Antony Hamilton & Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting

Posted: July 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Antony Hamilton & Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting

Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting, Battersea Arts Centre, June 28

Alisdair Macindoe and Antony Hamilton in Meeting (photo: Gregory Lorenzutti)

Alisdair Macindoe and Antony Hamilton in Meeting (photo: Gregory Lorenzutti)

What destroys a man more quickly than to work, think and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure — as a mere automaton of duty?” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Bodies as automatons? It’s a philosophical question that sits at the heart of choreography. Can dancers deliver the same movement, at the same intensity again and again without deviation or wrinkle? Both Antony Hamilton originating the choreography and Alisdair Macindoe inventing the bots and polyrhythmic composition dissolve the seam between choreography and composition. Their meshing as a performance duo with highly tuned musicality is a feast of call and response and displays acres of tensile strength. Imagine the microseconds before the gun of a 100m race is fired: Macindoe and Hamilton don’t go on the ‘b’ of the bang, they play in the space when the lips begin to close and formulate the hum of the ‘b’.

With the 55 minute performance split into three sections, the first sees Hamilton and Macindoe inhabiting the 4-metre radius circle of bots (64 pieces of wood measuring no more than 20 x 15 x 10 centimtres with a pencil attached to a pivoting mechanism on the side, tapping the floor at different intervals); this intensity of focus and action does not allow our gaze to wander or be distracted by any superfluous activity. It deepens the connection between audience and performers as we’re all submerged in this tight frame for the first 25 minutes; it is relentless adventure with feats of physical and verbal memory.

Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.” – Theodore Dreiser

Hamilton and Macindoe are human gnomons casting shadows and carving air as they latch on to one of the many polyrhythms created by the orchestra. The primary choreographic language employed is popping (sometimes known as the robot dance), building staccato patterns through the isolation of muscles in their arms, neck and torso. The style ensures a crisp, cool and technically impressive feat yet Macindoe does not match Hamilton’s skill. The difference is clear and Macindoe is not able to execute and pop as the softness of a contemporary training blunts the edges required.

As Hamilton slowly breaks the circle of bots, we see his b-boy history as he softly baby freezes over the boundary of bots, shifting his weight as he meets the floor and begins to reconfigure them into a new formation. With a series of miniature robotic henges casting dawn-length shadows across the stage we began to see and hear a transformation. There is a delicacy in play in the second section — a balance between sound, motion, the sound of motion and the motion of sound. The sonic palette has shifted too as miniature trays, blocks and alternative materials are placed underneath the pencils and as they strike down alternative tones reverberate and the monochromatic drum march has been replaced with a textured soundscape.

Ah, thou hast made my heart captive in the endless meshes of thy music.” – Rabindranath Tagore

Time is often foregrounded; from the unfinished and rewound repeated movements glitching in our eyes, to the complex musical time signatures pulsing in our ears — we know that time exists but are unsure at which speed it is being played out. This invisibility is remembered at the end as the dancers leak off stage and the audience is serenaded for the last five minutes by the orchestra. Even though the bodies are no longer present, the interweaving of choreography and composition ensures a physical residue in the audience memory. As the tones shift I see their bodies echo in the space, popping, patterning and replaying movement sequences that were present a few moments before.

There were dozens of moments of virtuosity: from an eyes-closed verbal recall of a numeric pattern at Mach 1 making them sound like a pair of Australian market traders bamboozling the audience’s ears, to a tight hand sandwich duet at close proximity as they pivot and twist, using their palms as records moving in and out of a jukebox at speed. As an audience we’ve been internally tightened and our gears wound watching these feats without breathing or shuffling in the rich and sparse landscape Hamilton and Macindoe have created. Meeting is a quietly rich encounter between man, machine, motion and sound that rewards your attention with mesmeric human feats and meditative sonic patterns.


Marcus Waterloo, We have bled

Posted: July 1st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Film | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marcus Waterloo, We have bled

Marcus Waterloo, We Have Bled, Frame Film Festival, Rose Theatre, June 10

Rosa Antuña in a still from We have bled

Rosa Antuña in a still from We have bled

The director of We have bled, Marcus Waterloo, was not able to attend the film’s showing due to illness, but the film’s producer, André Semenza, very kindly agreed to ask him my questions about his approach to the film. I have used some of Waterloo’s responses written from hospital.

Apart from the opportunity to see dance live on stage, film is the most effective medium for capturing the dance elements of movement, line, rhythm, and colour. But a seat in the theatre offers both a fixed distance to the dancers and a fixed perspective. Film has the advantage of moving the audience exactly where the director wants; both the distance and perspective can change as well as the frame of vision and the clarity of focus.

A film by Marcus Waterloo, We have bled, shown at the Frame Film Festival in Kingston, emphasised these advantages so much it stood out for pushing beyond ‘dance on film’ and even ‘dance as film’ to a mature creative genre of ‘film as dance’. Waterloo was director of photography for another film at Frame, the full length Sea Without Shore (2015) by directors André Semenza and Fernanda Lippi, with whom he has worked since 1998, notably on Ashes of God (2003). His cinematography is rich in colour, meticulously framed and he has a feel for choreographic space; he doesn’t simply follow dancers but enhances their movement with his camera work. For some time Waterloo has also directed, filmed and edited his own short dance films, of which We Have Bled is the most recent and the longest he has made in this genre.

Waterloo did not start with a vision for the film; as he writes, ‘Everything started with Fernanda and André, and the possibilities that came up when Rosa was in town; we felt “let’s get together and see what happens.” I know that something always happens when we get together, a sort of magic. I was not going to bring the camera to the first rehearsal but I did, and I am so glad I did.’

Waterloo joined the three dancers — Lippi, Rosa Antuña and Kirill Burlov — in a dance studio observing through his lens ‘…the interactions and natural energies between the people’ that Lippi had orchestrated through task-oriented choreography and improvisation. He was interested simply in ‘watching people; people, like little creatures, and what the creatures are up to…It’s as if I want to swim and flow with other humans. There is no ‘grand statement’ — it’s simply part of the process of being human, the poetry of it…It’s like dancing with other people.’

It was in the first edit that Waterloo perceived in the images what he describes as, ‘a compassionate look at the turmoil in our relationships; when we exhaust ourselves and can turn to a place of surrender and acceptance. We cannot be anything else but human, it’s an inevitability of life: to acknowledge we will hurt a little on the way.’

