Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Didy Veldman’s Umanoove, The Happiness Project

Posted: May 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Didy Veldman’s Umanoove, The Happiness Project

Didy Veldman’s Umanoove, The Happiness Project, The Place, May 6, 2017

Dane Hurst, Estela Merlos, Mathieu Geffré and Hannah Kidd in The Happiness Project (photo: Chris Nash)

Happiness is an elusive state and like the Mona Lisa’s smile remains enigmatic under scrutiny. There have been a couple of dance projects at The Place created around the concept of happiness: Robert Clark’s Promises of Happiness and now The Happiness Project by Didy Veldman, her first independent work for her own company, Umanoove. As their respective titles suggest, neither Clark nor Veldman set out to put their finger directly on happiness, but instead gather together some of its more familiar signifiers as a point of departure to explore it and disseminate their findings.

There are many such explorations in The Happiness Project, but the principal vehicle of Veldman’s work is the dancing itself. Veldman, a Rambert Company alumna, rejoices in the sheer pleasure of dancing, and the dancers with whom she created the work — Dane Hurst, Estela Merlos, Mathieu Geffré and Hannah Kidd — respond in equal measure (Kidd, however, was unable to perform the work and was replaced at short notice by Madeleine Jonsson). The movement is loose-limbed and generous, it jumps and turns with joyous intensity and is at times ecstatic.

In turn the dancing is inspired by the music, in which The Happiness Project is blessed with the presence on stage of composer and violinist, Alexander Balanescu. Balanescu takes on the central role of agent provocateur, a wandering musician who incites movement and laughter in his comrades. He is passionate in his playing, and his gestures are in themselves a form of dance linked directly to the music. Sometimes he plays solo and sometimes accompanied by a recorded ensemble, but he is always animated and his musical presence is pivotal to all that happens.

The inclusion in The Happiness Project of these two exalted expressions of music and dance are more than enough to fulfill the project’s promise; witnessing the dionysian nature expressed so fully in both musician and dancers is intoxicating. But for Veldman there is an additional rationale for the work: sorting out her approach to happiness by illustrating what it might be and rejecting what it is not. For a spectator this is less uplifting than it is interesting, for to follow Veldman’s illustrations is to learn as much about her thought processes as about happiness itself.

Her illustrations are in turn amusing, poignant and clichéd. They range from an individual desire to find love and inclusion to the pursuit of eternal youth, from the commercial association of happiness and fashion to sexual gratification, and from winning a pub quiz to enjoying Sunday mornings. With four dancers Veldman can vary reactions to a given stimulus, most notably in the episode on fashion. Hurst pulls out a piece of clothing from a box, announces its brand name and passes it to Jonsson who admires the design but passes it to Merlos who is generally unimpressed and passes it to Geffré who goes into fetishist rapture. The brands keep coming until Geffré comes too, Faun-like, on his pile of clothing. (Veldman is fond of quoting, and this is not the only dance reference; in a duet with Geffré and Jonsson there is a particularly egregious one from Pina Bausch’s Café Müller, which Geffré himself used in his duet, What Songs May Do). Veldman also questions notions of happiness through its antithesis: Hurst is a figure who at times stands back from the enjoyment of his peers like a cloud on a sunny day or dances up a storm to wreck what he sees the others enjoying. Geffré, in one of the more surreal episodes, carries desire to masochistic extremes.

Laughter is often synonymous with happiness though more as signifier than the state itself. In the same way, Veldman indicates happiness through an early performative display of slow-motion laughter (reminiscent, as one audience member pointed out, of Bill Viola), and Balanescu later conducts the quartet of dancers as a laughing chorus. In both cases the dancers appear to be happy but we cannot be sure. In a section where they each perform their response to the question, Are you happy?, a sense of equivocation infuses their words and gestures and when they display on a large piece of plastic sheeting what makes them happy, the scope of happiness is reduced to written indications. There is thus a dual nature in The Happiness Project: the more Veldman explores happiness, the further away she seems to get, and yet the vehicle of her exploration — the dance and the music — are singing its praises all along. In the question and answer session following the show, audience questions were uniquely about aspects of the performance rather than about happiness. I’m not sure if that is a mark of success or failure.


