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.


Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Posted: July 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement, Shubbak Festival, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Mithkal Alzghair, Rami Farah and Samil Taskin in Trio

A pair of black boots alone on the stage before the start of Mithkal Alzghair’s Solo is a bleak image of displacement that has many connotations. When Alzghair enters the stage bearing a neatly folded white sheet in his outstretched arms, places it carefully on the floor before putting on the boots, the images and gestures are stark but full of meaning. Although Alzghair’s references may not be immediately evident to a western audience, he transfers to the spectator his raw experience through the emotional conviction with which he invests each and every movement.

Alzghair grew up in Syria and currently lives in exile in Europe; what he brings to the stage is what his body remembers from its heritage without any overt narrative or political propaganda. In exploring how steps and everyday gestures are transformed by external forms of coercion, Alzghair uses dance as a metaphor for freedom and culture that can be diminished but never erased. His hands behind his back suggest forced restraint, his arms raised above his head denote surrender and his stripping down to his underwear with his jeans around his ankles forewarns of a violence that can only be imagined; as he pivots and falls repeatedly in an attempt to maintain his footing his unbuckled belt thrashes on the floor like a whip. But however repressed and subjugated he may be, he maintains the essential rhythms of the dance throughout. Alzghair connects us to Syria through traces of traditional music and fragments of rhythmic dance steps he and his friends once performed at weddings and other festivities. There are deep, angular steps that surge into the ground to rise up out of it in joy and ecstasy, and small rhythmical foot shuffling like a recitative he maintains throughout Solo; these steps become in themselves an expression of displacement through exile and his unflinching gaze serves to remind us of the pain such upheaval entails. Suddenly Alzghair includes a high military kick that jars our frame of reference; he kneels, bends over with his hands crossed behind him and tries to continue the rhythms on his knees and then in very low, knotted steps until he collapses in a cross-legged heap. He endures and he survives but the past leaves a diminishing trace on the present; now that he is outside his Syrian cultural context, he has to explore the act of physical recollection of what has been left behind. Despite its air of fragility, Solo is a muscular protest against cultural oppression and its concomitant displacement and serves notice that it is culture that defines people before any notion of politics.

The eloquently somber lighting (by Séverine Rième) and everyday clothing are in the same register for Trio, which follows without a pause, resuming the notions of Solo with dancers Rami Farah and Samil Taskin. Alzghair introduces into the reality of displacement the mutual support among a group of friends. The Syrian conflict again becomes the invisible backdrop to the fragility of human life, to notions of home, comradeship and memory that fulminate quietly throughout the work and question our sense of comfort. Yet at the same time the three men embody a profound yet humble humanity that is uplifting. The shuffling foot rhythms of Solo are repeated here but are intimately felt like a bond between the three men rather than performed. To simple dance patterns and solos are added sequences of sotto voce clapping and the linking of arms. The cloth Alzghair brought in for Solo is unfolded by Farah and Taskin and gripped in their fists above their heads, a sacred memory of home, perhaps, against which we see only the men’s shadows. They continue to shuffle in subtly changing patterns creating a sense of uncertainty and trepidation as they weave in and out of the light as if avoiding attention. Alzghair breaks into a folk step that the other two follow and then the trio reforms until the invisible force of coercion makes itself felt once again in ominous gestures of kneeling and collapsing, while the stripping of their shirts gives the men a heightened sense of vulnerability. But the feet keep up the folk rhythms whenever possible as a metaphor for keeping alive in a seemingly hopeless situation. The way Farah makes a ritual of folding up the t-shirts and the white cloth speaks longingly of absence and loss as Alzghair and Taskin whirl around the stage and spin off, a momentary sense of elation and freedom before the three join together on another arduous journey. In terms of gesture there is little to differentiate between movement transformed by external coercion and that transformed by one’s own arduous exertion. The men drop like ripe fruit but help each other up and continue, now dispersing slowly to the edges of the diaspora of the stage as the light dies with a sense of interminably drawn-out time and ineffable space engulfed in crushing silence.

This UK première of Displacement was produced by Sadler’s Wells as part of the Shubbak Festival of contemporary Arab Culture.


Ian Abbott at Greenwich Fair

Posted: July 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Greenwich Fair

Greenwich Fair, Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, June 24 and 25

Far From The Norm’s Da Native in front of the statue of General Wolfe (photo: Ian Abbott)

Greenwich Fair is the opening weekend blitz of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (a 15-day celebration of street arts) featuring circus, theatre, games, live art and a suite of new dance works. GDIF has ‘a particular focus on the commissioning and development of outdoor work led by deaf and disabled artists and artists from diverse backgrounds’ and there was new small-scale outdoor work on show from Deaf Men Dancing, Far From The Norm and Avant Garde Dance.

Etta Ermini’s Culinary Duel sees two male dancers in chefs’ whites goofing around in tune with the fading relevance of TV cookery shows. In an under-rehearsed work where legs and limbs collide in contact and lift work, movements are not fully executed and lines are certainly not clean. However, none of this mattered to the 300+ audience who attended the Sunday afternoon because the underused star of the show was a remote controlled cooker which trundled around bumping into the chefs, approaching the audience and flapping its oven door like a hungry mouth. In amongst the frenzied whisking and flinging of Angel Delight there is a hunger for light entertainment, an amusing photo to post on social media and something to hold your attention for 20 minutes; by these standards Culinary Duel delivers in spades. Younger audiences were in raptures, screaming in delight at seeing a domestic appliance transformed into a living, dancing machine that succeeded in upstaging the humans.

On a similarly unpalatable menu, the premiere of Avant Garde Dance’s new outdoor work Table Manners, commissioned by Without Walls, describes itself as ‘a choreographic feast exploring human relationships through our cultural connections with food and dining, with a thought-provoking social subtext.’ The reality is somewhat different: an undercooked and disjointed collection of scenes that reheat tired food clichés that have little cultural relevance today. At 40 minutes, Table Manners sags dramatically between scenes as the three dancers tinker with fiddly adjustments needed to switch and extend the table surfaces, drawing our focus away from any choreography. Sasha Shadid proves particularly irksome as an over-officious, fake-dacting waiter, while Duwane Taylor and Julie Minaai are presented as 2D characters and struggle to exhibit any technique or musicality, with any subtlety being left in the pantry. Tony Adigun has choreographed a number of excellent outdoor works for Avant Garde (Taxi, Romeo & Juliet, Silver Tree) which have delivered greater complexity, signature choreography and an attention to musicality; with a severe edit there is potential in Table Manners but the audible sighs around me left my choreographic stomach rumbling.

