Preethi Athreya, Conditions of Carriage: The Jumping Project

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

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

The act of jumping in Conditions of Carriage

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

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

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

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

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

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


Organic Entity, Triple Bill

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

Organic Entity, Triple Bill, TripSpace, June 10

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

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

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

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

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


Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

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

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

Mithkal Alzghair, Rami Farah and Samil Taskin in Trio

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

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

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

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


Nathaniel Rackowe & Angela Woodhouse, (Un)touched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Images Ballet Company

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

Images Ballet Company, Lilian Baylis Studio, June 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Irene Russolillo / Lisi Estaras, The Speech

Posted: June 21st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Irene Russolillo / Lisi Estaras, The Speech

Irene Russolillo / Lisi Estaras, The Speech, Italian Cultural Institute, June 16

Irene Russolillo

Irene Russolillo in The Speech (photo: Ilaria Costanzo)

It’s the time of year when the nineteenth-century architectural legacy of London looks its best and Belgrave Square, where the Italian Cultural Institute is housed, is no exception. Inside, the evening light filters into the piano nobile where the walls are hung with photographs of some of Rome’s architectural heritage whose influence can be seen in the classical facades outside, while through the grand windows you can almost feel the shade of the plane trees in the Gardens across the street. In the interior grandeur of these architectural traces, standing in a corner as we take our seats, is the figure of Irene Russolillo dressed simply and elegantly in a white summer dress emerging delicately from another consciousness as if our sudden arrival has disturbed her. She inches her way apologetically to the centre of the floor transforming the space by her presence while she silently, slowly forms words with tentative gestures and casts her expressive eyes over the assembled guests. The human scale of the room removes any sense of theatrical perspective so we find ourselves attending a reception at the point at which the beautiful hostess is about to address us with gracious words of welcome. In this setting, The Speech, which Russolillo created with Lisi Estaras, is a slow-motion, thirty-minute recall of all that happens inside her head and body between the intention to speak and its actualization.

In this time Russolillo takes us on a journey through inner realms that are inaccessible but for her eloquent physical articulation of gesture and voice, from sensual disintegration to the turbulence of a body losing control, from nervous apprehension to delirious abandon. There are suggestions of an invisible puppeteer manipulating a doll that has lost some but not all of its strings, or of a patient in a mental asylum, hunched, turned in and dazed. Her voice is at times as fragile as her body, catching in her throat or refusing to enunciate, and at others emerging with such power and clarity that her open mouth, wild hair and dark eyes extrapolate it into surreal territory. But however fragmented or fractured these inner realms may be, Russolillo summons them with a strength that belies their fragility. She improvises much of this within a structure and rhythm that fuse the portrayal of inner realms into a unified portrait as vivid and as poignant as a ripped and mended photograph.

There are two principal threads in The Speech, one textual and the other aural; the text is an adaptation of Édouard Levé’s book, Autoportrait, which has been described as ‘a series of declarative sentences…all ostensibly about Levé himself…lacking any discernable order…contained within one book-length paragraph.’ Here is a basis for the fractured nature of The Speech. Similarly, in Spartaco Cortesi’s sound processing, a song threads its way through the work, at first with barely audible notes. It fades away and returns again in another form; Russolillo sings the words and translates them in both English and Italian (with a voluble bias towards the latter) but by the time it manifests towards the end of the work in a version with a full-blown reverberating beat, it is her exuberant dancing that fills the room like a music video on steroids.

In a work like The Speech, it is very difficult to sense where it is going to end, for the beginning and end are outside the work’s frame. What is clear is that our hostess never quite arrives at the point of articulating her words, for the journey she has taken leads us only to the moment before she starts. What she has revealed, however, is that the realm of performance is as eloquent and mysterious as an internal process, and that through an artist of her calibre a nineteenth-century room can be transformed into a precarious but nevertheless rapturous human landscape, like those Roman ruins looking out across time from their mute frames.