Cued to piano music by Kai Engel, we see the dancers alone or in pairs, close up or at a distance, framed within the architectural space; within that frame there are others because Waterloo glances at the moving bodies through windows, through reflections in windows, through doorways, at the end of passages and from behind the studio’s barres. The motion of the camera sets up a tantalising superimposition of bodies and architecture moving in and out of focus within and through the frame — sometimes multiple frames within the same shot — at different rhythms. In the editing Waterloo thus sets up a poetic syntax that enhances what we see, building emotional traces like brush strokes on a canvas. This process, Waterloo writes, is like ‘excavating the human heart…The film is about people: you see straight into people’s hearts and souls, and what is possible — what great potential there is. Editing is about totally surrendering; it’s a natural response.’

The originality of We have bled is in its creation of an intoxicating juxtaposition of choreographic images to create the suggestion of a narrative. The starting point was not conceptual but instinctual: ‘I see the beauty of humans drifting past all the time, like a grand archaeological and architectural display. Filming is knowing where you are going to dig. You have an inkling that there is something under the surface, so “let’s set up and dig”. When something is revealed, you just continue digging…it’s a response, an experience…’

Marcus Waterloo’s website http://marcuswaterloo.com/

Vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/marcuswaterloo

 

Ten days after writing this, in the afternoon of July 11, 2016, Marcus Waterloo succumbed calmly to his illness.


Dance Roads 2016

Posted: June 23rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Roads 2016

Dance Roads 2016, Seligman Theatre, Chapter, Cardiff, June 8

Lucie Augeai and David Gernez in Nœuds at Dance Roads

Lucie Augeai and David Gernez in Nœuds

Dance Roads is an international touring initiative that supports choreographic development and provides artists with international exposure and networking opportunities on a biennial basis. The network is made up of organisations from five countries: The Netherlands, Wales, France, Italy and Roumania and is jointly coordinated. This performance at Chapter marks the final leg of the touring program.

Jasper van Luijk’s Yonder, danced by Jefta Tanate, is the most formally crafted of the five works on the evening’s program, a play of chiaroscuro in which Tanate moves naked through a field of lights. The stage resembles a photographic studio in which van Luijk has set up lights at various heights and angles. The choreographer cedes his place behind the camera to the audience and allows us to watch as Tanate manipulates the lights during his performative journey. There are thus two sources of movement, human and mechanical, interacting at different rhythms through the action of a single entity. When he is not swinging lights or swinging on them, Tanate moves with an almost automated articulation, his facial expression belying no emotion, nor betraying any narrative for his actions. This existential quality relates to what the program note for Yonder describes as ‘a search for the beginning and the end of time with the lifecycle of one man.’ I’m not sure many in the audience would pick up that notion while watching — I certainly didn’t — but there is a sense of time passing on a journey from darkness to light, from frenzied turning to stillness, from a sublime moment of elevation to a jarring fall to earth. What links these episodes is van Luijk’s paean to the male body that Tanate, without any apparent strain or self-consciousness, dances on the edge of his senses.

The poet Dylan Thomas lived constantly on the edge of his senses; Gwyn Emberton takes on the imagery of his poem Fern Hill in a short solo called Of the Earth, where I came from, originally choreographed on his own body but here danced by Albert Garcia. Emberton chooses not to set movement to Thomas’s words but with composer Benjamin Talbott delves into the sense of exploration in the poet’s memories of spending youthful days on his aunt’s farm. It starts with an image reminiscent of a portrait by Rollie McKenna of Thomas entwined in the branches of a tree: Garcia is in a headstand in shadows cast by tied, gnarled brushwood. Both poem and choreography are suffused with regret for the process of ageing but by setting his choreography on a younger body, Emberton sets up a tension between youth and age. Like the poetry, Of the Earth, where I came from has no rest as one image of the body switches suddenly or slowly, unfolding, unfurling and upending with a muscular fluidity that is nevertheless ageless.

In Noeuds (knots), Lucie Augeai and David Gernez (Compagnie Adéquate) perform a playful take on family relations (they are married) in a bright gestural duet that has elements of theatre, circus, mime, and dance. Their use of baroque music (Marin Marais) gives lively accents to their dialogue that allows the gestural forms, which look at first like conducting, to become the principal channel of expression. Noeuds does not, as its name suggests, describe an easy relationship. Augeai holds her breath with bulging cheeks while Gernez bares his teeth; he holds her tightly while she tries to escape. The initial pleasure builds to confrontation but Augeai does not submit; she gives as much as she gets. She has a way of using her eyes with the tilt of her head that conveys clarity of intention; the register is as high as laughter and as low as aggression. Gernez is her foil, against whom Augeai plays to comic and dramatic effect. He is driven to a final solo of male frustration after which Augeai diffuses it with her weaving pattern. The knots are subtly disentangled and they walk off together.

Claudia Catarzi’s Qui, Ora (here, now) is a minimal work that comes at the end of the middle section after two other works, so not an ideal place for audience concentration, which it needs. Qui, Ora is a choreographic response to immediate physical factors: space, a costume, the audience and sound. It has the feeling of an improvisation, stark in form with playful elements. If you put on a stiff and raspy-sounding coat, then your movements will necessarily emphasise its qualities; Catarzi dances the coat with birdlike attention and a dry sense of humour, sloughing it off at the point it appears to be dancing her. She responds to the space around her (and to a Johnny Cash song) with movements that are angular and loosely anarchic; it is like a play by Samuel Beckett with moments of dry wit, an element of the absurd and moments of pure poetic flow.

Cristina Lilienfeld’s work, Layers, is a meditation on skin and what it reveals of our inner emotional life. She uses her own skin as a material on which to receive our thoughts and feelings, and with which she projects a sensorial appreciation of the unfettered body. Disarmingly generous, she nevertheless protects the intimacy of her personal space in the very act of sharing it, playing with the tension between looking and being looked at and never failing to meet our gaze head on. In the opening section she reinforces the skin’s opacity by rolling and slithering her almost naked body on a mix of sand and flour to the sounds of rain and thunder and masks her face in her long, thick hair. It is a state of emotional turbulence in which she appears to be testing our gaze. “You are under my skin. You are in my heart,” she tells us, and invites us to write whatever comes to mind on her skin with her eyeliner pencils: artist and audience sharing the same material. “Thank you,” she responds, peeling off layers of skin-like patches from her body as she retreats. She reappears carrying a bowl of water. If the first part of Layers is a ritual covering of her skin, the second is a ritual cleansing. In between these two states, where Lilienfeld is naturally expressive, there are moments of ‘dancing’ which immediately signal something inherited or taken for granted. But there are also moments when she creates something mesmerising out of her unadulterated presence. In being naked — a metaphor for both freedom and vulnerability — the removal of physical and psychological layers creates in her an exuberance that makes emotion visible.

