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

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

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

Kamienski

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

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

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

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

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


Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

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

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

Kielland

Karen Røise Kielland in A Slow Escape (photo: Kristine Jakobsen)

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

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

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

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


Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, at Battersea Arts Centre

Posted: July 9th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, at Battersea Arts Centre

Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, Battersea Arts Centre, June 22

Mercenary

The cast of Ahilan Ratnamohan’s Mercenary (photo: Koen Broos)

Presented as part of this year’s LIFT, Ahilan Ratnamohan’s Mercenary is the result of his research into western stories about the exploitation of migrant workers contracted to build the 2022 FIFA World Championship stadium in Qatar. Ratnamohan is a choreographer and social-political theatre maker who had previously tried to break into a career as professional footballer; the context of his research is thus closely related to his current and past preoccupations. It’s apt LIFT is presenting Mercenary during the current World Cup and there is also an irony in the appearance of Ratnamohan’s construction workers in the Council Chamber of Battersea Arts Centre where evidence of continuing restoration after last year’s fire is still visible.

The stage is set out like a miniature football pitch with the audience seated close around the edges; in the middle of one side DJ Giulia Loli, dressed in overalls with a luminous yellow safety jacket, has set up her turntables. From one corner Ratnamohan walks diagonally across the pitch in silence and poses in the far corner. He is also dressed in overalls and safety vest but his face is wrapped in a scarf over a respiratory mask. In effect we see very little of him except his eyes, so his catwalk pose looking to left and to right before returning to the dressing room — followed in turn by each player — is an amusing conceit to display Anne-Catherine Kunz’s costumes as a prelude to the story.

For a theatre festival Mercenary tells its story predominantly in movement. Thollebook Nhipat recites a list of exorbitant expenses that were docked from his wages for such things as his work visa and legal services while Rabina Miya, the one female worker, speaks briefly about home, but speech is not the medium of this work. Ratnamohan’s vocabulary is instead steeped in football; it is as if the ‘beautiful game’ has taken on choreographic life as he moulds its nimble training exercises and its postural lexicon into a choreographic medium. In the course of interviews collected across Qatar, Nepal and Sri Lanka Ratnamohan uncovered the passions and preoccupations of the migrant workers; he does not deny their exploitation, to which Nhipat’s experience alludes, but choses instead to focus on their resilience in the face of adversity.

He also recognizes that sport is a means of bonding and camaraderie when language is a barrier. Nhipat speaks with enough English to make his points, but when it comes to playing games with the others there is no obstacle to understanding; he is as skilled and knowledgeable as anyone. In Mercenary football becomes an allegory of life on the construction site played to Loli’s Asian club beat mixes that underscore Ratnamohan’s choreography, but it’s a game with neither a ball nor any visible opposition; the goal is survival. There is plenty of excitement as the players run at full tilt down the pitch to stop inches from us or challenge each other with rapid-fire mathematical puzzles to determine the outcome of a particular contest. As the games proceed, they shout useful English words they have learned like ‘toilet’, ‘home’, ‘water’ and ‘airport’ as commonly understood indications of the next choreographic sequence, and in the stifling heat they peel off layers of heavy clothes and leave them on the pitch; as one of the team, Loli does likewise while mixing the vinyls with her dancing fingers.

Suddenly it’s a party and everyone is laughing, moving around and over the clothes, vying with each other in this moment of relaxation to dance with the one woman but Miya instead shows us some football moves she has learned while the men show off to each other, pulling off shirts and sparring in increasingly combative ways. Ratnamohan chooses this moment for Loli to mix the overture to Wagner’s Tannhauser, that rousing music of redemption. To an overdubbed hammer beat Nhipat poses his colleagues forcefully like martyrs of coercion and endurance before taking his own submissive posture. Never letting Mercenary shy away from the harsh reality of its story, Ratnamohan with the help of dramaturg Sodja Lotker uses the body — and specifically the Asian body — to portray the emotional turmoil of these workers under duress.

