Orley Quick, Screwed

Posted: September 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Orley Quick, Screwed

Screwed, The Bunker, July 31

The stars of Screwed (photos and design: Michele Cadei)

Billed as ‘three evenings of curious, (dis)honest and unhinged dance performance’, Screwed distinguishes itself by its anti-hype. It also distinguishes itself by its entrepreneurial bravado and curatorial intuition. Orley Quick of Hairy Heroine fame has brought together this ‘weird, wild and wonderful variety of fresh, experimental performance’ as a complement to her As We Like It that she showed at Resolution in January: there are three performances of the Hairy Heroines shared with works by nine other artists over three evenings. It’s a huge undertaking, but Quick has pulled it off with unassuming flair. Introducing the evening, she explains that her choice of artists was based on a shared work ethic and respect; she has also put herself in the position of the audience in that she is seeing the works for the first time, a freshness of approach that creates its own excitement and unpredictability.

In this context of anti-hype and surprise the first work on this evening’s program is created and performed by a group named anthologyofamess which comprises on this occasion Mariana Camiloti, Antonio de la Fe, Petra Söör and Robert Vesty. EVOLVE, its title spelled in captcha form, is an improvisation based on ‘a relentless need to never ever stop’ that, while taking time to reveal its mystery, makes its journey the crowning achievement; each performer embellishes time and space with the concentrated effort to never arrive. Research that appeared at the time of the performance revealed that audiences remember moments of stillness more than movement, but in EVOLVE’s unerring line of constant evolution, these performers royally disprove it. Their spatial acuity, their inventiveness and their fluid forms may be hard to capture and slippery to hold in memory, but the effect is of a dream in which images vie with one another and superimpose in spatial freeform. But that’s the thing with dreams: they have an illogic and unreality that is memorable.

Sam Pardes wakes us up to the dream’s antithesis. Tapping. She seems in no particular hurry to prepare her performance, What Have I Got To Show For It? but as she prepares she works a seam of dogged humour with impeccable timing that keeps us laughing. She complains of aching feet, drinks some water, does a sound test and nonchalantly starts a routine that becomes the soundtrack to her life story. She’s just letting the tap motor turn over as she talks of her years in performing arts college in the U.S., her MFA at Roehampton, being a part-time nanny, her diagnosis with anxiety disorder, and of the meds that have made every part of her body balloon. She then confides that she’s prepared another dance for us, a budget dance. It’s a daily itemization of her frugal expenses with a tapped recitative but it’s just the prelude to her highly-charged and provocative message on the gap between the expectations of an arts education and its devastating economic and health implications. She takes a piece of paper from her bra and tells us the cost of her MFA in Choreography ($50,143.39), of her two loans and the calculated amounts of each monthly payment that will keep her sinking in debt for the next nine years. ‘How to begin a dance on this?’, she asks but she does, scraping, tapping, picking up speed and drumming virtuosity until she breaks off, kicks a little, shuffles and stops. She wants to say something but her glazed expression is fixed in the dying lights. Her mother was right (‘My baby’s a star’) but it’s sobering to consider the cost Pardes has incurred to put on this show.

Ryan Munroe is another choreographer who leaves the best till last, a climactic gesture on the final note of music that sets alight all that has gone before. Love me in chains – part 1 – Gal Dem is a duet in three parts for Cherylin Albert and Telisha McKenzie that the cryptic program note describes as ‘not that deep, but it’s deep.’ Albert and McKenzie are as richly expressive as the work is enigmatic, shading their imaginary world of whispered gestures, silent shouts and closed eyes with a contrasting dynamic of running, pushing and dancing to the beat. There’s a central section of read texts on cultural formism that obscures more than it enlightens, but it’s the quality of movement in Albert and McKenzie that establishes Munroe’s ability to warp space with his mix of shapes, dynamics and gesture underlaid by extracts from Sango (Conte a Todos), Merzbow (Requiem) and Astrolith (Kaisha Original Mix). Up until the moment of that final gesture I wasn’t really in Munroe’s orbit, but after it I was thirsting to see the work all over again.

Cher Nicolette Ho’s They is a duet for Elle Howard and Alexandra Pons to the well-oiled beat of Kotzky Vendivel’s Lift and is prefaced in the program note by a quotation from Isaiah: ‘They will soar on wings like eagles, They will run and not grow weary, They will walk and not be faint.’ The duet sets in motion the over-sized jackets of the two women as they take them off, swap them and share them as if exploring the limits of their friendship with an equal measure of intimacy and abandon. The partnering becomes more complex and intricate as the jackets take on the role of support; falling to their knees is a recurring motif for the two women, with its religious overtones. Having built up a sense of interdependence between Howard and Pons, their subsequent solos seem less assured until they join once again, bringing full circle the immanence implicit in the biblical quote.