Charlotte Spencer Projects, Is This A Waste Land?

Posted: May 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , | Comments Off on Charlotte Spencer Projects, Is This A Waste Land?

Charlotte Spencer Projects, Is This A Waste Land?, Larkfield Bus Depot, Glasgow, May 12

Louise Tanoto in Charlotte Spencer Projects’ Is This A Waste Land? (photo: Pari Naderi)

Cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash – all of them – surrounded by piles of wrecked and rusting automobiles, and almost smothered in rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountain of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use.” – John Steinbeck

Sited on a former bus depot that has since been razed, we’re aware that there are histories in play; where once buses came to rest for the night, to be repaired and re-fuelled, Charlotte Spencer Projects invites us to inhabit a land and question its former and future use. Armed with headphones and protective gloves we are offered a choice of industrial detritus to carry with us. Is This A Waste Land (ITAWL)? begins with a set of straightforward instructions delineating the boundaries of space and rules of engagement, and then we stop and fill our eyes with the landscape and fill the landscape with our 40 bodies. Instructions begin and we become the temporary workers invited to toil and till the land.

Building upon Spencer’s previous immersive headphone work, Walking Stories, ITAWL? uses six additional professional bodies who work with the site and its contents on a larger and more choreographed scale. The audience is split into three streams indicated by a different coloured LED on their headphones; sometimes we are one, sometimes one mass and at other times broken down into smaller working parties to fulfil particular tasks. Neither Walking Stories nor ITAWL? leave room for dissent; if you want to be an outlier or renegade there is little space for that and it is clear where the power lies. With each member of the audience isolated in their headphones, it is Charlotte Spencer who is in control.

I feel like a doozer from Fraggle Rock as the fetch-carry-and-build endorphins created by using my body in the performance leaves me feeling giddy and engaged; the questions asked in our ears are all achievable as the objects of our labour differ in weight but all bodies can move them. After 10 minutes of building we feel rewarded with a driving soundtrack nestling under the calm invitations to participate and a constant stream of small words of praise reward our behaviour irrespective of whether the task is complete or whether we’re satisfied with our wall of detritus, rope and stick pen or towers of waste creation. The omniscient voice is happy and we must progress on to the next task leaving no time to dwell.

He who works with his hands is a labourer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” – Saint Francis of Assisi

The six performers (alongside Charlotte) operate inside the work with us; they too are fellow assemblers, preparing scrap teepees and dismantling objects that have come before. However, their tasks are a little more adventurous and pre-meditated, there are clear moments when the focus shifts from the self to them and we must watch them perform a rehearsed set of actions on the site. This creates a divide, a them-and-us, and it is clear they are existing outside the instructional landscape we’re inhabiting. We the participants can be called upon to do remarkable things when instructed, as when we feel against our back the weight of a giant elastic tensile rope in a 30-metre diametric circle we are leaning into and letting it take our weight. The world has been set up so we experience the same place at the same time, we share tasks together and silently encourage each other; if we as nodes were connected a little more often, asked to forge alliances, this would build an even stronger bond under a dwindling light as the city of Glasgow flickers to orangeade and shifts into night mode.

In the programme note there is no mention of the words ‘dance’, ‘dancers’ or ‘choreography’ – this is a work of assemblage and human cartography; individual journeys tracked and mapped onto a waste land as we inhabit it once more creating a new set of histories. Spencer builds and balances our labour and attention over the 90 minutes of the work to offer an analog nourishment to our human form. There’s a simmering of activist intentions to be found alongside a political bite questioning our collective privilege to land and our access to it; if this tone had been introduced earlier it might have coloured our earlier endeavours and how we viewed the work and our part in it. Triggering a set of alternative thoughts on waste as we are gathered together at the end I think about the natural passivity and physical wastage of audiences when work is performed in the theatre; here we may be intellectually or emotionally stimulated but ITAWL? invites us to absorb a work through our bodies as well, leaving us with a dust and physical residue embedded in our pores. Looking at the pattern of exertion between Walking Projects and ITAWL? the next performances by Charlotte Spencer Projects might ramp up the level of investment and industry. I for one would relish the shape of that labour.

