is that the nervous muscle activity of the women’s bodies as they wait to start sets up a trembling choreography of its own on the surface of the fabric (the slow gestural arm movements that begin this triptych of three graces seem huge by comparison). Not wanting to suggest any narrative or direction Vivas keeps our focus on the three bodies as one moving sculpture by keeping their gestures in a similar register but at the same time the three women are subtly playing with their spatial relation to one other; at first they remain united, but as the work progresses their gestures interact, touch, break off and follow individual paths. The gestural language is also related to time; it is as if Vivas has slowed down the heartbeat of the work to focus on the here and now but the women cannot keep from straying — be it to the past or the future — from the sculptural continuum. This is partly intentional and partly unintentional: the attention given to gesture does not always extend to the dancers’ eyes which at times are commenting on the performance rather than expressing the choreography. Nevertheless the choreographic idea remains valid and intact.

Angela Frampton, Roger Cox, Jill Connick and Gilly Hanna in I'M sorry you're leaving (photo: Karolina Bajda)

Angela Frampton, Roger Cox, Jill Connick and Gilly Hanna in I’m sorry you’re leaving (photo: Karolina Bajda)

I’m sorry you’re leaving by .2Dot (the duo of Antonio Branco and Riccardo Tarocco) is dance theatre with a rich — not to mention mature — imagination for four exceptional performers: Jill Connick, Roger Cox, Angela Frampton and Gilly Hanna. Based on their lives and stories, it builds on the celebration of the art of age that the Elixir Festival featured last year. The program note reads in part, ‘Real people, with real stories, doing real dances.’ The three ladies in I’m sorry you’re leaving hold nothing back in their embrace of their roles — even if they are telling their own stories — and I can’t help feeling they are giving a fuller account of themselves than they would off stage. As Hanna explains in her guide to introducing yourself, ‘Give an audience an insight into what excites you.’ Roger Cox is less demonstrative but his calm, sometimes diffident exterior and dry humour is a natural counterbalance to the ladies. The stories they each tell, both poignant and funny, have the immediacy of truth delivered in circumstances and (wonderful) costumes that are pure theatre, but their dances and songs are real: Connick’s tap routine, Hanna’s dance to Holding out for a hero, Frampton’s cover of Frank Sinatra’s Fly me to the moon and Cox’s tango with Hanna are highlights of a work that Branco and Tarocco have clearly had fun making. I’m sorry you’re leaving, too; it seems all too soon. Perhaps if the idea had come later you might have made the selection process for The Place Prize. What’s the difference again?


Resolution! 2015 : Red Tape Dance, Hannah Buckley & Rachel Burn

Posted: February 20th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Resolution! 2015: RedTape Dance, Hannah Buckley & Rachel Burn, The Place, January 16

Hannah Buckley in Woman with Eggs (photo: Sara Teresa)

Hannah Buckley in Woman with Eggs (photo: Sara Teresa)

I’ll begin in the middle because Hannah Buckley’s Woman with Eggs — ‘a solo about women’s ability to be many things’ — is worth celebrating. It tackles what many women see as the social imperative of having children with a poignancy that is balanced by Buckley’s uncompromising argument for freedom from its tyranny.

I am not sure at the beginning where she is going to take us; she is crouched with her back to the audience scratching around on the floor, her hair covering her face that is following intently the actions of her hands. But very quickly Buckley transforms all these elements into one of the most intelligent works I have seen at The Place. By accumulating gestures and revealing clues as to where she is going, Buckley builds up over the course of the work a layered argument so complete and irreverent that by the end we can’t help but stand smiling with her and marvel at her accomplishment.

