Rahel Vonmoos, to find a place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dance Umbrella 2017: Let Me Change Your Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drawn in Colour, Degas from the Burrell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Rose and the Bulbul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Jacky Lansley: Choreographies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Orley Quick, Screwed

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

Screwed, The Bunker, July 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tero Saarinen Company, Morphed

Posted: September 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tero Saarinen Company, Morphed

Tero Saarinen Company, Morphed, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, August 10

Tero Saarinen Company in Morphed (photo: Mikki Kunttu)

The appearance of Tero Saarinen Company as part of the Southbank Centre’s Nordic Matters brought a refined Finnish sensibility to the Festival Hall stage that reminded me of the architecture of Alvar Aalto: it establishes its individuality and subtle independence from its surroundings through the use of natural materials and sophisticated design. The stage setting by Mikki Kunttu for Saarinen’s Morphed (2014) — the one work on the evening’s program — immediately immerses us in this quintessentially Finnish quality by referencing the colours and materials of Aalto’s furniture design which in turn were influenced by the Finnish landscape. The two lines of evenly spaced ropes that hang on three sides of the stage form an enclosure around the rectangle of white on a black floor.
Based in Helsinki, Saarinen founded his company in 1996 ‘to promote a humane worldview and basic human values through the language of dance’. Perhaps because dance is performed in and on the body, it is an art that naturally eschews violence and in Morphed Saarinen traces states of mind and body from baseness and introspection to elevation and refinement in a group of seven men from his company. Despite its overtly male focus, Saarinen takes the clichés of maleness and turns them inside out. By the end we can associate with this ‘journey less traveled’ and find solace in its resolution. We first see the men in black fatigues and hoods prowling in fluid patterns of geometric complexity. For a work celebrating all aspects of maleness, this is as good a place to start as any, but with the sophisticated music of Esa-Pekka Salonen, Kunttu’s neat and beautifully lit abstraction of a forest and Teemu Muurimäki’s stylish costumes, it has to be said these men have already come in from the rugged outside. Initially Saarinen traces paths of weighted, pack-like formations but as the work develops individual performers begin to slide away from the pack to explore their own individuality in expressive gestures before they become subsumed once again within the group. Over the course of the work the gestures develop into solos, duets and trios that expand their reach and choreographic force as each man develops in his own right.
Part of the intrigue of Morphed is that Saarinen’s performers at first look less like dancers than wholesome, blonde, bearded Finnish men who exude masculinity without being macho. They could be athletes; if I recognized some sporting motifs in the choreography one of them derived from shot-putting. Placing these powerful bodies in this kind of environment is to transform them. Saarinen works with the physicality of bodies to explore the means of change; the blunt, earthbound postures of the dancers at the beginning gradually respond to the musical ideas to develop the poetry of their instruments while maintaining their connection, gaining in self-expression and articulation while allowing space for each other. Arms and torsos elongate and feet point beautifully, reminding us of Da Vinci’s maxim that beauty is in the extremities. One could almost imagine Salonen conducting the dancers to draw out their intrinsic qualities. The costumes and lighting are implicit partners in this process. Over the course of the performance the dancers remove the initial dark, heavy outer garments to reveal white shirts whose sleeves detach, like layers of skin, until it is the skin that remains. At the same time the lighting morphs in response, from  somber dawn to bright sunshine. In this sympathetic depiction of maleness, all the men — all but one — change from hooded prowlers to half-naked open channels of emotion. Saarinen takes us on a journey that could be our own. Indeed, he suggests it is our own and holds up his choreography as a mirror to guide us, avoiding exaggerated movement in order to include us within its measured articulation and rhythms. And although the cast is predominantly Finnish, there are two exceptions. David Scarantino is a dark-haired American whose presence avoids a sense of cultural homogeneity (Morphed is about men, after all, not just Finnish men), but it is Ima Iduozee, whose dark brown skin and lithe movement add an exotic, feline quality to his Finnish identity, who suggests he may be the catalyst of physical transformation within the context of Saarinen’s language. It is as if he has been there before and is returning to help his comrades morph into their spiritual dimension.

