Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge

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

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge, Sadler’s Wells, May 17

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Aug dem Gebirge (photo: Karl-Heinz Krauskopf)

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Aug dem Gebirge (photo: Karl-Heinz Krauskopf)

What a pleasure to see Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal again at Sadler’s Wells; quite apart from the stimulation of Bausch’s scintillating and dark imagination it is the quality of performance that is so refreshing. Dominique Mercy and Lutz Förster’s soft shoe duet in the second half of Auf dem Gebirge is brilliant in its shabby simplicity, in its evocation of master and servant, of old friends, of two clowns or tramps, all in one. Michael Strecker’s, fleshy, disfigured presence doesn’t miss a menacing beat throughout and Ditta Miranda Jasjfi’s tearful stand interrupted by the audience piling out to the bar in the intermission is theatrical presence on a stoic scale. The entire company is as note perfect as a fine symphony orchestra and they perform without their conductor. They reveal themselves in all their simplicity and complexity; that is what Bausch wanted of them. It occurred to me that for each member of the company the performance of Bausch’s works since her death must be a form of re-living her constant enquiry and coaxing (however hard that might have been) that are at the heart of each work. In her obituary of Bausch in 2009, Deborah Jowitt mourned for the company as ‘a particular, intimate extension of her own body and creative mind.’ Fortunately, like a family that has survived the departure of a parent, her company is still performing in her spirit.

Another aspect of a Bausch performance is the completeness of the elements. The music is never simply an accompaniment but a calibrated tuning of the drama through Bausch’s long collaboration with Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider; Auf dem Gebirge’s score comprises a crackly recording of Billy Holiday’s powerful Strange Fruit, a symphonic anthem by Mendelssohn, rock and roll, songs sung by the dancers and a brass band playing on stage. And then there are the settings, the visual frame of the dramas. In an interview with set designer Peter Pabst in the program, Sarah Crompton reveals the way he worked with Bausch: ‘Pabst would spend time in rehearsals as Bausch asked the dancers questions and they responded. As he watched, ideas and images would come into his mind, and he would begin to place drawings and photographs on the large table where Bausch sat. “If she didn’t say anything, I would just take it away and try something else because apparently it was not good enough. I would never try to push anything — it had to be so good that she would react.” Pabst describes Auf dem Gebirge as a ‘collection of images which are created by the dancers on stage, so I don’t think I made a model.’ He found himself thinking of a ploughed field. “It was a period where Pina was interested in reducing dance. She liked the idea of having really difficult ground — grass in 1980, carnations in Nelken, and this” — ‘this’ being a stage with a slight rake covered in 10 cubic metres (or 2 tons) of soil.

Auf dem Gebirge (or to give it its full name, Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört, which translates as On the Mountain a Cry Was Heard) is stark, both in its burnt earth landscape with felled fir trees and smoke and in its choreographic imagery. The title refers to Herod’s murder of the innocents (Hannah Weibye nails it precisely) but even without this knowledge it is Bausch’s imagination — by definition outside the realm of rational dissection — that allows us the freedom to respond to her work in our own way. If we laugh — and there are moments of parody and surreal imagery in the darkness — cry, are outraged or annoyed, we will not be unmoved.

This is perhaps because Bausch shares her work with her dancers; she does not direct them to illustrate her observations (as a painter might direct his or her own imagination on to the canvas) but allows them to respond to her questioning. An idea in her head might appear on stage diffracted through a dancer’s own sensibility even if it remains anchored to her original stimulus. The resulting images, edited scrupulously by Bausch, do not form a linear narrative but are imbued with a time and place, many times and places, or the same time and place repeatedly. She deals in the perception of vertical time on stage — the intensity of fragments of time —while we in the audience might be concerned with horizontal time, looking for the links between those moments. In this sense her work is filmic, moving forwards, backwards and sideways, up and down to capture a form for her imagination. Perhaps Pabst’s style of working with Bausch is similar to the way the dancers worked with her. If they responded in a way that caught her imagination she could work with it. If not, it didn’t appear. It says a lot that these dancers were raised to always strive to bring out their full potential for Bausch; she was the choreographer but also, as she insisted, part of the audience. Now she is gone, they can strive only to perform these works to the best of their ability. It raises questions for the future, but for now we are fortunate to be able to see them at work.

From Thursday until Sunday this week the company will be performing another work from the 1980s: Ahnen. Treat yourself to a ticket if you can.


Jasmin Vardimon Company: MAZE

Posted: April 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Jasmin Vardimon Company & Turner Contemporary: MAZE, Winter Gardens, Margate, April 11

By Ian Abbott

An scene in Jasmin Vardimon Company's MAZE (photo: Martin Godwin)

An scene in Jasmin Vardimon Company’s MAZE (photo: Martin Godwin)

‘Show not what has been done, but what can be. How beautiful the world would be if there were a procedure for moving through labyrinths.’ (Umberto Eco)

Nothing has shifted.

MAZE offers no prologue, no rules and no explanation; therefore everything is permitted. As the audience (30 capacity) are de-coated, de-bagged and de-shoed in airlock settings and broken down from 30 to 10 we are eventually granted permission by a MAZE Guardian to enter. A labyrinth has but one path; to qualify as a maze there must be choices and it is when we’re finally permitted to enter one at a time that we are presented with our first choice. Left or right? Philosophically this idea of choice is central to the work; MAZE is an offer to engage, to play, to look and to share as much or as little as you’re willing to in a cathedral of foam with 20 performers for 35 minutes.

I entered MAZE twice (the one in the afternoon is a place where children are welcome and the one in the evening has some amended content and is suitable for adult eyes only). In the afternoon I gobbled up experiences and was hungry for content; I frenzied around MAZE, mimicking the intensity of the performers. The eruptions of movement, the slamming of self and others into foam walls was enhanced by the close proximity of my witnessing. The brutal and technical physicality which Vardimon’s choreography demands resonated much deeper for me than when it has previously been presented on a stage. I left MAZE drunk, having thrown, rolled and foamed myself senseless in this new world.

‘It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling-bond between two people.’ (Lewis Hyde)

For my second entrance I chose to behave differently; to dwell in spaces more, to follow performers, let experiences unfurl, deepen my interaction and actually taste the MAZE. This approach offered a rewarding and embedded experience; more akin to the agency experienced in a computer game. I oscillated between two single characters who were giving me tasks to complete with miniature rewards in return and it was this ability to alter the course (not of the whole) of my experience that created a tissue of connection between myself and MAZE. One time I alone witnessed a depraved act and after it was complete the perpetrator buried me in foam and escaped from me and the echoes of the space.

In both performances, as I poured myself into the moment I was choosing to commit to, I recognised that there are many other moments (hidden exchanges, group choreographies, intimate moments of revelation) that are happening and I could be experiencing, but was not. I resolved this envy of the other and resisted the pull of what could be as these were the internal ceremonies and external theatres that I had chosen to be a part of.

