Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios, June 23

Kielland

Karen Røise Kielland in A Slow Escape (photo: Kristine Jakobsen)

Karen Røise Kielland’s A Slow Escape is one of seven works presented as part of a new dance festival in London, Fest en Fest, organized and curated by Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard of H2Dance. The festival aims to question ‘choreographic practice, the context for art production, current programming and aesthetic power structures’ through a series of talks, discussions and performances. In this first outing of the festival Gillgren, who is Swedish, and Rustgaard, who is Norwegian, have chosen works that arise from a predominantly Nordic geography and sensibility, none more so than A Slow Escape. It is based on two walks from Norway to Italy, one by Catherine H. Kølle in 1841 and the second by Kielland in 2011 following as closely as possible in Kølle’s footsteps. The evidence of Kølle’s trip — and the primary source for Kielland’s own — is contained in her diary of meticulous details like the colour of roofs, the topography or the number of paintings in a museum. The evidence for Kielland’s walk is contained in her edited field recordings, her spoken travelogue and an exhibition of mnemonic artifacts on the stage in front of her. Kølle also painted a series of watercolours of her travels in a shorthand style that predates painting by numbers, a visual corroboration Kielland references by inviting artist Tom Mason to join her on stage with an overhead projector and a pile of acetates on which he illustrates her travels in the manner of a graphic novel.

Kielland remains quite still throughout, poised as if chatting to the camera by the roadside with one foot resting on a stile, wearing a hazard jacket, holding a revolver in one hand and an umbrella in the other. We travel her entire journey in our imagination, fed by her pace of delivery, her walking guide to the history of Europe, her ongoing investigation into Kølle’s diaries — a historical riddle in itself — and by Mason’s imaginative fluency of line. It’s a brilliant collaborative adventure with dramaturgy by Marit Grimstad Egggen, advice from Christina Hauge, lighting by Ingeborg Staxrud Olerud, set and costume advice from Jennie Bringsaker and sound editing assistance from Erlend Hogstad.

A Slow Escape is also a commentary on how Europe has evolved since Kølle set out on her journey. While headlines in the daily Morgenbladet paper on the morning of Kølle’s departure of April 4, 1841 cited an economic crisis in Greece, and again on June 19, 2011 when Kielland left on her trip, the social and geographic aspects had changedforever; routes that Kølle described were no longer available to Kielland because of the expansion of transport infrastructure and some villages Kølle had passed through had since been drowned by hydroelectric projects. She also encounters sites that Kølle had never even imagined like the abandoned airport of Templehof near Berlin. Kølle’s dispassionate numerical annotations are ever present next to and contrasted with Kielland’s own commentary. Her diary was written in German Gothic script that no researcher, it seems, had ever bothered to read. Kølle was known as Norway’s first hiker and her walk to and from Venice was considered a matter of irrefutable fact, even according to her biographer. Over the course of her journey, however, Kielland’s reading of the script becomes more fluent and as she matches her own experience with Kølle’s she realizes that the diary includes passages about riding in coaches for some of the way. Her entire adventure, it seems, is based on a false premise. Her sense of deception on her arrival in Venice is aggravated by confounding the end of her project with the end of Europe as she had imagined it.

Kielland conjures up a walking map of Europe at a time when people barely walk any distance at all; she says at one point in her travelogue that she hasn’t met a soul all day and imagines Kølle having more people from whom to ask the way: ‘there is company in a voice,’ she observes. The act of talking mediates between mind and body and although she remains static for most of the performance — a remarkable endurance test in itself — Kielland’s words succeed in connecting us to the journey of the walking body she describes. A Slow Escape is thus the record of an ambulatory dance on the geographical scale of Europe that Kielland has compressed in all its richness to a small stage in Deptford at a time when the British government is in the very process of redrawing the map yet again.


Dan Canham/Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz in Session at LIFT

Posted: July 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dan Canham/Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz in Session at LIFT

Dan Canham/Still House, Empire Sounds and Steppaz, Session, Bernie Grant Centre, June 23

Session

Session at Bernie Grant Centre

In the courtyard of Bernie Grant Centre we are seated on three sides of a square awaiting the start of Session, a presentation of LIFT 2018 and a collaboration between choreographer Dan Canham, the afrobeats powerhouse Empire Sounds and Tottenham’s own Steppaz Performing Arts Academy; on the fourth side is a tent covering the musicians’ instruments and equipment. This is like the front yard for Empire Sounds and Steppaz who both make their home at the Centre; the atmosphere is as much festive as it is familial.

