André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre

Posted: August 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre

André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre, July 20

Kamienski

Karianne Andreassen and Harriet Waghorn in Bed (photo: Michelle Rose)

As a title, An Evening, A Beginning is in turn factual and hopeful. It is an evening of two new 30-minute choreographic works by André Kamienski but it is also their offering to the public in the hope they will have a future. Blue Elephant Theatre is a good place to start; there is no artist hierarchy in place and its ethos welcomes the unknown while its stage offers a charismatic incubator for experimentation. Kamienski, whose background is in ballroom dance, shows his natural understanding of space and movement in both works but it is his sense of theatre that makes this beginning promising. 

The first work is called X is M00N, a count-down scenario that borrows from science fiction in its focus on ‘the connections between physics, outer space and conspiracy theories.’ Choreographed on four dancers from London Studio Centre (Gabriella Bantick, Amy Cross, Abigail Attard Montalto and Tuva Svendsen), X is M00N is a vehicle for anxiety that finds its initial expression in the choice of music. To begin a work with six minutes of white noise is to engulf the action in an aural approximation of what Einstein described as a gravitational field; it creates a dense, viscous space in which the dancers slither into a series of freeze-frame poses as if trapped in space-time. Subsequent pieces by Christina Vantzou, Niels Frahm and Emptyset do little to allay the sense of running towards an impending disaster as Pixie Tan’s projected clock flicks ominously from M10N to M00N. Set designer Afra Zamara, in conjunction with Tan, has devised an angular neon tube installation at the rear of the stage that has the casual air of instability while Sherry Coenen’s lighting is darkly oppressive. It’s not the kind of environment you would expect to find classically-trained dancers, though there is at one point a reference to an exhausted, if not dying swan. Dressed in black with luminous chokers, the four women never quite enter into the harshness and peril suggested in their surroundings. Perhaps it is not in Kamienski’s heart to pursue such abstract anxiety, although in the section with Montalto’s choking voice and helpless, stifling gestures he finds not only a strikingly human expression of angst but an emotional form with which, as the next work reveals, his talent begins to find its voice.

Bed is nominally inspired by Tracey Emin’s installation My Bed in which an unmade bed holds within its display of personal effects an autobiography of intimate details. Kamienski focuses instead on the intimate relationship between two women (Karianne Andreassen and Harriet Waghorn) with only a suggestion of a bedroom, appropriating George Bernard Shaw’s definition of dancing as ‘a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.’ Even if the desire in question is conflicted, the fluency with which Kamienski treats it shows his affinity with questions of the heart and in Andreassen and Waghorn he has found two interpreters who understand what he wants. 

There is an asterisked note in the program that the piece ‘involves partial nudity’,  but apart from bare arms and legs the only nudity is in the voyeuristic suggestion of a steamy relationship. The program note invites us to ‘take a peek’ into ‘the partnership, connection and intimacy between two people’ but the engagement between Andreassen and Waghorn is such that they draw us inexorably into the room. We first see Andreassen preening herself langorously, eyes half closed, propped against the back wall that is draped in silk; there is an unmade bed but we don’t see it. Having already got up some time before we arrived and thrown on a t-shirt Waghorn reappears; we don’t know when the argument happened but there is tension in the air. Kamienski plots the affect of disenchantment as an intimate dialogue between the two women that channels both pleasure and pain in the ambiguity of their physical expressions and frames it in a partnering language that is both tender and forceful. His playlist of light piano, breathy vocal, strings and choral excerpts washes over the room, too, as the aural accompaniment to emotional upheaval. Just as expressions of pleasure and pain can be uncannily interchangeable, so earthly and spiritual paths overlap: Waghorn’s attempt to wash away Andreassen’s touch takes on a ritualistic cleansing and purification. The struggle finishes in silence, with only the heavy breathing of force and resistance filling the air, but for Kamienski, hopefully, it’s an auspicious beginning. 


Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells

Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells, July 26

McGregor

Wayne McGregor © Rick Guest

In the program for Company Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography, dramaturg Uzma Hameed writes eloquently about the ideas and processes by which McGregor arrived at this creation. It is one of the finest introductory essays to appear in a Sadler’s Wells program, but while Hameed addresses the semantic significance of each of the elements of the title — Auto/self, Bio/life and Graphos/writing — that clarify the creative input, what she does not and cannot address is the choreographic form these ideas take and their effect on an audience. 

McGregor has never been one to favour clarity of meaning in his choreographic oeuvre. However, from her inside knowledge Hamzeed reveals some of the elements in his life that have influenced his choice of choreographic material — ‘a school photo, a poem about Icarus, a family history of twins, an Olivier de Sagazan film, influences of Meredith Monk, Robert Irwin, Beckett, Cuningham and more’ — but she also acknowledges McGregor’s ‘sense of continuous palimpsesting aspects of life encoded in choreography, overwritten by genetic code, in collaboration with software architect Nick Rothwell and transforming in every iteration.’ Add in the substantial collaboration of musician Jlin’s eclectic score, of set designer Ben Cullen Williams and lighting designer Lucy Carter and the contribution of costume designer Aitor Throup and the palimpsesting takes on the complexity of a genetic code. Where is McGregor in all this? It is, after all, the sequencing of his own genome that forms the basis of the work. In sitting through all 23 episodes of Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells the answer is everywhere and nowhere.

Everywhere because this is what he continues to do in his projects for his own company: mine the scientific community for inspiration and collaboration then create a work with fine dancers and high production values that is overdosed on inspiration and underpowered in terms of choreographic invention. The suggestion of an interesting work always appears as the curtain rises but there is a self-indulgent gene in McGregor’s work that quickly degrades the sense of cutting edge to déjà vu; the process has become formulaic. Atomos was based on cognitive science, Autobiography on genetics. 

And nowhere because in invoking the fragment as a structural form of autobiography linked to his genetic code McGregor loses himself in the science. The fragment has been the trope of self-narrative for decades as writers and artists have used it to convey the layered and idiosyncratic experience of being. As Roland Barthes would have it, the body is the text. By leaning on the science of the body, McGregor uses choreographic fragmentation to reveal aspects of his biography but ends up concealing them under an inexhaustible appropriation of ideas, steps and gestural phrases that borrow from classical ballet and yoga with little contextual meaning. His genetic inspiration reveals itself in a vocabulary of hooked limbs and arms and rotating torsos that evoke the movements of chromosomes and their diagrammatic visual rendering (as does the lighting), but by overloading the language of his dancers with a pseudo-scientific aesthetic McGregor renders their expressive bodies — and thus his own autobiography — paradoxically bland; he retreats into a notional authorship that lacks the authority of ‘auto’ and the pathos and idiosyncracy of ‘bio’; what is left is the grandstanding ‘graphos’. 

In the program there is a photographic portrait of McGregor by Rick Guest; he gazes over our left shoulder into the distance with his eyes closed, viewing his inner landscape while appearing to be present to our gaze. This stance is symptomatic of Autobiography. Rothwell’s software includes an algorithm based on McGregor’s genetic code that decides the order of the 23 sections; this evening the algorithm places section 1, titled Avatar, at the beginning but each evening the order will be unique. For McGregor this is thrilling because ‘the piece suddenly becomes a living archive of a collection of decisions,’ but for an audience that sees the work only once it is simply a solipsistic conceit that doesn’t take into account the inherent rhythm and punctuation of each section, not to mention its lighting and musical cues. If the opening section this evening feels like an opening, the last few have the flagging pace of a never-ending end; lighting effects overlap, musical tracks butt against each other and the choreography becomes an exercise in prolonged absurdity. Perhaps that is the cost to the audience of giving McGregor the satisfaction of playing with his algorithmic toy. 


