Ian Abbott on the 2018 Birmingham International Dance Festival

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

Birmingham International Dance Festival, June 7 – 15

BIDF18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

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

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

Linyekula

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

These Rooms

Justine Cooper in These Rooms (photo: Pat Redmond)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Shut Down

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Nature of Why

The Nature of Why (photo: Paul Blakemore)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ula Liagaitė

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Somaholidays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ian Abbott on Aerowaves, Spring Forward 2018 in Sofia

Posted: March 30th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Aerowaves, Spring Forward 2018 in Sofia

Ian Abbott on Aerowaves, Spring Forward 2018, Sofia, March 23-25

Forecasting

Barbara Matijevic and MacBook in Forecasting (photo: Yelena Remetin)

Spring Forward 2018 is a flipbook of European contemporary dance; 22 performances selected from over 580 applications from 40 countries and squashed into 2.5 days. It would have been 22 performances but for Oona Doherty’s last minute injury which put an end, for the second year running, to her performance of Hope Hunt (the one UK representation). Directed by John Ashford and managed by Anna Arthur, the Aerowaves network is an ever growing set of programmers, artists and writers injected each year into a different European city for three days with the help of a local delivery partner. Derida Dance Centre played host this time and offered a wealth of local knowledge, volunteers, walking guides and oodles more to ensure a smooth-ish international parachuting.

One of the benefits/disadvantages of the Aerowaves format is that all work programmed has to be between 20 to 40 minutes (even if the original work is longer) which requires judicious pruning to ensure the heart of a work remains intact but removes any flab for the gluttonous Spring Forward crowd. The viewing pace is also accelerated; seeing 5 or 6 pieces a day at the Edinburgh Fringe was frenzy enough but at Spring Forward you’re seeing 21 works in 52 hours — one piece of contemporary dance every 2.5 hours — which affects how you see, how you process and how you articulate a response to each work.

Rita Gobi’s Volitant is a tightly constructed and deftly articulated solo with a choreographic vocabulary that is part ornithological, part sumo and part wrought spring. With a taped floor pattern of an arrow head of parallel white lines, our eyes are drawn to the points of tension in Gobi’s shoulders, cheeks and knees; it’s a contagious state amplified by the Morse code-, typewriter- and pong-inspired soundtrack by Dávid Szegő that accentuates her physical punctuation and treacle netball heel pivots. With a sympathetic monochromatic lighting design by Pavla Beranová emphasising the clarity of her movement through silhouette Gobi is an exquisite performer with the ability to build and choreograph a minimalist landscape worthy of greater attention.

Imagine a slug. Imagine a giant black rumbling slug. Imagine a giant black rumbling choreographic slug that can suck up, swallow and spit out naked humans at will. Welcome to Pietro Marullo’s WRECK from Insiemi Ireeali Company, an ambitious 40-minute scenography with a flawed narrative that could have dropped straight out of The Prisoner. With a huge black inflatable pillow taking the role of the Big Slug we watch it ooze and blob from side to side, rising up to demonstrate its power and mark its territory without any visible human intervention. After five minutes we are surprised to see it burp up a naked human who remains motionless in its slimy wake; the premise accrues over the next 10 minutes with naked bodies in solo, duo, trio and up to quartet being hoovered and deposited across the stage to an electronic noise glitch pulsing soundtrack. And then a switch occurs. The bodies, previously stilled, have thawed and begin to run, circle and cower in the path of Big Slug. At which point the narrative bottom falls out of the work. I almost believed we were being presented with a new terrain, a sci-fi otherness when suddenly it’s the tiny wizard curtain behind the curtain from The Wizard of Oz and we see it being manipulated for the remaining 15 minutes by a sixth naked body. Big Slug isn’t real. The bodies aren’t really being eaten, digested and reborn; it’s just an inflatable pillow wafting around the stage and audience with some naked performers. With interest waning I’m left soaked in disappointment in the possibilities that might have been.

Forecasting by Premiere Stratagème is intelligent, funny and conceptually rich; it responds to the increasing mass of YouTube content and society’s need to upload and document every facet of our lives. Performed by Barbara Matijevic the work begins with a Macbook Pro on stage alone on a metre high stand when a classic YouTube video of how to change your battery on your Macbook begins and Matijevic enters. Over the next 40 minutes Matijevic strategically places her hands, torso, face and other anatomies behind/around the Macbook over dozens of short videos so that it looks like she is, in turn, preparing a meal, indulging in a spot of toe sucking, having her face dog licked or firing dozens of rounds from a pistol. The skits trigger an almost constant laughter as she plays with perspective, inverts expected scenarios and uses her own body to echo and amplify the screen content; full body recoil after firing and suggestive eye rolls and raised eyebrows during the toe sucking demonstrates an accuracy and formidable control of her body. Sat alongside the suggested narratives and sweet jump cuts in the video (edited by Giuseppe Chico) Matijevic’s deadpan delivery ensures that Forecasting has a wide resonance with audience and the potential for a multiple cast expansion.

Like any festival or venue programme there are works that connect with an audience and those that don’t; a number of Spring Forward veterans felt two thirds of this 8th edition programme misfired and was one of the poorest in recent memory. It was no secret that  seeing Mathis Kleinschnittger in “Grrr, I’m Dancing”, where he rolls around the floor clutching three teddy bears, had caused a dozen French programmers to walk out the theatre and slam the door nosily behind them. As a Spring Forward first timer I can only respond to the work presented and would agree that 2018 was not a vintage program.

I could talk about the tired clichés of the two cis hetero male/female duets Rehearsal On Love and F63.9 from Finland and Bulgaria respectively, both choreographed by men and ‘exploring’ domestic violence in relationships. Or I could talk about Jordan Deschamps’ numbing and glacial ‘exploration’ of intimacy in the male sauna, Dédale, with four nude men flopping about under an orange street light. Or I could talk about the much-hyped Opus by Christos Papadopoulos of Leon & the Wolf that offered four dancers as human instruments articulating their body to the score and cadences of the string soundtrack. However when half the cast do not have the ability to pop, punctuate or articulate a movement it undermines the essence of the show and demonstrates poor casting, rehearsal and direction.

Spring Forward’s primary purpose (aside from brutal scheduling and presentation of dance) is as an international pollinator; it is the conversations and dialogue that manifest on the long walks between the venues that genuine exchange occurs. The value of people offering alternative perspectives on work, on ecologies in other countries and on choreographic possibilities for the future is rich and ensures that despite the misfiring class of 2018 people will return because bees need pollen and Spring Forward is a garden with a lot of flowers in it.


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

Candoco

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.