Our toil must be in silence, and our efforts all in secret; for this enlightened age, when men believe not even what they see, the doubting of wise men would be his greatest strength.” – Bram Stoker, Dracula


Evangelia Kolyra’s 10,000 litres

Posted: May 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Evangelia Kolyra’s 10,000 litres

Evangelia Kolyra, 10,000 litres, Rich Mix, May 12

Justyna Janiszewska and Evangelia Kolyra in 10,000 litres (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou)

The title of Evangelia Kolyra’s new work derives from an estimate for the amount of air that passes through our lungs each day in the process of respiration. After the Rich Mix performance of 10,000 litres I was walking to Old Street tube station when I saw a man in his crash helmet lying very still on his back beside his motorcycle and the van with which he had collided. In the theatre, respiration had been in play, while on the street respiration was held in the balance between life and death. The contrast was stark but rather than influencing my feeling about 10,000 litres, it served to underline the sense of lightness I had felt in Kolyra’s theatrical treatment of something that in a different context appeared so vital and precarious.

It would be safe to say 10,000 litres is not primarily concerned with the physiological phenomenon of breathing but rather with its primary role in the process of movement; without breath, as with the image of the motorcyclist, there can be no movement. In effect it is the lungs of the three dancers (Joss Carter, Justyna Janiszewska, and Kolyra herself) that are given principal roles in 10,000 litres, costumed in hooded plastic breathing suits designed by Sisters From Another Mister, and amplified through the use of microphones embedded close to the chest. The set, designed by the same Sisters, is sparse with a white floor and two black metal chairs while Sherry Coenen’s lighting completes a predominantly clinical environment for these breathing machines.

We first see two of them, Kolyra and Janiszewska, lying supine side by side as if laid out on two hospital beds. They begin a conversation, distorted by speaking through the inbreath as well as the outbreath, about the present and future as if the two are on the verge of dying and departing to the unknown. The words are full of ambiguity with a nod to the absurd, but there is an uncertainty as to where the scene has come from and where it is going. The program note suggests that ‘three individuals take movement right back to its most essential function and use it to define their personality and create relationships whilst touching upon issues of existence, power and freedom.’ This opening would fit into that premise if movement was used as its primary means of expression, but it is the words that take precedence. It comes across as a false start, for elsewhere in the work Kolyra develops physical images for the working of the breath that, without recourse to words, are more eloquent. When the trio of dancers plays a game of mutual gagging, repeatedly stopping each other’s breath with their hands to the point of exhaustion, the image has political and military overtones. Unfortunately the costumes seem out of place in this sinister usage, diverting any sense of threat to a clinical exercise. There is a similar mismatch of costume and tone later in the work when Carter places a harmonica in his mouth to extrapolate his volatile breathing as he tests his increasingly precarious balance on a tilting chair. However costume and movement do work together when the three dancers lie side by side and use their undulating chests, two harmonicas and Janiszewska’s voice to create an amoebic musical trio. Kolyra’s horizontal flip over Carter’s supine form during a sequence of lateral shifts is the kind of physical humour that seems to derive naturally from her brand of theatre. Costumes aside, these physical explorations seem to respond more closely to the promise of 10,000 litres and I wish Kolyra had developed them further rather than resorting to the textual links which tend to dilute the significance of the work to a level of lightness and frivolity that the accident outside only exacerbated.


Mikhail Baryshnikov in Brodsky / Baryshnikov

Posted: May 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mikhail Baryshnikov in Brodsky / Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov, Brodsky / Baryshnikov, Apollo Theatre, May 7

Mikhail Baryshnikov reading the poetry of Joseph Brodsky (photo: Janis Deinats)

In the foreword to a 1973 collection of Joseph Brodsky’s poems, WH Auden wrote, ‘One demands two things of a poem. Firstly, it must be a well-made verbal object that does honour to the language in which it is written. Secondly, it must say something significant about a reality common to us all, but perceived from a unique perspective.’