Dance Roads, as its name suggests, is a network of roads that is funded by the EU to convey choreographic expression from one country to another. While it is a pleasure to watch works that originate elsewhere, at the performative level the model offers neither integration nor differentiation between cultures, for the audience or for the dancers. What makes van Luijk’s work so different from that of Compagnie Adéquate, for example? What would happen if Catarzi were to create a work on Lilienfeld, or Lilienfeld on Tanate? It might be interesting to explore such questions in future collaborations so that the creative spirit finds new roads to follow.

 

It is ironic that this article on Dance Roads should be published on the eve of the EU referendum in which a majority of UK voters decided to leave the EU. The result may well mean Wales will no longer be eligible for the Dance Roads network. 


Until the Lions: Akram Khan Company at The Brighton Festival

Posted: June 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Until the Lions: Akram Khan Company at The Brighton Festival

Akram Khan Company, Until The Lions, Brighton Dome, May 27

Ching-Ying Chien in Until the Lions (photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Ching-Ying Chien in Until the Lions (photo: Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Earlier this year I saw Peter Brook’s Battlefield at the Young Vic; it was his adaptation of five books from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Akram Khan made his debut at the age of 13 in Brook’s original nine-hour production of the Mahabharata. What a coincidence then, that Khan should present in the same year as Battlefield another story from the same saga, one of love, betrayal and revenge in an original reworking by Karthika Naïr that has become Until the Lions.

The title comes from an African proverb: ‘Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’ The lion in Naïr’s poem is Amba, the daughter of the King of Kashi who is abducted on her public swayamvara (betrothal) ceremony by Bheeshma, the son of the Kuru king. Vowing revenge on Bheeshma, Amba immolates herself and is reincarnated as the male warrior Shikhandi by whose hand Bheeshma meets his end on the battlefield. The dual role of Amba/Shikhandi is danced respectively by Ching-Ying Chien and Christine Joy Ritter; the role of Bheeshma is danced by Khan himself.

Until the Lions has Kahn’s signature symbolism and spirituality dressed in white and covered in haze, with arresting stagecraft and musical accompaniment (by Sohini Alam, David Azurza, Yaron Engler and Vincenzo Lamagna). The dancing of Chien and Ritter is what we have come to expect in Kahn’s international casts of exceptional artists whereas Kahn’s own performance, even if his presence is strong, lacks the flow and attack he once had. It is something he acknowledges, but it begs the question of why he didn’t find a younger dancer on whom to create the role. The result is a performance that has all the appearance of significance yet lacks its bite. There is a feeling that Nair’s poetry has not gained in the dancing, but is simply the starting point of something else, something defined more in the production values than in the content.

Brook’s space for Battlefield is spare, a vast stretched stage cloth with very few stage elements. This environment stands in stark contrast to the subject of the dialogue and enhances the production’s focus on the clarity of thought. Khan and his producer, Farook Chaudry, have taken a different path. The narrative involving three characters has been treated with a monumental production by conceiving it for the 360° Network of round artistic venues across the world. Created in the round, with Tim Yip’s vast slice of fissured tree trunk for a stage and with Michael Hulls’ lighting, the setting is to dance what the rock concert is to music. Michael Billington commented on Battlefield that ‘at a time when theatre is giddy with technology, you are struck by the way economical means are used to maximum effect.’ By contrast Hulls seems to be vying with the choreography for primacy.

The work premiered at The Roundhouse (a founding member of the 360° Network) in January. I didn’t see it there but at the Brighton Festival, which is not only one of 16 co-producers but also a co-commissioner of the work. The outside of the Brighton Dome is, like The Roundhouse, circular, but its concert hall is not configured for theatre in the round. It is at best an elongated semi-circle cut off by the stage, so fitting Until the Lions into this space required some spectacular fudging. The first thing you notice is the massive lighting rig to carry Hulls’ circular lighting conception and the second thing is the stage underneath it, a circular platform on top of the Dome’s regular stage.

So why did the Brighton Festival co-commission and co-produce a work that, as conceived, does not fit into its venue? Why co-commission it at all? How much of the Festival’s dance budget was taken up with this co-commission and what did it get from it? The questions are relevant because the dance programming of England’s prestigious festival in its 50th year is much thinner than the quality of English dance would suggest; the Festival has an opportunity if not a responsibility to present a challenging and varied dance program, rather than go for the prestigious names like Khan, or hook up with what happens to be touring with Dance Consortium (as it happened, NDT2). It’s ‘lazy’ programming and it has a deleterious effect on the country’s dance ecology.

Arts Council England, which funds both Akram Khan Company and the Brighton Festival, has a motto, ‘Great Art For All’. The motto has two elements: ‘great art’ and ‘for all’. Even if Khan is a well-known brand, great art does not necessarily equate with well-known names. And ‘for all’ implies that access to the great art is within the financial reach of a broad audience. An expensive work by a prestigious name means ticket prices are going to be high rather than broadly affordable and I can’t help feeling that with 16 co-producers and a co-commission, Until the Lions is roaring its way to the bank while the Festival is left strapped to build a dance program that does justice to the high quality of work that exists in the country (not to mention locally) with the public funds at its disposal. Perhaps a good starting point would be to appoint a dance producer; there is currently no mention of one listed under the Artistic Staff of the festival. There’s a music producer, a theatre producer, a classic music producer, and a family and children’s producer. For a festival that prides itself on its mandate to take ‘a new look at the arts’ and to have ‘the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture…’ that’s a stunning omission.


Navadisha 2016

Posted: May 26th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: | Comments Off on Navadisha 2016

Navadisha 2016, mac, Birmingham, May 20-22

Kesha Raithatha (photo: Ian Abbott)

Kesha Raithatha (photo: Ian Abbott)

Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.” – Michel Foucault

Navadisha 2016 was a three-day conference produced by Anita Srivastava and co-produced by Piali Ray that sought “to stimulate, steer and secure the future of South Asian Dance as part of UK’s ever growing dance landscape”. The Navadisha team, with Chitra Sundaram acting as conference moderator and lead consultant, curated over 65 presenters and more than 20 performances attracting over 200 UK and international delegates who were ready to celebrate and deliberate new dynamics in South Asian dance.

It has been over 16 years since the last Navadisha when a young Akram Khan and Mavin Khoo presented their duet No Male Egos; Navadisha 2016 opened with a specially commissioned duet from Connor Scott (BBC Young Dancer 2015 winner) and Vidya Patel (BBC Young Dancer 2015 finalist) who jointly choreographed a light 5-minute work in a mere eight hours. Khan, Khoo and Shobana Jeyasingh each offered a keynote provocation and while Khan struggled with definition — “What the fuck is South Asian dance? I don’t know how to define it…” — Jeyasingh offered an arresting, personal and insightful response touching on pertinent issues: “Dance as a noble hobby”, and with respect to the classical and contemporary debate, “we share common soil, common roots and common sustenance.”