The first spoken clue is a quote from an Inuit folk story, Kakuarshuk: ‘Long ago women got their children by digging around in the ground…’: immediately all that intense scrabbling assumes meaning and from this point each element of her performance — her costume (courtesy of Lauren Reyhani), her hair, her voice, her angular way of moving with turned-in stance and the articulation of her arms — now uncannily combine to inform her subject. Having related the Inuit tale about a barren woman’s quest to find a child she introduces extracts from two interviews, one with a seven-year-old girl and one with her grandmother aged 90: two amusing and refreshing perspectives on ‘women’s ability to be many things’. Buckley dances in her own idiosyncratic way to an Alex Drewchin cover of Kate Bush’s Babooshka, and then suddenly changes tack, dragging herself to a floor microphone to give away her next clue: a refreshingly honest view of children by artist Sophie Calle: ‘…I don’t like the terrorism of children. I don’t like the lack of freedom it gives to the parents…’ She lies still to let the sense of her monologue filter into our consciousness and then takes two gold-painted eggs from a bowl and begins to groove to Grimes’ appropriately titled track, Oblivion, letting the eggs balance precariously in her open palms until she ramps up the rhythmic pulse to the point the eggs spill on to the ground and break. She nonchalantly picks up two more and repeats her dance until the dozen or so eggs lie splattered on the ground around her, a breathtakingly trenchant image of a tyranny overturned with Buckley in the unassuming role of liberator.

Fabio Filipe and Maria Cassar in Red Tape Dance Company's Pensar é Destruir

Fabio Filipe and Maria Cassar in Red Tape Dance Company’s Pensar é Destruir

Red Tape Dance’s Pensar é Destruir (thinking is destruction) courts the philosophical using the power of masks: Fabio Felipe as a dog and Maria Cassar as a cat enact the lines of the poem by Fernando Pessoa that inspired the work:

“Living life with a façade of a cat or dog,
is the only way that regular man can live life
…with the satisfaction of a dog or cat.”

In their masks, Felipe and Cassar carry on an animalistic social dance with the cat appearing the stronger of the two and not in the least afraid of the dog. After sequences of walking patterns, swings and lifts, they end up falling against each other mask to mask for the longest time, their expressions fixed. Masks have a particular power and Felipe and Cassar exploit them well. It is only when they take them off that Pensar é Destruir loses its force, becoming two people with some interesting but not compelling partnering (but isn’t that the sense of the three lines from Pessoa?). Strange, isn’t it, the power the face can have in dance. The unmasked section is accompanied by a Bach concerto (as opposed to Oli Newman and Anstam in the first section) which plays a parallel, playful role to the choreography rather than a structural one. Then just as the partnering gets going in rolling lifts across each other’s backs, both the music and choreography abruptly fade out. There’s more to be achieved with this idea, and I hope Red Tape Dance continues to explore.

Alejandra Baño and cast in Rachel Burn's Happening (© Camilla Greenwell Photography)

Alejandra Baño and cast in Rachel Burn’s Happening (© Camilla Greenwell Photography)

The evening closes with Rachel Burn’s Happening, a piece inspired by the stories of twelve men and women that Burn has transformed into dance. The cast consists of only four women, so each interprets three stories across the two genders. Finding a common theme among the twelve stories is clearly one concern and finding a setting that can frame that theme is another; in fact the latter can only be explored following the success of the former. What Burn has done is the reverse: she has found a setting before finding the theme, and although her idea of transparent balloons tied with long strings to as many boots as there are story donors and performers may indeed be an intuitive response, it is not enough to make Happening coalesce. The other issue is that because there are only four in the cast, the work appears to consist of only four stories arranged as a collage. It is a shame, because the abstraction of the words into dance — the choreographic nucleus — is lovely and the performances by Helen Aschauer, Alejandra Baño, Marianna Mouaimi and Ana Mrdjanov emotionally strong. Perhaps adding a man or two to the cast would add more definition to the men’s voices, but finding the right form for all twelve stories remains Burn’s principal challenge.


Ballet Black: Triple Bill

Posted: February 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Ballet Black, Triple Bill, Linbury Studio Theatre, February 13

Ballet Black in Mark Bruce's Second Coming (photo: Bill Cooper)

Ballet Black in Mark Bruce’s Second Coming (photo: Bill Cooper)

In their triple bill at the Linbury Studio Theatre, Ballet Black has made a program in their image, one that not only showcases their dancers but frames their identity. It is a rich choice of works put together like a musical concert: an overture, a concerto and a full mythological symphony.

