Fevered Sleep, Men & Girls Dance

Posted: April 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Fevered Sleep, Men & Girls Dance

Fevered Sleep, Men & Girls Dance, The Place, April 13

Matthew Morris and two of the girls in Fevered Sleep’s Men & Girls Dance (photo: Matthew Andrews)

I came away from Fevered Sleep’s Men & Girls Dance at The Place with an empty feeling that had started during the performance; for a theatrical presentation this means a failure. The empty feeling developed into a sense of annoyance, all the more vexing as there was nothing specific I could identify in the show that supported it and it was in marked contrast to the upbeat vibe of an audience who evidently loved it.

The idea for Men & Girls Dance started innocently enough when the directors of Fevered Sleep, Sam Butler and David Harradine, were auditioning trained male dancers for a project the day after seeing young girls performing in an end-of-term dance school show. Wondering what they might produce by bringing two such groups together, they explored the social and political implications of men and girls in our society. As Butler and Harradine explain in their newspaper of a program, ‘Men & Girls Dance hopes to offer provocations about, and ultimately solutions to, what we feel has fast become a problem around the culture of adults, and especially male adults, just being with children today.’ ‘We want people to be troubled’, says Butler elsewhere, to which Harradine adds, ‘To be troubled by witnessing playful, tender relationships. Why should that be troubling? But it is…’

The common language between men and girls is play, and this is where the production works best. The set is covered in newspaper pages, crumpled up and heaped at the back or carefully taped together in sheets like a quilt in the centre of the floor. Leaving aside the metaphorical significance of media coverage as floor coverage, the games played in this arena draw me into the engagement between the nine girls and the five men (including a brilliant entrance for Robert Clark who emerges from the crumpled newspapers at the back, dressed in…crumpled newspaper) with a theatrical sophistication that stands on its own. But beyond this delightful play, the choreographic ideas have the drawn-out quality of blandness with a giggly smile.

Part of the popularity of Men & Girls Dance undoubtedly has to do with the young girls who are auditioned locally wherever performances take place. In London the girls are Pebbles Doughty-White, Molly Beasley-Martin, Maya Demetriou, Belesther Huberson-Abie, Chadni Miah, Neve Seekings, Momoka Taniguchi-Warren, Amber Worboys Sayers and Rania Yarde. It must be a wonderful and nerve-wracking experience for them: wonderful to be performing with these five men (Clark, Kip Johnson, Luke Crook, Nick Lawson and Matthew Morris) and nerve-wracking to be learning both text and choreography to performance level in a short space of time. They do it brilliantly.

The other draw for Men & Girls Dance is that it’s a project whose premise you can’t easily reject: to create ‘a public space which allows play, tenderness, trust, empathy and love’ between men and girls. One can understand, for example, why the Wellcome Trust would want to support it and how the hype around the show generates ticket sales (the run at The Place has 9 performances, up to and including Saturday April 22). But a theatrical performance is more than its premise, and my empty feeling perhaps has its origin in the distance between the proposal and its manifestation. Men & Girls Dance treats a subject that is both light and dark, but its presentation on stage is only light; so where is the provocation, and to whom might it be addressed? It seems the only troubling thing about Men & Girls Dance is the absence of anything troubling. It’s a show the girls in their intuitively playful way might have choreographed and then asked the adults to formulate emotionally and intellectually. While the parallel social implications may well be contentious — the 64 pages of program text are an indication of how sensitive the subject can be — the choreographic manifestation in a controlled public space where the men need DBS checks to perform loses all pretensions of being provocative.

Could it be that an unintended consequence of current written funding applications is that what ticks the right boxes is the social significance and implications of a proposal rather than the quality of the performance which, at the point of application, may not yet have been created? Fevered Sleep has written a carefully worded newspaper about the subject of men and girls to accompany the show, offers discussions on the subject within each community where it plays and has garnered plaudits for broaching the subject — all valid — but it feels as if the company has sold us the funding application rather than the show.


The Royal Ballet, works by Dawson, Wheeldon and Pite

Posted: April 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Royal Ballet, works by Dawson, Wheeldon and Pite

The Royal Ballet, Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, March 23

Kristen McNally and artists of the Royal Ballet in Flight Pattern (photo: Johan Persson)

This is a program of repertoire works by former Royal Ballet dancers, David Dawson and Christopher Wheeldon, wrapped around a new commission by Crystal Pite, the first female choreographer to perform her work on the main stage in a long, long, time. Despite this landmark achievement, Pite is not a classical choreographer, nor are her works in the classical idiom. Borrowing a leaf from Tamara Rojo’s astute book, the Royal Ballet has brought in a lauded contemporary name on a contemporary theme at an appropriate moment. It is also borrowing from the book of Sadler’s Wells associate artists. Much as I love Pite’s work, Flight Pattern blends uneasily with both the accompanying repertoire and the surroundings. It’s a beautifully fraught work (beautiful and fraught) about the fate of migrants, not a subject that lends itself naturally to the velvet and gilded glamour of the Royal Opera House. It’s an oddly imbalanced program, too, because Flight Pattern is not a natural closer, and neither Dawson’s nor Wheeldon’s work prepares for it in any way; it comes out of nowhere. It is nevertheless a sublime conception, both scenically and choreographically, for a mass of 36 dancers with the suggestion of a lead migrant couple (an incongruous notion) of Kristen McNally and Marcelino Sambé. Anyone who saw Pite’s monumental Polaris on the Sadler’s Wells stage for the See The Music Hear The Dance program just over two years ago will remember her powerful massed forms of 64 dancers responding to Thomas Adès’ orchestral storm of the same name. Flight Pattern is more poetic and less menacing, influenced by the eerie refinement of the first movement of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, but its subject is harrowing. The work visualises the endless lines of stooped humanity on a desperate trek to an unknown future but Jay Gower Taylor’s set, Thomas Visser’s lighting and Nancy Bryant’s costumes bestow epic proportions on the entire journey. The movements of the dancers are muted and repressed throughout the work, hemmed in by heavy overcoats and by the giant partitions of the set that close inexorably on them until only a gently rocking McNally and a seething Sambé remain isolated. It is a moment that almost spits with rage but Sambé at this crucial point allows his pyrotechnical wizardry to infiltrate his character, dissipating Pite’s entire psychological build-up.