Over the course of the event there were some luminous contributions from individuals who articulated an alternative approach to, and use of, classical dance forms whilst demonstrating an integrity within their own practice:

Subathra Subramanium (Sadhana Dance) explored the rigour and collaborative process between bharatanatyam and science, charting expeditions to the Arctic Circle with audiences of bearded seals and walruses to the surgical precision of the operating theatre and identifying a shared dexterity between classical dancers and surgeons.
Hari Krishnan (inDance) offered a queer narrative and perspective from his practice as a choreographer. Presenting nudity, sexuality and intimate touch in and to this community is a radical act and I’d like to see other LGBTQ+ artists offered the chance to engage and contribute to this dialogue.
Lina Johansson (mimbre) presented insight and advice on how her company creates work for outdoor settings, recognising that audiences can begin to watch a piece at any moment and often wander off if their attention drops. She aims to craft work to capture and retain a diversity of ages.
Shalini Bhalla (Just Jhoom) opened a vital dialogue (often ignored in South Asian communities) around issues of mental health and depression. She shared her story of hospitalisation and of using the healing power of her dance practice to train over 250 instructors across the UK to teach the fitness and bollywood hybrid, Just Jhoom. She recognised the social value, community and friendship that comes from participants dancing together in class in a familiar environment.
Nova Bhattacharya (Nova Dance) offered an international perspective and was frustrated with the “fucking monochromatic viewpoint” in both the dominance and assimilation of American modern dance and European aesthetics into the Canadian dance ecology, and passionately advocated for a palette of voices and forms to be represented.

However, in a set of panels (often with 7, 8 and 9 people each having three minutes to speak in the 60-minute sessions) there was a lack of coherence and audience consideration mixed with a multitude of surface statements and extensive personal biographies. Many of the flooded panels had insufficient time and/or were poorly moderated, not allowing questions and response from the audience. With such an international panel of delegates, rich with experience and insight, the opportunity to engage in a rigorous debate was missed. There was little visible thread between the speakers whose consistent mode was that of broadcasting rather than listening and responding to peers.

“Creativity cannot be held within the confines of history. It needs to be honestly and harmoniously allowed to reinvent.” Aditi Mangaldas

There were nearly 15 panels across the three days, looking at: Changing lives / Inspiring Stories, New Narratives / New Perspectives, Professional development, mentoring and career progression, but one that stood out in the language used to describe it was: “Stars in our eyes: Part 1 – The Performer’s Perspective.” Five stellar and compelling performers from a range of South Asian dance practices (Aakash Odedra, Amina Khayyam, Seeta Patel, Shane Shambhu and Sonia Sabri) each shared how they see it: My vision, my goals, my dreams, my challenges!

The conference team often publicly referred to this set of artists as “Gen Next” or “Young Artists”, invoking a sense of power and using a patronising tone that I found unhealthy. Patel in her three minutes offered a provocation: “It is an exciting time which shouldn’t be patronised by a reference to ourselves as orientalised, antiquated museum pieces. Whether classical or contemporised, with integrity we can reach further from existing, limiting perceptions. To artists I ask: are we perpetuating a landscape of outdated perceptions that limit who we are and can be? To the powers that be: do you want an exotic other artist or an artist whose doesn’t rely upon cultural differences to make them great?” Her comments garnered a wealth of response in the room and on the hashtag #Navadisha16.

I sensed an unspoken power, faux etiquette or, to use a term cited by Patel on day one, an invisible hand at play manifesting itself in multiple ways throughout the conference. There is an unwillingness to engage in an open dialogue as the fear of retribution is high. Julia Carruthers, Programme Director at Warwick Arts Centre, in the Venue, Producer and Promoter panel called on the “aunty” or “akka” generation to move on and make way for new voices and new leaders. Anusha Subramanyam, Artistic Director of Beeja, in the How dance is enhancing people’s lives panel spoke of her frustration at the disparaging attitude towards her work as a choreographer working with young people with disabilities, in communities and other contexts.

Over the last three years I’ve experienced, led, partnered and convened a number of dance conferences, symposia, festivals and gatherings in different styles including: Association of Dance of the African Disapora’s Re:generations 2014, the Integrated Summit, Btown Throwdown and South Asian Dance Summit at Pavilion Dance South West as well as DanceLive15, Buzzcut and Rise 2016 in Scotland. Common threads across these events were: a sense of care for the artist and audience, providing a space for difference and the removal of ego for the greater good. Within Navadisha 2016 there was an invisible simmering and Kav Kaushik paraphrased Game of Thrones: “Winter is coming and the kingdom is focused on civil war.”

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.” – N R Narayana Murthy

Throughout the conference there were a number of felicitations paying respect to pioneers in the field, from Naseem Khan OBE (on the 40th anniversary of her ground-breaking report, The Arts Britain Ignores) to Pratap Pawar, Pushkala Gopal and Nahid Siddiqui, three dance artists who inspired generations of students, dancers and teachers in the UK. Alongside this formal recognition a number of new ventures from Leena Patel, Kamala Devam, Shane Shambhu were publicly launched in front of a rich and illustrious makeup of guru’s and industry powers which felt a generous and unique celebration introduced by those further along in their career trajectory.

As part of the conference and in partnership with International Dance Festival Birmingham there were a number of full-length performances and excerpts across the three days. Highlights came from Sooraj Subramaniam, whose classical Odissi was an elegant and emotive solo; Kesha Raithatha, who has been working with Eva Recacha, presented a taut Kathak-inspired contemporary work which would sit well in most small-scale dance houses across the UK and Hembharathy Palani’s Twine, bathed in a Tizer-lit haze, was a meditative trio on the notion of slowing down.

I noticed that some things were missing from the conference: there was no voice of young people or a young presence on the education panel and yet we saw groups from the ISTD or Centre for Advanced Dance Training perform on stage. There was no authentic voice of what it is like to go through and experience these systems; their voice was muted. There was no discussion about music, its relationship to dance and how it is fundamental not only to the teaching but also to the presentation of the classical forms. The relationship between guru and student would have been a ripe arena to explore, looking at reverence and power dynamics between two people. The majority of National Dance Network members were not present and those who were appeared only on days they were on a panel; Paul Russ, CEO and Artistic Director of Dance 4, admitted, “The unconscious bias needs to be acknowledged.” If the dance houses and dance development organisations who programme and support artists choose not to attend and engage against the backdrop of Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity and the monochromatic male leadership of dance organisations, both their own palette and that of their audiences are given little chance to broaden; the unconscious bias will remain until the “uncles” are removed.

