Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Viktor, Sadler’s Wells, February 8


Eddie Martinez and Ophelia Young in Viktor (photo: Meyer Originals)

Peter Pabst’s set locates Viktor in a deep underground cavern surrounded on three sides by high earthen walls on which wooden ladders lean like the interior of a fortified rampart; at intervals during the performance Andrey Berezin shovels earth from the top on to the stage, an aural as much as a visual rhythm of burial. At the foot of one of the walls, rather incongruously, stands an upright piano. Even more incongruously Julie Shanahan enters armless in a scarlet dress, coming to rest like a smiling Roman goddess as Khachaturian’s Masquerade waltz swirls around her until Dominique Mercy brings a fur coat, places it over her shoulders and escorts her out. In this starkly beautiful opening scene, Pina Bausch merges the conceptions of Pabst’s sepulchral set and Marion Cito’s bright, witty costumes in her choreographic evocation of Rome, the Eternal City that inspired Viktor following an invitation to coproduce with Teatro Argentina di Roma and a company visit. There is none of the city’s classical columns or grandiose baroque architecture here but an imaginary locus in which Viktor’s symbiotic themes of death, antiquity, life and beauty play out over the next three hours, ricocheting from one surreal association to the next: from a living statue to a marriage ceremony for the dead, from bargaining two sheep on the black market to furniture auctions, from flirtations to sexual assault, from undressing to cross dressing to the men sitting in a row putting on makeup, from fur coats stored in a fridge to a human fountain. The imagination wanders deliriously from entrance to entrance, each one setting up the expectation of a narrative that never quite fits with the previous one and brings time to a temporary halt. It’s an exquisitely judged choreographic rhythm to which the musical inputs by Matthias Burkert add a range of emotional highlights, from Russian symphonic music to New Orleans jazz to Italian folk songs.

Three hours may seem a long time, but in identifying the underlying nature of time and experience in these traces of her exploration — and those of her dancers who helped create the material — Bausch has synthesized them by condensing the time and experience into a theatrical setting. We are re-living those experiences in their reconvened form. Bausch was aware of the significance of the present moment as a tangible appearance on the surface of history, and in Viktor she has chosen rather to delve into that fertile ground of the past — underneath the streets — to portray what lies above. It is a miracle she accomplishes this in a mere three hours.

There is no doubt that death hangs over Viktor but there are also the luscious, smiling processions, the ensemble gestural dances and the rapturous swinging that are like shoots appearing above the ground after winter, and the bright colours and flowing design of Cito’s costumes on the elegant dancers are themselves a sign of radiance that punctuates the darker layers of Bausch’s vision. And she never fails to highlight the small absurdities of life that she presents on stage for our delight.

Bausch died nine years ago, so all her works the company has performed since then are, in a poignant yet real sense, memento mori — perhaps none more so, given its themes, than Viktor. It thus has a double resonance, reminding us of Bausch’s genius at transforming experience into a transcendent choreographic language of Tanztheater and of the indivisibility of life and death. We shall never again know what Bausch is thinking in the present, but only what was in her mind at the time of a particular work. Unlike a photograph that sets the past exactly as it appeared at the moment it was taken, a choreographic work can only be an approximation of what it was during the choreographer’s lifetime. For Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch we would seem to be on safe ground — some of the performers were in the original work — and although the level of performance is uneven in terms of experience, Viktor is shot through with conviction and colour to the extent we can see what the work must have been like from its creation in May 1986 up until Bausch’s death in June 2009.

Early on we learn that Viktor is itself a voice from the grave, a ghostly presence who through a woman’s lips in a man’s voice asks permission to remain for the performance insisting he is very quiet and closes the door when there is a draught. How tantalizing to imagine Bausch writing her spectral self into each performance.

Crying with Laughter and Score 10 at The Old Market

Posted: January 31st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Crying with Laughter and Score 10 at The Old Market

Crying with Laughter and Score 10, The Old Market, Hove, January 27

Score 10

Belinda Papavasiliou, Harley Ovens, Rosa Firbank and Jessica Miller in Score 10 (photo: Alice Underwood)

The double bill, Crying with Laughter by Bite Dance and Score 10 by Pickett Improv, at The Old Market theatre in Hove presents two pieces that ask similar questions from different perspectives about action and interaction in performance. Zoë Bishop and Alice White do so by looking at physical comedy and laughter; director Hannah Pickett with dancers, Belinda Papavasiliou, Harley Ovens, Jessica Miller, Rosa Firbank and composer Iain Paxon, through sound and dance improvisation.

