Dance Umbrella 2018: Le Patin Libre in Threshold at Alexandra Palace

Posted: November 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Le Patin Libre in Threshold at Alexandra Palace

Le Patin Libre, Threshold, Alexandra Palace Ice Rink, October 21

Le Patin Libre

Taylor Dilley in Le Patin Libre’s Threshold (photo: Romain Guilbault)

Seeing Le Patin Libre’s Vertical Influences on the ice at Alexandra Palace as part of Dance Umbrella in 2014 was a revelation, and a pleasure to see the company again on the ice at Somerset House in 2016, part reprise and part an essay of ideas for a new work. That new work, Seuil (Threshold), which premiered at Montreal’s season of international dance, Danse Danse, in April, returned to Alexandra Palace to fill the final slots in this year’s Dance Umbrella. Now in its 40th year, Dance Umbrella has a vision that looks at the outer reaches of the dance universe where the choreographic process may refer as much to ideas and cultural history as to the moving body. The stimulation of its programming questions the nature of dance by refusing to frame it, or in some cases by shredding it à la Banksy within the frame.

Le Patin Libre’s visual references — the ice rink, the skates and the freezing environment — anchor it within a framework of amateur pastime or of Olympic competition but its choreographic interest lies somewhere in between. The scale of Vertical Influences derived from the sheer speed and arc of it gliding motifs and its flock patterns; in Threshold the patterns are still there but have gained additional hints of abstract narrative in which the threshold of the group dynamic is challenged. Falling out and falling — the accident — have become linked motifs and the partnering takes advantage of locking skates and elements of contact improvisation. At the same time the creative inputs of music (Jasmin Boivin) and lighting (Lucy Carter with Sean Gleason) remain familiar.

One aspect of the performance that has changed is the audience perspective. For the first half of Vertical Influences the audience was seated high on one side of the rink lending the trails of speed and form a heroic stature. In the second half the audience was invited to sit on one end of the rink to watch from a different angle and the choreography was scaled, both broadly and intimately, to enhance the experience. For Threshold Le Patin Libre has eschewed heroic scale for a single, ground-level perspective for both halves of the program; the audience is divided at one end of the ice or the other. In an arena this size, the distance between the ends creates a problem of visual register: if a narrative element or one of Hamel’s virtuosic accents works for one end it is unlikely to read with the same clarity for the other. And although the choreography is not mirrored, there is an element of duplication so the performance is delivered proportionately to the two ends of the rink.

Operating at the mid point of the ice is an obvious compromise, and one of the motifs that works beautifully is the gliding formation from side to side across the ice of interweaving bodies, like lines of a poem. It is the kind of motif that is unique to skating but its gliding displacement patterns could equally have their inspiration in George Balanchine’s Serenade and they have a similar emotional mystery.

Nobody needs to tell Le Patin Libre — Alexandre Hamel, Pascale Jodoin, Samory Ba, Taylor Dilley and Jasmin Boivin — how to skate, but two outside influences have left their mark on Threshold, particularly on the second half. Choreographer Anne Plamondon has worked on individual vocabulary, notably a solo for Ba that extrudes his natural elegance into more classical forms, and dramaturg Ruth Little (whose Dance Umbrella Motive Force lecture is online) has carved out of the swirl of lines and speed a kind of form, be it an elegy on loss or individuality, a cinematic plot or an essay in dynamic structure and rhythm in which skating patterns form the grammar.

For a company that has already pushed the contextual boundaries of skating, the question for Threshold is which way it is facing, in or out. The new work is a step forward, but still very much along the lines of Vertical Influences, suggesting Le Patin Libre may be susceptible to holding on too safely to its initial inspiration. In the spirit of Dance Umbrella, the company might consider for its next move not so much a dramaturgical ordering of internal events within their form, but an external choreographic change in concept that, while harnessing their vital energy, speed, and dynamic balance takes them further outside their frame.