Anyone who saw Canham’s Of Riders and Running Horses atop a chilly, multistorey car park in Farringdon as part of Dance Umbrella in 2015 will perhaps recognize the setting of a proscribed urban area that becomes the site of a choreographic metamorphosis. Canham’s role in the collaboration, then as now, is as a catalyst for the transformation of a recognizable dance style into an unfamiliar format. As he explains, “The Steppaz dancers come from a background of competitive hip hop but I’ve pushed them into territory they have never done before which is a bit slower and more spacious. I’ve also challenged them to do something more intimate to what they’ve been used to because the audience won’t be sitting in the dark — they will be right in their faces.”

When the musicians — Josh Donkor, Mike Akrofi, Desty Engele, Tim Pabifio and Aaron Donkor — begin to play it’s as if they are laying down tracks in the air to prepare for the dance performance; the Steppaz Elites rise up in twos from their seats among the audience and enter the arena with an energy and force that fills those tracks with an equally impeccable rhythm and drive. It’s a heady experience watching the confidence that exudes from these young women and that energizes the entire crowd in the courtyard; those who are standing behind the seats are instinctively pursuing their own rhythms. In the sense of a shared experience on common ground the performance of Session is one of community — it is publicized as ‘a battle cry and a love song, celebrating community, youth and belonging’ — but as solos arise out of the group as naturally as riffs on a theme, or as one choreographic formation morphs seamlessly into another, there is a formal aspect that begins to show through. Canham is listed as choreographer along with Abena Noel from Steppaz and Odilia Egyiawan with whom he worked on Of Riders and Running Horses, but he is also listed as director. How exactly Session came together from these individual inputs is impossible to tell by watching, but Canham has a knack of framing his projects in a way that hides his individual authorship and promotes their autonomy; it is his subject that always comes to the fore.

The relationship between dancers and musicians is reciprocal; this kind of constant exchange between the two is at the heart of non-western dance traditions. When one of the dancers sets a beat with forceful gestures of her entire body, the drumbeat anticipates her every move; it’s as if the sound is part of her gesture. At other times the relentless energy of the music becomes a force the dancers enter with a frenzy that is intoxicating.

About halfway through the performance the stage area clears to reveal a young girl, one of the Steppaz mini-Elites, who seems quite fearless in her ‘circle of public solitude’. As she begins her dance the precision of her arm gestures is so musical that you can see the beat. A contingent of mini-Elites swarm the stage and prove the future in Tottenham is equally as bright and dynamic as the present. They perform their routines with the energy and conviction of their elders, supported by the latter’s vocal encouragement from their seats in an exemplary transference of confidence and support. When the elders join in they combine their own expertise with the younger ones, extending the choreography to two generations in one declaration of piggy-back unity.

Session is so much more than the sum of its parts. What Canham and his team have done is to frame a community dance form as something that moves not simply through a variety of individual bravura steps — though there are plenty of those to admire — but through a choreographic vision that raises the entire performance to a level of communal aspiration and hope. Session becomes a piece of theatre in its own right without changing its essential nature.


Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, at Battersea Arts Centre

Posted: July 9th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, at Battersea Arts Centre

Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, Battersea Arts Centre, June 22

Mercenary

The cast of Ahilan Ratnamohan’s Mercenary (photo: Koen Broos)

Presented as part of this year’s LIFT, Ahilan Ratnamohan’s Mercenary is the result of his research into western stories about the exploitation of migrant workers contracted to build the 2022 FIFA World Championship stadium in Qatar. Ratnamohan is a choreographer and social-political theatre maker who had previously tried to break into a career as professional footballer; the context of his research is thus closely related to his current and past preoccupations. It’s apt LIFT is presenting Mercenary during the current World Cup and there is also an irony in the appearance of Ratnamohan’s construction workers in the Council Chamber of Battersea Arts Centre where evidence of continuing restoration after last year’s fire is still visible.

The stage is set out like a miniature football pitch with the audience seated close around the edges; in the middle of one side DJ Giulia Loli, dressed in overalls with a luminous yellow safety jacket, has set up her turntables. From one corner Ratnamohan walks diagonally across the pitch in silence and poses in the far corner. He is also dressed in overalls and safety vest but his face is wrapped in a scarf over a respiratory mask. In effect we see very little of him except his eyes, so his catwalk pose looking to left and to right before returning to the dressing room — followed in turn by each player — is an amusing conceit to display Anne-Catherine Kunz’s costumes as a prelude to the story.