I had seen As We Like It at Resolution six months ago to the day but this is an opportunity to revisit the inimitable Hairy Heroines (Diogo Fernandes de Jesus, Tyrrell Foreshaw and Elliot Minogue-Stone) in a slightly extended cabaret version. With the audience crowded around the thrust stage in The Bunker all the irreverent intimacy that Quick and her heroines had spent so much energy and inspiration putting into the work is now seen close up in riotous detail, from the febrile petulance of Fernandes de Jesus to Minogue-Stone’s ingenuous wordplay to Foreshaw’s extravagant floorplay. Adding ten minutes to an original concentrated work has its hazards, but Quick and her dramaturg Karla Ptáček have maintained the thread of Shakespearean gender politics while elongating the narrative to a more natural life span — and prolonging the fun.

There’s not a whiff of Arts Council funding on the program and the house is full; I don’t know the balance of accounts for Screwed but on a curatorial level it’s a brilliant achievement. Uncertain times demand uncertain solutions; Orley Quick has discovered one and, with production support from Silvia Scrimieri, has made it stand out.


Tero Saarinen Company, Morphed

Posted: September 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tero Saarinen Company, Morphed

Tero Saarinen Company, Morphed, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, August 10

Tero Saarinen Company in Morphed (photo: Mikki Kunttu)

The appearance of Tero Saarinen Company as part of the Southbank Centre’s Nordic Matters brought a refined Finnish sensibility to the Festival Hall stage that reminded me of the architecture of Alvar Aalto: it establishes its individuality and subtle independence from its surroundings through the use of natural materials and sophisticated design. The stage setting by Mikki Kunttu for Saarinen’s Morphed (2014) — the one work on the evening’s program — immediately immerses us in this quintessentially Finnish quality by referencing the colours and materials of Aalto’s furniture design which in turn were influenced by the Finnish landscape. The two lines of evenly spaced ropes that hang on three sides of the stage form an enclosure around the rectangle of white on a black floor.
Based in Helsinki, Saarinen founded his company in 1996 ‘to promote a humane worldview and basic human values through the language of dance’. Perhaps because dance is performed in and on the body, it is an art that naturally eschews violence and in Morphed Saarinen traces states of mind and body from baseness and introspection to elevation and refinement in a group of seven men from his company. Despite its overtly male focus, Saarinen takes the clichés of maleness and turns them inside out. By the end we can associate with this ‘journey less traveled’ and find solace in its resolution. We first see the men in black fatigues and hoods prowling in fluid patterns of geometric complexity. For a work celebrating all aspects of maleness, this is as good a place to start as any, but with the sophisticated music of Esa-Pekka Salonen, Kunttu’s neat and beautifully lit abstraction of a forest and Teemu Muurimäki’s stylish costumes, it has to be said these men have already come in from the rugged outside. Initially Saarinen traces paths of weighted, pack-like formations but as the work develops individual performers begin to slide away from the pack to explore their own individuality in expressive gestures before they become subsumed once again within the group. Over the course of the work the gestures develop into solos, duets and trios that expand their reach and choreographic force as each man develops in his own right.
Part of the intrigue of Morphed is that Saarinen’s performers at first look less like dancers than wholesome, blonde, bearded Finnish men who exude masculinity without being macho. They could be athletes; if I recognized some sporting motifs in the choreography one of them derived from shot-putting. Placing these powerful bodies in this kind of environment is to transform them. Saarinen works with the physicality of bodies to explore the means of change; the blunt, earthbound postures of the dancers at the beginning gradually respond to the musical ideas to develop the poetry of their instruments while maintaining their connection, gaining in self-expression and articulation while allowing space for each other. Arms and torsos elongate and feet point beautifully, reminding us of Da Vinci’s maxim that beauty is in the extremities. One could almost imagine Salonen conducting the dancers to draw out their intrinsic qualities. The costumes and lighting are implicit partners in this process. Over the course of the performance the dancers remove the initial dark, heavy outer garments to reveal white shirts whose sleeves detach, like layers of skin, until it is the skin that remains. At the same time the lighting morphs in response, from  somber dawn to bright sunshine. In this sympathetic depiction of maleness, all the men — all but one — change from hooded prowlers to half-naked open channels of emotion. Saarinen takes us on a journey that could be our own. Indeed, he suggests it is our own and holds up his choreography as a mirror to guide us, avoiding exaggerated movement in order to include us within its measured articulation and rhythms. And although the cast is predominantly Finnish, there are two exceptions. David Scarantino is a dark-haired American whose presence avoids a sense of cultural homogeneity (Morphed is about men, after all, not just Finnish men), but it is Ima Iduozee, whose dark brown skin and lithe movement add an exotic, feline quality to his Finnish identity, who suggests he may be the catalyst of physical transformation within the context of Saarinen’s language. It is as if he has been there before and is returning to help his comrades morph into their spiritual dimension.