Crying with Laughter opens with a black-and-white video of Bishop and White making exaggerated facial expressions inspired by the repertoire of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy as they themselves sit on stage watching it with their backs to us, like giggling spectators at their own performance. At the end of the video, at the sound of bursting applause (far too loud) Bishop and White bow effusively to the audience. The enactment is reminiscent of vaudeville — a rather incongruous mixing of genres — to which the immaculate, matching costumes by Michelle Bristow also seem to allude. Bishop and White then sit again, this time facing us, to impart a gallery of silent gestures and postures of laughter that turn into laughing audibly at an invisible act in which we, the viewers, are implicit. This is the basic alternating structure of Crying with Laugher that Bishop and White repeat with small variations to crackly 78 recordings, including another video based on their slapstick. Towards the end the laughter veers into hysterical crying — the opposite poles of comedy and tragedy to which the title of the work refers. What is missing throughout this choreography of laughter and crying is the comic act itself, the situational context that is the galvanizing element between action and interaction, between the performer and the audience; without it, all that remains is a superficial focus on gestural mimicry. With their final dance routines there is a return to vaudeville where both Bishop and White appear more at ease; it is as if they are skating on the surface of the dark undercurrents of comedy without wanting to fall in, leaving them neither entirely in nor entirely out of its grasp.

Pickett Improv’s Score 10 uses percussive and electric sound as the basis for the interactive improvisation both between Paxon and the dancers and among the dancers themselves. Arranged around a score of choreographic instructions, the dancers initiate or respond to each other’s movement, develop it or remove themselves from it in an alternation of duets, solos, and quartets. It’s a fascinating process to watch for like a five-way conversation made up of physical and spatial interventions and observations, nobody quite knows what the other is about to say nor how she is going to react. Paxon provides the percussive continuum, gently coaxing responses from the performers rather than dictating — apart from a couple of time cues — while the performers start and stop, enter or leave as they feel the desire to complete the current phrase. The art of improvisation is to join these phrases into a credible arc of communication over the whole work rather than making a series of independent expressions; to succeed requires experience and a marked physical and spatial intelligence (dance is, after all, a mode of thinking through the body). In this way the nature of Score 10 sets in motion a circular frequency that passes from Paxon’s percussion through the dancers and back, throwing up images and phrases that thrive on the very absence of narrative association to allow, when all goes well, for something organic to emerge between sound and movement. Miller and Firbank have the stronger ‘voices’, excelling at the compositional immediacy allowed by the improvisational structure while supporting and challenging the interventions of Papavasiliou and Ovens. Their familiarity with improvisation and with each other (as part of Swallowsfeet Collective) shows in their individual contributions and in their partnering. When Miller’s hand finds the semaphore equivalence of one of Paxon’s sounds, it seems so right it sets up an alternating rhythm that leads to a dynamic thrusting and resisting duet with Firbank like a heated argument that ends in smiles of complicity. By the end all four dancers are taking their improvisation for a walk with the freedom of familiarity and experiment. As an audience we enter this circulation of actions not so much by trying to figure out how much of the piece is improvised and how much is rehearsed, but rather by sharing the interactive flow of movement and sound.

With Paxon’s final time cue the dancers begin to wind down, settling with a slow metronome mark to stillness and then silence.

Peeping Tom, Mother (Moeder)

Posted: January 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Peeping Tom, Mother (Moeder)

Peeping Tom, Mother (Moeder), Barbican Theatre, January 24


Hun-Mok Jun and Charlotte Clemens in Peeping Tom’s Mother (Moeder). Photo: Oleg Degtiarov

Peeping Tom’s Mother (Moeder), directed by Gabriela Carrizo and presented as part of this year’s London International Mime Festival, is set in a family-run museum where everything is linked by a creative umbilical cord to the literal, symbolic and surreal notions of motherhood. At the back we see through a glass window into a cubicle that suggests both the clean, aseptic delivery room of a hospital and, on the opposite end of existence, a morgue. It is here, in the opening scene, that a mother (Eurudike De Beul) breathes her last while her family and friends gather in the darkness of the space outside to mourn. The daughter (Marie Gyselbrecht) breaks down on the floor; her tears become a puddle of water in which she splashes but there is no water on the stage. Borrowing from the cinema, Carrizo matches Gyselbrecht’s every gesture with the amplified sounds of Maria Carolina Vieira’s hands splashing in a bowl of water inside the cubicle that has become, in the absence of the corpse, a Foley studio.

Thus begins a series of associative details within dream-like tableaux that exploit the inseparable link between the aesthetics and the affect of the uncanny as a physical language that intensifies the theatrical experience. We are in the hands of magicians of the unconscious who work in time (marked by birthdays and the closing hours of the museum) and a unity of space like a classical setting warped by the Eros and Thanatos of Freudian theory. Water is the substance of tears but also the substance of amniotic fluid in the womb; death and life are never far apart in Moeder, and are even at times superimposed. In a room off the main gallery art imitates life in an exhibit of a coffin with a naked man (Hun-Mok Jung) poised on all fours above it (see photo). It is called One Foot In The Grave, and the cleaner (Charlotte Clamens) clearly has a delightfully erotic attachment to it. As the museum closes for the day the attendant (Brandon Lagaert) covers it in a plastic sheet. Only then does Jung climb down, but he gets caught in the voluminous plastic and thrashes around to get free. “Fucking job”, he says as he gets up. “You were great today”, responds Lagaert. Life is a performance, or so it seems.

