Theatre Ad Infinitum, Translunar Paradise

Posted: March 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Theatre Ad Infinitum, Translunar Paradise

Theatre Ad Infinitum, Translunar Paradise, The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, March 2

Translunar Paradise

Sophie Crawford, Deborah Pugh and George Mann in Translunar Paradise (photo: Alex Brenner)

This review appears with the kind permission of Oxford Dance Writers whose invitation to Oxford over the weekend made it possible. 

As part of its tenth anniversary celebrations, Bristol-based Theatre Ad Infinitum is touring two works, Odyssey (2009) and Translunar Paradise (2011). Each show takes up a full evening slot, so it was only the latter work we saw on the second night at The North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford. It’s always a pleasure to have the opportunity to see a Lecoq-trained mime company though a little unexpected in a line-up of the Spring Dance Festival programmed by Dancin’ Oxford, ‘the leading dance organization in Oxfordshire’ that ‘significantly raises the profile and visibility of dance in the city’. Hmmm.

Theatre Ad Infinitum’s co-artistic director George Mann wrote and directed Translunar Paradise and he also plays the role of William, a widower who finds it hard to let go of the memories of his late wife, Rose (Deborah Pugh). It is clearly something close to his heart, for the playing out of the story is infused with a sense of detail and empathy that come from close observation. The structure is complex, involving a present in which loss conjures up memories of the past and a past through flashbacks that has the immediacy of the present. Francesco Gorni’s set design is a masterful display of multi-functional furniture and the structural glue of Translunar Paradise is in the role of actor-musician Sophie Crawford, who sings, plays accordion, handles the props and even manages to convey the dry, ghostly passage of time. Where time and structure meet is in Victoria Beaton’s two greyish, hand-held masks that transform the young couple into their older selves in the whispered inhalation of a moment. Such is the vital effect of these masks — and of the way William and Rose use them — that one could almost say that Translunar Paradise is a quartet for two people.

Mime is such a powerful medium because of its silent exhortation of imagery from gestures; our imagination is called out from the moment we enter the theatre to transfer understanding to our eyes (perhaps Crawford’s role is so reassuring because hers is the only aural input we have). We see a weary, distracted William sitting at a table, his mask an unfathomable reservoir of his memories. Nearby is the figure of Rose, the subject of those memories, standing quite still, her eyes resting gently on him, neither young nor old. Crawford interrupts her playing to tap on a single key like the insistent ticking of a clock; performance time begins to flow as William taps his finger on the table. Through a blackout we move back to a recent past when Rose is still alive but in failing health; she clutches a small pre-war suitcase that she won’t let William touch. It is only after Rose’s death that William opens the suitcase to find in its contents potent triggers to their shared past — a letter, a photograph, a dress — that prompt him to play out in successive flashbacks their first meeting, their wedding, a stillbirth, their rows, William’s wounding in the war and Rose’s job as an air hostess.

On a narrative level, Mann succeeds in telling his story clearly and effectively with a minimum of means but there are two weaknesses in the production. The similarity in the rhythmic pattern of the flashback gives the device a weight that renders the phenomenon of memories formulaic, while in terms of choreographic invention the motion and emotion of the dancing are less well matched than in the use of gesture. While it makes perfect sense to open up the expression of memory to a less defined vocabulary than mimetic gesture, the exploration of dance doesn’t go far enough in making the contrast qualitatively different. It is perhaps worth mentioning that this year’s London International Mime Festival included Mother (Moeder) by the Belgian company, Peeping Tom, in which choreographic invention was used as an integral extension of its narrative.

If Translunar Paradise has its weaknesses, its strength is in the empathetic treatment of its subject. William is trapped in his past and won’t let go; by looking back he finds it impossible to move forward. Returning into his life from the other side, Rose’s mission is to persuade him to give up each material memory in turn, allowing him to adjust to his new life with equanimity. Life and death are poignantly expressed as an uplifting unity that allows William to visit Rose’s grave at the end without remorse.