In the closing plenary, “The Conference” (without consultation or engagement with delegates) made a series of recommendations: the need for further round table discussions; not waiting 16 years until the next event; passing the baton onto “gen next” and encouraging them to lead on the next Navadisha, and for venues to present more classical and contemporary Indian work across the UK. This was a very public offer and challenge to the “young artists” to create and mould the structures and opportunities to reflect the landscape they wish to engage with. If this is a ceding of power and relevance then I look forward to what the future holds as there are articulate, rigorous and original voices that have been constrained by power politics within the classical Indian dance ecology.


Costa Contemporánea 2015, Day 2

Posted: May 26th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Costa Contemporánea 2015, Day 2

Costa Contemporánea, Day 2, Anfiteatro Rodalquilar, September 3

Irene de Paz in Madejda (photo: Carlos de Paz)

This is the second instalment of a set of reviews from last year’s Costa Contemporánea. I had started it but never got around to finishing it. Re-reading my notes I feel I am back in the amphitheatre at Rodalquilar…

After the opening night, the three subsequent days of performances at Costa Contemporánea have a strong theme of physical theatre. Each performance is a unique take on the body as both image and instrument with an ecstatic fluid line that permeates the body mass. Irene de Paz is a circus artist, a tightrope walker with strong features and a bright smile that remains from beginning to end like an optimist who never gives up. The gusts of wind blowing through the amphitheatre would be enough to put off any funambulist but the smile persists and the performance of La Madeja proceeds, involving yards of red yarn in which de Paz ties and unties herself while walking back and forth or on the rope. The link between the tightrope and the yarn is not accidental; equating the knotting of woven cloth to the vital knots of her profession, De Paz dedicates La Madeja to those women weavers who saw their days pass while knotting threads. Furthermore, the funambulist and the weaver become metaphors for life: finding balance, taking steps back in order to move forward and resolving intricate problems. Her first step on the wire is entangled in yarn and by her last one she is free of obstructions. But during the performance De Paz seems to be fighting the elemental force of nature that is far more unpredictable; lightness and poise are at risk, even though the smile never fails.

I had seen Elias Aguirre dance a duet in Turin that took inspiration from the characteristics of insects. Aguirre’s control over his articulate body is prodigious and he turned it into a fascinating play of volume, line and space. He finds unusual states of being to portray — neither conceptual nor exaggerated — that lend themselves to his form of expression. In Longfade he inhabits a body that has been poisoned but is in the process of resisting the poison until it runs its course: the long fade to extinction. Facing his crisis in spatial terms, Aguirre is eloquent in movement: short phrases, silences, internal questioning, and hasty decisions connected in an overall arc of meaning. He takes his imbalance to extremes but always finds his equilibrium quietly and seductively. His face is intimately involved in his actions, giving an impression of carrying on a dialogue with the audience, or reading us a story in movement. Longfade is not a work with a beginning or end, but like a fragment it emerges into the light and disappears enigmatically leaving behind an extraordinary sensory trail.

Because of the rising wind outside, Nicolas Rambaud moves his production of ¡Valgo? to a spacious hall behind the amphitheatre where we sit on the floor. The work, whose title translates as What am I worth?, is a polemic about the value and self-worth of artists. It is a duet for Rambaud and a filmed alter-ego who is projected onto a fragile, tent-like screen and with whom Rambaud pursues a contentious dialogue. Rambaud is no wallflower and enjoys the role of demagogue; he also enjoys being outrageous. Since I don’t understand Spanish I have an hour to watch him rant in speech and dance, stripping down from blue overalls to his essentials and high heels and spraying sarcasm from an industrial crop sprayer strapped to his back. If Rambaud wants to draw attention to the value of the artist, he succeeds more successfully — from a purely physical perspective — to draw attention to himself: L’artiste, c’est moi. What is interesting, too, is that in the context of the contemporary Spanish dance at Costa Contemporanea there is a didactic quality in Rambaud’s work: an intellectual concept dressed in the physical. By contrast, and in simplistic terms, the Spanish contemporary dance I have seen is primarily physical with an inherent intelligence.


Buzzcut Festival

Posted: April 16th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Buzzcut Festival

Buzzcut Festival, The Pearce Institute, Govan, April 6-10

Fox Symphony by Foxy and Husk, Easter Performance by Lucy McCormick, This is not a euphemism by Aby Watson, Domestic Labour by Alejandra Herrera Silva, and Puffing and Wooling by Tilley and Del

Alejandra Herrera Silva at Buzzcut Festival in Domestic Labour (photo: Hichek Dahes)

Alejandra Herrera Silva in Domestic Labour (photo: Hichek Dahes)

“Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But in fact they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.” – Margaret Fuller

This is Buzzcut, a place where nothing and no one is fixed. This is my second swim in Buzzcut and over four days I encountered 30 works that were either stage-based, one-to-one encounters, limited capacity, durational, participatory or installations — and it’s a place where all forms are welcome. I’m going to write about the ones that had a relationship with dance as well as the ones that linger long after the festival has closed its doors.

“An actor is never so great as when he reminds you of an animal — falling like a cat, lying like a dog, moving like a fox.” – Francois Truffaut

Fox Symphony is a theatrical rummage in the dustbins of class. Foxy and Husk (the performance persona of Isolde Godfrey) presents us with a grinning painted fox face combined with lavish theatrical costuming and millinery. The tone is set when we’re invited to rise and welcome Foxy in her rendition of God Save The Queen. Through a combination of pre-recorded audio interviews, Foxy is the slickly-timed physical vessel of Adele, an East End bagel (pronounced bygal) as well as of representatives from Scotland and Ireland. Deftly woven amongst these verbatim offerings are songs from Led Zep, Pulp and Mary Poppins (in the style of a Lip Sync Battle performance) offering an alternative lens on how class has been presented in the past 50 years. Godfrey finesses herself, the scenography and her wily video editing with delicious details like slurping milk through a straw and a confetti shower hidden inside an umbrella. However, through the re-presenting and editing of others she leaves little room for herself and I’m left wanting an authentic social comment from Godfrey before she scurries off into the night. Fox Symphony is without doubt a finely crafted and intelligent portrait of our relationship to class but what does the fox say?

