Russell Maliphant Company, maliphantworks2 at Coronet Print Room

Posted: March 19th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Russell Maliphant Company, maliphantworks2 at Coronet Print Room

Russell Maliphant Company, maliphantworks2, Coronet Print Room, March 13

Russell Maliphant

Russell Maliphant and Dana Fouras in Duet (photo: Tom Bowles)

Russell Maliphant’s week at the Coronet Print Room in Notting Hill is a very intimate affair, to which the chic délabré intimacy of the former Coronet theatre is ideally suited. It is one of those theatres whose atmosphere critic Cyril Beaumont described as having a ‘warmth and friendliness that gives the spectator the feeling of being a member of a pleasant club’ and there is a sense of the membership of this particular club coming to pay homage to one of their own. It is not exactly a full evening — the first intermission is longer than the first two works — and it’s a performance of re-immersion into a body of work that has a very recognizable form of craftsmanship in which the influence of sculpture is evident in the plasticity of the dance movement. There is no indication in the program when these works were created, but it doesn’t really matter; however new Maliphant’s works may be there is always an element of the retrospective in their presentation. His synonymous association with the lighting designer Michael Hulls serves to reinforce this familiarity; it is a given that all four stage works are choreographed and directed by Maliphant and all lighting designs are by Hulls.

Maliphant creates material forms with the body that Hulls transforms in light. Their opus is at its best an exquisite aesthetic experience — as those who saw their collaboration on Afterlight with Daniel Proietto as Nijinsky might attest — but too often lacks the inspiration to rise above precious familiarity. Of the four works on the program this evening, the visual and emotional gauge is more aligned with familiarity than with the exquisite. In the duet with Dana Fouras and Grace Jabbari, Two Times Two, the sculptural forms are reminiscent of Maliphant’s Rodin Project: classical marble figures moving in a kinetic dream. Andy Cowton’s score and Hulls’ lighting subject the forms to a process of dematerialization until the final slicing arm gestures diminish to beautiful swathes of light. Critical Mass performed by Maliphant and Mbi is a meditation on balance and posture as they are redefined by tension and suspension. There is dexterity of movement as the centres of the dancers’ and that of the composition shift and hold still, building a critical mass through repetition. Hulls’ lighting here is subtle, but in Dickson Mbi’s solo section of his duet with Jabbari, Still, he is trapped in Jan Urbanowski’s animation that with Hulls’ lighting covers him in a moving barcode on a gloomy ground. When Mbi dances it is worth watching; to superimpose a light project that all but obscures his movement and reduces it to a mere plastic aesthetic is to take advantage of the choreography, and to do it in a way that is unsettling on the eyes is tiresomely self-indulgent.

The final work, Duet, is a world premiere in which Maliphant dances with his wife and collaborator, Fouras; it is the first time in fifteen years that London audiences have the opportunity to see them dance together and it is a moment worth celebrating. There is a genuine sentimentality here that is in the vein of a recording of Caruso singing Una Furtiva Lagrima that emerges from Fouras’s sound score. Interestingly, Hulls keeps a respectful distance in lighting Duet which allows a very personal narrative of two lovers to emanate from the choreography. It is a polished performance of natural elegance and carries an emotional implication that is not lost on the audience.

What to make of the fifth work on the program, Other? It is a ten-minute video installation that is played on a loop in the theatre’s smaller studio that shows Maliphant and Fouras, on their respective sides of a split screen, embroiled in the turbulent surf off the Atlantic coast of West Cork, gesturing wildly and powerlessly in their evening dress against its incoming force. It is not clear if the installation was made specifically for this week’s program or was edited from original material to bolster the length of the evening. It is ‘made from footage originally conceived, directed and shot by Tim Etchells and Hugo Glendinning’, with a sound score by Fouras. Other could well illustrate the condition of the artist flailing against the forces of contemporary society in which impotence becomes the subject of a work of art, except that without a context the very artfulness of its solipsistic concept turns the work in on itself and robs it of any wider significance.

Ballet British Columbia’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet British Columbia’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Ballet British Columbia, Triple Bill, Sadler’s Wells, March 6

Ballet British Columbia

Scott Fowler and artists of Ballet British Columbia in Bill (photo: Chris Randle)

The UK tour of Ballet British Columbia that Dance Consortium has organized coincides with a change of government in Canada where the current liberal party under Justin Trudeau has filled up the cultural sector coffers the previous conservative party had spent years diminishing. Thus a medium-sized company from the West coast of Canada has been able to add to the country’s cultural profile in the UK and from the program Ballet BC offered at Sadler’s Wells it looks decidedly healthy. Artistic Director Emily Molnar’s opening choreography for this triple bill, 16+ a room, reminds us of the connection she has had with William Forsythe at Ballett Frankfurt although she has made the work very much in the image of her company. Only two of the current dancers remain from before Molnar became artistic director in 2009, so this is a group she has developed through exposing them to a rich gamut of commissioned works, choreographic methods and styles. It is a finely honed company that puts technical strength at the service of an engaging and generous choreographic language.