Sadler’s Wells Sampled

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal

Posted: November 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal

Laura Dannequin, Hardy Animal, Seligman Theatre, Chapter, November 17

Hardy Animal

Laura Dannequin in Hardy Animal (photo: Paul Blakemore)

Very broadly speaking there are two kinds of pain: the first one, acute pain, is a very useful kind of pain, because it’s pain that tells me when to remove my hand from the heat source that is burning it, or to stop running if I’ve just torn my hamstring…The second type of pain, chronic or maladaptive pain, can be defined as …pain that extends beyond the time that healing would have thought to have occurred after trauma or surgery. At the point when acute pain slips into chronic pain, what happens is that although the tissues that were initially injured have healed, pain messages keep getting fired via electric impulses along the nerve fibres, up the spinal cord and into the brain where the pain is perceived as very real. (From the bookwork of Hardy Animal)

For a work that addresses chronic back pain, Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal has a smooth, sculptural quality that belies the nature of its subject. Written on the edge of anger and frustration with a sardonic sense of the absurd, it is an ode to Dannequin’s search for a solution to the debilitating pain in her lower back, from vague diagnoses to disbelief, and from snake oil treatments to unrelieved disappointments. As a dancer she has known what the dancing body is capable of and what it feels like to move freely without fear, but she suddenly found herself confronted with what she calls ‘a negative loop of persistent pain’. There are elements of both a musical composition and a lecture here — at one point she reads from notes on what could be either a music stand or a lectern — but Dannequin’s textual score and her unembellished performative treatment of the story have transformed it into a remarkable piece of somatic theatre where motion and emotion confront each other.

Hardy Animal frames stillness as a memory of movement in the same way the nerves remember pain after the initial injury has healed. Dannequin instead instills movement in our imagination through the dynamic motion of her score, making us move on a journey from the ‘biological body’ in front of us to the ‘memory body’ that has the capacity to dance without pain. What is moving us is her will, and as we reach the climax of Hardy Animal, it is her will that sets her in motion.

The piece begins in darkness with Dannequin’s voice telling us what she would like to accomplish during the performance; it is a hungry voice that remembers what it was like to eat, a tired voice that wants to get up and dance just to show that it can. Later, in the isolated image of her uncovered back — illuminated at first by two torchlights held by two front-row members of the audience — we see a soft muscular voice. With her back towards us, Dannequin uses both her recorded voice and her own in this sequence; with the recording her body is motionless, but when she speaks the reverberations of her words work their way into her neck and back so subtly but directly that they become gestures in their own right. And even though the stage is quite spacious, the focus is on Dannequin’s upper body framed in a soft light that reveals the two aspects of Hardy Animal that define it: her voice which constantly mediates between the mind and body, and the physical condition of her back. Without the voice the back would have suffered in silence, and without the chronic pain in her back there would be no subject.

Dannequin’s journey is made possible by speaking out with brutal directness and elegantly sharpened wit not only to the medical profession, the healing profession, the quacks, the disbelieving and the incompetent, but to her own body. She has argued with it so passionately and exhaustively that she has perhaps shamed it into grudging admiration, coming to terms with the pain through dogged determination and patient preparation. There’s a resolution to Hardy Animal, and it’s not the voice that resolves it but the body. Released by a recording of the largo from Bach’s keyboard concerto in F minor, her body eases into a fluid, understated dance of muted ecstasy.


Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal was presented at Chapter as part of Cardiff Dance Festival, a biennial event that circulates ideas, images and movement in a heady mix of choreographic thinking.

Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Posted: November 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Dance Umbrella 2017, Out of the System, Rich Mix, October 16

Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay (photo: Pari Naderi)

In another creative twist in the development of Dance Umbrella under the artistic direction of Emma Gladstone, Out of the System is a mini festival within the festival curated by guest programmer, Freddie Opoku-Addaie. He describes the title as a metaphor for the presence of diverse dance cultures within vocational and non-vocational structures outside the regular framework of dance presentation — not to mention the inclusion of bands Yaaba Funk & DJ Kweku Aacht, and Kioko who perform on successive evenings. It is also, like the Shoreditch Takeover, a crossover between dance curation and building management; this one involves four distinct works by artists from five countries in three different spaces within Rich Mix over two nights (which is a shame, as I miss Alesandra Seutin’s Across The Souvenir). Both here and at the Town Hall the programs weave together loose associations with what we might consider to be dance and turn them into a wealth of experience that can change that perception profoundly. There is a sense of open-ended raw material here, even if the works are finished: La Macana’s Ven seems to arise directly out of the audience; Sello Pesa’s After Tears throws time out of the window, and the improvisational energy of Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay wants to break out of the confines of the stage and take over the entire floor.