Kit Holder’s To Fetch a Pail of Water? (note the interrogation) decodes the nursery rhyme Jack & Jill into a modern immorality play in which the fall has biblical connotations. The hill is suggested by lighting designer David Plater as a diminishing perspective of light on the floor but the ascent by Kanika Carr and Jacob Wye is less geographical than amatory. Dressed by Rebecca Hayes in colourful check shirts and jeans, they each exude a rustic innocence and pleasure except that Carr is in silver pointe shoes. Given the hill climbing, Doc Martens might have been more appropriate. Wye is able to express the earthiness of his actions — and does so beautifully — but Carr appears more sophisticated by virtue of the footwear, a princess Jill who would never have trudged up the hill with Jack in the first place. Carr has beautiful feet that in soft shoes would subtly change her movement to blend the music, the setting and the warmth of the choreography more convincingly. One other niggle is that the cinematic cuts in the lighting are not as successful as they might be; the first comes so soon after the beginning as to suggest an electrical fault rather than a time lapse, and the one at the end, but for a knowledgeable clap from the audience, feels like a time lapse rather than a closure. But To Fetch a Pail of Water? is nevertheless a delightfully ‘cotton-nosed’ work that allows an audience to enter immediately into the spirit of the company.

Will Tuckett’s Depouillement (2009) is a meaty, sophisticated concerto, both musically (Maurice Ravel’s sonata for violin and cello) and choreographically. Tuckett’s musicality and jazzy neo-classical language fits the company well and here the pointe shoe is written in seamlessly to extend the body’s lines and accentuate the constantly thrusting nature of the choreography. Tuckett writes in the program that Ravel took the notion of ‘dépouillement’ (economy of means) from Debussy, effectively reducing the sonata form to two instruments. Tuckett combines his two principal instruments (Damien Johnson and Cira Robinson) with a quartet of dancers but the idea of economy shines through the unadorned quality of movement within its complex patterns and in the reduction of costumes to black and white leotards (by Yukiko Tsukamoto). Perhaps because she is in white with a purity of line and he in black with a playful presence (and an incandescent smile), I see Robinson as a slinky angel and Johnson as a rambunctious devil. If so, good and evil complement each other beautifully in their duet in the third, luscious movement. Johnson partners Robinson with ease and intelligence, calming her frantic gestures and prompting her to move to his impulses. The colour of the music is rich and dark (like the sound of the solo cello that begins it), muscular and passionate, qualities that Tuckett evokes in his dancers. The finale for all six dancers keeps you on the edge of your seat with its relentless drive, swapping partners, lightning entrances and exits, mischievous kicks and flawless, lyrical technique (José Alves’ pirouettes in particular) right up until the final, very classical flourish on the final plucked note as if they were written for each other. Brilliant.

Mark Bruce’s Second Coming is another kind of beast altogether (or lots of beasts), a myth or fairy tale of his own making without a moral conclusion. ‘As human beings we are seemingly always searching for morality, but this just conflicts with our nature, creates hypocrisy and ties us in knots.’ Watching Second Coming may tie your head in knots if you fail to read the synopsis in the program (sadly not included in the cast sheet). The narrative is on three mythological levels and deals with an authoritarian father (Johnson looking on his first appearance like Jimi Hendrix in military jacket and top hat), his sardonic sidekick angel with clipped wings (Carr) and a son (Alves) born of a maiden savage (Isabela Coracy) who forsakes patriarchal values for the love of a serpent woman (Robinson). It’s a complex genealogy but it makes for gripping theatre. Dorothee Brodrück’s costumes and the layering of musical influences from Tom Waits to Dimitri Shostakovich to Sir Edward Elgar and John Barry give the work a particular richness before a single step has been devised. Bruce’s imagination is up to the challenge and he gouges out a mythic story that stands on its own four feet and makes the company look in control of its destiny.

 


Sally Marie and John Ross: Questions and Dancers

Posted: February 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Sally Marie and John Ross: Questions and Dancers, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, February 7

All seven dancers in Sally Marie's I am 8 (photo: Chantal Guevara)

All seven dancers in Sally Marie’s I am 8 (photo: Chantal Guevara)

It was the witty title of the show that I first noticed but I was also interested in seeing new work by choreographers Sally Marie (whose work I didn’t know) and John Ross, but I didn’t read any more about Questions and Dancers until I arrived at the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre and saw all these children taking their seats. Clearly I had missed something. As there was no program available until after the performance I checked the Sadler’s Wells site: ‘Questions and Dancers is a double bill of new works for young people…Both works are commissioned thanks to the Choreography for Children Award 2014 produced by Sadler’s Wells, Company of Angels, The Place and London Contemporary Dance School in partnership with MOKO Dance.’

It is Peter Laycock as a bright-eyed compère who explains the running of the show: we will see the first performance, Sally Marie’s I am 8, and then there will be a period for the audience to give impressions of what we had just seen and to ask questions of the dancers. Afterwards we will see Ross’s work There, There, Stranger and have the same period of reflection and questioning.

Still not entering into the uncomplicated, non-psychological spirit of the evening, I was expecting eight dancers in I am 8 but there were only seven. In fact I spent the entire performance waiting for the revelation of the surprise eighth dancer. As any child will tell you, what her title refers to is seven dancers aged 21 acting out the stories of eight-year-olds. To do this Marie collected stories from school children, their experiences and dreams, and wove them into a dance for big children.

I am 8 enters into childhood with a music box playing a nursery rhyme. There’s a girl in a tutu who has decided it is time (being 8) to put her Teddy in a box, a magician (Deepraj Singh) on an imaginary motorcycle and a girl who must have been mischievous in her childhood, so well does she portray a rebellious sense of fun here. Another girl says she finds it difficult talking in front of a group of more than five and two lively springs bounce in with buoyant jumps. All the girls gang up on Singh keeping him out of their circle. He finds a friend in the girl in green with whom he starts a duet that attracts everyone else (the story of Tubby the Tuba comes to mind). Remember these are real stories of the experiences of young children; all Marie has done is to change the perspective, elongate the lines, enlarge the voice by turning second year students at the London Contemporary Dance School into big kids as if they are reaching out across the age divide to provide assurance that life will remain fun at 21. And the children in the audience got it completely (“I loved it because it was really happy!”).

Ellis Saul in John Ross's There, There Stranger (photo: Chantal Guevara)

Ellis Saul in John Ross’s There, There Stranger (photo: Chantal Guevara)

If Marie’s work takes the children’s perspective and grows it, Ross takes a more mature theme and scales it down, not unlike Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland except that Ellis Saul enters her imaginary world through a front loading washing machine. She meets a variety of bodies (or anti-bodies) wearing tight black body suits (Jordan Ajadi is still recognizable) including one (Antonin Chediny) wearing flippers, a diving mask and speaking French (a frogman?). I thought they were all specks of dirt loosened by the wash cycle but Ross’s conception was a labyrinth through which Saul navigates in an expedition of the mind that lasts as long as the wash cycle, a dream or nightmare if you like. At the end Saul reappears at the washing machine door, takes a look out but decides to remain inside, not forgetting to take her shoes. There is a surreal aspect, suspense (when the laundry basket comes alive), humour (when the penguin/frogman sneezes), and tension that set up fluid interpretations. Once you got Marie’s concept (unlike me) you could follow the dance easily; with Ross it was more complex and solicited more concentration and more questions from the audience. I like this approach because it stretches the imagination in a way the so-called fairy tales from the brother’s Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson or Charles Perrault did: they are sophisticated life lessons with dark shades of psychological drama raised to an other-worldly level that can be read on many different levels. Children can evidently take a lot more on board in their imaginations than we might be willing to admit.


