Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Knot at The Place

Posted: November 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Knot at The Place

 Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Knot at The Place, November 20

Umanoove

Mai Lisa Guindo, the arm of Angela Venturini, Dane Hurst, Mathieu Geffré, Oliver Chapman, Sara Harton and Sam Costello in The Knot (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Choreographer Didy Veldman describes The Knot as an enquiry into contemporary marriage. She writes, ‘Together with my collaborators and dancers, we have explored different aspects of marriage, our fears, expectations, the meaning of “forever” and the wedding party.’ This is not the first time Veldman has translated the results of an enquiry into choreographic form. In The Happiness Project — her first work for her company, Umanoove, in 2017 — she interrogated the idea of happiness and built a response in the theatricality of the performance. She also built the musical framework around a single composer and musician, Alexander Balanescu.

In The Knot Veldman calls on much larger musical forces: Igor Stravinsky’s iconic score, Les Noces, an intricately rhythmic work inspired by a traditional Russian peasant wedding. For a contemporary exploration of marriage this is challenging for while it might anchor Veldman’s purview ‘over the last 100 years’, its ritual aspect contrasts with a contemporary view of marriage that, as Veldman writes in the program note, ‘could even be seen as part of our throw-away culture.’

To have more freedom and space for her choreographic ideas Veldman invited composer Ben Foskett to provide additional sections that would ‘weave in and out of Stravinsky’s dense sound world’. The dreamy opening of The Knot is one of these as the seven dancers (Oliver Chapman, Sam Costello, Sara Harton, Dane Hurst, Mathieu Geffré, Mai Lisa Guindo and Angela Venturini) enter in a procession wearing only their undergarments with their wedding attire draped neatly over their arms. The men form a line on one side of the stage and the women on the other and all attend to their respective sartorial and cosmetic preparations. In a concession to choreographic style the performers do not include shoes over the socks — they mime them into place — which diminishes the sense of nuptial formality but the introduction is nevertheless elegant in its simplicity and its choreographic ritual is close to Stravinsky’s conception. Paradoxically, when Scene 1 of Les Noces follows Foskett’s opening, Veldman’s choreography abandons ritual for long-limbed, exuberant sliding steps that suggest the party has started before the nuptials.

Conventionally, the start of the enquiry into contemporary marriage is the traditional couple at the altar — Harton is the bride and Hurst her groom — even if Costello has to coax a dazed Hurst into kneeling and Geffré has to place a bouquet in his rigid hand. It’s not an auspicious beginning but Veldman seems to relish the humour as she piles up other ideas like snapshots in a wedding album: Geffré makes a predatory move on Chapman, who is not interested; a disconsolate Harton then sits down beside Geffré who offers her an imaginary ring in a box that she refuses. Costello takes her place and again Geffré finds his advances rebuffed so he takes out a torch and looks for someone in the audience while the other three couples are dancing up a storm to Foskett’s jazz rhythms. There’s a same sex ceremony for Geffré and Chapman, a brief discussion about what is desirable in a partner, a scene with the women taking off their dresses to catch the eyes of the men, Costello tossing the bouquet and an invitation to some of the audience to be part of the wedding party on stage.

The problem is that Veldman’s tightly conceived snapshot observations lose intensity in their staged context. Unlike in The Happiness Project, the role of the dancing is here one of independent display that suits the abilities and predilections of the dancers rather than connecting the theatrical ideas into any kind of choreographic enquiry, while Ben Ormerod’s lighting and Joana Dias’ set of numerous chairs and hanging lights, while serving as a metaphor for ritual, only emphasizes the bland volume of the stage.

When Bronislava Nijinska first choreographed Les Noces in 1923, she embodied in her conception her convictions and ideas about the role of women in marriage and sculpted those convictions and ideas in a choreographic form that matched the rhythms of the score precisely. Veldman understandably steers clear of Nijinska’s enormous influence on the score, yet without finding her own form for her choreographic enquiry that is anchored in her chosen scores, she risks allowing the images she has created to float free of both her intellectual framework and her personal convictions. What does she really think of marriage? The Knot is just too loose to be an effective answer.