 

The Speech was presented at the Italian Cultural Institute by TripSpace Projects


Cas Public, Symphonie Dramatique

Posted: June 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Cas Public, Symphonie Dramatique

Cas Public, Symphonie Dramatique, Salisbury Playhouse, May 30

Cas Public

Cas Public in Symphonie Dramatique (photo: Damien Siqueiros)

Hélène Blackburn, who founded her dance company Cas Public in Montréal in 1989, talks of creating work as a dialogue between her and her dancers, mixing what she has in mind with what they can do; she describes it as an act of writing dance with crossed hands. This notion of choreographic dexterity and of testing the limits of her dancers is fully realised in her 2014 work, Symphonie Dramatique, presented at this year’s Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival as part of its Québec showcase, but it is Blackburn’s stagecraft and her visual sense that dominate it. She has stripped back the narrative from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to concentrate on its emotional core as evinced by just three characters in whom the playwright’s themes of seduction, desire and unbridled passion are so redolent they represent the entire cast: the star-cross’d lovers themselves and Tybalt. It is thus a choreographic reworking of the play as a tempest of emotions that revel blindly in and constantly reject the possibility of tragic consequences. There is no moral tale in Blackburn’s conception, however; she creates no authorial distance between the raging passions and the societal notion of tragedy but rather enters into the passions with the same relentless energy as the characters themselves and leaves the audience to arrive at its own conclusions.

Having a cast of three interpreted by eight dancers allows Blackburn to fragment and recreate aspects of their emotional makeup in the same way the early cubist artists fragmented the picture-space to build up the subject independently in geometric forms. By removing a dramatis personae and plot, Blackburn has re-created a work that corresponds to the subject of Shakespeare’s play in a new, dynamic form with its own independent life. Her fast, intricate choreography worked out on the bodies of the dancers under the intense lighting of Émilie Boyer-Beaulieu builds up energetic physical fragments into a convincing picture of emotional turmoil that ends not with literal stage deaths but with the crashing to the ground of an enormous glass chandelier that for the entire work has hung over the stage like fate itself.

Threading through the work, and indeed another aspect of its cubist structure, is the music by Martin Tétreault, a brilliant sampling of orchestral scores on the theme of Romeo and Juliet by Gounod, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and, predominantly, Prokofiev. Tétreault’s mastery of the sampling form, like Blackburn’s choreography, removes narrative associations that leave the raw emotional qualities of the music to be re-interpreted by the movements of the dancers. To Prokofiev’s Public Merrymaking music, for example, the dancers begin an agitated unison phrase relating to internal processes of conflict that brings out an emotional instability in the music that is revelatory. Tétreault’s score is thus ideally matched to Blackburn’s choreography and the dramatic unity they create — perhaps closer to the visceral force of music than to the emotional/intellectual force of theatre — is thrilling.

One of Blackburn’s stated aims is to open up her work to a broad spectrum of the public without having to label it for adult or young audiences; she searches for ways to portray such controversial themes as sex and death that a younger audience can readily grasp without playing down to them. After all, as she has said, we can all be Romeo, Juliet or Tybalt and in Symphonie Dramatique’s multiplicity of these characters we can recognize elements of our own emotional landscape without the shading of romance or heroism. In quicksilver duets love is fragmented into sensuality and passion but also into frustration and insecurity; emotions change rapidly as one couple is replaced with another in stark circles of light. Death, in the form of Tybalt’s body being repeatedly and brutally dropped like a heavy sack on the floor, is as raw as a paroxysm of rage. Quick changes of focus, whiplash partnering and fast footwork — on pointe for the girls — give the choreography a visual dynamism that belongs as much to the cinema as to the stage, while the manic energy of the dancers grounds the work in the sweat and toil of the body. It is this physicality of emotions urged on by the muscular score that brings the work alive and gives it an urgent, contemporary relevance.


