Alexandra Waierstall, And here we meet, Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: June 19th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alexandra Waierstall, And here we meet, Lilian Baylis Studio

Alexandra Waierstall, And here we meet, Lilan Baylis Studio, June 14

Waierstall

Evangelia Randou in Alexandra Waierstall’s And here we meet (photo: Katja Illner)

After recently seeing so many works commemorating events in the First World War it was a relief to be able to contemplate Alexandra Waierstall’s UK première of And here we meet at the Lilian Baylis Studio. A quiet, poetic and thoughtful meditation on our evolution, the form of the work is inspired, it would seem, by the enigmatic stories that Laurie Anderson delivers so beautifully, one of which (The beginning of memory) prefaces the performance. For And here we meet, Waierstall and dancer Dani Brown have revised a text found online about the mess we have made of the 200,000 years of our Anthropocene period, a startling list of factual observations on our current ecology and environment that will be familiar to many. It is as much the wryly impeccable logic of Anderson’s stories as the way in which they are related that make them so arresting: the dry tone of voice, the lilting accents, the artful timing and the flattening out of the ends of sentences that leave the words hanging in the air. Brown, who is also American, does this admirably while employing her body as an additional referent; the poetic nature of the words and sentences floats on the shapes she makes while Waierstall and Ansgar Kluge have together shaped the space with light — a small number of Christmas lights suspended close to the ground — that further modulate the body’s motion and its emotional effect.

Entering the stage in loose workout clothes, Brown is so in the moment and matter-of-fact that the poise of her voice comes as a surprise. She begins her story by indicating she will start with the end but then almost inconsequentially discards her clothes. We soon discover the end of the story is set in the future, 100 million years from now, when a group of post-Anthropocene explorers discovers our planet and finds its geology worth investigating. And here we meet is thus a vision of dystopia in which the naked human body serves as our archaeological guide to the present. In a metaphorical sense Waierstall has laid bare the current state of our environment but as the story proceeds, the simplicity of the body’s contours in the simplicity of the theatrical space raise it from the didactic to the poetic, from an apoplectic rant to an apocalyptic ode on the fate of mankind. In a constant alignment between words and movement, Brown’s voice seems to affect the articulation of her body and her gestures in turn add layers of meaning to the text. Every now and then her accent drops into a Southern drawl as a form of mordant exaggeration that continues into her body, as when from a crouched position with her tensed hands and fingers splayed over her head like a blind exotic oracle she describes the future discovery of our cities ‘empty from lack of food or drought’.

Waierstall’s visual depluming of the story to set it free of current contextual detail continues in the soundscape of her collaborator Volker Bertelmann, aka HAUSCHKA, in a composition that provides a perfect counterpart to her exploration through an other-worldly rhythmic evocation of a timeless past that defies a solid musical footprint. Waierstall had met Bertelmann after hearing about one of his projects inspired by abandoned cities and it is not hard to sense the similarity of their emotional approach to disappearance in And here we meet.

Whereas Laurie Anderson’s story is very much in the past, Brown’s is very much in the future. She ends her story with the kind of questions archaeologists might ask about the possible causes of their findings before slowly counting down from 10 to 4, where she breaks off. This is the point at which that vast span of horizontal time between past and future meet somewhere in the present with the appearance of Evangelia Randou. She is equally vulnerable in her lack of clothing, perhaps more so because she doesn’t speak; it’s as if she and Brown recognize each other but can’t remember where they met. Randou’s articulated avian gestures return to the birds of Anderson’s prologue, and for a moment she carries within her a hope that the future cannot comprehend. Brown retreats into the dark but it is not long before Randou, in a subdued gesture of disbelief, follows her. We have lost them both, but the poetry remains.


Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation) at the Barbican

Posted: June 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation) at the Barbican

Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation), Barbican Centre, June 12

Smack That

The cast in Rhiannon Faith’s Smack That (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulu)

The Pit at the Barbican is decked in balloons and pink folding chairs around its perimeter and as we enter a sextet of similarly dressed and wigged hostesses welcomes us with a drink (cider or water) and a snack (popcorn) before we take our seats. All the hostesses are called Bev and once seated we are each given a name tag that carries the same (m)atronymic with a descriptive forename; I am Specs Bev and Caterina is Pearl Bev. In the centre of the floor is a circular arrangement of identical boxes tied with pink bows from which the hostesses hand out one each with instructions not to open it before we are told. It’s like the setting of a giggly sixth form annual dance.

Choreographer and social activist Rhiannon Faith has a knack of wrapping up serious social concerns in settings that belie the nature of their subject. She and Maddy Morgan did it with Scary Shit, which dealt with their phobias and insecurities, and she follows up with a show about domestic abuse that starts with a party. But although the party is the way into Smack That, it is also a form of festive affirmation for the performers who have all been through abusive relationships and have come out of them stronger and wiser. In this sense Smack That is both a celebration of resilience over adversity and a call to action, for what Faith also does is to tap into solutions. In Scary Shit she introduced audiences to cognitive behavioural therapy and in Smack That she works with a domestic abuse charity, Safer Places, and introduces the J9 Domestic Abuse Initiative named in memory of Janine Mundy who was killed by her estranged husband in June 2003 while he was on police bail. Faith is responsible for making Harlow Playhouse the first J9 Venue in the UK, and the Barbican is now signed up and accredited, which means it has a safe place where victims of abuse can use a phone line to access information and a full support system. Look out for the pink J9 heart.