The game is over; Ratnamohan takes time to introduce his team, to give his players an individual, personal identity until the celebratory party continues with football morphing into wrestling and men again jostling to dance with Miya until Loli suddenly pulls the plug and plunges us all into silence and darkness.


Images Ballet Company 2018 at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: July 6th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Images Ballet Company 2018 at Lilian Baylis Studio

Images Ballet Company, Year-End Performance, Lilian Baylis Studio, June 17

Images Ballet

Eleonora Gatti, Demi Aldred, Anna Heery, Shannon Higgins, Hannah Orton (photo: Johan Persson)

It’s that time of year when dance institutions like London Studio Centre present end-of-year performances to showcase the hard work of both staff and students over the year and particularly over the last three months of preparation. Ultimately it’s the students who take off on the stage while teachers and staff remain on the ground to prepare for the next flight. In the case of London Studio Centre, whose intake of dance students over 3 years of training in multiple disciplines is around 360, there are just five this year specializing in classical ballet. With the quality of training and opportunities artistic director Jennifer Jackson brings to these third-year students and considering classical ballet technique is the underpinning of so many contemporary dance companies, this number is surprisingly and disproportionally small. To make up the numbers for these performances Jackson has recruited three second-year students (Daisy Bishop, Maria Bruguet and Esme Calcutt) to join the graduate year of Demi Aldred, Eleonora Gatti, Anna Heery, Shannon Higgins and Hannah Orton.

Images Ballet Company was originally founded in 1991 under the artistic directorship of former Royal Ballet principal Margaret Barbieri. That lineage of the Royal Ballet continues through Jackson and, in these performances, through choreographers Érico Montes and Hubert Essakow who were both dancers in the company (Montes also trained at London Studio Centre). Bim Malcomson’s witty, fresh approach and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s blend of dance and theatre balances the classical work with a variety of styles these dancers can expect as they pursue professional careers.

It is not so much the works produced in these year-end performances as the effect they produce on the dancers; they are the ones being assessed for their potential even if the choreographers benefit from the opportunity to create new works. Inevitably each dancer will bring to the stage a quality or characteristic that will define her in some way from the others; ideally over the four works something unique will emerge in each dancer. The responsibility for its achievement is on the shoulders not only of Jackson and her choreographers but of the dancers themselves.

I admire Jackson’s insistence on live music where possible; if she doesn’t have an orchestra she has at least Elliott Perks and Tom Ellis. They arranged Robert Schumann’s Märchenbilder for viola and guitar which they play on stage for Essakow’s Cut Out and they perform for the audience in between works. It’s a shame they cannot be used more as the sound and texture of live music brings out the quality of dance steps while the dynamics of music and choreography can have a living conversation. Indeed, Essakow intended the four movements of Schumann’s music to form a series of choreographic conversations and in Aldred he has an artist who is eloquent. She has a strong technique, steely but soft pointe work and above all eyes and gesture that communicate not only with the music but with the audience. It is as if she is at a gathering with four friends; they chat together but the music draws her away to converse with her inspiration, the unseen Schumann. Essakow creates a sense of intimate space and Louie Whitemore’s black brocade bodices suggest a nineteenth century period style.

If Aldred takes her place in the room, Heery is noticeable by her natural reticence; she has the lyricism of a dreamer. In Montes’ Sonata in Colour to the music of Florence Price, Heery is like a lost girl remembering; Montes invests his choreography with an ethereal sense that reaches back to classical ballet but finds in Heery an interpreter whose quality of gesture is very much in the present.

Malcomson takes an idiosyncratic, somewhat irreverent approach to classical dance that brings out the idiosyncracies and irreverence of the entire cast. Her Red Queen Brouhaha references Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland and uses some of Joby Talbot’s score for Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet of the same name. There are lots of jam tarts, a croquet waltz, outraged screams and Orton coming into her own as Alice looking through both ends of an imaginary looking glass. Gatti and Higgins both find their comic form here as Malcomson proves her value as a catalyst in bringing diverse personalities together in a riotous whole.

Runacre-Temple’s Mozart’s Women: The Kingdom of Back uses extracts of Mozart’s music and recorded readings of his letters to his sister Nanneral (Aldred), his muse Aloysia Weber (Heery) and her sister, Constanze (Gatti), who became Mozart’s wife. It’s a piece that cries out for powdered wigs and voluminous dresses to evoke the texture of these women and to connect their play of gesture to the music but in its current form, under Andrew Ellis’s islands of light, it is a refined miniature that pays equal tribute to the women portrayed and to those who portray them.

The evening ends as it began with the music of Schumann, the two final movements of Essakow’s Cut Out, one for the ensemble and one that provides a parting solo for Heery.


Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

Posted: June 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord, The Place, June 16

Linyekula

Jeannot Kumbonyeki in Faustin Linyekula’s In Search of Dinozord (photo: Steve Gunther)

Faustin Linyekula is a dancer and choreographer based in Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is safe to say his country has had a volatile existence over the last century at the hands of colonial exploiters and of its own successive political regimes since gaining independence in 1960. Profits from its vast natural resources have funded bitterly internecine wars that claimed the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people between 1996 and 2003 alone. The names of its presidents Lumumba, Mobutu and Kabila have filled newspaper headlines but at The Place in London recently, as part of LIFT’s 2018 program, Linyekula and a handful of colleagues have recalled both the rich complexity of their country and its tortured legacy through the powerful theatrical mediums of dance and storytelling. In Search of Dinozord, as its name suggests, sets out on a journey without knowing if it will find what it is looking for or even what or where it may be. Did the journey really take place? The question is irrelevant, for the journey enters the emotional intensity of memory in which the distinctions between reality and imagination are forever blurred.

The setting is visually sparse yet charged with significance. A wide strip of crimson material hangs vertically on the back wall from floor to ceiling next to a large plywood panel; a group of performers huddle around a battered red metal trunk on one side and on the other a man sits in front of a typewriter at a desk in preparation for writing. Linyekula, his face daubed in white, stands behind a low wooden frame waiting to nudge his laptop into action. What he unleashes is the sound of helicopter blades layered into a frantic, screaming cauldron of sound that is Nierica by the French experimental and conceptual composer Joachim Montessuis; Linyekula sings through it, his trembling hands becoming a motif that will later spread to the bodies of his dancers, a fretful image of disease, fear or pain. Nierica is the sonic earthquake of the past from which the present performance can begin: creativity out of chaos.

The political history of the Democratic Republic of Congo is never far from the surface of In Search of Dinozord but Linyekula focuses instead, as with his current infrastructure projects in Kisangani, on building a new cultural landscape in which the future can thrive. This was also one of the dreams of his friend Richard Kabako who died of the plague on his way into exile. Kabako was a poet and playwright whose writings are kept in that red metal trunk and some of whose stories are related by Linyekula and singer Hlengiwe Lushaba during the performance. The man behind the typewriter is the theatre director Antoine Vumilia Muhindo some of whose aphorisms are projected on to the plywood screen. Muhindo was sentenced to life imprisonment in the infamous Makala prison in Kinshasa but managed to escape after nine years. And there’s a video appearance on a makeshift screen of another of Linyekula’s friends, the exiled actor and storyteller Maurice Mbwiti. It’s as if the stage has become the ground on which a new history of the Congo and its diaspora is being devised.

Linyekula has stated that ‘My only true country is my body’ and it is in the body that the search for Dinozord takes place. Linyekula convincingly appropriates a predominantly western play list — from Mozart to Arvo Pärt, from Jimi Hendrix to Montessuis — into the bodies of his performers. Pärt’s short organ works are seamlessly worked into the soundscape his three dancers (Jeannot Kumbonyeki, Papy Ebotani and Yves Mwamba) starkly inhabit while Lushaba’s extraordinary vocal range delivers a cappella sections of Mozart’s Requiem that are shorn of all western ecclesiastical references. But it is Kumbonyeki’s response to Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile where the body is transfigured, raising his krumping to the explosive levels of Hendrix’s mastery of the guitar. If Linyekula has honoured the dead with a discursive Requiem, in this final act he conjures up the passion of the Resurrection.