Zoi Dimitriou Company, Peregrinus

Posted: August 23rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Zoi Dimitriou Company, Peregrinus

Zoi Dimitriou Company, Peregrinus, Firkin Crane, Cork, July 20

Zoi Dimitriou in Peregrinus (photo: Nicholas Minns)

Zoi Dimitriou’s Peregrinus began as research into the notion of peregrination or pilgrimage on a residence at Firkin Crane in 2015 as part of the Blank Canvas Residency programme. While forming the work for this year’s Fast Forward Festival 4 by the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, which also produced the work, the refugee crisis in Europe overlaid her notion of peregrination with the political, psychological and physical effects of displacement. As Frédéric Gros wrote in his A Philosophy of Walking, peregrination and displacement are joined at the root: “The primary meaning of peregrinus is foreigner or exile. The pilgrim, originally, is not one who is heading somewhere (Rome, Jerusalem, etc.), but essentially one who is not at home where he is walking.” Greece is one of the entry points for refugees who risk their lives to flee conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East to find a new life in Europe. The official welcome policy is one of containment in refugee camps that offer exiles a level of safety while they await a political solution to their humanitarian crisis, and because these camps are outside the urban centres, the condition and fate of refugees is often only revealed through media sources. It is this mediatized relationship to refugees that Dimitriou took as the starting point of Peregrinus.

The work references the current refugee crisis through recorded stories of people Dimitriou interviewed in London and Athens who had in the past experienced forced displacement as a result of violent conflict but who are now settled in their host countries. She and her artistic team then chose as her location a run-down, disused warehouse that was part of the anonymous, industrial infrastructure of Athens and restricted the number of audience members to the capacity of a blacked-out mini-bus that transported them from the Onassis Cultural Centre (OCC) to the warehouse. The journey took just under 24 minutes, the time it took for the passengers to hear in the darkness the stories Dimitriou had recorded. Nobody knew where they were going and not even the locals recognised the destination once they arrived; the journey was designed to echo the sense of displacement in the stories. Inside the warehouse was a structure resembling a church nave and transepts with three-metre-high translucent panels for walls and a lightbox for a roof that limited the lighting principally to the interior of the structure but let it spill out through the panels. The audience remains outside looking in at Dimitriou who remains unaware of our gaze, moving in abstracted steps and gestures like time-lapse images of walking, crawling, prayer, rage, despair, resolve and stoic determination. There is a very real sense that despite her approaching the edges of the walls she is never coming out.

The translucent panels have internal baffles that are slightly angled to the line of vision: look one way through them and it is impossible to see beyond, but look the other way or straight on and you can perceive the figure beyond. If you maintain a fixed perspective (as in watching a television screen) Dimitriou moves in and out of your field of vision; you have to follow her to keep her in focus. The structure represents a medium through which we see refugees, and yet behind the screen the pacing and the daily concerns and the personal tragedies continue unheard and unheeded. By inserting herself into this mirage of displacement, Dimitriou channels empathy for the refugees and allows the audience the space to come to their own conclusions. She moves silently to a subdued industrial score — at one point a cross between turning helicopter blades and a swift, rhythmic saw — and the only overt messages are in stenciled, illuminated signs on the walls and floor of the warehouse: ‘You Are Here’, ‘You Are Involved’, ‘Utopia is Closing Down’, to which are added stark signs like ‘No Man’s Land’, ‘Foreigners This Way Please’ and ‘No Congregation In this Area’. Apart from these contextual signs there is nothing to suggest a refugee camp; Dimitriou is using the distance and abstraction of the theatrical presentation to give the audience the opportunity to focus on her references to the current social and political reality. Peregrinus thus reflects on and interferes with our western sense of carefully mediatized detachment from the crisis. To make this work effectively, the setting up of the experience is as important as the performance itself; it requires a unity of intention in the same way a politically united response to the refugee question is the only way to resolve it.