The level of preparation and the ability to improvise when the performers had no control of what was going to happen or what an audience member would say to them left me feeling confident that they were able to deal with any interaction. This confidence and ability to shift and flex alongside the material triggered an instinct in me to acknowledge the intensity of the gaze and fix my eyes onto theirs.

You can decide to stand still and in that same act, you can decide you’re waiting for something. Nothing has shifted. Everything has shifted.

In such a highly controlled entrance and immersion in a space, the ending and exit of this clearly defined world felt inconsistent. We were offered the possibility of an awkward wedding dance duet outside the structure with one of the company and then left to drift away of our own accord. However, it will be the previous 35 minutes that linger longer as those exchanges are embossed on my skin and still ricocheting around my brain.

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are – if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.’ (Joseph Campbell)

Shobana Jeyasingh: Bayadère – The Ninth Life

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

Shobana Jeyasingh: Bayadère – The Ninth Life, The Point, April 2

Shobana Jeyasingh's company in Bayadère - The Ninth Life (photo © Beinn Muir)

Shobana Jeyasingh’s company in Bayadère – The Ninth Life (photo © Beinn Muir)

I have to admit Shobana Jeyasingh’s new work, Bayadère – The Ninth Life baffled me at first; I couldn’t see a line through it. It is divided into three seamless acts but the first two look backwards in order for the third to move forwards. The past, like the ballast that it is, creates a certain resistance.

The work references the classical ballet, La Bayadère, choreographed in 1877 in Imperial Russia by the French ballet master Marius Petipa to a score by the Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus based on a story of Indian devadasi, or temple dancers. Jeyasingh’s attention is on the cultural inaccuracies in the production she saw some years ago: ‘I was bewitched by the choreography and the dancing. The poetic Kingdom of the Shades had me mesmerized. However I left the performance unsettled and with many unexpected questions. Why did the characters greet each other with such an un-Indian gesture? Why did the holy man (the fakir) move in an animal-like and servile manner? Why did the attendants of the golden dancing idol have blacked-up faces and dance so naively in contrast to the rest of the cast? Why was the Hindu temple dancer more reminiscent of an Ottoman Odalisque with matching water pot? I wondered just how much information about India was available to Europe at the time of the ballet’s creation in 1877.’

Such questions underlie a deeper concern, something Jeyasingh elaborated in a challenge to the dance community called Dance Making in the High Street at the recent Dance UK conference. The challenge is to cultural authenticity. Jeyasingh suggests the inaccuracies in La Bayadère stem less from ignorance in the west about India as from a deliberate manipulation of the facts to fit a contemporary image of the country’s culture. Jeyasingh cites a story from the nineteenth century ballet critic (and author of the scenario of Giselle) Théophile Gautier. Having seen a performance in London by Marie Taglioni in the role of a devadasi, Gauthier was perplexed by the appearance in 1838 of a troupe of genuine devadasi on tour in Paris. He tried to reconcile his vision of Taglioni with the genuine article in the person, particularly, of one of the dancers, Amany, about whom he wrote at length. Whatever his own feelings about Amany, Gautier realised that Parisian society was less interested in the real person than in the romantic fiction.

As an Indian choreographer living in England with an established company of dancers of several nationalities, Jeyasingh states that such cultural attitudes are still at play. ‘In dance we have an urge to see Indians produce art that delivers the comfort of knowing that it fulfills somebody else’s idea of what Indians do.’ At the conference two of her dancers, Avatâra Ayuso and Teerachai Thobumring, perform fragments of her Bayadère choreography that derive from what she calls ‘the high street’ of British choreography, a place where ‘people are in a constant stage of emergence.’ The dancing is authentic, luminous, intricate and emotionally powerful.

In effect, Jeyasingh has put these three elements together in her new work: it begins with the historical context of La Bayadère — a kind of lecture demonstration in which a blogger describes his experience of seeing a recent production as the dancers take on the roles of the scenario — followed by an exotic tableau of a devadasi (subtly embodied in the male body of Sooraj Subramaniam) being sniffed, tugged and inspected by an adoring public, and a final section in which Jeyasingh gives free rein to her own choreography. It is not without irony that the dancers enter in similar fashion to the famous entrance of the Kingdom of the Shades. Gabriel Prokofiev’s score samples that of Minkus but like Jeyasingh’s choreography finds its own contemporary identity.

I was more convinced of Jeyasingh’s position watching her Dance UK talk than watching Bayadère – The Ninth Life; at the conference the ideas and the choreography had a magical unity whereas the performance was like seeing the argument processed through three different choreographic filters. Of course at the conference she is addressing the dance community and its governing bodies — with whom she clearly has outstanding issues — whereas the new work is aimed at general audiences. But I am not convinced she needs to do this at all; Strange Blooms that I saw at the end of 2013 had already jettisoned any extraneous cultural identity. Jeyasingh has one of the most interesting minds working in choreography today but this recent effort to justify her position detracts from her full potential; poetry is one of the first elements to submit to the dictates of rational argument. Perhaps Bayadère – The Ninth Life is simply one of those necessary stages of Jeyasingh’s creativity that, once expressed, will lead to new work that will speak unerringly for itself.


The Royal Ballet: Triple Bill (Balanchine, Schechter and MacMillan)

Posted: April 12th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Royal Ballet, Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, March 30

Hofesh Schecter rehearsing The Royal Ballet cast in  Untouchable

Hofesh Schechter rehearsing The Royal Ballet corps and soloists in Untouchable

The history of a ballet is fascinating but it’s not what you see on stage. A work might be a masterpiece in the canon of ballet history but if it is not danced as a masterpiece what have we just seen? George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, with a brilliantly melodic, syncopated score by Paul Hindemith, is ‘a dance ballet without plot’, and is based on the ancient notion that the human organism is made up of four humours or temperaments: melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric. Balanchine (who commissioned the score) said of his ballet that he had made a negative to Hindemith’s positive plate but as danced by the Royal Ballet this evening something seems to have gone awry in the darkroom. The positive aspect of the score is there, with pianist Robert Clark and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the baton of Barry Wordsworth, but the dancing, with one or two exceptions, is not as closely matched as Balanchine designed it. Writing in 1952 Edwin Denby described The Four Temperaments as ‘developing a ferocity of drive that seems to image the subject matter of its title: internal secretions.’ Apart from Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell in the second theme, a moment when Federico Bonelli comes alive in the second variation and Zanaida Yanowsky’s arresting performance of the Choleric variation, Denby’s ‘ferocity of drive’ is replaced by a pusillanimous parade of Balanchine steps; the jazz-inspired hip movements barely register, the wit is missing and the precision of the choreography abandoned in the execution of the steps. The production is credited as staged by Patricia Neary, but that was possibly when she first set it in 1973. I wonder when it was last visited by Neary or anyone else from The George Balanchine Trust. In its present manifestation, it feels like Balanchine by numbers — or in choreographic terms, by notation.