Zoi Dimitriou Company, Peregrinus

Posted: August 23rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Zoi Dimitriou Company, Peregrinus

Zoi Dimitriou Company, Peregrinus, Firkin Crane, Cork, July 20

Zoi Dimitriou in Peregrinus (photo: Nicholas Minns)

Zoi Dimitriou’s Peregrinus began as research into the notion of peregrination or pilgrimage on a residence at Firkin Crane in 2015 as part of the Blank Canvas Residency programme. While forming the work for this year’s Fast Forward Festival 4 by the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, which also produced the work, the refugee crisis in Europe overlaid her notion of peregrination with the political, psychological and physical effects of displacement. As Frédéric Gros wrote in his A Philosophy of Walking, peregrination and displacement are joined at the root: “The primary meaning of peregrinus is foreigner or exile. The pilgrim, originally, is not one who is heading somewhere (Rome, Jerusalem, etc.), but essentially one who is not at home where he is walking.” Greece is one of the entry points for refugees who risk their lives to flee conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East to find a new life in Europe. The official welcome policy is one of containment in refugee camps that offer exiles a level of safety while they await a political solution to their humanitarian crisis, and because these camps are outside the urban centres, the condition and fate of refugees is often only revealed through media sources. It is this mediatized relationship to refugees that Dimitriou took as the starting point of Peregrinus.

The work references the current refugee crisis through recorded stories of people Dimitriou interviewed in London and Athens who had in the past experienced forced displacement as a result of violent conflict but who are now settled in their host countries. She and her artistic team then chose as her location a run-down, disused warehouse that was part of the anonymous, industrial infrastructure of Athens and restricted the number of audience members to the capacity of a blacked-out mini-bus that transported them from the Onassis Cultural Centre (OCC) to the warehouse. The journey took just under 24 minutes, the time it took for the passengers to hear in the darkness the stories Dimitriou had recorded. Nobody knew where they were going and not even the locals recognised the destination once they arrived; the journey was designed to echo the sense of displacement in the stories. Inside the warehouse was a structure resembling a church nave and transepts with three-metre-high translucent panels for walls and a lightbox for a roof that limited the lighting principally to the interior of the structure but let it spill out through the panels. The audience remains outside looking in at Dimitriou who remains unaware of our gaze, moving in abstracted steps and gestures like time-lapse images of walking, crawling, prayer, rage, despair, resolve and stoic determination. There is a very real sense that despite her approaching the edges of the walls she is never coming out.

The translucent panels have internal baffles that are slightly angled to the line of vision: look one way through them and it is impossible to see beyond, but look the other way or straight on and you can perceive the figure beyond. If you maintain a fixed perspective (as in watching a television screen) Dimitriou moves in and out of your field of vision; you have to follow her to keep her in focus. The structure represents a medium through which we see refugees, and yet behind the screen the pacing and the daily concerns and the personal tragedies continue unheard and unheeded. By inserting herself into this mirage of displacement, Dimitriou channels empathy for the refugees and allows the audience the space to come to their own conclusions. She moves silently to a subdued industrial score — at one point a cross between turning helicopter blades and a swift, rhythmic saw — and the only overt messages are in stenciled, illuminated signs on the walls and floor of the warehouse: ‘You Are Here’, ‘You Are Involved’, ‘Utopia is Closing Down’, to which are added stark signs like ‘No Man’s Land’, ‘Foreigners This Way Please’ and ‘No Congregation In this Area’. Apart from these contextual signs there is nothing to suggest a refugee camp; Dimitriou is using the distance and abstraction of the theatrical presentation to give the audience the opportunity to focus on her references to the current social and political reality. Peregrinus thus reflects on and interferes with our western sense of carefully mediatized detachment from the crisis. To make this work effectively, the setting up of the experience is as important as the performance itself; it requires a unity of intention in the same way a politically united response to the refugee question is the only way to resolve it.

A country that through geographical fate finds itself hosting refugees might well be said to have a problem it has agreed to for humanitarian reasons but doesn’t quite know how to deal with. By an inadvertent twist of fate, Firkin Crane as host found itself in a similar role; having invited Dimitriou to perform and having received the translucent structure from OCC and set it up — with modifications — in the theatre’s auditorium, the host left the details of the production in limbo. While Dimitriou had the space in which to perform, the logistics of the production did not successfully contextualize the refugee experience for the audience. The theatre itself, despite its history as a workshop for the manufacture of butter firkins, is too laden with the implications of entertainment and leisure to destabilise an audience and the curtained mini-bus journey started in plain daylight outside the front of the theatre and arrived 25 minutes later at the stage door, mimicking the original idea but leaving little incentive for the passengers to subjectivise the experience. What remained was Dimitriou’s performance in which the notion of peregrination and exile survived in its original spirit despite a host that wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it. Art imitating life.