“The major civilizing force in the world is not religion, it is sex.” – Hugh Hefner

Easter Performance is part of a suite of historical re-enactments of biblical stories that Lucy McCormick is embarking on and in the programme she defines this work as a ‘fuckstep-dubpunk morality play for the new age.’ Aided and abetted on stage by Joe Wild and Jordan Lennie we’re presented with alternative interpretations of the stories of Judas, Doubting Thomas, and Three Women Anointing Jesus. Dressed in tracksuit bottoms and a marker pen beard McCormick declares on mic that she’ll be playing Jesus tonight with Wild and Lennie playing the rest of the parts. For the next 25 minutes gender, sex, provocation and power are swirled in the Buzzcut blender and McCormick brings a physical urgency to the fore with acres of confidence, swagger and debauchery that sit perfectly in this late-night cabaret slot. Lennie tenderly carries McCormick off the stage while engaged in heavy petting and as they come down into the crowd, mount an audience table and continue to lock mouths, McCormick comes up for air on mic to ask one of the organisers of the event questions like “where’s the party after the show tonight?” and “are you having a good festival?” As McCormick purposely jars our watching rhythm, breaks realities and questions, I wonder if we are watching a performer, a party princess or Jesus french-kissing Judas? With her well-executed, commercial, twerking-fuelled routine, McCormick is eminently watchable, constantly demands our attention and self-degrades to keep us hooked. Doubting Thomas refers to the apostle who refused to believe the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles until he could see and feel for himself the wounds/holes received on the cross. As McCormick takes Wild’s fingers and guides them into every one of her bodily wounds/holes she looks directly out to the audience fully aware of what she’s doing and what we’re thinking in return. As a final act (clad in only her vest and kiss-smudged beard) McCormick crowd surfs her way over 25 metres to the back of the hall and sleeps safe in the knowledge that dozens of people can claim to have touched Jesus at Buzzcut.

Electric flesh-arrows…traversing the body. A rainbow of colour strikes the eyelids. A foam of music falls over the ears. It is the gong of the orgasm.” – Anais Nin.

This is not a euphemism was first scratched last October at Camden People’s Theatre and Buzzcut is presenting the premiere. Aby Watson reveals an intimate four-screen film of an orgasmic oral encounter with someone she met on Tinder. Euphemism is the first work that Watson has defined as a “choreographic solo as opposed to a piece of theatre or contemporary performance” and it sits alongside her current PhD study Choreographing Clumsy on the subject of dyspraxia and choreographic practice. Watson is exposing both her choreographic practice and herself in an intimate exchange, whether in the opening five minutes as she sets up the TV’s or during the grin-inducing dance to You Sexy Thing and Let’s Get It On. It’s exposing, but on her terms and in her language and her delivery is infectious: “Both parties consented to the recording of the act and he knows what I’m doing with my copy — but I have no idea what he will do with his.” At Buzzcut this year there is support from Creative Scotland to increase the levels of accessibility across the festival through captioning, audio description and BSL interpretation as well as providing a silent area where people can rest from the frenzy of the festival. Euphemism is interpreted into BSL by Natalie MacDonald so although it’s framed as a solo, Robertson’s sympathetic and performative interpreting adds another layer of charm and personality to the work. Robertson is happy grinding to Hot Chocolate, offering facial interpretations and nuance alongside her hands; choreographically speaking it fits really well and there’s a chemistry between the two performers. When Watson asks the audience for someone to help her out, a man called Dickie offers. He comes on stage and is given a sign name with input from some mischievous audience members; Watson brings him up on several occasions to complete a number of tasks. Suddenly this solo is now a trio and it feels all the better for it; the BSL is blended well and I leave wanting to see more work with MacDonald interpreting with such style. Breaking the formal rhythm and structures of the performance through asides and explanations, Watson invites Dickie to the stage one last time to waltz. Together they begin, quickly finding a satisfying rhythm and connection and as the speed increases the lights begin to fade. This is definitely not a euphemism but the playground of an eminently engaging performer.

“You don’t like it when a French housewife gets mad at you. If she gets steam behind her, she is an unstoppable creature.” – Peter Mayle

The fragility of domestic glasses, plates and women in Domestic Labour is amplified and then inverted by the presence, power and ability of Alejandra Herrera Silva. Male control and dominance is fiercely challenged and as the domestic choreography reveals itself Herrera Silva invites a number of willing male opponents to engage. Every action is expertly choreographed from the slow dribbling of red wine onto the white dresses and the deliberate revealing of messages on her chest to lifting a large and heavy water-filled box around the space. Herrera Silva invites a man (at least 1ft taller than her) to arm wrestle. At this stage she is dressed in a white t-shirt, 4-inch heels and wine-stained pants. As they lock hands and begin to wrestle, she ferociously stamps down a stack of over 30 dinner plates under her right foot as she battles for physical supremacy. In that moment, in a swirling crash of ceramic shards darting everywhere, Herrera Silva demonstrates where power really lies. Afterwards she thanks the male participant and dutifully cleans up the mess, often emitting audible sighs at the drudgery. Taking 24 drinking glasses for a walk on a lead over a hard marble floor creates ear-screeching discomfort but the image, sonic quality and trails of broken glass again inverts preconceptions of the domestic role of women. Inviting another tall man to pull her by her hair whilst she drags a table laden with glasses around the space creates a tension as glasses pop off the table as it scuffs along the floor, shattering onto the feet of the watching audience. Once again she thanks the man for pulling her by the hair and she begins to sweep up. Domestic Labour is a simple yet thrilling exhibition of power laced with intimacy and leaves Herrera Silva firmly in control.

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” – T. S. Eliot

In a festival that celebrates diversity, rebellion and risk, when everyone is revealing the self, playing with the extremes of live tattooing, induced vomiting and graphic anatomical presentation, how does a work stand out? By displaying a kindness and an awareness of those who encounter it. Welcome to the world of Puffing and Wooling by Tilley Milburn (singer songwriter and performance artist) and her best friend Del (a beautiful pink stuffed pig she discovered in Clinton Cards in Kent). This is a space that explores rest, relaxation and reflection, enabling people to be present. It creates a sense of renewal, lightness and connection in the ten people who enter the blanket with its candles, soft toys and low-level lighting. Lying on her side with a soft northern lilt Milburn and Del offer us gentle participatory instructions, basic meditation and a story of how her most important ted (Trevor Curly, whom I perchance am cradling throughout) came into her life. Showing intimate acts does not create intimacy with an audience; there is a lot of cathartic broadcasting across Buzzcut without the necessary consideration about what and how it is being received by those who encounter it. Encouraged to snuggle under blankets with strangers and listen with our eyes closed — this is a space where it is OK to be different and bring stillness into your life. And this is the most radical act of all.