Scottish Dance Theatre: YAMA

Posted: February 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

I have invited my friend Ian Abbott to contribute to these musings on dance. As some of you will already know, Ian was until recently Head of Creative Programs at Pavilion Dance Southwest in Bournemouth and I was always grateful for his encouragement through invitations to review various shows or summits he had planned there. We would also cross paths at performances elsewhere. If there was something I really enjoyed I would say to him, Ian you should program this. ‘I already have’ was the inevitable reply. Ian has now moved to Scotland and I am very happy to welcome his thoughts on performances he is seeing there. 

Scottish Dance Theatre, YAMA, Dundee Rep Theatre, February 12

Scottish Dance Theatre in Damien Jalet's YAMA (photo: Brian Hartley)

Scottish Dance Theatre in Damien Jalet’s YAMA (photo: Brian Hartley)

“Entering a novel is like going on a climb in the mountains: You have to learn the rhythms of respiration – acquire the pace. Otherwise you stop right away.” Umberto Eco

Mountains invite a challenge.

Scottish Dance Theatre, under the artistic direction of Fleur Darkin, at first commissioned Damien Jalet to create YAMA (Japanese for mountain) as half of a double bill, a munro if you like, in February 2014. Originally inspired by his trip to Japan and the Yamabushi’s (a practising group of ascetic monks) pagan and animalistic rituals, Jalet was invited back to re-build and re-birth a new mountain in the shadow of Dundee’s extinct volcano, The Law.

With a low, rumbling electronic soundscape provided by Winter Family, the opening frames of YAMA created a set of the most striking and original experiences I’ve come across in a theatre. As an opening and immovable central focus, the revelation and consistency of Jim Hodges’ ‘abstract geometric form’ sink hole provided the only channel through which the Scottish Dance critters could arrive or depart. Legs began to slither and ooze from the surface leaving me unsure of the number of bodies present. A giant amorphous flesh ball – with each individual covered by Jean-Paul Lespagnard’s nude shorts and torso-brushing horse-hair facial stockings – started to divide into smaller iterations, writhing and mesmerising me for over 20 minutes: I realised I was already on the journey with them, halfway up the mountain. Through a careful handling and guiding of my attention, I realised I’d been sucked in by the physical concatenation and snap and flow of bodies; the way they’d scurry and come together like a hairy chorus drawn from the brush of Busby Berkeley’s undulating worship of geometric forms and patterns was verging on sorcery. I didn’t want to leave this brave and unusual world.

“Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top.” Dag Hammarskjold

YAMA is the total theatrical realisation of a mountain; the dizzying and breathless ascent, the embrace of the summit and a dawning that the journey home will never contain a place so high again. Ritualistically the performers removed their hair and revealed their faces for the first time. The sonic and visual world was broken. An evolution had taken place and the final 25 minutes consisted of what others would recognise as contemporary dance. The intensity of the choreography – the dancers matched what Jalet painted on their bodies – increased until the striking finale of the channel reclaiming the bodies which had birthed them 55 minutes ago. I left with an increasing sense of regret of what might have been. Had that strong and pioneering world that was so well crafted in the first half been continued I believe YAMA would have been an incredibly courageous and special work.

YAMA invites a challenge and it’s a work that deserves to be encountered and conquered. Scottish Dance Theatre is a rare company in the UK – they house a set of dancers equal to any choreographic challenge – and are traversing a daring choreographic path with confidence and without fear.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”      William Blake

 


Wim Vandekeybus – Ultima Vez: What the Body Does Not Remember

Posted: February 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Wim Vandekeybus – Ultima Vez: What the Body Does Not Remember, Sadler’s Wells, February 10

Ultima Vez in Wim Vandekeybus's What the Body Does Not Remember (photo © Danny Willems)

Ultima Vez in Wim Vandekeybus’s What the Body Does Not Remember (photo © Danny Willems)