I had seen Ven two years ago at Costa Contemporánea in Andalucia, and it is one of those works that can bury itself in the recesses of your memory and come out again unchanged. The intricate timing of the interaction between Caterina Varela and Alexis Fernández is breathtaking but it is also polished: it has to be. They are like two circus performers who eschew trapeze and ropes for the instruments of their own bodies; they climb on each other, jump on each other, lift each other, balance and counterbalance in a defiant flow of impossibility that resolves through the strength and sensitivity of their well-honed skills. Against such precision, the couple’s apparent nonchalance is matched by the delightfully offbeat songs of Einstuerzende Neubauten.

Sello Pesa’s After Tears undoes all preconceptions. Described as an investigation of ‘the mourning process and the strategies people use in order to cope with death’, it’s like a private ritual to which the Soweto-born Pesa has invited us. He makes no pretense of a performance as he practices yoga on a red rug at the entrance to the third-floor space; we aren’t sure if this is part of the work, so we watch until we are ushered through the door to pick up a folding chair and wait behind a curved shoreline of red tape. In his own time Pesa moves his rug into the space with a pair of boots, a couple of crates of beer and a transistor radio playing a local station as the central focus and sole source of sound. Pesa gives an eerie sense we aren’t in the same room and yet his trance-like presence is all-pervasive. He rolls himself up in the rug and lies like the deceased, but then wears the rug around his shoulders and his head like an enigmatic, animated spiritual guide before bludgeoning it with fists and boots to mark his resolve. He seems to span both the realms of the living and the dead so as to come to grips with the inner conflict of the ‘South African tradition of returning a person’s spirit to its rightful destination’. Utterly compelling, After Tears returns dance to its ritual roots, revealing new dimensions in both movement and performance.

There is little doubt, however, about the performative nature of the collaboration between Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay. Whatever inner resources well up from within their minds and bodies are fully expressed in energetic and sensual form. The collaboration between an American contemporary dancer with Southern Baptist genes and a British flamenco dancer with roots in Jamaica and Ghana is just the beginning; what they share goes beyond their recent origins to ‘explore the connections between who they believe themselves to be, and the unconscious parts that make up who they are’. As they play off each other’s physical styles and sartorial taste, their individuality merges with an infectious sense of delight at the connections made — a body percussion sequence with guitarist Guillermo Guillén borders on the ecstatic — and like old friends they can complete each other’s rhythmic phrases. But there’s more here; we tend to think of flamenco as a Spanish phenomenon with Moorish origins, but recent research suggests a link, through the rhythmic musical structures, to the Spanish slave trade with the New World. In Clay, images of flamenco merge with South American religious iconography as Thomas adorns Graves as a participant in a Holy Week procession and wheels her across the stage. The two women finish playfully to Guillén’s accompaniment, like two sisters from the distant past revelling in their common roots.

I first heard Opoku-Addaie before I saw him, in a performance of Silence Speaks Volumes at BDE 2010 where his blood-curdling roar from the behind the audience announced his entrance. His voice has again preceded the choreographic action, this time not his own but of his own choosing. May the experiment continue.

Dance Umbrella 2017: Let Me Change Your Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dance Umbrella 2017: Tordre

Posted: November 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Tordre

Dance Umbrella 2017, Rachid Ouramdane, Tordre, artsdepot, October 17

Lora Juodkaite and Annie Hanauer in Rachid Ouramdane’s Tordre (photo: Patrick Imbert)