Julie Cunningham: To Be Me at Laban Theatre

Posted: November 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Julie Cunningham: To Be Me at Laban Theatre

Julie Cunningham: To Be Me, Laban Theatre, November 9

Julie Cunningham

Julie Cunningham by Rick Guest

Julie Cunningham’s program, To Be Me, presented at Laban Theatre, follows less than a month after her performance of m/y that was part of Reckonings at Sadler’s Wells. Both performances are a celebration of self, in part inspired by Monique Wittig’s 1973 novel, The Lesbian Body, in which the author articulates ‘feminine desire’ through her experimental use of language. In the 1990s Judith Butler questioned the idea that gender is biologically innate suggesting that it complies instead with the individual’s adherence to social norms, that it is in other words performative. Whilst we all to various degrees articulate our own identities around existing cultural narratives, Butler argues for the freedom to express one’s own gendered life.

This is the choreographic challenge Cunningham takes up in the first half of the program: a solo created on herself, m/e, that borrows from Wittig’s experimentation in language and Butler’s intellectual argument to confer on her dancing body a confidence and freedom that surpass the physical. Wittig’s novel seems to have set Cunningham free to unravel the multifaceted performative possibilities of her body as if she has emptied herself of the outward trappings of any previous dance form she has known — Merce Cunningham and Michael Clark are strong influences — and kept only what is necessary for her own ‘writing’.

m/e opens with Cunningham facing back; dressed casually in a t-shirt, track suit top and pants, she tries out steps to the nimble rhythms of Fever Ray’s To the moon and back, demonstrating the fluid possibilities of free choice through her ability to move in whatever direction at whatever moment and speed. Her style is sparse but with an understated eloquence that derives from her singular choreographic instrument: not only a body that is articulate and beautifully extended but a gaze that remains within the confines of the stage rather than projecting itself beyond it; when she looks in our direction it is as if she is in a studio and we are behind the mirror. It is this duality of extension and containment, of exterior and interior, that makes the section she dances to the Andante of Shostakovich’s piano concerto No. 2 such a revelation. She does not allow the emotion of the music to move her but imposes her own quiet will on it; it is her spatial relation to the musical phrasing that attunes her sense of identity. After this meditative interlude Cunningham interrogates the first of two pieces, Triangles, by composer Nell Catchpole in which she experiments with vocabulary as Wittig may have experimented with language; she plays a conceptual game with a blue ball that makes a re-appearance from m/y before returning to her upbeat exploration of space to Catchpole’s second piece, Skipping, where you can almost sense her changing her mind, dodging and darting like a sprite with dizzying self-confidence. Having exhausted her experimentation she walks forward as if to say, ‘I still haven’t really showed you who I am’ and walks calmly into the wings. True to the spirit of containment, she does not return for a bow.

To Be Me is also the title of the second work, set to Kate Tempest’s spoken word, in which Cunningham is joined by Hannah Burfield, Eleanor Perry and Seira Winning. They are all costumed (by Stevie Stewart and Cunningham with a hint of Clark) as mirrored pairs, one pair in red tops and black tights, the other in black tops and red tights. At the beginning the lights stay up in the auditorium as Cunningham arrives on stage with her cast to exchange knowing glances with every one of us as we listen to Antony and the Johnsons song, For Today I am a Boy; she lets the song and its message play over us on its own terms. The inspiration of To Be Me is the ancient myth of Tiresias, the blind clairvoyant who was turned from male into female and back into male, in which Cunningham continues from m/e to further recite the fluid embodiment of both male and female narratives in a choreographic pairing, mirroring, crossing and rupturing between the four performers. She doesn’t have quite the same freedom of self-expression as in her solo, but her musicality enables her to harvest the images, narrative threads and the rhythms of Tempest’s language and to translate them for the quartet into a counterpoint of movements whose precision and abstraction embody the sheer potential of gender performativity. And she does so with wit and joy, the occasional half smile testifying to the pleasure and confidence of self-discovery.