Bouchra Ouizguen, Compagnie O, Corbeaux

Posted: August 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bouchra Ouizguen, Compagnie O, Corbeaux

Bouchra Ouizguen, Corbeaux, Serpentine Pavilion, July 14

Bouchra Ouizguen’s Compagnie O in Corbeaux (photo: Hasnae El Ouarga)

The idea of performing Bouchra Ouizguen‘s dark, brooding Corbeaux (crows) as part of this year’s Shubbak Festival in Francis Kéré’s light, airy 2017 Serpentine Pavilion in Kensington Gardens is a symbiotic one. Kéré conceived the structure with its curved blue walls made of stacked triangular assemblies of timber and an orange canopy roof as an ‘architectural version of a big tree’ in Gando, his home town in Burkina Faso, where villagers would use its shade as a locus for activities. Both the Pavilion and Ouizguen’s choreography are a form of gathering; Kéré has built a congenial space for people to congregate in the heart of London, while Ouizguen has built a work for an outside space inspired by the collective behaviour of crows. The audience assembles like villagers underneath Kéré’s tree, standing with their backs to its airy walls, watching Ouizguen’s women — ten Moroccan performers and eight London-based — enter slowly, one by one at intervals in the dark. Once in place, they perch upright in triangular patterns in relation to each other and to the audience. Dressed in black with white headscarves, they stand motionless with eyes closed until the last woman joins the group. The stillness and silence are then suddenly broken by an eruption of visceral chanting wrenched from the abdomen up to the throat of each woman. It is not age but experience that shows in their faces and a fierce insistence that drives the rhythmic pulse of their gestures. They remain rooted to the same spot throughout this atavistic ritual and it is the subtle differences in the power these women generate in their gestures that attune our eyes to ‘hear’ the force of their voices.

Based on early Persian literature, the performance shares the investment in repetitive movement typical of Sufi dance in an attempt to transcend physicality by fully embracing and expressing corporeality. Here Ouizguen’s performers achieve a similar effect through harnessing the repetition of their piercing, guttural cries with the physical rocking forwards and backwards of their heads and necks. Some of the women accent the outbreath and others the inbreath to effect a see-saw rippling of sound that ricochets against the bodies of the audience with contrapuntal force. After twenty minutes, following a hidden pattern of quietus, the performers slowly one by one come to rest till only one continues the wild, rhythmic chant and movement which finally subsides to stillness and silence like the undulations of a pebble on the surface of a lake. Once the surface has settled the women drift out into the night but leave their emotional presence carved into the space of Kéré’s pierced walls.

This is it. There is no narrative, barely a beginning and no apparent end. We are engulfed in sound and the physical force that produces it, like being overtaken by a storm that suddenly arises out of nowhere, expends its energy and moves on; it is closer to nature than to theatre. Ouizguen has stated that Corbeaux is not so much a spectacle but an escape from the traditional mode of production for the stage. “I envisioned Marrakech station with this flock of ageless crows, like a living event, a sonorous sculpture whose power and urgency flows to infinity.” Perhaps Kéré had not envisioned such a gathering under his tree-like pavilion and neither, perhaps, had Ouizguen imagined such a genial space to be the setting of her brooding, sonorous sculpture but it was a bold feat of imagination to put the two together and let them play off each other’s life-affirming qualities.

This UK première of Corbeaux was presented by Shubbak as part of Park Nights, the Serpentine Pavilion’s annual series of summer events in partnership with Serpentine Galleries and Tate Modern. 


Aoi Nakamura and Esteban Fourmi (AΦE), WHIST

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

AΦE, WHIST, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, July 31

WHIST, by AΦE (photo: Paul Plews)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Preethi Athreya, Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project

Posted: August 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Preethi Athreya, Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project

Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project, Alchemy Festival, Southbank, May 21

The act of jumping in Conditions of Carriage

This review was commissioned by PulseConnects and was published in the Summer 2017 edition of Pulse. It appears here with the kind consent of the editor.

It is a game played by an invisible hand with one team of ten players on a square, red-carpeted floor with a broad, raised rim on all four sides, like a trampoline without the elastic. The height of the rim is determined by the height the players can jump, landing in a deep squat, and its width is just enough to take three players standing one behind the other. The dimensions of the floor area are roughly equal to the height of three players. Even though I am imagining these dimensions, such mathematical rules are at the heart of Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project, conceived by Preethi Athreya, who is also one of the players. Jumping is a dynamic physical action that is expressively neutral, and while the repetitive nature of Athreya’s game focuses our attention on the act of jumping, the patterns of the performers reveal the implicit rules governing each player’s game.