Of course theatre is an illusion, but Peeping Tom is adept at making the visceral illusion so convincing that it hurtles against our understanding with all the force of an uncomfortable reality. The treatment of Moeder is not a compassionate look at motherhood but a fractured, fragmented assault on our relationship to it and therein lies its force. The physical vocabulary of disintegration and dislocation as states of mind is phantasmagorical with an anchor resting on the very deep bed of the unconscious. Carrizo is aware of this and sprinkles accents of humour here and there to soften the blow, and watching her performers is to marvel at their abandoned energy and hyperflexibility as much as to flinch at the emotions they are expressing. The duet of Lagaert and Vieria that evinces their despair at the pathological condition of their daughter while De Beul plays damning chords on the organ is literally and emotionally staggering. Music is also a palliative, especially in De Beul’s rich, mellifluous voice singing Erbame dich from Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion or in the powerfully pitch-perfect association of Vieria’s final scream of giving birth in the Foley-studio-turned-birthing room with her gravelly rendering of Janis Joplin’s Cry Baby.

Moeder wades powerfully into a question that relates to the purpose of theatre; it weaves a path between making the shock of its revelations entertaining and clothing its entertainment in shocking imagery. When Gyselbrecht reaches into a still life on the wall she delivers the damp, resisting head of Jung; a drawing of a heart bleeds and the coffee machine is a much loved female called ‘baby’ with whom Gyselbrecht has a torrid affair (to the Sinatra song, I’m a Fool to Want You) that leads to a deadly electric climax. Perhaps because of the richness of creativity in Moeder there is also a danger that the humour extends to self-congratulation — after Gyselbrecht’s tears, the water becomes a Foley exhibit in itself — and in a cast of such extraordinary performers that their abilities become independent extrusions from the physical narrative. But as in the duet of Lagaert and Vieira or when Vieira amplifies the idea of distracting her crying baby by repeatedly somersaulting on to her back, the shock and the entertainment are seamlessly integrated.

Simon Versnel as the father and widowed husband, and Yi-Chun Liu as the pregnant mid-wife complete an extraordinary cast, and those are only the people we see on stage. Moeder is clearly an exceptional collaboration between Carrizo and her team that creates a flow of haunting images about motherhood from which there is no way out but on a gurney of contrasting emotions.

English National Ballet, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and La Sylphide

Posted: January 23rd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and La Sylphide

English National Ballet, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, and La Sylphide, London Colisseum, January 20

Publicity photo for English National Ballet’s double bill (photo: Jason Bell)

There are several elements that link Roland Petit’s 1946 creation, Le Jeune Homme et La Mort and August Bournonville’s 1836 creation, La Sylphide that English National Ballet presented at the Colisseum. Both are set in the past, both treat the fragile nature of life and death, and both exteriorize the anguish of the principal characters (the unnamed young man in his Parisian garret and James in his Scottish baronial hall) in the figure of a femme fatale who exists largely in the imagination of the men but manifests in ethereal or earthly form on stage. These can be thought of as contemporary human sensations conveyed within a historical setting, but the historical setting — its sets, lighting and costume — however beautifully conceived, is never enough to convince an audience of the authenticity of the re-staging.

Le Jeune Homme et La Mort was created in Paris one year after the end of the second world war when most of the audience and performers would have experienced five years of either fighting, losses, German occupation or all three. That kind of experience is impossible to recreate, but it can be translated. Walter Benjamin makes a case in his essay The Task of the Translator, that transmitting information (in this case, the choreographic and visual elements) is to transmit the inessential. The essential is contained in what is additional to the information, the original emotional force of the work. In Le Jeune Homme et La Mort there is no chemistry between Isaac Hernandez and Begoñia Cao which gives Hernandez nothing to rage against. He rages against gravity, but not against his inner turmoil and Cao plays her role so outside his existential head that in showing him the noose she could be a member of cabin crew demonstrating safety procedures before takeoff.

In La Sylphide, despite the impeccable qualifications of Frank Andersen, Eva Kloborg and Anne Marie Vessel Schluter who have brought the production from its home at The Royal Danish Ballet, the performers lack the emotional sensitivity to astonish. Here the story is not so far removed from contemporary experience — unrequited love, the illusion of attraction and the despondency of having made the wrong decisions — but these need to be expressed in the context of romanticism whose principal aspects, as Jane Pritchard writes in the program, are ‘the dual fascination with the supernatural and the customs of remote exotic countries.’ It’s difficult today to conceive of Scotland as exotic, but the supernatural still has its allure. As the Sylph, Jurgita Dronina dances with all the technical precision one could want but there is something hard-edged about her interpretation that cannot be compared to what Théophile Gautier wrote of Fanny Elssler in a production of the original La Sylphide in 1838, that she ‘appeared and vanished like an impalpable vision, now here, now there’. Similarly, both Aaron Robison as James and Daniel Kraus as Gurn are convincing in their translation of the Bournonville style but Robison has difficulty differentiating between the presence of Dronina and the illusion of the Sylph, which leads to him expressing his feelings with contemporary shorthand gestures like snapping his hand and head as if to say ‘Damn, I missed her again.’ Kraus doesn’t have the same difficulty because Effie is flesh and bone in the form of Crystal Costa, a last-minute substitution for Connie Vowles. But Costa’s costume gives her the perplexing appearance of a school girl which withholds all belief in her betrothal to either James or Gurn, and Sarah Kundi’s mime as Madge may be accurate in terms of text, but lacks the conviction to convey the darkness and savage predictability of internal fate. By contrast, the two older men, Bimse and Bumse (James Streeter and Fabian Reimair) feeling the aches and pains from being pushed hither and thither, are entirely successful in imparting to the audience their condition.