There’s plenty of legitimate technical display on the rest of the program, however, and the men get a thorough workout in Dawson’s first work for the Royal Ballet, The Human Seasons, to a commissioned score by Greg Haines. You know you’re at the Royal Ballet with this level of technical skill, though the loud landings (and there are many of them) of the men in particular exhibit some weakness in execution. The women are on display too, especially when upright; they are less so when being dragged unceremoniously along the ground.

Seeing The Human Seasons (2013) side by side with Wheeldon’s After The Rain (2005) one can’t help seeing similarities; both are in the neo-classical style with stripped down costumes, and there are one or two quotes by Dawson of Wheeldon’s lifts and slides. Where the two works differ is in the use of space as part of choreographic form. For all its intense movement, its entrances and exits, and its asymmetrical groupings, The Human Seasons, unlike Keats’ sonnet that inspired it, is constantly crying out for some kind of form to hold them all together. This is amplified by a lackadaisical deportment in the men in between partnering duties or bravura steps; they just amble over to the next sequence, killing the dynamics. Haines’ score can’t hold the work together either, so with all these holes Dawson’s form fails to gel, leaking out in all directions over the course of the work’s 35 minutes.

Scored for three couples, the first section of After The Rain is set to the first (Ludus) movement of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa; as soon as it begins, Wheeldon’s spatial stagecraft is apparent. The form is held in place by the harmony of the music allied with the harmony of the choreography, pumpkin rolls and all. The second movement, to Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, is joined to the first but not closely related. It is often performed as a separate duet and its renown makes it appear as the feature film we’ve been waiting for. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares make it a powerful meditation on the beauty of strength and the strength of beauty, where each gesture is thought through and flows seamlessly to its natural resolution. But while the consummate elegance of this movement is framed on one side, the absence of a final, contrasting movement leaves it floating in splendid isolation; it should either be set free for good or the frame completed.


Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me

Posted: April 1st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me

Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me, Chapter, Cardiff, March 17

Deborah Light in a sharing of Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me (photo: Warren Orchard)

Four years after chipping away at the inner life of the nineteenth century paleontologist Mary Anning in The Curio Cabinet, and six months into carrying a third child, Deborah Light has been turning her choreographic imagination to an excavation of her own life in an array of objects collected from the rocks and crevices of her mind and body. In this sharing of a development phase for a new work, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me, she regales the invited audience in the studio at Chapter with a running commentary of her evolution that Darwin himself might have enjoyed if not fully appreciated. Nevertheless, her condensed trajectory from chordate to choreographer and from mollusk to mother is an accelerated but otherwise totally convincing line.

The studio is laid out with tables (they could be glass cases in a museum) on which are arrayed the objects and specimens Light has chosen to represent her. There is no particular order but they include balls of wool and knitting needles (her mother’s influence), fossils, rocks, seeds (her partner’s influence), her grandfather’s mantle clock, flowerpots and books (her private passion), all of which she invites the audience to inspect and handle. There are two other tables that are littered with notes or laid with paper for our written suggestions and interjections.

Kneeling on all fours in front of the clock Light demonstrates with rhythmic dorsal undulations the early chordate’s need for structural reorganization, then evolves into the shape of the mollusk’s hard shell and with evolutionary haste bypasses the seed’s slow-burning life with the vital attempt to stand up. This leads her to the table marked What’s Important on which she asks someone to add, ‘standing up’ and, as she catches her breath, ‘breathing’. As a mother of small children she also adds ‘dry pants’ to the growing list and as a human being she adds, ‘world peace’. In the space of an hour Semi Detached – An Archeology of Me builds up delightfully disparate layers of autobiographical sediment that form Light’s own particular landscape, her own history at this particular moment in her life, and as the unique curator she animates it all as both subject and object. She listens to the sounds of her own name as we might address it, as her mother might have pronounced it, as her children might call it, as she might have called her mother. It is harrowing and deeply moving to hear her label herself with these inflections of welcome, caution, fear and love, scratching under the name to give it life, identity and meaning.

Light has learned from raising her children that the art of dissembling can be very effective in keeping cool under fire. The way she leads us to believe the ‘indispensable’ bear, Mishu, is indeed borrowed from her five-year-old son as she proceeds to dissect his wooly chest with clinical precision is a master class in psychological manipulation. It also turns into a lesson in genetic association at a molecular level and a brief survey of an endangered species. ‘This species of bear will have to adapt’, she adds firmly as we all take a deep breath and follow her at a distance with our eyes.