In Search of Dinozord is an open-ended performance in the sense that nothing seems finished but what is presented is complete. It takes you out of a familiar, tightly constructed theatrical framework where you know when to laugh, when to applaud and where individuality can so easily become the focus of a performance. This is a broad landscape in which a small group of charismatic performers carry the forgotten dreams of an entire country.


A Truefitt Collective Triple Bill of Love & Spaghetti at Blue Elephant

Posted: June 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Truefitt Collective Triple Bill of Love & Spaghetti at Blue Elephant

Love & Spaghetti, Triple Bill, Blue Elephant Theatre, May 31

Love & Spaghetti

Eva Escrich Gonzalez and Jay Yule in Love & Spaghetti (photo: Ross Truefitt)

Blue Elephant Theatre’s importance in London’s dance infrastructure is that you can’t hide in production values what you present on its tiny stage. What you see are the bare essentials of artistic endeavor that will always be the true starting point of any work. And because you can’t put more than a handful of people on the stage and the audience is very close, this is intimate dance, and as such it is unforgiving. That this triple bill, curated by Kasia Truefitt of A Truefitt Collective, survives the ordeal is already a measure of its success. The title of the evening — Love & Spaghetti — lumps together a commonly misunderstood subject with a commonly misunderstood pasta dish, but while each of the three works clearly chooses love as a central ingredient, spaghetti is relegated to a metaphor for the tangled relations love engenders.

Because of the spatial limitations of Blue Elephant, each work is physically small-scale, but that doesn’t mean the idea or the performance is similarly constrained. It is always preferable to have a small space and boundless ideas than small ideas and a boundless space. Marie Rambert began her ballet company — and the careers of Sir Frederick Ashton and Anthony Tudor — on the tiny stage of the Mercury Theatre, so space is no limitation to quality and ambition.

Elisha Hamilton’s Too Close to the Bone is an intimate concept that nevertheless asks for a dozen volunteers on stage, which requires a certain amount of squeezing. It is a performative exercise on power and confession where each of the volunteers in turn reads a statement from an envelope. They all have to indicate its truth or falsity by picking up a paper flower or by remaining in place. Hamilton’s role is at first to perform the turning, twisting minefield of mental processes in each calculated or spontaneous response. In the second half the roles are reversed: she performs to a text about the sexual exploitation of a girl at a party that is contained in a series of envelopes she asks her volunteers to read. Because of the problem of an inconsistent level of clarity in the reading, our attention is drawn both to the text and to Hamilton’s interpretation, like watching surtitles at an opera. But dance doesn’t need explanatory text; it can express the meaning — and a lot more — all alone.

Sorry Flowers Die by Jay Yule and Tommy Cattin is a work that thrives on intimacy by contrasting emotional and physical proximity with relational distance and space. They carefully lay out a two-cubit square of white tape that delineates the space of their domestic arrangement like a miniature reenactment of the opening scene in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. They can barely fit inside it let alone dance a mambo and as they jostle and manoeuvre around each other with burlesque exaggeration they punctuate their entanglements with a very British refrain of ‘Sorry!’ In a moment of slapstick exuberance Yule is ejected from the square and makes one of her own, much smaller, in front of the memento mori of expiring cut flowers. Seeing she’s enjoying her freedom (grooving happily to Cierro Mis Ojos), a piqued Cattin tries to muscle in but is in turn ejected. He tapes a much larger square that contains the other two and for a while he and Yule enjoy the space to be themselves until she gently but firmly takes up a section of his tape and ushers him out. Sorry Flowers Die has a lot more to it than Yule and Cattin allow; it is in a neat prose form that has a wealth of humour but hides its poetic and theatrical potential.

Truefitt’s Love & Spaghetti is the longest of the three works and builds on the preceding two to arrive (almost) at a form of cabaret. According to the program note, the work is based on a social experiment in which two strangers answered Arthur Aron’s ‘36 questions that can make you fall in love with anyone’. Some of the questions can be heard as part of a broader emotional context — Jo Cooper’s ironic choice of songs about love — in Truefitt’s adaptation of the experiment as a duet with Yule and Eva Escrich Gonzalez in which they embrace notions of connection and independence. Even spaghetti has an appearance as a length of tangled rope. There’s a wealth of ideas here, two excellent performers, and a subject that anyone can understand and enjoy. What it needs is a production that renders its voice as richly vibrant as what it’s saying.


Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018 at Laban

Posted: June 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018 at Laban

Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018, Laban, June 1

Transitions Dance Company

Transitions Dance Company in Jarkko Partanen’s Lovers (photo: Lidia Crisafulli)

Transitions is called a conservatoire dance company, which means it renews its dancers each year within Laban’s MA Dance Performance program and is designed to help these artists ‘fill the gap between formal training and their entry to the professional world.’ The artists are selected ‘through an intense and competitive international selection process’ so on the one hand Laban seems to suggest the BA level formal training for these dancers — including those from Laban itself — is not sufficient to give them a competitive chance of joining a professional company upon graduation, and at the same time the formation of Transitions relies on the ability of these dancers to be so competitive in an international audition process to win a place in the company.

The nature of Transitions — and of any conservatoire dance company — is thus somewhere between institutional and professional, and is essentially transient. The invited choreographers are not creating a repertoire that allows the company to mature and grow — there is no possibility of maturity and growth — but that enables the dancers to demonstrate what they have learned. One corollary of this approach is that all fourteen dancers are included in each work; no marked choreographic preference is given to an individual’s ability. The qualities of individual dancers may shine in a given work but only in the sense of an accent of colour or texture in a choreographic quilt. In effect the constraints of these triple bills show not so much the possibilities of the dancers and choreographers as the nature of the MA Dance Performance program itself.

This is certainly a more varied selection of works than last year and one that tests the dancers in quite different ways. Paradoxically, Jarkko Partanen’s work, Lovers, is the most challenging for its initial lack of any recognizable dance element. Partanen has organized the dancers ‘in such a way as to allow them to act, understand, and continue only through touch’ and in partnership with Laban’s Suzie Holmes has covered them in layers of foil and mesh that entirely obscure their identity; not only is their sight impaired but Partanen has evoked sightlessness in sculptural form. At the beginning there is an uncompromising lack of sound, too, leaving the audience to ponder in silence what appears to be a neat row of black plastic bags on the upper side of Fay Patterson’s square of floor lights. The initiation of movement is barely perceptible but as the dancers rise in their coverings Partanen’s vision is transferred to their sense of touch. Their challenge in subsequent couplings and grouping is to convey the sensory limitation as sensually and naturally as possible. When it is successful it is powerfully poignant, but if the level of gestural intention slackens or falters it can become comic. When a mirror ball descends and Rihanna’s Diamonds breaks the silence we feel a sense of relief as our sensory apparatus is restored but for the dancers the concentration must remain until the final, sightless exit.

Hagit Yakira’s The Ar/ct of Moving Forward celebrates the freedom of movement as a mode of expression. The dancers initially walk or run in one by one from alternate sides of the stage; it is like a choreographic form of introduction, but instead of moving forward towards the audience they move away from it, from downstage to upstage, glancing back to look at us and to allow us to look at them. As one exits upstage another enters downstage in a mirror-like procession. The range of movement accumulates and accelerates over the course of the work, reveling in an abandoned enthusiasm that is contagious. As in Lovers, there is more to this choreography than the doing of it; it requires presence over reserve, connection over isolation, solicitude over individuality. The surge of Sabio Janiak’s upbeat score adds to the work’s sense of travel as bubbling pockets of exuberance explode and dissolve in a continuous stream of humanity.

Richard Chappell’s When running starts and stops contains within its title a sense of what has gone before but introduces the articulation and flow of classical dance in an intriguing evocation of ‘animalistic physicality’. Created on eight dancers (there is an alternate cast of six with Orion Hart and Umut Ozdaloglu appearing in both) who form a band of friends caught up in a mysteriously undefined adventure, the work retains a muscular vocabulary that engages the dancers technically and allows individual expression within the whole. Albert E. Dean’s electronic score is implicated in the action like a ninth performer, playing counterpart to the physicality and marking the way forward, while Chappell’s choreographic grammar reveals a convincing ability to coax a story out of movement.