Like a chamber orchestra of athletes whose bodies are their instruments, each player has their own score but the composition of the work is evident only when they all play together. The performers are thus in a constant state of alert, watching intently when to join the game, when to leave and when to accent the score with their individual variations. In music we tend to take for granted the complexity of an orchestral score in the listening, and similarly the complexity of Conditions of Carriage is concealed in the seeing. The rhythmical texture of the ensemble has a meditative quality, enhanced by the transcendent look in the eyes of the performers. Since there is no conductor, timing is provided by a recorded musical score, by individuals calling out numbers or by internal choreographic rules.

At one point the jumping turns into variations on a traditional Indian game of kabbadi where one contestant strives to tag his or her opponent while the opponent vigorously defends from any touch by fast foot and body work. It is an exciting, virtuosic interlude played in pairs that leads into the final section that is slower, more circular, more harmonious.

The men and women are dressed alike in singlets, shorts and trainers but the massed, non-competitive nature of the choreography allays any suggestion of a sport while the repetitive use of a sports movement allays any suggestion of dance. In addition Athreya has chosen performers who do not immediately suggest the ostensible effects of training in either sport or dance and with an age range of mid-20s to mid 40’s she has also thrown out the familiar social makeup of sports teams and dance companies. Conditions of Carriage is thus a performance that rises up from the fabric of society and brings audience and performers together through a common activity in an uncommon format.

Even the venue, under Hungerford Footbridge, places the context of the performance beyond sport and dance, in a public space where any passerby can stop to watch, a reflection of Alchemy Festival’s mandate to ‘showcase the dynamic creativity and cultural connections between South Asia and the UK.’ Nevertheless, the site’s shade and air currents are not conducive to the performers’ muscular exertion; far from their habitually warm climate, they prepare as if about to run a marathon and tend to their legs afterwards with equal diligence. But for us it’s worth all the effort.


Organic Entity, Triple Bill

Posted: August 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Organic Entity, Triple Bill

Organic Entity, Triple Bill, TripSpace, June 10

Salah El Brogy in The Moment (photo: Danilo Moroni)

Organic Entity is an enterprising collaboration between three dance choreographers — Anna Watkins, Neus Gil Cortés and Salah El Brogy — to make a full evening of dance with a variety of approaches and styles that the individual choreographers would be unable furnish by themselves. It’s a model that deserves attention but is not without risks, the first of which is with whom to collaborate and — which is directly related to the first — which works to present. Watkins, Cortés and El Brogy seem to have found a viable cohesion; Organic Entity is thus both a title and an indication of the way the three works unpack and make their offerings to the audience. In Human Animal Watkins researches evolution, making a solo for Carmine De Amicis that sees a struggle within his body between animal and human conditions. In Left Cortés looks inside Léa Tirabasso and Rosie Terry Toogood to mine their psychological states and El Brogy in his solo The Moment establishes a spiritual dimension that is altogether human. Each work acts as a counterbalance and commentary on the other two; it all makes for a very interesting evening.

The sound of a ticking clock in Watkins’ work suggests a time-lapse treatment of evolution and the first we see of De Amicis he is lying on the floor as physical material ready to transform. Over the course of his development his bird-like head gestures on top of a raw, muscled body take on a more human form as he rises on to his two feet in the confines of an imaginary cage. De Amicis writhes with intensity to the percussive score by Andy Pape but Watkins’ portrayal is more masochistic ritual than evolutionary path; the power of De Amicis is too self-consciously human to be convincingly feral with the result Human Animal spirals around its own frenetic physicality rather than expressing either the animal in the human or the human in the animal.

This is where the elemental solo by El Brogy acts as a telling counterbalance of how an earthy presence in a human body can be expressed. Although The Moment comes at the end of the program, El Brogy’s performance reaches back to Human Animal and provides a resolution to De Amicis’s evolutionary path. That’s the way this evening of dance interrelates. There is nothing self-conscious or restrained in El Brogy’s presence; his improvisation goes to spiritual places with a disarming physical power. At the beginning we see him crouched with his head between his arms, his body rising and collapsing under some existential weight. When he rises, his arms are like birds and his hands like wings and his wild hair obscures the sharp features of his face. He is a force of nature who uses natural gestures to tell his story: his hands go through the motions of washing, bathing, drinking, eating but these are merely stages on a journey he is remembering and reliving. Movements spring and unspring from his body in all directions just as memories dart into focus at the speed of thought; his head and eyes are in complete accord with the gestures of his body as if his dance arises from an inner necessity. El Brogy is at times volatile and at others reflective, always mindful of the moment he is trying to recapture. To his own sound design, he takes us on a journey through his own time; the dance is the journey. Watching him is to connect viscerally with his animist experience, and he takes us far beyond the realms of the theatre, like his finger raised to the sky with a smile of recognition.