For Auden, Brodsky evidently passed the test, even if he was reading the poems in English translation (by George L Kline). As he explains, ‘A really accurate judgement on a poem as a verbal object can, of course, only be made by persons who are masters of the same mother tongue as its creator. Knowing no Russian and therefore forced to base my judgement on English translations, I can do little more than guess.’ Sitting in the Apollo Theatre watching a performance of Brodsky’s poetry by Mikhail Baryshnikov with surtitled translations by Jamey Gambrell, I felt in very much the same position, but I left the theatre enamoured of Brodsky’s poetry and desirous to get my hands on a copy of his Collected Poems in English.

Baryshnikov recites the poems in their original language, but it is his body, the repository of Russian ballet training and years of sublime performance, that translates Brodsky as much as Gambrell herself. Auden’s ‘verbal object’ has become the body of the dancer while his ‘unique perspective’ is the articulation of that body in space. But this is no metaphysical conceit: Brodsky and Baryshnikov shared both a common language and a close friendship enhanced by their experience of exile; this not only provides the starting point for Brodsky / Baryshnikov, but colours the entire performance.

Brodsky was born in Leningrad in 1940, began writing poetry at the age of 17, was tried for ‘social parasitism’ by the authorities, was banished and then forced to emigrate in 1972. Baryshnikov, eight years younger, defected to the West in 1974 while on tour in Canada and met Brodsky in New York the same year. As he writes in the program, ‘From that night on, our conversation continued, unabated, for over twenty years. We talked, if not every day, then every week. He phoned on the evening of January 27, 1996 to wish me a happy birthday. A few hours later, he was no more.’ Brodsky wrote nine volumes of poetry in Russian and English, two plays and numerous essays, all of which earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. The two men instinctively understood and admired each other’s art, so that Brodsky / Baryshnikov is not simply the recital by a great dancer of the poetry of a great poet (in Auden’s terms), but the merging of their two forms of art into another dimension of expression.

Kristīne Jurjāne’s set resembles a fin-de-siècle wood and glass pavilion or entrance hall, what the French might call a ‘salle des pas perdus’ (a room of lost footsteps), where the paths of Brodsky and Baryshnikov meet and cross. Waiting for a new coat of paint, its wiring exposed and sparking intermittently, the structure has seen better days, like the past depicted in Brodsky’s poems. The front doors open on to a narrow strip of stage with a bench on either side; it is here that Baryshnikov becomes indistinguishable from his friend, carrying his exile’s suitcase, rolling a cigarette but unable to find his lighter, taking out his glasses with a flicker of frustration at the process of ageing, enjoying a swig of his favourite Jamieson’s whiskey and reading, sometimes whispering his poetry as if he is in the act of creation or hearing it for the first time; you can almost feel it on the breath of his voice.

Clutching the rations of exile,
Embracing a jangling lock,
Arrived at the place of dying,
Again I am wagging my tongue…¹

Like the consummate performer he is, Baryshnikov takes on the character he is portraying so completely that we lose him. His entrance through the pavilion is his passage into the life of Brodsky and his exit 90 minutes later along the same path is his release out of it (though it is not hard to imagine the two of them coming together again after a performance and swapping notes over a drink and a cigarette).

When Baryshnikov is dancing inside the pavilion, there is not a pirouette or a sauté in sight; his body language is quietly understated, inspired by the forms of Kabuki, Butoh and flamenco filtered through the mastery of his own physical repertoire. We see his body interpreting a poem as we hear it recorded by Brodsky himself (signified by the old reel-to-reel tape recorder that sits on one of the benches). The two friends are in the same space at different times, setting up a palpable movement between both past and present and between poet and dancer that fluctuates constantly as it builds a living image of the poetry. Director Alvis Hermanis (artistic director of the New Riga Theatre in Latvia) has spliced together these temporal, spatial and kinetic worlds with a skill and sensitivity that perfectly match the colour palette of Brodsky’s words to that of Baryshnikov’s physical expression. The effect is the poetry of not one but two.

¹ From Clutching the Rations of Exile…(literal translation by Jamey Gambrell)

With thanks to Sophie Kayes, executive producer of Bird & Carrot, producer of the tour of Brodsky / Baryshnikov, who very kindly and unflappably came through with a press ticket for me on this final, sold-out performance of the run.