Continuing to conflate the structures of archaeology and family, Light recreates a symbolic generational skeleton that she animates with her great grandmother’s Motherhood Book as brain, stones as vertebrae, the clock as biological time, a pot of seeds as ovaries and a rock as fused pelvis. She reinstates Mishu as the heart covered in a pinafore handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.

As if her version of evolution is totally logical, she totters across the room in two flowerpots with a ball of wool that she strings between pieces of table and chair like a game her mother used to play. She is gently inciting us to respond like children, to break through the historical into the present moment, but I think the episode with Mishu has kept us at arms length.

Archaeology and family life come full circle; Light’s final intervention reminds us of the nature of time, of the cyclical nature of starting and finishing. She takes off her outer garments and lies supine in her underwear on the What’s Important table, lying there so still like a living sarcophagus with her belly breathing two lives, while a recording of Handel’s aria Ombra Mai Fu infuses the image with the beauty of both life and death. When she rises to signal the end of the performance, some of the felt tip words are imprinted on her back. At moments like this you know something profoundly significant has just transpired, held in the moment and never to be repeated. It is a privileged moment for Light to be performing this and for us to be witnessing it, but the inspired and nonconformist workings of Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me clearly have life after birth.


Aakash Odedra, Echoes and I Imagine

Posted: March 25th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Aakash Odedra, Echoes and I Imagine

Aakash Odedra, Echoes and I Imagine, Lilian Baylis Studio, March 9

Aakash Odedra in Echoes (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou)

This review was commissioned by Pulse and appears here with the kind permission of its editor.

The setting of a theatre is not the most conducive to a meditative state; its dimensions are more utilitarian than spiritual and one’s focus on the stage is shared with (in the case of the Lilian Baylis Studio) about 180 other people. In Inter-rupted for Dance Umbrella last year, choreographer Aditi Mangaldas and her designers successfully challenged these limitations with a dynamic use of colour and space. In Echoes, her first Kathak solo for Aakash Odedra, Mangaldas uses the auditory quality of strings of traditional ghungroo bells to usher in a sense of calm. In the program note she quotes J. Krishnamurti: ‘If you listen to the sound of those bells with complete silence you would be riding on it, or rather, the sound would carry you across the valley and over the hill…’ The theatre setting militates against this but Krishnamurti’s aerial metaphor finds a visual counterpart in the strings of bells suspended above the stage, and they also spread like tentacles along the floor like an unrolled skein of wool. The bells become the playing field for Odedra whose dancing imbues them with life. We first see him wafting a tassel of bells around his torso, though Fabiana Piccioli’s engulfing cone of light at this moment is too sharp, too design for Odedra’s languour. While the sound and imagery of the bells recur throughout Echoes, it is Odedra’s presence and his ability to sinuously, noiselessly insinuate his shape into the space around and above him that invites us to contemplate. The silent dynamics of his movement have no edges, like sound itself; they flow and swirl and rise (his joyful elevation is rare in Kathak) in a series of choreographic variations. Mangaldas has fully understood Odedra’s gifts and through them achieves a sense of awe through a oneness of the dancer and the danced.

The contrast with Odedra’s own choreography, I imagine, reveals an artist who is as expressive in a spiritual role as he is as a common man (or woman). On a stage marked out in white tape like an architectural plan and piled with suitcases of all shapes and sizes, he embodies the spirits of his antecedents, inhabiting the symbols of travel (quite literally at first) while questioning the ideas of migration and home. He scrabbles around the suitcases, retrieving old portraits (in the form of masks created by David Poznanter) and honouring their memory by imagining their peripatetic tribulations, their aspirations and dreams. He is so present in their lives that they live through him, voices and all. It takes a while to square this performance with the previous one, because Odedra has moved far from his Kathak roots into experimental theatre; he is an actor in his own drama and indulges his ability to evoke his past and present through theatrical means. Choreography enters slowly, but when he performs what appears to be a ritual dance at a suitcase altar, his flowing hands and arms describe everything words cannot. As in Echoes, his dancing comes from an intimate space inside the body, a place of emotions from which he extrudes meaning through his eloquent limbs. Odedra choreographed I imagine to the voice of spoken word artist, Sabrina Mahfouz. She, too, talks eloquently and powerfully about home and migration, her words complementing Odedra’s staged conception. Except that Odedra, in some alchemy of performance, has managed to say it all himself.


Project Polunin: Icarus, Tea or Coffee, Narcissus and Echo

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Project Polunin: Icarus, Tea or Coffee, Narcissus and Echo

Project Polunin: Icarus, Tea or Coffee, Narcissus and Echo, Sadler’s Wells, March 14 

Sergei Polunin, Alejandro Virelles, Daniele Silingardi, Alexander Nuttall and Shevelle Dynott in Narcissus and Echo (photo: Alastair Muir)

Sergei Polunin has long been interested in mythology. It could be said that his early life up to his departure from the Royal Ballet has elements of the myth of Icarus, and his more recent re-emergence in the light of Take Me To Church with the myth of Narcissus. It is perhaps no coincidence that Project Polunin should bookend its triple bill with works that reference both, though in terms of Polunin’s life there’s an important hiatus between the two.

With the recent release of Steven Cantor’s film The Dancer about Polunin’s life, it would be easy to imagine that Project Polunin follows on seamlessly where the film leaves off. But The Dancer took five years to film and another year to edit, so the film’s concluding performance of Take Me To Church — which at the time Polunin conceived  as the final act of his ballet career — happened six years ago. A lot has happened in Polunin’s life in the intervening years; most importantly he has rediscovered his desire to dance and has gathered around him a group of creative people who have given him the confidence and stability to develop new projects. He is also, as evidenced in his Q&A following the launch of the film, questioning current norms in the ballet world with the proselytizing zeal of a reformer.