Hofesh Schechter’s Untouchable, his first work for the Royal Ballet at the invitation of director Kevin O’Hare, is borrowed from his previous work; rather than developing new ideas inspired by new dancers he has simply drawn the new dancers into the comfort of his own mould. Untouchable has costumes with a military theme by Holly Waddington and apocalyptic lighting by Lee Curran who uses industrial amounts of haze and banks of lights to create a total scenography from which the dancers emerge at the beginning and into which they disappear and reappear throughout the work. But Schechter’s swarming choreography and Nell Catchpole’s score (to which Schechter contributed) fuse so seamlessly that Untouchable lacks any contrast; it looks like the staging of something that should be happening but never does. One interesting aspect of the work is that Schechter works only with the corps and soloists: there are no officers in this army as the choreography emphasises. No doubt the administration is happy to have sold out these performances but the programming of Untouchable seems to have less to do with the future of ballet — a topic O’Hare is discussing at the Dance UK conference this weekend — than with making money from a popular choice of choreographer.

The psychological baggage of Untouchable may have a closer affinity to Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria than to his Song of the Earth but it is the latter ballet that the Royal Ballet choses to program this evening. Song of the Earth is, like Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, a milestone in the choreographer’s creative output, a beautiful work that sets Mahler’s symphonic song cycle Song of the Earth to dance. It was not thought acceptable by the Board of the Royal Ballet at the time to choreograph Mahler so MacMillan had to create it on John Cranko’s company in Stuttgart. Happily the value of Song of the Earth has been vindicated since the Royal Ballet took it into its own repertoire 100 performances ago. Not all performances are equal, however. This evening, Laura Morera as the woman in white is the only vestige of transcendent beauty against a rather dense barrier of emotional inertia. Nehemiah Kish’s entrance as The Man — the very first entrance in the ballet — does not augur well and Edward Watson’s subsequent entrance does little to suggest he is the powerful messenger of death. The corps of men has a fey element or two that disturbs an otherwise grounded chorus into a discordant group; the women fare much better and Morera has some strong support in her chorus but she has to struggle too much to establish her emotional credentials with her Man and Death. In a score that is so thoroughly imbued with Mahler’s own struggle with love and death the conviction and sensitivity of this trio is essential to the success of MacMillan’s choreography. Morera’s force of character is convincing but the relationship is not.


Zikzira Physical Theatre: Sea Without Shore

Posted: April 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Zikzira Physical Theatre: Sea Without Shore, Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image, London, March 19

Lívia Rangel and Fernanda Lippi in the film Sea Without Shore

Lívia Rangel and Fernanda Lippi in the film Sea Without Shore

The term ‘dance on film’ can conjure up banks of onstage cameras, screens, computers, technical wizardry and animation in which dance and technology interact like self-conscious collaborators, but here is a dance film on a cinematic scale that simply eschews dialogue for movement. Sea Without Shore is the second film of director André Semenza and choreographer/dancer Fernanda Lippi; the first was Ashes of God. Both films have a fluid narrative driven by intricate direction, superb camera work, fine performances, sensitive scores and breathtaking locations. None of the action takes place on a stage — the stage is the screen — but in countryside or in buildings with an air of abandon or infused with the dying breath of a bygone era. Sea Without Shore is set in rural Sweden, in a summerhouse on a small island built by a wealthy 19th century publisher. The scenery is romantic, remote and ideally suited to the nature of solitude, love and death of which the film speaks. ‘Dissolving under the impact of the loss of her soul mate, a woman is drawn by unknown forces into the depth of mid-winter forests, into spheres of her subconscious.’ While there is no dialogue, Sea Without Shore is not a silent film; it has a score composed by The Hafler Trio (aka Andrew M. McKenzie) threaded with Chopin nocturnes, Parisian accordion and a Swedish folk dance band, and there are two narrators who recite lines of sapphic verse like a stream of consciousness from the 17th century poet Katherine Philips and the fin-de-siècle poets Renée Vivien and Algernon Charles Swinburne. In the version I saw, the narrators recite these fragments in Swedish over English subtitles but the images are so strong and contain within them such poignant clues to the story there is barely any need for the subtitles, even if you don’t understand Swedish. The poetry — and the way it is read by Lippi and Marcela Rosas — adds an ethereal, otherworldly dimension.

As soon as we see the opening image of dense green forest it is clear there is someone with an extraordinary eye behind the camera. Marcus Waterloo is not simply behind the camera but very much immersed in the countryside and in the lives of the film’s characters. His camera work is an integral element of Lippi’s choreography and Semenza’s direction; we see everything through his eye and his eye sees everything through the prism of the poetry. It is this depth of integration between all the film’s elements that makes Sea Without Shore so rich.

“Till the secret be secret no more” is the opening line of the film, taken from Swinburne’s Triads, that opens us to the sense of space and loneliness, of love and loss, of a mysterious beauty within a beauty that is all around. Sea Without Shore, like its title, has no clear boundary; it’s primary narrative is the relationship between two women whom we first see (but do not hear) conversing intimately on an elegant turn-of-the-century sofa that has seen better days. This initial image is suffused with the suggestion of life and decay, ease and dis-ease, love and death, light and dark, past and present that emerge and recede throughout the film: the two warm-blooded horses trudging through the snow with the bodies of two women draped over their backs; Lívia Rangel’s faded, fraying dress that matches the brocade wallpaper against which she stands, and Lippi and Rangel floating head to foot fully dressed in the water, like two Ophelias.

The images carry the film forward and back like horizontal time but there are several choreographed soliloquies in which the power of dance drills down into the consciousness of the individual. In her choreography Lippi focuses on the torso, on the emotional core of the body; Rangel is eloquent even when her movement is understated or still and Waterloo knows precisely when to close in or to keep his distance, as if he were part of her inner dialogue. There is a memorable, dark duet in the woods in which Rangel and Anna Mesquita af Sillén work themselves into a trance of grief.

Sea Without Shore is created in such a way that the sense of impending crisis is never far away; the film doesn’t build in a narrative way but instead adds layers of intensity upon images of ethereal beauty to the point of exquisite pain. If death is a release, it is where the poetry, the images, the dance and the music resolve in Rangel’s final, fateful decision. Sea Without Shore raises the level of dance on film to dance as film. Shot in luscious CinemaScope, it is a production that is best experienced in an intimate, comfortable cinema. There are still opportunities to see it in this way; just check venues, dates and times on the Sea Without Shore Facebook page.

Wild Card: Tim Casson & Friends

Posted: April 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Tim Casson & Friends, Wild Card, Lilian Baylis Studio, March 18

Tim Casson on stage and on film in Fiend

Tim Casson on stage and on film in Fiend

There is something so ebullient about Tim Casson that his Wild Card evening at the Lilian Baylis Studio is bound to be a lively occasion. He takes over the Garden Court Café, the Khan Lecture Theatre as well as the Studio stage and fills them with dance appetizers and main courses that will cater for a broad range of tastes. Oliver Fitzgerald, Chloe Mead, Sarah Blanc and Jen Irons collect stories (in the nicest possible way) from people in the café prior to the main performance to gather material for a dance they will perform later on stage; this is the latest incarnation of Casson’s groundbreaking, record-breaking The Dance WE Made. While we are watching the first part of the evening on stage, these four dancers are editing and rehearsing their accumulated phrases for performance in the second half.