If the older ballets are not stories that belong exclusively to the era of their creation but have what Benjamin called the essential element of ‘translatability’ then the question is how to translate them so as to make them relevant to the performers (for it is the performers who ultimately translate a ballet). Perhaps in the quest for technical brilliance the development of the psychological and emotional aspects of a character might be seen as secondary. Looking from today’s perspective at extracts of Jean Babilée in the original production of Le Jeune Homme et La Mort, his technique is dated but his muscular conviction translated into the steps defies time. The language of the feet, as Gautier wrote, may be universal and everywhere understood, but something in this double bill has been lost in translation.

Yasmine Hugonnet, Le Récital des Postures

Posted: January 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Yasmine Hugonnet, Le Récital des Postures

Yasmine Hugonnet, Le Récital des Postures, Lilian Baylis Studio, January 19

Yasmine Hugonnet in Le Récital des Postures (photo: Anne-Laure Lechat)

Presented as part of the London International Mime Festival, Yasmine Hugonnet describes Le Récital des Postures as ‘a silent concert for one instrument – the human body’. As the lights come up in the silence of the bare stage we know from the program that the human form we see is that of Hugonnet but even if you know what she looks like this image would not corroborate that knowledge because her face is well hidden by her hair; under Dominique Dardant’s lighting her hair becomes a black extension of her black top and grey tights. She is standing in profile with her upper body bent forward, her hair almost touching the ground and her hands resting just in front of her knees. The longer she remains immobile in this pose the more our eyes adjust to seeing a living sculptural form with no passport-like identification. Hugonnet descends by subtle stages to lie prone like a stain on the floor recalling the shapes of Francis Bacon’s melting figures. She seems to empty into the shadow of her own body what once filled it. And then her two arms rise eerily from the shadows like two periscopes idly surveying the audience, her legs and flexed feet articulate the space behind her like beaks that Dardant subtly highlights, and her back ripples as if subjected to an invisible, childlike hand playing with a favourite toy. In this ‘slow burn’ evolution of postures Hugonnet intensifies the subtle stillness of being through the suggestion of touch, the thinly veiled threshold of pain, and the slow sensuality of sliding and crossing limbs.

Regaining her initial pose, she slips her black top effortlessly over her head to the ground. But how can you do that with tights? Her gesture immediately transforms to the utilitarian as she takes her hands to her waist to slip them off one foot at a time. At the moment she discards her clothes she makes an artistic decision that changes the development of the work; she can no longer maintain the formal approach she has used up to that point. Briefly after she rolls up her clothes, grey within black, and brushes them in a single abrupt gesture to the side of the stage, she keeps her hair pulled forward over her bowed head, naked but still faceless. But as soon as she unfurls to the point we can identify her she has moved from Bacon to Matisse or Bonnard; she has entered the figurative. She has also entered into the recognizable aesthetic of the female nude. She has, in a sense, let the cat out of the bag when she could have kept it inside to more effect, the cat being not simply the clothing but more importantly the self-identification. The abstraction of form and the blurred edges of autonomous movement that she evokes while covered are lost in her nakedness. Once set adrift on this broader stage, Hugonnet is never again able to disguise her identity, even though she pulls her hair in fanciful arrangements with hands and feet and even, in a whimsical gender reversal, twirled carefully and held as a moustache between nose and pouted lips. Where she had begun by forcing us to change the way we see her body, slowing down our vision to take in the full ambiguity of the postures she was making, she is now in the cross hairs of our sight and fleeing the newly-emerged clarity of her bodily form. She sets off on a journey of plastic shapes, borrowing from Egyptian friezes and dance vocabulary that through motion become sculptural fragments but she leaves us no time to take in her postures; her exposure has changed the dynamic of our gaze.

Intriguingly Hugonnet reclaims her original ambiguity through aural means. In the final section she kneels facing the audience in a single posture with a dispassionate, neutral gaze. Out of the stillness and silence we hear an eerie disembodied voice, animate yet inanimate for it seems to arise from Hugonnet’s mute posture. “We are going to dance together”, says the voice, “Let your imagination dance.” As she had once made us search for the human agency of her postures through our eyes, she now confounds our ears by being both ventriloquist and doll and challenges them rather than our eyes to search for the truth of her imposture.

Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma

Posted: January 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma

Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma, Lilian Baylis Studio, January 15

Iconographic collage of Seeta Patel in Sigma (photo: ASH)

In Sigma, presented at Lilian Baylis Studio as part of the 2018 London International Mime Festival, Sean Gandini, artistic director of Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, an accomplished bharatanatyam soloist and choreographer, propose a dialogue — or flirtation as Gandini calls it — between juggling and bharatanatyam. Sigma is the second of three such dialogues Gandini has curated, the first being with classical ballet (4×4 Ephemeral Architectures) and the third, Spring, with contemporary choreography by Alexander Whitley, which will premiere at Cambridge Junction next month.