Vincent Dance Theatre, Shut Down, Onca Gallery, Brighton Festival

Posted: June 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vincent Dance Theatre, Shut Down, Onca Gallery, Brighton Festival

Vincent Dance Theatre, Shut Down, Onca Gallery, Brighton Festival, May 24

Shut Down

Janusz Orlik and Jack Sergison in Shut Down (photo: Bosie Vincent)

Shut Down is a confluence of the current sexual politics whirling around the #MeToo campaign and Charlotte Vincent’s 30-year concern with gender politics at the heart of her work since she started her company in 1994. It’s Vincent’s first all-male work, and as dancer Robert Clark explains at the beginning as if introducing a BBC documentary on the subject and very much aware that he is also one of the subjects under scrutiny, it’s ‘about men’. Shut Down appears at the Brighton Festival as a film installation at Onca Gallery, but it has also been conceived as a live performance. Bosie Vincent’s stunning visual transformation of the choreography projected on a row of six screens takes advantage of the medium to present the work not only in the context of a stage setting but also transposes sections to the landscape and architecture of East Sussex and Kent. By adjusting our gaze and focus from the particular to the panoramic, from the individual to the ensemble, and from interior to exterior, he adds layers of meaning to the conceptual framework of the choreography.

The stage setting will be familiar to those who have seen Vincent’s Motherland, with its black and white costumes on a white floor that extends up the back wall on which words and designs can be scrawled in charcoal as part of a shorthand that links ideas and emotions with choreographic gesture; we can read Vincent’s work as well as see it. In the case of Shut Down, the writing on the back wall of the theatre starts with the word MAN in capital letters — what Clark suggests is ‘the problem’ — and grows in the course of the work into a complex lexicography of descriptive, angry, caustic and mocking words and phrases about the current state of manhood. In her focus on gender inequality, Vincent has not held men in high esteem and has judged them, as in Motherland, in contradistinction to women. In Shut Down, there is no contradistinction, no emotional or behavioural reference; this is a roast in which men of three generations (Clark, Jake Evans, Janusz Orlik, Jack Sergison, Marcus Faulkner and James Rye) act out their stereotypes of masculinity in the absence of women.

In the program note, Vincent writes that ‘Shut Down grapples with the personal and the political: the urge to fight, to love, to come together, to be yourself, to be what’s expected of you, to break the rules. The work shines a fierce and sometimes funny light on misogyny, role modelling, fatherhood, ‘otherness’ and how we fail to engage with young men and their emotional needs. The voices of young people are urgent and moving in the work — they show us, as a society, where we really are.’

Vincent shines a warm light on the young men and they play their role of foils to their elders with a poignant innocence. Evans is a particularly charismatic performer who is allowed the freedom to embrace the fullness of his ‘otherness’. The focus of Vincent’s scorn is on the older generation who are set up as white sexual predators, figures lacking empathy, lost, or all three; she does not let them evolve outside a visual and choreographic image that excoriates them, a generalized construct verging on misandry. Clark and Orlik seem destined to illustrate all that is wrong with men and are all too keen to plead guilty to all offences; they are placed on the firing line and given the rifles. There is no humour in Shut Down that is not caustic or sardonic, no play that is not illustrative of a breakdown in relations. The one who is allowed to escape this sense of failed masculinity is Sergison who is nevertheless balanced precariously between youth and the conflicted trap of manhood. In the final game of hide-and-seek where he is abandoned by the others, his frustration — ‘Guys, you always do this to me’ — is a moment where the imagery gains in power from the words and the words resonate with the imagery. Elsewhere in Shut Down the subject of maleness is too often betrayed by a verbal and conceptual content, underlined by Eben’flo’s raw, castigatory spoken word, that acts like a web in which the older men are hung out to dry. As the three generations dance around a burning fire towards the end in an act of communal resolution the filmed image is superimposed by Vincent’s crackling flames with their traditional connotation of Hell. These men don’t stand a chance.


Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18

Posted: May 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18

Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18, May 12

Ula Liagaitė

Ula Liagaitė performing Duet That Happened (photo: Lukas Mykolaitis)

Imagine a whirlwind approaching and the one idea you have is to penetrate it so you can experience the eye of the storm. Francis Alÿs, an artist who is known for his sardonic political statements through mediated events in which he himself often performs, did exactly this over a period of ten years and recorded it in a video, Tornado. The work could be understood as a metaphor for entering into the nature of a phenomenon through its exterior appearance and of getting mixed up in the unpredictability of the encounter. Ula Liagaitė, who trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, was inspired by Alÿs to imagine how she might adapt his poetics of the unattainable in choreographic terms. Her body has the same materiality but the whirlwind has become a cylindrical metal sculpture by Liagaitė’s sister, Bartė, a free-standing structure with a vertical axle connecting two broad, horizontal cylinders, part double boiler — the initial lighting gives it a copper colour — and part smooth industrial gearing.

Liagaitė prepares for the encounter in a choreographic prelude based of a mix of boxing and classical dance comprising fast footwork, hands held close to the chest and the bobbing, ducking gestures invoked against an invisible sparring partner; she is both protective and pugnacious. She punctuates the sparring by dropping to the floor like a puppet whose strings have been loosened. Wearing a casual, loose-fitting, gold-coloured robe, Liagaitė’s dancing figure contrasts with the stillness of the cylindrical construction; in the darkened studio with a single light that spills on both we witness the close but unresolved relationship between the two. Finally, when she is ready — and as Mikas Zabulionis’ rumbling score reaches a shrill climax — she crosses the short distance to the cylinders to begin her duet.

Liagaitė writes in the program note that, like the experience of watching Tornado, ‘this piece is about a particular feeling that there’s always something bigger than us.’ The duet that is about to happen is already inevitable because the two objects, one human and one mechanical, are drawn to each other by both the object’s offer of experience and Liagaitė’s will to accept it. She approaches the object with reverence before familiarizing herself with its surfaces; there is something of an encounter between two lovers, sensing the perimeters of the body and its contours. However, getting inside the structure was never going to be seamless; Liagaitė has set herself the choreographic task of climbing into a sculptural object that is static — unlike the whirlwind — in order to fulfil its promise of motion. A slight hesitation is perhaps expected at the threshold of a new experience, but once the resistance is overcome Liagaitė sets the cylinders turning from her invisible place inside. We only hear her breathy voice above the whirling sound as a witness of her achievement: ‘I might just be here in the heart of the storm…I feel like I have no control over this thing…’ The duet has started and the pair remains in a dynamic, poetic embrace until the end.

This is the most successful part of the performance — and perhaps the crux of Liagaitė’s vision for the work — in which light, sound and the sensual duet of body and machine converge. As an acknowledgement of the idea of a whirlwind, Liagaitė loses her gown somewhere in the depths of the structure so that when she rises above its turning rim her naked torso is juxtaposed with the polished surfaces and the lighting projects flame-like reflections on her body. Shadows and burnished metal turn slowly before us as Liagaitė’s dancing body sits calmly, climbs or leans out from her mechanical partner in perfect equilibrium, urging on the revolutions to heighten the sense of motion and emotion in her union. She drops down to the floor holding on to the rim and lets the dynamic of the whirling cylinders dictate her momentum of repeated phrases of abandoned falling, slithering and turning. There is a question of who is in control, but as the momentum dies down and the cylinders come to rest, she finds composure sitting on the rim, flushed but with a sense of regret, as if to say, ‘I’ve achieved what I wanted but I’m sorry it’s over.’ Fetching her gown and putting it on she returns to her sparring in the single light until the darkness and a sense of calm descend. The duet has happened.


