Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

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

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

Kielland

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

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

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

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

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


Dan Canham/Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz in Session at LIFT

Posted: July 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dan Canham/Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz in Session at LIFT

Dan Canham/Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz, Session, Bernie Grant Centre, June 23

Session

Session at Bernie Grant Centre

In the courtyard of Bernie Grant Centre we are seated on three sides of a square awaiting the start of Session, a presentation of LIFT 2018 and a collaboration between choreographer Dan Canham, the afrobeats powerhouse Empire Sounds and Tottenham’s own Steppaz Performing Arts Academy; on the fourth side is a tent covering the musicians’ instruments and equipment. This is like the front yard for Empire Sounds and Steppaz who both make their home at the Centre; the atmosphere is as much festive as it is familial.

Anyone who saw Canham’s Of Riders and Running Horses atop a chilly, multistorey car park in Farringdon as part of Dance Umbrella in 2015 will perhaps recognize the setting of a proscribed urban area that becomes the site of a choreographic metamorphosis. Canham’s role in the collaboration, then as now, is as a catalyst for the transformation of a recognizable dance style into an unfamiliar format. As he explains, “The Steppaz dancers come from a background of competitive hip hop but I’ve pushed them into territory they have never done before which is a bit slower and more spacious. I’ve also challenged them to do something more intimate to what they’ve been used to because the audience won’t be sitting in the dark — they will be right in their faces.”

When the musicians — Josh Donkor, Mike Akrofi, Desty Engele, Tim Pabifio and Aaron Donkor — begin to play it’s as if they are laying down tracks in the air to prepare for the dance performance; the Steppaz Elites rise up in twos from their seats among the audience and enter the arena with an energy and force that fills those tracks with an equally impeccable rhythm and drive. It’s a heady experience watching the confidence that exudes from these young women and that energizes the entire crowd in the courtyard; those who are standing behind the seats are instinctively pursuing their own rhythms. In the sense of a shared experience on common ground the performance of Session is one of community — it is publicized as ‘a battle cry and a love song, celebrating community, youth and belonging’ — but as solos arise out of the group as naturally as riffs on a theme, or as one choreographic formation morphs seamlessly into another, there is a formal aspect that begins to show through. Canham is listed as choreographer along with Abena Noel from Steppaz and Odilia Egyiawan with whom he worked on Of Riders and Running Horses, but he is also listed as director. How exactly Session came together from these individual inputs is impossible to tell by watching, but Canham has a knack of framing his projects in a way that hides his individual authorship and promotes their autonomy; it is his subject that always comes to the fore.

The relationship between dancers and musicians is reciprocal; this kind of constant exchange between the two is at the heart of non-western dance traditions. When one of the dancers sets a beat with forceful gestures of her entire body, the drumbeat anticipates her every move; it’s as if the sound is part of her gesture. At other times the relentless energy of the music becomes a force the dancers enter with a frenzy that is intoxicating.

About halfway through the performance the stage area clears to reveal a young girl, one of the Steppaz mini-Elites, who seems quite fearless in her ‘circle of public solitude’. As she begins her dance the precision of her arm gestures is so musical that you can see the beat. A contingent of mini-Elites swarm the stage and prove the future in Tottenham is equally as bright and dynamic as the present. They perform their routines with the energy and conviction of their elders, supported by the latter’s vocal encouragement from their seats in an exemplary transference of confidence and support. When the elders join in they combine their own expertise with the younger ones, extending the choreography to two generations in one declaration of piggy-back unity.

Session is so much more than the sum of its parts. What Canham and his team have done is to frame a community dance form as something that moves not simply through a variety of individual bravura steps — though there are plenty of those to admire — but through a choreographic vision that raises the entire performance to a level of communal aspiration and hope. Session becomes a piece of theatre in its own right without changing its essential nature.


2018 Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Posted: June 30th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 2018 Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston, June 15

Ignition

Tina Omotosho, Stafan A Addaie and Danal Guy in MAN UP (photo: Gigi Gianella)

Rosie Whitney-Fish has taken a vision for dance and made it manifest. In an environment of financial scarcity where dance makers spend an inordinate amount of time writing applications for support from various cultural institutions, Whitney-Fish has grown DanceWest in four years from a seed of £1,000 of her own money into an organization that carries out a raft of community programs and projects centred around Lyric Hammersmith and co-founded Ignition Dance Festival with Kathryn Woodvine of Kingston Council. For the fifth festival DanceWest has been able to co-commission five mid-career choreographers — two solos, one duet, one trio and a quartet — whose works were seen for the first time recently at Kingston’s Rose Theatre.