Presented by the Barbican as part of its 2018 season, Art of Change, Smack That takes the experiences of seven women (Rebekah Dunn, Valerie Ebuwa, Yukiko Masui, Maddy Morgan, Kim Quillen, Hollie Stevenson-Phipps and Casey Tohill) as a starting point for a conversation with the audience about domestic abuse. Six of those women — Quillen is on maternity leave — happen to be our hostesses, so this is not verbatim but autobiographical theatre (as Scary Shit had been), a fact that makes the setting disarmingly ambivalent. Just as the pervasiveness of domestic abuse (according to statistics, one in four women will experience it in their lifetime) far exceeds the social recognition, it is difficult to fully comprehend the reality behind Smack That in the performances of these six women. It is only half way through a light-hearted confessional party game when Stevenson-Phipps completes the statement, ‘Never have I ever…’ with ‘been grabbed by the throat’ that the atmosphere suddenly freezes; this is the moment in Smack That when we become aware of how domestic abuse can so easily go undetected until the victim has a chance to speak up. The somber atmosphere is soon relieved by the permission to open of our presents: party crackers and streamers (for immediate usage) along with information from the National Centre for Domestic Violence.

The theatrical form of Smack That cannot be dissociated from its social content; it is a reflection of the need to spread awareness of a pervasive but private violence and to offer help. As part of this engagement, Faith’s audition process was firstly to select women who had first-hand experience of domestic abuse who were willing to work together on stage; only three of the Bevs have formal dance training but the six women work so intimately together that it is solidarity that triumphs over individual qualities. Faith unites the Bevs through an egalitarian vocabulary of movement that extends beyond formal dance training, but at the same time she uses the expressive potential of Ebuwa, Masui and Morgan to add layers of gestural imagery to verbatim text as well as to portray physical and psychological states that are beyond words. It is here that Faith’s work as choreographer rather than director finds its emotional eloquence.

In its concern with social issues, Smack That follows naturally from Scary Shit, but in its loosening of choreographic imagery for theatrical articulation Faith has subtly changed the relationship of the audience to her work and of her work to society. The effects are already apparent.


ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

Posted: June 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms, Shoreditch Town Hall, June 8

These Rooms

Justine Cooper in These Rooms (photo: Pat Redmond)

In the pantheon of dance commemorations commissioned by 14-18 NOW, These Rooms, which remembers an incident in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, is not a lavish spectacle like Akram Khan’s XENOS, nor a staged narrative with a literary source like Gary Clarke’s The Troth, but a theatrical rendering based on archival material and witness accounts that takes history’s many facets into account. A collaboration between ANU and CoisCéim Dance Theatre and presented as part of this year’s LIFT, These Rooms doesn’t try to glorify the dead but to bring them back to life, to give them a chance to explain what happened. In the North King Street Massacre there were casualties on both sides; the voices of victims and survivors are heard amid the rush and adrenalin of the promenade performance created in the maze of spaces in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. While Owen Boss’s meticulous designs that Ciaran Bagnall has lit suggest the rooms in which the original action took place, the costumes of Niamh Lunny, the hair and make-up of Lucy Browne and Chloe Bourke and the musical indications of Dennis Clohessy and Carl Kennedy place the events on the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre in 1966, making These Rooms a commemoration within a commemoration. Tragedy in the face of loss never descends to the level of melodrama but is rendered in profound states of danced gesture, while grief and despair are matched with bleak humour and resilience. All eight performers are note perfect in their emotional involvement: Justine Cooper, Damian Gildea, Úna Kavanagh, Niamh McCann, Jonathan Mitchell, Robbie O’Connor, Emma O’Kane and Matthew Williamson.

These Rooms does not aim to trace the entire scope of the Easter Rising, but takes one of the key skirmishes — where Irish rebels had occupied numerous small buildings and had barricaded the streets — as a simulacrum of the bold attempt to establish an Irish Republic. One of the controversial aspects of the North King Street Massacre was the indiscriminate nature of the killings; whoever lived in the houses was considered a rebel and the British troops were given the order to take no prisoners. Yet one of the transformative elements of the production is the portrayal of death, however violent, as a moment of release. The image of Williamson’s filigree hands and wide-eyed, slow-motion tumbling down the stairs after being shot is memorable.

The violence in the street is constantly suggested by the tensions between the men and women inside. Threads of stories are started then interrupted by our urgent relocation to another ‘safer’ room or corridor only to be reprised and resolved later; one cohort might see the representation of a story the other will hear recounted, but by the end we have all taken in the full picture. The audience both observes and participates for the direction of David Bolger and Louise Lowe invites us to join in the action — whether it’s sitting around in the pub, blowing up balloons, playing darts, dancing with the women, responding to questions or eating bread and jam.