This premier production of Project Polunin consists of three works. As he explains in an interview with Sarah Crompton, “It shows what my thinking is influenced by…There’s an old Soviet ballet, a hint of dance theatre and…the kind of dance theatre I would like to explore.”

Expectations run high for an event like this, especially with the media attention from The Dancer. Will Project Polunin fly or won’t it? When Polunin discovered a video of Vladimir Vasiliev’s duet, Icarus, the night before the flight — created for himself and his wife Ekaterina Maximova in 1971 — it must have struck him as auspicious. Vasiliev had inspired the young Polunin with his powerful, passionate style of dance, and here was choreography with a mythical subject close to his own heart. Polunin extended an invitation to Vasiliev (Maximova died in 2009) to come to London to mount the duet on a younger pair of lovers, Polunin and Natalia Osipova. The choreography for both male and female equates powerful technique with powerful emotions, heroic form with mythological mettle. Polunin revels in the bravura steps, displaying the elevation and flight for which he is renowned and, as his betrothed Aeola, Osipova has so integrated her prodigious technique into her body that she can express every nuance of her devotion to Icarus as well as the depth of her despair suggested in Vasiliev’s choreography. Just to see these two together giving full rein to their Russian heritage is a privilege.

After only a brief pause we jump 45 years ahead to Tea or Coffee, served Russian style with dark and surreal humour. Choreographed by Andrey Kaydanovsky for four soloists from the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet (Alexey Lyubimov, Valeria Mukhanova, Asastasia Pershenkova and Evgeny Poklitar), the ballet could well share the lineage of Nikolai Gogol with last year’s Royal Opera production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Nose, except that instead of the nose it is a cup of tea (or coffee) that seems to have a life and influence of its own. The work consists of four rounds of a game in which whoever starts by stirring the cup of tea (or coffee) is initially eliminated from the next one. Within this ludic format the two couples interchange and squabble over an unspecified but evidently banal issue which gives rise to is a delightfully absurd set of convoluted solos, duets, double duets and trios that borrow their wit and rhythm from the eclectic score.

The relevance of Narcissus and Echo as a contemporary myth is fully developed in the program by Ilan Eshkeri, where he quips, ‘Narcissus’ reflection in the pool is arguably the first selfie.’ Eshkeri also wrote the score (played live by members of the London Metropolitan Orchestra under the baton of Andy Brown) and his concept for Narcissus and Echo is credited as the starting point of the work. In a Polunin work about the power of the image it is not surprising to find the visual influence of photographer David LaChapelle, who conceived the video Take Me To Church. It is evident in the opening tableau of Narcissus (Polunin) and his four Theban mates (Shevelle Dynott, Alexander Nuttall, Daniele Silingardi and Alejandro Virelles), in the overall colour palette and in the surreal pond with its haze of light and outstretched arms appearing from below the dark water. It is less easy to discover the choreographic form of Narcissus and Echo. There are four choreographers listed: Polunin and his assistant choreographer, Valentino Zucchetti, Osipova (for her solo), and Jade Hale-Christofi (also of Take Me To Church fame) for Polunin’s solo. In such a sharing of choreographic initiative it is perhaps inevitable the story of Narcissus and Echo as Eshkeri conceived it is sublimated for a show of dancing inspired by its two protagonists with, in the case of Hale-Christofi’s contribution, ‘selfie’ quotes from Take Me To Church. Polunin, however, inspires his mates to excellence, especially Silingardi and Virelles (both on loan from English National Ballet), while the five nymphs (Alexandra Cameron-Martin, Maria Sascha Khan, Adriana Lizardi, Callie Roberts and Hannah Sofo) seem to operate in the shade of Osipova’s orbit. It is perhaps the first time seeing Osipova working out choreography on her own body, from subtle insinuation to blindingly powerful despair, and the result is sublime.

The similarity between The Dancer and Project Polunin is that they are both in the image of Polunin himself; Icarus has recovered but Narcissus is always going to be susceptible. As Eshkeri points out eloquently in his program note, ‘What is fascinating is how quickly the human condition allows us to become intoxicated with ourselves. And once engulfed by it how do we avoid the beguiling fate of our lamentable protagonists.’ Polunin is clearly trying to distance himself from his own image by paying his respects to his past, but he will need to find a new myth to define his next stage of development.


Resolution 2017: Jan Lee, Denis Santacana Dance Company, Hanna Wroblewski

Posted: March 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Jan Lee, Denis Santacana Dance Company, Hanna Wroblewski

Resolution 2017: Jan Lee, Denis Santacana Dance Company, Hanna Wroblewski, February 2

Danai Pappa, Katsura Isobe and Thelma Sharma in How to Play a Room (photo: Tim Murray-Browne)

I should begin by saying Jan Lee and I shared a dramaturgy course last year given by Lou Cope. What drew me to the course was the similarity I felt between dramaturgy and the process of writing about dance; one helps build the internal cohesion of a work while the other attempts a deconstruction of the work to reveal that cohesion. Lou had suggested that any of the participants who wanted dramaturgical help on future projects should ask amongst themselves as a way of offering practical experience, which is how I came to work with Lee on her How To Play A Room. It is a privileged position from which to write as I can view the work, as it were, from somewhere in the middle.

