Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi (AΦE), WHIST

Posted: August 9th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi (AΦE), WHIST

AΦE, WHIST, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, July 31

WHIST, by AΦE (photo: Paul Plews)

Good stories are like those noble wild animals that make their home in hidden spots, and you must often settle down at the entrance of the caves and woods and lie in wait for them a long time.” – Herman Hesse

WHIST is the first major work for Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi who formed the company AΦE in 2013. Inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud, it invites us on a journey exploring the fears, desires and unconscious minds of a fictional family. Wearing a Samsung Gear virtual reality (VR) headset and headphones this is a solo experience (for a maximum of 20 people at a time) in the carpeted third-floor foyer of the Festival Theatre. After a pre-show briefing and orientation by the FOH staff we are invited to put on the headset and headphones and to follow the early instructions for triggering scenes by lining up our gaze with a small blue dot.
It’s made clear that there are 76 different perspectives and that who/what/where we look at when we’re ‘inside’ WHIST determines the next scene we watch; it’s a classic branching narrative device that is very prominent in non-linear video game design. Imagine a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book where the agency rests entirely with you; you map out your own path and are responsible for your next 45 minutes.

At times we’ll want to escape our polluted reality…not augment it with digital debris.”- Clyde DeSouza

The fantasy dream space of lust and Oedipal urges that Freud explored is ripe territory for a theatrical VR response; alongside their technology partner, Happy Finish, AΦE has created 20+ filmed scenes set variously in a dilapidated cottage, photographic studios and warehouses where you are introduced to the family gnawing on human hearts, waltzing with bird cages and evaporating into ping pong balls. With the headset on you’re limited in your ‘real’ movement and aren’t able to move through the VR space; you’re a static witness to the three- or four-minute filmed scenes from a single fixed camera perspective not of your choosing. I’m invited into this world though I’m unsure of my role. Am I an invisible voyeur? An additional family member? Something/one else? Without the clarity of who I am and my relationship to those around me it’s difficult to emotionally invest or empathise. The perspective changes across the scenes; sometimes we assume the head of the father, sometimes the camera is at knee height, sometimes on a silver platter and other times we’re inside a CCTV camera. Our virtual scale oscillates regularly but I’m unsure for what purpose.

Nakamura and Fourmi have created a number of other shorter screen, interactive and stage works before WHIST and are also members of the Jasmin Vardimon Company (Vardimon is the creative mentor for WHIST). The visually rich spectacle that has become Vardimon’s signature is laced throughout the work; be it a performer emerging from a wicker basket frantically scrawling indecipherable chalk symbols on the floor or an eerie motionless accordion player barely pressing the keys yet the sounds make it into your ear, the images stay with you.

It is a predisposition of human nature to consider an unpleasant idea untrue, and then it is easy to find arguments against it.” – Sigmund Freud

WHIST (named after Whist House in Kent where the work was filmed) defines itself as a ‘one-hour experience merging physical theatre, interactive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies and an art installation, in an environment that blurs the boundaries between consciousness and unconsciousness, reality and fiction, the physical and the virtual’. I find this language hugely alienating; in a cultural landscape of marketing hyperbole this description signals to a niche crowd and does little to provide clear and plain English entry points to the 92% of non-arts attenders.

An audience will predominantly experience a work only once and I found my first experience of WHIST quite unsatisfying; it’s physically limiting, generates a huge sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) as there are 75 other possible scenarios that I’ve not seen, and the technological fidelity and finish isn’t as crisp as it could be (you can often see the glitches where the 360 degree cameras meet and bodies warp momentarily). However, I went in for a second time — now familiar with the rules, the technology and the characters I had the chance to play with the interactivity of the work and it was richly rewarding. I found some of those alternative branching narratives (unlocking 3 new scenes along the way) and whereas in the first experience I didn’t feel in control and had a real sense of time rushing past me, during the second time there was a chance for greater depth, focus and the ability to find some of the triggers and nuances that are artfully hidden in the work. There’s a suite of scientific research from eye tracking studies that reveals hot spots and how our eyes are often drawn to movement that emerges from stillness on a screen/stage; I made a commitment to focus on one character in my second experience, tracking their journey and watching their reaction and interactions with others even though at times I knew there were other things happening outside my 80-degree viewing angle and that the other 280 degrees would have to go unwatched.

Just before the credits roll you’re given a number on screen which if you enter into AΦE’s website will translate into a loose interpretation/analysis of the route you’ve taken through WHIST. Using some faux Freudian language it’s desired aim is ‘to inspire questions, reflections and insights into the unique meaning the performance may have for you.’ However it comes across more like the end-of-the-pier Zoltar fortune telling machine from Big dishing out the same message to anyone who’s gullible enough to feed it some money (there was a LOT of repetition when I entered my two separate numbers).