Dance Umbrella 2018: Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer

Posted: October 26th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer

Dimitris Papaioannou, The Great Tamer, Sadler’s Wells, October 16

Papaioannou

A scene from Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer (photo: Julian Mommert)

Dimitris Papaioannou is an image maker. His work, The Great Tamer, presented at Sadler’s Wells as part of this year’s Dance Umbrella, is yet another unique expression of Pina Bausch’s dance theatre legacy, though he does not so much choreograph on the body as use the body as an element in his choreographic manipulation of images. Both the body and the images are in turn dependent on a scenography that anchors the entire work. At once the prow of a ship, the surface of the moon or the scaly, fenestrated skin of a mythological globe, Tina Tzoka’s set is the archaeological repository for Papaioannou’s narrative. Costumed by Aggelos Mendis and under the lighting of Evina Vassilakopoulou, the bodies of his performers emerge on to or are dug up from the depths of the stage as a succession of images that form a complex, slow-release system of cross-cultural references over the course of an hour and fourty minutes. One could spend the evening forensically identifying the images, which might be easier — though less rewarding — than connecting them to the arc of Papaioannou’s vision. The Great Tamer is more like a cinematic montage that relies for its effect on the cumulative association of its individual sequences whose pace Papaioannou carefully controls. He is in no rush to run his images by us — if it takes ten minutes to brush up the debris from a broken plaster cast and put it in a plastic bag, we have that much time to appreciate the ruse — but he also risks losing us in the wealth of connections and references that make up the work. True to the nature of his wordless reflections there is no synopsis in the program to use as a guide; instead he uses the grammar of strong, sometimes visceral imagery, wit and potent juxtaposition to set out his visual landscape. In his post-show talk (which you can find online thanks to a partnership between Dance Umbrella and Middlesex University’s ResCen) Papaioannou’s landscape comes not only from his own fertile imagination but also from that of his performers during improvisation sessions. However, he is the one who sets the tasks and organizes the trajectory of the resulting imagery.

His ten performers are named in the program but their personalities are subservient to the rendering of Papaioannou’s visual vocabulary. His almost dispassionate use of bodies as corporal fragments, mythological hybrid beings, fully suited astronauts or as painterly tableaux vivants reduces the emotional impact of the performers and in a work that evidently relishes the naked body the effect is more clinical than sensual. Papaioannou has been making work for more than thirty years so he knows what he is doing; the challenge in seeing The Great Tamer is to identify where it lands in our own universe. There are images of pure circus that in their surreal associations, like the performer who digs his rooted shoes out of the floor and walks off on his hands, destabilize or perhaps redirect our poetic appreciation, while others, like the man with his fist excavating the womb of a supine woman as she slithers off stage are unsettlingly oblique.

Archaeology is a metaphor throughout The Great Tamer; it is the act of uncovering or digging up artifacts that connects our knowledge of ancient civilizations with current history. The astronaut excavates not only floating moon rocks — Papaioannou is a master of theatrical illusion — but a naked body, a figure of Christ arising from his tomb. It is as if he is joining the dots between the achievements of his own country’s cultural heritage and the development of Western culture via Mantegna, Botticelli, Rembrandt and the NASA space program. Within this excavation of historical time as the great tamer, the decision to incorporate fragments of Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz (famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey) into Kostas Michopoulos’s sound design may also be referencing Sigmund Freud’s work on the excavation of memory in Vienna. In this game of free association, Walter Benjamin’s use in Berlin Chronicle of the same metaphor of digging uncovers one of many possible clues in understanding the intricate layering of The Great Tamer: ‘Memory is not an instrument for surveying the past but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, just as the earth is the medium in which dead cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.’