For a theatre festival Mercenary tells its story predominantly in movement. Thollebook Nhipat recites a list of exorbitant expenses that were docked from his wages for such things as his work visa and legal services while Rabina Miya, the one female worker, speaks briefly about home, but speech is not the medium of this work. Ratnamohan’s vocabulary is instead steeped in football; it is as if the ‘beautiful game’ has taken on choreographic life as he moulds its nimble training exercises and its postural lexicon into a choreographic medium. In the course of interviews collected across Qatar, Nepal and Sri Lanka Ratnamohan uncovered the passions and preoccupations of the migrant workers; he does not deny their exploitation, to which Nhipat’s experience alludes, but choses instead to focus on their resilience in the face of adversity.

He also recognizes that sport is a means of bonding and camaraderie when language is a barrier. Nhipat speaks with enough English to make his points, but when it comes to playing games with the others there is no obstacle to understanding; he is as skilled and knowledgeable as anyone. In Mercenary football becomes an allegory of life on the construction site played to Loli’s Asian club beat mixes that underscore Ratnamohan’s choreography, but it’s a game with neither a ball nor any visible opposition; the goal is survival. There is plenty of excitement as the players run at full tilt down the pitch to stop inches from us or challenge each other with rapid-fire mathematical puzzles to determine the outcome of a particular contest. As the games proceed, they shout useful English words they have learned like ‘toilet’, ‘home’, ‘water’ and ‘airport’ as commonly understood indications of the next choreographic sequence, and in the stifling heat they peel off layers of heavy clothes and leave them on the pitch; as one of the team, Loli does likewise while mixing the vinyls with her dancing fingers.

Suddenly it’s a party and everyone is laughing, moving around and over the clothes, vying with each other in this moment of relaxation to dance with the one woman but Miya instead shows us some football moves she has learned while the men show off to each other, pulling off shirts and sparring in increasingly combative ways. Ratnamohan chooses this moment for Loli to mix the overture to Wagner’s Tannhauser, that rousing music of redemption. To an overdubbed hammer beat Nhipat poses his colleagues forcefully like martyrs of coercion and endurance before taking his own submissive posture. Never letting Mercenary shy away from the harsh reality of its story, Ratnamohan with the help of dramaturg Sodja Lotker uses the body — and specifically the Asian body — to portray the emotional turmoil of these workers under duress.

The game is over; Ratnamohan takes time to introduce his team, to give his players an individual, personal identity until the celebratory party continues with football morphing into wrestling and men again jostling to dance with Miya until Loli suddenly pulls the plug and plunges us all into silence and darkness.


Company of Elders, Mixed Bill at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: July 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company of Elders, Mixed Bill at Lilian Baylis Studio

Company of Elders, Mixed Bill, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Company of Elders

Sadler’s Wells publicity photograph for Company of Elders (photo: Matt Austin)

The program of this mixed bill by Company of Elders is made up of three short works interspersed with three films, two from the Sadler’s Wells Learning and Engagement team about the company and one featuring the 2016 video portrait by Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Hugo Glendinning, of Betsy Field and Mary O’Mahony, both dancers in the company. What emerge from the first two films are two major themes in Company of Elders, social and artistic. This mixed bill shows unequivocally the social underpinning of the group of seventeen dancers who Sadler’s Wells describe rather patronizingly as ‘demonstrating the power of lifelong creativity and proving it is never too late to start dancing.’ What the program affirms less convincingly is the artistic vision that comes with the creation of works by numerous choreographers over the past 29 years. This year Seeta Patel, Adrienne Hart and Dickson Mbi still only scratch the surface of the artistic capability in these dancers. Is Sadler’s Wells using these choreographers to advertise ‘the power of lifelong creativity’ in their flagship over-60’s company or does it wish to see the company develop its artistic potential? What parameters dictate that all seventeen dancers have to appear on stage in each work, for example? When Field and O’Mahony appear in their filmed portrait, they are given the freedom to establish their identity within a proscribed frame, sitting at a table, and with a minimum of gestural means. What comes across is an artistic endeavor that highlights the two performers in a way the three stage performances do not. Patel, Hart and Mbi introduce short solos and duets to differentiate dancers from the crowd and some highlighting is achieved, either through text or gesture, but the group as social entity is what each performance seems to endorse. It is a shame, as the group will always be limited in its physical reach by what the weaker performers can do, just as in a younger company. The general effect of this kind of choreography as social organization is a romantic, stereotypical vision of what being older means: waving arms in a tight group is one of the tropes that turn up again and again. And why (except for Patel’s work) keep these seventeen individuals in brightly coloured t-shirts like children at a summer camp? Is it not possible to allow each performer to suggest a costume they treasure and work it into a performance? The resemblance of one performance to another suggests a ceiling of artistic decisions that governs Company of Elders. In what strata of society will you find such conformity among seventeen individuals? Only where it is imposed from the outside.