From the beginning of 16+ a room (2013) there is a sense of an intellectual approach to the physical language, as if the dancers are working out amongst themselves the problem Molnar has set them. At the same time the problem she has set — what would happen if you put 16 people in a room and started tipping it — creates its own dynamic of sliding, balancing, suspending and tilting that she wraps in a vocabulary of muscular classicism. Jordan Tuinman’s lighting provides a sense of both luminous intensity and architectural shift while Kate Burrows’ costumes give freedom to the contained force and articulate extension of the dancers. The energy that tips the room comes from the declamatory electronic score of Dirk Haubrich, providing a high-voltage current through its three sections to bind together the choreography, visual form and aural environment of 16+ a room into a single organic entity.

From Haubrich to Brahms is more of a musical step than it is to move from the style of Molnar to that of Crystal Pite. Each choreographer acknowledges a debt to Forsythe, and in Solo Echo (2012) Pite interpolates her vocabulary in the calm of Brahms’ chamber music (the Allegro non troppo from his Cello sonata in E minor and the Adagio affetusoso from his Cello sonata in F major). She quotes a poem by Mark Strand, Lines for Winter, in the program note, but Solo Echo is a poem in itself written on the bodies of the seven dancers and suggested in Jay Gower Taylor’s setting of falling snow. Between the exquisite opening solo of Brandon Alley and the ineffable sigh of his slumped body abandoned in the snow at the end is ‘a human journey from adolescence to adulthood’ that breathes with the emotional intricacy of the music. This is pre-Polaris Pite where the hive mentality has not yet coalesced; the sense of community is suggested rather through a constant tide of individual comings and goings, one motion inspiring another, not unlike the way the cello and piano weave their respective melodies yet maintain their respective voices. The unity of this intensely musical work is further enhanced by Pite and Joke Visser’s spare costumes of dark, pinstriped waistcoats and trousers while Tom Visser’s evocative lighting subtly indicates the shifting focus of our attention. If 16+ a room is extrovert and energetic, Solo Echo turns the dancers on themselves in a state of poignant reflection.

After the second intermission, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Bill (2010), originally created for Batsheva Dance Company with a score by Ori Lichtik, promises to further extend the scope of Ballet BC’s achievement. Unitards concentrate our attention on the structure of the body, its lines, shapes and gestures in four male solos that are respectively sensually outrageous, energetically comic, fluidly articulate, and stoically introspective. But the fifth, female solo begins to de-emphasise the individual to pave the way for the communal — a duality that pervades Israeli choreography. Expanding our focus to take in the entire stage at once, the nature of the visual game is searching the shifting unity of the 18 undulating, gesticulating dancers for subtle changes in rhythm and shape that Omer Sheizaf’s tonal lighting both emulates and encourages. Eyal and Behar extract sufficient differentiation within the group, but after the assertive individuality of the first two works Bill feels in its latter construction disconcertingly insubstantial. It is perhaps a case of the work’s formal integration into the company’s West coast ethos lacking the vital context of its social and cultural origins.

(Ian Abbott was the first to see this program at the Birmingham Hippodrome in 2016)

Sasha Waltz & Guests, Körper, at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 8th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sasha Waltz & Guests, Körper, at Sadler’s Wells

Sasha Waltz & Guests, Körper, Sadler’s Wells, March 1


A scene from Körper (photo: Bernd Uhlig)

Körper’s genes are good; it has worn well since it was created 18 years ago as part of Sasha Waltz & Guests’ trilogy about the human body, as strong visually as it is coherent conceptually and theatrically. It has no problem with its heart, nor with its lungs — despite evidence of quite heavy smoking — running for 75 minutes without a pause and never faltering. It looks at itself clinically, without vanity; it is clothed and unclothed, its flesh grabbed, pulled and stretched mercilessly, its structure deconstructed and reconstructed, its limbs labeled and mislabeled, measured, annotated and illustrated, its liquids drained, its organs identified, priced for transplant and its natural conception questioned.

Körper merges a ludic treatment of anatomy and ethics with an architectural plan and elevation (by Thomas Schenk, Heike Schuppelius and Waltz) that places the subject on a site of epic proportions enhanced by Hans Peter Kuhn’s contoured soundscape and by Valentin Gallé and Martin Hauk’s lighting. The strength of the performance within this environment belies the frailty of the bodily processes under scrutiny.

Reminiscent of the asymmetrical angles and planes of architect Daniel Liebeskind’s buildings, the stage set complements the intricate architecture of the body both as a concept and as the instrument of Waltz’s choreography: the physical body defines the space in which it moves as proximity and distance, as rhythm and pace of experience, and as the contours of sensory perception. Körper is in fact a subtle reflection on embodiment as a measure of being, as Clémentine Deluy’s enigmatic solo suggests with her long braided hair stretched on two poles that are rooted to her waist and extend the perimeters of her body’s boundaries. It is a moving physical image that in its duality of substance and non-substantiality establishes the incalculable measure of the body and the multidimentional architecture of Waltz’s work.