If I could collect and access my favourite dance performances as easily as I can my favourite music on an iPod, Ultima Vez’ What the Body Does Not Remember would be one of them. The era in which it was created — the latter half of the eighties — was one in which many creators were devising dance-theatre works with a rich, contradictory vocabulary of tension, harmony, tearing apart and coming together. Many social and political barriers were beginning to fall (not least of which the Berlin Wall at the end of the decade) and dance was part of that tectonic change. In the same year (1987) Wim Vandekeybus first presented What the Body Does Not Remember, Pina Bausch’s Palermo Palermo opened prophetically with the collapse of a huge wall filling the entire proscenium arch. Vandekeybus was clearly not working in a vacuum; he was tuned in through contemporary philosophy (particularly the social theorist Jean Baudrillard) to an understanding of his time and he developed a movement language that was a highly physical expression of emotional turmoil, chaos and freedom from establishment ethics. It was in the same period in Montreal (where I was living at the time) that Édouard Lock created Human Sex (1985) for LaLaLa Human Steps (with the extraordinary Louise Lecavalier) and Gilles Maheu created Le Dortoir (1988) for his company Carbone 14, in both of which action prevailed over narrative to provide thrilling, visceral spectacles that caught the public imagination and propelled their creators to mythic status overnight. Vandekeybus took the dance world by storm with What the Body Does Not Remember and he has since continued to make works in theatre, film and dance. It is not often his work is seen here (most recently at Southbank Centre with his booty Looting in 2013) but fortunately someone at Dance Touring Partnership loves his work, for DTP toured Blush in 2004 and Spiegel in 2007 (the last time Ultima Vez was at Sadler’s Wells). For those outside London who want to see What the Body Does Not Remember, these performances are just the beginning of an extensive UK tour.

This version is a revival with a fine new cast of dancers who clearly enjoy the challenge and, for the London performances only, with live accompaniment by ICTUS of Thierry de Mey and Peter Vermeersch’s brilliantly percussive score (there is even an encore of De Mey’s Musique de Tables, a composition for six hands on three tables).

I never saw the original cast but I didn’t pick up from this performance what Vandekeybus calls the ‘fear and catastrophe’ inherent in the work. Perhaps that is the passage of time or the more refined training of these nine dancers (or both), but I got the impression of wild games played by fearless children with beards and muscular legs. It doesn’t detract from the work, but the original revolutionary force may have been replaced over time by a more ludic intensity. Vandekeybus acknowledges that “It’s not limited to a time or age-related; you can show it to kids and the kids enjoy it! It’s something universal.”

The most menacing sequence is the opening in which two women are manipulated by the hand movements on a sound table of a manic puppet master (Zebastián Méndez Marin). The amplification is powerful and the percussive gestures on the table transmit violent phrases of tension and collapse in the two women writhing on the floor, the one on the right (Maria Kolegova) controlled by Marin’s right hand, the one on the left (Livia Balážová, if I remember rightly) by his left hand. He is relentless and merciless in his game, watching them intently as they respond to his control. Satisfied with the game, he simply leaves the stage while Kolegova and Balážová meekly remove their tormentor’s table and chair.

The subsequent sequences are fast-paced variations on daredevil games of risk in which the dancers compete with and taunt each other by throwing or catching bricks, endlessly removing and putting on each other’s jackets and towels with split-second dexterity as they pass, annoying each other, riffing on the airport body search, keeping feathers airborne, circulating the stage at high velocity, hurling themselves to the floor, stamping on each other or taking evasive action to avoid imminent impact (early on one disdainful critic termed the genre ‘eurocrash’) that makes the head spin from the sheer energy and effervescence. The final sequence is a reprise of the menacing opening but with Germán Jauregui Allue as a foot-stamping puppet master who has lost his power. When the last woman has walked off he is left stamping tempestuously all alone, a final dose of impish humour spread throughout the evening that makes the show (let’s admit it) so irrepressibly entertaining.