As its name suggests, the festival is about igniting individual opportunities; each choreographer’s work can be seen for itself and while there is a curatorial hand in creating a viable program the interest of the festival is in the five singular approaches to creative expression. One of the parameters is that the commissions can only realistically cover a creation period of three weeks and while this may seem disadvantageous (though not unusual) to the creative process, some of the works have been in gestation for much longer: in the case of Jennifer Irons, for 20 years or more. With this much mental preparation, it was perhaps no surprise that her work, Yukon Ho!, arrived fully formed and bursting with life. Irons distills her formative years spent in the Yukon Territory in Northern Canada into a performative solo that integrates colourful anecdotes that are (almost) all true with her experience of dancing the can-can in the bars of Whitehorse. With assistance from writer Robert Churchill, Irons’ performance is as rich in texture as her delivery is timed to perfection and while she maintains a high voltage of humour there is a darker side not far behind it that comes with the Territory. In its present succinct form Yukon Ho! is a theatrical gem that holds light and dark in an unfathomable equilibrium.

Another work that has been forming over time is Kloe Dean’s MAN UP, an ambitious trio that honours the memory of her father, Raymond, while addressing the issue of his depression and suicide. As Dean writes in the program, her work is ‘a chance to break the silence of a stigmatized subject which does not get enough attention…It’s time to MAN UP!’ Using texts her father left behind and working the dark duality of a rope as both a recreational cord and an instrument of self-destruction, Dean plays hope against despair in a series of intense tableaux between Stefano A. Addae and Danal Guy. Weaving her irrepressible way through these scenes is Tina Omotosho who remains unaware of the tragedy about to unfold but is the one left to mourn. While Dean’s imagery is powerful and eloquent, the construction of MAN UP needs only to find a theatrical and choreographic ‘way through’ to allow the whole to be far more than the sum of its parts.

Avatȃra Ayuso’s angel is inspired by both the invisible, vengeful presence in Luis Buñuel’s film The Exterminating Angel and the sport of fencing, but in its translation to the stage it is the latter that overshadows the former. One would imagine an avenging angel, foil in hand, dispensing altogether with full fencing gear for something more alluring to her dark and erotic play; her powers, after all, need no protection as her adversaries cannot see her. Alas, we cannot see her either; the obstruction of her face by the mask removes a vital element of her mimetic drama. In the latter part of angel Ayuso begins to contort her fencing postures into images that are more devilishly menacing as if she is warming to her motif, but it is too late to offset her literal preoccupation with the sport.

Paying tribute, by way of Federico Garcia Lorca’s elegy, to the dancer Antonia Mercé, ‘La Argentina’, Sam Quy’s La Lengua Flamenca points to the distinctly Spanish notion of duende, which, in Lorca’s words, ‘sears the blood like powdered glass, exhausts, rejects all sweet learned geometry, breaks with styles and relies on human suffering without solace…’ Perhaps Quy has erred on the side of historical appreciation rather than re-creation, for while the legacy of flamenco she and guitarist El Fernan de Tottenham bring to La Lengua Flamenca is rich, her performance is lacking the essential agonistic quality on which it depends for its conviction.

Cameron McMillan’s The Chimera Construct is a quartet for Jonathon Baker, George Baan, Nicholas Tredrea and Jade Brider that uses the Chimera of Greek mythology — ‘a multi-faceted beast, composed of parts of different wild creatures’ — as a construct of contemporary identity. Initially using animal masks to suggest differentiation, McMillan’s subsequent concern with the shapes and extensions of his hyper-flexible and hyper-extended dancers invokes instead a tame homogeneity. Perhaps applying a concept to a form can impart a meaning but The Chimera Construct needs to explore its physical vocabulary more convincingly to approach its notional concept.