Throughout Körper Waltz punctuates the choreography with references to the visual and mythical history of the body. Behind a vertical vitrine, bare-skinned performers climb over and under each other as if the eighteenth-century wax anatomical models of Clemente Susini or Ercole Lelli had come alive and pressed their flesh against the glass or a molten version of Rodin’s Gates of Hell with Adam and Eve reaching for each other at its apex. There are centaur-like figures of a naked female torso astride a man’s legs; Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man traced on blackboards by each of four women, as well as Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies of motion. Waltz merges these images within contemporary scenarios of bodily obsession and paranoia, commodification and treatment, peeling back the layers of corporeality by appropriating the tropes of anatomical and medical illustrations. As we see in Clyde Emmanuel Archer’s articulated, collapsing solo that dispassionately depicts traumatic paralysis, Waltz also questions what it means to be a body in exceptional circumstances.

A recurring motif is a spoken text describing an everyday bodily narrative (Luc Dunberry waking up, or Claudia de Serpa Soares’ menstrual pain, for example) in which the language of body parts does not correspond to their gestural illustration. The inconsistency between text and gesture suggests the disparity in the ways different cultures refer to the body, and underlines the articulation of self-identity and feeling. It also points to the approximation through which we know and talk about the body, the conundrum of being a body whilst making it at the same time a discursive object.

Körper wraps this intellectual questioning and passionate concern for the body in a sense of theatre that lives and breathes with its choreographer and director; Waltz, who appeared on the stage to receive the applause with her dancers, is clearly still at the helm of the company she founded with Jochen Sandig in 1993. Many of her dancers have remained with her almost since the beginning, growing into her way of moving as much as her way of thinking. It was the same with Pina Bausch’s company when she was alive, an expression of what Walter Benjamin described in terms of visual art as the ‘aura’ of an original. Unlike a painting, however, which has had the direct and unmitigated hand of the artist on the canvas, the guiding hand of the choreographer detaches from his or her work once it is no longer there. Since their deaths, the works created by Balanchine, Ashton, MacMillan, Cunningham, Graham and Bausch, for example, contain only a certificate of origin, not a live seal of approval. It is clear in Körper that this auric energy is in full flow, and it is a privilege to see it in action.

Theatre Ad Infinitum, Translunar Paradise

Posted: March 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Theatre Ad Infinitum, Translunar Paradise

Theatre Ad Infinitum, Translunar Paradise, The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, March 2

Translunar Paradise

Sophie Crawford, Deborah Pugh and George Mann in Translunar Paradise (photo: Alex Brenner)

This review appears with the kind permission of Oxford Dance Writers whose invitation to Oxford over the weekend made it possible. 

As part of its tenth anniversary celebrations, Bristol-based Theatre Ad Infinitum is touring two works, Odyssey (2009) and Translunar Paradise (2011). Each show takes up a full evening slot, so it was only the latter work we saw on the second night at The North Wall Arts Centre in Oxford. It’s always a pleasure to have the opportunity to see a Lecoq-trained mime company though a little unexpected in a line-up of the Spring Dance Festival programmed by Dancin’ Oxford, ‘the leading dance organization in Oxfordshire’ that ‘significantly raises the profile and visibility of dance in the city’. Hmmm.

Theatre Ad Infinitum’s co-artistic director George Mann wrote and directed Translunar Paradise and he also plays the role of William, a widower who finds it hard to let go of the memories of his late wife, Rose (Deborah Pugh). It is clearly something close to his heart, for the playing out of the story is infused with a sense of detail and empathy that come from close observation. The structure is complex, involving a present in which loss conjures up memories of the past and a past through flashbacks that has the immediacy of the present. Francesco Gorni’s set design is a masterful display of multi-functional furniture and the structural glue of Translunar Paradise is in the role of actor-musician Sophie Crawford, who sings, plays accordion, handles the props and even manages to convey the dry, ghostly passage of time. Where time and structure meet is in Victoria Beaton’s two greyish, hand-held masks that transform the young couple into their older selves in the whispered inhalation of a moment. Such is the vital effect of these masks — and of the way William and Rose use them — that one could almost say that Translunar Paradise is a quartet for two people.

Mime is such a powerful medium because of its silent exhortation of imagery from gestures; our imagination is called out from the moment we enter the theatre to transfer understanding to our eyes (perhaps Crawford’s role is so reassuring because hers is the only aural input we have). We see a weary, distracted William sitting at a table, his mask an unfathomable reservoir of his memories. Nearby is the figure of Rose, the subject of those memories, standing quite still, her eyes resting gently on him, neither young nor old. Crawford interrupts her playing to tap on a single key like the insistent ticking of a clock; performance time begins to flow as William taps his finger on the table. Through a blackout we move back to a recent past when Rose is still alive but in failing health; she clutches a small pre-war suitcase that she won’t let William touch. It is only after Rose’s death that William opens the suitcase to find in its contents potent triggers to their shared past — a letter, a photograph, a dress — that prompt him to play out in successive flashbacks their first meeting, their wedding, a stillbirth, their rows, William’s wounding in the war and Rose’s job as an air hostess.