There are attempts in this mixed bill to break up this conformity. Patel in her Fragments, Not Forgotten finds inspiration in potent individual memories and uses a variety of groupings and a differentiation of gesture to indicate a more organic approach. In her A Tentative Place of Holding Hart unites the goals of Company of Elders with the inspiration of Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ ‘reversible destiny’; she uses more intimate gestures, gets the dancers off the ground in partnering lifts and a hopping step, and finishes with a plucky group challenge to the audience. Mbi in his Abyss separates the men and has them popping in slow motion and stamping out rhythms while he coaxes the women to develop the power of their arms in a semi-circular gestural dance that borders on wild. You begin to see possibilities opening up. A newcomer to the company, Monica Duck, clearly has rhythm in her bones. Mbi knows it and let’s us enjoy her movement, but Duck too quickly withdraws into the surrounding group as if such natural ebullience is frowned upon.

The employment of choreographers to create work on Company of Elders and to present that work on stage shifts its purpose in a parallel direction to its social benefits. The current mixed bill pushes the envelope of community dance closer towards the goal of artistic expression. If Sadler’s Wells is proud of their flagship company — and they should be — it is time to withhold the empty rhetoric of its Learning and Engagement team, stop patting itself on the back for presenting Company of Elders as bodies in a social ageing experiment and work towards bringing out the expressiveness of age as an artistic virtue. They might even consider paying them as artists.


Images Ballet Company 2018 at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: July 6th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Images Ballet Company 2018 at Lilian Baylis Studio

Images Ballet Company, Year-End Performance, Lilian Baylis Studio, June 17

Images Ballet

Eleonora Gatti, Demi Aldred, Anna Heery, Shannon Higgins, Hannah Orton (photo: Johan Persson)

It’s that time of year when dance institutions like London Studio Centre present end-of-year performances to showcase the hard work of both staff and students over the year and particularly over the last three months of preparation. Ultimately it’s the students who take off on the stage while teachers and staff remain on the ground to prepare for the next flight. In the case of London Studio Centre, whose intake of dance students over 3 years of training in multiple disciplines is around 360, there are just five this year specializing in classical ballet. With the quality of training and opportunities artistic director Jennifer Jackson brings to these third-year students and considering classical ballet technique is the underpinning of so many contemporary dance companies, this number is surprisingly and disproportionally small. To make up the numbers for these performances Jackson has recruited three second-year students (Daisy Bishop, Maria Bruguet and Esme Calcutt) to join the graduate year of Demi Aldred, Eleonora Gatti, Anna Heery, Shannon Higgins and Hannah Orton.

Images Ballet Company was originally founded in 1991 under the artistic directorship of former Royal Ballet principal Margaret Barbieri. That lineage of the Royal Ballet continues through Jackson and, in these performances, through choreographers Érico Montes and Hubert Essakow who were both dancers in the company (Montes also trained at London Studio Centre). Bim Malcomson’s witty, fresh approach and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s blend of dance and theatre balances the classical work with a variety of styles these dancers can expect as they pursue professional careers.

It is not so much the works produced in these year-end performances as the effect they produce on the dancers; they are the ones being assessed for their potential even if the choreographers benefit from the opportunity to create new works. Inevitably each dancer will bring to the stage a quality or characteristic that will define her in some way from the others; ideally over the four works something unique will emerge in each dancer. The responsibility for its achievement is on the shoulders not only of Jackson and her choreographers but of the dancers themselves.

I admire Jackson’s insistence on live music where possible; if she doesn’t have an orchestra she has at least Elliott Perks and Tom Ellis. They arranged Robert Schumann’s Märchenbilder for viola and guitar which they play on stage for Essakow’s Cut Out and they perform for the audience in between works. It’s a shame they cannot be used more as the sound and texture of live music brings out the quality of dance steps while the dynamics of music and choreography can have a living conversation. Indeed, Essakow intended the four movements of Schumann’s music to form a series of choreographic conversations and in Aldred he has an artist who is eloquent. She has a strong technique, steely but soft pointe work and above all eyes and gesture that communicate not only with the music but with the audience. It is as if she is at a gathering with four friends; they chat together but the music draws her away to converse with her inspiration, the unseen Schumann. Essakow creates a sense of intimate space and Louie Whitemore’s black brocade bodices suggest a nineteenth century period style.

If Aldred takes her place in the room, Heery is noticeable by her natural reticence; she has the lyricism of a dreamer. In Montes’ Sonata in Colour to the music of Florence Price, Heery is like a lost girl remembering; Montes invests his choreography with an ethereal sense that reaches back to classical ballet but finds in Heery an interpreter whose quality of gesture is very much in the present.

