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

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

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

Somaholidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen in Breath at Place des Arts

Posted: April 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen in Breath at Place des Arts

Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen, Breath, Cinquième Salle, Montreal, April 20

Breath

Kimmo Pohjonen and Tero Saarinen in Breath (photo: Mikki Kunttu)

As our senses accustom to the dark and rumbling atmosphere, Tero Saarinen and Kimmo Pohjonen appear barefoot in hazard suits on two raised paths leading away from each other in a ‘V’ shape, an arid, post-apocalyptic landscape in which air seems to be the one element in short supply. The two men have not yet met; they are wholly involved in their individual survival. There are flashes of light, sometimes directly in our eyes as if we too are on this blasted heath, with the sound of electrical short-circuits amplified to a level of a burnt-out desolation. This is the Beckettian setting of Saarinen and Pohjonen’s new work, Breath, which received its world première at the Grand Théâtre in Quebec City on April 12 before moving to Montreal’s Cinquième Salle at Place des Arts as part of the Danse Danse program.

Saarinen is a dancer and choreographer who has directed his eponymous company in Helsinki since 1996, while Pohjonen is an acclaimed Finnish composer and accordionist. Along with their individual artistry, each has brought long-term collaborators into the creative mix: Saarinen’s lighting and set designer, Mikki Kunttu, his costume designer Teemu Muurimäki, and Pohjonen’s sound designer, Tuomas Norvio. Breathstarts as a desolate journey nowhere, an existential supplication to an unknowable fate, but the richness of expression of the five collaborators turns the journey into one of sublime meaning as if by some alchemical process they transform their coordinated theatrical experience into a profoundly human revelation.

Pohjonen appears as a mythical figure, bruised and torn, wandering aimlessly with his electrified accordion strapped to his body like an armoured, serrated shell that he plays without seeming to move his hands. His sounds range from the breathless rasping of parched lungs to the full blast of a pipe organ and it is his intricate improvisation that gradually transfigures Saarinen’s persona from that of traumatised survivor to pilgrim in search of atonement. Over the course of Breaththeir symbiotic relationship, in which the visualization and aural expression of breath act as guides, brings their paths closer and closer together until their communication is complete.

Saarinen, without seeing him at first, hears Pohjonen’s notes with their percussive beat and responds to them like an automaton that has lost its programming: short staccato twists and turns of his body while his eyes stare ahead, sucking in what air he can inside the helmet of Muurimäki’s hazard suit. Pohjonen carries his instrument like a breathing machine, investing the landscape with the air on which both travellers depend. As they become aware of each other they use their voices in a guttural, unintelligible flow of grunted communication that paradoxically keeps them apart. It is the music that proves transformative; as it fills with richness and volume, both men discard their helmets and Saarinen’s movement becomes more fluid to the point of flight, as suggested by the metaphor of billowing material he sweeps around and over him. It is Pohjonen who manifests the power — sound is the metaphor for life — to which Saarinen is drawn inexorably but it is Saarinen who initiates the first steps to come into contact with him.

The musical notes may be instigated by Pohjonen and his accordion but it is Norvio who processes and amplifies them to fill the theatre as if they had the composition of air; heavy waltzes and redemptive chords merge with miked footfalls and electro beats to create a soundscape that becomes a cathartic journey from parched desert to cathedral nave.

In the same way, Kunttu’s visual environment initially engulfs us in its impenetrable density; this is the last place on earth to expect the faint glow of exit signs. If darkness is suffocating, Kunttu’s use of stroboscopic white light is a shock treatment to allow in some air, a visual defibrillation that breaks down Pohjonen’s and Saarinen’s movement into incipient spasms of activity. His subsequent washes of intense colour — blue and yellow — affirm the life-giving properties of light, of sky and sun, that seem to impregnate the white material of the costumes and to refresh the figures on their journey.

Saarinen quotes Samuel Beckett in the program: ‘Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.’ On a narrative level, Breathcan be understood as an allegory of a journey from despair to salvation, but on a purely theatrical level its creation of sensual unity through the inspired integration of sound, movement and light is what takes hold of the imagination and endures.


Sivan Rubinstein, Migration Through Dance at the Migration Museum

Posted: March 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Installation, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sivan Rubinstein, Migration Through Dance at the Migration Museum

Sivan Rubinstein, Migration Through Dance, The Migration Museum, March 14

Migration Through Dance

Migration Through Dance at the Migration Museum (photo: Paula Harrowing)

The mental concept and the physical details of maps guide the everyday course of human travel, where the features of a particular country or a city can be easily accessed online or in a guidebook. For migrants and refugees, the map is more of a geographical route of escape and arrival in a safe destination where the details of the map are perhaps less important than word-of-mouth knowledge of borders, checkpoints and pathways.