 


The Associates, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

The Associates, Sadler’s Wells, February 6

The Associates themselves (l to r): Kate Prince (photo: Simon Prince), Hofesh Schechter (photo: Jake Walters) and Crystal Pite (photo: Michael Slobodian)

The Associates themselves (l to r): Kate Prince (photo: Simon Prince), Hofesh Schechter (photo: Jake Walters) and Crystal Pite (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Over the last ten years Sadler’s Wells has developed a roster of 16 Associate Artists reflecting the different genres of dance it produces. Artistic Director Alistair Spalding is not in the habit of putting together a program of Associates’ work but this particular one came about through the almost simultaneous request from two of them, Hofesh Schechter and Kate Prince, to test run their works in front of their home audience. Seeing an opportunity, Spalding called on the most recent Associate, Crystal Pite, to complete the program.

I am not familiar with Kate Prince’s choreography but here she directs Smile, a solo choreographed (with a little help from Shaun Smith) and performed by Tommy Franzén. He starts out as Charlie Chaplin’s famous tramp in a delightful riff on those familiar gestures but very quickly loses his way amongst the storage room full of props. It is only in the final scene nine tracks later that he wipes off his white face and black mustache, but he could have done it much earlier. If Chaplin’s tramp is the peg on which Smile hangs it is soon overwhelmed by all the imagery Prince/Franzén/Smith heap on it. There is clearly an attempt to contrast the comedic with the tragic without realizing (as Chaplin did) that both reside within the same gestures and postures. Prince separates the two with the result that Franzén can never gain the stature of the tragic because he is too busy trying to be funny.

There is only a pause between Smile and Crystal Pite’s A Picture of You Falling (2008) but the contrast is marked. Pite’s writing of dance has the clarity of a Joni Mitchell song or of a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson: the focus is unmistakable and immediate. The writing is intelligent and meaning is built up with each creative element, from choreography to setting to costumes to light and sound. Linda Chow, who created the carapace-like costumes for Polaris in the Thomas Adès program, is here in more casual mode but dresses the dancers in layers they then discard as the story is revealed. In the hands of Robert Sondergaard light becomes a metaphor for space and time, and can speak as demonstratively as a dancer’s gesture, as it does at the opening when a roving light seems to embody the voice of Kate Strong recalling aspects of a relationship. Peter Chu and Anne Plamondon are the couple whose history is Pite’s subject and although it is broken up like snapshots shuffled from an album the emotional core is beautifully expressed through movement. “I am fascinated and convinced by the shared narratives that live in our bodies,” writes Pite, “the familiar, repetitive storylines that move across cultures and generations — and the body’s role as illustrator.” It is Pite’s ability to mine this illustrative potential of the body with such finesse that sets her apart as a remarkable choreographer.

Hofesh Schechter has a new commission for the Royal Ballet at the end of March and I wonder if he is either testing out some ideas here or if he is getting this piece out of his creative system to make way for the new. The barbarians in love is more delicate than his previous work, perhaps influenced by his embrace of François Couperin’s music, and comes across as a meditation on the past without setting out in any new direction. Lee Curran’s lighting through levels of mist and the white tops and dark jeans devised by Merle Hensel enhance a sense of searching for purity or redemption. The final section in which the six fine dancers emerge from the darkness naked or semi naked strikes me as an intensely personal statement; the dancers remain in the half shadow facing us self-consciously, using their arms in eerily simple gestures redolent of departure without wanting to go. The barbarians in love — the title itself is infused with ambiguity — is a strung together on a series of ethical imperatives or lessons intoned with intimate sensuality by Natascha McElhone that culminate in a recorded dialogue between her in the role of a teasing God and a skewered Schechter trying to justify his work. It borders quite heavily on the self-indulgent but there are mitigating factors. Whether the barbarians in love signals a turning point in Schechter’s creative output will not be known until the end of March with his new commission at the Royal Opera House.