The term ‘sigma’ means ‘sum of small parts’, aptly describing the structure of Gandini’s and Patel’s dialogue that examines aspects of their respective arts from their two distinct perspectives. Clearly nothing much will result from a dialogue where perspectives are too closely aligned, and on the surface there appears to be little in common between juggling and classical Indian dance. The history of juggling suggests it has always been an artistic form on the informal edges of entertainment; while it has developed its own virtuosic routines it has eschewed a formal musical or physical framework for the improvised freedom of the street or circus. By contrast, bharatanatyam has a long history of formalized representation with an improvisational core based on a close relationship with its musicians. In formalizing such a dialogue Gandini and Patel run the risk of either framing juggling too tightly or unframing bharatanatyam, but in their irrepressible curiosity they set out to explore how the geometries and dynamics of their respective arts intersect within their common experience of space and time.

By putting the two forms on the same stage, Sigma immediately reveals a formal affinity, a double intricacy of gesture and rhythm that initially sets the dialogue alight. It is in the inordinate physical dexterity, agility and coordination of hand and eye, as well as in the use of complex musical rhythms that the two art forms thrive. Seeing Patel’s refined hand gestures against the juggling hands of Kim Huynh and Kati Ylä Hokkala and to juxtapose the complex rhythms of bouncing balls with Patel’s and Indu Panday’s intricate footwork is to appreciate both arts in a fresh light. There are notable similarities, too, in the use of improvisation (uncommon in the western classical ballet tradition) and in the dynamic tension between concentration and relaxation that allows the performers of both forms to appear at ease as they negotiate demanding routines. Perhaps one of the most interesting developments in Sigma’s dialogue, one in which both art forms find themselves in new territory, is the section ‘Tribute to London’ in which both dance and juggling are performed to the syncopated rhythms of chanted tube station names. There are also some notable disagreements between the two forms: gesture in bharatanatyam is embedded in meaning, whereas in juggling it is a function of the dynamic act. This fundamental difference renders the section in which Patel and Huynh compete in physical expressivity rather flat because there is no standard of comparison. Another disagreement is in a contrasting sense of humour. Humour in juggling is a response both to the inherent illusion and the nonchalant virtuosity of the act. In bharatanatyam humour is embedded in the story that the artist expresses. Sigma carries no story in itself — except in the ethnological, autobiographical framing — so Patel and Panday are roped into Gandini’s sense of humour that appears to be less a result of dialogue than of acquiesence.

There is an external element in Sigma that enhances its presentation: the stage setting and Guy Hoare’s atmospheric lighting. What we see as we arrive is a bare stage with two bland, institutional dividers on wheels. As the performance unfolds, so do the screens, revealing mirrors on the hidden side that reflect both the audience and the performers. In the duet between Patel and Huyhn to the aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Panday and Hokkala circle the performers with the mirrored panels, extending the sculptural forms of the choreography to which Hoare’s lighting gives a visual unity even if the full effect is evident only to those sitting in the middle of the stalls.

Out of the sum of its many components, however, Sigma fails to create a cohesive whole. The initial exploration throws up ideas like balls and keeps the dialogue afloat, but the joint dynamics fall off, and balls drop as the exchange deconstructs into its constituent soliloquys. At the end illusion peters out with a muted chorus of regrets.

Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field

Posted: January 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field

Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field, Tramway, Glasgow, October 13

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

I once read in my physics book that the universe begs to be observed, that energy travels and transfers when people pay attention.” – Jasmine Warga

I’ve written this in two parts; my first set of words were noted down soon after seeing Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field at Tramway, capturing the intensity of feeling on the performance night and then again 10 weeks later, at a distance to the work, seeing what residue remains with me.

This Bright Field is in itself a work in two parts running consecutively but with a small break in between that invites us to consider proximity, scale and experiences of togetherness. Following two international commissions from Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, it offers the audience a chance to see how Clinkard (with artistic collaborator Leah Marojevic) crafts a large-scale work with a company of his own dancers. In The Listening Room, the piece he choreographed on the 24 dancers of Danza Cuba last year, Clinkard demonstrated a rare ability that profiled the individuality of the dancers whilst creating a conceptually satisfying choreographic approach with a performance rigour on a large scale. What would Clinkard do with dancers of his own choosing with a longer creation and rehearsal process? Part 1 of This Bright Field is an intimate, 15-minute interaction on stage seeing (and not seeing) the dancers up close and in the round; Part 2 is back in the orthodox seating bank for a 60-minute formal presentation.

In the comprehensively informative written program Clinkard offers the following:
“What are the inherent politics of theatre spaces? What kind of spectatorship do they encourage in you, the audience? Mindful that scale and proximity to the action affect our sense of self, the way we relate to others and the way we receive a performance, I decided to re-orientate the audience-performer relationship to provide you with two distinct perspectives in the hope of refreshing your experience of dancing and dancers in larger theatres.” And Marojevic adds: “Throughout his body of work, the invite for audiences remains the same; to come as you are, to be within yourself, within time, experiencing quality, surprise, colour and ambience; to receive the work through your own history by engaging your present senses.”