Ian Abbott on the 2018 Birmingham International Dance Festival

Posted: June 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on the 2018 Birmingham International Dance Festival

Birmingham International Dance Festival, June 7 – 15

BIDF18

Becky Namgaud’s Rodadoras at BIDF18 (photo: Ian Abbott)

Settling into the cultural nooks and crannies of Brum over three weeks in June, Birmingham International Dance Festival — BIDF18 — returned to the city for a sixth edition under a new Midlands Dance united artistic leadership: Lucie Mirkova (interim artistic director) and Paul Russ (associate artistic director and CEO of Dance4). With the festival taking over a reduced sized Victoria Square (due to tram engineering works) the festival hub, stage, installations and refreshment trucks offered an outdoor base for the first ten days book-ended by two celebratory and free programs of work alongside some canny week-day programming (lunch and after work time slots) to attract city dwellers to encounter dance.

I will leave the suite of indoor work across the three weeks — Atomos by Company Wayne McGregor, Elements of Freestyle by ISH Dance Collective, Wasp by Rui Horta, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s studio program Polarity & Proximity and New Creation by Cecilia Bengolea and Florentina Holzinger — to other critical voices and focus instead on the work presented outdoors as there is often less written about work for this context. The only exception I’m making is to include the indoor performance of Kallo Collective’sOnly Bones v1.0.

Soil exists in a state of permanent duality; it represents a place of growth and fertility whilst it can also become a barren wasteland and the place where bodies are buried. Becky Namgaud’s Rodadoras takes Mexican femicide as its starting point, a brutal bodily trauma that dozens of Mexican women are still encountering every day. Rodadoras is a dance of the dead that has choreographic echoes of Damien Jalet’s Yama for Scottish Dance Theatre. We see a trio of dancers settled in a shallow soil pit, the bodies slowly vibrating into frenzied states of inbetweenness kicking up dirt and spraying those in the front row with the stuff of life and death. They slither above ground and undeaden themselves to reveal sullied limbs, torso and heads of hair but never faces. At 20 minutes long two of the dancers visibly tire in the third quarter as the strain and energy-sapping soil claims yet more bodies; however Namgaud has created a suite of haunting images on a delicate subject that unsettles and challenges the traditional outdoor arts festival content.

Infinite Womanhood is a collaboration between Vanhulle Dance Theatre and tabla player Mendi Mohinder. Laura Vanhulle is an exquisite technician; her lines are full, wholesome and delivered with zip. Her relationship with Mohinder is also a treat to experience as they walk and blur the musical line of who is leading and who is responding. Each accentuates and amplifies the other’s work with beats, physical punctuation and lashings of precision. Vanhulle uses a cushion to symbolize multiple female roles and identities that morph from baby to mop to mirror but she flashes over them in a suite of mimetic actions which underwhelms and feels dramaturgically thin; each one needs more room to expand, land and let us reflect on what she is trying to say. Mendi and Vanhulle’s execution and charisma just about paper over the conceptual cracks and ensure the 16 minutes fly by leaving me wanting to see more of them both.

On the international program of outdoor work on June 9, Roll Up, Roll Up harkens back to the classic hatting street/circus performers who have the ability to keep holding an attention, drip feeding trick after trick drawing out the maximum length of time to stop an audience from walking away. Although it contains very little dance it offers oodles of individual circus tricks, crowd-pleasing skills on the cyr wheel, juggling and a lot of audience interaction. Kieran Warner and Christopher Thomas of Simple Cypher have constructed an increasingly difficult juggling routine ending up with a 5 ball sequence dropping and feeding balls above and below creating unexpected rhythms and patterns; this is followed by a similar pattern on the cyr wheel resulting in a number of one handed holds with legs knitted frozen at unexpected angles ensuring mass applause. Simple Cypher know how to squeeze the juice out of every moment and Roll Up, Roll Up generates the longest and loudest applause on the Saturday program demonstrating that sometimes an outdoor audience just wants to be entertained.

Nottingham was the birthplace and playground of Torvil and Dean’s gold medal-winning ice dance routine and in remixing the Midlands heritage, BIDF18 presented the UK premiere of Bolero by Jesus Rubio Gamo. Set against an 18-minute extended remix of the iconic music by Ravel the two dancers set about a playful and repetitive feat of increasing physical exertion bringing unexpected partner lifts, rolls, skips, hops, holds and step patterns to a point of pleasure and exhaustion. Covering the stage like an ice rink, with barely a heel touching the floor and playing to all three sides of the increasingly buoyed audience we see both performers acknowledging their exhaustion and inviting the crowd to support them. Bolero could suit an extended and durational three-hour encounter as we would see the body begin to genuinely deteriorate as muscles begin to collapse, lactic acid hardens and lungs begin to burst; instead what we have is a delicate 20-minute sliver presented on fast forward and executed to perfection. Consider Bolero as your friendly neighbourhood introduction to outdoor endurance performance.