Corazón a Corazón, performed by Deaf Men Dancing and Leo Hedman, was commissioned by GDIF, Without Walls, Brighton Festival and Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival. It is a 25-minute work inspired by Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman and was conceived, choreographed and directed by Mark Smith. Charlie Hembrow and Shane Pearson are Puig’s prisoners who form an intimate bond in their cell whilst suffering the brutality of Hedman’s baton-wielding guard. With a tango-inspired soundtrack and simple contemporary partner work, two beds provide the main set pieces, upended to represent bars, flipped in displays of dominance and skittled as Hembrow and Pearson seek solace under Hedman’s watchful eye. After seeing Smith’s previous work, Let Us Tell You A Story, his theatricality and overtly dramatic performance style is at home in the outdoor environment and his subtle integration of BSL rewards a close reading. However, an inexplicable and wild narrative shift 10 minutes out sees Hedman’s guard scampering up into the crows nest scaffold structure and transform the show into a burlesque-inspired rope aerial act lasting the remainder of the show. Hedman displays fine skill and technique but this shoehorned metamorphosis attempts to bring two entirely different worlds together with little subtlety or consideration for an audience.

The majority of work programmed for outdoor/street arts festivals is work that isn’t emotionally or politically resonant and chooses not to deal with alternative forms; this signalling that programmers believe audiences want the primary colour splat of Britain’s-Got-Talent-lite spectacles and don’t want to engage with complexity is misplaced. With the recent large-scale outpouring of support for alternative narratives and our ability to deal with complexity that have emerged in the wake of the London and Manchester terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire signifies we are able to talk, debate and dialogue about things of scale.

It is refreshing to see Botis Seva’s Far From The Norm’s Da Native, a work that actively refuses to locate itself and embraces multiple narrative readings, set against a geodesic dome decorated with three-sided patterned textiles that echo the cultural significance attached to weaving and cloth that exists in different non-Western cultures. Set in the shadow of Greenwich Park’s statue of Major-General James Wolfe (the 18th century British army officer posthumously dubbed ‘The Conqueror of Quebec’ for capturing Quebec City from the French), the territorial and colonial frame in which Da Native operates offers extra resonance; with nomads arriving from east/west and finding respite in the dome Da Native offers a series of tight choreographic rituals that look at community, home and departure. With a consistency of intense physical detonation and attack, Far From The Norm delivers a water-tight performance balancing moments of stillness atop the dome with searing choreographic ensemble work; images of drenched cloths being pulled from the dancers’ mouths like a magician’s mouth coil conjure up arid landscapes and dusty travels and leave an indelible mark on the audience. With a slight tweaking by shifting and extending the visual focus of the work to three sides (not just front on), Da Native has a great chance of being a work that offers alternative perspectives while rejecting the simplistic narrative of other outdoor festival works.

Greenwich Fair was 97% free (A View from the Bridge being the exception) and accessible to people who encountered the 40+ works around the Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark Gardens and Greenwich Park; however by spreading out to the park there was a dissipation of energy and a dispersal of audience over the opening weekend. In previous iterations I’ve attended the densely packed programme focused on a tight geographical location which builds an energy, buzz and ferocity of people – shows programmed back to back so that as soon as one finishes, an audience swarms from one to another and is swept along in the rhythm and waves of performance. Greenwich Fair sits amongst the larger GDIF which has multiple themed programs including Dancing City, finales and mass street events, but if the opening weekend is meant to build momentum for what follows and if the commentary and discussions on the quality of programmed work amongst the dozens of Xtrax delegates are anything to go by, then the omens are not good.


Knowbody II, Elixir Festival 2017

Posted: July 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Knowbody II, Elixir Festival 2017

Knowbody II, Elixir Festival, Sadler’s Wells, June 24

ELIXIR FESTIVAL at Sadler’s Wells, London, UK ; 22 June 2017 ; Credit : Johan Persson

Company of Elders in Shobana Jeyasingh’s Here (photo: Johan Persson)

Something interesting has happened to the bipartite formula for Sadler’s Wells’ Elixir dance festival celebrating lifelong creativity. Three year’s ago, the main stage performance Knowbody I was clearly the headliner of the festival while the Extracts, based predominantly on community dance, were the supporting acts. This year the quality of Knowbody II has declined while the first evening of Extracts has shown a marked advance in mature amateur dance to a middle ground between community dance and the main stage. One of the reasons is that the current programming of Elixir has not reflected what has been happening in mature dance in the intervening three years, both in this country and in Europe. Despite Sadler’s Wells membership of the large-scale, EU funded co-operation project, Dance On, Pass On, Dream On (DOPODO), that nine dance institutions from eight countries have developed to address ageism in the dance sector and in society, this year’s Elixir has the same format, some of the same performers, and the same division between professional and amateur companies as before. While the inclusion of Berlin’s Dance On Ensemble (a professional company for the over-40s) and some amateur performances from Holland, Germany and Denmark in the Extracts are welcome, it is a shame that Charlotta Öfverholm’s company Jus de la Vie, a signatory of the DOPODO agreement, could not be included on the main stage event this year. Öfverholm’s presence alone would have countered the tiresome absurdity of Annie-B Parson’s The Road Awaits Us and the misplaced, if respectful inclusion of Robert Cohan’s Forest Revisited. And if Elixir is addressing ageism in dance, why are such artists as Wendy Houstoun and Liz Aggiss, who are battling on the same front, missing from the lineup for the second time? But there is a much larger question that Sadler’s Wells’ own flagship Company of Elders raises that remains to be resolved.

There is a fundamental but vitally important distinction between presenting age on stage and celebrating age on stage. To watch Ana Laguna and Yvan Auzely on the main stage in Mats Ek’s Axe is to celebrate the unique contribution of the mature performer, and the same is true of the performance by Holland Dance of Jérôme Meyer and Isabelle Chaffaud’s My tasteful life in the first program of Extracts. It is not the difference between amateur and professional that counts but the degree to which performers can project their maturity in all its richness and complexity. This doesn’t happen, however, in Shobana Jeyasingh’s Here, choreographed for Company of Elders as part of Knowbody II; it opens promisingly with a wash of crimson costumes in glorious light but descends quickly to a composition of seated dancers waving arms, and such is the design of the chairs and the way the dancers are seated that a comparison with wheelchairs is unavoidable. This is a display of age dressed in glorious costumes and lights where the individuality of the dancers is replaced, in formal terms, by the identity of the group. If someone of Jeyasingh’s creativity cannot make a work on Company of Elders that celebrates their age, there is a problem. Perhaps the makeup of the company means she has had to create on the abilities of the weaker members to the detriment of the expressivity of the stronger ones, but no work of value can ensue from this compromise and the notion of a flagship company for mature dance sinks with it. For all the advantages Company of Elders receives as the Sadler’s Wells resident performance group for the over-60s — working with renowned choreographers, a highly visible platform, touring and high production values — its qualities are no more developed than its counterparts in Brighton, Ipswich, East London and Greenwich (all of whom were presented next door in Extracts). It would seem the opportunities laid at Company of Elders’ feet are being exploited rather than fully realised. Auditions may be one way forward and a re-selection of current members according to ability. And if Sadler’s Wells wants Company of Elders to share the main stage with professional dancers, shouldn’t they, too, be paid?