Marco Flores & Olga Pericet, Flamenco Festival London

Posted: March 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marco Flores & Olga Pericet, Flamenco Festival London

Marco Flores & Olga Pericet, Paso a Dos, Flamenco Festival London, Sadler’s Wells, February 27

Marco Flores and Olga Pericet in Paso a Dos (photo: Paco Villata)

Marco Flores and Olga Pericet in Paso a Dos (photo: Paco Villalta)

Marco Flores & Olga Pericet’s Paso a Dos is part of London’s Flamenco Festival, a mighty river of Spanish culture merging with the mineral springs of Sadler’s Wells. Now in its 13th edition, the festival is a two-week immersion in what Alistair Spalding calls ‘the best flamenco dance and music performed today.’

The origins of flamenco lie deep within the history of Spain. Its four elements are voice (cante), dance (baile), guitar (toque), and hand clapping, foot beating and shouts of encouragement (jaleo) all connected through what is called duende (soul). Although dance is just one element of flamenco it is the most readily recognisable: the arched back and arms, sharp, steely lines, shapely costumes, florid gestures of the wrists and hands are all signifiers of its long tradition. What we see tonight is flamenco in a contemporary theatrical setting in which tradition and commercial development are combined.

What is apparent in Paso a Dos is an interesting contrast: while the musical element still evokes the rough depths of emotion, of pain and suffering from which flamenco arose, the dance is refined and polished. When the singers in Paso a Dos draw up such rich and visceral sounds from their depths it is as if they are coming from another time and place, sometimes uncomfortably so. There is nothing uncomfortable about the dance, however, which is rich in its smoothness and litheness without any visible reminders of the suffering in its musical accompaniment.

This is immediately apparent in the opening section where the six musicians are seated next to each other. When Ismael El Bola begins to sing his voice gives form to a contorted dance of its own; his facial and corporal gestures seem to come directly from the passion of the song. When Flores and Pericet enter they strut through the music in a line of elegant stretch that winds up like a spring ready to release. And release it does, in flashes of mercurial posture and riveting beaten foot rhythms while the arms sing like a melody. The two forms together suggest that the voice is the rough earth from which the elegant flower of the dance emerges in its beauty and sensuality. These levels of expression are what make flamenco so complete.

And yet there is something in Paso a Dos that is less than compelling as a theatrical performance. Interestingly, it ‘originated from an idea by poet and flamencologist José Maria Velázquez-Gaztélu’ as an illustrated conference on the art of duo dancing in which the poet’s words alternated with Pericet’s and Flores’ dance. The two dancers subsequently ‘developed Paso a Dos, turning it into a dance show.’ So the idea of the dance developing out of the music is here turned on its head and the integrated experience in which all the elements of flamenco arise from the same source is reduced to the piecing together of elements under a single idea: the show. The bland entrances of the dancers are the unfortunate vestige of the lecture demonstration.

There is no lack of virtuosity, however. Pericet and Flores can hammer out the fastest beats and turns, and their partnering is a passionate display of precise attention. When Flores places his hand on Pericet’s waist or shoulder, he is not simply holding her but communicating with her through his fingers that continue a dance of their own. Pericet’s solo simmers with suppressed energy until she lets fly with her feet and swirls her long dress like an ornate and very lively fishtail. She expresses a range of emotions in her dances, while Flores, ardent as he is, tends to maintain a similar register throughout. The same cannot be said of the musicians: the two guitarists (Antonia Jiménez and Victor ‘El Tomate’) strum and pick their way through Spain with melancholy beauty and fire, while the four singers (El Bola, Miguel Lavi, Mercedes Cortés and Inma Rivero) each wrench from their bodies the most exciting vocal shades and rhythms; Rivero seems to exorcise her words with her fists. Each song, each instrumental solo or duet is rich in expressive power.

So while all four elements of flamenco are present in Paso a Dos, each performed by artists at the height of their powers, it is the form of the show itself that disappoints; its overall effect falls short of being any more than the sum of its parts.


Emerge Festival, Week 3

Posted: November 25th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Emerge Festival, Week 3

Emerge Festival, Week Three, The Space, November 17

Maëva Berthelot and Omar Gordon in Neus Gil Cortés' Left (photo: Patricio Forrester)

Maëva Berthelot and Omar Gordon in Neus Gil Cortés’ Left (photo: Patricio Forrester)

This is the third program of the three-week Emerge Festival curated by C-12 Dance Theatre at the intimate venue, The Space, on the Isle of Dogs. These small-scale festivals, like Cloud Dance Festival and Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform, give opportunities to young choreographers without any hierarchic selection process: it is a raw mixture of work from around the country that is never less than interesting and can include some gems. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the absence of female choreographers, but in the two programs I saw at Emerge, the majority of choreographers are women.

The only exception this evening is Dialect of War by Jean-Pierre Nyamangunda and Viviana Rocha of What Is Written Dance Company who join Sia Gbamoi to make a trio that starts off quite innocuously but grows in menace. Described as ‘the story of a warrior tribe whose lives are brutally disrupted’, the energy of disruption is carried in the choreography but the narrative of violence is carried in the presence of the dancers, most completely in Nyamangunda whose eyes convey both terror and pain. In Don McCullin’s war photographs it is the eyes of both victims and perpetrators that convey the ultimate darkness of the soul; the use of the face as an integral part of choreographic intent is no different.

Gemma Prangle’s Dance I made on my Bathroom Floor is about as far away from Dialect of War as a programmer could manage. Prangle starts behind a shower curtain in silhouette to the sound of running water and when she raises her arms above the curtain for a stylised soap dance the sound of lathering pervades the room. When she reaches outside the curtain for her towel we can see it is not there; it is a moment of expectation, a simple but effective piece of theatre. Prangle conceived the piece when she noticed how much time she spent dancing in her bathroom compared to the studio, but the attraction of such an idea is that she should be unaware of anyone watching. Who dances in their bathroom to an audience? By emerging from the shower (bone dry) and shielding her naked body with her arms, she acknowledges our presence. She then compounds the artifice by apologizing for leaving her towel in the audience and asking for the person sitting on it to throw it down before continuing her ablutions in all propriety. We are now effectively sitting in her bathroom and the inherent humour and absurdity of the idea has been flushed away.

Co_Motion Dance (choreographers Catherine Ibbotson and Amy Lovelock) present a quartet of women in FORCE, a highly energetic battle for power that relies on the strength and spatial precision of the performers. Some of the jumps also rely on split-second lighting cues for that are too demanding for the limited technical resources available and too much of a gimmick for the level of choreographic sophistication. The force of the work comes from the force of the performers: why contrive this brute physicality? Presumably to make it more interesting to watch, but I would argue that the construction and theatrical intent of the work have to be more interesting first.