Katie Dale-Everett Dance, Digital Tattoo

Posted: May 13th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Katie Dale-Everett Dance, Digital Tattoo

KDE Dance, Digital Tattoo, The Circle Arts Centre, Portslade, April 21

Caileen Bennett in Artefact 1 of Digital Tattoo (photo: John Hunter)

A new company, a new venue. Katie Dale-Everett, artistic director of KDE Dance, studied choreography at Falmouth University, graduating in 2014. She is a freelance dancer, teacher and choreographer and has wasted no time in putting together and performing projects with a focus on how dance can be written and read. In Digital Tattoo she is exploring writing dance in the service of a social project. In this context, Dale-Everett’s writing takes on the French use of the word ‘écrire’ (to write) to describe the notation of the choreographic process whereas in English we prefer the verbs ‘to make’ or ‘to create’.

Recently I have seen different approaches to writing dance: Joe Garbett’s work No. Company takes its point of departure from choreographic text messages; Fevered Sleep’s choreographic performance of Men & Girls Dance is wrapped in a written project, and here in Digital Tattoo is a trio of works within a single program that comments on the concept of privacy in social media. Such an approach has its strengths and weaknesses. Whereas dance can provide an emotional entrance to the understanding of a social concept, there is always a danger that the written aspect, if taken too literally, will take precedence over its imaginative choreographic content, that the image becomes too directly linked to its meaning. It doesn’t have to; it is worth remembering that fairy tales in their written forms were imaginative vehicles for understanding social concepts or cultural values even if today the production values and aspects of the performance — in say the balletic form of The Sleeping Beauty — tend to obscure those lessons. Dealing with contemporary social concepts through dance is thus a complex balance between the rational and the imaginative, one that Dale-Everett sets out to resolve by dividing Digital Tattoo into three separate elements.

The first, Artefact 1, is a short film, subsequently picked up by Channel 4’s Random Acts, with a simple overlay of social media images on a naked female torso, equating privacy with sensuality. The underlying focus of the tripartite program is the notion of the Right to be Forgotten — the right to erase our online footprint whenever we choose. In the film (with John Hunter as director of photography), we see a woman, Caileen Bennett, reaching round her back to erase the projected images by frenzied scratching but the merging of the two surfaces is an illusion. All we see is the scratched red marks underneath the images becoming deeper and more painful while Bennett’s breathing becomes more strained and frantic. The message, like the image, is simple and strong.

The second element, Conversations about the Digital, brings us back into the everyday through a performative quiz on stage with eight willing members of the audience (one male, seven females on this occasion), each with his or her own smartphone. The quiz consists of a series of recorded questions about smartphone usage to which the participants — classified demographically at the beginning as either digital immigrants (born before 1980) or digital natives — respond through gestures, movements, selfies and tweets. The goal is to promote awareness of our online digital presence, the influence it has on our social behaviour and on our understanding of our world (fake news is a current hot topic). Even though the questions stimulate an element of self-reflection, the self-confessional nature of the staged format leaves too much wiggle room for dissimulation which waters down the effect.

The third element, Digital Tattoo, is essentially a recapitulation of the first two in a danced duet performed by Jonathan Mewett and Sophia Sednova with a musical score by Tom Sayers that traces the development of their online meeting, its development and, once concluded, a unilateral effort to erase it from digital memory. Even if the preceding context informs our understanding of it, the structure of the duet is clear (as one would expect with Lou Cope as dramaturg), so that it could stand alone in its depiction of love at first byte, highlighting the self-comment, self-deprecation and self-consciousness engendered by the creation of an online relationship. Dale-Everett enhances the choreographic message with an effective use of digital light (developed with the help of Nic Sandiland), giving Mewett and Sednova the ability to use their fingers as on a keyboard to write on each other’s bodies their interjections and exclamations expressed through ubiquitous emojis. Real life events, like a scene at a party where Sednova loses control, are witnessed through selfie gestures as they might appear on a tagged Facebook page with self-accusatory hashtags.