On a narrative level, Mann succeeds in telling his story clearly and effectively with a minimum of means but there are two weaknesses in the production. The similarity in the rhythmic pattern of the flashback gives the device a weight that renders the phenomenon of memories formulaic, while in terms of choreographic invention the motion and emotion of the dancing are less well matched than in the use of gesture. While it makes perfect sense to open up the expression of memory to a less defined vocabulary than mimetic gesture, the exploration of dance doesn’t go far enough in making the contrast qualitatively different. It is perhaps worth mentioning that this year’s London International Mime Festival included Mother (Moeder) by the Belgian company, Peeping Tom, in which choreographic invention was used as an integral extension of its narrative.

If Translunar Paradise has its weaknesses, its strength is in the empathetic treatment of its subject. William is trapped in his past and won’t let go; by looking back he finds it impossible to move forward. Returning into his life from the other side, Rose’s mission is to persuade him to give up each material memory in turn, allowing him to adjust to his new life with equanimity. Life and death are poignantly expressed as an uplifting unity that allows William to visit Rose’s grave at the end without remorse.

Lost Dog, Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage

Posted: March 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Lost Dog, Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage

Lost Dog, Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage, February 19, Battersea Arts Centre

Juliet & Romeo

Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in Juliet & Romeo (photo: Jane Hobson)

Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” – Anais Nin

Juliet & Romeo: A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage is the latest 70 minute work from the pen and body of Lost Dog’s Ben Duke who frames the work as what he calls the real story of Romeo and Juliet. ‘It turns out they didn’t die in a tragic misunderstanding, they grew up and lived happily ever after. Well they lived at least. Now they’re 40ish, at least one of them is in the grips of a mid-life crisis, they feel constantly mocked by their teenage selves and haunted by the pressures of being the poster couple for romantic love. They have decided to confront their current struggles by putting on a performance – about themselves.’

The premise is a canny piece of audience and marketing catnip; a well-known play that has been presented and adapted hundreds of times on stage, film and in literature and is familiar to almost any audience. Duke offers a gentle shake of the original premise so the central relationship between Juliet and Romeo is extended a couple of decades and they’re now undergoing marriage therapy and their relationship is on the verge of dissolving.

And by the way, everything in life is writeable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

In his previous work, the award-winning Paradise Lost (lies unopened beside me), Duke played a self-doubting, literary, anxious yet loveable Hugh Grant bumbler and it feels as if he has resuscitated the same character for his Romeo opposite the luminescent presence of Solène Weinachter as Juliet. The traversing of characters across choreographic landscapes is a recognised technique in Duke’s Lost Dog land. In his It Needs Horses, which won The Place Prize in 2011, the circus artist character of Anna Finkel was reprised in the subsequent Home For Broken Turns as one of five women (another being Weinachter). Seeing a character in a new environment but with a sense of familiarity is a neat dramaturgical device. It is as if in Juliet & Romeo Duke is suggesting we look back at Paradise Lost through the eyes of a 43-year-old Romeo.

Played in episodic flashbacks Duke and Weinachter offer us a number of theatrical and spoken memories in solo and duo, where they invite us (and each other) to look again at romantic encounters, painful moments and sliding doors that have led them to this fractured and tired state. Nestled alongside the memories are nine or ten identifiable pieces of music (from Desiree’s I’m Kissing You in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo and Juliet to Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence to Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights) which offer opportunities for the more formal moments of choreographic input as we see Duke’s performed awkwardness come to the fore. Giving form to an initial courtship groin thrust or to the clasping and anguished rotation of the limp body of Juliet, Duke is a master of narrative delivery.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Frost

With his theatrical, literary and choreographic background, Duke has been honing a style of delivery and output that suits his strengths and masks his weaknesses; when he introduces a new presence into his world there is a delicate line to tread in making that person look as strong or comfortable as he does. After shining brightly in two recent works (The North and Plan B For Utopia) by Joan Clevillé Dance, Weinachter has a tricksy time in out-dukeing Duke as the sympathy is almost always skewed towards his anxious male character rather than to the stronger female. Weinachter delivers everything that is asked of her but the production’s sensitivity levels could be tweaked to offer a more satisfying, non-patriarchal dominance.

Despite this imbalance, Duke appears quite at ease in his theatrical craft — his performance, conception and writing are excellent — but there is not enough choreographic sustenance to hold Juliet & Romeo together and the choice of musical numbers is on the light side. The instant recognition of the first three seconds of each track generates a slight titter that soon dissipates and as the scenes of physicality play out I began to switch off; the directorial spoon feels uncomfortably close to crashing against the teeth and offers just too little nourishment. Like the relationship it describes, Juliet & Romeo’s strengths are not sufficient to resolve its inherent weaknesses and its promise dies before its time.

Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Posted: February 28th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL, Hackney Showroom, February 23


Sandra Klimek, Tania Dimbelolo, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Flora Grant in BEAUTiFUL (photo: Dominic Farlam)

While London’s Fashion Week plies the city with young, attractive women advertising clothes as expressions of sexuality and style, five attractive young women costumed by Cristiano Casimiro and lit by Andy Hamer dance their sexuality in style in Sally Marie’s new full-length work, BEAUTiFUL, at Hackney Showroom.