Ian Abbott on Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban

Posted: July 27th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban

Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade: K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban, July 17

Oloyade

The cast in Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P. Macbeth (photo: Stefano Ottaviano)

A man who aspires to rise above the mediocre, to be something more than the ordinary, surely deserves admiration, even if he fails and loses a fortune on account of his ambitions… if one has failed only where others have not had the courage or will to try, there is consolation — indeed, deep satisfaction — to be gained from his observation when looking back over one’s life.” – Kazuo Ishiguro

Riding, reworking and interpreting classic works of western literature is the default setting for a lot of UK male-led dance companies of late; Lost Dog’s Paradise Lost/Juliet & Romeo, Mark Bruce Company’s The Odyssey and Dracula, Avant Garde Dance’s Fagin’s Twist, James Wilton Dance’s Leviathan and James Cousins Company’s Rosalind are just some of the examples. Often framed as an opportunity to attract new or theatre audiences to dance, it could be seen as a smart marketing device or a poverty of original ideas. Macbeth has a particularly strong hold on current choreographic minds with Company Chordelia’s Lady Macbeth Unsex Me Here, Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth and now K.R.U.M.P Macbeth by Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade all undertaking the Shakespearean Scottish play in the last 12 months.

At 55 minutes long with a cast of four (Amanda Pekfou, Jordan Franklin, Dean Stewart and Vincent Maduabueke) this is Oloyade’s first full-length theatrical work after spending a number of years performing with Boy Blue Entertainment, making shorter works at Breakin’ Convention as well as being an excellent exponent and teacher of krump. Whereas others may ply their trade at Resolution, building up experience in other platforms, or refining the work back in the studio Oloyade has chosen to premiere K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Laban after an earlier showing of a few sections at Redbridge Drama Centre in May. Macbeth is a text full of hooks and angles of approach: power, murder, psychological warfare and familial tyranny. Mix this with the depth of emotion, delicate and explosive qualities and body shuddering invigoration that krump has in the cypher or battle and K.R.U.M.P Macbeth has a suite of possibilities; unfortunately it fails at nearly everything it attempts.

With no director, dramaturg or outside eye present according to the programme notes, Oloyade as choreographer is left holding responsibility for the blocking, movement and stagecraft, but his theatrical inexperience is brutally exposed with a raft of saggy scenes, continual slow movement of limbs that do not result in tension or emotional engagement, a number of moments inexplicably playing upstage left, and a stick-stabbing shadow death scene that would fit better in a 1970s schlocky horror film. The staccato nature of K.R.U.M.P Macbeth feels like a diluted version of a York Notes guide to a Chinese whisper broadcast of the original Shakespearian play. It is unrecognisable as Macbeth and Oloyade offers no alternative artistic interpretation, little depth of research/inquiry and no emotional narrative to help us feel anything towards any character.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Choreographically Oloyade has constricted the form and at the same time constricted the work; it is full of unnecessary blockages with the dancers waiting for the obvious musical changes from Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante’s dominant soundtrack stretching out the movement without developing the narrative, and attempts at synchronised krump are inadequate with the stomps out at least 50% of the time. There is an uneven quality in their jabs, isolation/physical punctuation and our eyes are consistently drawn to those dancers who are unable to keep time. Mixing and/or blending krump with contemporary knee slides and fake rifle holding neither satisfies the krump purist nor brings a new choreographic vocabulary to those unfamiliar with the form; we’re left with a sticky choreographic mess that is only exacerbated when in the final scene ‘KRUMP’ is blurted out over the soundtrack offering all the subtlety of a hip hop anvil. Can you imagine a Scottish Dance Theatre soundtrack blaring ‘CONTEMPORARY DANCE’ in a climactic scene or Ballet Cymru using a ‘BALLET’ audio sting in the final moments? When the stage is bathed in red the Goddess of Blunt Instruments is making it obvious: we know what is going on.

Within the company there are dancers with individual talent and virtuosity; Maduabueke offers charged flickers of intensity whilst Stewart delivers some moments of choreographic power and complexity, but there is so little glue, context or relationship forged between them that it erases any of the possibilities.

When Oloyade presented his eight-minute work Hell’s Gate 7 at Breakin’ Convention last year there were interesting relational dynamics, power and theatrical possibilities demonstrating that he has choreographic talent, but the leap from an eight to a 55-minute work is too big. The stagecraft, direction and dramaturgy need consideration and attention if he wants to make a full-length theatrical work. Within the individual scenes of K.R.U.M.P Macbeth there are interesting shorter sections that either could be harvested and sit alone in their own right as smaller pieces or re-worked and expanded.