The first sensation on walking into the auditorium at artsdepot is one of harmony. Sylvain Giraudeau’s set for Rachid Ouramdane’s Tordre, presented as part of Dance Umbrella’s 2017 festival, is like the contour of a shell, a gently curving light grey wall at the back of the stage that is evenly lit by Stéphane Graillot. Two metal pipes of different lengths descend like abstract sprinklers each with a lateral arm parallel to the floor. ‘Tordre’ (literally, to twist) comes from the same family of words as torsion or torque, and while there is an expectation of circular movement in Giraudeau’s set, the only immediate indication is a small electric fan at the foot of the rear wall that turns back and forth on its axis. Just as you’re getting used to this soothing conception, the music starts and two dancers, Annie Hanauer and Lora Juodkaite, make a flourishing entrance from opposite sides of the stage. The recorded soundtrack from the musical Funny Girl gets stuck in a groove, so Hanauer and Juodkaite repeat their entrances again and again. If you didn’t already know her, you can’t help noticing Hanauer has a prosthetic lower left arm — but that’s the point; this is a gently provocative opening gambit in which attention is deliberately drawn to Hanauer because of her perceived disability. Yet by the time the two dancers have made five or six entrances, we have come to accept it and are drawn instead into the comic absurdity of their repeating groove and their subtly different dynamics in entering and departing.

Having introduced them with a broad smile, Ouramdane begins to delve down into their individual strengths, presenting first Juodkaite and then Hanauer in separate solos to his own music that reveal their unique approaches to dance. We see Juodkaite initially turning very slowly and evenly like a clockwork dancer on a stand before she melts into luxuriant postures like spirals within spirals, belying her strength in her effortless flexion. Ouramdane pays no more attention to Hanauer’s prosthetic arm but creates for her a mesmerizing, extended solo that takes her movement beyond a virtuosic level to an emotional plane where he leaves us to distill our perceptions. Later in a choreographed, eloquent response to Nina Simone’s song, Feelings, Hanauer enters unerringly into the phrasing with its lyricism, its hesitations, and its questioning. The two solos mark a progression from a literal, physical notion of Hanauer’s disability to a more abstract and emotional understanding of how disability can itself engender ability and, with resilient determination, emerge as artistry. Hanauer expresses herself as the dancer she is without settling for a physical absence that might somehow diminish her.

Juodkaite doesn’t appear to have any disability but rather a unique ability to spin endlessly without losing balance or presence. And yet this ability did not arise out of nowhere; she has been practicing spinning, or movement gyration, every day since she was a small child as a form of psychological strengthening. To see her spinning is, like seeing Hanauer at first, to notice the exception before the exception becomes, in its artistic transformation, a heightened emotional experience. TS Eliot, referring to time in his poem, Burnt Norton, wrote of ‘the still point of the turning world’ where ‘past and future are gathered’:

‘Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.’

Juodkaite, in spatial terms, has made her dance the turning (gyroscopic) point where she finds her equilibrium in the turning world. And turn she does, with variations of speed and a rich articulation of her arms that are reflected in the turning, horizontal metal arms above her. She spins around the stage with perfect composure in ever decreasing circles, setting up a hypnotic moving image that, like Hanauer, removes us beyond the virtuosity. In one of the few interactions in this section of solos, Hanauer intercepts Juodkaite, gently receiving her into her open arms before releasing her once again; the dynamics seem effortless and timeless.

Tordre is both a dance performance and a documentary in movement, for as soon as there is talk of obstacles there is a response in biography. In her final spinning solo, Juodkaite relates anecdotes about her early life with her sister as if the spinning is in itself a form of remembering. But Ouramdane is careful to balance biographic attention with his meditation on difference and artistic ability. He reveals in both Juodkaite and Hanauer a way of moving that is generated by the obstacles and is not simply a result of them. This notion goes to the very heart of dis/ability and thus in its abstract treatment, Tordre is more powerful and far-reaching than the presentation of two remarkable artists on stage. Another connotation of ‘twist’ is to change perceptions; Ouramdane, Juodkaite and Hanauer together show how this can be done.

Dance Umbrella 2017: Shoreditch Takeover

Posted: October 31st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Shoreditch Takeover

Dance Umbrella 2017, Shoreditch Takeover, Shoreditch Town Hall, October 28

Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan (photo: Luc Depreitere)

The final party of Dance Umbrella 2017 at Shoreditch Town Hall continues the festival’s experiments in matching dance and architecture, the body and its forms of expression. The theme of Shoreditch Takeover could well be the power of the moving word: Julie Cunningham & Company’s Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows is inspired by the writings of French feminist and literary theorist Monique Wittig; Lisbeth Gruwez embodies the songs of poet Bob Dylan, and Vanessa Kisuule performs a selection of her own poetry. For the word-weary there is Charles Linehan’s 18-minute choreographic film, The Shadow Drone Project, that loops silently in a space of its own throughout the evening. Shoreditch Town Hall was never designed for dance, but this pairing of dance and spoken word neatly blends its municipal role with a temporary focus on communicative performance.