Sivan Rubinstein is one of the five choreographer/dancers who make up the current Swallowsfeet Collective. She has a family interest in maps — her father is a cartographer — and has thought deeply about their significance. She has used maps as signifiers of the world in which we live, as a philosophical entity that embraces all our activities. In MAPS that she presented in 2017 three dancers begin by creating a world map on a bare stage using white salt. As we sit around watching this map choreography, the shape of the world as we know it — or as we are used to seeing — takes form. The dancers describe it in terms of time differences and differentiate between the geological, the political and the social map. With their steps, meetings, confrontations and incantations they then transform it, erasing the contours, the seas and the landmasses with their bodies in a poetic analogy with the way governments have over the ages settled, pacified, conquered, seized, appropriated and robbed other lands as a measure of their power and influence. MAPS finishes, however, on a note of spiritual optimism with the tracing in the salt of a universal Mandala.

This year Rubinstein has developed the concept further, joining forces with the temporary home of the Migration Museum housed in the London Fire Brigade engine workshops on Albert Embankment in Lambeth and with Dr. Sarah Fine, a senior lecturer in philosophy at King’s College London to present Migration Through Dance.

As Rubinstein says, ‘dance is the movement of the map’, and within the museum’s migratory environment she has again created the outlines of a world, not out of salt but out of white tape in a configuration by Hamish MacPherson. We sit around three sides but this is a participatory performance called Active Maps with guitar accompaniment from Liran Donin; those who wish to be involved are invited to populate the map. Rubinstein invites us to walk our own migration and to land where we consider home; there is a large concentration of feet over England. She then invites us in turn to stand somewhere on the map where we don’t feel welcome and where we have family or loved ones. If the map was a plan of a house, where might we build an extension? It is the kind of game that could be played on a stadium scale. Perhaps the most controversial suggestion is to pull up the tape and place the former borders of our world in a sticky heap in the centre. What results is a different kind of space made up of connections between us but the rolling up of geographical borders causes some discomfort because of our attachment to them. Rubinstein suggests we mark out our own world, but this is more problematic; the results seem to indicate as much our individual presence in a fluid landscape as it represents a new map. Interestingly there are very few borders but rather dots and open lines crossed by others, as if designed by Paul Klee. We are approaching what Rubinstein calls ‘a desire map’ in which our feet are grounded but our minds are free to roam. And then she suggests we pull up the result of our communal geography too and add the tape to the existing ball that is then ceremoniously and respectfully set to one side.

The final stage in Rubinstein’s project, Ports of Pass, gives the stage to five dancers from Loop Dance Company and Swallowsfeet Collective who dance their passports. What is it like to take on an identity as a travel document? Harriet Parker-Beldeau stamps herself with fists against her chest repeatedly and the effect of the gestures suggests not an administrative experience but an agonising one. It is a reminder of the psychological barriers that travel can throw up; the cueing like cattle at border controls, the questioning, flight restrictions, security checks and airport navigation; Daisy Farris pulls herself from one direction to another as if listening to contradictory announcements. There are intense walking paths where the performers pass each other but do not meet, breaking off into individual partnerships and groups that seek connections. As with maps, there is no ending to this journey; a final running pattern attains an expression of unison without ever arriving at a destination.

 

Active Maps is part of a research and dance production called MAPS, commissioned by Creative Europe’s EU-funded programme, Pivot Dance, The Place (UK), Dutch Dance Festival (Netherlands) and Operaestate Festival (Italy), and with the support of Arts Council England and King’s College London. Ports that Pass was commissioned by Loop Dance Company, and made with the support of Arts Council England, the Israeli Embassy in London, and Turner Contemporary, Margate.


Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Posted: February 28th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL, Hackney Showroom, February 23

BEAUTiFUL

Sandra Klimek, Tania Dimbelolo, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Flora Grant in BEAUTiFUL (photo: Dominic Farlam)

While London’s Fashion Week plies the city with young, attractive women advertising clothes as expressions of sexuality and style, five attractive young women costumed by Cristiano Casimiro and lit by Andy Hamer dance their sexuality in style in Sally Marie’s new full-length work, BEAUTiFUL, at Hackney Showroom.