This is a wider issue that a lot of hip hop dance artists are facing: how to make the shift from making micro works to a full evening. There is a gap that needs filling around the 25-30 minute work that could be presented in a double bill that would enable that growth, choreographic expansion and depth of idea to be tested. Often the ego and the ambition says Yes, I can make a full-length work, but would an architect make the step from designing a conservatory to building an entire town? But perhaps Oloyade can take comfort in what Kurt Vonnegutonce wrote: “And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”


Holy Body Tattoo, Godspeed You! Black Emperor: monumental at Barbican Hall

Posted: July 26th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Holy Body Tattoo, Godspeed You! Black Emperor: monumental at Barbican Hall

Holy Body Tattoo with Godspeed You! Black Emperor: monumental at Barbican Hall, July 13

monumental

Holy Body Tattoo and Godspeed You! Black Emperor in monumental (photo: Yannick Grandmont)

monumental is partly a live, updated performance of their 1997 debut album, F#A#∞, by the Montreal band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and partly an integrated response by the dance company, Holy Body Tattoo. The stage is divided between a raised platform with an array of instruments and amplifiers for the nine musicians and, in front of it, pedestals of varying heights for the nine dancers. The musicians create a wall of sound with electro-acoustic strings, tape loops and a vibrant percussive section that sounds somewhere between a revolutionary anthem and a lament; its dissonance refers to a view of society as a cancer but the romantic swell of its key progressions carves out a place for emotional resistance. The choreography, originally by Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras but restaged recently by Gingras, expresses the affect of a cancerous society as anxious compulsion. It is the combined forces of music and choreography that create this monumental ode to an ever-present moment.

The music was recorded at the approach of the millennium while the original choreography was created post-9/11 in 2005. A lot had happened in those intervening years to dash the promise of a new century and unleash violent socio-political forces from which the world is still reeling. In the monologue from the album’s opening The Dead Flag Blues guitarist Efrim Menuck intones, ‘The car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel. And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides. And a dark wind blows. The government is corrupt and we’re on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn. We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death…’ It’s a dark, dark place but it’s not so hard to distinguish its outlines on the current geopolitical map even from the comfort of our seats in the Barbican Hall.

As we check our phones for the latest news on the current government’s Machiavellian tactics to bring about a no-deal Brexit with the invocation of upholding the will of the people the issue of our individual ability to determine the course of our lives is sorely challenged. Against this foreground the performance of monumental serves as both cathartic experience and rallying cry, a channel for our secret or not-so-secret frustrations at the level of lying and dissemblance in the geopolitical arena and the ever-impinging disquiet and uncertainty in our personal sphere. As artist Jenny Holzer’s first of 21 projected aphorisms states, ‘Some days you wake up and immediately start to worry. Nothing in particular is wrong. It’s just the suspicion that forces are aligning quietly and there will be trouble.’

Raised on their pedestals in Marilène Bastien’s black-and-white city outfits the dancers play constantly with their corporal and psychological equilibrium in an environment of competition and insecurity. They are physically isolated from one another, enacting their individual psychoses in the form of frenetic tics and gestures, but also acting like a small society, calling out commands, shouting at and cussing each other and stamping their feet in unison. Caroline Gravel is the first to lose her footing; it appears at first to be accidental but the slipping and getting up becomes an entropic motif that permeates the group until the tension they have accumulated atop the pedestals drops to the floor and dissipates. It’s as if they have all descended from their high-rise offices to gather for a drink but although there are now opportunities for contact and support their underlying anxiety creates a pandemic of social chaos and disorder instead. Fights break out, individuals are ostracized and threatened and balance is overthrown; it is the sheer physical exertion of the dance that communicates the affect of the crisis we are in, bringing out the element of despair that underscores the music. As the level of commitment ramps up between musicians and dancers the emotional apotheosis of monumental reveals itself paradoxically in a stage littered with spent bodies while three dancers with searchlights reveal the havoc.