In How to Play a Room Lee explores her own experience of being an outsider crossing social boundaries, of how to play a room when you don’t feel you belong, so having three performers of different nationalities (Katsura Isobe, Danai Pappa and Thelma Sharma) is no coincidence. Lee approaches dance with a musical mind as she is both a musician and dancer; she makes musical gestures with the bodies of her dancers and uses their voices and her own processed recordings of conversation as muscular elements in the choreography. How to Play a Room about the messiness of hybridity and the discovery of what remains inviolable. Isobe may mistranslate the physical conversation of Pappa and Sharma, and may have difficulty finding a way into their circle, but her own identity is poignantly clear in her singing of a Japanese lullaby at the end. Pappa is anchored in a dramatic reality that moves with her and she can transform her environment — especially when expressed in voluble Greek — into an emotional maelstrom, while Sharma is a Chaplinesque figure who finds strength in making sense of the world’s conundrums; she plays down her own identity and knows instinctively how to play a room. Lee and her dancers have collaborated to allow all these elements to overlap like three beams of different-coloured light to see what develops where they meet. The process is as messy as hybridity itself but somehow Lee manages to keep all the action on stage, illumined by the costumes of Elisa Nader and the lighting of Lucy Hansom, so that How To Play A Room emerges as a celebration of cultural fluidity.

There is something brutally physical in much of the dance I have seen from Spain but there is a beauty that inevitably arises from it. Denis Santacana Dance Company’s Encuentros has both a grounded physicality that borrows from flamenco and moments of sinuous energy that fly upwards. Encuentros is as much a duet about the juxtaposition of two contrasting personalities — Santacana and Victor Fernández — as it is about the overlap between the earthy and the ethereal. But if physicality is the motor, the imagery of Encuentros is mercurial, borrowing from chance meetings with changing outcomes; it is not linear but seems to move forwards and backwards. Chairs, a table and a wine glass suggest the nature of the meeting place but the table and chairs also serve as platforms for dancing, and the glass becomes a musical instrument. The relationship between the two men oscillates between manipulator and manipulated, between puppet master and puppet, and between acceptance and rejection, all depicted through episodes of careful shading and projected shadows. The imagery merges into the physicality, sometimes tortured and percussive, sometimes sinewy and light, until the story is exhausted. It’s all in the cinematic flow of the music, too: Encuentros by Victor Guadiana.

Standing on a tall pedestal, Hanna Wroblewski with her trademark red hair and flowing robe, cuts a statuesque figure. In Darling, I Don’t Sell Dreams… she shrinks the theatre (with the help of Joseph Bisat Marshall’s design and Lucy Hansom’s lighting) into an artist’s studio in which she is both the model accepting our gaze and the artist of her own creation. Inspired by her ‘fascination with the public and private personas of silver screen sirens’, Wroblewski plays a very public figure to the music of her very private thoughts. In her stillness, the bareness of her legs, the downward angle of her head and the sound of her heavy breathing, she at first appears to be on a ledge contemplating her fate. As she leans further, tiny bright red hearts cascade from her dress, flashing in the light as they fall around the pedestal. Gravity wins, but the hearts are escaping dreams. She begins to hum as she continues to revolve, letting her hair down, dipping a leg languorously to either side or raising a pliant arm, to reveal both her defiance of fear and her full sculptural presence. It takes a lot of courage to maintain this slow revolution (interestingly it allows us to conjure up so many images) but it becomes a dream-like metaphor for another kind of courage Wroblewski is about to reveal. After lowering herself over the pedestal, head draped towards us, she breaks the silence with an admission: she has an age-old fear of singing in public except, she realises, when she is feeling comfortable with her surroundings. Evidently she does here, for she launches into the sentimental ballad, Dream A Little Dream Of Me, finding just enough breath and just the right notes, not selling dreams but wrapping them up as gifts.


Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & TuTuMucky, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Posted: March 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & TuTuMucky, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers and TuTuMucky, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, March 3

Scottish Dance Theatre in Botis Seva’s TuTuMucky (photo: Brian Hartley)

My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.” – Ta-nehisi Coates

Welcome to Groundhog Day, fellow dreamers. This is my fourth sitting with Dreamers since it premiered in February 2015; Anton Lachky’s choreography has shared the stage with Jo Strømgren, Sharon Eyal/Gai Behar and now Botis Seva. The choreography has switched back to the original 29-minute iteration after being tweaked and extended last year. The last few months have seen a significant amount of change for Scottish Dance Theatre that has brought a different energy to the company: 7 out of 10 dancers are new and there’s a newly appointed rehearsal director, Naomi Murray (who was in the original Dreamers cast). The new dancers are stepping into choreography that was created for and with dancers who are no longer there; they’re inhabiting ghosts and it is difficult for me to un-imagine those who forged and imprinted themselves in their work with Lachky. Although Dreamers has been shaved by 5 or 6 minutes, the essence of taking control and taking back control (though that phrase has been used and coloured since the EU referendum) is the same; narratively it is tighter, but the bullet sharpness and anatomical prowess from the majority of the new dancers isn’t there and consequently the difference between the vignettes isn’t as pronounced.