Coming into the elegantly proportioned Assembly Hall for Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows, there is a heightened sense of order in the rectangle of black floor, the haphazard arrangement of lyre-backed chairs — some upturned or leaning against another like the silent aftermath of a domestic quarrel — and Richard Godin’s diffused lighting with the faintest whiff of haze. Three women enter in the dark; Anna Martine Freeman sits but in a gentle light Hannah Burfield and Londiwe Khoza start to recreate in halting, abstract terms their personal quarrel to which the mute chairs bear witness, an irretrievable chasm within the suggestion of an embrace. Freeman remains silent, untying her boots as she recalls through her skin the discomfort of the injurious past, when from behind the audience Cunningham enters noisily into the present like a latecomer in a skimpy black outfit supported on high-heeled boots and topped with a long unruly blonde wig. She minces directly to Freeman and climbs over her like an exotic dancer called upon to perform for a client. Cunningham’s raw, explicit imagery contrasts emotionally and spatially with duet of Burfield and Khoza, who wait for the right moment to slip away. Off come the wig and boots as Cunningham explores the relationship between Wittig’s textual imagery (delivered by Freeman) and her own. But while Freeman gives a forceful, emotionally mature reading through her gestures and the very texture of her voice, Cunningham’s response feels self-conscious, lacking the emotional potency conveyed in the spoken words. By the time Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows finishes, the order in the room has been replaced by a sense of unease.

Downstairs in the Council Chamber, Vanessa Kisuule presents a colourful set of her poems, following on from Freeman in delivering not only the words but the gestures that carry them. Dance is a non-verbal art form but used in the right way Kisuule reminds us these silent gestures move through figures of speech and poetic images in celebration of the sensual non-verbal eloquence of the poetry. Kisuule whets the appetite with a poem entitled Rosé, and follows it with a ribald tale about shaving assholes (‘the crassist of bathroom ballets’) before delivering in a soft patina of an American accent a dark, poignant reflection on Martin Luther King told through the voice of one of his lovers. Effusive, expressive and irrepressible, Kisuule then reads a touching tribute to her Ugandan grandmother before a final bullet-point poem of irreverent reflections.

Back upstairs after the intermission, Lisbeth Gruwez and musician/composer Maarten Van Cauwenberghe stand behind the sound console with the relaxed attitude of old friends and the nervous excitement of waiting for the audience to settle. Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan is what’s written on the tin, like the iconic covers of Dylan’s early vinyl LPs resting on the floor against the console. Van Cauwenberghe slips out a record on to a turntable and lowers the needle while Gruwez stands in bare feet and casual clothes, an image of expectancy in a field of energy. These are early songs, fresh, acoustic and enthusiastic; again we are reminded that words move and transport us into the worlds they create through the sensuality of sound and inflection. It is difficult to establish exactly where Gruwez positions herself in these songs though she is rhythmically attuned and the odd gesture picks out an accent in the poetic sequence of words. She is neither illustrating the songs, nor simply doing her own thing with them; it’s as if she has turned the rasp and lilt of Dylan’s dancing voice inside out and given it powerful, fluid gestures and an intense gaze; at times she even resembles Dylan. She relishes the verbal musicality, capturing the idiosyncrasies of Dylan’s alliterations, the expansiveness of his metaphors, and the minimalism of his synecdoche with exuberant delight and elegant nonchalance, but at the same time her gestures set up other images. Walking slowly upstage in Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, her white silk shirt sticking to her skin and emphasizing the muscular rippling in her back, she is like the lonely hero in Wim Wenders’s film Paris Texas; in the glorious Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands we see her floating bare-legged on the floor in a pool of light that Van Cauwenberghe guides around and over her, reflecting in the shiny black surface a seamless depiction of femininity in Western art from Venus to St Theresa. Catching her breath, she tenderly asks the audience ‘Is everyone all right’? Gruwez is very much at ease on stage; she comments on her own actions and jokes with Van Cauwenberghe in asides between songs and then climbs back inside the voice, romping delightfully through Subterranean Homesick Blues before inviting us to select a song (Hurricane is chosen), take off our shoes and join her on the stage to dance Bob Dylan together.