Described as ‘an exploration of love and sexuality from a female perspective’, it is immediately evident from Hollie Dorman’s opening cabaret number — five showgirls in shiny costumes exuding sensuality — that this is a young female perspective. Marie has chosen her five dancers (Tania Dimbelolo, Flora Grant, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Sandra Klimek) from a lengthy selection process in which she auditioned 775 young women and given her subject, she was evidently looking for young women capable not so much of exploring love and sexuality but of scrutinizing them closely on their own terms. It takes a certain uncompromising stance to present such a perspective that is not watered down by stereotypes. Marie bestowed this stance on the initial title, BEAUTiFUK, which proved unpalatable to the marketing departments of touring venues but which nevertheless endures in the conception of the work (evidently you can dance it but you can’t say it). In such a process, the dancers need courage and self-confidence to reveal what they are not used to revealing in front of an audience. We are not talking about nudity so much as states of mind in which there is no room to hide behind a ‘character’ because the character and the person are one and the same. And if some of Casimiro’s costumes cover the body in a voluptuous white confection that has its own sense of fantasy, others cover them in transparent net over stylish underwear that seems like a constant state of undress.

The voice of BEAUTiFUL is in the form of text but the heartbeat is the sensuality of the dancing, especially where each of the performers has a moment of unadulterated self-expression. The intensity of their respective appropriation of movement and the variety of its forms suggests they each contributed to the choreography. Diembolo reaches deep to marry seamlessly choreography and a sense of self; Raineri lets her body undulate in Andy Pink’s aural air currents like a siren in a state of exquisite pain; Grant is inhabited by laughter and caprice; Kierbel is drunk on desire, and Klimek is the wise and worldly one with Sapphic propensities. These moments, however, contrast with a more generalized, even clichéd approach to sexuality in the ensemble sections.

The texts, we are led to believe, originate with the cast and suggest with wry frankness how each of the five women relate to the subject. The standing microphone becomes a confidante to which the intimate details are entrusted but a microphone cannot keep a secret (on one or two occasions, however, the secrets do remain with the microphone because either the musical overlay is too pronounced or the delivery too unclear). At the beginning Klimek establishes a short tally of anecdotes about each of the performers: one of the women likes baking chocolate cakes, one finds it hard to come, one loves climbing mountains, one’s a virgin and one may be in love with her best friend. It’s true the texts become more explicit but this opening gambit is less like a plunge into their lives than a paddle and it’s hardly a devastating shot over the bows of current objectification.

If Marie’s avowed purpose in BEAUTiFUL is ‘slicing through the tissued layer of elusive truths and false assumptions by which many of us live’, there has to be a sharp instrument with which to detach what is false from what is true — the choreographic equivalents, for example, of satire or wit. There are glimpses of it in the choir of sweet voices and angelic poses that frame both graphic sexual imagery and lyrics, and in Grant’s chaste delivery of a scatological fragment about anal sex. However, without these kinds of deliberate juxtapositions of raw imagery and nonchalance that take the gaze of the audience into unfamiliar territory, the voice of BEAUTiFUL is engulfed in its heartbeat, the sensual pleasure of dance. And because dance is expressed through the body, Marie is perhaps closer to her stated purpose of generating ‘outrageous pleasure’ than she is of inspiring ‘insight’ and provoking ‘debate’. But without the latter, the stereotypes she wants to fracture remain intact.


A preview of Ballet British Columbia at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 27th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Interview, Preview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A preview of Ballet British Columbia at Sadler’s Wells

From an interview with Emily Molnar, artistic director of Ballet British Columbia

Ballet British Columbia

Artists of Ballet British Columbia in Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo (photo: Michael Slobodian)

On March 6 & 7 Ballet British Columbia will be performing on the Sadler’s Wells main stage. For those who might read into the company name images of evergreen forests, indigenous peoples, paintings by Emily Carr, a rugged Pacific Northwest coast and English weather, the association with ballet may not immediately spring to mind. But those who know the names of Crystal Pite and William Forsythe (both of whom feature large in the Sadler’s Wells program this summer), may be surprised to learn their connection runs through Ballet British Columbia (Ballet BC). The company, founded in 1986, is based in Vancouver and Pite, who was born in the province, started her dancing career there. In 1996 she joined William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt and when she returned to Vancouver she began to choreograph for various companies, including Ballet BC, and founded her own company, Kidd Pivot. In 2010 Pite and Kidd Pivot moved to Frankfurt as the resident company of Kunsterlhaus Mousonturm. The paths of Pite and Forsyth are in turn intermingled with the career of Emily Molnar, Ballet BC’s current artistic director. Molnar is a graduate of the National Ballet School in Toronto and a former member of the National Ballet of Canada before she, too, joined Ballet Frankfurt where she met Pite. Forsythe’s approach to constructing and deconstructing ballet was a huge influence on both dancers. Molnar returned to Vancouver as a principal dancer at Ballet BC and took over the artistic directorship in 2009. So while the company’s name serves to identify it geographically, its artistic lineage is very much aligned with Frankfurt.