I had first seen Gil Cortés’ Left at Emerge Festival in 2015 and was impressed by her mature handling of psychological frailty. Here she has reworked it with two women instead of a man and a woman and has restaged the dynamic between them to the same musical input from Philip Samartzis, Mica Levi and Zoe Keating. I admire this ability to revisit a work and bring something new to it, an acknowledgement that as she develops as a choreographer and as a person she can return to older works with new experience. And I imagine within the context of Organic Entity’s triple bill, Left seemed to fit neatly between the physical and spiritual aspects of the bookending works. Tirabasso is the febrile victim of a psychological struggle that Toogood incarnates with the dispassionate, dark menace of a spider-like presence. Gil Cortés takes us unerringly through the shadowed terror of sensing an internal assailant to the stages of capture and possession until Toogood melts into the background leaving Tirabasso to wonder if it had all been a figment of her imagination. It’s a lot to fit into a short work, but Gil Cortés is as assured in her handling of the subject as the two performers are in the roles she has given them.


Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Posted: July 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement, Shubbak Festival, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Mithkal Alzghair, Rami Farah and Samil Taskin in Trio

A pair of black boots alone on the stage before the start of Mithkal Alzghair’s Solo is a bleak image of displacement that has many connotations. When Alzghair enters the stage bearing a neatly folded white sheet in his outstretched arms, places it carefully on the floor before putting on the boots, the images and gestures are stark but full of meaning. Although Alzghair’s references may not be immediately evident to a western audience, he transfers to the spectator his raw experience through the emotional conviction with which he invests each and every movement.

Alzghair grew up in Syria and currently lives in exile in Europe; what he brings to the stage is what his body remembers from its heritage without any overt narrative or political propaganda. In exploring how steps and everyday gestures are transformed by external forms of coercion, Alzghair uses dance as a metaphor for freedom and culture that can be diminished but never erased. His hands behind his back suggest forced restraint, his arms raised above his head denote surrender and his stripping down to his underwear with his jeans around his ankles forewarns of a violence that can only be imagined; as he pivots and falls repeatedly in an attempt to maintain his footing his unbuckled belt thrashes on the floor like a whip. But however repressed and subjugated he may be, he maintains the essential rhythms of the dance throughout. Alzghair connects us to Syria through traces of traditional music and fragments of rhythmic dance steps he and his friends once performed at weddings and other festivities. There are deep, angular steps that surge into the ground to rise up out of it in joy and ecstasy, and small rhythmical foot shuffling like a recitative he maintains throughout Solo; these steps become in themselves an expression of displacement through exile and his unflinching gaze serves to remind us of the pain such upheaval entails. Suddenly Alzghair includes a high military kick that jars our frame of reference; he kneels, bends over with his hands crossed behind him and tries to continue the rhythms on his knees and then in very low, knotted steps until he collapses in a cross-legged heap. He endures and he survives but the past leaves a diminishing trace on the present; now that he is outside his Syrian cultural context, he has to explore the act of physical recollection of what has been left behind. Despite its air of fragility, Solo is a muscular protest against cultural oppression and its concomitant displacement and serves notice that it is culture that defines people before any notion of politics.

The eloquently somber lighting (by Séverine Rième) and everyday clothing are in the same register for Trio, which follows without a pause, resuming the notions of Solo with dancers Rami Farah and Samil Taskin. Alzghair introduces into the reality of displacement the mutual support among a group of friends. The Syrian conflict again becomes the invisible backdrop to the fragility of human life, to notions of home, comradeship and memory that fulminate quietly throughout the work and question our sense of comfort. Yet at the same time the three men embody a profound yet humble humanity that is uplifting. The shuffling foot rhythms of Solo are repeated here but are intimately felt like a bond between the three men rather than performed. To simple dance patterns and solos are added sequences of sotto voce clapping and the linking of arms. The cloth Alzghair brought in for Solo is unfolded by Farah and Taskin and gripped in their fists above their heads, a sacred memory of home, perhaps, against which we see only the men’s shadows. They continue to shuffle in subtly changing patterns creating a sense of uncertainty and trepidation as they weave in and out of the light as if avoiding attention. Alzghair breaks into a folk step that the other two follow and then the trio reforms until the invisible force of coercion makes itself felt once again in ominous gestures of kneeling and collapsing, while the stripping of their shirts gives the men a heightened sense of vulnerability. But the feet keep up the folk rhythms whenever possible as a metaphor for keeping alive in a seemingly hopeless situation. The way Farah makes a ritual of folding up the t-shirts and the white cloth speaks longingly of absence and loss as Alzghair and Taskin whirl around the stage and spin off, a momentary sense of elation and freedom before the three join together on another arduous journey. In terms of gesture there is little to differentiate between movement transformed by external coercion and that transformed by one’s own arduous exertion. The men drop like ripe fruit but help each other up and continue, now dispersing slowly to the edges of the diaspora of the stage as the light dies with a sense of interminably drawn-out time and ineffable space engulfed in crushing silence.