In the intermission, there were too many people in the room watching Linehan’s film projection, The Shadow Drone Project, to be able to stand back and contemplate Karolis Janulis’ (already) long-distance photography from a drone of dancing figures in various landscapes. We returned after Gruwez and before the DJ had started up in the Council Chambers. Linehan has made choreographic poetry of the aerial photography by featuring the extended shadows of dancers in the late sunshine; we are watching their patterns superimposed on the dancing patterns of the landscape or shoreline. It’s a serenely simple concept and the result takes dancing to another distant realm, totally enchanting and surreal at the same time.

Dance Umbrella 2017: Trois Grandes Fugues

Posted: October 24th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Trois Grandes Fugues

Dance Umbrella 2017, Lyon Opera Ballet, Trois Grandes Fugues, Sadler’s Wells, October 19

Graziella Lorriaux, Elsa Monguillot de Mirman, Jacqueline Bâby and Coralie Levieux in Maguy Marin’s Grosse Fugue (photo: Bernard Stofleth)

In a welcome visit to Dance Umbrella’s 2017 festival, Lyon Opera Ballet’s program of three distinct responses to the same score — in this case Beethoven’s Die Grosse Fugue, op.133 — is an enlightened way of seeing the music through the eyes of each choreographer. And such is the variation in response — even taking into account the different recordings used — that the music is in turn affected by the choreography and sounds quite distinct with each performance. Originally written for string quartet, Lucinda Childs’ Grande Fugue (2016) employs a score transcribed for string orchestra; Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Die Grosse Fuge (1992) here uses a 2006 recording by the Debussy Quartet and Maguy Marin prefers a 1968 recording by Quartetto Italiano for her Grosse Fugue (2001).

Childs’ use of a string orchestra transcription inevitably softens the music, rounding its edges and subduing the meticulous clarity and brio of the original four instruments; if the string quartet version is white, the string orchestra version is in shades of grey, which happens to be the starting point for the production design, lighting and costumes by Childs’ long-time collaborator, Dominique Drillot. Childs, whose name came to international attention with her choreography for Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach in 1976, is known for her minimalist vocabulary that is expressed here as repetitive patterns with frequent changes of direction. Created for six couples, Childs adds extended arabesque lines to the inherent minimalism of Grande Fugue to give it a neoclassical patina; her linear conception responds deferentially to the complexity of the score without exploring its emotional heights or depths.

De Keersmaeker, on the other hand, accents the up beat of the musical phrases to raise the choreography into the air while grounding Beethoven’s powerful shifts of emotion through the bodies of her dancers. Her intention was to choreograph Die Grosse Fugue with ‘a masculine vocabulary, non-classical and sexual’ to which she alludes in the black and white formal evening wear worn by the six male and two female performers. If the costumes also relate to the classical nature of Beethoven’s composition, de Keersmaeker’s exuberant exploration of space and gestural form, pushed to the limit by the dancers, gives it an exhilarating, contemporary energy. Through her trademark use of hand and arm movements that fold and extend, her flying lifts and spirited floor rolls she reimagines the music as dance, finding new meaning in the score by underlining the continuity of movement between musical and choreographic composition. Within this intimate and playful reading, De Keersmaeker makes no gender distinction in developing a series of variations that draw her eight dancers — and the contrasting forces within the score — seamlessly together. The beauty of de Keersmaeker’s Die Grosse Fuge, and its power in performance, is that the music, choreography and imagery complement each other in an all-embracing unity that finds its climax in the final uplifting chord with the dancers left suspended in the air by Jan Joris Lamers’ perfectly timed blackout.

Marin chooses a slower recording (we are by now becoming attuned to the score) and also a freer vocabulary of inner emotional turmoil that gives her Grosse Fugue an existential feeling. Choreographed for four women (Jacqueline Bâby, Coralie Levieux, Graziella Lorriaux and Elsa Monguillot de Mirman), the vocabulary of tense syncopated movements and clenched gestures seems to derive from an exploration of states of frustration and despondence, reminiscent of photographs of the patients of nineteenth-century neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot in which the body articulates inner suffering and desperation.