Described as ‘an exploration of love and sexuality from a female perspective’, it is immediately evident from Hollie Dorman’s opening cabaret number — five showgirls in shiny costumes exuding sensuality — that this is a young female perspective. Marie has chosen her five dancers (Tania Dimbelolo, Flora Grant, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Sandra Klimek) from a lengthy selection process in which she auditioned 775 young women and given her subject, she was evidently looking for young women capable not so much of exploring love and sexuality but of scrutinizing them closely on their own terms. It takes a certain uncompromising stance to present such a perspective that is not watered down by stereotypes. Marie bestowed this stance on the initial title, BEAUTiFUK, which proved unpalatable to the marketing departments of touring venues but which nevertheless endures in the conception of the work (evidently you can dance it but you can’t say it). In such a process, the dancers need courage and self-confidence to reveal what they are not used to revealing in front of an audience. We are not talking about nudity so much as states of mind in which there is no room to hide behind a ‘character’ because the character and the person are one and the same. And if some of Casimiro’s costumes cover the body in a voluptuous white confection that has its own sense of fantasy, others cover them in transparent net over stylish underwear that seems like a constant state of undress.

The voice of BEAUTiFUL is in the form of text but the heartbeat is the sensuality of the dancing, especially where each of the performers has a moment of unadulterated self-expression. The intensity of their respective appropriation of movement and the variety of its forms suggests they each contributed to the choreography. Diembolo reaches deep to marry seamlessly choreography and a sense of self; Raineri lets her body undulate in Andy Pink’s aural air currents like a siren in a state of exquisite pain; Grant is inhabited by laughter and caprice; Kierbel is drunk on desire, and Klimek is the wise and worldly one with Sapphic propensities. These moments, however, contrast with a more generalized, even clichéd approach to sexuality in the ensemble sections.

The texts, we are led to believe, originate with the cast and suggest with wry frankness how each of the five women relate to the subject. The standing microphone becomes a confidante to which the intimate details are entrusted but a microphone cannot keep a secret (on one or two occasions, however, the secrets do remain with the microphone because either the musical overlay is too pronounced or the delivery too unclear). At the beginning Klimek establishes a short tally of anecdotes about each of the performers: one of the women likes baking chocolate cakes, one finds it hard to come, one loves climbing mountains, one’s a virgin and one may be in love with her best friend. It’s true the texts become more explicit but this opening gambit is less like a plunge into their lives than a paddle and it’s hardly a devastating shot over the bows of current objectification.

If Marie’s avowed purpose in BEAUTiFUL is ‘slicing through the tissued layer of elusive truths and false assumptions by which many of us live’, there has to be a sharp instrument with which to detach what is false from what is true — the choreographic equivalents, for example, of satire or wit. There are glimpses of it in the choir of sweet voices and angelic poses that frame both graphic sexual imagery and lyrics, and in Grant’s chaste delivery of a scatological fragment about anal sex. However, without these kinds of deliberate juxtapositions of raw imagery and nonchalance that take the gaze of the audience into unfamiliar territory, the voice of BEAUTiFUL is engulfed in its heartbeat, the sensual pleasure of dance. And because dance is expressed through the body, Marie is perhaps closer to her stated purpose of generating ‘outrageous pleasure’ than she is of inspiring ‘insight’ and provoking ‘debate’. But without the latter, the stereotypes she wants to fracture remain intact.

Aakash Odedra Company, #Je Suis (European première)

Posted: February 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Aakash Odedra Company, #Je Suis (European première)

Aakash Odedra Company, #Je Suis, Patrick Centre, Birmingham, February 16

#Je Suis

Aakash Odedra Company in #Je Suis (photo: Sean Goldthorpe)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I picked up recently a copy of Arundhati Roy’s 2001 polemic The Algebra of Infinite Justice. About the role of the artist in our post-9/11 society she writes: ‘Painters, writers, singers, actors, dancers, film-makers, musicians — they are meant to fly, to push at the frontiers, to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the most unexpected things, to find magic in places where others never thought to look. If you limit the trajectory of their flight, if you weight their wings with society’s existing notions of morality and responsibility, if you truss them up with preconceived values, you subvert their endeavour.’ Roy’s concern here is the insidious nature of censorship, a form of oppression that is the subject of Aakash Odedra’s new work, #Je Suis, created for the post-hashtag-Charlie age and given its European première at the Patrick Centre in Birmingham. Having met a group of Turkish dancers while teaching in Istanbul, Odedra promised that when he had his own company he would create a work for them. As he writes in the program, ‘#Je Suis began as a conversation with these extraordinary dancers about what it is like to be living in Turkey right now, but quickly grew to occupy a much more universal landscape.’ In its seamless unity of artistic and polemic intentions, #Je Suis suggests a direct lineage from Kurt Joos’s The Green Table — to which there are references — but also from Roy’s ethical thinking in Odedra’s questioning of cultural bias. ‘The piece explores oppression in all its guises, layers and contexts. It acknowledges that some acts of oppression are more loudly heard and deeply felt than others. While #JeSuisCharlie brought solidarity, comfort and solace to a world grieving the horrific attacks in Paris 2015, other equally appalling attacks took place in Kabul and Istanbul, but failed to capture the attention of (social) media in quite the same way.’