Although there is little visible dancing in WHIST, but there is a definite choreographic consideration and execution in how our solo bodies experience those that are presented to us and the world they inhabit. WHIST rewards the audience and encourages multiple viewings as it unlocks more scenes, greater depth, hidden easter eggs and more of that luscious branching narrative.

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

Vimeo page:


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

Zikzira Physical Theatre: Sea Without Shore

Posted: April 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Zikzira Physical Theatre: Sea Without Shore, Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image, London, March 19

Lívia Rangel and Fernanda Lippi in the film Sea Without Shore

Lívia Rangel and Fernanda Lippi in the film Sea Without Shore

The term ‘dance on film’ can conjure up banks of onstage cameras, screens, computers, technical wizardry and animation in which dance and technology interact like self-conscious collaborators, but here is a dance film on a cinematic scale that simply eschews dialogue for movement. Sea Without Shore is the second film of director André Semenza and choreographer/dancer Fernanda Lippi; the first was Ashes of God. Both films have a fluid narrative driven by intricate direction, superb camera work, fine performances, sensitive scores and breathtaking locations. None of the action takes place on a stage — the stage is the screen — but in countryside or in buildings with an air of abandon or infused with the dying breath of a bygone era. Sea Without Shore is set in rural Sweden, in a summerhouse on a small island built by a wealthy 19th century publisher. The scenery is romantic, remote and ideally suited to the nature of solitude, love and death of which the film speaks. ‘Dissolving under the impact of the loss of her soul mate, a woman is drawn by unknown forces into the depth of mid-winter forests, into spheres of her subconscious.’ While there is no dialogue, Sea Without Shore is not a silent film; it has a score composed by The Hafler Trio (aka Andrew M. McKenzie) threaded with Chopin nocturnes, Parisian accordion and a Swedish folk dance band, and there are two narrators who recite lines of sapphic verse like a stream of consciousness from the 17th century poet Katherine Philips and the fin-de-siècle poets Renée Vivien and Algernon Charles Swinburne. In the version I saw, the narrators recite these fragments in Swedish over English subtitles but the images are so strong and contain within them such poignant clues to the story there is barely any need for the subtitles, even if you don’t understand Swedish. The poetry — and the way it is read by Lippi and Marcela Rosas — adds an ethereal, otherworldly dimension.

As soon as we see the opening image of dense green forest it is clear there is someone with an extraordinary eye behind the camera. Marcus Waterloo is not simply behind the camera but very much immersed in the countryside and in the lives of the film’s characters. His camera work is an integral element of Lippi’s choreography and Semenza’s direction; we see everything through his eye and his eye sees everything through the prism of the poetry. It is this depth of integration between all the film’s elements that makes Sea Without Shore so rich.

“Till the secret be secret no more” is the opening line of the film, taken from Swinburne’s Triads, that opens us to the sense of space and loneliness, of love and loss, of a mysterious beauty within a beauty that is all around. Sea Without Shore, like its title, has no clear boundary; it’s primary narrative is the relationship between two women whom we first see (but do not hear) conversing intimately on an elegant turn-of-the-century sofa that has seen better days. This initial image is suffused with the suggestion of life and decay, ease and dis-ease, love and death, light and dark, past and present that emerge and recede throughout the film: the two warm-blooded horses trudging through the snow with the bodies of two women draped over their backs; Lívia Rangel’s faded, fraying dress that matches the brocade wallpaper against which she stands, and Lippi and Rangel floating head to foot fully dressed in the water, like two Ophelias.

The images carry the film forward and back like horizontal time but there are several choreographed soliloquies in which the power of dance drills down into the consciousness of the individual. In her choreography Lippi focuses on the torso, on the emotional core of the body; Rangel is eloquent even when her movement is understated or still and Waterloo knows precisely when to close in or to keep his distance, as if he were part of her inner dialogue. There is a memorable, dark duet in the woods in which Rangel and Anna Mesquita af Sillén work themselves into a trance of grief.

Sea Without Shore is created in such a way that the sense of impending crisis is never far away; the film doesn’t build in a narrative way but instead adds layers of intensity upon images of ethereal beauty to the point of exquisite pain. If death is a release, it is where the poetry, the images, the dance and the music resolve in Rangel’s final, fateful decision. Sea Without Shore raises the level of dance on film to dance as film. Shot in luscious CinemaScope, it is a production that is best experienced in an intimate, comfortable cinema. There are still opportunities to see it in this way; just check venues, dates and times on the Sea Without Shore Facebook page.

Tanja Liedtke: Life in Movement

Posted: August 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Life in Movement, directed by Bryan Mason, produced by Closer Productions.

The news of Nigel Charnock’s untimely death has prompted me to finish writing about a film released last year in Australia about an artist who died too young to reach her full maturity: the German-born dancer and choreographer, Tanja Liedtke. Charnock and Liedtke perhaps knew each other, almost certainly knew of each other. They were in many ways kindred spirits: performance for both was a way of life and movement was their language. Coincidentally, each at one point in their lives found expression for their talents in DV8 Physical Theatre. The award-winning film, Life in Movement, directed by Bryan Mason for Closer Productions, is a memorial to Liedtke, who was at the time of her death about to take up the directorship of Sydney Dance Company. At the same time the film is about what remains: the lives of those closest to her, the dancers with whom she worked and the handful of works she created.