Malcomson takes an idiosyncratic, somewhat irreverent approach to classical dance that brings out the idiosyncracies and irreverence of the entire cast. Her Red Queen Brouhaha references Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland and uses some of Joby Talbot’s score for Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet of the same name. There are lots of jam tarts, a croquet waltz, outraged screams and Orton coming into her own as Alice looking through both ends of an imaginary looking glass. Gatti and Higgins both find their comic form here as Malcomson proves her value as a catalyst in bringing diverse personalities together in a riotous whole.

Runacre-Temple’s Mozart’s Women: The Kingdom of Back uses extracts of Mozart’s music and recorded readings of his letters to his sister Nanneral (Aldred), his muse Aloysia Weber (Heery) and her sister, Constanze (Gatti), who became Mozart’s wife. It’s a piece that cries out for powdered wigs and voluminous dresses to evoke the texture of these women and to connect their play of gesture to the music but in its current form, under Andrew Ellis’s islands of light, it is a refined miniature that pays equal tribute to the women portrayed and to those who portray them.

The evening ends as it began with the music of Schumann, the two final movements of Essakow’s Cut Out, one for the ensemble and one that provides a parting solo for Heery.


Nederlands Dans Theater 1 at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Nederlands Dans Theater 1 at Sadler’s Wells

Nederlands Dans Theatre 1, León & Lightfoot, Pite and Goecke, Sadler’s Wells, June 26

Nederlands Dans Theater

Jon Bond, Roger Van der Poel, Aram Hasler and Rena Narumi in The Statement (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulu)

The first work on Nederlands Dans Theatre 1’s season at Sadler’s Wells plays uncomfortably between entertainment and oppression. It’s as if house choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot have abruptly interrupted the five dancers — Myrthe van Opstal, Chloé Albaret, Marne van Opstal, Roger Van der Poel and Jorge Nazal — in Shoot The Moon and leave us to observe the intensity of their unstable relationships on a revolving set of three rooms from which the only exit is through a door or window into the next one. The program note suggests each room contains its own love story, but the febrile gestural vocabulary, clinical partnering and the open mouths of despair suggest each individual is going through hell and has no psychological space for anyone else, while the pervasive trope of effortless high extensions suggest a compulsive narcissism. It is as if Ibsen’s dramas of domestic claustrophobia have met Virginia Woolf’s fragmented narratives without the nuanced psychology of the former and the acute formal tension of the latter. One might almost conclude that set, costumes and live, voyeuristic video of the dancers projected on the clerestory-level screen are all part of a hermetically sealed aesthetic of neurosis. León and Lightfoot choose Philip Glass’s Movement II from his Tirol Concerto for piano and orchestra to lend the work emotions that are absent from the choreography; it is not music on which the dancers rely for their musicality but rather a score to appease the audience.

If the elements of Shoot the Moon were limited to conjuring up the images it portrays it would make an interesting study in the power of the unconscious to affect a choreographic outcome, but seeing the company’s assistant choreographer Marco Goecke’s Woke up Blind suggests an NDT 1 house aesthetic. Again the subject is love, as expressed in two songs Jeff Buckley recorded, his own You and I and Van Morrison’s The Way Young Lovers Do. The first person we see from a cast of seven is Nozal who hasn’t yet recovered from the tension of Shoot the Moon, but Buckley’s voice is also in a register of despair. At least Goecke is trying to match the fevered pitch of his choreography to Buckley’s overwrought state of delivery, but given its gestural similarity to Shoot the Moon and its translation onto technically precise dancing bodies, the effect barely shifts NDT 1’s tormented aesthetic.

It only takes a pause to rectify this. In The Statement, Crystal Pite uses four dancers — Aram Hasler, Rena Narumi, Jon Bond and Roger Van der Poel — to recreate a boardroom scene in an international investment office that has just fomented an international conflict in order to profit financially. On an otherwise dark stage, Jay Gower Taylor places a long, shiny oval table that Tom Visser lights from a similarly dimensioned hood above it; the concentration of light on the figures assembled around the perimeter dressed neatly and expensively by Pite and Joke Visser is intense. Their preoccupation is how to make a statement that exonerates their superiors without taking the blame themselves. Using a recorded one-act play by Jonathon Young with the voices of Young, Meg Roe, Colleen Wheeler and Andrew Wheeler, Pite choreographs to the accents and inflections of its tightly woven and increasingly confrontational argument. In extending choreography into mime and mime into choreography, Pite puts the polished virtuosity of the dancers at the service of gesture; nothing is gratuitous. In its message and expressive power, The Statement can be seen as a contemporary successor to Kurt Joos’s The Green Table.