Another feature of this edition of Elixir that compromises its value is the presence of so many young dancers on the main stage program. Pascal Merighi, who choreographed a solo for Dominique Mercy at the last Elixir has for this one created a duet for Mercy and his daughter, Thusnelda. Why? In Forest Revisited, some of the dancers who once performed Robert Cohan’s Forest (Kenneth Tharp, Anne Donnelly, Linda Gibbs, and Christopher Bannerman, joined by a younger Paul Liburd) are seen teaching it to a new generation. Is Elixir becoming an intergenerational festival? Artistic director Alastair Spalding describes Elixir as ‘an evening featuring choreography created and danced by older artists’ while his programmers seem to be doing something else. What Extracts has confirmed, however, is that works for mature dancers are gaining in quality and interest; hopefully we won’t have to wait another three years for the next edition of Elixir festival to see mature dancers in a new category of work that is currently coming of age.


Swallowsfeet Festival 2017

Posted: April 28th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Swallowsfeet Festival 2017

Swallowsfeet Festival, The Old Market, Hove, March 24-25

Swallowsfeet

Alicia Meehan and Gavin Coward in A Blighted Life (photo: Claire Nicolas Fioraso)

And you see a girl’s brown body dancing through the turquoise,
And her footprints make you follow where the sky loves the sea.

These lyrics from Cream’s 1967 Tales of Brave Ulysses suddenly came to mind while I was thinking of Swallowsfeet Festival. Even if Hove faces the Channel and not the Mediterranean, there are both colourful and erotic elements in the heroic onboard fare that make you follow the footprint laid out for this fifth edition of the festival. Curated around themes of sexuality, gender, health and identity, eroticism is close to the surface in Masako Matsushita’s Un/Dressed and, with darker overtones, in Gil Kerer’s Between Us. You can’t miss the colour in Alice Labant’s installation, Current Biopsy, with painter Caroline Hands, or in Gavin Coward’s A Blighted Life, and there’s a heroic sense in Marc Philipp Gabriel’s Ajima, in the partnership of Iain Payne and Gabriel Moreno in The Howl of the Old Leopardi, in Jan Möllmer’s miniature epic, When You’re Smiling and in Joe Garbett’s spirited riposte to arts funding cuts in No.Company. Presented together over two days in a variety of locations within The Old Market, these works form a stimulating journey through which the white-overalled members of the Swallowsfeet collective guide the audience with dinner bells and semaphoric gestures. And if it’s all too much, down in the basement there’s Hamish McPherson’s Nonexistent Activity Outside The Capitalistic Time in which you can alternately relax and minister to the relaxation of others (if Ulysses was ever becalmed, this is where it happened). McPherson succinctly underpins all that is going on upstairs by suggesting that if we don’t care for each other the purpose of the arts has lost its way. Through its inclusivity, Swallowsfeet is more than a festival of international dance; it’s an event of human proportions in which dance, music and silence express contrasting aspects of the human condition.

With 280 submissions from 39 countries culled to nine performances, the collective has worked hard to produce a coherent and stimulating program on a small scale and a small budget. Perhaps because it is David to the region’s Goliath (the Brighton Festival), Swallowsfeet has failed four times in its last five applications for financial support from Arts Council England, but its dance programming is far more adventurous than its conservative relation further along the seafront. Swallowsfeet dips into areas that are rich seams for exploration even if the resultant works may hang on to their form by their fingernails; but in a festival setting this is preferable to the programming of rich formal works whose seams of exploration have long since been mined.

Take Iain Payne’s pairing with Gabriel Moreno. Both men are from Gibraltar, and while the sturdy Moreno lends his rich mellifluous voice and his guitar to songs and poetry, Payne is like an old bibliophile arranging books — the traces of his culture — around the island of his stage. He races forwards and backwards, slides and slips in his impatient race to keep abreast of history while Moreno’s voice is the rock of his stability. Payne builds a bridge of separate tomes to a cliff of books on which he balances precariously; but these are the very words Moreno keeps alive with his voice. The influence of the two men collides, producing the enigma of cultural identity.

Identity is at the heart of Gavin Coward’s A Blighted Life, more histrionic tableau than performative theme but its raw emotions, its African beat and vivid colours take us on a hedonistic journey with three dancers (Coward, Alicia Meehan and Patrick Ziza) with scarves, flags, cross dressing and undressing, high heels, and rubber car tyres. Grayson Perry is quoted in the program as saying, ‘Identity is an ongoing performance not a static state’ which is very much the nature of A Blighted Life, though it appears more permissive than blighted. The only suggestion of repressive homophobic attitudes comes through recorded commentary, which provides insufficient counterweight to the ebullience of the performance to make a political statement.

I saw Möllmer’s When You’re Smiling in the first-night performance on the paved area in front of The Old Market, where dancer Uwe Brauns mapped out a dance for two pairs of shoes. Using his hands inside the shoes he creates a soaring conversation between them and has them dance duets to Louis Armstrong’s trumpet. In a wonderful overlap of the imaginary and the substantive, the owner of the neighbouring house opens his door to see what is going on. A few minutes later Brauns calls someone’s name from another house but, disappointingly, nobody responds. Having traced a series of magical stories as mime and puppeteer, Brauns finally picks up both pairs of shoes and walks them back into the theatre.