Hannah Buckley and Léa Tirabasso: Double Bill

Posted: June 15th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hannah Buckley and Léa Tirabasso: Double Bill

Hannah Buckley and Léa Tirabasso, Double Bill, The Place, June 3

Simon Palmer, Hannah Buckley and the Universe (photo: Amy Buckley / Emanuele Pecorari)

S/HE is a duet that reflects on the questions, ‘do men need feminism?’ and ‘does feminism need men?’. As a dancer and thus already on the fringes of what chauvinistic patriarchy might consider ‘male’, Simon Palmer may feel the first question is redundant and for Hannah Buckley, a witty and passionate advocate of dissolving such social imperatives as having children (see her Woman With Eggs), the second question is rhetorical. Neither question, however, addresses the more personal one of the common ground between the two sexes, which is what S/HE reveals and negotiates choreographically in terms of implicitly heterosexual relations. As the work begins, the common ground is the stage area covered in cards printed with a picture of the starry universe — about as vast a context as one could imagine. Palmer and Buckley in latex unisex overalls (courtesy of Lauren Reyhani) crawl around with eyes closed, feeling for the cards and constructing with them small houses with precarious balance. In the course of their blind activity they knock over as many card houses as they build. This is Buckley’s sense of humour sharpening our concentration as she makes her opening statement: we may be sharing common ground but all our efforts will collapse if we remain blind to the way in which we share. Thereafter Buckley uses a raft of texts, either spoken or recorded (the latter more audible), that set out the arguments for her position: from Gloria Steinem to Iris Marion Young, and from standup comedian Bill Burr to scripts by Buckley and Palmer. I find texts are more accessible in written form as they are not always compatible — especially in this kind of volume — with the spatial or physical appreciation of associated movement. I find myself dividing my attention from one to the other like adversaries in a game, but what Buckley and Palmer appear to illustrate in their performance together is the fragile reality of the stated principles of feminist theory. Neither Buckley nor Palmer seem particularly happy with the result, especially in a duet of intertwined, upended forms, when Palmer appears to suffocate Buckley between his legs. It is only when Buckley dances alone that she allows herself the detached pleasure of being SHE, when the dry wit and serious intent of the work break into a smile. Buckley states in the program note that ‘rather than providing answers, S/HE wants to give audiences space to imagine new possibilities for co-existing.’ There is no doubt about the sincerity of the work, but there is a mournful quality, a sadness in the performance that mitigates the potential of the proposal; the choreographic interaction does not appear to share the intellectual inspiration.

Léa Tirabasso’s TOYS (yes, both works this evening are in capitals) is more philosophical than it appears. In a dance work that treats the subject of hedonism, the moral underpinning is less visible than the celebration of the body, and with a cast as outrageously physical as Joss Carter, James Finnemore, Elsa Petit, Georges Maikel Pires Monteiro and Rosie Terry Toogood, the balance is predestined to excess. Tirabasso nevertheless reins it all in with a simple expedient in the form of a prologue and an epilogue that remind us of the moral implications of the work. At the very beginning we see Toogood in a circle of light, very much alone with her thoughts, and at the end, after all the choreographic debauchery, she returns to that ‘circle of public solitude’ to ponder her predicament. It is an eloquent image of the quote from Blaise Pascal’s Pensées that Tirabasso prints in the program: “However full of sadness a man may be, he is happy for the time, if you can prevail upon him to enter into some amusement.”

Even if the context of TOYS is contemporary, its spirit predates the influence of feminism by three centuries or so, and is thus a far cry — but a good programming distance — from S/HE. Both works return to a point of personal responsibility. Buckley and Palmer get to grips intellectually with gender equality even if the physical imagery channels a sense of personal isolation, while Tirabasso lets everything go in her exploration of hedonistic human relations to arrive at a point of personal awakening. As a statement of intent about human relations that proposes an egalitarian way forward, S/HE is the intellectual heavyweight while TOYS presents an exuberantly macho physical universe with a philosophical twist. For an evening of dance that sets out to ponder the human condition, it doesn’t get much richer than this.


Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill

Posted: June 8th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill

Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill, Laban Theatre, June 1

Giannis Economides and Bryn Aled in Christian Duarte’s & (photo: James Keates)

It would be hard to imagine an evening of dance in which there was less transition from one work to the next. If Charles Linehan’s Nothing But Time raised high the bar for minimal movement in Transitions Dance Company’s Triple Bill, Oded Ronen’s Kintsugi added to it only a superficial psychological layer and Cristian Duarte’s & framed it in conceptual conceits. Linehan shows how minimal movement can be interesting; his spatial awareness and the intent in starting a movement are worth experiencing. Not all the dancers are comfortable in beginning movement from stillness but when it works you know something significant has happened; Becky Horne shows how it can be done at the very beginning of the work as she peels off from Sean Murray. There is also an idea in Nothing But Time that lends itself to choreographic treatment; it evolved out of Linehan’s research combining choreography and drone technology. In a film he showed at the Brighton Festival last year it was the long shadows of moving figures seen from the air at sunset that formed the choreographic material. Here, Michael Mannion’s searchlight stands in for the sun and Jonathan Owen Clark’s electro-acoustic score places us in the heart of the drone, its engine in our ears, looking down on the mundane motions of silent figures far below. There is thus a dynamic tension between Clark’s stormy, elemental score and the stark simplicity of Linehan’s movement that holds the work together. Linehan presents the dancers in a neutral unmannered way, their motion and gestures removed by distance from their implicit thoughts and relationships.

We might expect to find the dancers in Ronen’s Kintsugi inhabiting a different universe from Linehan’s, but the layers of psychological gesturing Ronen uses to suggest ‘a broken, lonely and fragmented world’ are little more than psychological dressing. Ronen uses the metaphor of Kintsugi — the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery — to suggest a parallel art of healing social wounds, but his choreography digresses too often into accumulative patterns and endless solos to keep the subject alive. Woven into all this action is the shaping of a line of yellow confetti — ‘leaking’ like stuffing from the pockets of the dancers — into a crack on the stage that is erased by one of the dancers in the final moments. To conclude the work with this facile reference to Kintsugi is to diminish the metaphor.

If, as the program note states, Duarte’s & ‘invites the dancers to (re)visit and plunder their own physical and conceptual memory banks’, can we be sure they have accepted the invitation? And if they have, what does Duarte’s work reveal about their years of training? Not very much. But judging by the self-conscious flirtation with minimal movement, the involvement with absurdist props and the derisory breaking down of the third wall, the dancers have been duped into adopting Duarte’s physical and conceptual memory banks as their own. There are moments when dancers like Bryn Aled and Marcus Alessandrini do re-visit their own physical memory bank, pulling off some bravura steps that light up the stage, but they are sparks in what is otherwise a rather damp confection of conceptual clichés.

I realised at the beginning of & that once the dancers had appeared in Linehan’s work, they did not seem to change in any physical or psychological way in subsequent works; they simply reappeared in different costumes. At this level of postgraduate performance it would have done the dancers a service to provide a more varied program in which they would be challenged by contrasting choreographic voices to bring out their own intrinsic qualities. Audiences might have benefited too.


Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field

Posted: May 28th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field

Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field, Brighton Dome, May 25

The dancers in Rike Zollner’s costumes in Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field (photo: Pari Naderi)

Field: a place where a subject of scientific study or artistic representation can be observed in its natural location or context.

Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field, which received its world première at the Brighton Festival, is an abstract work that, like Francis Bacon’s use of colour, eschews representation for the affect of sensation. In Clinkard’s case, the sensation derives from his field of choreography that comprises the presence of the (superb) dancers, movement, colour, light and sound. What he set out to address in this work is ‘existing notions about the kind of contemporary dance that is usually created for larger theatres’ and he derived part of his inspiration from Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa’s book, The Eyes of the Skin. Whereas sight may be our most important sense, Pallasmaa argues that ‘problems arise from the isolation of the eye outside its natural interaction with other sense modalities…which increasingly reduce and restrict our experience of the world into the sphere of vision.’ Adapting this notion to the stage, Clinkard has in effect unified his own choreographic field to develop a theatre of the senses from the inside out, which in turn addresses notions of theatrical design.