The result is a work in which the feral quality of the choreography and the mastery of the dancing match the intensity of its subject. #Je Suis erases the divide so often seen between narrative and framing because these dancers are the subject of both. There is just enough setting — a long table and chairs, a radio, a hanging lamp, a pile of papers, a rubber stamp and a microphone — and costumes (all conceived by Ryan Dawson Laight) to suggest, with Alessandro Barbieri’s dense lighting, a claustrophobic interrogation room that is everywhere and nowhere. The lighting works with the choreography in the way its thick haze can dissolve unnecessary details into the dark or illuminate them when needed. Clearly the creative team, with Nicki Wells as composer and Lou Cope as dramaturg, are all on the same page, but it is the dancing that holds the attention in the space because it gets under the surface of both terror and resistance. As Odedra writes, ‘Notions of oppression are not specific to any time, country or religion. Sometimes the oppressor is a political figure, sometimes a culture or sometimes a friend; and sometimes, of course, it is inside us: our fear, cowardice, expectation and doubt.’ In their shifting relationship to each other the seven dancers invoke the ambiguity in these forms of oppression with an intensity and fluidity that blasts through the fourth wall and buries their emotional generosity in our hearts and minds, reminding us not of a specific narrative but of a disturbingly pervasive and volatile phenomenon.

#Je Suis is constructed on an appeal to apparent contradictions — the freedom of expression to convey a state of oppression is central — and the dual symbolism of physical language and of everyday objects. Animal gesture becomes an expression of both domination and subservience and virtuosity is the pitch of both. The radio set becomes, in white-gloved hands, a puppet that is either a source of solidarity or the voice of authority; the lamp is both instrument of illumination and of interrogation, and the headpieces of wrapped plastic hint at the facelessness of oppression while protecting specific identity. This thread of duality maintains a tension in the work that the dancers weave into a rich fabric of experience enhanced by their humility of approach. They do not set out to change the world, nor to propagandize, but to express their life in all its fullness from a perspective of freedom and its absence. Odedra dedicates #Je Suis ‘to all people whose stories and plights have not yet been “hashtagged”…It comes from the belief that the strength of the collective, and our ability to speak out and together, will see us through to brighter times.’

In short, #Je Suis is both vital and unforgettable.


Preview performances of #Je Suis at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award 2017.

Resolution 2018: The Follow Through Collective, Counterpoint Dance Company, Mil Vukovic Smart

Posted: February 19th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2018: The Follow Through Collective, Counterpoint Dance Company, Mil Vukovic Smart

Resolution 2018: The Follow Through Collective, Counterpoint Dance Company and Mil Vukovic Smart.

Terri Biard, Kashish Gaba, Mil Vukovic Smart & Luigi Ambrosio in HILT (photo: Donna Ford)

The purpose of Resolution is to allow choreographers to try out their ideas on a public platform (though its artist-led marketing strategy means audiences are heavily weighted with friends and family). Research and exploration are welcomed as in The Follow Through Collective’s Drowning, which ‘evolved around the subject of marine pollution’. For an ambitious project combining the forces of six musicians, six dancers and the work of visual artist Clara Boulard, Drowning has a single message and a single central image that fit the nature of the work as environmental polemic and proactive appeal. On the corner of the stage is a selection of plastic bottles wrapped for some reason in paper as a reference to the ‘over 51 trillion micro plastic particles’ in which our oceans are drowning. Choreographer Greta Gauhe has harnessed an array of visual and acoustic elements in Drowning to evoke a sense of underwater marine life, from the eddies and currents of the dancers’ movement to the ripples of water on Boulard’s filmed images matching the arms of the dancers. The balance between the island of chamber musicians and the ocean of dancers is more ambiguous, and adding the sound of surf to the chamber strings is aural tautology, but all this becomes secondary to the appearance of a clear plastic bubble with Gauhe trapped inside trying desperately to beat her way out. The suffocating imagery goes to the heart of marine pollution and is thus the true starting point of the work.

From a collection of plastic bottles to a pile of assorted shoes: Simona Scotto’s Journeys of Internal Migration uses shoes as the underlying signifier of migration and identity. In a seamlessly intergenerational cast, performers in bare feet initially gather round the pile of shoes as if around a campfire, reaching in to take out their shoes as stories. Individuals take on the character of their footwear by dancing out their ambulatory and olfactory tales to recorded voice-overs — Bruce Currie the smells and Andy Newman his Doc Martins — and in doing so reveal a breadth of human emotion that belongs to embodied experience. Francis Knight cuts through any pretense of dance by expressing compellingly the value of gesture along with Annabel Knobbs, while Oemi Soeyono dances a delicate, pensive duet with her shoes on her hands. These transactions of sensibilities, generational differences and sexual orientation are some of the personal elements Scotto playfully weaves into her treatment of both internal and external forms of migration. From play arises the sense of humour that pervades the work and draws the audience into the action — particularly in the section of gestural dances to recorded instructions and in the unison patterns that career in new directions like dowsing explorations. Yet underneath the ludic quality lies an altruistic desire to make of migrations not an endless path but a rich and flexible community. Scotto’s achievement is enhanced by the colours of her costumes, the selection of René Aubry’s music and Marine Le Houezec’s carefully focused lighting.