Although she also makes work on the company, Molnar has spent the last nine years selecting a broad range of works from different choreographers to develop a dialogue on dance and performance with her audiences. To commission and create 40 new works for a company of 18 dancers and to maintain healthy home seasons in a theatre the size of Sadler’s Wells is evidence of the success of her approach. She describes herself as having been a difficult student because she would constantly question the school regime, the way dancers trained and the technical as well as psychological effect of such training on the dancer. This propensity for questioning fed into her approach to choreography — working with Forsythe must have been especially stimulating — and later to her artistic directorship of a company. She is constantly instilling in her dancers not so much the ‘how’ of a performance but the ‘why’, and in building her choice of works and programs she pays attention to ‘why’ an audience may set foot in the theatre and to the dialogue that inevitably ensues. She wants to reward her audiences for taking that step, but she also wants to lead them on a journey that may take them outside their familiar frame of reference.

The program at Sadler’s Wells comprises works by Pite (Solo Echo) and Molnar (16 + a room) along with a third by the contemporary female voice of Sharon Eyal (Bill), a dancer and choreographer who spent 23 years working with Ohad Naharin in Batsheva in Tel Aviv. Pite and Eyal (along with her collaborator Gai Behar) are recognized names in the UK, so Molnar will be the outsider, setting up the kind of dialogue with audiences here that she has pioneered in Vancouver. Augurs are good; the program was first aired at the International Dance Festival Birmingham in 2016 and my friend Ian Abbott was impressed not only by Molnar’s ‘integrity, sense and articulate coherence’ in her advocacy of female choreographers at a pre-performance event but by the company’s triple bill which he likened to a delectable three-course meal. Dance Consortium was so impressed by the bill of fare and presumably by the bill that it has chosen to tour Ballet British Columbia in the UK this year.

 

UK Tour Dates


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor, Sadler’s Wells, February 8

Viktor

Eddie Martinez and Ophelia Young in Viktor (photo: Meyer Originals)

Peter Pabst’s set locates Viktor in a deep underground cavern surrounded on three sides by high earthen walls on which wooden ladders lean like the interior of a fortified rampart; at intervals during the performance Andrey Berezin shovels earth from the top on to the stage, an aural as much as a visual rhythm of burial. At the foot of one of the walls, rather incongruously, stands an upright piano. Even more incongruously Julie Shanahan enters armless in a scarlet dress, coming to rest like a smiling Roman goddess as Khachaturian’s Masquerade waltz swirls around her until Dominique Mercy brings a fur coat, places it over her shoulders and escorts her out. In this starkly beautiful opening scene, Pina Bausch merges the conceptions of Pabst’s sepulchral set and Marion Cito’s bright, witty costumes in her choreographic evocation of Rome, the Eternal City that inspired Viktor following an invitation to coproduce with Teatro Argentina di Roma and a company visit. There is none of the city’s classical columns or grandiose baroque architecture here but an imaginary locus in which Viktor’s symbiotic themes of death, antiquity, life and beauty play out over the next three hours, ricocheting from one surreal association to the next: from a living statue to a marriage ceremony for the dead, from bargaining two sheep on the black market to furniture auctions, from flirtations to sexual assault, from undressing to cross dressing to the men sitting in a row putting on makeup, from fur coats stored in a fridge to a human fountain. The imagination wanders deliriously from entrance to entrance, each one setting up the expectation of a narrative that never quite fits with the previous one and brings time to a temporary halt. It’s an exquisitely judged choreographic rhythm to which the musical inputs by Matthias Burkert add a range of emotional highlights, from Russian symphonic music to New Orleans jazz to Italian folk songs.

Three hours may seem a long time, but in identifying the underlying nature of time and experience in these traces of her exploration — and those of her dancers who helped create the material — Bausch has synthesized them by condensing the time and experience into a theatrical setting. We are re-living those experiences in their reconvened form. Bausch was aware of the significance of the present moment as a tangible appearance on the surface of history, and in Viktor she has chosen rather to delve into that fertile ground of the past — underneath the streets — to portray what lies above. It is a miracle she accomplishes this in a mere three hours.

There is no doubt that death hangs over Viktor but there are also the luscious, smiling processions, the ensemble gestural dances and the rapturous swinging that are like shoots appearing above the ground after winter, and the bright colours and flowing design of Cito’s costumes on the elegant dancers are themselves a sign of radiance that punctuates the darker layers of Bausch’s vision. And she never fails to highlight the small absurdities of life that she presents on stage for our delight.