Before the performance starts, the audience is divided into two cohorts that follow two separate narrative paths, one nuanced by the perspective of the Irish rebels and the other of the British troops. I start in the pub while Caterina starts in the barracks of the South Staffordshire Regiment. The sheer complexity of the logistics for the eight performers to make these two threads coherent for the audience is breathtaking for neither cohort is aware of the other until we meet in the pub to watch the 1966 tickertape parade on the bar’s television screen. Having witnessed a view of the events from the inside — particularly through the experiences of the women who in their support for the rebels had to bear the brunt of the violence and its consequences — this solemn filmed memorial appears to smooth out all the pain of history. And the story of a British soldier who thought he was being sent to France and was unprepared to kill civilians reminds us how much ‘official history’, no matter from which side, is heavy with silences.

Honouring the dead is itself a minefield of codified ritual pitting the political power and authority of the state over the privations and losses of those directly affected. These Rooms brings these two aspects into stark and uneasy cohabitation. After watching the televised parade we are ushered out the door with a solicitous word of encouragement. There is no place for applause.


A Truefitt Collective Triple Bill of Love & Spaghetti at Blue Elephant

Posted: June 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Truefitt Collective Triple Bill of Love & Spaghetti at Blue Elephant

Love & Spaghetti, Triple Bill, Blue Elephant Theatre, May 31

Love & Spaghetti

Eva Escrich Gonzalez and Jay Yule in Love & Spaghetti (photo: Ross Truefitt)

Blue Elephant Theatre’s importance in London’s dance infrastructure is that you can’t hide in production values what you present on its tiny stage. What you see are the bare essentials of artistic endeavor that will always be the true starting point of any work. And because you can’t put more than a handful of people on the stage and the audience is very close, this is intimate dance, and as such it is unforgiving. That this triple bill, curated by Kasia Truefitt of A Truefitt Collective, survives the ordeal is already a measure of its success. The title of the evening — Love & Spaghetti — lumps together a commonly misunderstood subject with a commonly misunderstood pasta dish, but while each of the three works clearly chooses love as a central ingredient, spaghetti is relegated to a metaphor for the tangled relations love engenders.

Because of the spatial limitations of Blue Elephant, each work is physically small-scale, but that doesn’t mean the idea or the performance is similarly constrained. It is always preferable to have a small space and boundless ideas than small ideas and a boundless space. Marie Rambert began her ballet company — and the careers of Sir Frederick Ashton and Anthony Tudor — on the tiny stage of the Mercury Theatre, so space is no limitation to quality and ambition.

Elisha Hamilton’s Too Close to the Bone is an intimate concept that nevertheless asks for a dozen volunteers on stage, which requires a certain amount of squeezing. It is a performative exercise on power and confession where each of the volunteers in turn reads a statement from an envelope. They all have to indicate its truth or falsity by picking up a paper flower or by remaining in place. Hamilton’s role is at first to perform the turning, twisting minefield of mental processes in each calculated or spontaneous response. In the second half the roles are reversed: she performs to a text about the sexual exploitation of a girl at a party that is contained in a series of envelopes she asks her volunteers to read. Because of the problem of an inconsistent level of clarity in the reading, our attention is drawn both to the text and to Hamilton’s interpretation, like watching surtitles at an opera. But dance doesn’t need explanatory text; it can express the meaning — and a lot more — all alone.

Sorry Flowers Die by Jay Yule and Tommy Cattin is a work that thrives on intimacy by contrasting emotional and physical proximity with relational distance and space. They carefully lay out a two-cubit square of white tape that delineates the space of their domestic arrangement like a miniature reenactment of the opening scene in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. They can barely fit inside it let alone dance a mambo and as they jostle and manoeuvre around each other with burlesque exaggeration they punctuate their entanglements with a very British refrain of ‘Sorry!’ In a moment of slapstick exuberance Yule is ejected from the square and makes one of her own, much smaller, in front of the memento mori of expiring cut flowers. Seeing she’s enjoying her freedom (grooving happily to Cierro Mis Ojos), a piqued Cattin tries to muscle in but is in turn ejected. He tapes a much larger square that contains the other two and for a while he and Yule enjoy the space to be themselves until she gently but firmly takes up a section of his tape and ushers him out. Sorry Flowers Die has a lot more to it than Yule and Cattin allow; it is in a neat prose form that has a wealth of humour but hides its poetic and theatrical potential.

Truefitt’s Love & Spaghetti is the longest of the three works and builds on the preceding two to arrive (almost) at a form of cabaret. According to the program note, the work is based on a social experiment in which two strangers answered Arthur Aron’s ‘36 questions that can make you fall in love with anyone’. Some of the questions can be heard as part of a broader emotional context — Jo Cooper’s ironic choice of songs about love — in Truefitt’s adaptation of the experiment as a duet with Yule and Eva Escrich Gonzalez in which they embrace notions of connection and independence. Even spaghetti has an appearance as a length of tangled rope. There’s a wealth of ideas here, two excellent performers, and a subject that anyone can understand and enjoy. What it needs is a production that renders its voice as richly vibrant as what it’s saying.


Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018 at Laban

Posted: June 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018 at Laban

Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018, Laban, June 1

Transitions Dance Company

Transitions Dance Company in Jarkko Partanen’s Lovers (photo: Lidia Crisafulli)

Transitions is called a conservatoire dance company, which means it renews its dancers each year within Laban’s MA Dance Performance program and is designed to help these artists ‘fill the gap between formal training and their entry to the professional world.’ The artists are selected ‘through an intense and competitive international selection process’ so on the one hand Laban seems to suggest the BA level formal training for these dancers — including those from Laban itself — is not sufficient to give them a competitive chance of joining a professional company upon graduation, and at the same time the formation of Transitions relies on the ability of these dancers to be so competitive in an international audition process to win a place in the company.

The nature of Transitions — and of any conservatoire dance company — is thus somewhere between institutional and professional, and is essentially transient. The invited choreographers are not creating a repertoire that allows the company to mature and grow — there is no possibility of maturity and growth — but that enables the dancers to demonstrate what they have learned. One corollary of this approach is that all fourteen dancers are included in each work; no marked choreographic preference is given to an individual’s ability. The qualities of individual dancers may shine in a given work but only in the sense of an accent of colour or texture in a choreographic quilt. In effect the constraints of these triple bills show not so much the possibilities of the dancers and choreographers as the nature of the MA Dance Performance program itself.

This is certainly a more varied selection of works than last year and one that tests the dancers in quite different ways. Paradoxically, Jarkko Partanen’s work, Lovers, is the most challenging for its initial lack of any recognizable dance element. Partanen has organized the dancers ‘in such a way as to allow them to act, understand, and continue only through touch’ and in partnership with Laban’s Suzie Holmes has covered them in layers of foil and mesh that entirely obscure their identity; not only is their sight impaired but Partanen has evoked sightlessness in sculptural form. At the beginning there is an uncompromising lack of sound, too, leaving the audience to ponder in silence what appears to be a neat row of black plastic bags on the upper side of Fay Patterson’s square of floor lights. The initiation of movement is barely perceptible but as the dancers rise in their coverings Partanen’s vision is transferred to their sense of touch. Their challenge in subsequent couplings and grouping is to convey the sensory limitation as sensually and naturally as possible. When it is successful it is powerfully poignant, but if the level of gestural intention slackens or falters it can become comic. When a mirror ball descends and Rihanna’s Diamonds breaks the silence we feel a sense of relief as our sensory apparatus is restored but for the dancers the concentration must remain until the final, sightless exit.

Hagit Yakira’s The Ar/ct of Moving Forward celebrates the freedom of movement as a mode of expression. The dancers initially walk or run in one by one from alternate sides of the stage; it is like a choreographic form of introduction, but instead of moving forward towards the audience they move away from it, from downstage to upstage, glancing back to look at us and to allow us to look at them. As one exits upstage another enters downstage in a mirror-like procession. The range of movement accumulates and accelerates over the course of the work, reveling in an abandoned enthusiasm that is contagious. As in Lovers, there is more to this choreography than the doing of it; it requires presence over reserve, connection over isolation, solicitude over individuality. The surge of Sabio Janiak’s upbeat score adds to the work’s sense of travel as bubbling pockets of exuberance explode and dissolve in a continuous stream of humanity.

Richard Chappell’s When running starts and stops contains within its title a sense of what has gone before but introduces the articulation and flow of classical dance in an intriguing evocation of ‘animalistic physicality’. Created on eight dancers (there is an alternate cast of six with Orion Hart and Umut Ozdaloglu appearing in both) who form a band of friends caught up in a mysteriously undefined adventure, the work retains a muscular vocabulary that engages the dancers technically and allows individual expression within the whole. Albert E. Dean’s electronic score is implicated in the action like a ninth performer, playing counterpart to the physicality and marking the way forward, while Chappell’s choreographic grammar reveals a convincing ability to coax a story out of movement.


Akram Khan Company, XENOS, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: June 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Akram Khan Company, XENOS, Sadler’s Wells

Akram Khan Company, XENOS, Sadler’s Wells, May 30

Xenos

Akram Khan in XENOS (photo © Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts program for the First World War centenary, XENOS is billed as a commemoration of an Indian soldier in the trenches representing the more than a million mobilized from what was then a colony of the British Empire. But it is also billed as the final full-length solo Akram Khan will choreograph on himself. So what, or who, is XENOS actually commemorating? Sarah Crompton titles her program article, ‘A new myth’ in which she discusses with Khan the making of XENOS, its creative components and the summation of his career. She concludes that the new myth is ‘to help everyone remember.’ Remember what? Both Khan’s role and the production itself are equivocal in their response.