A country that through geographical fate finds itself hosting refugees might well be said to have a problem it has agreed to for humanitarian reasons but doesn’t quite know how to deal with. By an inadvertent twist of fate, Firkin Crane as host found itself in a similar role; having invited Dimitriou to perform and having received the translucent structure from OCC and set it up — with modifications — in the theatre’s auditorium, the host left the details of the production in limbo. While Dimitriou had the space in which to perform, the logistics of the production did not successfully contextualize the refugee experience for the audience. The theatre itself, despite its history as a workshop for the manufacture of butter firkins, is too laden with the implications of entertainment and leisure to destabilise an audience and the curtained mini-bus journey started in plain daylight outside the front of the theatre and arrived 25 minutes later at the stage door, mimicking the original idea but leaving little incentive for the passengers to subjectivise the experience. What remained was Dimitriou’s performance in which the notion of peregrination and exile survived in its original spirit despite a host that wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. Art imitating life.

Preethi Athreya, Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project

Posted: August 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Preethi Athreya, Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project

Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project, Alchemy Festival, Southbank, May 21

The act of jumping in Conditions of Carriage

This review was commissioned by PulseConnects and was published in the Summer 2017 edition of Pulse. It appears here with the kind consent of the editor.

It is a game played by an invisible hand with one team of ten players on a square, red-carpeted floor with a broad, raised rim on all four sides, like a trampoline without the elastic. The height of the rim is determined by the height the players can jump, landing in a deep squat, and its width is just enough to take three players standing one behind the other. The dimensions of the floor area are roughly equal to the height of three players. Even though I am imagining these dimensions, such mathematical rules are at the heart of Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project, conceived by Preethi Athreya, who is also one of the players. Jumping is a dynamic physical action that is expressively neutral, and while the repetitive nature of Athreya’s game focuses our attention on the act of jumping, the patterns of the performers reveal the implicit rules governing each player’s game.

Like a chamber orchestra of athletes whose bodies are their instruments, each player has their own score but the composition of the work is evident only when they all play together. The performers are thus in a constant state of alert, watching intently when to join the game, when to leave and when to accent the score with their individual variations. In music we tend to take for granted the complexity of an orchestral score in the listening, and similarly the complexity of Conditions of Carriage is concealed in the seeing. The rhythmical texture of the ensemble has a meditative quality, enhanced by the transcendent look in the eyes of the performers. Since there is no conductor, timing is provided by a recorded musical score, by individuals calling out numbers or by internal choreographic rules.

At one point the jumping turns into variations on a traditional Indian game of kabbadi where one contestant strives to tag his or her opponent while the opponent vigorously defends from any touch by fast foot and body work. It is an exciting, virtuosic interlude played in pairs that leads into the final section that is slower, more circular, more harmonious.

The men and women are dressed alike in singlets, shorts and trainers but the massed, non-competitive nature of the choreography allays any suggestion of a sport while the repetitive use of a sports movement allays any suggestion of dance. In addition Athreya has chosen performers who do not immediately suggest the ostensible effects of training in either sport or dance and with an age range of mid-20s to mid 40’s she has also thrown out the familiar social makeup of sports teams and dance companies. Conditions of Carriage is thus a performance that rises up from the fabric of society and brings audience and performers together through a common activity in an uncommon format.

Even the venue, under Hungerford Footbridge, places the context of the performance beyond sport and dance, in a public space where any passerby can stop to watch, a reflection of Alchemy Festival’s mandate to ‘showcase the dynamic creativity and cultural connections between South Asia and the UK.’ Nevertheless, the site’s shade and air currents are not conducive to the performers’ muscular exertion; far from their habitually warm climate, they prepare as if about to run a marathon and tend to their legs afterwards with equal diligence. But for us it’s worth all the effort.