Bausch died nine years ago, so all her works the company has performed since then are, in a poignant yet real sense, memento mori — perhaps none more so, given its themes, than Viktor. It thus has a double resonance, reminding us of Bausch’s genius at transforming experience into a transcendent choreographic language of Tanztheater and of the indivisibility of life and death. We shall never again know what Bausch is thinking in the present, but only what was in her mind at the time of a particular work. Unlike a photograph that sets the past exactly as it appeared at the moment it was taken, a choreographic work can only be an approximation of what it was during the choreographer’s lifetime. For Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch we would seem to be on safe ground — some of the performers were in the original work — and although the level of performance is uneven in terms of experience, Viktor is shot through with conviction and colour to the extent we can see what the work must have been like from its creation in May 1986 up until Bausch’s death in June 2009.

Early on we learn that Viktor is itself a voice from the grave, a ghostly presence who through a woman’s lips in a man’s voice asks permission to remain for the performance insisting he is very quiet and closes the door when there is a draught. How tantalizing to imagine Bausch writing her spectral self into each performance.


Sadler’s Wells Sampled

Posted: February 8th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sadler’s Wells Sampled

Sadler’s Sampled, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, February 3

Candoco

Victoria Fox and Welly O’Brien in Caroline Bowditch’s Dedicated to…(photo: Brian Hartley)

As Alistair Spalding writes in his welcome note to Sampled, the evening offers audiences ‘the opportunity to experience a range of world-class artists and dance styles in one evening, at a reduced price’. There is also an educational element in the filmed interviews with artists or directors before each work on stage that help to bridge the gap between dance and audience. The nine works on display are eclectic so there is something for everyone, from Mikhail Fokine’s Dying Swan through Jesús Carmona’s flamenco Soléa Del Campanillo to Yeah Yellow’s b-boy Sunshine. It’s a performative smorgasbord, but unlike a restaurant menu it is impossible to pick and choose what you want to see. This may be partly what Sampled hopes to achieve — the possibility that an unfamiliar taste might develop into a new craving — but such a rich menu of performances is not the kind of dance programming that favours the taster who is after a gastronomic experience. It doesn’t take long to realise the programming idea is less a format designed to inspire young dancers and encourage new audiences than a marketing ploy to promote the upcoming season, a point at which public relations acumen clashes with the art form itself.

In a bid to market the season, Sampled is crammed so full of a season’s worth of extracts that it cannot add up to a coherent program and at two and a half hours it risks choreographic overload. With its staged works, free front-of-house films, VR offerings and workshops, Sampled is a cross between a festival and a convention; what it achieves, however, is getting people through the doors into the foyers and auditorium — the place is packed and what a wonderful idea to make part of the stalls a promenade area — but the success of Sampled will be measured in quantitative rather than qualitative metrics, as in how many of these newcomers will become new audience members at Sadler’s Wells.

There are interviews in the printed program with some of the performers in which one of the standard questions is about their first experience of dance. Inevitably they respond that it was a single evening’s work that inspired them to dance. It makes the case for underwriting opportunities for younger children to see the truly world-class repertoire Sadler’s Wells puts on throughout the year rather than making Sampled their point of entry. The tired little ballerina in front of me who had to wait almost two hours to see the four minutes of Zenaida Yanowsky’s The Dying Swan might have been hoping for a more propitious path to inspiration.

The majority of works in Sampled are extracts, and some that look like extracts are just very short works, like The Dying Swan and works by BBC Young Dancers Nafisah Baba, Jodelle Douglas and Harry Barnes. Marco Goecke’s Wir sagen uns Dunkels for Nederlands Dans Theater 2 is a full work, though it could have been easily — and advantageously — reduced for Sampled to one of its four movements. When Baba rises joyously into the air in her solo, Inescapable, it is the first time in 30 minutes that dance’s vertical dimension has been explored and Carmona reminds us soon afterwards, on top of his virtuosity, how many choreographic dimensions there are to be explored. Alexander Whitley’s Kin, a duet for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Jenna Roberts and Mathias Dingman, suffers the fate of many extracts in that however beautifully constructed and danced, it has an air of being lost, while Humanhood’s photograph in the program is far more enigmatic than the extract of their production, ZERO, which seems drowned in production values. The extract from Caroline Bowditch’s Dedicated to… for Candoco is, despite its orphaned state, still a little jewel beautifully danced by Welly O’Brien and Victoria Fox (and co-director Ben Wright’s witty, avuncular introduction augurs well for the company), while Yeah Yellow’s Sunshine is rich and loud in b-boy virtuosity. Whitley features again in a pre-performance showing in the Pina Bausch room of Celestial Bodies, a VR film of an extract from his 8 Minutes, a collaboration between the Guardian’s VR team and Whitley’s company. Just outside the room, on the film wall, are two screens, one showing the National Youth Dance Company (run by Sadler’s Wells) in sequences from Damien Jalet’s Tarataseismic on location in Hull, and the other showing two young b-girls, the sisters Eddie and Terra talking and dancing on Terra’s 8th birthday. Directed by Ben Williams for BCTV (Breakin’ Convention’s professional development course for film makers), the film has unsurprisingly won multiple awards. Now that’s an inspiration worth sampling.