As the lead festival image and driver of the social media hype, Didier Theron’s AIR & La Grande Phrase introduces his bouncing pink men to an avalanche of attention as they anarchically ambled, scrambled and rambled their way around unsuspecting shops, art galleries and iconic city centre landmarks filling camera rolls wherever they went. The pink suits (complete with an internal air filled inner tube) offered a range of inflatable choreographic possibilities that deceived the eye and played with perception: when they pliéd they shrank to an almost unfathomable height. Mixing deadpan audience interaction, running at speed up to and into the audience, leaning in and asking the crowd to bear their weight before nonchalantly wandering off and twocing a pram (and baby) generated consistent audience smiles. What looks like a simple improvisation with their environment and audiences in a funny costume is actually a raft of performance intelligence derived from dozens of performances, unexpected encounters and testing the boundaries of what an audience will accept. Since the work first premiered in 2013 Theron has brought his pink joy to cities across the world and Birmingham will not forget the bouncing pink men anytime soon.

Choreographed by Caroline Bowditch for Candoco Dance Company, Dedicated To is a solemn duet performed by Victoria Fox and Welly O’Brien that presents an entirely different energy and necessitates a different quality of attention. Set on two benches and referencing the death plaques you find on benches overlooking a favourite haunt, beach or viewpoint, Dedicated To creates a space for reflection and contemplation with intimate partner lifts, lakes of stillness and echoes of an invisible past. Although it is pleasant enough and Fox and O’Brien clearly embody a consistent performance tone, it stands out against the wider program of outdoor events as meandering and its plateau of interest brings the energy of the crowd down. This internalised focus would be more suited to a small-scale theatre where distractions are muted or to a curated outdoor program that doesn’t veer wildly from fizzing pink to rainbow bright to sludgey brown to polka dot tartan.

Kallo Collective’s Only Bones was the only indoor performance I saw (the second performance of Guide by Věra Ondrašíková & Collective I was booked to see was cancelled with less than 24 hours notice due to low ticket sales). Only Bones is a 45-minute whistle stop solo clown frenzy performed under a lampshade by Thom Monckton as a sketch show that rattled through dozens of physical skits displaying the dexterity and extremity of every part of Monckton’s body. With little room to rest or reset Monckton drew attention to a scab-picking finger duet like The Addams Family’s Thing, to a jelly neck lolling about and unable to hold the weight of his head, to a kneecap and Adam’s Apple isolation micro-solo that twitched, twerked and pulsed to the beat-glitching soundtrack. Monckton is an accomplished and highly watchable wordless performer with a suite of waving and popping skills that underpin his comedic clowning; using Mr. Bean-like noises to emphasize and punctuate his anatomical isolation he had the audience hollering with laughter.

Sitting through the entire day of outdoor work the tone was wild and it was hard to find a through line if indeed there was one.  Maybe there was an internal expectation that a transient audience might only stay and engage for a single show as they follow the noises and discover the program while traversing the city rather than planning the day and investing in the entire program. Mix this with the often 10 to 30-minute gap between performances which dissolved any momentum or reason to stay in that area then audiences chose to leave and spend their time elsewhere. BIDF18 was in reality a selection of performances and not a festival; a festival needs glue, reasons to stay, socialise and lose yourself for a while. I haven’t even mentioned 2Faced Dance’s Moon, a dance and circus work for families with integrated Audio Description and British Sign Language or the irritating wastrels of Gravitas by Ofir Yudilevitch who inflated a mattress and bounced on it like children on a settee.