After the ritual tipping out of the audience into the bar, we return to a bare stage and the disembodied voice of former Rambert ballerina Beryl Goldwyn talking to Claire Izzard about dancing the role of Giselle. In a monochrome colour scheme Terri Biard walks in and stands with her back to us; Kashish Gaba strolls in, then Luigi Ambrosio wearing a kilt. When Mil Vukovic Smart joins the group with bare legs in black trunks we are acutely aware of a disconnect with the romantic ballet. Or is there? When the four turn to each other in silence with signs and gestures of alienation — Ambrosio is eloquently withdrawn — it is clear Vukovic Smart’s HILT (with dramaturgical support from Paul Hughes) is not simply inspired by the Mad Scene from Giselle but seeks to recreate the interior landscape of Giselle’s mind that JulZin’s sampled, reverberating extracts from Adam’s original score so eerily suggest. Independent of the ballet’s narrative (that Goldwin has already re-told), Vukovic Smart drills down into the depths of derangement to concentrate on what it might look like just below the surface of the tutus and pointe shoes. In stark red light the four dancers reference a classical ballet class in a key of concentrated distraction to Muse’s rock version of Feeling Good and Biard essays some of Giselle’s choreographic phrases to JulZin’s samples. Elsewhere there are arms like wilted flowers, silent screams, searing suspicion, brooding, gliding monologues, and a febrile energy that overflows in slides, jumps and turns. Biard finally succumbs and is laid to rest, leaving Goldwyn’s voice to remind us of life on the performative surface. In the boldness of its conception and in its sympathetic yet graphic imagination, Vukovic Smart is on to something here, and if HILT isn’t quite fully formed it is tantalizingly close.

Resolution 2018: Autin Dance Theatre, Elinor Lewis and Nuria Legarda Andueza, BARBERDANCE Luca Braccia

Posted: February 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2018: Autin Dance Theatre, Elinor Lewis and Nuria Legarda Andueza, BARBERDANCE Luca Braccia

Autin Dance Theatre; Elinor Lewis and Nuria Legarda Andueza; BARBERDANCE Luca Braccia, Resolution 2018, The Place, February 2

Elinor Lewis and Nuria Legarda Andueza in Orchard (photo: Tom Elkins)

On the Resolution 2018 platform this evening are three works that explore tension in quite different environments. The first is Autin Dance Theatre’s Dystopia, a duet with Johnny Autin and Laura Vanhulle and dramaturgy by Neus Gil Cortes that goes over the familiar ground of an embattled relationship but in a dynamic, almost brutal physical vocabulary that is nevertheless refined in its emotional heft and tender in its resolution. Autin is a powerful, acrobatic dancer whose fluidity allows subtle narrative interpretations to permeate his choreography and in Vanhulle he has found a match in strength and breadth of styles with a naturally fluent expression; the two can stare each other down, explode in frustration or melt into understanding with equal measure. Dystopia is, according to the program note, ‘looking at our human need for connecting and belonging, in opposition with our modern anxieties based on fear and violence.’ In terms of the physical language of dance, connection is common to both ‘belonging’ and to ‘violence’, which is what creates the tension in Dystopia. The distance between Autin and Vanhulle is constantly stretched or diminished with a force that, until the very end, remains unresolved. Richard Shrewsbury’s sound plays a parallel role in the work, at first creating a thick aural atmosphere then piercing it with words as emotions (though I’m not sure they are necessary) and finally distilling it delightfully into a Scottish reel. Having given all they have got, and given as much as they receive from each other, Autin and Vanhulle expel the tension between them in a final gesture of belonging.

Elinor Lewis and Nuria Legarda Andueza’s Orchard is a deceptively calm oasis of a work constructed and performed with a fine precision that becomes its focus. The set, designed by Lewis, is a precise grid of identical, chest-high vertical poles that have an air of solidity in the stillness and silence of the opening image of Lewis and Andueza standing like Egyptian statuary in a cornfield looking across at each other over the top of the stalks. Their game is to move towards each other without touching any of the poles but they move so meticulously and almost imperceptibly it’s like watching paint dry except for the inherent risk of miscalculation. I calculate it will take five minutes for them to meet in the centre aisle of the grid and it does. But then the trajectories change; the women back up, rock slowly side to side, and then dart like a knight in a chess game to a new space. The sense of tension builds in the audience as the nature of the game wrestles constantly with the stability of the poles and as subsequent spatial challenges are overcome relief and disbelief are equally expressed in laughter. Orchard is a simple concept that is paced to perfection; Lewis and Andueza calm us down by lying like twin halves of a pediment fitted neatly between columns and then slide gently through the grid as if the game is over. When we least expect it, with quick birdlike movements of the head they suddenly roll over and knock down the poles around them. With a look of sheepish surprise they confirm in this one stroke the true nature of their game and of their achievement.