Dance Umbrella 2018: Colin Dunne’s Concert at The Pit

Posted: October 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Colin Dunne’s Concert at The Pit

Colin Dunne, Concert, The Pit, Barbican, October 17

Colin Dunne

Colin Dunne and Tommie Potts in Concert (photo: Maurice Gunning)

Colin Dunne is a virtuoso traditional Irish dancer whose latest work, Concert, presented in the intimacy of The Barbican’s Pit as part of Dance Umbrella, is a homage to the virtuoso traditional Irish fiddler Tommie Potts. Potts was, according to the program note, a ‘singular and complex figure in the history of Irish traditional music’ who died in 1988 and whose sole album recorded in his lifetime, The Liffey Banks, is the basis for Dunne’s work. The album ‘reflects the complex contradictions in Potts’ musical career: his deep appreciation of traditional music alongside a desire to break it apart.’ The same two artistic poles might describe the arc of Dunne’s carefully constructed dance homage.

Dunne first heard the music in 2001 while studying for a Masters in Contemporary Dance at the University of Limerick, so Concert is a project he has been considering over many years, collecting and refining his ideas. With the help of director Sinéad Rushe, sound designer Mel Mercier and lighting designer Colin Grenfell, he has organized his research as a sophisticated experiment in what appears to be a converted shed strewn with musical and dance materials — three plywood sheets of flooring, a turntable with the vinyl copy of The Liffey Banks, a piano, a fiddle, shoes, floor microphones, a cassette recorder and various speakers.

At the start he lays down his terms of engagement with a brief demonstration close to the front of the stage to give an idea for those in the audience like me who hadn’t seen him in Riverdance of the basic rhythmic patterns of traditional Irish step dance. Unfortunately I am in the third row and if I can see the rhythms of the dance distributed throughout his upper body his footwork is obscured by the two rows in front. As it progresses, however, it is clear Concert is conceptually and intellectually post-Riverdance; Dunne places himself in relation to traditional Irish dance in the way Potts did in relation to traditional Irish fiddle music. He describes Potts’ music as ‘slippery’ and his homage is in part to render its rhythmic irregularity in choreographic and theatrical form.

With the help of Mercier’s sound design Dunne brings to the stage the voice of Potts himself talking about his music; there is a synchronicity between the two. With adept editing they strike up a conversation that places them in the same aural universe. When Dunne later balances a sheet of plywood on its edge and has a video of Potts playing projected on to it, the two also share parallel physical universes. Mercier also plays with the autonomy of the various audio sources; in constructing his concert Dunne has to will his turntable to present Potts’ album as if the two are sharing their respective knowledge and experience, jamming together and exacting the same standards of reverence and relevance for their respective arts. He is in effect conversing with whatever drove Potts’ musicality, his rhythmic structure and notes, and he digs into his own dance as if interrogating Potts with an enthusiasm and drive that motivates his interpretations.

Concert is not simply about a meeting of minds, however; Dunne is reflecting on his own understanding of Irish dance and where he might take it. In bare feet on a piece of plywood with the use of floor microphones he explores the rhythm of steps and sound patterns as if to share with Potts what he is working on. He experiments with sampling the sound of his footfall along with his whistling and musical phrases on the piano and fiddle, creating an intriguing soundscape that accompanies his steps. Through Mercier’s adept editing, Potts offers his own characteristically terse critique.

But if Dunne’s communion with Potts has its personal, almost esoteric aspect, Concert is also an occasion for him to defy the accepted belief that the jigs and reels Potts recorded on The Liffey Banks are undanceable. It’s a challenge Dunne takes on with passion and humility. When he dances we see him entering into the music as if called by a siren into slippery, dangerous waters; he demonstrates his skill by resisting any possibility of being pulled down by the current. The effect is a buoyancy of footwork and mental agility that merges the idiosyncrasies of musician and dancer into a riveting performance within a performance.