Even though Khan was born in a south London borough to Bangladeshi parents, his dancing roots are in his classical kathak training, which makes his portrayal of ‘X’ — who dramaturg Ruth Little describes as ‘no man and everyman, the unknown and the eternal soldier, alone in a foreign land…’ — unquestionably poignant. The opening of XENOS (meaning ‘foreigner’ or ‘stranger’) is a masterful depiction of ‘X’ at the convergence of dance and conflict. As we arrive in the auditorium of Sadler’s Wells, vocalist Aditya Prakash and percussionist BC Manjunath are seated on stage performing a classical concert unperturbed by our lack of attention. Mirella Weingarten’s set is a study in absence: empty, dusty chairs, an abandoned swing and a low table covered in a fine layer of earth below a string of bare light bulbs and an array of ropes leading up an incline towards the back. It is a deserted interior scene that anticipates the passing of the present into a bleak future. It is only with an amplified electrical short circuit and a temporary blackout that the audience becomes attentive and subsides into silence; the concert continues and Khan enters as if discharged violently from a traumatic past. The music serves to revive him and he begins a haltingly remembered kathak dance; at times Manjunath has to prompt him with the chanted rhythms and the three men build up a haunting image of life interrupted and changed forever. Khan is in a sense playing himself, remembering past glories from a conflicted present, his mature body reliving what it could once do so effortlessly. More electrical short circuits and an extended black out lead us to a plangent space and time where the snake-like ropes draw Khan and all the furniture inexorably up the slope as if by an outside force — the original tug of war — and over the top.

The parapet remains throughout XENOS as the locus of the trenches and of Khan’s place in this desolate world; he connects a rope like a field cable to what appears to be a gramophone to hear a crackly recording of the names of fallen Indian soldiers, one of whom died laying cables in the mud. The horn of the gramophone later becomes a searchlight, but with these surreal allusions the connection to the First World War begins to veer off into the discursive themes of myth and evolution. Khan invokes Prometheus, the Greek Titan who is credited with the creation of man from clay and who stole fire from Zeus to facilitate the development of civilization — and its unintended consequence, war. Khan’s depiction of evolution seems to cover the period from Mowgli to the Mahabharata, subtly shifting the focus of XENOS from the representation of colonial ‘X’ into the current myth of Khan himself. It’s as if ‘X’ has offloaded his ‘otherness’ and has returned home, which is now in Wimbledon.

In the Crompton interview, Khan acknowledges an Indian academic who had thought remembrance was ‘a white thing’. This notion had spurred Khan to delve into the archives of Indian involvement in the First World War, which in turn imbued his empathetic memorialization of ‘X’ at the beginning of XENOS. However, any further attempt at excavating the memory of these forgotten soldiers from oblivion is lost in the meandering rhetoric and the ‘whiteness’ of this lavish monument of a production.

By the time lighting designer Michael Hulls, composer Vincenzo Lamagna and sound engineer Julien Deloison introduce that glorious go-to expression of sorrowful beauty, Mozart’s Lacrimosa from his Requiem mass, blasted from a Schechtian gallery of musicians suspended in light above the stage, the commemoration has turned fully on Kahn: the end of the war has become conflated with the end of his solo career.


Vincent Dance Theatre, Shut Down, Onca Gallery, Brighton Festival

Posted: June 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vincent Dance Theatre, Shut Down, Onca Gallery, Brighton Festival

Vincent Dance Theatre, Shut Down, Onca Gallery, Brighton Festival, May 24

Shut Down

Janusz Orlik and Jack Sergison in Shut Down (photo: Bosie Vincent)

Shut Down is a confluence of the current sexual politics whirling around the #MeToo campaign and Charlotte Vincent’s 30-year concern with gender politics at the heart of her work since she started her company in 1994. It’s Vincent’s first all-male work, and as dancer Robert Clark explains at the beginning as if introducing a BBC documentary on the subject and very much aware that he is also one of the subjects under scrutiny, it’s ‘about men’. Shut Down appears at the Brighton Festival as a film installation at Onca Gallery, but it has also been conceived as a live performance. Bosie Vincent’s stunning visual transformation of the choreography projected on a row of six screens takes advantage of the medium to present the work not only in the context of a stage setting but also transposes sections to the landscape and architecture of East Sussex and Kent. By adjusting our gaze and focus from the particular to the panoramic, from the individual to the ensemble, and from interior to exterior, he adds layers of meaning to the conceptual framework of the choreography.

The stage setting will be familiar to those who have seen Vincent’s Motherland, with its black and white costumes on a white floor that extends up the back wall on which words and designs can be scrawled in charcoal as part of a shorthand that links ideas and emotions with choreographic gesture; we can read Vincent’s work as well as see it. In the case of Shut Down, the writing on the back wall of the theatre starts with the word MAN in capital letters — what Clark suggests is ‘the problem’ — and grows in the course of the work into a complex lexicography of descriptive, angry, caustic and mocking words and phrases about the current state of manhood. In her focus on gender inequality, Vincent has not held men in high esteem and has judged them, as in Motherland, in contradistinction to women. In Shut Down, there is no contradistinction, no emotional or behavioural reference; this is a roast in which men of three generations (Clark, Jake Evans, Janusz Orlik, Jack Sergison, Marcus Faulkner and James Rye) act out their stereotypes of masculinity in the absence of women.