However, new bodies fitting into old shapes can breathe something revelatory into those carcasses and James Southward (last seen in Janis Claxton Dance’s Pop Up Duets) is a fine example. An excellent addition to the company bringing an energy, presence and attitude to the movement, Southward dances everything with his whole body, hits his lines, responds and reacts to others and he draws the eye as he moves around the stage. Such is his ease with the choreography and in his relationships with the other dancers it feels as if he’s been in the company for years. However, the time it takes for a choreography to really settle on a dancer is different every time and the majority of the company has had only two months to revive Dreamers and create and learn a new work, TuTuMucky; this is evidently too little and the gel and magic isn’t quite settled yet.

It’s not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that walks in us. It’s all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can’t get rid of them.” – Henrik Ibsen

TuTuMucky is an invitation for the company to move differently. Scottish Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Fleur Darkin, saw Botis Seva’s company Far From The Norm perform at British Dance Edition 2016 (I too was in that audience) and commissioned Seva to make a new work on SDT. Seva established Far From The Norm, aged 18, in 2010 and he and its members have developed and refined a shared physicality, training rhythms and performance vocabulary that is unfamiliar to many UK theatre audiences. What makes Seva and his company unique is the trust and commitment to what they want to do; he has kept close control over who is and who isn’t in the company and consequently has developed a trust and communication system that enables his dancers to deliver exceptionally distilled performances. Forged ‘outside’ the subsidised dance sector, Far From The Norm is creating an alternative choreographic language that is attracting attention from London’s dance critics’ cabal, commissioners, festivals and venues across Europe. Darkin was canny to be the first to commission him for SDT and she won’t be the last.

TuTuMucky offers the programme note: ‘Botis Seva defies traditional classification to offer a distinctly new form of dance that blurs the boundaries between ballet, contemporary and hip hop technique.’ Opening in dusky par-can haze we’re aware of writhing backs isolated in pools of light; with these slithery articulations Seva is attempting to get the company to move differently and unlike anything I’ve seen in the previous seven SDT productions. Shifting their energies and dropping their gravitational centres, he’s trying to school them in the hunger, urgency and articulacy of krump. Dressed in dark mesh tutus, the dancers combine a ballet-backed and first-position stiffness with the unnerving Wheelers from Return To Oz — rigid dolls hovering across the stage, mechanical in body and face.

The narrative pace and emotional zoning doesn’t begin to emerge till over halfway through the 30-minute work; it feels like the dancers need to start dancing 15 minutes before they come on stage so the adrenalin is running and we are immediately dunked into their world. Until that point I saw classically-trained dancers attempting to recreate an alien, krump-inspired language. Harry Clark (trained at Rambert and previously dancing with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures) is particularly exposed in Seva’s choreography, needing to soften his spine and to give himself over to what is being asked. I think it would benefit the dancers if they were to experience and participate in a krump battle, to drink in and taste the emotional shower that spurts from those who krump when they are entirely in that other zone.

The duet between Amy Hollinshead and Southward pivots the energy of the entire work and we see Hollinshead take to krump like a cat giving birth to a fur ball, hissing and verbally banishing her ballet training to birth a new movement language on her body. The transformation of form is the root of the work: seeing bodies begin in one state, transformed to another and then resort back to their default setting. Southward revels in the intensity required and his face channels that intensity whilst his body matches the demands for articulation from his neck to his wrist. From here TuTuMucky begins to build and the electro, glitch noise soundtrack by Torben Lars Sylvest swirls the energy around the dancers and the audience; we begin to be pulled towards the rhythms, potency and urgency of the movement and I get a sense that the dancers finally start to believe; they’ve found Seva’s groove and in taking on his language transform themselves.

When some dancers are able to transform and execute a new language and some really can’t, the effect is a visual unevenness that leaves me unsettled; in a company like SDT I’m left with the question of where the responsibility lies for such unevenness? Is it with Seva who has not communicated or built the necessary trust with the dancers to convince them to give themselves over to his world? Is it the rehearsal director who isn’t noticing the stark differences in the stiffness and supple spines and taking steps to resolve them? Is it the dancers who are unable to execute what is being demanded of them or do not understand what they’re being asked to do? Or is it with Darkin in her choice of bringing a choreographer who is without doubt carving a name for himself but whose language creates an incompatibility with the current company of dancers?

When a choreographer like Seva is invited to make a work on full-time, salaried dancers who exist in a place of comfort and privilege it is impossible for him to recreate the conditions and terrain which he and his company have encountered and which make them so rare. The reality and experience gap is too large and consequently I feel like the two worlds haven’t come together; trust hasn’t been established and they’re still eyeing each other across the choreographic divide. If those who encounter TuTuMucky love what they see, they should seek out the work of Seva’s own company that is offering a choreographic palette, emotional intensity and insight as to where the next wave of British choreography could be going.

I think certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform—or perhaps distort—yourself through that persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality.” – Haruki Murakami


Resolution 2017: Jair Ramirez, Maria Lothe & Co and The Rebirth Network

Posted: March 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Jair Ramirez, Maria Lothe & Co and The Rebirth Network

Resolution 2017: Jair Ramirez, Maria Lothe & Co, The Rebirth Network, February 23

Maria Lothe & Co’s Can You Hear the Sound of the Flowers? (photo: Maria Lothe)

Jair Ramirez begins Sugarman intriguingly enough, entering the stage in his dressing gown as if it is his bathroom and the audience his mirror. He yawns and takes out toothbrush and paste to clean his teeth, but all too soon the theatricality of his presentation is revealed as a thin pretext for his speciality: aerial straps. His dressing room of sartorial props is set up to lead us to his first show of prowess, turning with his head supported in a strap while holding an open briefcase. In his second feat, he writes notes while suspended in the splits and then braces himself supine between two straps, one attached to his feet and one to his head. He maintains this pose with all the nonchalance of lying in bed and gets applause, for it is his prodigious strength that eclipses the theatricality that leads to its display. It is a problem with circus acts that want to explore outside the ring; there is a difference between emphasizing the theatricality of a particular act, and dressing an act in theatricality. Ramirez has chosen the latter, an option that further reveals its weakness at the end when after finding an effective moment to leave the stage he feels the need to return in his dressing gown to continue brushing his teeth.