Dance Umbrella 2018: Annie-B Parson’s 17c at The Old Vic

Posted: October 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Annie-B Parson’s 17c at The Old Vic

Big Dance Theater: Annie-B Parson’s 17c at The Old Vic, September 27

Annie-B Parson

Big Dance Theater in Annie-B Parson’s 17c (photo: Manuel Harlan)

In its 40th anniversary season, Dance Umbrella opens appropriately with New York’s Big Dance Theater in a production of 17c directed by choreographer Annie-B Parson. Its inclusion in the program is both a sign of the intelligent and risk-taking selection process that characterises this annual festival and of the diverse strands that define contemporary dance. Parson’s choreographic approach to theatre cannot easily be pigeonholed, although the inspiration of Pina Bausch’s dance theatre is evident. As she says in the program interview, ‘Having been immersed in the prosaic, structural, and virtuosic pedestrianism of the early Judson Church dance-makers and second-gen Judsons, I was intoxicated by Bausch’s use of dance in relation to costume, sexuality, relationship, scenario and character.’ Parson’s development of the Bausch legacy diverges distinctively from other European examples, and it is indeed refreshing to see her New York take on dance theatre on a London stage — too little seems to cross the Atlantic these days — and the Old Vic, once the second home for Sadler’s Wells Ballet under the stewardship of Lilian Baylis, is an ideal setting for it.

On a structural level 17c is a reading of selected entries from the seventeenth century diary of Samuel Pepys as if it had been selected for a monthly book club meeting, probing what a contemporary reader might find or relate to in the author’s unashamed accounts of his daily routine. Although the diary is very much a product of another time, it turns out there is a lot that is surprisingly contemporary, from health concerns and pillow talk to sexual dalliances and outings to the theatre. Such obsessive detail in a diary inevitably draws comparisons with today’s social media confessional culture.

It goes without saying that Pepys as a prominent civil servant — he rose to be Chief Secretary to the Admiralty — would not have survived long in the current #MeToo media environment and yet his diary’s prosaic descriptions of his sexual exploits betray not a whiff of compromise. It is this transposition from 17c to 21c and back that gives the production its dynamic and its satirical sense of humour, as if Saturday Night Live was broadcasting an episode from Restoration London. Parson almost immediately places us in a simulacrum of a seventeenth century television studio by turning Jeff Larson’s video cameras on the audience to project back a vision of us seated in an intimate auditorium waiting for the play to start. Five bewigged characters in flourishes of elegantly tailored costumes (by Oana Botez) flit across the high-production stage (courtesy of Joanne Howard and Joe Levasseur) mixing archaic prose with contemporary idioms as if literary phraseology had imploded in a mash-up of innuendoes, cross-references and quotations from Euripides to Judith Butler and from the muted 17th century playwright Margaret Cavendish to Roland Barthes. Central to this treatment of Pepys’ diary is Parson’s championing of the lost voice of Pepys’ wife, Elizabeth (Bess), whose own diaries had been burned by her husband in a fit of pique. Since we cannot read her, Parsons brings her to life in movement through performer Elizabeth DeMent.

As a choreographer working in theatre Parson says in the program, ‘I believe strongly in both the supportive and poetic power of structures that stem from dance-making tools that are unique to choreography, forms that can hold both a narrative and an unrelated ongoing movement piece at once, allowing the two elements to collide and resonate with each other.’ Invoking Bess through her body rather than through her voice may seem like a small concession to a dance audience in what is a heavily texted and scripted work, but it is also one of the more obvious concessions in what is essentially a choreographic treatment of time and place. One of the happy ‘collisions’ in 17c is between the presence of Bess as a dancer and Pepys’ commentary in his diary of his wife’s decision to learn how to dance and how, characteristically, he becomes jealous of the dancing master, especially when Bess requires another month to study with him. ‘A gentleman never dances so well as a dancing master’, Pepys wryly comments.

In effectively illustrating a historical narrative while invoking the current consciousness of forgotten female voices Parson borrows from theatrical devices to create an awareness of our present. As a choreographer she uses a wide-ranging sense of spatial and temporal movement to influence the more theatrical aspects of 17c, maintaining an ambiguity of form that makes a case for the ongoing development of dance theatre.