In the program note, Vincent writes that ‘Shut Down grapples with the personal and the political: the urge to fight, to love, to come together, to be yourself, to be what’s expected of you, to break the rules. The work shines a fierce and sometimes funny light on misogyny, role modelling, fatherhood, ‘otherness’ and how we fail to engage with young men and their emotional needs. The voices of young people are urgent and moving in the work — they show us, as a society, where we really are.’

Vincent shines a warm light on the young men and they play their role of foils to their elders with a poignant innocence. Evans is a particularly charismatic performer who is allowed the freedom to embrace the fullness of his ‘otherness’. The focus of Vincent’s scorn is on the older generation who are set up as white sexual predators, figures lacking empathy, lost, or all three; she does not let them evolve outside a visual and choreographic image that excoriates them, a generalized construct verging on misandry. Clark and Orlik seem destined to illustrate all that is wrong with men and are all too keen to plead guilty to all offences; they are placed on the firing line and given the rifles. There is no humour in Shut Down that is not caustic or sardonic, no play that is not illustrative of a breakdown in relations. The one who is allowed to escape this sense of failed masculinity is Sergison who is nevertheless balanced precariously between youth and the conflicted trap of manhood. In the final game of hide-and-seek where he is abandoned by the others, his frustration — ‘Guys, you always do this to me’ — is a moment where the imagery gains in power from the words and the words resonate with the imagery. Elsewhere in Shut Down the subject of maleness is too often betrayed by a verbal and conceptual content, underlined by Eben’flo’s raw, castigatory spoken word, that acts like a web in which the older men are hung out to dry. As the three generations dance around a burning fire towards the end in an act of communal resolution the filmed image is superimposed by Vincent’s crackling flames with their traditional connotation of Hell. These men don’t stand a chance.


The British Paraorchestra and Friends, The Nature of Why at Bristol Old Vic

Posted: May 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The British Paraorchestra and Friends, The Nature of Why at Bristol Old Vic

The British Paraorchestra and Friends, The Nature of Why, Bristol Old Vic, May 12

The Nature of Why

The Nature of Why (photo: Paul Blakemore)

Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” – Richard Feynman

Set amongst the giddy theatrical delights of Mayfest is the world premiere of The Nature of Why by The British Paraorchestra and Friends; a physics-crunching, joyous, 70-minute musical adventure on the stage of the Bristol Old Vic. Commissioned by Unlimited it features a new score from Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, choreography and co-direction from Caroline Bowditch and is conducted and co-directed by Charles Hazlewood. The Nature of Why is framed by The British Paraorchestra as ‘merging dance and live music into an epic performance that brims with emotion and physical beauty…it takes inspiration from the unconventional curiosity of Nobel prize-winning theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, and his search for meaning in the world around us. The Nature of Why promises to be an up-close-and-personal dance experience like no other.’

The choreography embellishes the idea of a magnet and how it attracts or repulses bodies, not only between the dancers but also in their intermingling with the audience which leaves a playful and non-threatening level of interaction in its wake: The Nature of Why revels in the intimacy and connections it forges between the audience and performers. Before we enter the auditorium there is a clear invitation from Bowditch and Hazlewood that viewing and altering our perspective is welcome and will create different sonic and visual opportunities for us. Set across nine distinct orchestral movements, audience members are invited to move in and around the stage in between the clearly defined sections whilst a pre-recorded conversation from Feynman talks about magnets and why; watching the dancers (KJ Clarke-Davies, Victoria Fox, Marta Masiero and Alex McCabe) twine, mesh and envelop themselves around each other and audience members or standing next to Adrian Lee as he shreds his electric guitar whilst the 10-piece string orchestra is dialing up the intensity four feet behind you is a rare privilege.

The body is an instrument which only gives off music when it is used as a body. Always an orchestra, and just as music traverses walls, so sensuality traverses the body and reaches up to ecstasy.” – Anais Nin

The British Paraorchestra is the world’s only large-scale ensemble for disabled musicians and Gregory’s rousing and anthemic score is executed with aplomb. It delivers a musical environment that enables the dancers to dig into and under their innate fibrous musicality; Masiero demonstrates an ease in playing and improvising with the young children in the audience who are present in the matinee performance. Gregory’s score, whilst fulfilling the needs of the performers, also leaves a residue of sonic satisfaction with the audience that left my body moving and pulsing with an emotional connection amplified by the intimacy created by the performers.