The title of Tamsin Griffiths’ work, Duvet Cover, appears to follow a similarly domestic theme as Dance I made on my Bathroom Floor, but the duvet in question is a metaphor. It is the place of comfort, ‘an emotional home’ in a work that expresses the volatility of depression and bi-polar disorder. The piece begins with a film clip projected on to a white sheet showing Griffiths climbing into a giant duvet and relishing its warmth and comfort; the fuzziness of the image makes it look like an ultrasound image of a baby in a womb. At the moment the film ends Griffiths pushes from underneath the screen to lie supine on the stage. Her initial movements remain close to herself as she goes through the motions of adjusting drowsily to vertical and following the path of a hand that seems to have an agency of its own to a score that is dreamy if not hallucinatory. Griffiths’ entire body explodes into action as she follows a volatile narrative; there is no ‘why’ in these shifts of mood, these ‘phases of depression’ as they progress in a certain direction and then suddenly change course. Duvet Cover is a work that can be read on two distinct levels: one that doesn’t make sense and one that does. Griffiths is perhaps playing unconsciously on the ‘invisibility’ of depression and how that plays into misunderstanding about the nature of the disease. She controls her performance even when it seems most chaotic: she displays an effortless virtuosity in her ability to throw herself to the limits of her balance and return to equilibrium. Although she takes emotional risks, Griffiths is not challenged sufficiently in Duvet Cover to extend her range. Perhaps it is one of the challenges of working alone but one of the rewards is to see that raw honesty in a dynamic physical form.

The most complete work of the evening is Neus Gil Cortés’ Left, a duet for Maëva Berthelot and Omar Gordon (Cortés shares the role with Berthelot on subsequent evenings). It has a simple starting point: ‘When we are alone, all we have left is our thoughts…’ ‘All’ is the operative word, for in this fifteen-minute duet there is a great deal to inhabit our imagination and Cortés leaves open that vital gap between choreographic intent and audience reaction. Gordon, who has the dark lines of a character in an El Greco painting, is the manifestation of a relentless, demonic aspect of Berthelot’s psyche. Despite herself, Berthelot circles around him like a moth around a candle and when he finally dissolves into the darkness she is left eerily reliving his gestures. They are two but they are not two, and their partnership is mesmerisingly intense. As a choreographer, Cortés handles the frailty and domination with a freedom and depth of detail that anchor the work in a youthful maturity. She also proves her intuition as director in creating an enveloping sound score around the music of Philip Samartzis and Mica Levi, costumes that enhance the narrative and in managing to create magic from the available lighting resources.


Opening night of Costa Contemporánea

Posted: October 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Opening night of Costa Contemporánea

Costa Contemporánea, Centro de Artes Escénicas de Nijar, Almeria, September 2

Anna Borràs in SIQ, winner of Il Certamen Mujer Contemporánea

Anna Borràs in SIQ, winner of Il Certamen Mujer Contemporánea

It is with huge thanks to my friend Agustin Ferrando Castellano, co-director and technical director of this festival, that I was able to attend.

The costa in question is the southern tip of Andalucia in Spain, a volcanic landscape with a desert climate on an exquisite coast. Costa Contemporánea is a contemporary dance festival founded and directed by Nerea Aguilar that has carved a reputation in the region over the last six years. All festival participants stay in the beautiful natural park, Cabo de Gata; morning classes are on the grounds of the camping site or on the nearby beaches while performances are in indoor or outdoor venues in local towns.

The opening of the 6th Festival of Dance and Performing Arts is a gala at the Centro de Artes Escénicas de Nijar that presents the winners of a solo female choreographic competition, II Certamen Mujer Contemporánea. It is headlined by a filmed choreography by Ana Cembrero, Lost Archive, followed by the three performances of finalists Sara Cano, Hung-Wen Chen and Anna Borràs.

Lost Archive is the seed of a longer film, or so it seems, talking about memory and how it is maintained or lost in archival forms. The film evokes memory not as a stream of consciousness but in a rational and seamless juxtaposition of images and danced movement over a haunting musical score and spoken text in English and French. Dance is a perfect metaphor for memory as it relies on that fragile retention of something inexpressible through means that are incomprehensible. Lost Archive equates the fragility of documents that can be destroyed by fire with dance that is susceptible to visual extinction.

In A Palo Seco Redux, Cano creates a path from flamenco to contemporary dance; it is soon clear that her training is in the former and that she has thought through where the influences might overlap. In three separate circles of light she creates a different fusion that is cumulative over the performance. It begins with a decidedly flamenco form in all its energetic rhythms and arched elegance and finishes in contemporary with its brash looseness and sinuous flow. In the process Cano gathers elements of contemporary technique into flamenco, fitting them together with consummate skill so that on the physical level the edges of each are softened to make the fusion seamless. In terms of expression, however, the inescapable pride of flamenco and the abstract physicality of contemporary makes the fusion less apparent, as if the glue of the work does not mix quite as it should. It is the one element that holds back Cano’s work from an expressive whole.

In Renew Chen uses costume initially to erase her features, identifying herself on the outside by her grunge but chic black clothing, sunglasses and hat. Her choice of music hints at a discordant society with which she is in sympathy but her refined sense of movement indicates a self-awareness and confidence that sets her apart; perhaps she is playing with the dual role she must experience as a Taiwanese living in Germany. It is only when a rapid transformation sees her outer disguise fall as if she is sloughing off her skin that she becomes herself. While the synthesized score resembles a swarm of bees she remains serenely unfazed, contained within a cocoon of movement whose sudden, intense changes of direction are so smooth and unctuous that we do not see how she resolves them. Her body has an ability to move at speed while a stray arm or head reads slower, occupying a space that is finely delineated whatever her surroundings. Renew is thus a process of reinventing one’s identity without discarding what is essential.

Anna Borràs is a qualitatively different performer, a passionate dreamer with gritty edges. At the beginning of SIQ she backs on to the stage holding a small sack of flour to her chest. Her spatial choreography becomes a visual pattern as she throws, sows and tosses the flour around her with the expressive force of a shaman and the fragility of a dreamer. Her body is at the centre of her magic, the eye of a storm and like Chen she moves fast in tight spirals then unwinds. The dispersed flour remains suspended in the air like a universe in which she suddenly seems small, struggling to find her place, to assert herself. She writes of wanting to show the intersection of moments of adversity in periods of deep happiness, a universal theme that reminds me of an ancient poet relating epic tales of life lived fully. Having exhausted her resources — the equivalent of finishing the tale — she simply retreats into the darkness to recover her energy. Impressive.

The judges awarded Borràs the first prize, Cano the second and Chen the third, with Cano receiving the audience prize.

The remaining performances over the next four days were in a small open-air arena in Rodalquilar. But more of those later.