The film begins with one of Liedtke’s earliest memories: “People used to ask what do you want to be when you’re older? I was three at the time and I said I really want to be a flower. I didn’t understand that wasn’t possible. Then I went to see my neighbour in a school concert, a really little production of the Waltz of the Flowers and they had these tutus and things on their heads and they were flowers and they were dancing and I said, oh, all these adults telling me I can’t be a flower, but I can; I’ve seen it happen.”

She died at 29, hit by a garbage truck in the early hours of the morning near her home in Sydney.

The film cuts between performance clips of her works to reminiscences of her dancers, from her family to clips of her improvising and clowning in front of the camera in her living room, a hotel room, a bathroom or a studio. There is a beautifully sinuous and playful quality to her movement, but there can also be a ruthless self-criticism, as when she slaps her face repeatedly to the refrain of ‘pull yourself together’. Here is someone whose diary consisted of fragments she would haul up from somewhere deeply anchored in her life and express in movement. Life in Movement shows clearly how these fragments wove themselves into the fabric of her work, which gave it a unique quality that was – and remains – universal. There is a clip of Liedtke that recurs throughout the film: she has a bag on her head. She is talking through the bag: “So this is all about baggage. I’m wearing it at the moment. I’m right inside it. In fact I’m consumed by it. But I have hope.”

Liedtke was born in 1977 in Stuttgart. Her family moved to Spain where she started dance classes, then moved to the UK where she was accepted into Elmhurst Ballet School. Theo Clinkard, who met her at Elmhurst, said she was an outsider from the beginning, but some grainy clips from that time show an unusually bright and creative force. Once she knew she wanted to express herself in contemporary dance, she spent a year at the Rambert School before moving to Australia where she joined Australian Dance Theatre in 1999. In 2003 she returned to England to join DV8, for whom she appeared in Just for Show as the incomparable compere and in The Cost of Living. Lloyd Newson’s comment that ‘This woman was not going to say no to any challenge” was prophetic.

Returning to Australia to work on her own choreographic projects, she gathered around her a small, unified and dedicated group of dancers (Amelia McQueen, Kristina Chan, Anton, Paul White, Julian Crotti) for whom she created her two major works, Twelfth Floor and Construct. Twelfth Floor explores forced cohabitation, how people react and deal with it, based on the eight years Liedtke had spent in various boarding school establishments. Construct is about what we construct in our lives, a journey to find a dream place, though it may not be what you think it will be. It is a lovely insight into how we go about building our lives. For Liedtke, there was no differentiation between life and dance. “Whatever is happening, you put it into your work.”

She and her partner, Sol Ulbrich, made these projects happen. Ulbrich was producer, stage manager, tour manager and rehearsal director, while Liedtke was the creative force and motivator. What the interviews with her dancers reveal is how Liedtke drew out the best in them, sometimes under duress, and how difficult it was for them to keep that sense of unity after her death. Chan, a beautiful dancer in her own right, said she had found the person with whom she had wanted to work for the rest of her life; how sad that she would never be able to work with her again. Crotti expressed the difficulty of going from someone whom he trusted with the final say to taking direction from a lot of people. He perhaps understated the case when he added it was an ‘interesting transition’. The film is honest enough to expose these and other tensions and fissures. As Ulbrich says, “What are you going to do when someone who formed the group, led the group, inspired the group and had vision for the group is no longer there?” An image, the film suggests, like a lighthouse that loses its light.

What is left is the work itself, which is still luminous. London audiences were privileged to see Liedtke perform in her own work in 2007, when her company performed Twelfth Floor at Southbank Centre (look for a wonderful clip of her performing on what looks like a small rectangle of green, her hands like hummingbirds, her body’s motion inexpressibly beautiful). Eighteen months after her death Ulbrich remounted Construct and Twelfth Floor for a final tour to share her work with those who hadn’t yet seen it. One stop was London in March 2009 and the final performance took place in Stuttgart, Liedtke’s birthplace.

Crotti said of Liedtke’s work: “As an artist, if you put all you have into everything you do, then you are in it, your story is in it. So when she left, there she was in the work. It was an amazing dedication, an amazing life that she was able to do that.” I would add that not only is she there in her work, but her dancers demonstrate to what extent her work is in them. To see the film is to be awed by the unity of inspiration and performance, of vision and execution. In the final clip from the final performance of Twelfth Floor, Chan comes back on stage through a door, climbs the wall and disappears over the top into the dark: it is a metaphor for Liedtke’s all too brief exit from a life of inspired movement.

Official trailer for the film

For information on when the film will be screened in the UK, follow the Facebook link: