Dance Umbrella 2018: Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer

Posted: October 26th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer

Dimitris Papaioannou, The Great Tamer, Sadler’s Wells, October 16

Papaioannou

A scene from Dimitris Papaioannou’s The Great Tamer (photo: Julian Mommert)

Dimitris Papaioannou is an image maker. His work, The Great Tamer, presented at Sadler’s Wells as part of this year’s Dance Umbrella, is yet another unique expression of Pina Bausch’s dance theatre legacy, though he does not so much choreograph on the body as use the body as an element in his choreographic manipulation of images. Both the body and the images are in turn dependent on a scenography that anchors the entire work. At once the prow of a ship, the surface of the moon or the scaly, fenestrated skin of a mythological globe, Tina Tzoka’s set is the archaeological repository for Papaioannou’s narrative. Costumed by Aggelos Mendis and under the lighting of Evina Vassilakopoulou, the bodies of his performers emerge on to or are dug up from the depths of the stage as a succession of images that form a complex, slow-release system of cross-cultural references over the course of an hour and fourty minutes. One could spend the evening forensically identifying the images, which might be easier — though less rewarding — than connecting them to the arc of Papaioannou’s vision. The Great Tamer is more like a cinematic montage that relies for its effect on the cumulative association of its individual sequences whose pace Papaioannou carefully controls. He is in no rush to run his images by us — if it takes ten minutes to brush up the debris from a broken plaster cast and put it in a plastic bag, we have that much time to appreciate the ruse — but he also risks losing us in the wealth of connections and references that make up the work. True to the nature of his wordless reflections there is no synopsis in the program to use as a guide; instead he uses the grammar of strong, sometimes visceral imagery, wit and potent juxtaposition to set out his visual landscape. In his post-show talk (which you can find online thanks to a partnership between Dance Umbrella and Middlesex University’s ResCen) Papaioannou’s landscape comes not only from his own fertile imagination but also from that of his performers during improvisation sessions. However, he is the one who sets the tasks and organizes the trajectory of the resulting imagery.

His ten performers are named in the program but their personalities are subservient to the rendering of Papaioannou’s visual vocabulary. His almost dispassionate use of bodies as corporal fragments, mythological hybrid beings, fully suited astronauts or as painterly tableaux vivants reduces the emotional impact of the performers and in a work that evidently relishes the naked body the effect is more clinical than sensual. Papaioannou has been making work for more than thirty years so he knows what he is doing; the challenge in seeing The Great Tamer is to identify where it lands in our own universe. There are images of pure circus that in their surreal associations, like the performer who digs his rooted shoes out of the floor and walks off on his hands, destabilize or perhaps redirect our poetic appreciation, while others, like the man with his fist excavating the womb of a supine woman as she slithers off stage are unsettlingly oblique.

Archaeology is a metaphor throughout The Great Tamer; it is the act of uncovering or digging up artifacts that connects our knowledge of ancient civilizations with current history. The astronaut excavates not only floating moon rocks — Papaioannou is a master of theatrical illusion — but a naked body, a figure of Christ arising from his tomb. It is as if he is joining the dots between the achievements of his own country’s cultural heritage and the development of Western culture via Mantegna, Botticelli, Rembrandt and the NASA space program. Within this excavation of historical time as the great tamer, the decision to incorporate fragments of Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz (famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey) into Kostas Michopoulos’s sound design may also be referencing Sigmund Freud’s work on the excavation of memory in Vienna. In this game of free association, Walter Benjamin’s use in Berlin Chronicle of the same metaphor of digging uncovers one of many possible clues in understanding the intricate layering of The Great Tamer: ‘Memory is not an instrument for surveying the past but its theatre. It is the medium of past experience, just as the earth is the medium in which dead cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging.’


Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: October 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Reckonings: Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva & Alesandra Seutin at Sadler’s Wells, October 13

BLKDOG

The cast in Botis Seva’s BLKDOG (photo: Johan Persson)

Marking its refurbishment 20 years ago as a production house catering uniquely to dance, Sadler’s Wells has commissioned 20 new works, three of which form Reckonings, a celebration of the future featuring UK-based choreographers Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva and Alesandra Seutin. Sadler’s Wells has lavished its production capacity on each and the result is a richly textured triple bill unified by Tom Visser’s lighting that demarcates regions of the stage into which the dancers can withdraw from sight and from which they can emerge; there are no theatrical exits and entrances. This corresponds particularly with the fluid spatial staging of Cunningham’s m/y and with Nell Catchpole’s engulfing interior soundscape. The work is a translation into choreographic form of Monique Wittig’s attempt in her novel, The Lesbian Body, to ‘create a new language that can function outside the dominant structures of patriarchal power’. It is not the cast of six women — Cunningham, Eleanor Perry, Hannah Burfield, Seira Winning, Sara Ruddock and Stephanie McMann — that suggests a lesbian discourse but the subtle structures that link them together, a fine weaving of almost abstract strands with sapphic overtones that creates a space in which no muscular, patriarchal figure would ever feel comfortable; the performers, dressed in Alexa Pollman’s body suits with diaphanous outer layers, seem to relish this independence. It is a pleasure to watch the way Cunningham opens up the space with such intellectual rigour; it starts in muffled containment as if the cast is an operatic chorus in a prison cell and develops into a sense of lightness and emancipation that Catchpole’s score reaffirms in its trajectory from dark clouds of industrial effluence to the open air, from interior rumblings to serene silence.

After the first intermission the contrasting, dark masculine energy of Seva’s BLKDOG is immediately palpable. In combination with Visser’s lighting, Ryan Dawson Laight’s wrapped anonymous costumes and Torben Lars Sylvest’s visceral score, Seva has invented a haunting, powerful reflection on depression inspired by Sally Brampton’s Shoot The Damn Dog. It was Winston Churchill who termed his depressive condition ‘The Black Dog’ from which Seva derives the title of his work and on top of Sylvest’s score are recorded voices from an imagined therapy session: ‘Let’s start with how you’re feeling.’ Set in a hip hop vocabulary on six dancers — Joshua Nash, Jordan Douglas, Ezra Owen, Victoria Shulungu, Shangomola Edunjobi and Naima Souhair — BLKDOG seethes with an inner malaise that explodes in tight, controlled gestures and broods in hooded acquiescence. Seva has developed an intricate and eloquent language within an urban context that manages simultaneously to get inside the head and flow through the body, seamlessly bridging emotional abstraction and a harrowing social narrative — an effect that is more Crystal Pite than Hofesh Schechter. In a work that depends for its affect on precision in both individual gesture and unison articulation it is a tribute to the dancers and to the rehearsal director Ekin Bernay that Seva’s conception is so fully embodied.

Like the two previous works, Seutin’s Boy Breaking Glass has a literary inspiration, this time through Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem of the same name. Breaking glass becomes in Seutin’s conception a metaphor for breaking through what may seem transparent but proves impassable, otherwise known as inequality of opportunity. She writes that five other authors ‘were all invaluable in my research about inequality, the act of survival and self-love.’ The problem is that however clear Seutin may be in her intellectual research such clarity fails to coalesce on the stage. From the outset there is a contrast between the formal volumes of the set — a broad white platform at the back for her five-piece band with a white dance floor bordered in black for her seven dancers — and the informal, folk-inspired choreography ‘inspired by Senegalese and Southern African traditional and social dances’. Visser’s liminal lighting is again on display but he seems unsure how to unite these contrasts. The members of the band are visually dominant which gives an importance to their presence and their music over the narrative taking place on the stage below them, while Randolph Matthews as the central figure among the dancers — the victim of inequality — is a vocalist. Attention on the primary theme is thus dispersed among the performative elements and while they are independently rich in expression, Seutin and her dramaturg/co-director Maxwell Golden have not succeeded in synchronizing their full value.


Dance Umbrella 2018: Colin Dunne’s Concert at The Pit

Posted: October 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Colin Dunne’s Concert at The Pit

Colin Dunne, Concert, The Pit, Barbican, October 17

Colin Dunne

Colin Dunne and Tommie Potts in Concert (photo: Maurice Gunning)

Colin Dunne is a virtuoso traditional Irish dancer whose latest work, Concert, presented in the intimacy of The Barbican’s Pit as part of Dance Umbrella, is a homage to the virtuoso traditional Irish fiddler Tommie Potts. Potts was, according to the program note, a ‘singular and complex figure in the history of Irish traditional music’ who died in 1988 and whose sole album recorded in his lifetime, The Liffey Banks, is the basis for Dunne’s work. The album ‘reflects the complex contradictions in Potts’ musical career: his deep appreciation of traditional music alongside a desire to break it apart.’ The same two artistic poles might describe the arc of Dunne’s carefully constructed dance homage.

Dunne first heard the music in 2001 while studying for a Masters in Contemporary Dance at the University of Limerick, so Concert is a project he has been considering over many years, collecting and refining his ideas. With the help of director Sinéad Rushe, sound designer Mel Mercier and lighting designer Colin Grenfell, he has organized his research as a sophisticated experiment in what appears to be a converted shed strewn with musical and dance materials — three plywood sheets of flooring, a turntable with the vinyl copy of The Liffey Banks, a piano, a fiddle, shoes, floor microphones, a cassette recorder and various speakers.

At the start he lays down his terms of engagement with a brief demonstration close to the front of the stage to give an idea for those in the audience like me who hadn’t seen him in Riverdance of the basic rhythmic patterns of traditional Irish step dance. Unfortunately I am in the third row and if I can see the rhythms of the dance distributed throughout his upper body his footwork is obscured by the two rows in front. As it progresses, however, it is clear Concert is conceptually and intellectually post-Riverdance; Dunne places himself in relation to traditional Irish dance in the way Potts did in relation to traditional Irish fiddle music. He describes Potts’ music as ‘slippery’ and his homage is in part to render its rhythmic irregularity in choreographic and theatrical form.

With the help of Mercier’s sound design Dunne brings to the stage the voice of Potts himself talking about his music; there is a synchronicity between the two. With adept editing they strike up a conversation that places them in the same aural universe. When Dunne later balances a sheet of plywood on its edge and has a video of Potts playing projected on to it, the two also share parallel physical universes. Mercier also plays with the autonomy of the various audio sources; in constructing his concert Dunne has to will his turntable to present Potts’ album as if the two are sharing their respective knowledge and experience, jamming together and exacting the same standards of reverence and relevance for their respective arts. He is in effect conversing with whatever drove Potts’ musicality, his rhythmic structure and notes, and he digs into his own dance as if interrogating Potts with an enthusiasm and drive that motivates his interpretations.

Concert is not simply about a meeting of minds, however; Dunne is reflecting on his own understanding of Irish dance and where he might take it. In bare feet on a piece of plywood with the use of floor microphones he explores the rhythm of steps and sound patterns as if to share with Potts what he is working on. He experiments with sampling the sound of his footfall along with his whistling and musical phrases on the piano and fiddle, creating an intriguing soundscape that accompanies his steps. Through Mercier’s adept editing, Potts offers his own characteristically terse critique.

But if Dunne’s communion with Potts has its personal, almost esoteric aspect, Concert is also an occasion for him to defy the accepted belief that the jigs and reels Potts recorded on The Liffey Banks are undanceable. It’s a challenge Dunne takes on with passion and humility. When he dances we see him entering into the music as if called by a siren into slippery, dangerous waters; he demonstrates his skill by resisting any possibility of being pulled down by the current. The effect is a buoyancy of footwork and mental agility that merges the idiosyncrasies of musician and dancer into a riveting performance within a performance.


Igor and Moreno: Idiot-Syncrasy at The Place

Posted: October 15th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Igor and Moreno: Idiot-Syncrasy at The Place

Igor and Moreno, Idiot-Syncrasy, The Place, October 9

Idiot-Syncrasy

Moreno Solinas and Igor Urzelai in Idiot-Syncrasy (photo: Alicia Clarke)

The packed house for this one night reprise of Idiot-Syncrasy at The Place (who originally commissioned it) and the fervour with which it was received is an indication of its revered status. Created in 2015, Idiot-Syncrasy is the triumph of an idea (changing the world) over form (jumping), and yet the form is so completely seeped in the idea that it becomes its rich evocation. It’s also hard to imagine anyone other than its choreographers, Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas, performing this work as quite independently of their stage presence its geography, sentiment and generosity are rooted in their biographies. Urzelai is from San Sebastian in the Basque Country and Solinas is from Sardinia, both autonomous regions with a defiant sense of cultural and political identity. At the beginning of Idiot-Syncrasy Urzelai and Solinas stand side by side in silence on Kaspersophie’s expansive white stage dressed in jeans, windjackets and sneakers, communicating a sense of self-assurance and composure as they slowly and deliberately scope the audience. And then, almost imperceptibly they begin to sing a cappella extracts of Procurade e moderare, a nineteenth century Sardinian revolutionary song — recently adopted as the Sardinian national anthem — with a text by Francesco Ignazio Mannu aimed at the ruling House of Savoy. At first we hear only the fine harmonies of the two voices, but the spirit of the song is enshrined in it and as the voices gain strength and Urzelai and Solinas add a heel-bouncing emphasis it transforms into a revolutionary march with all its pride and defiance.

This is where idea and form first meet; the bounce becomes a jump and the jump becomes the iteration of a single choreographic idiom — somewhere between a hop and a jump — with multiple variations. The rhythmic constancy of the idiom becomes an affirmation of resilience while its patterns and incidents are occasions for personal narratives and humour. When the two continue jumping as they strip off their outer layers Urzelai is meticulous in the way he piles his clothing while Solinas discards his like a rebellious child. There are seemingly inconsequential exits that presage more purposeful re-entrances with a change of coloured t-shirts, for example, or a bounding delivery of a generous shot of heart-warming Patxaran to the entire audience. Throughout Idiot-Syncrasy the personal and the political cavort and overlap as if Urzelai and Solinas are reminding us that even the most mundane social actions have cumulative consequences.

It took some decades after Mannu’s Procurade e moderare before the Savoyards left Sardinia, and there is a long section of Idiot-Syncrasy that borrows from the folk traditions of Sardinia and the Basque Country accompanied by Alberto Ruiz Soler’s deep, rumbling drone that leaves behind the more personable interventions of the two performers and focuses, through discursive patterns of jumping, skating and turning, on the effort and grind of generations in both regions to achieve and maintain their goal of political autonomy. The realm of the metaphorical allows time for the audience to feel that effort and to participate in it without any overt indications of politicization or propaganda. This is the beauty of dance as a medium because the message is embodied rather than rhetorical and in adopting a vocabulary that is so guileless Urzelai and Solinas imbue what at first appears naive with the power of an epic history of camaraderie, generosity, and conviction as the four bottles of Patxaran continue to make their autonomous rounds of the audience.

Gradually Seth Rook Williams’ lighting indicates the diminishing of the epic scale as we return once again to the personal, to the individual orbits of these two charismatic idealists and their relationship to one other. The jumping calms to turning patterns and even a phrase of ballroom, with the two drawing closer until Solinas lifts Urzelai on to his back and they begin to sing a cappella again, not nationalist hymns but a brief medley of love songs in Italian, Spanish and Euskara. Both men are exhausted but continue to turn slowly, and we can hear in their vocal traces the emotion and determination of the journey they have made and will continue to make.


Seeta Patel and Lina Limosani: Not Today’s Yesterday at The Place

Posted: October 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Seeta Patel and Lina Limosani: Not Today’s Yesterday at The Place

Seeta Patel and Lina Limosani, Not Today’s Yesterday, The Place, October 3

Seeta Patel

Seeta Patel in Not Today’s Yesterday (photo: Stephen Berkeley-White)

This review was commissioned by and first appeared in Pulse and appears with the kind permission of its editor, Sanjeevini Dutta. 

Seeta Patel’s response to Brexit and Donald Trump is a post-colonial fable, Not Today’s Yesterday, that challenges not so much fake news as fake history. As a distinguished Bharatanatyam dancer, Patel takes a critical look behind the history of her art to discover some whitewash she aims to challenge. The past is the backstory of today, which is why the philosopher George Santayana claimed that ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ What Patel and choreographer Lina Limosani extrapolate from Santayana is that if history is whitewashed then not only is it of no value to remember but it fuels ‘a distorted sense of nationalism.’ Not Today’s Yesterdayis both a statement and an attempt to put some of the original colour back into history.

Paradoxically Patel and Limosani have co-opted whitewash as their metaphor which proscribes the colour palette to shades of black and white that imposes its own set of rules on the fable’s imagery, from Lydia Cawson’s costumes to Chris Faulds’ set to Guy Hoare’s sharply contrasted lighting. The text, written by Patel with script support from Sharmila Chauhan is in the form of a cautionary fable that begins in sparkling wonder and turns progressively cynical.

Emerging into the light from a darkened stage Patel is dressed in a silver-grey robe on a pedestal in front of a reflecting screen; in another context she might be the embodiment of an Indian goddess telling her story of a bountiful land where people live in harmony, animals have no horns or claws, and forests are sacred, which is what Patel does so well, illustrating the enchantment of the story with the enchantment of her eloquent eyes, gestures and movements. But there’s a difference: the endgame is already in sight. She incorporates the dark complexity of her secular fable in gestures that begin to cross time and space where ancient and modern mythologies collide; at times she lip-syncs her recorded text so her mouth becomes an additional choreographic motif. From behind the screen she slides out what look like framed glass set squares that transform into a fleet of East India Company ships plying their trade while a hanging rope becomes a length of hair whose silken strands she braids and wraps around her head as a metaphor for ancestral bonds, lineage, and memory. This is the seductive, silver era of exchange between East and West but it turns into a dark epoch of conquest and exploitation just as the whitewashing begins. We hear Limosani’s audio collage of key phrases from war speeches by British and American leaders as Patel’s narrator effaces herself behind a screen of poured rivulets of white paint — an image made more powerful when she is further obscured by trying to clean it — and she becomes a dark force clashing horns and spitting claws in an exquisitely grotesque shadow puppet show behind the whitened screen.

Patel is still within the considerable range of her gestural artistry, but now the indignation of her unraveling fable takes her into new territory. Donning a transparent plastic crinoline and wearing her whitened, braided hair pinned with a diadem she begins a vaudeville romp as Queen Victoria, Empress of India, to Johann Strauss’s An Artist’s Life. It’s as if one of Gerald Scarfe’s more venomous satirical cartoons had taken to the stage. She finally folds her braid into the shape of a baby in her arms and holds it up. A shot is heard and the braid drops to the floor to recorded applause and the reprise of political voices in an operatic finale. Patel’s gestures are contorted and tense, her figure dark in a final rumble of thunder.

After each performance there’s a discussion curated by Ian Abbott to engage the audience in the issues of Not Today’s Yesterday: what happened, what did not happen and what could yet happen. It’s outspoken dance in an intelligent, provocative package.


William Forsythe: A Quiet Evening of Dance at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: October 10th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on William Forsythe: A Quiet Evening of Dance at Sadler’s Wells

William Forsythe, A Quiet Evening of Dance, Sadler’s Wells, October 4

William Forsythe

Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts in A Quiet Evening of Dance (photo: Bill Cooper)

William Forsythe tells Sarah Crompton in her program interview that his goal is ‘to make people see ballet better’ but it is immediately apparent in A Quiet Evening of Dance that in order to make us see ballet better he is also making us hear ballet better. The program is divided into two parts, the first of which has four sections and the second just one. The title of each section in the first part is related etymologically to the Greek logos, or word: PrologueCatalogue, Epilogue and Dialogue, though not a word is spoken; they are performed in silence, to birdsong or, as in Epilogue, to a solo piano score by Morton Feldman. Costume designer Dorothee Merg adds to the sense of silence by muffling the dancers’ footware in lightweight brightly-coloured warmers or thick socks. The effect of silence concentrates our visual appreciation of the movement as if we are watching mime, an effect heightened by Merg’s covering the dancers’ arms in long, coloured gloves. If the costumes aid the silence, so does the lighting of Tanja Rühl. The denuded space of the Sadler’s Wells stage is like a light box that casts no shadows and maintains an even intensity that give individual shapes and colours a consummate clarity.

In a visual environment that celebrates and enhances movement, Forsythe engages our attention in his plastic deconstruction of choreography into a catalogue of its structural components that he then rearticulates into diverse possibilities. For Forsythe, ‘choreography’s manifold incarnations are a perfect ecology of idea-logics; they do not insist on a single path to form-of-thought and persist in the hope of being without enduring’. In this way, action becomes visible as spatial duration, from its emergence to its disappearance or mutation into another movement that generates a further action — a modulation of bodily thoughts, and felt motion that communicates through and across bodies. This ‘physical thinking’ is what links a compelling evening, from silence to sound, and from choreographic logos to rich expression.

Forsythe’s dancers are classically trained but have a muscular elasticity that allows them to explore his range of physical ideas to a degree that stretches beyond accepted classical form. In the opening Prologue Parvaneh Scharafali and Ander Zabala engage in a play of gesture that moves effortlessly in space but with Jill Johnson and Christopher Roman in Catalogue Forsythe enlarges the play of gesture to a successive articulation of the entire body. As they stand side by side Johnson and Roman engage in form of extended pas de deux without the partnering: a long adagio in which they constantly exchange and challenge physical ideas, a couple of short variations, and a coda. It lasts long enough for us to grasp the rules of the game and perceive in its full catalogue of logos moments of flamboyance, nonchalance and wit.

Epilogue is a cumulative development in which Scharafali, Zabala, Johnson and Roman are joined by Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit in a vibrant use of body shapes and accented colours to layer responses to Morton Feldman’s piano music. The introduction of Yasit, as his moniker suggests, mixes up the vocabulary into a choreographic puzzle that would test any notator. This is the kind of unexpected conundrum in which Forsythe revels. Dialogue introduces two more dancers, Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts, whose exploration of space is a corporal dialogue of beginnings without ends, a fluid stream of ideas that coil classical ballet around the most contemporary dance and yet astonish in their unruffled virtuosity. They finish their dialogue neatly in fifth position with arms casually held behind their backs.

After the intermission Forsythe’s most recent work, Seventeen / Twenty One, beams with confidence, colour and music that are infectious from the outset; the choreographer is in scintillating and effulgent form. With the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau he has taken the ballet idiom closer to its courtly origins, but this is Forsythe’s baroque not that of Versailles; when Johnson enters for a duet with Roman she’s wearing a baseball cap. All the dancers generate a joy in the complexity of their tasks that matches the exuberance of Rameau’s orchestral miniatures; the score comes alive through their musicality. And if you think hip hop can’t be courtly, Forsythe gets “RubberLegz” Yasit to tie himself with exquisite musical timing into elegant knots from which he emerges serenely as if summoned suddenly by the King. In an evening of intellectual sensuality it’s a scene that brilliantly coalesces Forsythe’s exploration of choreographic form and ideas.


Dance Umbrella 2018: Annie-B Parson’s 17c at The Old Vic

Posted: October 5th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Annie-B Parson’s 17c at The Old Vic

Big Dance Theater: Annie-B Parson’s 17c at The Old Vic, September 27

Annie-B Parson

Big Dance Theater in Annie-B Parson’s 17c (photo: Manuel Harlan)

In its 40th anniversary season, Dance Umbrella opens appropriately with New York’s Big Dance Theater in a production of 17c directed by choreographer Annie-B Parson. Its inclusion in the program is both a sign of the intelligent and risk-taking selection process that characterises this annual festival and of the diverse strands that define contemporary dance. Parson’s choreographic approach to theatre cannot easily be pigeonholed, although the inspiration of Pina Bausch’s dance theatre is evident. As she says in the program interview, ‘Having been immersed in the prosaic, structural, and virtuosic pedestrianism of the early Judson Church dance-makers and second-gen Judsons, I was intoxicated by Bausch’s use of dance in relation to costume, sexuality, relationship, scenario and character.’ Parson’s development of the Bausch legacy diverges distinctively from other European examples, and it is indeed refreshing to see her New York take on dance theatre on a London stage — too little seems to cross the Atlantic these days — and the Old Vic, once the second home for Sadler’s Wells Ballet under the stewardship of Lilian Baylis, is an ideal setting for it.

On a structural level 17c is a reading of selected entries from the seventeenth century diary of Samuel Pepys as if it had been selected for a monthly book club meeting, probing what a contemporary reader might find or relate to in the author’s unashamed accounts of his daily routine. Although the diary is very much a product of another time, it turns out there is a lot that is surprisingly contemporary, from health concerns and pillow talk to sexual dalliances and outings to the theatre. Such obsessive detail in a diary inevitably draws comparisons with today’s social media confessional culture.

It goes without saying that Pepys as a prominent civil servant — he rose to be Chief Secretary to the Admiralty — would not have survived long in the current #MeToo media environment and yet his diary’s prosaic descriptions of his sexual exploits betray not a whiff of compromise. It is this transposition from 17c to 21c and back that gives the production its dynamic and its satirical sense of humour, as if Saturday Night Live was broadcasting an episode from Restoration London. Parson almost immediately places us in a simulacrum of a seventeenth century television studio by turning Jeff Larson’s video cameras on the audience to project back a vision of us seated in an intimate auditorium waiting for the play to start. Five bewigged characters in flourishes of elegantly tailored costumes (by Oana Botez) flit across the high-production stage (courtesy of Joanne Howard and Joe Levasseur) mixing archaic prose with contemporary idioms as if literary phraseology had imploded in a mash-up of innuendoes, cross-references and quotations from Euripides to Judith Butler and from the muted 17th century playwright Margaret Cavendish to Roland Barthes. Central to this treatment of Pepys’ diary is Parson’s championing of the lost voice of Pepys’ wife, Elizabeth (Bess), whose own diaries had been burned by her husband in a fit of pique. Since we cannot read her, Parsons brings her to life in movement through performer Elizabeth DeMent.

As a choreographer working in theatre Parson says in the program, ‘I believe strongly in both the supportive and poetic power of structures that stem from dance-making tools that are unique to choreography, forms that can hold both a narrative and an unrelated ongoing movement piece at once, allowing the two elements to collide and resonate with each other.’ Invoking Bess through her body rather than through her voice may seem like a small concession to a dance audience in what is a heavily texted and scripted work, but it is also one of the more obvious concessions in what is essentially a choreographic treatment of time and place. One of the happy ‘collisions’ in 17c is between the presence of Bess as a dancer and Pepys’ commentary in his diary of his wife’s decision to learn how to dance and how, characteristically, he becomes jealous of the dancing master, especially when Bess requires another month to study with him. ‘A gentleman never dances so well as a dancing master’, Pepys wryly comments.

In effectively illustrating a historical narrative while invoking the current consciousness of forgotten female voices Parson borrows from theatrical devices to create an awareness of our present. As a choreographer she uses a wide-ranging sense of spatial and temporal movement to influence the more theatrical aspects of 17c, maintaining an ambiguity of form that makes a case for the ongoing development of dance theatre.


Carlos Acosta, A Celebration of Thirty Years In Dance

Posted: October 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Carlos Acosta, A Celebration of Thirty Years In Dance

Carlos Acosta: A Celebration of Thirty Years in Dance, Royal Albert Hall, October 2

Acosta

Carlos Acosta with Acosta Danza (photo: Manuel Vasson)

There’s a lot to celebrate in what Carlos Acosta has to show for his 30 years in dance, not least his ploughing of the benefits he received as a young dancer back into the rich soil of Cuba in the form of a company, Acosta Danza, and a dance academy in Havana that opened last year. For those who want to see Acosta himself in action he is still in fine and seemingly effortless form and worth watching. It is the package in which this 30-year celebration is presented at the Royal Albert Hall that leaves something to be desired and a few questions. The celebration has the feel of a public relations event in the form of a performance rather than the other way round; Acosta is essentially a guest artist in his own company and is the focus of the evening.

One of the valuable decisions is to present Acosta Danza on its own merits in Alrededor no hay nada with choreography by Goyo Montero to recorded poems by Joaquin Sabina and Vinicius de Moraes. Although there is no printed translation of the poems, their rhythmic structure and the sound of the syllables are beautifully embodied in the choreography and in the elegant, pliant athleticism of the dancers. Each poem is treated as a separate movement within the whole, generating cohesive, often humorous choreographic miniatures in which the contrasts of everyday life in Havana find their expression; they seem to breathe with the sound and colour, exuberance and violence, joy and sadness of the city.

The evening opens with a Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui duet, Mermaid, to a score by Cherkaoui and Woojae Park played live on bells, geomungo and piano. The association of Acosta and Cherkaoui is not immediately evident; there is a connection through the Sadler’s Wells roster of associates but watching Acosta dance this duet is to sense a fish out of water, whereas the fluid Marta Ortega as the mermaid, even on pointe, is much more within her realm.

The final work on the first part of the program is Christopher Bruce’s Rooster choreographed on iconic songs of the Rolling Stones. Bruce writes, ‘In my teens I lived with these songs. I have taken eight tracks and linked them with themes present in the lyrics.’ As with Alrededor no hay nada, there are no printed lyrics but the punchy rhythms and inspired instrumentation (this was before the death of Brian Jones) are all you need to conjure up the cocky chauvinism of the greased-back rockers who strut their stuff in front of an acquiescent female gaze. And yet in this performance, with Acosta as chief rooster, something has got lost in translation. It starts with Tina MacHugh’s lighting whose original intensity and colour seems to have been filtered through a kind of purple haze which also affects the appearance of Marian Bruce’s costumes: they lose their punch. And for a choreographic treatment that bounces off the walls, there aren’t any walls to bounce off in the airy space of the Royal Albert Hall stage so the energy dissipates. That leaves the best efforts of the dancers to rescue Rooster but here again the accuracy of Bruce’s playful, extrovert gestures and attitudes is little more than an approximation; the men are cocks but not cocky and even the charisma of Acosta becomes an apology for self-assertion. Rooster deserves better.

The second half of the program is the complete Carmen as conceived and choreographed by Acosta to the arrangement by Rodion Shchedrin of Bizet’s score with additional music by Martin Yates. The orchestra under the baton of Paul Murphy is perched high above and to the left of the stage. Although the choreography is uneven in its disparate influences, it suits the company well. With Laura Rodriguez as Carmen and Javier Rojas as Don José the narrative line never falters and Acosta’s presence as Escamillio does not overshadow them. Rodriguez moulds her prodigious technique to express the willfulness, seduction and scorn in the choreography, while Rojas maintains a youthful naivety whose burgeoning passion is drawn to his murderous solution by forces he cannot control. Acosta’s suave Escamillio borrows more from the Royal Ballet than from the bullring, but in Carlos Luis Blanco as the embodiment of a bull the raw, earthy masculinity of Carmen’s macho narrative is complete. In its strong, percussive ensemble work and convincing characters Carmen gives the company a chance to cut their technical teeth on a dramatic narrative, a process Acosta can pass on to his dancers with the authority of experience. That is worth celebrating.


Jacqui and David Morris: Nureyev, at the Curzon Mayfair

Posted: October 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jacqui and David Morris: Nureyev, at the Curzon Mayfair

Jacqui and David Morris, Nureyev, Curzon Mayfair, September 25

Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in Marguerite and Armand (photo: Frederika Davis)

Since Rudolf Nureyev defected to the West in 1961 there have been so many interviews, news items, reports, articles, performance videos, films and documentaries about him that a new documentary seems almost redundant. What sibling directors Jacqui and David Morris have evidently set out to achieve with their new biopic Nureyev is to expand the dancer’s life for the big screen by not only adding a theatrical treatment of his childhood but by placing his 32 years in the West within the context of the culture and politics of the Cold War. Dance lovers may already be familiar with much of the material — though there are hitherto unseen clips of his performances with Murray Louis, Paul Taylor and Martha Graham companies — but Nureyev is clearly conceived for a wider audience with, for some odd reason, a 12+ certification.

Just two months after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin returned from space in 1961, placing the USSR’s technological achievements in full view of the world, Nureyev dealt a public relations bombshell to his native country by making a dash for freedom at Le Bourget Airport. Gagarin, the young hero and poster boy of the Soviet space program and Nureyev, the young soloist of the Kirov Ballet who had just created a sensation in the company’s Paris performances, may seem worlds apart* but in terms of soviet propaganda they were equally strategic and valuable icons. Nureyev’s defection was a devastating blow to the Soviet image and reprisals were taken against his family and fellow dancers. For Nureyev it was a huge risk whose personal price must have lain heavily on his conscience but he spent the rest of his life living and working voraciously — as the documentary demonstrates — to justify his belief in personal and artistic freedom; he beat the path subsequent classically-trained dancers have followed to experiment with contemporary dance forms. But even if he had left Russia, Russia never left him. The scenes of his return to his home city to visit his ailing mother and former teacher in 1989 for the first time since his defection are intensely moving not only as an insight into the heart of the man but as a reminder of how much he had maintained the values of Russian culture throughout his single-minded pursuit of a dancer’s life in the West.

Because the artist in Nureyev is indistinguishable from his person, the documentary invites us to discover both in what appears as a continuous performance, from footage of his dancing to interviews with Michael Parkinson and Dick Cavett to his detention in a New York police station to an intimate dinner party towards the end of his life in his Paris apartment; he is allowed to define himself in images and words, though rarely his own. There are a couple of clips from Patricia Foy’s 1991 documentary where he talks about his childhood but most of the comments come from his contemporaries, peers and critics as in the delightful appreciations by Antoinette Sibley, Yehudi Menuhin, Nigel Gosling and Clement Crisp.

Where Nureyev cannot represent himself is in his early years, for which the directors have substituted choreographic tableaux devised by Russell Maliphant. The invocation of Nureyev’s family in this way, like a film within a film, initially makes sense but as the tableaux try to cover his years in the Kirov school and company they no longer match the extraordinary self-will and charisma of their inspiration, a divergence that the superimposition of Nureyev’s early Kirov performances does little to mitigate. In an attempt to pull together the threads of the story, such cinematic devices, along with written quotations from various sources, generate a dense, rather fussy aesthetic that clutters rather than clarifies the rich canvas of archival material.

It seems in his single-minded desire to make up for lost time — he had only started training at the Kirov Ballet school at the age of 17 — Nureyev was drawn to older and more experienced dancers on whom to model himself and with whom to share his public and private life. One was Erik Bruhn whom he met soon after his defection and their mutual respect is captured in the wonderful footage of them working together at the barre in Vera Volkova’s studio in Copenhagen. The other legendary partnership on and off stage was with Margot Fonteyn and here again their relationship is allowed to speak poignantly through footage of their performances — the balcony scene and the tomb scene in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet.

For the last decade of his life Nureyev was director of the Paris Opera Ballet, building a legacy that endures in the Nureyev Foundation, who supported the making of this documentary; in suggesting there hasn’t been anybody to replace him in the ballet world, Nureyev is a convincing tribute.

*One of the many items flung onstage during Nureyev’s first season in Paris was a headshot of Gagarin with a message at the bottom reading, Soar, Rudi, Soar! 


Ian Abbott at FiraTàrrega in Catalonia

Posted: September 25th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at FiraTàrrega in Catalonia

Ian Abbott at FiraTàrrega, Tàrrega, Catalonia

Colectivo Lamajara in Labranza (photo: Tristan Perez Martin)

Tàrrega is a Catalan town ninety minutes west of Barcelona, one of a number in the region that hosts an annual Fira (fair) presenting a selection of Catalan, Spanish and international work. Tàrrega has a reputation for presenting a spectrum of outdoor circus, dance and theatre work in the baking September heat and this is the final program of current artistic director, Jordi Duran Roldós.