Marin and lighting designer François Renard allow us to listen to the opening bars of the overture in the dark before the four women burst on to the black stage in Chantal Cloupet’s shades of red, carmine and vermillion, beginning an intimate, witty, sometimes heated conversation between themselves that constantly echoes the dialogue of the four instruments. They find moments to support each other in their instability and also give into their own silent unease but wherever they may be on stage Marin’s spatial construction conveys a unified field of emotional highs and lows, a powerful dynamic for breaking through an impasse that Beethoven himself may have experienced in overcoming his deafness at the time of Die Grosse Fugue’s composition; there is both empathy and catharsis in the fusion of the two art forms. In the halting section before the finale, the four women stop on the edge of the stage in an idiosyncratic family portrait before launching themselves into a gloriously abandoned recapitulation of their conversation in which they end up sliding supine to the floor with an energy that reverberates well beyond the final chord. When the lights come up they are still there.

Dance Umbrella 2017: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami

Posted: October 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami

Dance Umbrella: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami, Battersea Power Station, October 11

Satchie Noro in Origami in front of the Battersea Power Station (photo: Johnny Stephens)

Origami’s free performance opened London’s 2017 Dance Umbrella Festival and was subsequently performed in four other London locations.

If we were to imagine the American artist Donald Judd dozing in his studio, he might have been dreaming of a bright red container on the Thames riverfront set against the profile and the silhouetted cranes of Battersea Power Station on a drizzly, misty evening. An audience gathers in front of the parked 40-foot container on the terrace in front of Circus West Village Piazza, which is the point at which Judd’s dream vies with reality. On a balcony just above and to the side of the container, as if they are sitting in a covered theatre box, residents from the block of flats have settled down to watch the spectacle. Dance Umbrella is turning open air spaces into theatres and bringing dance to new audiences.

Origami is as much about the experience of watching it as it is about the performance itself. What Satchie Noro and Silvain Ohl have created is an awareness of both scale and contrast and as if the inherent contrast between a container and a solo dancer is not enough, the evening’s floodlit landscape of the refurbished power station rises like a monumental set behind them. Fred Costa’s sound score seems to arise from the same industrial, riverside setting and continues as a collage of music, speech and urban sounds that merge with the installation’s own mechanical rasp to wrap the visual reverie in a timeless and borderless aural space. Despite the sense of imposing gravitational force all around, the experience of watching the performance is somehow unearthly.

Origami is generally thought of as the Japanese art of paper folding, but the development of the science and mathematics of origami has led to research where hard materials, oxyacetylene cuts and metal hinges replace the traditional paper and folds. What Ohl has conceived in slicing up his container is a rigid origami pattern which we see initially in profile as essentially flat, but when its inverted triangular section slowly winches open on its hinges we experience a three-dimensional origami flooded with light. The light in turn softens the industrial edges of the metal to prepare for the emergence of a human element. At first we see two elegantly pointed feet swimming languidly in the air but as the geometric space unfurls, we see the feet are joined to a female figure dressed in green trousers and layered blue and red tops suspended by her hips on a trapeze. The playful colours are reminiscent Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, though Noro’s shades of blue and green are minute flecks of colour against the giant red surface.

Noro’s childlike nonchalance and sense of adventure within this layered interaction of material and light, of mass and space, of small and industrially large is what gives Origami its dreamlike aspect. Her agile motion animates the space and plays with the juxtaposition of scale. At the top corner of the container close to the balcony she seems to be within reach of the spectators, drawing them into the action, and when all we can see is her hands gripping the top of a container wall she’s hiding behind, such a tiny detail is clearly recorded as an extension of her invisible form.

Once the rigid origami begins to open, its two mobile sections continue to move, almost imperceptibly, until the end. Noro’s negotiation of both the material of the container and the spaces between its elements shares this elongation of time; she moves slowly and smoothly, an ability derived from her training in classical dance and circus arts. She is as comfortable hanging in space and from the steel ropes that connect the three sections as she is climbing on their exterior surfaces or sliding down their edges. She occasionally punctuates the arc of her movement with static poses like a classical sculpture in the pediment of the upturned triangle, or draping herself over its apex, drawing our attention to the architectural shapes and spaces that the origami pattern suggests.