BalletBoyz: Young Men at Wilton’s Music Hall

Posted: November 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on BalletBoyz: Young Men at Wilton’s Music Hall

BalletBoyz, Young Men at Wilton’s Music Hall, November 14

BalletBoyz

Matthew Rees in a clip from the film of Young Men (photo: BalletBoyz)

BalletBoyz’ artistic directors, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, decided early on that Young Men would be ‘a slightly abstracted version of soldiering and war’ rather than having a philosophical or political stance, and that it would avoid any identification of one side over another. The original 2014 stage production with choreography by Iván Pérez, music by Keaton Henson, costumes by Katherine Watt and lighting by Andrew Ellis was commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Sadler’s Wells before morphing into a film that premiered on BBC2 on Armistice Day 2017. Now, at Wilton’s Music Hall, the two productions have been combined to mark the centenary of Armistice. With the stages of development so closely following the timeline of the First World War the directors’ claims of abstraction are problematic.

Since 2000, BalletBoyz has made a name for itself as a company of male dancers. While the age and physical qualities of these young men are close to those who set off from the platforms of Victoria Station with such eagerness to get across to France to fight for their country, they never quite separate the soldier from the Boyz with the exception of Matthew Rees who plays the role of a young sergeant with more than a hint of authenticity; had he not joined BalletBoyz he would have completed his first stage application to join The Royal Marines. Playing a sadistic parade-ground sergeant he anchors what narrative there is with his erratic and threatening behaviour that might now be ascribed to battle fatigue. Pérez, whose choreography for the original stage production was adapted for the film, uses Rees as the tension that holds the small company of seven young men together, but the effects of fatigue — from the highly physical routines on the parade ground and no man’s land to the scenes in the misty trenches — have an aesthetic rather than a psychological value. He takes military actions, whether it’s drill, shell shock or dying on the battlefield, and smoothes them into balletic exercises. It’s the choreographic equivalent of singing commemorative hymns, an attempt to bridge the gap between the unknowable experience of the trenches and peacetime civilian life.

One of the characters in Timothy Findley’s novel,The Wars, is a mother who has just seen her son leave on a troop ship. She walks out of the sermon in church the following day in a moment of acute incomprehension: “What does it mean – to kill your children? Kill them and then…go in there and sing about it! What does that mean?” One hundred years on it is a question that is still unanswered.

In another commission from 14-18 NOW, They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson’s film of the First World War offers a salient explanation. Footage of training, battle conditions and the Armistice from the archives of the Imperial War Museum has been digitally enhanced to bring the action hauntingly to full colour and speed. The commentary throughout is from soldiers who were involved in every aspect of the fighting. At the very end, as one soldier tries to re-find his place in society, he observes that nobody is interested in hearing about the war; nobody wants to know.

So if Young Men sets out commemorate the war, what aspect is it commemorating? Youth would be an obvious answer; the enthusiasm in the country to sign up for service galvanized a generation of young men from all backgrounds. For many survivors war was the crucible in which their maturity was rudely forged but for those who died or were maimed, it was the devastation of youth. The youthful culture alone of BalletBoyz, as conveyed in Young Men, is clearly incommensurate with the range of experiences in the trenches.

In the program, Nunn and Trevitt write of their wish to acknowledge ‘the tenacity and great courage of women’. Elizabeth McGorian and Jennifer White join the company for both the film and the stage performance as, respectively, mother and sweetheart of Bradley Waller’s character. Their presence broadens the emotional palette of Young Men, but the superficiality of the male material gives McGorian and White little scope for the development of tenacity and great courage beyond their token roles.

With a commemorative stance that values entertainment over substance, what is left of Young Men is an aesthetic approach to war that is little short of a romantic myth. The project is thus complicit not in remembering but in forgetting what happened to an entire generation of young men — not once but three times.


Ian Abbott on Duwane Taylor’s Conform to Rebel at Redbridge Drama Centre

Posted: November 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Duwane Taylor’s Conform to Rebel at Redbridge Drama Centre

Duwane Taylor: Conform to Rebel, Redbridge Drama Centre, October 26

Duwane Taylor

Duwane Taylor in Conform to Rebel (photo: Simon Adrians – Tangle Photography)

There are no norms. All people are exceptions to a rule that doesn’t exist.” – Fernando Pessoa

Conform to Rebel is Duwane Taylor’s first mixed-bill performance at Redbridge Drama Centre, commissioned by Artists 4 Artists, the increasingly valuable collective of Lee Griffiths, Joseph Toonga and Emily Crouch that works as a vehicle for change in the hip hop dance community; it’s achieving a lot more than 99 per cent of other dance development/venues who are paid to do a similar job.

As a performer Taylor has a fine hip hop pedigree as one the UK’s leading exponents of krump. As well as creating work for his own krump crew, Buckness Personified, he has performed with ZooNation, Boy Blue Entertainment and a suite of others. As a choreographer he has made a number of shorter works including the seven-minute Candle in the Dark presented at British Dance Edition in 2014, Speak presented as part of Resolution 2018 at The Place and he was one of four choreographers to work with LIFT 2018 and East London Dance’s East Wall under the overall direction of Hofesh Shechter.

Advertised as a mixed bill, the evening consisted of three works but with a first half of two works with a total duration of less than 20 minutes Conform to Rebel offers more of a choreographic tasting of Taylor’s range rather than fully developed works. With Taylor presenting the mixed bill under his own name rather than that of his crew, he follows a trend of some artists like Tony Adigun (Avant Garde Dance) and Kate Prince (ZooNation) stepping out of their company to profile themselves first and their company second.

Project producer Emily Labhart offered an overview of Taylor’s choreographic offerings as an introduction. The first work, Anchored to The Beat, (6 minutes) had been made with three emerging dance artists and one member of Buckness Personified in little over a day. It is unfair to offer any critical judgment on their performance or on a work that has had so little time in the studio; while it is noble to offer a platform to the emerging artists, putting them in front of an audience with so little rehearsal time feels a little exposing.

True rebels, after all, are as rare as true lovers, and in both cases, to mistake a fever for passion can destroy one’s life.” – James Baldwin

Letter to My… is a 10-minute solo that ‘explores the concept of absent fathers, which is often perceived as a recurrent reality within black communities’ with a score remixed by Jean-Pierre Nyamangunda and Taylor featuring Jay-Z and Will Smith’s spoken word. Taylor emerges with his face masked under an oversized rubbery hoodie which absorbs his arms and offers an interesting possibility of masking and swallowing his movement so that it becomes undefined and abstracted. Sitting facing an empty seat, Taylor plays the dual role of absent father and present son with a range of unsubtle reactions; he bursts out of his seat and hoodie to demonstrate the intensity of feeling while lip-syncing to some of the lyrics. It is well executed and technically proficient, but offers little choreographic, emotional or performative development from some of Taylor’s earlier works.

Seeing Conform To Rebel a week after Ffion Cambell-Davies’ evolving 20-minute solo Womb Paves Way offers an alternative perspective on how krump can be used in a hip hop dance theatre context. Womb Paves Way looks at gender violence and colonialism whilst using a number of theatrical techniques and styles of dance, including a short use of krump. Although it feels like the work is still evolving and not yet settled, Campbell-Davies uses that brief window of krump in such an intelligent, restrained and nuanced way that demonstrates an exceptional choreographic awareness and ability to shift the emotional plane of her audience.

Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul.” – Virginia Woolf

With a voodoo and ritualistic frame, the third work, Conform To Rebel, Rebel To Conform, gives Taylor and Buckness Personified the space and time (twenty-five minutes) to demonstrate their krump technique alongside a wider hip hop dance theatre vocabulary. Claire Hough skulks with menace and krump erupts from her limbs and face with a controlled power and threat which is mesmerising to watch. Her eyes and facial delivery have an almost abinhaya-like quality amplifying what her body is conveying as she corrals the other dancers into conformity with her choreographic line.

There is a consistent debate and schism within hip hop between those who wish to preserve the foundation and codified movement vocabulary and those who wish to experiment, evolve and re-present those original forms in a choreographic and theatrical setting. Taylor clearly wants to evolve, and there are riveting moments when he brings Viviana Rocha on to his shoulder in an expression of double-decker krump and mixes the jab into a wider choreography. There is also a series of floor-based sequences with the performers on their backs; seeing krump on different planes, where the movement comes from within the body and projects into space is something I’ve not seen before.

There’s a definite Shechter influence in some of the travelling sequences and if the work is on a conformity-to-rebellion scale, it would sit in the light rebellion spectrum. However, there is something interesting in Taylor’s choreographic voice; Conform To Rebel, Rebel To Conform demonstrates that Taylor can create and integrate the use of krump and other hip hop dance forms into a powerful and resonant work.


Rambert2 Triple Bill and Rambert’s Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: November 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rambert2 Triple Bill and Rambert’s Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells

Rambert2  Mixed Bill and Rambert’s Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells, November 6

Rambert2

Joshua Barwick and Salomé Pressac in publicity shot for Rambert2 (photo: Nicholas Guttridge and Benoit Swan Pouffer)

Rambert 2 is, according to the publicity surrounding its launch, the newly-formed junior company of Rambert, made up of 13 dancers (nine of whom were trained in the UK) from an audition of 800 international applicants. The name relates it to companies like NDT2 or Ailey II but its reality is different. The dancers’ contract is part of an MA in Professional Dance Performance accredited by Kent University which makes Rambert2 more like a conservatory company on the model of Laban’s Transitions or London Contemporary Dance School’s EDGE except that it has the advantage of being able to use the name of a prestigious company in its advertising and, with support from the Linbury Trust, is offering the students a tax-free bursary to cover tuition fees and the equivalent of a London Living Wage. The competitive stakes in the city’s postgraduate dance ecology have been raised. The MA lasts 15 months, and the Rambert School is already posting for auditions in early 2019 for the next cohort with a new lineup of choreographers; the ‘newly-formed junior company of Rambert’ is set to become an annual event.

The project was devised and planned by Rambert’s executive director, Helen Shute, its then artistic director Mark Baldwin and Rambert School principal, Amanda Britton. Three choreographers were chosen for the first Rambert2 cohort: Rafael Bonachela, Sharon Eyal and Benoit Swan Pouffer, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey and for ten years the artistic director of New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. With Baldwin’s departure around the time of the first auditions, Shute invited Pouffer to oversee them and subsequently appointed him as guest artistic director of the main company while ‘a thorough and rigorous process’ is in place to find Baldwin’s successor *. Since Bonachela and Eyal each provided a seminal work from their existing repertoire, Pouffer found himself in the fortunate position of being able to handpick 13 dancers from 800 on whom to create a new work.

Like the publicity surrounding it, Rambert2’s program at Sadler’s Wells (who commissioned this inaugural season) blurs the distinction between a repertoire and a conservatory model; the former is based on the impact of the program while the latter aims to give all the dancers a chance to experience each choreographer’s work. Bonachela’s E2 7SD is a duet and Eyal’s Killer Pig is set on seven dancers; Pouffer obliges by making Grey Matter the only work that uses all 13 dancers, but it is the impact of the program that prevails on a durational, visual and aural level.

The program is a display and celebration of youthful energy that devours all in its thirst for experience. Grey Matter may be a lament for memory loss but the synapses around the brain malfunction — personified by Faye Stoeser — are still fully charged and sensual, and go about their cerebral tasks costumed by Cottweiller to the throbbing Ghettofuturism of GAIKA. E2 7SD is a love-hate duet — wrapped in Oswaldo Macia and Santiago Posada’s sound sculpture and lovingly re-staged by Antonia Grove — between a towering Conor Kerrigan and a feisty Aishwarya Raut that has the rawness and angst of teen spirit but ends up oddly sentimental, while Killer Pig, at a relentless 45 minutes, is a visceral paean to club culture and sensuality engulfed in a body-beating aural collage by Ori Lichtik. I saw it some years ago in a nightclub in Tel-Aviv and its sinuous, androgynous energy completely silenced the capacity clientele.

Killer Pig might have worked better if it had closed the evening after E2 7SD but instead it was preceded by Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances performed by the main company. A protest against the brutal Pinochet régime in Chile doesn’t fit between a Hackney Road postcode and a Tel Aviv nightclub, either in spirit or in choreography. For some undisclosed reason the classic work is being withdrawn from Rambert’s repertoire two years after reviving it and the company has chosen this inaugural season of Rambert2 to cast it off. There’s perhaps a coded message in the composite photograph by Pouffer and Nicholas Guttridge on the company poster and program cover. In the shadowed background stands Rambert’s Joshua Barwick as one of the dead in Ghost Dances. He has lost his skeletal mask that lies in the foreground by the statuesque pose of Rambert2’s Salomé Pressac wearing, we are told, Simon Albo. Her front leg has been photographically distorted and her thigh retouched to generate a muscular anomaly but her outstretched arm and upturned hand are aligned to give the mischievous impression of pushing Barwick defiantly off the stage.

*Pouffer was appointed Artistic Director of Rambert on December 12, 2018.


Shobana Jeyasingh Dance: Contagion at the British Library

Posted: November 9th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Shobana Jeyasingh Dance: Contagion at the British Library

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Contagion, British Library, November 2

Contagion

Noora Kela (not in this cast) in Contagion (photo: Chris Nash)

The fact that the first wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic erupted across the globe in the last year of the First World War has contributed to its sidelining in our collective memory where the memorialization of the war has taken precedence. Yet according to recent calculations it killed far more people than the warring nations combined and while troop movements inevitably contributed to the spread of the virus, its devastating effects on the armed forces may also have been one of the factors that led to the end of hostilities. It is therefore appropriate that 14-18 NOW has commissioned a work about the pandemic as part of its commemoration program. Shobana Jeyasingh’s Contagion is precisely what one would expect of her work: carefully thought through, well researched, and adapted to the choreographic form with a wealth of visual, aural and corporal metaphors.

In the absence of the fathers, husbands and brothers who had been called up to fight, Jeyasingh’s all-female cast — Avatâra Ayuso, Catarina Carvalho, Vânia Doutel Vaz, Sunbee Han, Rachel Maybank, Estela Merlos, Emily Pottage and Ruth Voon — represents the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters whose ‘acts of kindness’, as she writes, ‘were the only beacons of kindness in an otherwise dark world.’

The spread of the pandemic followed its own logic but with the dearth of viral science and a lack of any health measures it seemed to strike indiscriminately. Even this aspect has been assimilated into Contagion by presenting it in places that are not customarily dance venues. Merle Hensel’s white rectangular plinths can drop into any size of communal space, from Winchester Great Hall to the British Library mezzanine, serving as seating, beds and sarcophagi — the macabre order of architectural elements encountered in the course of the disease — and as lighting boxes and projection surfaces. With the performers’ plain, neutral-coloured leotards, their bodies become opaque under Yaron Abulafia’s lighting and seemingly transparent through Nina Dunn’s projections, a visual battlefield on which the symptom of creeping cyanosis spreads as well as the movement of the virus entering the cellular microcosm and reaching its noxious tentacles throughout it. The patterns on the bodies are reminiscent of the lurid stippling the artist Egon Schiele used to define the volumes of his painted nudes. He died of the flu in 1918, just three days after losing his pregnant wife to it. Families were wiped out ‘in the blink of an eye’.

While the aesthetics of Contagion derive from the virus’s pathology the performers embody both the intensity of the victims’ physical attributes and the emotional response of those caring for them. The work begins with gestures of supplication in the face of the onslaught and closes with stoically resilient gestures in retreat; in between we hear the harsh inhalations from damaged lungs or see victims sitting shivering in delirium on the plinths, their faces distorted and fearful. The intricate pairing of dancers becomes a metaphor for the way the virus replicated itself, with bodies locking together and falling away behind the plinths juxtaposed with archival footage of soldiers offloading their stretchers.

Graeme Miller’s soundscape, in which accounts from the Indian poet Tripathi Nirali and an extract by Francisco Henriques Loureiro from the Collier Archive in the Imperial War Museum are embedded, is conveyed through the intimacy of headphones, as well as a children’s rhyme repeated to a flickering moving image of a girl skipping:

I had a bird
It’s name was Enza
I opened the window
And in flew Enza.

Nothing, it seems, can contrast the everyday devastation more poignantly than the ludic preoccupations of children but like all the creative inputs in Contagion their significance has a menacing undertone; the projection of birds in flight and the wild flapping of wings we hear conflate innocence with the avian origins of the pandemic.

In drawing together diverse fields of artistic expression, Jeyasingh’s gem of choreographic intensity extricates from relative oblivion a historical event that in its impact on world populations was more devastating than the war it outlived. While commemoration of the First World War seems more concerned with patriotism and the political rhetoric surrounding death, a viral war has no battle lines so there is no possibility of one side declaring victory over another. Irrespective of nationality, Contagion reminds us that compassion is the great healer and that art, as Columbian artist Doris Salcedo suggests, ‘brings into experience those aspects of reality that our society ignores and keeps in obscurity’.

 

(For those who missed it, Contagion at Winchester Great Hall was filmed and can be found on YouTube.)


Dance Umbrella 2018: Le Patin Libre in Threshold at Alexandra Palace

Posted: November 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Le Patin Libre in Threshold at Alexandra Palace

Le Patin Libre, Threshold, Alexandra Palace Ice Rink, October 21

Le Patin Libre

Taylor Dilley in Le Patin Libre’s Threshold (photo: Romain Guilbault)

Seeing Le Patin Libre’s Vertical Influences on the ice at Alexandra Palace as part of Dance Umbrella in 2014 was a revelation, and a pleasure to see the company again on the ice at Somerset House in 2016, part reprise and part an essay of ideas for a new work. That new work, Seuil (Threshold), which premiered at Montreal’s season of international dance, Danse Danse, in April, returned to Alexandra Palace to fill the final slots in this year’s Dance Umbrella. Now in its 40th year, Dance Umbrella has a vision that looks at the outer reaches of the dance universe where the choreographic process may refer as much to ideas and cultural history as to the moving body. The stimulation of its programming questions the nature of dance by refusing to frame it, or in some cases by shredding it à la Banksy within the frame.

Le Patin Libre’s visual references — the ice rink, the skates and the freezing environment — anchor it within a framework of amateur pastime or of Olympic competition but its choreographic interest lies somewhere in between. The scale of Vertical Influences derived from the sheer speed and arc of it gliding motifs and its flock patterns; in Threshold the patterns are still there but have gained additional hints of abstract narrative in which the threshold of the group dynamic is challenged. Falling out and falling — the accident — have become linked motifs and the partnering takes advantage of locking skates and elements of contact improvisation. At the same time the creative inputs of music (Jasmin Boivin) and lighting (Lucy Carter with Sean Gleason) remain familiar.

One aspect of the performance that has changed is the audience perspective. For the first half of Vertical Influences the audience was seated high on one side of the rink lending the trails of speed and form a heroic stature. In the second half the audience was invited to sit on one end of the rink to watch from a different angle and the choreography was scaled, both broadly and intimately, to enhance the experience. For Threshold Le Patin Libre has eschewed heroic scale for a single, ground-level perspective for both halves of the program; the audience is divided at one end of the ice or the other. In an arena this size, the distance between the ends creates a problem of visual register: if a narrative element or one of Hamel’s virtuosic accents works for one end it is unlikely to read with the same clarity for the other. And although the choreography is not mirrored, there is an element of duplication so the performance is delivered proportionately to the two ends of the rink.

Operating at the mid point of the ice is an obvious compromise, and one of the motifs that works beautifully is the gliding formation from side to side across the ice of interweaving bodies, like lines of a poem. It is the kind of motif that is unique to skating but its gliding displacement patterns could equally have their inspiration in George Balanchine’s Serenade and they have a similar emotional mystery.