It might seem counter-intuitive to depict an online relationship in a choreographic duet; the structure is necessarily complex, constantly blurring the distinctions between online and offline. My principal concern is that the educational framework of Digital Tattoo holds back the emotional aspect of the choreography; while Mewett and Sednova are convincing as its exponents, it appears circumscribed by its didactic function. In using dance for purposes that are not inherently choreographic this will always be a danger, even if the social orientation of the project is effectively served.


Fevered Sleep, Men & Girls Dance

Posted: April 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Fevered Sleep, Men & Girls Dance

Fevered Sleep, Men & Girls Dance, The Place, April 13

Matthew Morris and two of the girls in Fevered Sleep’s Men & Girls Dance (photo: Matthew Andrews)

I came away from Fevered Sleep’s Men & Girls Dance at The Place with an empty feeling that had started during the performance; for a theatrical presentation this means a failure. The empty feeling developed into a sense of annoyance, all the more vexing as there was nothing specific I could identify in the show that supported it and it was in marked contrast to the upbeat vibe of an audience who evidently loved it.

The idea for Men & Girls Dance started innocently enough when the directors of Fevered Sleep, Sam Butler and David Harradine, were auditioning trained male dancers for a project the day after seeing young girls performing in an end-of-term dance school show. Wondering what they might produce by bringing two such groups together, they explored the social and political implications of men and girls in our society. As Butler and Harradine explain in their newspaper of a program, ‘Men & Girls Dance hopes to offer provocations about, and ultimately solutions to, what we feel has fast become a problem around the culture of adults, and especially male adults, just being with children today.’ ‘We want people to be troubled’, says Butler elsewhere, to which Harradine adds, ‘To be troubled by witnessing playful, tender relationships. Why should that be troubling? But it is…’

The common language between men and girls is play, and this is where the production works best. The set is covered in newspaper pages, crumpled up and heaped at the back or carefully taped together in sheets like a quilt in the centre of the floor. Leaving aside the metaphorical significance of media coverage as floor coverage, the games played in this arena draw me into the engagement between the nine girls and the five men (including a brilliant entrance for Robert Clark who emerges from the crumpled newspapers at the back, dressed in…crumpled newspaper) with a theatrical sophistication that stands on its own. But beyond this delightful play, the choreographic ideas have the drawn-out quality of blandness with a giggly smile.

Part of the popularity of Men & Girls Dance undoubtedly has to do with the young girls who are auditioned locally wherever performances take place. In London the girls are Pebbles Doughty-White, Molly Beasley-Martin, Maya Demetriou, Belesther Huberson-Abie, Chadni Miah, Neve Seekings, Momoka Taniguchi-Warren, Amber Worboys Sayers and Rania Yarde. It must be a wonderful and nerve-wracking experience for them: wonderful to be performing with these five men (Clark, Kip Johnson, Luke Crook, Nick Lawson and Matthew Morris) and nerve-wracking to be learning both text and choreography to performance level in a short space of time. They do it brilliantly.

The other draw for Men & Girls Dance is that it’s a project whose premise you can’t easily reject: to create ‘a public space which allows play, tenderness, trust, empathy and love’ between men and girls. One can understand, for example, why the Wellcome Trust would want to support it and how the hype around the show generates ticket sales (the run at The Place has 9 performances, up to and including Saturday April 22). But a theatrical performance is more than its premise, and my empty feeling perhaps has its origin in the distance between the proposal and its manifestation. Men & Girls Dance treats a subject that is both light and dark, but its presentation on stage is only light; so where is the provocation, and to whom might it be addressed? It seems the only troubling thing about Men & Girls Dance is the absence of anything troubling. It’s a show the girls in their intuitively playful way might have choreographed and then asked the adults to formulate emotionally and intellectually. While the parallel social implications may well be contentious — the 64 pages of program text are an indication of how sensitive the subject can be — the choreographic manifestation in a controlled public space where the men need DBS checks to perform loses all pretensions of being provocative.

Could it be that an unintended consequence of current written funding applications is that what ticks the right boxes is the social significance and implications of a proposal rather than the quality of the performance which, at the point of application, may not yet have been created? Fevered Sleep has written a carefully worded newspaper about the subject of men and girls to accompany the show, offers discussions on the subject within each community where it plays and has garnered plaudits for broaching the subject — all valid — but it feels as if the company has sold us the funding application rather than the show.