Ian Abbott at FiraTàrrega in Catalonia

Posted: September 25th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at FiraTàrrega in Catalonia

Ian Abbott at FiraTàrrega, Tàrrega, Catalonia

Colectivo Lamajara in Labranza (photo: Tristan Perez Martin)

Tàrrega is a Catalan town ninety minutes west of Barcelona, one of a number in the region that hosts an annual Fira (fair) presenting a selection of Catalan, Spanish and international work. Tàrrega has a reputation for presenting a spectrum of outdoor circus, dance and theatre work in the baking September heat and this is the final program of current artistic director, Jordi Duran Roldós.

Most venues at FiraTàrrega are at most a fifteen-minute stroll from the centre, but Colectivo Lamajara invite us to meet at a bus stop on the edge of town and drive us about two kilometres through a flat, arable landscape with the heat haze warping the horizon. Upon disembarkation a silent guide carrying a staff greets us and leads us further through this vast acreage; parallel to us, about 300 metres away, we notice another body, walking with poise and precision balancing a set of sticks on her head. Our perspective and odometer are being set for Labranza. We carry on until we are gathered on semi-circular hay bales in the dusky light with outbuilding shadows beginning to munch their way across the sun-drenched fields. The next 30 minutes sees our guide, the woman we had seen earlier and an additional dancer toil the land and their bodies, playing with bamboo poles and casting up red soil dust clouds as they slap, caress and roll in the late summer light. With a slower pace and the ability to shift focus from our foreground workers to the acres of land behind them Labranzainvites us to slow down, consider land and landscapes with a trio of sweat-drenched performers. The only distraction is the grating faux Middle-Eastern soundtrack for the middle third which sounds like the Arabia World of any generic smartphone puzzle game. I’m left thinking about how agricultural bodies tend land repeatedly over the seasons and the comparison with the sweat and toil of dancers as they tend their bodies for audiences; suddenly I have an urge for the participatory aspect of Is This A Wasteland? by Charlotte Spencer Projects. The lack of my bodily investment in Labranza sees it fade from my memory as soon I get back on the bus into town and I begin to yearn for the derelict wasteland of Glasgow Southside.

With an even more limited presence of hip hop work than at Tanzmesse, Akira Yoshida’s Home tries to reconcile the gap between his dual choreographic identities as a b-boy and a contemporary dancer. At a sliver over 25 minutes Yoshida has the balance and control of both vocabularies and has success as a performer in blending the power and effortless fluid verticality of b-boying with the floor-based travelling patterns needed to move around space. However, Home is conceptually thin, narratively stretched and is more suited to the Breakin Convention 10-minute cage to which so many hip hop artists are restricted. There are a lot of tiny choreographic details in the hands and the face that would have benefitted from a quiet studio theatre and it clearly reads from a frontal perspective rather than from the four sides of the audience, suggesting a creation process or an adaptation that did not consider an audience in the round. Yoshida is an engaging performer with a number of interesting uses of low centrifugal wrist spins that would sit well as a signature move in a battle context but as a choreographer he still needs to grow.

Block by Motionhouse and NoFit State Circus featuring 9 performers scaling, building and destroying an oversized Jenga tower for over 40 minutes is an outdoor dance/circus juggernaut that has been consistently presented in its home UK and internationally. With a new cast that has slotted seamlessly into the original mould, it’s a technically impressive feat in terms of Ali Williams’ original idea, design and production enabling just the right proportion of stability under foot and hand and wobble for a heightened audience experience. The tower rises fifteen metres which enables more than 4000 Tàrregans to see it from all angles in both the afternoon and evening version. Block is a model of collaboration, simplicity and marketing, and while it eats crowds for breakfast I’m left with firework emptiness after watching it. There are consistently dated and gendered choices from director Kevin Finnan and circus director Paul Evans in terms of lifts, power and control; we wait for 35 minutes before a female performer lifts a male performer over her head. This is a deliberate artistic choice to present female bodies as weaker and to consistently promote the strength of male bodies. In the rest of the show female bodies are treated like dolls — thrown, flipped, caught, saved (like the flyer in a cheerleading squad) and dragged around the structure — whilst an inexplicable series of fake acting arguments appear midway through that are badly executed and add little to the work. While FiraTàrrega’s artistic choices about power are highlighted against a backdrop of dozens of Catalan flags flying from balconies and thousands of yellow ribbons supporting the jailed pro-independence leaders, the gender politics and power choices of Block are woeful, dated and should be collapsed immediately.