There is warmth generated through the ability to see all four sides of a work and all four sides of a dancer; a 15-minute amuse-bouche continues the Clinkardesque trope from Of Land and Tongue of letting the dancers in his company reveal themselves, connect with the audience and have a number of delightful interactions framed by choreographic tasks. Here the dancers have agency to fill and flourish in their own rhythm, intimacy and moments of exchange with the audience; here is the Clinkard I expected.

Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” – Tom Stoppard

How does a choreographer change scale? Clinkard brings us close in Part 1 and then pushes us away in Part 2. It feels even more distancing as we had a taste of the intimacy that was possible, but with 12 dancers on a large stage for a small audience (limited by a maximum of three slots of 100 people each in Part 1) this tension between proximity and scale leaves me unsettled. With over 500 entrances and exits in Part 2, running, rolling and lurching upstage, the dancers exist in a constant state of leaving and never staying; this disruption dilutes any sense of connection or extended presence that might have been forged with the dancers from Part 1. It is to be applauded that Clinkard is attempting to invert the staid practices of large-scale dance, but the gap of 25 minutes between the end of Part 1 and the beginning of Part 2 ensures any momentum and intimacy that was built has dissolved by the time we get back to the auditorium.

Ten weeks later, the work has faded slightly. Alongside the eruption of white noise and percussion from composer and performer James Keane, the bright white field backdrop, white flooring and the impact of teal waves of the dancers flooding from downstage to upstage in their glacial staccato roles has disappeared. There are flaws and there are holes in memory and then there is Steph McMann (at seven months pregnant) and Leah Marojevic who exercise their innate watchability in a sitting duet with intimate gestures, unfurling wrists and torso shifts. Together they conjure up a magnetism via a suite of mundane gestures whilst the waves of bodies wash, run and make visual noise behind them.

Clinkard has brought together distinguished collaborators including the lighting designer Guy Hoare who offers a sensuality of multiple light baths in dialogue with the dancers, bathing them in an eight-parcan stage-left wash that subtly creates visual texture and emotion, drawing our focus closer to the nude form of Marojevic as she rediscovers the possibility of her body and sinews. There are echoes in Part 1 of Clinkard’s earlier piece Ordinary Courage with the softbox lighting heightening the intimacy levels by bringing the sky down closer. Within the construction of Part 2 there are multiple parts which vibrate in isolation and fail to listen to each other; I find I’m looking for glue and left with multiple questions. Why this order? How do the multiple parts belong together? What are the feelings that were close and are now distant? Clinkard is dealing with us in temperature — embracing us in warmth before moving to tepid then to a cryogenic icy distance and then back to cool. There are multiple works and multiple feelings in play within This Bright Field but I left on the night feeling unsure but bombarded by brightness; on reflection the dazzle has dimmed considerably and I’m left thinking of other works of his which shone a lot brighter.

The poetic image […] is not an echo of the past. On the contrary: through the brilliance of any image, the distant past resounds with echoes.” – Gaston Bachelard


Here’s another review of This Bright Field

H2Dance, Strangers & Others

Posted: January 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on H2Dance, Strangers & Others

H2Dance, Strangers & Others, iC4C, Nottingham, 2nd December 2017

H2Dance with Strangers & Others

H2Dance with Strangers & Others (photo: Benedict Johnson)

Sometimes one feels freer speaking to a stranger than to people one knows. Why is that? Probably because a stranger sees us the way we are, not as he wishes to think we are.” – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If I am not a stranger, then I must be other. I have developed an alternative relationship with the latest work, Strangers & Others, of H2Dance (Heidi Rustgaard and Hanna Gillgren) by working as their writer-in-residence, talking to people at three of their tour dates (Colchester, Peterborough and Nottingham) to gauge and document their reactions to the work. H2Dance have described their intention for this work, which has only participants and no seated audience, in these terms: “Invited to look, touch, assume and judge, audiences choose how to respond, placing themselves into lines, groups and pairs. Witnessed only by the choreographers, they use appearance, physicality and behaviour as a guide to negotiate each other as they cooperate in silence.”

As writer-in-residence my interaction was solely with the audience before and after their participation in Strangers & Others, listening to them describe in detail the parts of that resonated with them. While this meant that all surprise was erased when I entered the studio at iC4C as one of the participants in the last performance on the last date of the Autumn 2017, this erasure enabled me to create a mechanical and objective plot of what happens in the studio over the course of 80 minutes but left me space to inhabit the incoming interactions without the emotional distraction of surprise.

As the gathering of 20 people begins in the foyer we are invited to wear Silent Discoesque headphones; I notice that some wearers have blue lights and some red on their headphones. I begin to think about the idea of a stranger and things that are strange to us. Strangers & Others is a stranger to me, to the collective us and we (as a body of people) are strange to each other. The word stranger has a history and resonance in the UK that is forged in childhood; we are told to not trust strangers, to question their intentions and reject any attempt at interaction. Its etymology suggests an “unknown person, foreigner” derived from the Old French estrangier. As a form of address to an unknown person, it is recorded from 1817, and has a meaning of “one who has stopped visiting” first recorded in the 1520s.

Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” Malcolm X

H2Dance invite us to construct a social choreography; we are architects of our own awkwardness through a set of solo, duet and group instructions offered through the headphones. A slow desensitisation occurs and as the instructions escalate we begin to un-strange each other whilst acclimatising to the rhythm of the work. Starting with “notice the space”, progressing to “take the hand of someone who is your equal” and finishing with “rub the bum of the person opposite” the voices of Rustgaard (my ear instructor) and Gillgren offer little inflexion, emotion or judgement and are the conductors of an ever-decreasing sense of erasure of our personal boundaries. If this is what happens after 80 minutes, imagine where an audience might be persuaded to go after 3hrs hour or half a day. It’s a choreographic alternative to Milgram social psychology experiments, a study which measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. How persuadeable are we? Here we are offered no reward but continue to be subservient to those voices in our ears.

Nestled in the stiffness of some of the bodies in the room a sense of childhood stranger scepticism lingers; the interactive and participative nature of Strangers & Others makes for an interesting combination as it is full of the childlike and playful possibilities which forge bonds, create gangs through awkward physical encounters. We continue to revisit each other. Encounters with those who are unknown to us as we get older can be equally fraught; the currency and resonance of #MeToo with the recent exposure of intimidation, sexual abuse and rape of women and men at the behest of those exercising their power is clearly present. H2Dance are whispering in our ear with an invitation to “stand next to someone you find sexy” and later on “point to the person you think is sexist” followed by “stroke the cheek of the person” and “put your hands on the chest of the person opposite”. It leaves you in a moral quandary — do I participate (as everyone else seems to be doing) or do I remove myself (as I’m uncomfortable with what is being asked of me)?

Strangers & Others deals in power, invitation and suggestion with Rustgaard and Gillgren having created a tightly crafted work that leaves your moral compass askew and lingers long in the mind after leaving the studio. Although we are told at the beginning that “any response is valid” this phrase is not repeated or emphasised; amongst the sensorial and social input of making judgements on people does this crucial phrase settle into the mind? Can we reject what is being asked of us? We are asked to consider a spectrum of: trust, class, privilege, income, homophobia, racism, age, sexuality and foreignness based entirely on sight, smell and touch. When we exit the space (one by one) we are greeted by a glass of prosecco and a new invitation; a chance to decompress the previous 80 minutes and to verbalise all that has gone before; we are no longer strange, we are now other.

There is an odd synchronicity in the way parallel lives veer to touch one another, change direction, and then come close again and again until they connect and hold for whatever it was that fate intended to happen.” Ann Rule

Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane

Elena Giannotti, Lo Sguardo del Cane, Italian Cultural Institute, November 28

Elena Giannotti

Elena Giannotti in Lo Sguardo del Cane (photo: Eamonn O’Mahony)

Like the two works shown at Trip Space a few days before as part of Intercontinental Drifts (which also programs work at the Italian Cultural Centre), Elena Giannotti’s solo, Lo Sguardo del Cane (‘the dog’s gaze’), is engaging, playful, and experimental. But what Giannotti achieves with a calmness of demeanour and smoothness of motion is a sense of choreography as language that can communicate on a broad, cross art form level. She takes her point of departure from a painting by the renaissance artist Vittore Carpaccio of Saint Augustine in his study looking out at a spectral image of Saint Jerome. There is a small white dog seated on the floor that appears to be looking in the same direction as Saint Augustine but Carpaccio deliberately leaves the viewer in doubt as to whether its gaze is directed toward its master or past him at the ghostly vision (according to legend, Saint Jerome has just communicated with Saint Augustine his own imminent death).

With no musical accompaniment, Giannotti employs equal dexterity and ambiguity towards the movement of her own gaze. She stops quite still at various moments in her performance, staring intently at an undefined point in space; we might attempt to follow that line of vision, but we can also watch her in the act of seeing, just as we study Saint Augustine’s posture as he looks out of the window. We cannot see what he sees, but we know from his rapt attention that he has seen something. And just at the point we take in Giannotti’s still gaze, she begins to move again and our focus changes to the completeness of her expression, to the reiteration of phrases and to her accumulating vocabulary. Certain expressions stand out, like an impatient gesture of the hand or a petulant kick towards an unseen object, and as the choreography progresses we begin to recognize and acknowledge the return of repeated phrases. The effect is one of cinematic montage, of overlapping sections or phrases punctuated with the still gaze. Giannotti sketches scenes with the outlines of figures and expressions, fragments of larger stories of which we only get a glimpse; the moment we recognize them they disappear and overlap with other ones, like impalpable phantoms. As Giannotti repeats them, however, each fragment becomes more distinctive, the contours and features more intelligible to our eyes, filling all our senses with the impression of the movement and its afterimages.