In the half hour before the main performance (it is also repeated in the intermission) Casson curates what he calls First Contact in the Kahn Lecture Theatre, bringing together two pairs of artists who have not worked together before, one a dancer and the other an artist from another discipline. Each pair has been given a speed-dating two days to come up with a collaborative work (collaboration is the name of this evening’s game). The first pair is filmmaker Alisa Boanta and dancer Robert Guy, the second actor/musician Tim van Eyken and dancer/choreographer Dani B Larsen. In Dust You Are Boanta projects a film on to Guy’s bare back that makes him both tactile screen, a live chakra model and actor in his own drama. The film is so cleverly filmed and projected that it is difficult to differentiate the filmed movements from Guy’s own. Van Eyken sings a ballad of a young man lost at sea while Larsen embodies his lover in her interaction with both the story and the storyteller.

On the Studio stage Casson presents three works that continue the theme of collaboration: works by Nina Kov, Cornelia Voglmayr and his own Fiend. Kov’s Copter was first seen as a Place Prize commission in 2012 but she has subtly reworked it from being a duet between a dancer and a remote controlled helicopter to a fable of human interaction with machine. Kov has also removed herself from the protagonist role, allowing her the distance to mould the choreography on Rosie Terry while the copter pilot is the ace Jack Bishop. I remember seeing the original and being more aware of the copter than of the dancer but Kov has now balanced the work to show a charged relationship between the two that runs the gamut from touchingly playful to coldly voyeuristic.

In Voglmayr’s Sonata in 3 Movements dancer Elisa Vassena and violist Benjamin Hooper create a deconstructed sonata in which the dancer’s body, the viola player’s body, the viola and the bow all have a significant and interchangeable role to play. Hooper begins by laying his viola on its side and lying on his back behind it. He reaches over his head to pluck the opening phrase of the glorious Prelude to Bach’s cello suite No. 1 with Vassena dancing her torso on his upturned knees. Throughout the work Voglmayr mischievously sets Hooper an obstacle course, both physical and mental, that tests his ability to return to the Prelude. In the second movement, Vassena gives Hooper a lesson in dance imagination: ‘take your sitting bones for a walk’, ‘imagine your pelvis coming out of your mouth’ ‘imagine yourself a pillar of ashes and your cells are disappearing in the universe’ to which Hooper valiantly submits with hilarious results. In the third movement Vassena holds the bow between her foot and her ear and Hooper presses the viola strings against it to play Bach’s notes in unfamiliar but recognizable fashion. It is a blurring of the familiar demarcation between musician and dancer that is witty and rewarding. Hooper gets his virtuoso moment in the coda while Vassena sits at his feet seemingly unmoved until she gets up and nonchalantly walks him off.

Casson’s Fiend (his definition of wild card?) is a collaboration between himself and computer programmer/operator Tom Butterworth with whom he shares the stage. The work is based on Nijinsky’s ballet L’Après-midi d’un faun where Casson is the faun but his nymphs are multiple images of himself captured in various poses and phrases by an onstage camera that Butterworth then loops on to the backdrop screen when the choreography demands: Butterworth improvises the transference of Casson’s movements on stage so that his screen image interacts with his nymphs. It is complex and the only way to see the logic of it is to watch the screen. Casson is using the technology to explore the dual nature of watching and being watched in an environment of digital manipulation and his adoption of Nijinsky’s lecherous faun adds an element of voyeurism — a subsidiary theme of this Wild Card — to the work’s theme.

The time arrives for The Dance WE Made, which references those who valiantly contributed their stories; it is short and sweet and danced with fun and enthusiasm that makes a strong point of contact with the audience. Casson comperes this part of the show, adding a final coup in which he divides the audience into pairs for a choreographic task: the first partner asks a predetermined question (Where do you live?) and the second answers in purely physical language. The second then asks ‘What kind of house do you live in?’ and the first responds with another phrase of movement. The two responses are then performed together (on stage or in the seats) to form a simultaneous series of short choreographic phrases. Hey presto, the choreographer has demystified choreography in such an unpretentious, engaging way and in doing so has possibly broken another world record for the number of new works created amongst a dance audience in one evening.

15th Cyprus Contemporary Dance Platform

Posted: March 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

15th Cyprus Contemporary Dance Platform, Limassol, Cyprus, March 6-8

The final scene in Harry Koushos' MAN-OEUVRES (photo: Arsham Rafiei)

The final scene in Harry Koushos’ MAN-OEUVRES (photo: Arsham Rafiei)

The Cyprus Contemporary Dance Platform takes place annually over three days, with fifteen main stage performances in the Rialto Theatre and four parallel events at Dance House Lemesos next door. The event is supported generously by the Ministry of Education and Culture to whom I am indebted for being able to attend.

Limassol is a city on the southern coast of Cyprus in which dance is flourishing thanks to the pioneering work over the last fifteen years of the Rialto’s former director, Georgia Doetzer and a stronghold of dedicated dance teachers. The platform is open to the public, the theatre seats 550 and is well attended.

The dance community in Cyprus is close, with choreographers sharing dancers as well as dancing for other choreographers. There is also a pool of dramaturgs, musicians and various designers of sound, lighting and costumes on hand to prepare new works for performance. There seems to be no hierarchy but rather a collective desire to develop the art form; for a relatively small community the variation in ideas and dance forms is diverse.

Two points of emotional contact on the second night set me free from any geographical limitation. One is the final tableau of Harry Koushos’ work, MAN-OEUVRES that brings to mind the laying to rest of five identical brothers-in-arms with their shiny metal shields on a field of smoke to a glorious anthem by Henry Purcell. The movement has finished, the brothers lie in a row and the smoke is dissipating, but the images keep rolling through my imagination as the trumpets ring out over the battlefield: Koushos has captured an essential element of theatre, that of making images of mythological proportions from the artifice of its components. When he can bring all the elements of a work to this level it will be stunning. The other is watching Julia Brendle in a work that begins from the audience and stays in the audience, appropriately titled within and between. It is a duet with Brendle on one side of the auditorium and Marios Konstantinou on the other; they never make it to the stage. It begins very naturally from the premise of self-consciousness at the moment the two performers identify and separate themselves from the audience in which they were sitting and make their way to their respective aisles. It is such a simple idea that takes self-consciousness on a journey from introspection and nervous apprehension to a joyous celebration of gesture that raises the audience to a moment of euphoria. The careful sound design by Panos Bartzis based on a MEW instrumental track supplies the musical structure on which the dance builds. Watching it is like watching a game of tennis, following the performers from one side of the auditorium to the other, but my eyes are focused on how Brendle’s movement spreads by degrees throughout her body and beyond without ever betraying the gestures from which it derives.