In an attempt to improve the very visible lack of artists with a disability at FiraTàrrega, the organizers co-commissioned Hunting For The Unicorn by Becki Parker (England) and Vero Cendoya (Catalonia) with Stockton International Riverside Festival and Tin Arts. It’s a 30-minute end-on performance on the subject of autism, presented in an intimate 175-capacity converted set of steps. With Parker’s balletic lightness and Cendoya’s earthy rootedness — along with the guest unicorn — the performance consists of two 10-minute solos (made in their respective countries and via Skype) and a playful 10-minute object manipulation section with an oversized sequined picture frame, a laptop and a suit jacket, that clearly connects and resonates with its audience. Tin Arts, who support Parker as a solo artist (she is also a member of the newly formed Talent Hub), believe in presenting work that is authored by and is representative of our society. I agree; if we are looking at representation at our theatres and festivals, then of the 900 performances at Sadler’s Wells (for example) in their 2016/17 season, there should have been at least 9 from choreographers on the autistic spectrum. Since data is not collected, I suspect the reality is very different but Hunting For The Unicorn shows how such representation matters. After each of the three performances there is a post-show discussion that has members of the audience in tears thanking Parker and Cendoya for presenting a work that offers a choreographic and emotional insight into autism and how the world feels to them even though they do not identify as being on the autistic spectrum. A number of the audience share how they have a family member with autism and how the empathetic voice of the performance burrowed its way into their subconscious and triggered something previously unrevealed.

FiraTàrrega is like a better, warmer and more useful Edinburgh Fringe for those making and presenting outdoor work; there is easy access to international presenters/artists who are happy to talk alongside the most generous, largest and consistent crowds for outdoor arts I’ve encountered (2,500 people watching Company Chameleon’s Witness This). People are here to do business (Block secured four new bookings from this festival alone) and there are multiple chances to present work in the main Fira or on its fringe and you can see the works of peers from around the world. If there are towns/cities in the UK looking at how a festival connects to and is welcomed by its community in addition to attracting an international community of artists and presenters, the next FiraTàrrega is 5-8 September 2019.


Ian Abbot at Edinburgh Fringe, Part I, August 2018

Posted: August 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbot at Edinburgh Fringe, Part I, August 2018

The Troth (Usne Kaha Tha), Army at The Fringe, August 16

Edinburgh Fringe

Daniel Hay-Gordon with members of the cast in The Troth (photo: Simon Richardson)

When Akademi chose Gary Clarke to direct and choreograph The Troth (a short story written in 1915 by the scholar Chandradhar Sharma Guleri) there was much consternation within the South Asian dance community. The organisation that receives Arts Council England investment to support and develop South Asian dance artists had actively chosen to employ a white, male contemporary dance choreographer for their signature WWI project.

Clarke is someone who has little connection to the South Asian community, the history of the Sikh Rifles in WWI or a familiarity with the myriad South Asian dance forms. The Troth features six dancers (Dom Coffey, Daniel Hay-Gordon, Vidya Patel, Deepraj Singh, Songhay Toldon and Subhash Viman Gorania) who gamely deliver what Clarke asks of them in a frothy piece of hollow melodramatic entertainment that serves only to reinforce the reputation of Akademi and Clarke.

Recycling a significant number of minutes and tropes from Clarke’s previous work COAL (1915 Belgium looks choreographically very similar to a Yorkshire 1980s coal mine) we see a yearning Patel mourn and repetitively deploy the Kathak spin as the dizzying emotional losses pile up (husband, son and first love). With the men thrashing, flopping, crawling and nearly dying for 25 minutes the only visual and/or historical point of interest is the archival footage/photography drawn from the Imperial War Museum and the Council of National Army Museum showing how colonial Britain captured on celluloid these choreographed moments of formation marching, trench digging and hospitalisation.