The Royal Ballet, works by Dawson, Wheeldon and Pite

Posted: April 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Royal Ballet, works by Dawson, Wheeldon and Pite

The Royal Ballet, Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, March 23

Kristen McNally and artists of the Royal Ballet in Flight Pattern (photo: Johan Persson)

This is a program of repertoire works by former Royal Ballet dancers, David Dawson and Christopher Wheeldon, wrapped around a new commission by Crystal Pite, the first female choreographer to perform her work on the main stage in a long, long, time. Despite this landmark achievement, Pite is not a classical choreographer, nor are her works in the classical idiom. Borrowing a leaf from Tamara Rojo’s astute book, the Royal Ballet has brought in a lauded contemporary name on a contemporary theme at an appropriate moment. It is also borrowing from the book of Sadler’s Wells associate artists. Much as I love Pite’s work, Flight Pattern blends uneasily with both the accompanying repertoire and the surroundings. It’s a beautifully fraught work (beautiful and fraught) about the fate of migrants, not a subject that lends itself naturally to the velvet and gilded glamour of the Royal Opera House. It’s an oddly imbalanced program, too, because Flight Pattern is not a natural closer, and neither Dawson’s nor Wheeldon’s work prepares for it in any way; it comes out of nowhere. It is nevertheless a sublime conception, both scenically and choreographically, for a mass of 36 dancers with the suggestion of a lead migrant couple (an incongruous notion) of Kristen McNally and Marcelino Sambé. Anyone who saw Pite’s monumental Polaris on the Sadler’s Wells stage for the See The Music Hear The Dance program just over two years ago will remember her powerful massed forms of 64 dancers responding to Thomas Adès’ orchestral storm of the same name. Flight Pattern is more poetic and less menacing, influenced by the eerie refinement of the first movement of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, but its subject is harrowing. The work visualises the endless lines of stooped humanity on a desperate trek to an unknown future but Jay Gower Taylor’s set, Thomas Visser’s lighting and Nancy Bryant’s costumes bestow epic proportions on the entire journey. The movements of the dancers are muted and repressed throughout the work, hemmed in by heavy overcoats and by the giant partitions of the set that close inexorably on them until only a gently rocking McNally and a seething Sambé remain isolated. It is a moment that almost spits with rage but Sambé at this crucial point allows his pyrotechnical wizardry to infiltrate his character, dissipating Pite’s entire psychological build-up.

There’s plenty of legitimate technical display on the rest of the program, however, and the men get a thorough workout in Dawson’s first work for the Royal Ballet, The Human Seasons, to a commissioned score by Greg Haines. You know you’re at the Royal Ballet with this level of technical skill, though the loud landings (and there are many of them) of the men in particular exhibit some weakness in execution. The women are on display too, especially when upright; they are less so when being dragged unceremoniously along the ground.

Seeing The Human Seasons (2013) side by side with Wheeldon’s After The Rain (2005) one can’t help seeing similarities; both are in the neo-classical style with stripped down costumes, and there are one or two quotes by Dawson of Wheeldon’s lifts and slides. Where the two works differ is in the use of space as part of choreographic form. For all its intense movement, its entrances and exits, and its asymmetrical groupings, The Human Seasons, unlike Keats’ sonnet that inspired it, is constantly crying out for some kind of form to hold them all together. This is amplified by a lackadaisical deportment in the men in between partnering duties or bravura steps; they just amble over to the next sequence, killing the dynamics. Haines’ score can’t hold the work together either, so with all these holes Dawson’s form fails to gel, leaking out in all directions over the course of the work’s 35 minutes.

Scored for three couples, the first section of After The Rain is set to the first (Ludus) movement of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa; as soon as it begins, Wheeldon’s spatial stagecraft is apparent. The form is held in place by the harmony of the music allied with the harmony of the choreography, pumpkin rolls and all. The second movement, to Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, is joined to the first but not closely related. It is often performed as a separate duet and its renown makes it appear as the feature film we’ve been waiting for. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares make it a powerful meditation on the beauty of strength and the strength of beauty, where each gesture is thought through and flows seamlessly to its natural resolution. But while the consummate elegance of this movement is framed on one side, the absence of a final, contrasting movement leaves it floating in splendid isolation; it should either be set free for good or the frame completed.


Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me

Posted: April 1st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me

Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me, Chapter, Cardiff, March 17

Deborah Light in a sharing of Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me (photo: Warren Orchard)

Four years after chipping away at the inner life of the nineteenth century paleontologist Mary Anning in The Curio Cabinet, and six months into carrying a third child, Deborah Light has been turning her choreographic imagination to an excavation of her own life in an array of objects collected from the rocks and crevices of her mind and body. In this sharing of a development phase for a new work, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me, she regales the invited audience in the studio at Chapter with a running commentary of her evolution that Darwin himself might have enjoyed if not fully appreciated. Nevertheless, her condensed trajectory from chordate to choreographer and from mollusk to mother is an accelerated but otherwise totally convincing line.

The studio is laid out with tables (they could be glass cases in a museum) on which are arrayed the objects and specimens Light has chosen to represent her. There is no particular order but they include balls of wool and knitting needles (her mother’s influence), fossils, rocks, seeds (her partner’s influence), her grandfather’s mantle clock, flowerpots and books (her private passion), all of which she invites the audience to inspect and handle. There are two other tables that are littered with notes or laid with paper for our written suggestions and interjections.

Kneeling on all fours in front of the clock Light demonstrates with rhythmic dorsal undulations the early chordate’s need for structural reorganization, then evolves into the shape of the mollusk’s hard shell and with evolutionary haste bypasses the seed’s slow-burning life with the vital attempt to stand up. This leads her to the table marked What’s Important on which she asks someone to add, ‘standing up’ and, as she catches her breath, ‘breathing’. As a mother of small children she also adds ‘dry pants’ to the growing list and as a human being she adds, ‘world peace’. In the space of an hour Semi Detached – An Archeology of Me builds up delightfully disparate layers of autobiographical sediment that form Light’s own particular landscape, her own history at this particular moment in her life, and as the unique curator she animates it all as both subject and object. She listens to the sounds of her own name as we might address it, as her mother might have pronounced it, as her children might call it, as she might have called her mother. It is harrowing and deeply moving to hear her label herself with these inflections of welcome, caution, fear and love, scratching under the name to give it life, identity and meaning.

Light has learned from raising her children that the art of dissembling can be very effective in keeping cool under fire. The way she leads us to believe the ‘indispensable’ bear, Mishu, is indeed borrowed from her five-year-old son as she proceeds to dissect his wooly chest with clinical precision is a master class in psychological manipulation. It also turns into a lesson in genetic association at a molecular level and a brief survey of an endangered species. ‘This species of bear will have to adapt’, she adds firmly as we all take a deep breath and follow her at a distance with our eyes.

Continuing to conflate the structures of archaeology and family, Light recreates a symbolic generational skeleton that she animates with her great grandmother’s Motherhood Book as brain, stones as vertebrae, the clock as biological time, a pot of seeds as ovaries and a rock as fused pelvis. She reinstates Mishu as the heart covered in a pinafore handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.

As if her version of evolution is totally logical, she totters across the room in two flowerpots with a ball of wool that she strings between pieces of table and chair like a game her mother used to play. She is gently inciting us to respond like children, to break through the historical into the present moment, but I think the episode with Mishu has kept us at arms length.

Archaeology and family life come full circle; Light’s final intervention reminds us of the nature of time, of the cyclical nature of starting and finishing. She takes off her outer garments and lies supine in her underwear on the What’s Important table, lying there so still like a living sarcophagus with her belly breathing two lives, while a recording of Handel’s aria Ombra Mai Fu infuses the image with the beauty of both life and death. When she rises to signal the end of the performance, some of the felt tip words are imprinted on her back. At moments like this you know something profoundly significant has just transpired, held in the moment and never to be repeated. It is a privileged moment for Light to be performing this and for us to be witnessing it, but the inspired and nonconformist workings of Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me clearly have life after birth.