Just in front of the standing audience three children follow Noro’s every move with their eyes and bodies, daring each other to accomplish on the damp terrace what she is achieving up above. It is only at the end when Noro drops lightly from the trapeze to the floor of the container and disappears into the welcoming light of its interior that the children finally awake from their dreams of aerial adventure.

Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven

Posted: October 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven

Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven, Barbican, October 14

Rocío Molina in Fallen from Heaven (photo: djfrat)

There’s a suggestion of flamenco in Rocío Molina’s image (see above) on the cover of Dance Umbrella’s program for Fallen from Heaven but the stage set — a white screen, a bare white floor with a drum kit, a beat box, and two electric guitars propped up against chairs — does not immediately corroborate it. Another suggestion comes from a program note stating Molina has ‘coined her own artistic language based on a reinvented traditional flamenco style’ but following the opening acid rock number by the four musicians who then leave the stage, expectations are left wide open. When the lights reveal the voluptuous Molina alone on stage in her white flamenco dress poised as Botticelli’s Venus in a scalloped shell, images collide. Molina displays the silent vestiges of flamenco in her raised arms, coiled wrist and fingers and slow, silent clapping before descending to the floor like a muffled chrysalis about to emerge as a new form: birth and death at the same time, or what Joseph Schumpeter called in economic terms ‘creative destruction’. She slides across the floor with a marked disdain for fluidity, her body and dress morphing into the shape of insects whose upended legs and feet wilfully contort the upright elongation of the classic form. If the body is doing its best to rub out its flamenco traces, there is still the dress to dispose of, which Molina slips off with less modesty than coyness; her arms cover her chest and groin with more precision than Botticelli until her attendant musicians arrive to place an ample jacket over her shoulders under which she changes into her next costume. We have almost arrived at the point in the press release where Molina ‘borrows from feminine, masculine and animalistic codes to give a very personal performance about womanhood’.

The next tableaux deal rather messily with the masculine code in which Molina self-consciously pulls flamenco through the ringer of cross-dressing (herself as buxom toreador in white tights, black sports bra and black plastic knee pads) and overt sexual imagery like her codpiece of ejaculating crisps. Her provocative tone degrades her treatment of male stereotypes to a parody, but while she mocks them she fails to avoid clichés of her own, particularly the superficial projection of woman as sexual object surrounded by admiring men. When Molina steps into a box to pull on a transparent latex skirt drenched in a sticky carmine substance with which she subsequently paints the floor in choreographic strokes, her statement loses the biting gender critique that performance artists and female choreographers before her (like Charlotte Vincent) have expressed, because she treats it, through an overhead camera, too literally as image. It is this indulgence in the mere visual effect of images that makes a muddle of the many tableaux, costume changes, entrances and exits that constitute Fallen from Heaven. Molina inhabits her material too superficially to build a convincing picture out of these various elements and her performance suffers by not moving beyond the safe boundaries of modest déjà vu. Some of the responsibility for this must also lie with Carlos Marquerie whose roles as co-artistic director, dramaturg, stage and lighting designer are too deeply embedded in the production to ignore.

The one thread that remains constant throughout Fallen from Heaven is the virtuosity of Molina’s rhythmic, percussive footwork that, in her interaction with the musicians, proves an impressive (and un-reconstituted) element of her art, even if it loses its spirited theatricality through being used unsparingly as a running commentary. It is only later in the work, when the fallout from heaven has strewn the stage with plastic carnations, red paint and bunches of plastic grapes that Molina seems to come into her own as a flamenco exorcist in search of Dionysus. Guitarist Eduardo Trassiera plays memorably, but Molina has difficulty navigating the end. With nothing left but her indefatigable energy and a raft of costume clichés, she plays to the crowd (and in the crowd) unashamedly as if she’s the heroic survivor of an unjust plot by the flamenco gods — all male — to banish her from the classical heaven. Her revenge is to bring the audience to its feet.


Rocío Molina performed Fallen from Heaven (Caída del Cielo), part of Dance Umbrella 2017, at the Barbican 12-14 October.