Maria Lothe & Co’s Can You Hear the Sound of the Flowers? begins with three supine dancers (Svenja Buhl, Fergus McIntosh and Victoria Rucinska) in loose, vegetable-coloured clothing propelling themselves tortuously across the stage like a race of snails, each holding a potted plant on their stomachs; they could be tendrils searching for light but for the resistance of the Marley floor. Lothe & Co develop these images further with meditative poses, a vocabulary of gestures derived from biology and paleontology, vocal work learned directly, perhaps, from plants in various states of health, and mystical incantations. There is an intensity and humour in the three plant warriors as they grapple with the exotic forms and pliability of nature in all their idiosyncratic rawness, borrowing the dynamics of both growth and sickness since there’s not a drop of water to be seen under those blazing lights. If you’re going to choreograph a piece on the benefits of permaculture* this is the way to do it, using the kind of witty associations between body and plant life that make you want to read more (except for those who mistake the wacky humour as a spoof). But it also renders the recorded text by permaculture founder David Holmgren far too serious, sitting uneasily with the fertile imagery on stage below. It is also superfluous. As the three performers inch their way off at the end leaving the potted plants centre stage, Lothe & Co have already done their job; it’s up to us to explore Mr. Holmgren’s ideas further.

*Permaculture takes its inspiration from ecological systems and patterns in nature. Through its ethics and principles, permaculture provides practical methods of how to develop sustainable human environments.

The Rebirth Network’s Reuben Parker is a selection of episodes that form a preview to a longer work, not enough of them here to spin its moral but complete enough to recognize its value and to want to see more. It is described as ‘a hip-hop dance drama about a man who is granted a special gift to shift and shape his reality.’ Clearly such a gift can be both a blessing and a curse and that is the drift of this morality tale which begins with the narrator’s biblical voice of contrition: “I want to tell you a story.” The action introduces us to Reuben Parker in his present form and then relives autobiographical episodes of his life; dancers who play Reuben at different times of his life each wear white gloves so we know who’s who and each episode or tableau is clearly introduced by the narrator and separated from the next one by a blackout. On the way up, we see Reuben saved from bullying at school by a kind teacher and his acquisition of a special gift of power over others. On the way down we see him squander his gift in his careless treatment of his mother, lose the girl he loves and acquire a gambling habit. The dynamic rhythm of Luke ‘Gkid’ Grant’s original music and Daniel 7’s choreography make Reuben Parker look like a musical on a spiritual theme, but the upbeat production values tend to even out the register of emotional ups and downs: the special teacher, Mr. T., makes only a brief appearance for such an influential figure, and the tragic death of Reuben’s mother becomes merely sentimental. At times there are sixteen dancers on stage and the strongest choreographic expressions belong to them as they communicate not only their love of performing but their belief in their message.


Resolution 2017: Watts Dance, John Livingston Dance, Alice Webber and Ben Saffer

Posted: February 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Watts Dance, John Livingston Dance, Alice Webber and Ben Saffer

Resolution 2017: Watts Dance, John Livingston Dance, Alice Weber and Ben Saffer  

An original poster and Rosalie Bell in WLA No.657005 (photo: Cecilia Watts)

Inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s wartime book, The Women’s Land Army, Cecilia Watts’ WLA No. 657005 is a narrative work that ‘celebrates the significant role of young women working as agricultural labourers during the Second World War.’ As such it will have resonances with an audience who has either some recollection of the WLA or a relationship with someone who did. The specific identity in the title suggests the latter — perhaps a celebration of a family member — for Watts is far too young to remember the WLA herself. She has, however, done her research and found a physical and musical imagery that convincingly conjures up the era. In some of her groupings of the five women (Rosalie Bell, Rachel Elderkin, Zoe Moody, Caitlin Murray and Alice White) there is a sense of the wholesome, patriotic activity depicted in WLA posters, and their frequent peering up at the sky immediately suggests passing aircraft. In her choreography Watts effortlessly weaves dance and muscular gestures from the sowing and planting repertoire (not for her the Lumber Jills of the Women’s Timber Corps) with a strong suggestion of mutual support among the women. Watts also weaves a story into WLA No. 657005: a young hedonistic woman (White) prefers to party than to join the WLA until she receives word of the death of her lover; her friends support her in her mourning and she finally exchanges her polka dot dress for WLA working clothes. There are some hiccups in the narrative and nervousness in some of the performers that limits, especially in such a short work, the full spirit that inhabits it. Pianist Robin Porter, who also wrote and arranged some of the songs, is seated out of sight behind the upright piano as if we are listening to the radio, so when his spirited playing is enhanced by a couple of tracks by The Andrews Sisters the shift is seamless. He makes a brief appearance as the messenger of bad tidings and inexplicably walks off with the sheet music during his final playing of Boogie Woogie Bugle Girl, though it allows White to redeem herself, and to re-find herself, by continuing on the ivories to the end.