Over a recording of Menuck’s opening monologue the dancers take stock and turn to the audience, kneeling on the front of the stage to deliver a message of hope but words fail them; their angst has consumed any possibility of reconciliation. One by one they fidget quietly and disperse leaving Neil Sochasky as the last dazed inhabitant of an emotionally exhausted landscape; the formidable energy of monumental has been entirely transferred to the audience.

Godspeed you! Black Emperor.


Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios, June 24

Edvardsen

Mette Edvardsen’s No Title (photo: Lilia Mestre)

In this first edition of Fest en Fest, curators Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard establish a benchmark for their festival in works with a rigorous choreographic approach to language. Karen Røise Kielland used it in A Slow Escape to compress a vast geographical journey on to a small stage, while Mette Edvardsen uses its negation in No Title to extrapolate the space of a small stage into the vast landscape of imagination.

At her last appearance in London, at the 2012 Dance Umbrella, Edvardsen presented a project called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, where she gathered a group of like-minded dancers to each commit a book to memory in the same way that dancers memorize a sequence of steps. The performance was in reading the story or poetry from memory to an audience of one (at a time) in a public library. No Title’s approach to language requires a similar closeness and concentration between performer and audience but Edvardsen’s craft has evolved around her own authorship and an expanded sense of theatrical space.

No Title (2014) is part of a trilogy of works with Black (2011) and We to be (2015) that explore the notions of appearance and disappearance through language. As Edvardsen observes in an interview with Eva Decaesstecker, ‘When I was making Black I thought it was the end of something, that I had closed a circle. I painted all my objects (from previous pieces) black in order to make them disappear, and with this removal of objects came language.’ In Black Edvardsen used language to make the objects reappear, whereas in No Title she uses negation in language to suggest disappearance. ‘The beginning is gone. The space is empty,’ she starts. When a word is invoked its sound signifies a reality with which it is associated; both the sound of the word (the signifier) and its reality (the signified) pass through our brain to corroborate the signification. But when the negation of a word is invoked, the signification is short-circuited; it becomes a space. As Edvardsen continues her series of verbal negations she creates a space on stage that represents the full potential of what has nominally disappeared. At the same time she constantly reminds us of the irreducible presence of the speaker — ‘Me not gone’, as she says — amongst what has disappeared or fallen away. The role of the choreographer in such an approach to choreographic writing that makes the signification of words a key element is to divest the creative language of any extraneous meaning. With a minimum of means Edvardsen eloquently demonstrates this to the point that No Title reveals the stage as a vibrant space from which all associative clutter has been removed. It is a lesson for any choreographer who takes space for granted as a container to fill with movement.

Edvardsen’s voice does not simply pronounce words but expresses its own muscular quality — ‘le grain de la voix’ in Roland Barthes’ terms — and she gives it even more power by sticking paper eyes over her closed eyelids. Blindness is the negation of sight, so the phenomenon of performing without seeing underlines the idea of extracting reality from the influence of words. Using her body to see, Edvardsen senses the physical limits of the space she is making either through touch or the sensation of proximity. At one point she traces in chalk a line on the ground from the back of the stage to the front, a feathery, uncertain line from source to completion. Putting aside the chalk she works her way back upstage making the motions of erasing the line with her hand but in her blindness misses it. ‘Line is gone’ she says, setting up a slippage between verbal negation and the physical attempt to achieve it.

Dance is often referred to as ephemeral but that doesn’t alter its ability to lodge itself in the emotional core of our being; while Edvardsen erases the appearances of her craft she never discards the core reality she signifies in her performance. As a writer of choreography she has created a work through its disappearance — even the title has gone — and at the end, as author, she also disappears. The stage we are left to ponder is far from empty; it resounds with the echoes of Edvardsen’s words and gestures and the chalk line is still there with the two paper eyes stuck to the proscenium. Even after she has left she remains pointing to her own withdrawal.


Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

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

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

Kielland

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Session

Session at Bernie Grant Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, at Battersea Arts Centre

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

Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, Battersea Arts Centre, June 22

Mercenary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Company of Elders, Mixed Bill at Lilian Baylis Studio

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

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

Company of Elders

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

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

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

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


Images Ballet Company 2018 at Lilian Baylis Studio

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

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

Images Ballet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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