This UK première of Displacement was produced by Sadler’s Wells as part of the Shubbak Festival of contemporary Arab Culture.


Nathaniel Rackowe & Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched

Posted: July 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Installation, Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Nathaniel Rackowe & Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched

Nathaniel Rackowe and Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched, Fold Gallery, July 15

Martina Conti and Stine Nilsen in (Un)touched (photo: Noah Da Costa)

Nathaniel Rackowe’s exhibition Threshold at Fold Gallery in Fitzrovia includes some recent wall-based light works and the diptych (Un)touched, a collaborative installation the artist has developed with choreographer Angela Woodhouse. Boundaries are a key motif Rackowe explores by pushing the edges of both form and matter. The wall-based works use fluorescent tubes and coated glass panels whose planes juxtapose and superimpose. Characteristically, Rackowe engages with light not so much as a medium but rather as a means to dissolve the material edges of the panels into transparent and reflective layers of evanescent colour. Echoing Rackowe’s ideas, Woodhouse in (Un)touched interpolates her own investigation of boundaries through movement. Their collaboration has developed over a period of three years and one can feel the maturing of the process in the work’s synergies. Woodhouse has an intuitive ability to find spaces in the choreographic firmament that have not been explored and where collaboration offers new creative possibilities, while Rackowe’s concepts of form, space and light welcome such an approach.

The material framework of (Un)touched consists of two separate structures that take up the central floor area of the gallery. The first is an elongated rectangular grid made of neatly detailed industrial panels of perforated steel and expanded mesh interspersed with ones of coated glass; the second is a low square steel platform covered with reinforced glass on which the audience can stand. The two structures relate to each other as a nave to the apse of a church and the way they both fit into the gallery makes it seem as they were made specifically for it.

Woodhouse interfaces the materiality of these structures with the choreographed movement of two dancers, Stine Nilsen and Martina Conti. The audience is invited to walk around while Nilsen and Conti wander through the maze of intersecting planes as if engaging in a game of silent encounters that are only fulfilled in the mirroring of the dancers’ movements through glass and in their fading reflections. Occasionally they hold the gaze of a member of the audience, so that watching them we experience mutating levels of intimacy that emerge and then recede into a proximity that is never achieved. The sequencing of fluorescent lighting that in turn makes the glass panels transparent (fleetingly bringing dancers and audience into close visual proximity) and opaque (reflecting an image of both dancers and audience back on themselves) intensifies the interplay of presence and absence, of invisibility and appearance. In addition the perforated steel panels create pixelated images of the dancers’ bodies placed behind them, whilst open spaces in the structure reveal the fullness of the body and intermittent blackouts reset our threshold of vision. It is in these multiple views that the full value of (Un)touched emerges and where the visions of Rackowe and Woodhouse meet. The dancers breathe life into the inert structure and partner it through the choreographic journey while the audience becomes an integral part of such a journey through the visual permutations of each change of perspective.

Following Nilsen’s and Conti’s beguiling game in the ‘nave’, after a short pause the audience is invited into the ‘apse’ to congregate around the second structure; the two dancers reappear under the glass, as alive and motionless as fish seen from the surface of the water. Again the fluorescent tubes inside the structure and on the walls above it create changing degrees of transparency through the glass although our perspective is relatively fixed. We are invited to walk on the surface but the sense of standing over the dancers is an ambivalent pleasure as they move lithely beneath us. Because of the limited space under the glass, the intimacy between dancers is physical, sensual, as Conti nestles her head under Nilsen’s arm or Nilsen rolls over to embrace Conti’s shape. The two bodies seem suspended in the changing lights, making their shapes and forms flit between transient beauty and our own figures peering into the glass, our reflections descending to the ceiling. The entire performance challenges our mode of interaction with the subject, from voyeuristic distance to the intimacy of regard and tentative physical communication as Nilsen and Conti rediscover what touch might mean at the edges of proximity. They engage with each other and with the audience in such a calm, ordered way that although there is no musical accompaniment to the performance, the movement and light contain within them an implicit auditory sensation of serenity that reverberates through the small gallery, completing the sensory universe that Rackowe and Woodhouse have created. The applause at the end breaks the reverie and returns us to our reality.