There is an interesting cross-fertilization between choreographers Fotis Nikolaou and Hamilton Monteiro. Nikolaou presents his work called Inland (in which both he and Monteiro dance) that derives its mystery and power from the decision to have each of the five performers wear the same masks (designed by Martha Foka). With the elimination of facial expression, it is the posture and gesture of the body that communicates and Nikolaou sets the tone with his initial appearance alone standing almost naked on a platform under top lighting. With the weightless articulation of a bird he steps off and back on to the platform to fetch one item of clothing at a time until he is fully attired. On the same program, Monteiro creates a solo for Nikolaou, Marika’s dress, in which he utilizes a similar quality of movement to depict a controversial society figure (I am relying on the notes) who reacts in solitude to his/her pariah status. Mariko’s dress is more delineated as a piece of dance theatre than Inland — for all its intricate details it is too much like a choreographic maze to be coherent to the end — but the quality of movement in both is distinctive.

Machi Dimitriadou-Lindahl’s Gate for three women and two men is a mature work that celebrates flowing dance movement with patterns of dynamic form and clear imagery linked to a powerful score (two works, by Dimitris Savva and Julia Kent). Dimitriadou-Lindahl heads one of only five dance companies in Cyprus, Asomates Dynameis (Incorporeal Forces/Angels) which she founded as a way of exploring through contemporary dance and martial arts the inner energy and presence of the body. Gate deals with states of consciousness and has the sensitivity of ebbing and flowing energy in the group that ranges from collapse to support, from alienation to spiritual consolation.

Three works share a predilection for stillness, even though their averred creative sources vary, respectively, from sound frequencies to Samuel Beckett to philosophy: Arianna Marcoulides’ solo, Stomach Rumblings, Elena Antoniou’s solo more and (most starkly) Roula Kleovoulou’s duet, Standstill. Each work raises questions about the treatment of silence and about its effect.

Marcoulides lies motionless on what appears to be a thin catafalque as if she is awaiting burial. The lighting by Rialto’s resident designer Aleksandar Jotovic is deliberately somber so we can see the transmission of a crackling green light over her body to which she reacts by slowly raising her chest and feet before shuddering faintly and returning to the supine position. From a visual perspective this happens three times with minor variations but the concept, developed by Marcoulides and sound designer Panis Bartzis, is to relate sonic frequencies to their physiological effect on the human body. This discrepancy between visual and conception means either the science is simply more accessible in the reading than in the images Mercoulides chooses to give us, or the science is a shield for something more mysterious and unspoken to which she is not yet ready to give form.

Antoniou’s more is also divided into three distinct phases: as we enter the auditorium she is standing statuesquely on stage in a black leotard, kneepads and socks. She doesn’t move except for the infinitesimal impulses in the body that manifest in her torso down to her fingers. The kneepads give away Antoniou’s intention to descend to her knees which is a contradiction; the beauty of stillness is in not knowing what, if anything, will succeed it. The light fades very slowly to blackout and when it returns suddenly in full force Antoniou is on her way down to the floor. Interestingly she uses a sketch drawing of a figure by Francis Bacon as her program image; it is this fluid transition to an animalistic posture on her hands and knees that she captures though she doesn’t go for the tortured image of Bacon’s figure in which there appears to be a naked light bulb suspended above it, as in a squalid chamber. Antoniou’s floor movement eschews animality, deriving its form from the stomach or solar plexus with her head restlessly thrashing from side to side, but this doesn’t have sufficient force to justify the descent. She drags herself forward on a diagonal path but stops to stand, quite still, as before. This pattern is repeated with variations twice more until she takes off her socks and steps out of it, as if out of Bacon’s frame.

When the curtain opens on Kleovoulou’s twenty-minute duet, Standstill, there are two standing figures (Arianna Marcoulides and Milena Ugren Koulas) in close proximity and they don’t move for what seems the longest time; my first concern is that the music cue has failed. Ugren Koulas is looking out beyond the audience and Marcoulides is drilling her eyes into the side of her head expecting her to respond; she doesn’t. Panayiotis Manousis limits his lighting to the two faces thus concentrating the intimacy of this standoff but when Marcoulides inclines towards her partner/adversary the lighting opens up to the full stage and the tension starts to dissipate. An offstage fan ruffles the costumes and then stops. Marcoulides fixes her eyes on her partner as she sways like a heavily weighted pendulum, building up a tension that is oppressive, but it is not she who releases it: it is Ugren Koulas who begins to laugh. Suddenly the standoff that has kept the two women and the entire work together becomes meltdown as Marcoulides is reduced by slow, calculated degrees to a wounded, hysterical figure shaking uncontrollably. As soon as she stops the lights drop to black.

On the first night Zoe Georgallis presents For your entertainment only… in which she dances with Konstantina Skalionta and Typhaine Delaup. The work romps through the question of an artist’s identity without really addressing its serious, sometimes tragic nature, so the humour lacks depth (which is what gives it its bite). There is lots of movement referencing flappers and cabaret, but like the humour it lacks context. It is no wonder the disembodied voice of the choreographer as God is not sympathetic.

A trenchant and altogether darker treatment of the dual nature of existence is Alexia Nicolaou’s I will dark you down. I love the quote from Nikos Kazantzakis that headlines her program note: “What is light? Staring with a fearless eye into the darkness.” Nicolaou writes in a highly physical, visceral language that takes I will dark you down to the edge of madness but the distinction between light and dark is not always apparent even though she separates them by using Roza Maria Pantzis as her demonic alter ego. The dark side is well expressed but I am not sure by the end if Nicolaou has developed that ‘fearless eye’ or if her alter ego has got the better of her. One great asset of I will dark you down is the live soundscape by Dimitris Spyrou who transforms an array of found objects into a spooled orchestra of sound.

Vicky Kalla presents Big laugh for ever on which she collaborated with co-dancer Yoav Greenberg. Despite its title, this is more of a playful young love ritual than a big laugh and it is tinged with a sadness, or loss of innocence (symbolized by the pile of hats Greenberg loses one by one to Kalla) that saves it from being cute. There is a third character who sits from beginning to end on the top of a ladder with his back to us. We never see his face but we can see he is writing on a laptop. If he is the author, and Big laugh forever is his story, I don’t know what he adds to the performance; if the dance is his stream of consciousness, it is implicit in the dance. Now if he could cross out a phrase or sentence and rework it, his participation would warrant his inclusion in the work.

Alexandra Waierstall’s Lightless is, according to the program, part of a choreographic study that will lead to a full evening performance to premier in Dusseldorf in the fall, which makes it perhaps two stages away from completion. Nevertheless its otherworldliness is covered by Waierstall’s description of it as ‘minimal science-fiction with humans, plants, objects and feelings.’ The setting appears to be the stage itself after the audience and stagehands have left, a murky lifeless scene but for the spectral presence of Waierstall among several potted palm trees, scattered stage lights, electric fans and three microphones on stands. Fotis Nikolaou and Harry Koushos constitute the human element, the one moving low and stealthily around the stage, the other lighting him with a hand-held lamp but with very little to suggest any emotional relationship between the two. It is as if Waierstall is manipulating her elements — human, vegetable and mineral — to generate arresting images that derail our search for narrative and leave us finally to ponder the sound of the fans blowing the suspended microphones recording the swaying palm fronds: a storm of perception that ‘questions the relationship between man and the environment, ecology and theatre, archaeology and future utopia, the visible and invisible.’ There is clearly more in the description than is contained in this segment of Lightless, so it will be the Dusseldorf audience who benefit from its full evolution.