In Current Biopsy, painter Caroline Hands could simply be recording Alice Labant’s performance, standing on the side of the stage, Chinese brush in a hand hovering over ink and paper, but she’s an integral part of the performance. She watches Labant who lies on a corner of the barroom floor like a pre-Raphaelite Ophelia, her eyes closed. When she opens them she impishly instructs us to close ours. Once opened again — with her permission — we see Labant kneeling then rising in a dress the colours of the sea. Current Biopsy is a danced improvisation that plays with sumptuously coloured textiles Hands has fashioned, brought alive by Labant’s effusive, swirling movement. The work is an experiment in using the dynamic body to set materials in motion but it is also the materials that frame the body’s fleeting form. Paradoxically Hands tries to capture it with sketch after sketch, paper flying to the floor while Labant’s brother Boris plays a musical reverie on guitar. As rich as the materials from which it arises, Current Biopsy celebrates a path of light and tangible beauty in both limited space and time.

There is more form in Gil Kerer’s Between Us through his use of the body’s sinuous psychology. A duet with Kerer and Alex Shmurak to a score by Ori Avni, Between Us is an intimate portrait with brutal overtones. Trained in Gaga, Kerer’s body manifests the shades of intimacy, from generous to possessive, and he can swing his moods without warning; Shmurak is part foil and part accomplice. This emotional uncertainty keeps tension in the work while the precision of the interaction between the two maintains a visceral dynamic.

I have written elsewhere about a previous manifestation of Joe Garbett’s No. Company. In addressing the problem of rehearsal and production costs constantly outweighing financial resources, Garbett has hit on an idea that resolves an aspect of the equation while being inherently alluring. Using as his creative input text messages from a number of choreographers working in pairs on social media, Garbett leaves the dancers’ imagination, humour and ingenuity to interpret the messages. Garbett himself provides only direction and enough studio time in which to put it all together. This time he has used three texts from three pairs of choreographers (Perrine Gontié, Elinor Lewis, Maria Lothe, Alice Labant, Amy Toner, and Connor Quill) to create two independent duets, one with Lorea Burge Badiola and Ellya Sam, the other with Jacob Bray and Richard Pye. There are some similarities in the two duets, performed separately, but the dancers’ animated response to the input gives the duets an improvisational freshness that makes them a joy to watch.

For Un/Dress, Masako Matsushita is dressed in nothing but a surfeit of underwear. The multiple layers only become visible as she lowers one after another (seventeen or eighteen in all) to form a long tube dress of bright colours and patterns. She already makes an art of dressing but with the undressing the cool perfection of her flesh suddenly freed from clothing is intense. And just at that moment the drone of the score changes pitch, embracing and underlining the act so effectively as if the music itself had been caught unawares by the transformation. Matsushita allows us to experience the state of undress as the obverse of dressing rather than as a reduction to nakedness. Billed as ‘a metaphorical performance that…becomes an inquiry into the role of clothing and body in modern society’, Un/Dress is an exquisitely controlled deconstruction that places the body and clothing on the same aesthetic plane.

Perhaps the most formal work of the festival is the main stage performance on Friday night of Marc Philipp Gabriel’s Ajima, focusing on solo performer, Maija Karhunen. The formality is in the presentation but the subject is a flight of fancy that ‘oscillate(s) between real and fake, private and public, quotidian and theatrical.’ Karhunen, who was born with glass-bone disease, guides us consummately through the irony of following a yoga instruction video by a lithe young woman on a New York rooftop with its drippingly spiritual commentary: “Try to release all the pressure you have accumulated in the past, all anger, all the concerns…Allow the light to penetrate into your spine; feel confident about yourself.” Karhunen, who has all the confidence one could wish for in a performance, fast forwards to a more palatable section until she calmly closes the laptop. Pulling out a gold lamé shirt and a fur stole from a small cardboard cupboard behind her, she takes on poses of an exotic dancer, constantly challenging the norms, calmly cranking open the gap between our expectations and hers to the point hers make just as much sense. She tells a joke but the humour is in her self-deprecating inability to remember the punch line; she defiantly dances on her back with her eloquent arms and hands reaching the musical crescendo, and she rolls herself up in her yoga mat and makes faces by pulling out the edges of her mouth. We are watching an expressive mind and body interacting powerfully with the audience. For a finale she reads our horoscopes like an oracle divining the augurs from a selection of items collected prior to the show from members of the audience. We want to believe her, but she doesn’t always reach her mark. She might not be a great oracle, but she commands the stage.

The Swallowsfeet Collective can be proud of this event; the works stand together and support each other within a format that allows experimentation while not being afraid to fail. The festival deserves more attention from national arts funding sources and from the dance development leaders up the road. Great art doesn’t always come from great venues or festivals, but arises where the circumstances are propitious. Swallowsfeet Festival fits the bill, and high attendance proved its attraction. In the hope it will continue its journey, it might be worth remembering that Ulysses managed to navigate the perils and temptations of his epic voyage home not only with his courage and tenacity but with a little help from the gods.


A preview of Swallowsfeet Festival

Posted: March 12th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Interview | Tags: , , | Comments Off on A preview of Swallowsfeet Festival

Swallowsfeet Festival, The Old Market, Hove, March 24-25

Swallowsfeet Festival promotional image (photo: Paul Seaby)

This article first appeared in the March edition of the magazine, Viva Brighton, who commissioned it. It appears here with the editor’s kind permission.

Billed as Brighton’s only platform for international contemporary dance in a city that hosts England’s largest arts festival, Swallowsfeet Festival embodies a culture of spirited resistance to the status quo. If one takes New York’s Judson Dance Theatre collective in the sixties as a point of departure, spirited resistance is what guides much of contemporary dance and since it uses the body as its primary instrument, its arguments are a form of physical discourse.

When Swallowsfeet Festival presents its program at the Old Market theatre on March 24 and 25, it will be celebrating its fifth outing. Some of the planned activities around the weekend have had to be put on hold following the failure of an Arts Council funding bid but the core program remains intact thanks to the pluck and conviction of the six-member Swallowsfeet Collective: Jessica Miller, Rosa Firbank, Jessica Léa Haener, Sivan Rubinstein, Gordon Raeburn and Harriet Parker-Beldeau.

They all met while studying contemporary dance at Laban Conservatory of Music and Dance in London but it was Miller who first grounded the performances of the collective in her native Brighton as an outlet for a group of Laban students to present their final works to an audience of friends and family. Just four years later the open callout for the 2017 festival has produced 280 proposals from 39 countries which the Collective has distilled to a program of nine works in the image of Brighton itself: edgy, diverse, challenging, and engaging.

Having narrowed down its 280 proposals, the Swallowsfeet Collective decided to include in the festival those that had, in the vocabulary of the physical, the possibility of the greatest impact on its audience, and the focus of these nine works coalesces around four predominantly physical themes: sexuality, gender, health and identity. At its best, contemporary dance picks up on issues of its time and transforms them through the body as voice.