Nobody needs to tell Le Patin Libre — Alexandre Hamel, Pascale Jodoin, Samory Ba, Taylor Dilley and Jasmin Boivin — how to skate, but two outside influences have left their mark on Threshold, particularly on the second half. Choreographer Anne Plamondon has worked on individual vocabulary, notably a solo for Ba that extrudes his natural elegance into more classical forms, and dramaturg Ruth Little (whose Dance Umbrella Motive Force lecture is online) has carved out of the swirl of lines and speed a kind of form, be it an elegy on loss or individuality, a cinematic plot or an essay in dynamic structure and rhythm in which skating patterns form the grammar.

For a company that has already pushed the contextual boundaries of skating, the question for Threshold is which way it is facing, in or out. The new work is a step forward, but still very much along the lines of Vertical Influences, suggesting Le Patin Libre may be susceptible to holding on too safely to its initial inspiration. In the spirit of Dance Umbrella, the company might consider for its next move not so much a dramaturgical ordering of internal events within their form, but an external choreographic change in concept that, while harnessing their vital energy, speed, and dynamic balance takes them further outside their frame.


Tom Dale Company: I infinite at The Place

Posted: November 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Tom Dale Company: I infinite at The Place

Tom Dale Company, I infinite, The Place, October 17

I infinite

Barret Hodgson’s digital lighting effects in I infinite (photo: Barret Hodgson)

Although Tom Dale’s I infinite is performed on the stage at The Place, the immersive nature of its digital technology does not fit well with the model of a conventional theatre. To present it here requires the adaptation of the stage to a white box space and its public bar area to an antechamber in which we are asked to leave our bags, jackets and shoes and to don a loose grey kimono-like jacket; the traditional ritual of attending a theatre performance is subverted. Once inside the space there is no conventional seating but a limited number of white benches or low plinths, some of which, we are told, will be used by the dancer, Jemima Brown. Monitors are present to direct the audience flow when needed. There is no front, no fixed perspective from which to view the performance so those who don’t have a seat are encouraged to wander around the space, stand still, sit, crouch or lie down; leaning against the stretched fabric walls is not advised. Once the performance is under way, however, all the preparations make sense; the exquisite atmosphere video artist Barret Hodgson creates with light and projections around Brown can only work with these kinds of parameters. Dale and Hodgson seem to be spearheading a form of theatrical environment that requires something more like a gallery space to house it where audiences will be accustomed to the all-consuming aesthetic such an immersive experience demands. Until then, touring something like I infinite in conventional theatres will always appear to be the future adapting itself to an antediluvian present.

Dale and Hodgson have been involved in this kind of work for some time. Five years ago I saw Refugees of the Septic Heart that Dale choreographed and for which Hodgson designed the projections alongside a lighting designer, a set designer, six dancers, music and text. The complex overlapping of creative inputs proved less cumulative than distracting, but it might have been the effect of experimenting with digital technology in a conventional theatre setting. With I infinite the digital inputs have been set free of the proscenium stage and the performative elements have been reduced to the essentials of light, sound and movement.

Dales’s extended choreographic solo for Brown gives the performance the texture of a dance work but its true subject is the relationship between movement and digital technology, not as equal constituent elements but as a demonstration of the latter’s ‘efforts to perfect itself as it constantly tries to re-create or reproduce nature.’ Brown’s role thus appears subservient to the digital evocation of light and space in setting up a neat and vital distinction between the finite digital technology and infinite human expression. Paradoxically inside the white box space the visual effect of the digital light patterns, especially in conjunction with haze, conveys an uncanny sense of infinity whereas Brown’s body suggests a finite landscape within it. At one point she disappears below the horizontal plane of light/haze and we are looking out on the universe from the top of a mountain. Even if the audience all around is implicated figuratively in the action, Brown’s smooth and articulate dynamic is indispensable as a contrasting focus of our attention, but as a display of possibilities it is Hodgson’s digital sleight of hand that makes I infinite memorable. Dale and Hodgson have evolved their creative venture as a vivid demonstration of the possibilities such a carefully controlled scenographic environment can offer, but in terms of a theatrical experience there is still some progress to be made on a choreographic vision to match it.


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.