Most venues at FiraTàrrega are at most a fifteen-minute stroll from the centre, but Colectivo Lamajara invite us to meet at a bus stop on the edge of town and drive us about two kilometres through a flat, arable landscape with the heat haze warping the horizon. Upon disembarkation a silent guide carrying a staff greets us and leads us further through this vast acreage; parallel to us, about 300 metres away, we notice another body, walking with poise and precision balancing a set of sticks on her head. Our perspective and odometer are being set for Labranza. We carry on until we are gathered on semi-circular hay bales in the dusky light with outbuilding shadows beginning to munch their way across the sun-drenched fields. The next 30 minutes sees our guide, the woman we had seen earlier and an additional dancer toil the land and their bodies, playing with bamboo poles and casting up red soil dust clouds as they slap, caress and roll in the late summer light. With a slower pace and the ability to shift focus from our foreground workers to the acres of land behind them Labranzainvites us to slow down, consider land and landscapes with a trio of sweat-drenched performers. The only distraction is the grating faux Middle-Eastern soundtrack for the middle third which sounds like the Arabia World of any generic smartphone puzzle game. I’m left thinking about how agricultural bodies tend land repeatedly over the seasons and the comparison with the sweat and toil of dancers as they tend their bodies for audiences; suddenly I have an urge for the participatory aspect of Is This A Wasteland? by Charlotte Spencer Projects. The lack of my bodily investment in Labranza sees it fade from my memory as soon I get back on the bus into town and I begin to yearn for the derelict wasteland of Glasgow Southside.

With an even more limited presence of hip hop work than at Tanzmesse, Akira Yoshida’s Home tries to reconcile the gap between his dual choreographic identities as a b-boy and a contemporary dancer. At a sliver over 25 minutes Yoshida has the balance and control of both vocabularies and has success as a performer in blending the power and effortless fluid verticality of b-boying with the floor-based travelling patterns needed to move around space. However, Home is conceptually thin, narratively stretched and is more suited to the Breakin Convention 10-minute cage to which so many hip hop artists are restricted. There are a lot of tiny choreographic details in the hands and the face that would have benefitted from a quiet studio theatre and it clearly reads from a frontal perspective rather than from the four sides of the audience, suggesting a creation process or an adaptation that did not consider an audience in the round. Yoshida is an engaging performer with a number of interesting uses of low centrifugal wrist spins that would sit well as a signature move in a battle context but as a choreographer he still needs to grow.

Block by Motionhouse and NoFit State Circus featuring 9 performers scaling, building and destroying an oversized Jenga tower for over 40 minutes is an outdoor dance/circus juggernaut that has been consistently presented in its home UK and internationally. With a new cast that has slotted seamlessly into the original mould, it’s a technically impressive feat in terms of Ali Williams’ original idea, design and production enabling just the right proportion of stability under foot and hand and wobble for a heightened audience experience. The tower rises fifteen metres which enables more than 4000 Tàrregans to see it from all angles in both the afternoon and evening version. Block is a model of collaboration, simplicity and marketing, and while it eats crowds for breakfast I’m left with firework emptiness after watching it. There are consistently dated and gendered choices from director Kevin Finnan and circus director Paul Evans in terms of lifts, power and control; we wait for 35 minutes before a female performer lifts a male performer over her head. This is a deliberate artistic choice to present female bodies as weaker and to consistently promote the strength of male bodies. In the rest of the show female bodies are treated like dolls — thrown, flipped, caught, saved (like the flyer in a cheerleading squad) and dragged around the structure — whilst an inexplicable series of fake acting arguments appear midway through that are badly executed and add little to the work. While FiraTàrrega’s artistic choices about power are highlighted against a backdrop of dozens of Catalan flags flying from balconies and thousands of yellow ribbons supporting the jailed pro-independence leaders, the gender politics and power choices of Block are woeful, dated and should be collapsed immediately.

In an attempt to improve the very visible lack of artists with a disability at FiraTàrrega, the organizers co-commissioned Hunting For The Unicorn by Becki Parker (England) and Vero Cendoya (Catalonia) with Stockton International Riverside Festival and Tin Arts. It’s a 30-minute end-on performance on the subject of autism, presented in an intimate 175-capacity converted set of steps. With Parker’s balletic lightness and Cendoya’s earthy rootedness — along with the guest unicorn — the performance consists of two 10-minute solos (made in their respective countries and via Skype) and a playful 10-minute object manipulation section with an oversized sequined picture frame, a laptop and a suit jacket, that clearly connects and resonates with its audience. Tin Arts, who support Parker as a solo artist (she is also a member of the newly formed Talent Hub), believe in presenting work that is authored by and is representative of our society. I agree; if we are looking at representation at our theatres and festivals, then of the 900 performances at Sadler’s Wells (for example) in their 2016/17 season, there should have been at least 9 from choreographers on the autistic spectrum. Since data is not collected, I suspect the reality is very different but Hunting For The Unicorn shows how such representation matters. After each of the three performances there is a post-show discussion that has members of the audience in tears thanking Parker and Cendoya for presenting a work that offers a choreographic and emotional insight into autism and how the world feels to them even though they do not identify as being on the autistic spectrum. A number of the audience share how they have a family member with autism and how the empathetic voice of the performance burrowed its way into their subconscious and triggered something previously unrevealed.

FiraTàrrega is like a better, warmer and more useful Edinburgh Fringe for those making and presenting outdoor work; there is easy access to international presenters/artists who are happy to talk alongside the most generous, largest and consistent crowds for outdoor arts I’ve encountered (2,500 people watching Company Chameleon’s Witness This). People are here to do business (Block secured four new bookings from this festival alone) and there are multiple chances to present work in the main Fira or on its fringe and you can see the works of peers from around the world. If there are towns/cities in the UK looking at how a festival connects to and is welcomed by its community in addition to attracting an international community of artists and presenters, the next FiraTàrrega is 5-8 September 2019.