Konstantina Skalionta’s In the likeness of… is a compassionate observation of the complex relationship between mother and daughter. Ten minutes is not enough time to delve deeply into the relationship but Skalionta conveys her sentiments succinctly in a series of images that flow easily from one to the next. She is helped by Bea Bonafini’s fine red costume that embodies maternal love in the form of a womb and umbilical chord by which Typhaine Delaup emerges from under its voluminous folds. This is not a beatific vision of motherhood — Skalionta doesn’t shy away from the daughter’s struggle for independence and the cat fights — but it does celebrate it in a heartfelt way. She also links the work to her own childhood by singing a traditional Cypriot lullaby which is then taken up by Irma Vastakaite on violin. By the end the roles of mother and daughter seem to reverse but it is ultimately the umbilical chord that draws them together and erases any differentiation.

Alexander Michael’s Diluted Intentions is perhaps the first neo-classical dance inspired by grant applications. The set is a permutation of a chessboard with black and white squares on the floor and corresponding grid-like variations projected on the backdrop. The white squares on the floor turn out to be sheets of paper representing the grant application form whose wording appealed to Michael’s sense of humour, or to his sense of the absurd. Official documents can do that, but he appears to have navigated them well enough to be included on the platform. Diluted Intentions also refers to the nature of the creative process: ‘The artist, who claims to create a work that reflects society must embark on a creative process during which the artist, being open to intuitive choices, inevitably discovers new intentions during this process, resulting in Diluted Intentions.’ So while this is cerebrally a work about funding applications, the choreography explores a strategic game — something between chess and hop scotch — for four dancers, Julia Brendle, Rania Glymitsa, Dara Milanovic-Michael and Alexia Perdikakis, in which they watch each other intently before deciding on their next move. The footwork is fast and the lines long, but the gestures are what distinguish the work, especially in the extended improvisation by Brendle at the end.

Gestures are what bring the platform to a close in Happiness by Milena Ugren Koulas in which she performs with her husband, musician George Koulas. The program note relates the title to Aristotle’s philosophy of happiness, but looking at Ugren Koulas’ dance as language, happiness is a physical condition in which the body is a finely-tuned instrument of expressive power that the dancer can ‘play’ for the benefit of self and others. It is therefore fascinating to see the interplay between dancer and musician — Koulas on drums and singing — in which first one and then the other take the lead until they are both performing in rapturous harmony, a tour de force of gesture and percussion.

During the three days of the platform there are two parallel events at Dance House Lemesos. It is a studio and performance space set up in 2007 by five Cyprus-based dance companies with a common vision to create a structure that would allow dance art to develop on the island and also act as a portal for international collaborations and exchange. There are four performances staged in Dance House and the intimate, relaxed environment is ideal for them.

Take a marble torso of a young maiden from the archaeological museum and bring her alive with a piercing gaze, expressive limbs and a red bonnet and you have an idea of Aneesha Michael’s hauntingly serene presence. Her Quest is performed in a metaphorical landscape of a whitewashed block of four miniature steps and a small pile of talcum powder. The negotiation of these steps represent the obstacles Michael challenges with perilous equilibrium (she is not dissembling but presenting herself with problems of balance that she then resolves) and the powder that releases its particles and fragrance into the air as she passes with swirling patterns and fluid arm gestures is the transfiguration of her experience into mystical delight. Quest is a work whose qualities are invested in the performer; Michael is, as a colleague suggested, as much a medium as a dancer, channeling values that seem to come from somewhere beyond our mundane experience. Consciously or unconsciously we are all on this quest; Michael in her unornamented simplicity is showing us the way.

Another refreshing work in Petros KonnarisNude Tree that is the most honest expression of the nude body I have yet seen. In a round table series of introductions on the opening morning of the Platform, he says he dances without clothes because he simply loves to be naked and it is this enthusiasm and lack of artifice that makes his work so engaging. Through careful manipulation of his body — he maps his way around the floor, usually upside down, with his hands and feet like a cartographer’s calipers — he creates forms that reveal the body, particularly his back, in startling beauty and yes, there are similarities between his upturned torso and supporting arms to the trunk of a tree. The latter part of his work is more playful but could be interpreted as a statement of his choice to be naked. His pants and shirt lie on the floor and he sets out to superimpose his body on first the pants and then the shirt, without ever putting them on. Lying on his back he lifts the hems of his pants in his prehensile toes so they fall over the contours of his legs then joins them meticulously to his shirt. He finishes by defiantly screwing up both into a ball with his feet and walking off the stage into the sunlight outside.

Evie Demetriou was pregnant when she created the duet Double Days (a term that refers to the ‘workload of men and women who work to earn money, but also have responsibility for unpaid, domestic labour’) and it is the experience of motherhood that not only links the three women — Demetriou herself and performers Milena Ugren Koulas and Rania Gymitsa — but informs the creative process. Questions about the female body, about desire and sex after giving birth, about husbands (‘they are all beautiful….from a distance’) are all exposed through graphic demonstration, satirical text and Ugren Koulas as radio commentator fielding listeners’ accounts of sex in extraordinary places. Double Days is framed in a highly physical language that puts the female body into the role of commentator, heroine and victim but it clearly derives its significance from the context of feminist politics, albeit of a good-humoured, non-judgmental variety.

The final work of the parallel events is a work in progress by Harry Koushos, the time quality. It continues Koushos’ exploration of the visual and aural qualities of thin metal sheeting. In his MAN-OEVRES he uses the same metal sheeting to create a thunderous interlude that we hear from behind the stage, but here the dancer is only ten feet away. At the same time Koushos projects images on to the metal sheet, abstract when it is at rest and a series of buildings raining down when the sheet is in rapid motion. The dancer, tall and thin like Koushos himself, makes his elongated way around the stage on variations of all fours, followed by another dancer lighting him with a mobile stage light. Both sound and light have a harsh, apocalyptic quality that is not expressed to the same degree in the movement. As in MAN-OEUVRES, Koushos is searching for a complete scenographic expression in which the dancers play a visual role.

Yorke Dance Project’s Figure Ground: A Tribute to Robert Cohan

Posted: March 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Yorke Dance Project, Figure Ground, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, March 10

Robert Cohan and Yolande Yorke-Edgell in rehearsal (photo: © Pari Naderi)

Robert Cohan and Yolande Yorke-Edgell in rehearsal (photo: © Pari Naderi)

A lot of attention is being paid to choreographer Robert Cohan as he approaches his ninetieth birthday: there’s a biography by Paul Jackson, The Last Guru – Robert Cohan’s Life in Dance; a birthday celebration at The Place at the end of March and these performances of new and old work by Cohan performed by Yolande Yorke-Edgell and her company Yorke Dance Project. Cohan studied dance at the Martha Graham School and joined the Graham company in 1946, becoming a soloist and partnering Graham herself. You can’t get much closer to the sources of modern dance than that. At the invitation of Robin Howard in 1967 Cohan came to London to pass on his experience and knowledge as the founding artistic director of The Place, London Contemporary Dance School and London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT) for which he created works for 20 years. On The Place website there is a wonderful photograph of him in the rehearsal studio, with an intense, intelligent expression that somehow captures the excitement of those early years of contemporary dance in England.

The first of Cohan’s works on the program is Canciones del Alma, set to a poem of the 16th century mystic St John of the Cross by composer Geoffrey Burgon. It cannot be anything but a spiritual work with the poem’s vocabulary of the ‘living flame of love’, ‘tender wounds of the soul’, ‘deep caverns of feeling’, and the ‘tender swelling of the heart’. Cohan clearly feels this text profoundly and his choreography is the vessel for that feeling. Like Graham’s work, the shapes come from and are inhabited by the deeply felt emotion of the performer and the cohesion of the choreography depends on the sequence and flow of emotions. Yorke-Edgell performed Canciones del Alma last year in the same theatre and she evoked movingly a battle between divine love and the wounds it imposed. At the very end she resolved it in a final gesture of cupped hands to her womb that seemed to free both her and the work. On Tuesday the emotional coherence wasn’t as apparent and the work remained unresolved. There was indeed a heaviness in the evening’s performance that capped the level of emotional intensity.

Even Charlotte Edmonds’ intelligent work, No Strings Attached, lacked the spring in its step that I remember last year. In creating the work, Edmonds was inspired by the spatial relationships between the dancers (the term ‘figure ground’ applies to the spatial relationship between figures on a canvas). The dancers have changed which may have upset the balance; the steps are there, the mature musicality is there but the life of the work is subdued. Set to Michael Gordon’s Weather One, which has both a rhythmic structure and an atmospheric feel, No Strings Attached weaves three men and three women in a series of rich groupings and patterns connected by grounded steps that give a sense of energy rising from the ground, with frequent yoga positions that add a layer of calm spirituality. Lucy Hansom’s lighting enhances the forms, gently bathing the bare arms and legs left exposed by Peter Todd’s costumes. Edmonds derives the dynamics of her steps directly from the music (Weather One employs plenty of canon form that Edmonds seems to enjoy) which in turn informs the nature of her shapes; they are abstract but inherently musical; she doesn’t require her dancers to inhabit them, as Cohan does, with emotional meaning. Her partnering is less interesting, but as a first professional commission No Strings Attached is impressive in its unpredictable play of form, dynamics, musical phrasing.

Cohan’s Lingua Franca is a new work, albeit inspired by an earlier one, Agora, from 1984. It is set on four dancers — Yorke-Edgell, Jonathan Goddard, Phil Sanger and Laurel Dalley-Smith — and responds to their ‘unique physical language’ but the visual package looks back to an earlier era when making the stage resemble a studio was a way of including the audience in the choreography. Lingua Franca opens with all the dancers entering ‘the rehearsal studio’ in their practice clothes, with their own accessories, warm-up routine and greeting, and with Yorke-Edgell preparing for rehearsals from a video on her laptop. By contrast a stagehand wheels in a video screen (that looks as if it was brand new in 1984) on which we see a small film of Cohan in rehearsal. What few studios have, however, is a grand piano, and tonight’s pianist, Eleanor Alberga, was for many years the musical backbone of LCDT. Before she sits to play, she runs (literally) through her own warm up of punching the air and touching her toes. While the dancers prepare Alberga plays her own composition over which we hear the voice of Cohan instructing the dancers. The stage clears except for Goddard who stands at the open piano. He signals to Alberga who starts Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s Chaconne in D minor as Goddard starts to move, except that he is frowning at Alberga as if she is playing the wrong piece. His solo reaches as high as it sinks low into the ground, like the music itself; Sanger enters with a twisted cabriole step, Yorke-Edgell begins her solo with both men lying on the floor and when Dalley-Smith enters she looks at all three wondering what she can do. It’s an artificial setting in which the dancers’ lingua franca — their styles of movement — are too diverse to give coherence to Cohan’s choreography, giving a sense that Alberga’s powerful interpretation of the Chaconne covers the entire piece like a heaven and earth in which the four figures are searching for paths in unfamiliar territory.

Yorke-Edgell’s own Unfold to Centre is clearly influenced by Cohan; even its title is redolent of the days of LCDT. It is perhaps the choreographer’s acknowledgement of her mentor’s generosity in supporting the project and of the investment of his creative time in its fruition. Unfold to Centre takes as its starting point a 1978 computer animated film by Larry Cuba, 3/78, in which ‘sixteen objects, each consisting of one hundred points of light, perform a series of precisely choreographed, rhythmic transformations.’ An edited version of Cuba’s film is projected on the backdrop and floor, providing a kind of blueprint for the choreography. Goddard is the centre figure who initially suggests movement that the others transform, a mixed image of a king and his deferential courtiers or of a planetary system. There are arm gestures that are pure Cohan and port de bras that are based on the classical fifth position. With all the movement of Cuba’s 3/78 projections, the bodies of the dancers appear monolithic as if participating in a science fiction ritual and only regain their humanity as they come together at the end.

There is so much to admire in what Yorke-Edgell has accomplished here: the place of honour given to Cohan as creator and mentor, the support of Edmonds as an aspiring choreographer and the reminder of the foundations of contemporary dance in England. The figure ground changes between these elements but it is Cohan who comes most clearly into focus.


English National Ballet, Modern Masters

Posted: March 21st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

English National Ballet, Modern Masters, Sadler’s Wells, March 11

Max Westwell and Tamara Rojo in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (photo © ASH)

Max Westwell and Tamara Rojo in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort (photo © ASH)


The three modern masters represented in English National Ballet (ENB)’s triple bill at Sadler’s Wells — Jiří Kylián, John Neumeier and William Forsythe — are all related in that they learned their trade in John Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet before forging their own distinctive styles of classical dance in their respective companies: Kylián in The Hague, Neumeier in Hamburg and Forsythe in Frankfurt. The three works performed this evening are like cousins, having their beginnings in a rich artistic period in Europe within two years of the fall of the Berlin Wall and have since been staged by companies around the world.