English National Ballet, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and La Sylphide

Posted: January 23rd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and La Sylphide

English National Ballet, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, and La Sylphide, London Colisseum, January 20

Publicity photo for English National Ballet’s double bill (photo: Jason Bell)

There are several elements that link Roland Petit’s 1946 creation, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and August Bournonville’s 1836 creation, La Sylphide that English National Ballet presented at the Colisseum. Both are set in the past, both treat the fragile nature of life and death, and both exteriorize the anguish of the principal characters (the unnamed young man in his Parisian garret and James in his Scottish baronial hall) in the figure of a femme fatale who exists largely in the imagination of the men but manifests in ethereal or earthly form on stage. These can be thought of as contemporary human sensations conveyed within a historical setting, but the historical setting — its sets, lighting and costume — however beautifully conceived, is never enough to convince an audience of the authenticity of the re-staging.

Le Jeune Homme et La Mort was created in Paris one year after the end of the second world war when most of the audience and performers would have experienced five years of either fighting, losses, German occupation or all three. That kind of experience is impossible to recreate, but it can be translated. Walter Benjamin makes a case in his essay The Task of the Translator, that transmitting information (in this case, the choreographic and visual elements) is to transmit the inessential. The essential is contained in what is additional to the information, the original emotional force of the work. In Le Jeune Homme et La Mort there is no chemistry between Isaac Hernandez and Begoñia Cao which gives Hernandez nothing to rage against. He rages against gravity, but not against his inner turmoil and Cao plays her role so outside his existential head that in showing him the noose she could be a member of cabin crew demonstrating safety procedures before takeoff.

In La Sylphide, despite the impeccable qualifications of Frank Andersen, Eva Kloborg and Anne Marie Vessel Schluter who have brought the production from its home at The Royal Danish Ballet, the performers lack the emotional sensitivity to astonish. Here the story is not so far removed from contemporary experience — unrequited love, the illusion of attraction and the despondency of having made the wrong decisions — but these need to be expressed in the context of romanticism whose principal aspects, as Jane Pritchard writes in the program, are ‘the dual fascination with the supernatural and the customs of remote exotic countries.’ It’s difficult today to conceive of Scotland as exotic, but the supernatural still has its allure. As the Sylph, Jurgita Dronina dances with all the technical precision one could want but there is something hard-edged about her interpretation that cannot be compared to what Théophile Gautier wrote of Fanny Elssler in a production of the original La Sylphide in 1838, that she ‘appeared and vanished like an impalpable vision, now here, now there’. Similarly, both Aaron Robison as James and Daniel Kraus as Gurn are convincing in their translation of the Bournonville style but Robison has difficulty differentiating between the presence of Dronina and the illusion of the Sylph, which leads to him expressing his feelings with contemporary shorthand gestures like snapping his hand and head as if to say ‘Damn, I missed her again.’ Kraus doesn’t have the same difficulty because Effie is flesh and bone in the form of Crystal Costa, a last-minute substitution for Connie Vowles. But Costa’s costume gives her the perplexing appearance of a school girl which withholds all belief in her betrothal to either James or Gurn, and Sarah Kundi’s mime as Madge may be accurate in terms of text, but lacks the conviction to convey the darkness and savage predictability of internal fate. By contrast, the two older men, Bimse and Bumse (James Streeter and Fabian Reimair) feeling the aches and pains from being pushed hither and thither, are entirely successful in imparting to the audience their condition.

If the older ballets are not stories that belong exclusively to the era of their creation but have what Benjamin called the essential element of ‘translatability’ then the question is how to translate them so as to make them relevant to the performers (for it is the performers who ultimately translate a ballet). Perhaps in the quest for technical brilliance the development of the psychological and emotional aspects of a character might be seen as secondary. Looking from today’s perspective at extracts of Jean Babilée in the original production of Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, his technique is dated but his muscular conviction translated into the steps defies time. The language of the feet, as Gautier wrote, may be universal and everywhere understood, but something in this double bill has been lost in translation.


Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala, Sadler’s Wells, November 30

Zen Jefferson, Saku Koistinen, Mikel Murphy, and Erik Nevin (photo: Colm Hogan)

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake makes a journey through the reductive division in Christian culture between light and dark, and between God (good) and the devil (evil) to lay bare what he calls ‘the root of much suffering and confusion’. He sets his story around his home in County Longford in Ireland whose many lakes are home to flocks of migrating swans but his principal characters — the overbearing mother who wants her introspective son to marry, the woman he falls in love with and the magician who has cast a spell on her — have much in common with the plot of the ballet of the same name produced in Moscow in 1875 to Tchaikovsky’s famous score. It is as if Keegan-Dolan has taken the Russian myth and re-mythologized it in the image of Ireland, and because the lakes and swans are tangible and the narrative is taken from local news and national history, his Swan Lake is grounded in a conflictual social and political reality of a kind the romantic ballet of Imperial Russia could never have acknowledged.

There is in actor Mikel Murphy, whom Keegan-Dolan casts as The Holy Man, a distant relation to the wicked magician, Von Rothbart, though at the beginning of Swan Lake he is the one who is under a spell, stripped to his underwear and tethered by the neck to a concrete block, bleating like a goat. It is not hard to see the image of a plundered Ireland tethered to England’s oppressive rule. Then three ‘watchers’ (Saku Koistinen, Zen Jefferson and Erik Nevin) release him, wash him down, beat him dry with red towels and prepare him for interrogation. In Keegan-Dolan’s psychological landscape it is only those representing the dominant culture of oppression — be it political, religious or matriarchal — who speak; while tethered Murphy can only bleat but once freed and offered an informant’s seat at the oppressor’s table, he talks the talk — but not before he’s had a cup of tea and a few biscuits.

It’s an enigmatic but brilliantly staged beginning to what is in effect the re-telling and re-enactment of a story in which Murphy is the sole narrator because the other principal witnesses are the victims of his crimes: one drowned and the other shot. Under Adam Silverman’s lighting and with Hyemi Shin’s evocative costumes, Sabine Dargent’s set is a makeshift restaging of the events with trusses, curtains, ladders, plastic sheeting, theatre boxes and props for the benefit of the audience whose role is to listen and to pass judgement: morality with its oppressive mores and prejudices is on trial.

To make up for having to leave the condemned family home for a new build, the ailing Nancy O’Reilly (Dr. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman) gives her son Jimmy (Alexander Leonhartsberger) his father’s rifle as a birthday gift. It becomes for him an inert symbol of power in a life that has little promise as a result of depression, both mental and environmental. Finola (Rachel Poirier) is one of four sisters (with Anna Kaszuba, Carys Staton and Molly Walker) in the village along with three burly, bisexual watchers and a fine band of musicians (Aki, Mary Barnecutt and Danny Diamond) playing the music of Slow Moving Clouds. In his narrative, Murphy recalls the characters in relation to his various roles as parish priest, local politician and police chief revealing his determinant role in their lives and destiny. As the priest he admits to sexually abusing Finola and threatening her sisters if they were to reveal the truth; as a politician he takes advantage of Nancy and Jimmy for a photo opportunity and as police chief he pressures the depressed Jimmy into a fatal showdown. Within this narrative, but beyond Murphy’s control, Finola, the only village girl to express an interest in Jimmy, makes a fateful connection with him. Keegan-Dolan gets inside the psychology of his characters and expresses it in raw body imagery with overtones of traditional dance; at the beginning Jimmy doesn’t speak and barely moves, but when he senses love from and for Finola he unlocks his reticence and awkwardness with a freedom of gesture that is a first sign of healing. But that reductive division in Christian culture claws back any such redemption, shaming Finola into drowning herself in the lake which sends Jimmy back into deep depression with a rifle at his side. As police chief, Murphy forces a faceoff with him and has him shot by his officers (recalling the tragic shooting of John Carthy, a depressed Longford man who refused to be evicted from his home). Murphy has finished his worldly story but Swan Lake continues in an afterlife with clouds of feathers where the lovers are reunited and dance among their friends with the freedom of unconstrained, unfettered bodies in an environment without hypocrisy, connivance and political ill-will. It’s not so much the idea as the jubilant choreographic conviction that suggests there is hope.


Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

Posted: November 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card, Lilian Baylis Studio, November 23

Gianluca Vincentini Wild Card

Amarnah Ufuoma Amuludun and Stefania Pinato in Encounter One (photo: Danilo Moroni)

For his Wild Card program at Lilian Baylis Studio, Gianluca Vincentini presents dance makers based in the north of England: Carlos Pons Guerra, Crystal Zillwood and Jamaal Burkmar. Having been artistic director of VERVE (the postgraduate company of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance) for five years, Vincentini knows these dancers and choreographers well. Prior to the main program, he presents his own company, Möbius Dance, in a short film, Encounter One, with Amarnah Ufuoma Amuludun and Stefania Pinato, followed by a structured improvisation to guitar accompaniment by Otis Jones with the same two dancers among the pre-show audience in Fox Garden Court. According to its website, Möbius Dance has two dancers (Amuludun and Pinato) and four collaborators, all of whom are presented or represented in the film. The program note for Encounter One — ‘Can I allow myself to let boundary lines blur while being within myself and accept compromises as part of co-existence’ — is so fluid and open-ended that the presence of two bodies moving in space is enough to fulfil its premise, and they do. But for those who enjoy a little more meat, Pons Guerra’s O Maria on the main stage hits the spot.

Written for two women, a man and a ham, it is played by two women, a man and a ham but gender correspondence is not on the menu. Concepción (Marivi Da Silva) and Armando (Azzurra Ardovini) are at home one evening, though all we see is the domineering Concepción sitting at the dinner table in a dress as black as her eyes with the wrapped or bandaged figure of Armando at her feet. There’s another wrapped figure (Phil Sanger) lying a little distance from the table, and a wrapped ham on the table. Clearly Ryan Dawson Laight has had as much fun with the costumes as Barnaby Booth with the lighting. The relationship between Concepción and Armando is described as ‘an unhappy marriage’ but this is an understatement; the ties that bind have turned to rope and bondage. In a beatific vision, Sanger’s arising — or arousal — as anything-but-the-virgin Mary is the catalyst that releases poor Armando from his wrapping to reveal his true gender and entangles Mary with the leg of ham. The program note for O Maria serves notice of nudity and sexual references but the satirical treatment of suffocating religious hypocrisy in 1950’s Seville is positively seditious.

Evolutio is one of three solos Zillwood will include in her creation, Spiral. In it she examines evolution with a little scientific guidance and abundant inspiration. She enters the stage out of darkness, from a distance too far to comprehend. Her postures on that first diagonal towards the light suggest the successive stages of human evolution but in reverse order, finishing on her haunches before repeating the sequence; at the third attempt she evolves into a dancer. Zillwood moves quietly and lightly along her exploratory journey, dancing a language that derives from classical technique but which breaks into a series of organic images derived from the natural world: from invertebrate motion to a human embryo, from a bird in flight to an anthropoid marveling at the stars. Her final pose is balancing on her coccyx, floating in the vastness of evolutionary history. She sketches these images fluently and fluidly against the musical phrases of a haunting arrangement by Nigel Kennedy of a Polish folk song, Ederlezi, that she has digitally altered and extended to fit the dynamic range of her choreography. There is nothing of the anthropological museum in Evolutio; it reveals itself like the spark of an idea with an intelligence that matches Zillwood’s musicality.

Jamaal Burkmar presents The Calm, one of three works he created for the New Adventures Choreographer Award showcase he won in 2016. Inspired ‘by family, home and music’, The Calm is a quartet of solos to a quintet of funky, soulful songs. Burkmar focuses first on the songs, playing Angie Stone’s Makings of You in the dark, and a second, D’angelo’s Send It On, as the four dancers — Burkmar, Lucia Chocarro, Tom Davis Dunn and Kasichana Okene-Jameson — lie in a stylised heap on the floor. As a choreographic device the heap is clichéd and artificial; no effort is made to suggest how the dancers arrive in that place, nor in the heap, nor how they relate to each other. Nor does the rest of The Calm offer any further clarification, but focuses instead on the individual choreographic responses to the music. Here Burkmar and his dancers are far more interesting, especially Okene-Jameson who blasts into her theatrical space with a freedom and invention that is all her own; if the others make it happen, she lets it happen. She also uses the direction of her head and eyes as she dances, which takes her expression to a level that is as generous as it is self-reinforcing. The Calm, however, ends on a note that is as anti-climactic as it is predictable, with the music fading and the lights dying slowly on a heap of dancers.

 

My friend Ian Abbott has also written about Carlos Pons Guerra’s De Nada Dance in a triple bill at mac last year.