It’s hard to return to the house style of León and Lightfoot in the final work, Stop-Motion, where love is replaced by ‘a process of farewell and transformation’, the revolving rooms by an empty space and Philip Glass by a mournful Max Richter. The set by León and Lightfoot with its chalk dust is visually arresting under Tom Bevoort’s lighting and its effect is evocative of the ephemeral nature of life. The large-scale, close-up video work, directed by Rahi Rezvani, conceived by León and Lightfoot and featuring their daughter Saura, is reminiscent of choreographer Édouard Lock’s interest in and integration of film and performance for La La La Human Steps. However the visual gratification of Stop-Motion is no substitute for psychological insight and emotional strength and while the choreographic use of space has changed from Shoot the Moon, the vocabulary remains within a narrow band of imagination that fails to release the full potential of these dancers beyond their shapes and extensions.


Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende, Black Holes

Posted: July 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende, Black Holes

Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende, Black Holes, The Place, June 21

Black Holes

Seke Chimutengwende and Alexandrina Hemsley in Black Holes (photo: Katarzyna Perlak)

How do you know I’m real? I’m not real. I’m just like you. You don’t exist in this society. If you did people wouldn’t be seeking equal rights. You’re not real. If you were you’d have some status among the nations of the world. So we’re both myths. I do not come to you as a reality; I come to you as a myth. Because that’s what black people are. Myths. I came from a dream that black man dreamed long ago. I’m actually a present sent to you by your ancestors.” – Sun Ra

Alexandrina Hemsley and Seke Chimutengwende are darkness newscasters exposing the black holes in white history. Black Holes is a cosmic 70-minute orbit that sees them ‘speculating on how to be with their bodies that carry histories of marginalisation and anti-blackness’ while combining ‘elements of Science Fiction and personal narrative to propel the personal and the mythic onto a cosmic scale.’

With a substantial co-authored text delivered alongside their labours, improvisations and choreography we are at once distanced by their static delivery and use of an Afrosurreal language (after D. Scot Miller’s Afrosurreal Manifesto) before being brought proximate by their lived realities of racism, persistent micro-aggressions and the all too familiar fetishization of black hair. They are sayers delivering strange news from another star; a deliberate and disturbing fleshing of ignored personal and conquered histories including Alexandrina recalling how she had her neck pinched in a jazz club in Gloucester.

I’m trying to speak to write the truth. I’m trying to be clear. I’m not interested in being fancy, or even original. Clarity and truth will be plenty, if I can only achieve them.” – Octavia. E. Butler

Arriving into the Robin Howard Dance Theatre I am unsure what we are watching with Alexandrina and Seke already on stage lit beautifully by Simeon Miller’s design that could have been plucked from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Are they the last two survivors on a space ship crashed into an unknown star? Are they interplanetary buccaneers looting the corpses of a long dead splinter cell? Or are they a pair of prophets oscillating between the portals of our world and theirs? Their physical language remains consistent throughout with Seke using his willowy spine-flicking and flashing-out limbs as he rides the score; he is all dart while Alexandrina is totally coily; internalised, groove-filled musicality roaring through her body playing between the desire for stillness and the necessity for movement.

With a set design by Rosie Elnile and Eleanor Sikorski that features afrofuturist asteroids (large, black plastic-wrapped cumbersome cuboids tied with thin chains), both performers labour deliberately, pulling these objects/histories/anchors around the stage at regular intervals leaving slow glacial pushing patterns behind; the weight of their intention and the heaviness of their labour leaves much residue on the eyes long after the 70 minutes have elapsed.

This success permits us to hope that after thirty or forty years of observation on the new Planet [Neptune], we may employ it, in its turn, for the discovery of the one following it in its order of distances from the Sun. Thus, at least, we should unhappily soon fall among bodies invisible by reason of their immense distance, but whose orbits might yet be traced in a succession of ages, with the greatest exactness, by the theory of Secular Inequalities.” – Urbain Le Verrier

Black Holes uses orbit as a mode of creation and as a means of receiving. We see and hear repeated choreographic patterns, poetic text and black light; sometimes the asteroids are downstage, sometimes clustered, sometimes circled. These movements are not invisibled by stage hands in the dark quietly making ready for the next scene; instead we see Alexandrina and Seke as the movers taking the time that time takes to place them where they want; an exercise in space and patience. Hearing repeated phrases (“It was like the bath was already empty and you take the plug out while the bathtub goes into the plughole”) and encountering familiar physicalities leaves space for other imagined and existing works that Black Holes sits alongside; Rachael Young’s Nightclubbing, Project O’s Voodoo, Reni-Eddo Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race and Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm‘s Br’er Cotton.