John Livingston is a fascinating performer for he brings to his dancing a vocabulary of disability that is both eloquent and powerful. With a provocative and savagely self-deprecatory title, Am I a waste of space?, Livingston challenges what we see by what he does, quoting Henry David Thoreau in the program notes, ‘It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.’ There are three emotionally laden tracks — When I am laid in earth, from Henry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, Bjork’s Black Lake, and Anna Calvi’s The Heart of You — to which Livingston improvises with a range of images from refined, heroic sweeps of the arms to raw, idiosyncratic gestures like tucking his chin into his tee-shirt while putting it back on, gestures that both uncover the process of his thinking and enhance its physical execution. His gestural vocabulary repeats enough for us to recognize his language, his tropes, rather than follow a choreographic path but what we see is a concentration on unearthing his own physical meaning from the music. Mesmerizing.

What a relief to see Alice Weber freed from the trauma of Pomodoro and displaying a relaxed, sassy double in the opening tryptich of Inter/action. Filmmaker (and erstwhile collaborator) Ben Saffer’s bright, even light and Weber’s off-white costume suggest something heavenly as we see her dancing the same sequences that are projected on the screen behind her. Is she following her filmed self or is the film following her? The breaks in sequence and Weber’s wry gestures soon suggest a bad rehearsal day, but between bouts of inner frustration or self-doubt her dancing has the relaxed flow of someone enjoying herself in eerie serenity. A second section begins with a track of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Pieces Form the Whole), heralding Merritt Millman dressed in black with a facial smirk; the suggestion of Black Swan is inevitable. The duet becomes a tussle, a choreographed rugby scrum with two players, the creative facet of performance locked against the demonic or, as the program note suggests, ‘exploring the different relationships of the body and self in performance space.’ In the third section Weber is again dancing on her own accompanied by Saffer’s Music for Inter/action against his filmed collage of time-lapsed natural phenomena —scudding clouds and the reproductive systems of plants. Becoming one with her filmed environment, Weber evokes a healing presence, and when the flowers begin to close up she yields to their impulse and folds into herself.


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Masurca Fogo

Posted: February 13th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Masurca Fogo

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Masurca Fogo, Sadler’s Wells, February 9

Ruth Amarante in Masurca Fogo (photo: Zerrin Aydin-Herwegh)

This is difficult to write because I love the way Pina Bausch was able to distill experience into gesture and form with such elegance and wit. When she died unexpectedly in 2009, there remained her legacy of rich, exuberant works but without the exacting spirit that conceived them. Inevitably, despite the best efforts to keep the works alive by subsequent directors and by the dancers themselves, the company has had to remember this spirit instead of experience it; its focus remains on the past. For a lesser company a hiatus in its ability to maintain the repertoire after the death of its sole founder and choreographer might have happened five years ago, and it is a measure of the level of artistry in the company that we have been able for so long to enjoy the works Bausch built up from her seemingly inexhaustible creative energy. But eight years is a long time to be reviving the past and, significantly, a third of the present company never had the opportunity to work with Bausch. One of the ways she created material was to ask her dancers questions to which they would respond in movement, words in any way they felt appropriate; how can such a personal response be transferred from one dancer to another? While Masurca Fogo may not be the strongest work in Bausch’s repertoire, watching it on Thursday night I sensed the point has been reached that since the company is no longer challenged by Bausch’s presence to develop new works they appear to be losing the ability to fully inhabit her older ones. Last seen in London in 2003, Masurca Fogo is like seeing a Bausch work set on another company (I wonder how Rite of Spring will fare in the bodies of English National Ballet); it is not difficult to see the beauty in its inspiration, but its carefully conceived details — the very life of the work — had lost their brilliance for routine.  There are still moments that jump out as before, like the solo of Ditta Miranda Jasjfi or the interventions of Nazareth Panadero, but these only serve to remind us what we are missing.

Nostalgia, however, is a very powerful sentiment and Bausch’s repertoire works intoxicatingly on our memories, so brightly did these works dance in their day. But has a romantic notion crept into our attendance at these revivals whereby we unwittingly accept a weakening in Bausch’s unerring sense of living theatre in return for the pleasure of seeing them again? And if this ongoing pleasure on behalf of the audience (houses continue to sell out) remains, it is clear the incentive (however well-meaning) for venues to invite the company will continue. And if this is so, is there not a danger in this drawn-out descending spiral of artistic integrity that the performers are singing the praises of their muse rather than singing their muse’s inspiration? Or worse still, are the performers — at least those who worked with Bausch —in danger of becoming parodies of their former selves and thus condemning the works to a similar fate? All these questions occurred to me after seeing Masurca Fogo.

The question of a dance legacy has been raised before, notably by Merce Cunningham who established a three-year plan to address the process of dismantling his company and Foundation after his death, and more recently by Mats Ek, who has begun to withdraw performing rights for his work where he is no longer able to personally supervise their revivals. Perhaps Bausch’s sudden death rendered unresolved any plan for her legacy. For the 2017/18 season, Adolphe Binder, will be the first ‘outsider’ to take over the artistic direction of the company. Binder will be bringing in choreographers to create new works on the dancers, but she also has the responsibility, along with the other members of the company and their collaborators, to maintain the Bausch legacy. Cunningham closed down his company and established a Trust to ‘preserve and enhance’ his legacy; Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch has taken another path but one that, judging by this performance of Masurca Fogo, does not augur well for the artistic fulfilment of Bausch’s legacy. Even if she had wished it.