Vilma Pitrinaitė, We cie, Somaholidays at New Baltic Dance’18

Posted: May 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vilma Pitrinaitė, We cie, Somaholidays at New Baltic Dance’18

Vilma Pitrinaitė, We cie, Somaholidays, New Baltic Dance’18, Vilnius, May 11

Somaholidays

Publicity shot for Somaholidays (photo: Mantas Stabačinskas, collage: Nicholas Matranga)

From the few works and works-in-progress I was able to see at New Baltic Dance’18, the emphasis was on the body as subject, on its expressive nature as an eloquent biological and physical means of communication before any psychological or narrative expectation is placed on it. This is the thrust of Vaidas Jauniškis’s introduction to the festival brochure ‘Hearing The Body’. As he writes, ‘I believe that before diving into new work, all creators of dance consider not only what they wish to say but also what the body says on that particular topic and how, at the end of the day, it adjusts the concept and original idea.’

From the beginning of Vilma Pitrinaitė’s Somaholidays it is the bodies of the three dancers (Pitrinaitė, Mantas Stabačinskas and Darius Algis Stankevičius) that are the focus of attention; we rely on associations, visual references and transposed personal experiences to discern in these bodies a discourse that corroborates or interrogates our own. The discourse is based on Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, Brave New World, where ‘…if ever anything unpleasant should somehow happen — why, there is always soma to give us a holiday from the facts.’ Huxley was one of the first intellectuals to experiment with controlled mescaline and LSD trips in the 1950s and wrote about it with evident relish in a separate essay, The Doors of Perception. In Brave New World, soma had become a readily available pharmaceutical product to take one’s mind off the numbing reality of everyday life. What Pitrinaitė has done is to imagine the daily routine of three friends as a series of repetitive, mechanical, interconnected and interlocking physical phrases; we might be able to hear them dancing were it not for Arūnas Periokas’ manic mash-up of a booming, relentless clubbing beat — 120 beats to the minute — that overlays and drives the performance. What the bodies paradoxically achieve in the course of the performance is a trance-like intensity of complex patterns that in themselves constitute an altered reality.

We enter the performance in lighthearted mode through a projected film of the three friends hiking up a wooded hillside to reach a sunny clearing at the top, then lying in the grass to rest. The camera sees the trio from above, an eye that mediates a simple narrative that is easily recognizable and relaxed. On screen the figures are not full size so when the action metamorphoses to the stage the three dancers appear at first like giants posing in the dark for an imaginary photograph. From the blackout Vladas Serstobojevas’ light scans up from the floor to reveal Rūta Junevičiutė’s spring costume collection in forest patterns and colours: first the sneakers, then the sylvan leggings, followed by tight, tie-died t-shirts; tanned faces unfurl last behind sunglasses. The three are linked around the shoulders and waists, the two men looking cool on either side of Pitrinaitė whose face is raised in a fixed, satiated smile.

This is a holiday snap, one of the rare if not the only moment of stillness in the piece. Once the three start moving they never stop; movement becomes a form of thought, or perhaps a self-induced physical substitute for non-thinking. Because of the small scale of the theatre and Junevičiutė’s stage design of a continuous white rectangle like an unrolled photographer’s backdrop, the figures appear constantly as close-up body portraits; we cannot escape the onslaught of physical energy. By the end of the 40 minutes I am exhausted.

There is another aspect to Somaholidays’ bodily discourse: Pitrinaitė has chosen to work with dancers of different generations, so the signals their bodies emit add to the richness of the discourse. In his introduction, Jauniškis refers to age as another limitation that has been challenged and overcome in the drive to broaden the dance body’s acceptance as a physical instrument, citing the 50-year performance career of Yvonne Rainer. On stage there is no disparity in quality between the three performers, only in the selection of vocabulary, so they all merge into one continuously evolving form.

The climax — or flowering — of Somaholidays is its breaking out musically and choreographically into three separate variations. Each dancer performs to a chosen song that Periokas has incorporated seamlessly into the score and the variations come across as the ultimate reward of the respective bodies to express themselves as they wish, unfettered, as if the effect of soma has finally found its mark. This mood continues in a return to the filmed outing, with the three revitalized dancers descending the hill to their car discussing the absurd reality of rehearsal schedules.