Lacking any real sci-fi weight (Seke revealed in the post-show conversation that their writing process brought a number of Google-lite searches picking out language from Octavia E. Butler, Brian Cox and Sun-Ra etc. that they remixed and respliced with their own words), Black Holes successfully creates language runs that act as the Sun to the smaller choreographic planetary interventions and would suit a radio/streaming audience in their own right. In contrast to the rising tide of people of colour looking at Afrofuturism and untold/deleted histories, we are still awash in the saturated presence of abstract work that exists solely in the black hole of many white male egos jumping on the science/space/technology bandwagon in order to fill their choreographic deficiencies; Black Holes has more integrity, offers a place for stimulation and reflection and leaves a valuable indentation in head, heart and space.


2018 Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Posted: June 30th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 2018 Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston, June 15

Ignition

Tina Omotosho, Stafan A Addaie and Danal Guy in MAN UP (photo: Gigi Gianella)

Rosie Whitney-Fish has taken a vision for dance and made it manifest. In an environment of financial scarcity where dance makers spend an inordinate amount of time writing applications for support from various cultural institutions, Whitney-Fish has grown DanceWest in four years from a seed of £1,000 of her own money into an organization that carries out a raft of community programs and projects centred around Lyric Hammersmith and co-founded Ignition Dance Festival with Kathryn Woodvine of Kingston Council. For the fifth festival DanceWest has been able to co-commission five mid-career choreographers — two solos, one duet, one trio and a quartet — whose works were seen for the first time recently at Kingston’s Rose Theatre.

As its name suggests, the festival is about igniting individual opportunities; each choreographer’s work can be seen for itself and while there is a curatorial hand in creating a viable program the interest of the festival is in the five singular approaches to creative expression. One of the parameters is that the commissions can only realistically cover a creation period of three weeks and while this may seem disadvantageous (though not unusual) to the creative process, some of the works have been in gestation for much longer: in the case of Jennifer Irons, for 20 years or more. With this much mental preparation, it was perhaps no surprise that her work, Yukon Ho!, arrived fully formed and bursting with life. Irons distills her formative years spent in the Yukon Territory in Northern Canada into a performative solo that integrates colourful anecdotes that are (almost) all true with her experience of dancing the can-can in the bars of Whitehorse. With assistance from writer Robert Churchill, Irons’ performance is as rich in texture as her delivery is timed to perfection and while she maintains a high voltage of humour there is a darker side not far behind it that comes with the Territory. In its present succinct form Yukon Ho! is a theatrical gem that holds light and dark in an unfathomable equilibrium.

Another work that has been forming over time is Kloe Dean’s MAN UP, an ambitious trio that honours the memory of her father, Raymond, while addressing the issue of his depression and suicide. As Dean writes in the program, her work is ‘a chance to break the silence of a stigmatized subject which does not get enough attention…It’s time to MAN UP!’ Using texts her father left behind and working the dark duality of a rope as both a recreational cord and an instrument of self-destruction, Dean plays hope against despair in a series of intense tableaux between Stefano A. Addae and Danal Guy. Weaving her irrepressible way through these scenes is Tina Omotosho who remains unaware of the tragedy about to unfold but is the one left to mourn. While Dean’s imagery is powerful and eloquent, the construction of MAN UP needs only to find a theatrical and choreographic ‘way through’ to allow the whole to be far more than the sum of its parts.

Avatȃra Ayuso’s angel is inspired by both the invisible, vengeful presence in Luis Buñuel’s film The Exterminating Angel and the sport of fencing, but in its translation to the stage it is the latter that overshadows the former. One would imagine an avenging angel, foil in hand, dispensing altogether with full fencing gear for something more alluring to her dark and erotic play; her powers, after all, need no protection as her adversaries cannot see her. Alas, we cannot see her either; the obstruction of her face by the mask removes a vital element of her mimetic drama. In the latter part of angel Ayuso begins to contort her fencing postures into images that are more devilishly menacing as if she is warming to her motif, but it is too late to offset her literal preoccupation with the sport.

Paying tribute, by way of Federico Garcia Lorca’s elegy, to the dancer Antonia Mercé, ‘La Argentina’, Sam Quy’s La Lengua Flamenca points to the distinctly Spanish notion of duende, which, in Lorca’s words, ‘sears the blood like powdered glass, exhausts, rejects all sweet learned geometry, breaks with styles and relies on human suffering without solace…’ Perhaps Quy has erred on the side of historical appreciation rather than re-creation, for while the legacy of flamenco she and guitarist El Fernan de Tottenham bring to La Lengua Flamenca is rich, her performance is lacking the essential agonistic quality on which it depends for its conviction.