Gaze thus becomes an action not only of the eyes but of the entire body. The direction of our eyes reflects the attention of our entire physiognomy, which is why the eyes are so important in choreographic use. If the eyes look in a direction that the rest of the body does not support, we are not convinced. This is as true for a suggestive glance, a coy aside or a political speech. Giannotti takes all these kinds of glances and freely distributes them in the space she is occupying, allowing her body to flow through her eyes. It is a spatial dialogue which, by the force of its argument and her sense of being ever present keeps our attention, even more acutely as there is no sound apart from the ambient noise of the audience in the room and of traffic outside in the street. There is a temporal sense involved, too. Giannotti’s patterns and traces overlap in space and in one sense are sequential, but like early twentieth-century experimentation with cinematic montage, each pattern or trace can be seen occurring in the same moment, overlapping in time. Giannotti compounds this by running in to the room at the beginning and spinning out at the end, suggesting all that happens in between occurs within a single moment of timeless concentration like a daydream or a vision. Which takes us back to Saint Augustine and his dog experiencing, in their separate but interwoven ways, the beatific apparition of Saint Jerome.

Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Posted: December 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala

Michael Keegan-Dolan, Swan Lake / Loch na hEala, Sadler’s Wells, November 30

Zen Jefferson, Saku Koistinen, Mikel Murphy, and Erik Nevin (photo: Colm Hogan)

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake makes a journey through the reductive division in Christian culture between light and dark, and between God (good) and the devil (evil) to lay bare what he calls ‘the root of much suffering and confusion’. He sets his story around his home in County Longford in Ireland whose many lakes are home to flocks of migrating swans but his principal characters — the overbearing mother who wants her introspective son to marry, the woman he falls in love with and the magician who has cast a spell on her — have much in common with the plot of the ballet of the same name produced in Moscow in 1875 to Tchaikovsky’s famous score. It is as if Keegan-Dolan has taken the Russian myth and re-mythologized it in the image of Ireland, and because the lakes and swans are tangible and the narrative is taken from local news and national history, his Swan Lake is grounded in a conflictual social and political reality of a kind the romantic ballet of Imperial Russia could never have acknowledged.

There is in actor Mikel Murphy, whom Keegan-Dolan casts as The Holy Man, a distant relation to the wicked magician, Von Rothbart, though at the beginning of Swan Lake he is the one who is under a spell, stripped to his underwear and tethered by the neck to a concrete block, bleating like a goat. It is not hard to see the image of a plundered Ireland tethered to England’s oppressive rule. Then three ‘watchers’ (Saku Koistinen, Zen Jefferson and Erik Nevin) release him, wash him down, beat him dry with red towels and prepare him for interrogation. In Keegan-Dolan’s psychological landscape it is only those representing the dominant culture of oppression — be it political, religious or matriarchal — who speak; while tethered Murphy can only bleat but once freed and offered an informant’s seat at the oppressor’s table, he talks the talk — but not before he’s had a cup of tea and a few biscuits.

It’s an enigmatic but brilliantly staged beginning to what is in effect the re-telling and re-enactment of a story in which Murphy is the sole narrator because the other principal witnesses are the victims of his crimes: one drowned and the other shot. Under Adam Silverman’s lighting and with Hyemi Shin’s evocative costumes, Sabine Dargent’s set is a makeshift restaging of the events with trusses, curtains, ladders, plastic sheeting, theatre boxes and props for the benefit of the audience whose role is to listen and to pass judgement: morality with its oppressive mores and prejudices is on trial.

To make up for having to leave the condemned family home for a new build, the ailing Nancy O’Reilly (Dr. Elizabeth Cameron Dalman) gives her son Jimmy (Alexander Leonhartsberger) his father’s rifle as a birthday gift. It becomes for him an inert symbol of power in a life that has little promise as a result of depression, both mental and environmental. Finola (Rachel Poirier) is one of four sisters (with Anna Kaszuba, Carys Staton and Molly Walker) in the village along with three burly, bisexual watchers and a fine band of musicians (Aki, Mary Barnecutt and Danny Diamond) playing the music of Slow Moving Clouds. In his narrative, Murphy recalls the characters in relation to his various roles as parish priest, local politician and police chief revealing his determinant role in their lives and destiny. As the priest he admits to sexually abusing Finola and threatening her sisters if they were to reveal the truth; as a politician he takes advantage of Nancy and Jimmy for a photo opportunity and as police chief he pressures the depressed Jimmy into a fatal showdown. Within this narrative, but beyond Murphy’s control, Finola, the only village girl to express an interest in Jimmy, makes a fateful connection with him. Keegan-Dolan gets inside the psychology of his characters and expresses it in raw body imagery with overtones of traditional dance; at the beginning Jimmy doesn’t speak and barely moves, but when he senses love from and for Finola he unlocks his reticence and awkwardness with a freedom of gesture that is a first sign of healing. But that reductive division in Christian culture claws back any such redemption, shaming Finola into drowning herself in the lake which sends Jimmy back into deep depression with a rifle at his side. As police chief, Murphy forces a faceoff with him and has him shot by his officers (recalling the tragic shooting of John Carthy, a depressed Longford man who refused to be evicted from his home). Murphy has finished his worldly story but Swan Lake continues in an afterlife with clouds of feathers where the lovers are reunited and dance among their friends with the freedom of unconstrained, unfettered bodies in an environment without hypocrisy, connivance and political ill-will. It’s not so much the idea as the jubilant choreographic conviction that suggests there is hope.