It’s ironic to follow a piece about topographical limits with a work called Where is my border? but the two couldn’t be further apart in content. From the silence and precision of the one we lurch to the emotional turmoil and disorder of the other. The subject of Luca Braccia’s work is not conceptual but visceral, the deleterious effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in war veterans. However, in appropriating the physical language commonly associated with the symptoms of PTSD — such as the jerked repetitive movements and contractions from shell shock victims in World War 1 hospital films and from the visual currency of news reportage and Hollywood blockbusters — he fails to acknowledge the psychological pain that underpins it. The result is a depiction of trauma that lacks its visceral quality. To succeed in finding an artistic means of expressing trauma that can engage the spectator with its emotional disarray, effect has to give way to the impenetrability of a disorder that ambushes the sufferer with its mental and physical anguish (think of Crystal Pite’s Betroffenheit). Braccia’s sound montage gets closer to creating a dark, suffocating aural environment but his dancers are too robust and in control to render with equal force the distress of PTSD. For all its energy, Where is my border? moves us not towards the affect of trauma but away from it.

Toneelhuis/FC Bergman, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el

Posted: February 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Toneelhuis/FC Bergman, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el

Toneelhuis/FC Bergman, 300 el x 50 el x 30 el, Barbican, January 31

Paul Kuijer in 300 el x 50 el x 30 el (photo: Kurt van der Elst)

In the book of Genesis the dimensions of Noah’s Ark are given as 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high, but Toneelhuis/FC Bergman’s 300 el x 50 el x 30 el, presented as part of the 2018 London International Mime Festival, has left biblical history to the imagination and focuses instead on the current environmental and political crises facing Western society. Not that there is any sense of impending doom in the opening scene of a fisherman by a pond in sedentary contemplation and endless cigarette smoke. On any one of three screens, however, we see an old man (Paul Kuijer) lying in bed in a small wooden hut, an incarnation perhaps of Noah himself. As the black scrim rises to reveal a community of six ramshackle huts tottering around the perimeter of a leaf-covered clearing, we watch Kuijer unstick the monitors on his chest, pick up a hammer and plod outside into the clearing where cinematic space and theatrical space merge for the first time. Kuijer disappears into the pine forest to build his ark — we hear his hammer blows — while a camera and crew travel continuously around the community staring into the back of each hut long enough at each pass to reveal, with mordant exaggeration, successive tableaux vivants of unfolding domestic dramas. Lingering on the surreal, these portraits of ‘ordinary madness’ are a reflection — and there is no shortage of reflection in this allegory of the Ark — of such contemporary malaises as insatiability, depression, sexual dysfunction, escapism and estrangement. The seamlessly integrated live screening makes members of the audience voyeurs in a community that is, like the show itself, a product of our own making; we are peering ineluctably into our own lives.

So entrenched is the sense of habit and gnawing oppression that the only way out is an act of rebellion. We learn the secret of the young woman at the piano who sneaks across the clearing to play war games with her lover. They plan their escape using the map on his hut wall and attempt to leave with their suitcases commando-like across the clearing. The small community, however, is sensitive to any danger to its hermetic boundaries and emerges into the clearing to close ranks around the lovers, punishing the young man by forcing him back to his hut and nailing it shut. The accompaniment of Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons adds an additional chill to the staging and yet there is a certain comfort in the music, a recognition of a familiar composition that exists only for the ears of the audience watching from a distance. But how far away are we and where does Toneelhuis/FC Bergman place us in relation to the unfolding narrative?

If the story of Noah’s Ark alluded to in the title can be used as a clue for interpretation, one can read 300 el x 50 el x 30 el in light of current European political events (even though it was created well before Brexit, in 2011). The small insular community becomes a metaphor for tightening border controls while the mood of suspicion and isolation reflects a right-wing xenophobic mentality brooding with violence. Over the course of the performance the voyeurism of the camera subtly turns to vigilance and surveillance as the rhythm of filming matches the unfolding moral tale. The event that brings the community together is the death of the young man, who blows himself up with his stash of gunpowder fuses. The fisherman, moving off his seat for the first time, initiates an act of penitence by immersing his head repeatedly in the pond; other characters emerge slowly from their huts with buckets of water and join in the ritual. Nina Simone’s Sinner Man provides the mood and rhythm of a simple, redemptive dance in which the entire community participates.

Of course the flood is still on its way; these are intimations of disaster, not the disaster itself and penitence is the beginning not the end. Toneelhuis/FC Bergman suggests that if redemption is at all possible in the sense of a desire to heal society’s current ills it cannot be achieved through such rituals of seclusion, but rather by the opposite, by opening hearts and minds to ‘others’, to the establishment of a common humanity. The last-minute emergence into the clearing of an entire village of ‘outsiders’, let in by one of the young women, suggests such a change to the social and political equilibrium. Today’s hope, in other words, is an ethic of inclusion.