Bowditch and Hazlewood highlight that Audio Description (provided by Rationale Productions) is available for each performance and you can take up the invitation if you want. It is wise to do so as the voice and performance of the live audio describer adds an additional layer to the performance which reinforces the choices and intention of the creative team; the joy and tone in hearing a smiling voice subjectively describe abstract choreography in plain English is both a challenge and a delight. When a dancer merges with a double bass and is wheelbarrowed across the stage I close my eyes listening to the audio voice, the score and the reaction of the audience. Rationale Productions are doing some pioneering work with Audio Description and it is clear they are woven into the creation process from the beginning; the integrity of, and familiarity with all parts of the production delivers a level of performance equal to those on stage.

My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.” – Fernando Pessoa

The Nature of Why has a number of scenographic and thematic echoes from two recent productions: Marc Brew Company’s BrewBand (in which Masiero and McCabe featured prominently) fluidly exchanges the roles of dancer and musician and blurs the roles of each skill set, and Claire Cunningham’s and Jess Curtis’s The Way You Look (at me) Tonight which brought the audience on stage, had a depth of intimacy and asked a suite of complex philosophical questions. Bowditch, Cunningham and Brew are a trio of dance makers who have spent a number of years in Scotland forging a reputation for delivering ambitious and emotionally resonant work; with Brew’s departure to Oakland as Artistic Director of Axis Dance (USA) and Bowditch’s forthcoming appointment as Executive Director of Arts Access Victoria (AUS), it leaves Cunningham as the last of the trinity in Glasgow and Scotland, choreographically, a poorer place.

As a wider Mayfest observation, MAYK (co-directed by Matthew Austin and Kate Yedigaroff) have trusted and amplified a significant suite of makers from Bristol; that investment in the people based in the city is exemplary and an antidote to the majority of other UK-based theatre, dance and performance festivals that buy in work from out of town much to the detriment of the artists in their own city. Alongside The British Paraorchestra, there were works from Verity Standen, Sabrina Shirazi, Caroline Williams and Hannah Sullivan.

For a work with so many collaborators, constituent parts and a roving audience, The Nature of Why is a remarkably coherent experience; it creates a space where people can feel comfortable and connected to others, nourishes our ears, bodies and minds whilst nestling itself in the cracks of our memories as we leave the stage in high spirits.


Gary Clarke and Akademi, The Troth at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted: May 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gary Clarke and Akademi, The Troth at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Gary Clarke and Akademi, The Troth, Queen Elizabeth Hall, May 5

The Troth

Subhash Viman Gorania and Vidya Patel in The Troth (photo: Simon Richardson)

The original review was published online in pulseconnects and appears here by kind permission of its editor, Sanjeevini Dutta. 

Gary Clarke’s choreographic adaptation of The Troth at Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Alchemy is based on a love story (Usne Kaha Tha in its original Hindi) written in 1915 by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri that is set against the background of India’s involvement as part of the British Empire in the First World War.

As a youth Lehna Singh (Subhash Viman Gorania) meets Leela (Vidya Patel), like Romeo meeting Juliet, at a market festival and falls in love with her. When he bumps into her some years later, he learns she is betrothed. He answers a recruitment call to join the British Army and begins training. Eighteen years into the story, on the outbreak of the First World War, he discovers that his Captain (Songhay Toldon) is Leela’s husband and father of their son, Bodha (Dom Coffey), who is also leaving for the front. On their departure Leela takes Lehna aside and makes him promise to protect her family at all costs. Driven by his love for Leela and his sense of duty, Lehna fulfills his promise at the cost of his own life.

There is in the relationship between Lehna and Leela a metaphor for the ties between India and the British Raj, whether Guleri meant it or not. The British Army’s inducements to Indians like Lehna to protect the Empire were more calculatingly material — a contemporary recruitment poster offers shoes and food in return for the sacrifice of their lives — but the honourable relationship between country and beloved motherland had the same tragic consequences.

Despite its historical context, there is no horror in the re-telling of this story; dance can’t do horror very well and even the projected archival film footage of Indian soldiers on the front is quite sanitized, filmed from a safe distance behind the lines and suffused with subtle propaganda. One photograph of a pair of disintegrating legs attached to their boots in the mud is the only graphic image, a reminder of the fate of 60,000 Indian soldiers in the conflict. Shri Sriram’s percussive sound score rattles with bullets and explosions at high intensity and the dancers run at full tilt and fly to the ground in the chaos of battle but the reiteration of such physical exertion becomes a choreographic trope unless Clarke is suggesting the naivety of gymnastic preparations for modern warfare. The staged vigour of the soldiers on the battlefield is not far removed from the earlier men’s dances in the market, but how can one possibly approach on stage the conditions under which these soldiers had to exist in the trenches?

Neither did Guleri intend to write an anti-war tract; he was more concerned with the qualities of the heart. Hence, while Clarke’s treatment of The Troth can only approximate the war experiences, he shows more convincingly — because we can relate more easily with it and because dance can do it so well — the romance of Guleri’s story.