BIDF18 definitely felt different to the previous David Massingham-flavoured editions; there were less original mass spectacles although it felt like there were more artists that were new to the city. It is clearly a festival in transition which may have offered a glimpse towards a Midlands United future or has cleared the path for a new voice (imagine an artist-curated model of BIDF like Meltdown) to prepare the 2020 edition


Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

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

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

Linyekula

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

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

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

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

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

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


ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

Posted: June 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms, Shoreditch Town Hall, June 8

These Rooms

Justine Cooper in These Rooms (photo: Pat Redmond)

In the pantheon of dance commemorations commissioned by 14-18 NOW, These Rooms, which remembers an incident in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, is not a lavish spectacle like Akram Khan’s XENOS, nor a staged narrative with a literary source like Gary Clarke’s The Troth, but a theatrical rendering based on archival material and witness accounts that takes history’s many facets into account. A collaboration between ANU and CoisCéim Dance Theatre and presented as part of this year’s LIFT, These Rooms doesn’t try to glorify the dead but to bring them back to life, to give them a chance to explain what happened. In the North King Street Massacre there were casualties on both sides; the voices of victims and survivors are heard amid the rush and adrenalin of the promenade performance created in the maze of spaces in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. While Owen Boss’s meticulous designs that Ciaran Bagnall has lit suggest the rooms in which the original action took place, the costumes of Niamh Lunny, the hair and make-up of Lucy Browne and Chloe Bourke and the musical indications of Dennis Clohessy and Carl Kennedy place the events on the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre in 1966, making These Rooms a commemoration within a commemoration. Tragedy in the face of loss never descends to the level of melodrama but is rendered in profound states of danced gesture, while grief and despair are matched with bleak humour and resilience. All eight performers are note perfect in their emotional involvement: Justine Cooper, Damian Gildea, Úna Kavanagh, Niamh McCann, Jonathan Mitchell, Robbie O’Connor, Emma O’Kane and Matthew Williamson.

These Rooms does not aim to trace the entire scope of the Easter Rising, but takes one of the key skirmishes — where Irish rebels had occupied numerous small buildings and had barricaded the streets — as a simulacrum of the bold attempt to establish an Irish Republic. One of the controversial aspects of the North King Street Massacre was the indiscriminate nature of the killings; whoever lived in the houses was considered a rebel and the British troops were given the order to take no prisoners. Yet one of the transformative elements of the production is the portrayal of death, however violent, as a moment of release. The image of Williamson’s filigree hands and wide-eyed, slow-motion tumbling down the stairs after being shot is memorable.

The violence in the street is constantly suggested by the tensions between the men and women inside. Threads of stories are started then interrupted by our urgent relocation to another ‘safer’ room or corridor only to be reprised and resolved later; one cohort might see the representation of a story the other will hear recounted, but by the end we have all taken in the full picture. The audience both observes and participates for the direction of David Bolger and Louise Lowe invites us to join in the action — whether it’s sitting around in the pub, blowing up balloons, playing darts, dancing with the women, responding to questions or eating bread and jam.

Before the performance starts, the audience is divided into two cohorts that follow two separate narrative paths, one nuanced by the perspective of the Irish rebels and the other of the British troops. I start in the pub while Caterina starts in the barracks of the South Staffordshire Regiment. The sheer complexity of the logistics for the eight performers to make these two threads coherent for the audience is breathtaking for neither cohort is aware of the other until we meet in the pub to watch the 1966 tickertape parade on the bar’s television screen. Having witnessed a view of the events from the inside — particularly through the experiences of the women who in their support for the rebels had to bear the brunt of the violence and its consequences — this solemn filmed memorial appears to smooth out all the pain of history. And the story of a British soldier who thought he was being sent to France and was unprepared to kill civilians reminds us how much ‘official history’, no matter from which side, is heavy with silences.

Honouring the dead is itself a minefield of codified ritual pitting the political power and authority of the state over the privations and losses of those directly affected. These Rooms brings these two aspects into stark and uneasy cohabitation. After watching the televised parade we are ushered out the door with a solicitous word of encouragement. There is no place for applause.


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

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

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

Shut Down

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

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

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

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

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


The British Paraorchestra and Friends, The Nature of Why at Bristol Old Vic

Posted: May 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The British Paraorchestra and Friends, The Nature of Why at Bristol Old Vic

The British Paraorchestra and Friends, The Nature of Why, Bristol Old Vic, May 12

The Nature of Why

The Nature of Why (photo: Paul Blakemore)

Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” – Richard Feynman

Set amongst the giddy theatrical delights of Mayfest is the world premiere of The Nature of Why by The British Paraorchestra and Friends; a physics-crunching, joyous, 70-minute musical adventure on the stage of the Bristol Old Vic. Commissioned by Unlimited it features a new score from Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, choreography and co-direction from Caroline Bowditch and is conducted and co-directed by Charles Hazlewood. The Nature of Why is framed by The British Paraorchestra as ‘merging dance and live music into an epic performance that brims with emotion and physical beauty…it takes inspiration from the unconventional curiosity of Nobel prize-winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, and his search for meaning in the world around us. The Nature of Why promises to be an up-close-and-personal dance experience like no other.’