Kylián’s Petite Mort (1991) is already in the ENB stable since its acquisition in 2013 but its wit and elegance is worth seeing again. Well, it would be if the wit and elegance were in evidence, but on Wednesday night the elegance is hijacked by a display of overly muscular male torsos swishing fencing foils and the witty eroticism sidelined by their narcissistic posing. The six women, looking decidedly out of scale, don’t stand a chance, not even Tamara Rojo who is positively engulfed in Max Westwell’s physique. Not all the men suffer from this muscular overdevelopment — Junor Souza balances strength with lithe form and he is well suited in his duet with Laurretta Summerscales — but with six of them in nothing but high-waisted trunks the impression of bulk is overwhelming. One of the subtleties of Petite Mort is in Kylian’s use of the parallel qualities of the supple steel foil and the male body; petite mort is, after all, the French euphemism for orgasm and the analogy of death from the thrust of a foil with the little death of the final thrust in love is central to the imagery of the work. The foils haven’t changed since 1991 but the male bodies have; if these studs don’t rein in their weight training their future work with foils will be like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger sewing. Which makes me think of the poor costume department…

What a welcome relief to see Alejandro Virelles and Cesar Corrales in the first act of Neumeier’s Spring and Fall, choreographed to the five movements of Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade in E major. Here are two male dancers whose physique appears to be formed by classical training alone; they both move effortlessly and quietly from the inside, which is a totally different approach from the gym-enhanced school. With its pastel colours and white costumes (Neumeier’s own conception) the setting of Spring and Fall suggests a happy, youthful memory in which an ardent Virelles and a flirtatious but spirited Alina Cojocaru express their burgeoning love against a chorus of friends. Virelles and Cojocaru are beautifully matched in their ease of technique and lack of pretence that comes from the mastery of their art. The choreography is abstract but it is not hard to read. As Neumeier says, ‘As soon as there are two people there is some kind of relationship. And those human relationships are what interest me as a choreographer.’ Apart from the three principals, the supporting cast prove a little ragged, but Anjuli Hudson stands out with her uninhibited enthusiasm.

Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated was first choreographed on the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1987 when Rudolph Nureyev was artistic director. Forsythe remembers ‘the whole atmosphere there was electric.’ The first cast included a young Sylvie Guillem, Laurent Hilaire, Isabelle Guérin and Manuel Legris. Imagine those long legs arriving at the height of a percussive climax in Thom Willems’ electronic score and what Forsythe’s elongated, dynamic, off-balance shapes must have looked like. There is also a chic cool in the way the dancers wander in and start their variations, something the French do so well. It is still a thrilling dance to watch with its spatial dynamics and visceral physicality, though Wednesday’s cast is less tall, less elongated than its ideal execution demands: the dynamics of the steps don’t quite match the dynamics of the score. In terms of coolness, Tiffany Hedman seems to have the measure of the work but the same can’t be said about James Streeter, fresh from fencing, who mistakes open-mouthed, brazen posing for cool assurance. It’s that bodybuilding thing again.


François Chaignaud & Cecilia Bengolea: TWERK

Posted: March 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

François Chaignaud & Cecilia Bengolea, TWERK, Lilian Baylis Studio, March 5
UK première

Élisa Yvelin, Alex Mugler, Cecilia Bengolea (horizontal), François Chagnaud and Ana Pi in TWERK

Élisa Yvelin, Alex Mugler, Cecilia Bengolea (horizontal), François Chagnaud and Ana Pi in TWERK (photo: Jean-Marie Legros)

TWERK, or to call it by its full, willfully punctuated name, altered natives’ Say Yes To Another Excess — TWERK, is a riot of the senses: visually vibrant, aurally dubbed, sexually provocative, intellectually wicked, it’s all there: an off-the-wall experiment in writing dance from a purely physical perspective. As choreographers François Chaignaud and Cecilia Bengolea write in the program, the challenge for the performers in TWERK is to ‘trust dance and its expressive, brotherly, poetic, preconscious and discursive powers.’ That’s an interesting selection of adjectives, but by the end you realise the dancers have convincingly demonstrated the value of each one.

It is notable that the French ‘write’ dance whereas we talk in terms of ‘creating’ dance. I like the idea that dance can be written with a density of poetic imagery as text without words. TWERK is something of a collision of images, ideas and of history; I couldn’t help but associate Chaignaud in a crimped blonde wig, sparkly eyes and holey tights with Louis XIV cavorting at a masque and his reverence at the end is a masterpiece of elegant wit. But in between his initial appearance and his final bow, Chaignaud’s enigmatic presence, his formidable classical technique, his expressive face and leering eyes are from another century altogether. The dancers are like a band of traveling commedia dell’arte players transferred to the Ballroom Community, or performers in a lascivious Punch and Judy show for adults. This juxtaposition of fantastic imagery is what makes TWERK such a rich arsenal of visual stimuli.

Above the dancers’ heads is a tent-like framework (it is in fact the lighting rig of fluorescent tubes) that reduces the effective height of the stage and increases the stature of the dancers. Chaignaud and Bengolea spare no time entering this imaginary world; they have already begun by the time we enter the theatre. To one side DJs Elijah and Skillam (Butterz) from the London Grime scene are mixing their thunderous dance music while the five dancers are getting dizzy spinning around the white floor in wigs, wacky costumes, kneepads and socks, colliding like bumper cars at a fairground. Their arm gestures are informal, almost thrown away, and as the strain of endlessly turning takes its toll there are held breaths, blown cheeks, careering paths and tottering derailments. But it doggedly keeps going until we are completely immersed in the bodies, colours and chaotic rhythms. A blackout leads to a stroboscopic flash of Chaignaud holding his leg high to the side as he begins a devil-may-care grunge solo that has the agitation of a Polichinelle figure flinging his arms out or being flung into the air to land in the splits and includes him standing on his head and crawling off like a dog lifting his leg at every lamppost.

Costumes and makeup, for which Chaignaud and Bengolea are responsible, play a vital role in TWERK as an additional layer of immediate sensory gratification. When Bengolea in fluorescent green fluffy jacket and matching slippers dances a sultry, sexual duet with New York voguer Alex Mugler in pink pajama suit, it is not just the movement that reads but our sense of colour and form; watching the animated Élisa Yvelin’s facial expression is heightened by her exaggerated punk makeup. While the costumes themselves are a feast, the careful subtraction of parts of them during the performance is equally expressive. When all three women (Bengolea, Yvelin and Ana Pi) dance bare chested the sensuality is palpable, and when Chaignaud appears like a naughty boy without his tights it is the eroticism of Aubrey Beardsley’s drawings that comes to mind.

Each dancer has his or her moment on stage and it is an occasion to let the dance show the person rather than the other way round. There is a sense of improvisation in these solos and the dancers take pleasure in watching each other. When Ana Pi is twerking up a storm I notice Chaignaud peeking through the side curtains with a smile on his face, and when Mugler jumps on the prone Yvelin, it is Pi who is laughing at his antics.

Despite its surface of rollicking fun, TWERK has an undercurrent of tension and sensuality that derives from its investigation of and interaction with Grime music. It is visceral, full on, witty and in the best sense of the word, camp. You can’t get away from the exaggeration of posture, gesture and situation but it never dissipates into parody; there is always a ground of intellectual curiosity (in its physical form) on which the entire work is predicated. How refreshing.