With an inexplicably homoerotic British/German soldier cameo from Hay-Gordon (also Assistant Director) there’s a black-leather-glove-biting sequence that has so little dramaturgical relevance and is so artistically and culturally out context and that it smacks of a signature self-indulgent move; I wonder how this section didn’t trigger Lou Cope’s dramaturgical alarm.

After seeing The Troth it is clear why Mira Kaushik (its Executive Producer and Director of Akademi) chose Clarke for this commission; riding off the back of Clarke’s commercial success of COAL across the UK, Akademi wanted a piece of that relevance. However, in their desire to build audiences in new territories, by employing a white male choreographer they have committed a bizarre act of reverse colonial exoticisation and by doing so continue the erasure of South Asian dance choreographers in the UK. The empire strikes back.

For another opinion on The Troth see the review by Nicholas Minns and Caterina Albano

UniverSoul Circus and SHIFT, Underbelly Circus Hub, August 15

Billed as “Hip Hop Under The Big Top”, this was the European debut of UniverSoul Circus after touring the US for 25 years. Our hosts Cheyenne Rose-Dailey and Lucky Malatsi introduced a dozen acts drawn from Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, USA, Guinea, Mongolia — and more — for a riotous 55 minutes of sugar joy and technical circus wizardry climaxing in a flawlessly smooth 12-piece Mongolian teeterboard act with four people balanced atop each other. Alongside the rainbow-wigged and whistle-mouthed Fresh the Clownsss charged with keeping the disappointingly small crowd entertained in between the acts there are nice touches of audience participation with lip syncing to paint rollers and the ever-present oversized inflatable balls slapped around the venue as each succeeding act is readied.

Unfortunately when I attended, the bone breakers contortionists were, “due to unforeseen circumstances” unavailable and although there were a couple of hip hop call and responses from our hosts alongside the odd east coast track, it would be hard to call this ‘hip hop under the big top’. Nevertheless in the increasingly white, able-bodied and middle-class fringe landscape, UniverSoul Circus should be celebrated for the exquisite technical execution, charismatic audience engagement and attention to detail in every act. In an active choice from founder Cedric Walker every member of the cast (and safety crew dressed in exquisitely tailored suits and bow ties) is a person of colour.

Seeing UniverSoul Circus after the recent gal-dem women and non-binary people takeover of the Guardian’s Weekend some of the thoughts of gal-dem’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Liv Little came to mind: “As a black person I feel very undervalued as a consumer. If mainstream media and TV and film valued people of colour, you would see a lot more of us behind the screen and on the screen. So one of the most important things is who is getting to tell the story.”

I had seen SHIFT by Barely Methodical Troupe (BMT) immediately before UniverSoul Circus, a scheduling that emphasised the gulf in class, finish and care between the two companies’ works, yet SHIFT was in the smaller Circus Hub venue and still had at least double the audience. After their breakout hit Bromance in 2014 and having made and toured their previous work Kin (directed by Ben Duke) at last year’s fringe BMT appear to be a company ploughing a barren field. They need to take some time out to recharge, find inspiration from other places and come back with a quality product. Choreographed and co-directed by Ella Guildfoyle, the premise of SHIFT is loosely tied to a set of tricks, experimentation and testing the boundaries of multiple-sized blue industrial resistance bands alongside some appalling attempts at comedy/acting in between the predictable set pieces. Perhaps in their original run at Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May SHIFT was tighter, the performers less tired and the rush of a première had elevated safety endorphins, but in the middle of a body-and-energy-sapping run at the fringe SHIFT was lacking in care and the choreographic details were fraying. There were at least four tricks that resulted in stumbles and almost fail/falls demonstrating a weary set of limbs that were clearly not intentional; it’s close to this point that circus can become dangerous if those who are catching and responsible for each other on stage aren’t able to ensure standards of safety.

With a cast of four (Louis Gift, Esmeralda Nikolajeff, Elihu Vazquez and Charlie Wheeller) the only person to emerge with any distinction is Vazquez with a set of fresh b-boy skills, freezes and combinations that flickered temporarily but he is sorely underutilised throughout the rest of the show; his demonstrable control and ability to hold an audience’s attention is a pleasure to watch.


Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios, June 24

Edvardsen

Mette Edvardsen’s No Title (photo: Lilia Mestre)

In this first edition of Fest en Fest, curators Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard establish a benchmark for their festival in works with a rigorous choreographic approach to language. Karen Røise Kielland used it in A Slow Escape to compress a vast geographical journey on to a small stage, while Mette Edvardsen uses its negation in No Title to extrapolate the space of a small stage into the vast landscape of imagination.

At her last appearance in London, at the 2012 Dance Umbrella, Edvardsen presented a project called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, where she gathered a group of like-minded dancers to each commit a book to memory in the same way that dancers memorize a sequence of steps. The performance was in reading the story or poetry from memory to an audience of one (at a time) in a public library. No Title’s approach to language requires a similar closeness and concentration between performer and audience but Edvardsen’s craft has evolved around her own authorship and an expanded sense of theatrical space.

No Title (2014) is part of a trilogy of works with Black (2011) and We to be (2015) that explore the notions of appearance and disappearance through language. As Edvardsen observes in an interview with Eva Decaesstecker, ‘When I was making Black I thought it was the end of something, that I had closed a circle. I painted all my objects (from previous pieces) black in order to make them disappear, and with this removal of objects came language.’ In Black Edvardsen used language to make the objects reappear, whereas in No Title she uses negation in language to suggest disappearance. ‘The beginning is gone. The space is empty,’ she starts. When a word is invoked its sound signifies a reality with which it is associated; both the sound of the word (the signifier) and its reality (the signified) pass through our brain to corroborate the signification. But when the negation of a word is invoked, the signification is short-circuited; it becomes a space. As Edvardsen continues her series of verbal negations she creates a space on stage that represents the full potential of what has nominally disappeared. At the same time she constantly reminds us of the irreducible presence of the speaker — ‘Me not gone’, as she says — amongst what has disappeared or fallen away. The role of the choreographer in such an approach to choreographic writing that makes the signification of words a key element is to divest the creative language of any extraneous meaning. With a minimum of means Edvardsen eloquently demonstrates this to the point that No Title reveals the stage as a vibrant space from which all associative clutter has been removed. It is a lesson for any choreographer who takes space for granted as a container to fill with movement.

Edvardsen’s voice does not simply pronounce words but expresses its own muscular quality — ‘le grain de la voix’ in Roland Barthes’ terms — and she gives it even more power by sticking paper eyes over her closed eyelids. Blindness is the negation of sight, so the phenomenon of performing without seeing underlines the idea of extracting reality from the influence of words. Using her body to see, Edvardsen senses the physical limits of the space she is making either through touch or the sensation of proximity. At one point she traces in chalk a line on the ground from the back of the stage to the front, a feathery, uncertain line from source to completion. Putting aside the chalk she works her way back upstage making the motions of erasing the line with her hand but in her blindness misses it. ‘Line is gone’ she says, setting up a slippage between verbal negation and the physical attempt to achieve it.

Dance is often referred to as ephemeral but that doesn’t alter its ability to lodge itself in the emotional core of our being; while Edvardsen erases the appearances of her craft she never discards the core reality she signifies in her performance. As a writer of choreography she has created a work through its disappearance — even the title has gone — and at the end, as author, she also disappears. The stage we are left to ponder is far from empty; it resounds with the echoes of Edvardsen’s words and gestures and the chalk line is still there with the two paper eyes stuck to the proscenium. Even after she has left she remains pointing to her own withdrawal.


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.