Clarke, as choreographer and director, takes the story at face value, and in Patel he has a convincing heroine for whom Gorania is quite understandably willing to sacrifice himself. But in framing the story on the troth between Lehna and Leela Clarke and producer, Akademi, risk subsuming the broader political picture into a romantic evocation of the past. This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, and The Troth is part of a cultural outpouring marking its remembrance. Next month, for example, Akram Khan’s full-scale solo Xenos ‘conjures the shell-shocked dream of a colonial soldier in the context of the First World War’ while English National Ballet will reprise its Lest We Forget program in September. The tendency of such works, and of the commemorative purposes underlying them, is to focus on the effects of war rather than on its causes; hence the stories of loss, love, loyalty, heroism and pity (‘The poetry is in the pity’, as Wilfred Owen wrote in a preface to his war poems). And yet in using these emotional stories as a means of memorialization, are we not in danger of forgetting the political forces that engendered them, those same political forces that continue to preside over the act of remembrance?

In Clarke’s previous work, Coal, about the 1984/85 coal miner’s strike, he contextualizes political force by juxtaposing the lives of the miners and their families with an appearance by a belligerent Mrs. Thatcher. It is this tension that holds the work together but in The Troththe use of archival film as historical context is little more than background and barely offsets the lack of narrative tension in the story. Perhaps Clarke could have found a way to use the political metaphor in the story but that would have run the risk of a post-colonial reading at odds with the commemorative intention of the work.


Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18

Posted: May 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18

Ula and Bartė Liagaitė, Duet That Happened, New Baltic Dance’18, May 12

Ula Liagaitė

Ula Liagaitė performing Duet That Happened (photo: Lukas Mykolaitis)

Imagine a whirlwind approaching and the one idea you have is to penetrate it so you can experience the eye of the storm. Francis Alÿs, an artist who is known for his sardonic political statements through mediated events in which he himself often performs, did exactly this over a period of ten years and recorded it in a video, Tornado. The work could be understood as a metaphor for entering into the nature of a phenomenon through its exterior appearance and of getting mixed up in the unpredictability of the encounter. Ula Liagaitė, who trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, was inspired by Alÿs to imagine how she might adapt his poetics of the unattainable in choreographic terms. Her body has the same materiality but the whirlwind has become a cylindrical metal sculpture by Liagaitė’s sister, Bartė, a free-standing structure with a vertical axle connecting two broad, horizontal cylinders, part double boiler — the initial lighting gives it a copper colour — and part smooth industrial gearing.

Liagaitė prepares for the encounter in a choreographic prelude based of a mix of boxing and classical dance comprising fast footwork, hands held close to the chest and the bobbing, ducking gestures invoked against an invisible sparring partner; she is both protective and pugnacious. She punctuates the sparring by dropping to the floor like a puppet whose strings have been loosened. Wearing a casual, loose-fitting, gold-coloured robe, Liagaitė’s dancing figure contrasts with the stillness of the cylindrical construction; in the darkened studio with a single light that spills on both we witness the close but unresolved relationship between the two. Finally, when she is ready — and as Mikas Zabulionis’ rumbling score reaches a shrill climax — she crosses the short distance to the cylinders to begin her duet.

Liagaitė writes in the program note that, like the experience of watching Tornado, ‘this piece is about a particular feeling that there’s always something bigger than us.’ The duet that is about to happen is already inevitable because the two objects, one human and one mechanical, are drawn to each other by both the object’s offer of experience and Liagaitė’s will to accept it. She approaches the object with reverence before familiarizing herself with its surfaces; there is something of an encounter between two lovers, sensing the perimeters of the body and its contours. However, getting inside the structure was never going to be seamless; Liagaitė has set herself the choreographic task of climbing into a sculptural object that is static — unlike the whirlwind — in order to fulfil its promise of motion. A slight hesitation is perhaps expected at the threshold of a new experience, but once the resistance is overcome Liagaitė sets the cylinders turning from her invisible place inside. We only hear her breathy voice above the whirling sound as a witness of her achievement: ‘I might just be here in the heart of the storm…I feel like I have no control over this thing…’ The duet has started and the pair remains in a dynamic, poetic embrace until the end.

This is the most successful part of the performance — and perhaps the crux of Liagaitė’s vision for the work — in which light, sound and the sensual duet of body and machine converge. As an acknowledgement of the idea of a whirlwind, Liagaitė loses her gown somewhere in the depths of the structure so that when she rises above its turning rim her naked torso is juxtaposed with the polished surfaces and the lighting projects flame-like reflections on her body. Shadows and burnished metal turn slowly before us as Liagaitė’s dancing body sits calmly, climbs or leans out from her mechanical partner in perfect equilibrium, urging on the revolutions to heighten the sense of motion and emotion in her union. She drops down to the floor holding on to the rim and lets the dynamic of the whirling cylinders dictate her momentum of repeated phrases of abandoned falling, slithering and turning. There is a question of who is in control, but as the momentum dies down and the cylinders come to rest, she finds composure sitting on the rim, flushed but with a sense of regret, as if to say, ‘I’ve achieved what I wanted but I’m sorry it’s over.’ Fetching her gown and putting it on she returns to her sparring in the single light until the darkness and a sense of calm descend. The duet has happened.