To illustrate both of these achievements, This Bright Field is divided into two performances (called simply Part 1 and Part 2) in two different places that retain their own individuality and integrity yet form a whole. In the first, Clinkard has created his own physical context; audiences have timed entry through the stage door at the Brighton Dome to a small square space with dark, moveable panels. Cushions have been placed for the audience around the four sides with standing room behind. All the dancers are present in this miniature environment and we see them in the foreground or through the spaces between the panels which the dancers move often, so there is only a brief sense of a view being blocked; it will soon open up to a fresh glimpse, another dancer or dancers like life-size figures in a doll’s house performing phrases of idiosyncratic dance. The sound of birdsong and voices is muted to the scale of the environment so that even if the lighting is subdued the sense of intimacy with the expression of each performer is deeply felt. Although we don’t actually taste or smell the dancers, our close proximity to them engages all our senses in a synesthetic equation that makes this 20-minute Part 1 all-embracing and fulfilling. It is when we move, after a short break, into the Concert Hall of the Brighton Dome for Part 2 that Clinkard’s notions of intimacy are challenged by the cavernous space with its appalling sight lines. The further back you sit in the auditorium, the more the choreography is limited to the sensory vehicle of the eye as if the brain is relating to what it sees through a telescope. Nevertheless, with the help of light, sound and colour and with the memory of Part 1 still fresh in our minds, all is not lost.

Guy Hoare’s lighting is doing far more than illuminating the stage; his grand scheme is to reduce the visual distance of the theatre by building a wall of light at the back of the performance area that sets a scale to the movements of the dancers and, in the first section, exaggerates them in silhouette. In the second movement, Hoare lights the naked figure of Leah Marojević as delicately as the sound we can hear of rustling foil blankets on the stage. One sensation juxtaposed with another alters our perception; Marojević rises and falls with the weightlessness of the foil as she tries to break free of gravity. When the other dancers enter Hoare sculpts their naked bodies in light so their forms are almost tangible. The final section is all crimson, a passionate wash of colour that sets off the interlocking panels of Rike Zollner’s striking costumes as the dancers gather weight and dynamics.

Sound designer James Keane was inspired by other notions in Pallasmaa’s book. The first he cites is that ‘sound often provides the temporal continuum in which visual impressions are embedded’; Keane’s rumbling white noise in the opening section has the quality of space, holding in its thick embrace the movements of the dancers in silhouette. While appreciating this sensory element for its ability to scale down the size of the auditorium to the stage action, the sheer volume of sound seems to overcompensate, though when it dissipates into the sampling of strings and into song the aural relief is palpable; the rustlings of those foil blankets around the figure of Marojević could not have been quite so magical without the storm that preceded it.

What Clinkard and his creative team have accomplished is more significant than might first appear. Bacon’s paintings are limited by little more than our imagination and Pallasmaa’s architecture can define its own internal and, to a lesser extent, its external environments. But choreography is very much dependent on and limited by the architectural environment in which it is produced. It would be a circle completed if a dance performance inspired by Pallasmaa’s architectural writing might in turn inspire an architecture in which to experience dance; This Bright Field might well be a litmus test for such exploration. It so happens that Sadler’s Wells has plans to build a dance theatre on the former Olympics site and it would be fitting if Clinkard’s experience of creating This Bright Field might lead him to consulting on its design and implementation.

This Bright Field was co-commissioned by Brighton Festival, Dance4, Greenwich Dance and Trinity Laban Partnership, The Lowry and Tramway. It will be performed in the autumn at Tramway, The Lowry and Laban as part of a commissioners’ tour.