 


Natalia Osipova in Royal Ballet’s Onegin

Posted: February 8th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Royal Ballet, Onegin, Royal Opera House, January 30

Natalia Osipova and Matthew Golding in John Cranko's Onegin (photo: Alastair Muir)

Natalia Osipova and Matthew Golding in John Cranko’s Onegin (photo: Alastair Muir)

It is the first time in recent years that I have been gripped by the dance drama on the Royal Opera House stage and it is the interpretation by Natalia Osipova of Tatiana in John Cranko’s Onegin that is responsible. From my seat in the upper amphitheatre, each gesture she makes is clear, however subtle, and when she throws herself at her Onegin — as she does frequently — the effect is like wearing 3D glasses: she flies into the auditorium. I am too far away to see her eyes but I know exactly where they are focused at each moment. Her performance has the naturalness of improvisation — like her plonking down on a bench as she gazes at Onegin in Act 2 to her child-like intensity of stabbing the pen in the inkwell before writing her letter — and the rigour of a beautifully crafted, flawless interpretation of the steps.

Perhaps it is Osipova’s Russian soul responding to Pushkin and Tchaikovsky, but Cranko was not a Russian choreographer and the role was created on Marcia Haydée. There is something nevertheless universal in Tatiana. In his biography of Cranko, Theatre in My Blood, John Percival observes that Haydée’s Tatiana was ‘a character who grew through the work and was in every moment entirely convincing as a portrait of an exceptional but credible person.’ He could have been writing about Osipova last Friday night but I can’t help feeling she was able to infuse the role with a spirit that both Pushkin and Tchaikovsky would have recognized.

Because Osipova lives the character of Tatiana so fully, her relationship with Onegin requires a heightened sensibility from her partner. Matthew Golding acts his part with less dimensions than Osipova; he appears to remain quite tightly locked into his role — more prince than profligate. He is most at home in the beginning of the first act because he is setting up his character but in the bedroom scene where he is transformed into the dream-like persona Tatiana desires, he cannot leave his aloofness on the far side of the mirror. Osipova is superb here and Golding partners her brilliantly but he never seems to enter into the dream. In the second act Golding fails to colour Cranko’s gestures with a degree of willful petulance that will give Lensky no choice but to challenge him to a duel; we are left wondering what all the fuss is about. And while Tatiana’s stature has risen by the opening of the third act, Onegin’s hasn’t descended which creates an imbalance because the pathos of Act 3 is in the intersection of their divergent paths. At the end Golding runs off and Osipova runs after him, checking herself as she reaches the door. What I didn’t know is that Pushkin never finished his verse novel, and neither does Osipova clarify her emotional state at the end of the ballet. It is left floating in turmoil; however kind and distinguished Count Gremin may be (played with grateful devotion by Bennet Gartside), Tatiana’s heart is more her master than her mind.

There are just five principal characters in Onegin who are responsible for the development of the plot. Cranko paints Tatiana’s relationship to her sister Olga (Yasmine Naghdi) with the lightest of touches; the opening scene where the two are introduced in Jürgen Rose’s idyllic country setting reveals a tender competition, with Olga the more effusive of the two; she dances a lovely solo full of joyous bouncing steps surrounded by friends while Tatiana relaxes with feet up on a wicker bench devouring her romantic novel. Olga’s fiancée Lensky (the elegant Matthew Ball) is a finely drawn character, a romantic suitor whose attention is devoted entirely to pleasing Olga. There is no indication of any flaw in his character that will make his jealousy explode so violently in Act 2, nor is there any trait in Olga, apart from her natural ebullience, that suggests her willingness to flirt with Onegin. All this has to be whipped up at the party, and it is left to Cranko’s choreography to make this happen without the full emotional investment by these three characters. These may seem minor details but with an artist of Osipova’s calibre in the cast the standards are set very high.

I can’t imagine the ballet Onegin being created to Tchaikovsky’s opera score; what Kurt-Heinz Stolze created with his orchestral arrangements of some of Tchaikovsky’s lesser-known piano compositions and orchestral poems allows the choreography to weave together the characters of Pushkin’s novel seamlessly and leaves the beauty of Cranko’s choreography to match Tchaikovsky’s arias.