Cameron McMillan’s The Chimera Construct is a quartet for Jonathon Baker, George Baan, Nicholas Tredrea and Jade Brider that uses the Chimera of Greek mythology — ‘a multi-faceted beast, composed of parts of different wild creatures’ — as a construct of contemporary identity. Initially using animal masks to suggest differentiation, McMillan’s subsequent concern with the shapes and extensions of his hyper-flexible and hyper-extended dancers invokes instead a tame homogeneity. Perhaps applying a concept to a form can impart a meaning but The Chimera Construct needs to explore its physical vocabulary more convincingly to approach its notional concept.


Semperoper Ballett, All Forsythe at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: June 25th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Semperoper Ballett, All Forsythe at Sadler’s Wells

Semperoper Ballett, All Forsythe Program, Sadler’s Wells, June 21

Forsythe

Jiri Bubenicek in Enemy in the Figure (photo: Costin Radu)

William Forsythe’s name is synonymous with a vision of classical dance that is on the advanced edge of contemporary ballet and the opportunity to see an evening of his work in London is rare. The three works on Semperoper Ballett’s London première at Sadler’s Wells — In The Middle Somewhat Elevated, Neue Suite and Enemy in the Figure — are all vintage Forsythe from his time at the helm of Ballet Frankfurt. This is both the draw and the challenge for the company’s artistic director, Aaron Watkin, and his 18 dancers. Watkin has strong connections to Forsythe both as a dancer and as one of those responsible for staging his work around the world, but here he stands at the helm of his own company that the Forsythe brand has put on the international map.

Despite the close lineage of Forsythe, there is an impression in watching Semperoper Ballett that — with some exceptions — the dancers are doing the choreography rather than letting it happen. In the creation of In The Middle Somewhat Elevated Forsythe was fascinated with the ability of dance to arise autonomously from a state of pedestrian languor; it was as much the formal extensions to which he took ballet as how a dancer got there that interested him. The constant play within In The Middle Somewhat Elevated between doing nothing and pulling off a sequence that takes the breath away is what maintains a sense of excitement and risk in the work, qualities that the score by Thom Willems unequivocally reinforces. What we are missing on the Sadler’s Wells stage is that space for what isn’t happening before a step, the coolness of non-anticipation; what we are seeing is the premeditated preparation. This extra effort takes away from the élan of the steps themselves — not to mention the sense of risk — and alters their precise musicality. Some technical lapses on this first night performance contribute to the general lack of brilliance of the dancing, though the rapturous applause recognizes the continuing allure of the work.

Neue Suite premiered with Semperoper Ballett in 2012 but it’s sequence of eight duets derives from three previous works Forsythe made for his own company: Invisible Film (1995) to Handel’s Concerti Grossi op. 6, Workwithinwork (1998) to Berio’s Duett für 2 Violinen and Kammer/Kammer (2000) to the Allemande of Partita No. 1 by Bach. Roslyn Sulcas writes in the program, ‘Forsythe may not be interested in emotional contents in the narrative sense but he is definitely interested in the relationships and emotions that are created through physical interaction.’ It’s a wonderful insight into how to read these duets and the inclusion of Neue Suite is a welcome addition to the program by presenting Forsythe’s choreographic intelligence — as well as the dancers — in intimate detail. As relationships go there’s as much tension as there is emotion in the partnering but individually it’s the women who come off more relaxed and self-assured, especially Alice Mariani, Jenny Laudadio and Sanguen Lee. It is only in the final duet that Zarina Stahnke and Houston Thomas find common ground and a shared exhilaration.

Enemy in the Figure is a wild beast of a work that gives the company a chance to revel in the rich theatrical complexity that Forsythe can bring to the stage not only as choreographer but as designer of the set, costumes and lighting. An undulating plywood wall divides the stage diagonally and the lighting is provided by an industrial-sized lamp that is wheeled round the stage by the dancers with the excitement and precision of explorers in a cave. Enemy in the Figure is as much about what moves in front of the light as what might be happening in its shadows or invisibly behind the wall. The stage becomes a dream-like phantasmagoria peopled with energy where Forsythe, reunited with a score by Willems, enjoys breaking free of old theatrical conventions and creating new ones, splitting the stage into zones of cerebral activity connected by a pulsing cortex of rope. It’s immediately apparent this is a work that suits the company’s men in particular, allowing their range of physicality and imagination to let loose. There’s a duet for two men where legs fly like helicopter blades against the partition, memorable interventions by Jón Vallejo and a wildly articulated solo by Christian Bauch where his black, fringed outfit makes him look like the devil incarnate. If light brought this work to life it is its withdrawal that brings it slowly and silently to a close with only the sound of someone knocking on the plywood partition.


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.