The choreography embellishes the idea of a magnet and how it attracts or repulses bodies, not only between the dancers but also in their intermingling with the audience which leaves a playful and non-threatening level of interaction in its wake: The Nature of Why revels in the intimacy and connections it forges between the audience and performers. Before we enter the auditorium there is a clear invitation from Bowditch and Hazlewood that viewing and altering our perspective is welcome and will create different sonic and visual opportunities for us. Set across nine distinct orchestral movements, audience members are invited to move in and around the stage in between the clearly defined sections whilst a pre-recorded conversation from Feynman talks about magnets and why; watching the dancers (KJ Clarke-Davies, Victoria Fox, Marta Masiero and Alex McCabe) twine, mesh and envelop themselves around each other and audience members or standing next to Adrian Lee as he shreds his electric guitar whilst the 10-piece string orchestra is dialing up the intensity four feet behind you is a rare privilege.

The body is an instrument which only gives off music when it is used as a body. Always an orchestra, and just as music traverses walls, so sensuality traverses the body and reaches up to ecstasy.” – Anais Nin

The British Paraorchestra is the world’s only large-scale ensemble for disabled musicians and Gregory’s rousing and anthemic score is executed with aplomb. It delivers a musical environment that enables the dancers to dig into and under their innate fibrous musicality; Masiero demonstrates an ease in playing and improvising with the young children in the audience who are present in the matinee performance. Gregory’s score, whilst fulfilling the needs of the performers, also leaves a residue of sonic satisfaction with the audience that left my body moving and pulsing with an emotional connection amplified by the intimacy created by the performers.

Bowditch and Hazlewood highlight that Audio Description (provided by Rationale Productions) is available for each performance and you can take up the invitation if you want. It is wise to do so as the voice and performance of the live audio describer adds an additional layer to the performance which reinforces the choices and intention of the creative team; the joy and tone in hearing a smiling voice subjectively describe abstract choreography in plain English is both a challenge and a delight. When a dancer merges with a double bass and is wheelbarrowed across the stage I close my eyes listening to the audio voice, the score and the reaction of the audience. Rationale Productions are doing some pioneering work with Audio Description and it is clear they are woven into the creation process from the beginning; the integrity of, and familiarity with all parts of the production delivers a level of performance equal to those on stage.

My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.” – Fernando Pessoa

The Nature of Why has a number of scenographic and thematic echoes from two recent productions: Marc Brew Company’s BrewBand (in which Masiero and McCabe featured prominently) fluidly exchanges the roles of dancer and musician and blurs the roles of each skill set, and Claire Cunningham’s and Jess Curtis’s The Way You Look (at me) Tonight which brought the audience on stage, had a depth of intimacy and asked a suite of complex philosophical questions. Bowditch, Cunningham and Brew are a trio of dance makers who have spent a number of years in Scotland forging a reputation for delivering ambitious and emotionally resonant work; with Brew’s departure to Oakland as Artistic Director of Axis Dance (USA) and Bowditch’s forthcoming appointment as Executive Director of Arts Access Victoria (AUS), it leaves Cunningham as the last of the trinity in Glasgow and Scotland, choreographically, a poorer place.

As a wider Mayfest observation, MAYK (co-directed by Matthew Austin and Kate Yedigaroff) have trusted and amplified a significant suite of makers from Bristol; that investment in the people based in the city is exemplary and an antidote to the majority of other UK-based theatre, dance and performance festivals that buy in work from out of town much to the detriment of the artists in their own city. Alongside The British Paraorchestra, there were works from Verity Standen, Sabrina Shirazi, Caroline Williams and Hannah Sullivan.

For a work with so many collaborators, constituent parts and a roving audience, The Nature of Why is a remarkably coherent experience; it creates a space where people can feel comfortable and connected to others, nourishes our ears, bodies and minds whilst nestling itself in the cracks of our memories as we leave the stage in high spirits.


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

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

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

Ula Liagaitė

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Somaholidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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