Ironically, one of the works on the program, Joe Garbett’s No.Company, was conceived as a reaction to funding cuts for the arts. First shown at Emerge Festival in London, six choreographers in six different locations sent movement ideas, images and suggestions via text message to the two performers who then spent only two days in a borrowed space putting it all together. This is unheard of in the current funding matrix of rehearsal time and studio rental, but the result was fresh, immediate and magical. For Swallowsfeet Festival, Garbett is using a different score of text messages and is inviting two couples to interpret and perform two separate works from it; like musical improvisations, they will never be repeated. It might sound like a choreographic manifestation of a throwaway society, but the impression No.Company made when I first saw it was profound. It is this ability of contemporary dance to make the body speak, whisper and shout that has driven the Swallowsfeet Collective’s choice of all nine works on the program in March.

To book tickets for Swallowsfeet Festival and find out more about the events, go to

www.swallowsfeet.com/2017programme/


Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: Janis Claxton Dance, Pop Up Duets

Posted: August 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: Janis Claxton Dance, Pop Up Duets

Janis Claxton Dance, Pop Up Duets (fragments of love), National Museum of Scotland, August 17

One of Janis Claxton's Popup Duets (photo:

James Southward & Christina Liddell in one of Janis Claxton’s Popup Duets (photo: Ian Abbott)

Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.” – Anais Nin

With Pop Up Duets Janis Claxton has made photographic dance catnip; four lithe, athletic bodies, dripping with clean and dramatic lines, set against the backdrop of the National Museum of Scotland. Choreographically it’s a canny decision and demonstrates a genuine understanding of how audiences engage with work in public space. They will often stay with a work for four to six minutes, invest a little of themselves, take a photo and carry on with their day. But Pop Up Duets has been all over social media and the company has also been interviewed by BBC Loop to create a short video that racked up over 32,000 views — by far the biggest audience for contemporary dance at the Fringe.

With a company of exceptional dancers (Adrienne O’Leary, James Southward, Christina Liddell and Carlos J Martinez), nine duets lasting four to five minutes each are performed within the gallery spaces; the choreography and musicality are akin to rain droplets on the window of a speeding train: a swooshing arrival as they land, bodies slowly unfurling, leaving a water tail as they make their horizontal journey across the floor and then ramping up again as they gather momentum to join with other miniature streams as they run against the wind. There’s oodles of fevered contact, silky bodily meshing and recognisable tropes of physical intimacy delivering a choreographic vocabulary that is recognisable and accessible for all who encounter it.

I did not want to be a tree, a flower or a wave. In a dancer’s body, we as audience must see ourselves, not the imitated behavior of everyday actions, not the phenomenon of nature, not exotic creatures from another planet, but something of the miracle that is a human being.” – Martha Graham.

As the duets popped up around the museum an accidental audience would gather temporarily for a duet or two but when I attended the majority of the crowd were ready for a performance and stayed for the entire 45 minutes; they naturally formed a ring, hugged the safety of the edge and framed a circular stage area for the dancers to perform in. The space was never crossed or intruded upon once a performance began, demonstrating an understanding and familiarity with performance in public places. The audience was guided from the site of one duet to another by the introduction of the next piece of music issuing from two smartly designed vintage suitcases that acted as portable speakers. As the crowds gathered again the dancers emerged from within the crowd. The main gallery in National Museum of Scotland is like a three-tier ivory budgie cage with natural light beaming down from the roof; it was levels one and two that offered a birds-eye view and it was here that those a little less familiar with performance encountered the work from a safe distance with the ability to capture the results on their smart phone.

That hunger of the flesh, that longing for ease, that terror of incarceration, that insistence on tribal honour being obeyed: all of that exists, and it exists everywhere.” – Ben Kingsley

However, as I stayed with Pop Up Duets, my interest began to wane. Because the individual fragments exist in isolation and don’t talk to each other, there is a similarity in pacing and a lack of visible development in the wider narrative, and although the setting is majestic the context of the venue (a museum of inanimate history placed on plinths or stuck behind glass) offers little in terms of framing. Love and intimacy are rarely treated well choreographically in contemporary dance; convincing the audience that two people are longing to be together is difficult (and not all the dancers in the company manage it) but James Southward absolutely nails it — his body amplifies the feeling that exists in his hungry eyes as he falls into the orbit of all those he dances with — he’s absolutely magnetic and melts in and out of the eyes of all who watch him.

Presenting accessible contemporary dance in public has a fruitful history across the UK with the likes of Casson and Friends, Protein Dance and Tilted actively embracing the richness that comes from this level of engagement. There is a lot to love in Pop Up Duets, including Kathryn Joseph on the soundtrack, the technical facility of the dancers and blending of museum/dance audiences together, but I didn’t fall in love with all of it; we brushed cheeks, flirted together and enjoyed a little fringe holiday romance.


Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Self Revealed

Posted: August 29th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Self Revealed

Hannah Nicklin, Equations For A Moving Body, Summerhall, August 9; Rosana Cade, Walking:Holding, Forest Fringe, August 17, and Skye Reynolds, Pitch, Dance Base, August 17.

Skye Reynolds in Pitch (photo: Lucas Kao)

Skye Reynolds in Pitch (photo: Lucas Kao)

A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.” – Madeline L’Engle

The self is firmly on show at Edinburgh Fringe Festival (as it is every year). There’s a constant examination and excavation of the self; performers offering a sliver of their lives to the audience in exchange for attention and time. How much can we see and are we allowed to see? When does dance, performance and live art really reveal itself (or the self’)?

Pitch is Skye Reynolds’ 30-minute solo, made in collaboration with Jo Fong, which she describes as ‘…a realisation: how are we living our lives? The act of selling oneself, selling an idea.’ This is a constant in the life of the independent, self-produced choreographer; selling themselves to venues, festivals and programmers to try and make what they’re offering appeal to the dance taste makers of the UK. Although there’s little choreographed dancing, there’s oodles of giddy movement interspersed with text which Reynolds delivers with aplomb; through her ebullience and constant refraction of her self and her history we see how a self can become centred — she offers us constant crumbs of personal milestones: playing the good wife and the whore; dreaming about David Bowie, playing the virgin in Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring, truth bending about working with Kylie Minogue and the time she was in China pretending to be an animal in a perspex box. She leaves us no time to dwell on how these moments impacted her (or how they affect our impression of her) as she skittishly flits from one revelation to the next. She’s selling herself, her story and her experience to us. Are we buying? I think we are.