Organic Entity, Triple Bill

Posted: August 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Organic Entity, Triple Bill

Organic Entity, Triple Bill, TripSpace, June 10

Salah El Brogy in The Moment (photo: Danilo Moroni)

Organic Entity is an enterprising collaboration between three dance choreographers — Anna Watkins, Neus Gil Cortés and Salah El Brogy — to make a full evening of dance with a variety of approaches and styles that the individual choreographers would be unable furnish by themselves. It’s a model that deserves attention but is not without risks, the first of which is with whom to collaborate and — which is directly related to the first — which works to present. Watkins, Cortés and El Brogy seem to have found a viable cohesion; Organic Entity is thus both a title and an indication of the way the three works unpack and make their offerings to the audience. In Human Animal Watkins researches evolution, making a solo for Carmine De Amicis that sees a struggle within his body between animal and human conditions. In Left Cortés looks inside Léa Tirabasso and Rosie Terry Toogood to mine their psychological states and El Brogy in his solo The Moment establishes a spiritual dimension that is altogether human. Each work acts as a counterbalance and commentary on the other two; it all makes for a very interesting evening.

The sound of a ticking clock in Watkins’ work suggests a time-lapse treatment of evolution and the first we see of De Amicis he is lying on the floor as physical material ready to transform. Over the course of his development his bird-like head gestures on top of a raw, muscled body take on a more human form as he rises on to his two feet in the confines of an imaginary cage. De Amicis writhes with intensity to the percussive score by Andy Pape but Watkins’ portrayal is more masochistic ritual than evolutionary path; the power of De Amicis is too self-consciously human to be convincingly feral with the result Human Animal spirals around its own frenetic physicality rather than expressing either the animal in the human or the human in the animal.

This is where the elemental solo by El Brogy acts as a telling counterbalance of how an earthy presence in a human body can be expressed. Although The Moment comes at the end of the program, El Brogy’s performance reaches back to Human Animal and provides a resolution to De Amicis’s evolutionary path. That’s the way this evening of dance interrelates. There is nothing self-conscious or restrained in El Brogy’s presence; his improvisation goes to spiritual places with a disarming physical power. At the beginning we see him crouched with his head between his arms, his body rising and collapsing under some existential weight. When he rises, his arms are like birds and his hands like wings and his wild hair obscures the sharp features of his face. He is a force of nature who uses natural gestures to tell his story: his hands go through the motions of washing, bathing, drinking, eating but these are merely stages on a journey he is remembering and reliving. Movements spring and unspring from his body in all directions just as memories dart into focus at the speed of thought; his head and eyes are in complete accord with the gestures of his body as if his dance arises from an inner necessity. El Brogy is at times volatile and at others reflective, always mindful of the moment he is trying to recapture. To his own sound design, he takes us on a journey through his own time; the dance is the journey. Watching him is to connect viscerally with his animist experience, and he takes us far beyond the realms of the theatre, like his finger raised to the sky with a smile of recognition.

I had first seen Gil Cortés’ Left at Emerge Festival in 2015 and was impressed by her mature handling of psychological frailty. Here she has reworked it with two women instead of a man and a woman and has restaged the dynamic between them to the same musical input from Philip Samartzis, Mica Levi and Zoe Keating. I admire this ability to revisit a work and bring something new to it, an acknowledgement that as she develops as a choreographer and as a person she can return to older works with new experience. And I imagine within the context of Organic Entity’s triple bill, Left seemed to fit neatly between the physical and spiritual aspects of the bookending works. Tirabasso is the febrile victim of a psychological struggle that Toogood incarnates with the dispassionate, dark menace of a spider-like presence. Gil Cortés takes us unerringly through the shadowed terror of sensing an internal assailant to the stages of capture and possession until Toogood melts into the background leaving Tirabasso to wonder if it had all been a figment of her imagination. It’s a lot to fit into a short work, but Gil Cortés is as assured in her handling of the subject as the two performers are in the roles she has given them.