Images Ballet Company

Posted: July 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Images Ballet Company

Images Ballet Company, Lilian Baylis Studio, June 13

(l to r) Briony Andrew, Courtney Reading, Eleonora Falovo, Maria Bruguet, Gwainn van der Bijl, and Jessica Harding in Liz Aggiss’s Scenes of Death and Disaster (photo: Billy Nichols)

Images Ballet Company is a showcase for the dancers who choose to specialize in classical ballet in their final year of professional training at London Studio Centre. The program at Lilian Baylis Studio tests this training in a broad spectrum of dance performance that challenges the students’ versatility and stretches their expressive abilities. While Artistic Director Jennifer Jackson’s own work of the evening, Distant Beauties, is the one work to merge classical technique with a classical image, Matthew Hart’s Concerto for Joyce and Dennis uses pointe work in a contemporary setting, and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s Handsfree uses classical articulation and elongation in an abstract work. Only Liz Aggiss, who comes from the august tradition of German Ausdruckstänz, makes the technique utterly subservient in her Scenes of Death and Destruction to a rich expressive approach to dance that just happens, in its irreverent approach to classical ballet structures, to deconstruct them with evident relish.

It might be said that this year-end showcase reflects the current prospects for students of classical ballet in this country and elsewhere, as Jackson is well aware (just consider Scottish Ballet’s recent program of works by Angelin Preljocaj and Crystal Pite). Her decision to include such a variety of styles will serve her dancers well as their comfort levels are tested from work to work. Shaun Reidman, the one male in the group, does not look entirely at home in Distant Beauties, but in Scenes of Death and Disaster he comes into his own as the figure of Death replete with black cloak and scythe. Eleonora Falovo carries the narrative in Concerto for Joyce and Dennis so convincingly as Joyce that she looks out through her eyes. This kind of transformation is at the heart of performance and Falovo’s natural ability to unite her technical ability with a high level of expressivity is a gift for dance narrative in whatever form it might take.

Jackson’s Distant Beauties is loosely based on the pas de six from the Petipa/Tchaikovsky ballet, Sleeping Beauty with which she would have been familiar in her days as a soloist with the Royal Ballet. Rather than getting her dancers to execute Petipa’s choreography, Jackson models the steps on the capacities of her dancers and ascribes contemporary values to the six Fairies of integrity, independence, humility, talent, resilience and confidence. By choosing Tom Armstrong to adapt Tchaikovsky’s score for a viola and flute (played live on stage by Rosie Bowker and Henrietta Hill), she has created a sparse aural environment which the dancers have the chance to fill with their ensemble work and solos. Classical technique is notoriously difficult to execute well, and not all the dancers do justice to the steps but they maintain the spirit behind them. Maria S. Catalayud managed both in her variation with a confidence that is a pleasure to see.

One of the characteristics that gives unity to the evening is the way Bowker and Hill play through the pauses between works, transitioning from one musical style to another as they wander like minstrels on stage. It allows the huge social gap between the Russian Imperial court and a care home to be bridged effortlessly along with the sterling efforts of the crew to transform the stage.

The central character of Concerto for Joyce and Dennis is modeled on Hart’s own grandmother whose physical condition has rendered her housebound and subject to a carer (Reidman) who doubles as her late husband. The cast enters into this poignant portrayal of memory and friendship with conviction, though the ideas in this narrative work carry a weight well beyond the scope of this performance; it is full of short scenes and episodes that strike me as the seed of a musical in which a larger, more diverse cast could more realistically portray the disparity in ages and physical (dis)abilities.

Handsfree, to the eponymous body-percussion score by Anna Meredith, is a response both to the music and to the sculpture of Dorothea Tanning. Set in rectangles of light that Runacre-Temple seems to relish, Handsfree is a complex rhythmical exercise in which the four dancers (Falovo, Catalayud, Courtney Reading, and Jessica Harding) engage with the music and with each other in close partnership where they seem to listen to the music in each other’s bodies. The exhilaration from the dancing and from the score itself is palpable, though the work seems more weighted towards Meredith than Tanning, missing a sufficiently visual component to satisfy the eye.

The title of Scenes of Death and Disaster accurately describes the progression of Aggiss’s work, from Reidman’s slow, cold, majestic entrance as the figure of death to the seven women with disheveled hair complaining about male choreographers of classical ballets who portray women as weak with a propensity for untimely deaths. Musically it progresses from its music box introduction through sampling of the ballet classics of Giselle, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet to earthy gypsy tunes and Highland bagpipes. Its irreverence for the classical canon belies the rigorous construction of the work and the expressivity required of the dancers to make it work. And work it does, with ferocious wit and satire both in what it says and the way the entire cast says it. That Jackson has the pragmatism and insight to program this broad scope of work is testament to her stewardship of the company.