In the second half, Reynolds begins to pull out from her big black box pre-scripted texts about things that perhaps she and we could care a little more for: Brexit, Belgium, Syria, Calais and dozens more, macro issues that feel an infinity away from the first half. Beginning with a micro focus on the self and then scaling up and shifting onto the world stage is an intelligent way to anchor and shift our thoughts to global issues we are collectively facing that should warrant greater attention. Mid-way through the work Reynolds blends life and art even further as we hear an overly long home recording of her daughter Tallulah playing piano and practising her Misty Copeland; it’s a fine rendition but the impact is made within the first verse and chorus and we don’t need to hear the rest. After a short recitation of REM’s Losing My Religion Reynolds abruptly leaves the stage along with the spotlight that has been chasing her around for the entire show. Just as we think it’s an ending Tallulah herself emerges to sing an original song whilst pinning up a hand-written note that invites the audience to donate to Plan UK, an education scheme for girls in Africa (after three performances nearly £100 has been donated). The impact would have been heightened if Reynolds had stayed and watched her daughter sing so we could see that familial connection; it would have amplified all the different selves that she and we present to the world.

Scattered amongst Pitch there are echoes of the way Wendy Houstoun (Reynold’s has been a performer in Houstoun’s Stupid Women) presents her work, from the witty and rambling (though actually carefully constructed) word association to the visible control of the soundtrack through an mp3 player and making social commentary on the dance world, too. Pitch and Reynolds happily flirt on the artifice-to-reality spectrum with an intelligent construction, humourous delivery and buckets of vitality. We are introduced to what Reynolds was, is and could be; it offers an intriguing possibility of how Pitch could sit with a companion piece (authored by Reynolds or somebody else) that might allow us to dwell on, get under her skin of and make us feel a little more uncomfortable with ourselves.

So you might say, ‘Why do you end up making theatre in a world in which there is already too much of that? Creating layer upon layer of artifice?’ Perhaps the function is to pierce through that cloud and show reality — so the function of art is to make things — to show: ‘Hang on, this is real.‘” – Simon McBurney

In the act of opening up on stage, does the level of virtuosic performance equate to the scale of trauma and of personal revelation from an artist? Does the fact that the more we hear about the tapestry of their life mean we should connect and empathise more?

Hannah Nicklin’s Equations for a Moving Body is an elegy to endurance and she describes it as ‘A story about the physiology of endurance — when our brains tell our bodies to stop — and the psychology of continuing.’ The psychology of extreme athletes is a rich research field; there are always people fitter and faster than you. However there is a set of traits which such athletes often share: curiosity, persistence, lack of fear and sense of boldness. This is a performance about prowess, mastery and the pursuit of betterment, yet it’s delivered with a precision and a sparse physical palette in which the emotional effect is arresting.

For over 80 minutes Nicklin guides the audience through her attempt to complete the Outlaw Triathlon (a 2.4m swim, 112m bike ride and 26.2m run) in July 2015 in her 30th year. The current narrative around Team GB’s success in Rio is that the public is seeing the rewards for the investment, sports science and the marginal gains that can be delivered through detailed preparation. It’s in this preparation and detail that Equations for a Moving Body shines brightest.

With a laptop, projector screen, some index cards on the floor and a water bottle, Nicklin talks to us from her chair or directly front on. Through her adept mix of live internetting and her nuanced vocal and physical delivery, we see flashes of her through the way she curates her online self in her profiles on Facebook, Flickr, and Bandcamp. As she scrolls, surfs and finds the URL’s to accompany her story we see her visual bibliography; there’s something satisfying in her sharing this intimacy. As she delivers stories of how she endured, trained and delivered we listen to Nicklin’s body as she slowly rock’s gently on her heels, the minute finger twitches and rubs on the palm; there’s all sorts of almost imperceptible physical signals at play here and although she clearly acknowledges us and is present in the room, I can’t help but sense she’s performing it for someone else, someone who’s not here.

How a work settles in a body changes the delivery and intonation; I saw this performance in the first week of the fringe (when some works are still trying to find their natural rhythm) but Nicklin had a comfort with these stories and with the science behind them. She understood the rhythm of her story and how to tell it; how to build, when to rest and let us recover. The stories and training are her embodied experience and there was an ease with which it flowed out. Nicklin met with a number of scientists in the construction of the work and there’s a strand of research from Dr Sarah Partington on the idea of the Storied Self which Nicklin paraphrases on her Ironman blog. ‘She explained that we are creatures of narrative — that as self-aware animals we build our sense of self through storytelling — we communicate our sense of self through stories. We need our story of self to be ratified socially, and we build our identity out of the stories we tell of our past within our social contexts.’

Equations for a Moving Body is an intimate portrayal of the self, layered with emotion, tragedy and curiosity, from which Nicklin constructs a compelling narrative and delivers with a vocal charge that ensures her storied self is one that is worth listening to.

 . . .sometimes one feels freer speaking to a stranger than to people one knows. Why is that?”
“Probably because a stranger sees us the way we are, not as he wishes to think we are.
” – Carlos Ruis Zafon

“Everything you see after you open your eyes is part of the performance.” That was the final instruction as I walked in silence from the Out of the Blue Drill Hall to the beginning of Walking:Holding, a work by Rosana Cade that turns Leith into a theatre. But the question is who are the performers? Hidden in the simple act of holding the hand of a stranger whilst walking together in public offers a number of self-examinations and surprises that I had not anticipated.

It was a blue, unclouded afternoon as I held the right hand of the first stranger; I denoted a tension in her arm as we paraded down Leith Walk. After a short exchange of questions and answers (we were free to be silent or to talk), she stopped and turned us to face the glass of a shop window: “What do you think people would say if they looked at us?” This one question knocks at the heart of Walking:Holding. Assumptions are often made based on how we dress, the age we look and our presumptive sex. I am guided over a zebra crossing and we are stopped by a man who asks, “Do you have a light?” “No,” I reply. “Well can I hold your hand instead?” At that moment, like a baton relay, I am handed over to my second companion and I discover an alternative physicality: he is taller than I am and so I need to raise my left arm higher to find his natural gait and we constantly adjust in an attempt to find a mutually comfortable proximity. As two people we are in an equally unstable position — we don’t know each other’s backgrounds, fears or curiosities — yet there is so much stimulation; I’m alive to new people, places and exchanges. The public are entirely unaware they are witnessing an intimate duet that has only just begun. Were we real in those 5 or 6 minutes together with each walker:holder? Were we performing a version of ourselves? What did we reveal to each other? I found out that one of the walker:holder’s identified as asexual and had never held a man’s hand in public in the daytime before.

There is a large amount of research in the field of walking psychology. Studies have shown that walking improves cognitive performance, aids problem-solving and creative thinking as well as enhancing our working memory. I remember so much of my emotional response in this 40-minute experience; more so than in many theatre-based performances: the sound of the loose change in the right yellow trouser pocket of walker:holder number six and the olfactory lingerings as I ambled past a number of oily garages with walker:holder number five. Your body is alert to everything: who’s thumb is on top; is it palms together or fingers entwined? Holding the hand of a child is loaded with safety and protection and it’s within that frame that I think Walking:Holding exists: we protect each other in public through this remarkable part of our body with which we can communicate so much. Without Cade being present she has constructed a frame and set in motion a number of carefully considered complexities that ensure this would resonate differently in parts of the world where human touch is either welcomed or frowned upon. For me, I left a little bit of myself with each of the six walker:holders and shared an equality of intimacy that has only been rivalled by Verity Standen’s Hug. Walking:Holding is a hugely intelligent work that left all sorts of residues on me: intellectually, physically and emotionally.

I came away from all three works thinking about the spectrum of artifice-to-reality and how other people can act as our mirrors. Skye had Jo Fong assembling, collaborating and refining herself as she went along; Hannah did the same through the people she encountered to build her story and the science behind it and Rosanna through her choice of walker:holders. All of them encouraged a self-reflection and if you combine the four titles (moving, holding, pitch(ing) and walking) they offer an instruction on how to approach the self and the people in your life; sometimes you dial up one or the other depending on the situation or who you’re with, but as a guide for the self you can’t go far wrong.


Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: hip hop culture

Posted: August 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: hip hop culture

Smother by 201 Dance Company, Skal by Lin Dylin and Bang! To The Heart by NUE Dance Company, Edinburgh Fringe, August 8 & 9

Smother by 201 Dance Company (photo: Cody Choi)

Smother by 201 Dance Company (photo: Cody Choi)

Our historical experience teaches us that men imitate one another, that their attitudes are statistically calculable, their opinions manipulable, and that man is therefore less an individual than an element in a mass.” – Milan Kundera

How do you translate a culture? West Side Story was a concept musical based on Romeo and Juliet that Jerome Robbins proposed to Leonard Bernstein in January 1949. It took another six years before playwright Arthur Laurents came up with the idea of two teenage gangs as the warring factions, one of them Puerto Rican, the other self-styled Americans. In November of the same year Stephen Sondheim joined the project as a lyricist and in August 1957 the stage version of West Side Story premiered in Washington D.C., with the film version released in October 1961. Successful translations take time to gestate, brew, fade and re-shape.

Feuding rivalries and gang culture are older than Shakespeare and it is within the embrace of West Side Story via the 90’s Sega Megadrive video game Streets of Rage that NUE Dance Company’s Bang! To The Heart resides. Heralding from Italy and presenting in the main space at Zoo, Bang! To The Heart offers the audience a large-scale, 60-minute work with 10 dancers, a complex set, multiple projections and an original soundtrack. The narrative premise is an exact replica of West Side Story – we have the Angels (Sharks) vs Zombies (Jets) fighting for supremacy; a gang member falls for a girl, loses the respect of his allies and has to make a decision whether to follow his heart or go back to his brothers. However, it is here that the similarities end as Bang! To The Heart is a graffiti cartoon fuelled with parkour bounding, a late night riot of outrageous bboy skills and facial exaggeration. With a number of distracting side panel screens projecting fluorescent animations of bodies glitching through an urban cityscape, the main focus lands on two large, reversible, wheeled walls that offer retractable ledges, staircases and scaffolding that allow the dancers to climb, bounce and launch themselves with consistent frequency. Rattling from scene to scene, face-off to face-off, the bboying is some of the best I’ve seen; extreme flexibility and strength sees crazy hollow backs, air flares and a whole suitcase of other power moves that wouldn’t be out of place at the bboy championships. It is physically impressive and the stamina is unrelenting; even in the last ten minutes with glistening brows none of the moves lose their edge. However, it isn’t all macho posturing. There are three female dancers who’s role is little more than moving wallpaper and street dance sirens calling to the bboys with their bodies; they are lifted and thrown around with brute force; without safe practice, damage to their bodies looks likely. Just because the bboys are at ease pushing the limits of their own physicality they should not jeopardise the safety of others within the company. With so much technical skill in the cast and heavy investment in production values, the company would benefit from a dramaturgical hand, otherwise Bang! To The Heart will fill its 22:20 kitsch slot and remain a slavish West Side Story imitation with lashings of bboy talent.

If you’re not messing up every now and then at practice, you’re not doing anything above your ability to progress.” – Crazy Legs

How do you adapt a culture? Baz Luhrmann, the director of Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge, Australia and Romeo and Juliet has just released The Get Down for Netflix, a glossy technicolour and romanticised fable on the birth of hip hop in the summer of 1977 in the Bronx. 12 episodes made for $120 million. The first six episodes are woven around a pair of young lovers who through music try to better themselves and move away from the culture and people that forged their personalities and life experience to date. With all four elements of hip hop — mc’ing, b-boying, graffiti, dj’ing — and plenty of Puma on show, Luhrmann integrates shots of original news footage in an attempt to transport us back to the Bronx, but at it’s heart, it’s a pond skimmer: dancing on top, unwilling to break the surface and burrow beneath a rich, politicised and complex culture.

Skal is a twenty-five minute work exploring macho culture within hip hop by the Swedish duo of Pontus Linder and Olov Ylinenpää (aka Lin Dylin). Dance Base presented Skal as part of Nord Dance, its festival of Scandinavian work, in November 2015 which is where I first saw it. After a second viewing I notice the visibility of child-like play and a depth of nostalgia that permeates the work. Linder and Ylinenpää start upstage seated on a picnic rug decorated with plants, records, soft furnishings and a slide projector. They oscillate between this quiet reflective space (which leaves the audience with little spectacle but the mundane re-arrangement of records or the watering of a plant) and the stage — the place where they play. Choreographically they’re reconfiguring windmills, belly swipes and air flares, slowing them down so we’re able to dissect them: we see battle tricks in duet and solo form broken down to reveal when momentum gathers and where delicate weight shifts take place. In a form that rewards either dizzying speed or precision freezes, Skal attempts to adapt the original into an alternative choreographic language; imagine bboys in treacle.

As two performers who are still active on the battle scene, Linder and Ylinenpää represent different sides of the bboy coin; Linder holds his footwork in high esteem, stylishly tinkering at the edges of the melodies whilst Ylinenpää is all power moves and physical prowess. There’s a comfort and unspoken solitude between them on stage and this settles in between the gaps of performance. When they return to the rug and strike up the slide projector we see a series of kaleidoscopic amorphous shapes oozing and lolling around. Silence and space are a rare presence in the hip hop world and consequently these 25 minutes feel unusual, which I appreciate; Skal is a quiet study of the bboy and Lin Dylin happily inverts the tropes that are usually associated with it to create a balanced and playful simplicity.

Our pleasures are not material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure — attractively packaged but inferior in content.” – Alan W Watts

In the UK there are a number of artists who frame themselves as making dance/theatre that uses hip hop as their primary movement language whilst mixing other styles and influences; Vicki Igbokwe, Botis Seva, Tony Adigun, Emma Jayne Park, Benji Reid and Robby Graham — a by no means an exhaustive list — are artists who are sensitive to the origins of hip hop, offer ambitious narratives for their audiences to engage with and have been pursuing theatrical presentations of their work for the last decade or more.

How do you dilute a culture? Smother by 201 Dance Company returns to the Fringe after a successful run last year that saw the company hoovering up a number of 4-star and 5-star reviews from EdFest Magazine, Broadway Baby and Scotsgay. Housed on the main stage at Zoo, the company of seven dancers explores the story of two men’s broken encounter whilst touching on the themes of addiction, obsession and commitment. 201 presents homosexual relationships in hip hop as sensitive territory but if you consider the history of hip hop and the funk styles of waacking, voguing and the balls that emerged in the late 70s and continue today there has been consistent and active communities within hip hop that are not defined by their sexuality. These communities kept themselves underground because of the intolerance of others to accept different types of bodies and beliefs; inside and outside hip hop the prejudices they encountered are still alive today, and I’m unsure whether attitudes are thawing or not.

Artistic director, choreographer and dancer Andrea Walker is to be applauded for attempting to explore this area as few in the UK have done so to date. However, for over 55 minutes we are presented with a number of low-quality commercial street dance routines — truncated to match the length of a pre-existing musical tracks — interspersed with faux, angsty dacting (dance acting). The routines are loose, unsymmetrical and there is an inconsistency across the dancers in terms of who is and is not able to hit the beat or understand the musical texture and nuance required. The dacting sections bear no relationship to the routines (which repeat motifs and material multiple times) and the physical encounters offer a uni-dimensional representation of relationships that are angry, promiscuous and unsubtle. Walker is noticeably the weakest dancer; he gives himself a lead role, often front and centre of the arrow formation, yet his execution has little attack and is always a beat behind. Smother lacks emotional subtlety, historical awareness and presents a series of shallow sub-standard choreographies that could be found in an improvers street dance class at Pineapple. You have to know where hip hop has been to know where it can go.

Hip-hop artists, especially the older ones, are the ones who knew hip-hop was a worldwide phenomenon before the mainstream caught on, so hip-hop artists are forward thinkers. We want to stay with the new.” – Nas


Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Hiccup Project

Posted: August 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Edinburgh Fringe: The Hiccup Project

The Hiccup Project, May-We-Go-Round?, Dance Base, Edinburgh Fringe, August 9

Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron of The Hiccup Project (photo: Maria Falconer)

Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron in May-We-Go-Round? (photo: Maria Falconer)

If you never tell anyone the truth about yourself, eventually you start to forget. The love, the heartbreak, the joy, the despair, the things I did that were good, the things I did that were shameful – if I kept them all inside, my memories of them would start to disappear. And then I would disappear.” – Cassandra Clare

The lost art of bedroom choreography is flung out of the wardrobe and up to the Edinburgh Fringe with gusto. May-We-Go-Round? cycles through a 60 minute excavation of past loves and exorcises them in the style of Taylor Swift. We meet Ian, Elliott (with a double t), Luke, the fit PE teacher, and oodles more as Chess Dillon-Reams and Cristina MacKerron narrate each other’s temporary heartbreak via shared direct address, full sass choreography and bedroom dance routines.

The face is where we as humans connect with each other; we don’t look at the suppleness of the spine or a hyper-extended leg to feel closer to a performer; we can admire it but it inevitably distances us. Chess’s and Cristina’s faces are things of elastic wonder; eyebrows on the go slow, tightly mouthed squeals of delight or throwing us two barrels of side eye — they perform with their whole bodies and we drink them in entirely. There’s a real guts and guns approach to the quality of movement — a throw-your-body-on-the-line-and-leave-nothing-behind — and this spirit engenders a forgiveness for any lack of technically sound unison, unfinished moves or broken lines.

May-We-Go-Round? acts as a connector to our own histories, a show with two performers we can relate to and it triggers memories of Dreamphone, Now 42 and Smash Hits. The Hiccup Project have cleverly tapped into a 90s nostalgia kick and it disarms the normally reserved contemporary dance audience. Their audio bibliography is clear (Spice Girls, Craig David and Cher) and how they describe and execute their work (not a mention of the word dance in the description) resonates with the majority of the under-35, female audience who were having a noticeably good time. Chess and Cristina are full of empathy and it’s impossible not to like them.

The strong bond of friendship is not always a balanced equation; friendship is not always about giving and taking in equal shares. Instead, friendship is grounded in a feeling that you know exactly who will be there for you when you need something, no matter what or when.” – Simon Sinek

Their relationship and familiarity with each other is clear and strong; the work is embedded in their bodies allowing their performance to shine through in the detail. Working with Antonia Grove and Lou Cope on the dramaturgy has resulted in a tightly-woven and well-constructed work. In the sections between the narration and movement they break the fourth wall and gift the audience a generous quadruple vodka and a dash of cranberry or explain the reasoning behind Chess’s excessively red face. These sections aren’t gimmicky but fit the tone, mood and enhance the connection between performers and audience.

There’s a growing crop of independent female choreographic voices that are excavating their own past and using comedy intelligently to bring audiences towards them: Sarah Blanc, Justine Reeve, Skye Reynolds, and Rhiannon Faith. The Hiccup Project’s choreographic candyfloss can be added to that list. I look forward to Now That’s What I Call The Hiccup Project 2.

Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Under its influence, ordinary songs take on dimensions and powers, like emotional superheroes.” Kate Christensen