Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal at Southbank Centre

Posted: September 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal at Southbank Centre

Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal, Southbank Centre, August 31

Alison Jaques in Scottish Dance Theatre’s Velvet Petal (photo: Jack Wrigley)

The way into Scottish Dance Theatre’s Velvet Petal is through a pair of portable coat racks carrying a rich assortment of chic clothing and fancy dress that the dancers put on, take off and exchange in an intimate exhibition of flamboyant identities. ‘Velvet petal’ is an apt description of this tactile, sensuous undersurface of the work that displays its flagrant sensuality with an impish grin. There’s also a central role for a well-used mattress, dragged around the stage to receive the next exhausted body or as a convenient space to make out; the entire cast, it seems, is open for erotic adventure.

The heady atmosphere choreographer Fleur Darkin wants to create in Velvet Petal is inspired by Patti Smith’s memories of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe at the Chelsea Hotel in New York that she describes in her book, Just Kids. Darkin releases her work from the biographical details and focuses instead on the record of innocence, of sexual fluidity and artistic experimentation in the couple’s search for individual identity and fulfilment. What struck Darkinwas ‘the love and commitment’ of Smith and Mapplethorpe that was revealed ‘in the values of the writing.’ Smith has that ability in her prose, poetry or lyrics to capture her impressions in imagery and conviction of equal intensity. The same can be said of Mapplethorpe’s provocative photographs of the male and female body that question the depiction of gender, stereotype and role-playing in New York as the AIDS crisis took hold; they underline a way of life that was vulnerable and perilous — he succumbed to AIDS in 1989 — but release from within that uncompromising vulnerability a ravishing beauty. In exploring these themes in Velvet Petal Darkin has set herself the challenge of expressing her own creativity in the values of her choreography.

A small selection of Mapplethorpe’s polaroids are projected against the mattress to underline the work’s provenance and to complement Emma Jones’ bedroom-studio lighting. The stage is engagingly fluid and awash in dancers and costumes but while Mapplethorpe exploited the performativity of the body to express androgynous, at times ambiguous, and ever beguiling individuals, Velvet Petal brings to mind the ambience of a fashion shoot where the fluidity of gender and role-playing is enacted as an enticing commodity. It is as if Darkin’s evocation of Mapplethorpe’s legacy has turned into one of display, a superficial show of sensuality within self-imposed conventions that are more entertaining than mordant. There’s a game of strip poker, for example, played with a couple and a skipping rope; the problem is it’s so utterly predictable that when the couple gets down to underwear the game stops.

In indulging individually and collectively what it might have felt like to be living in the creative heat of the Chelsea Hotel, the cast of Velvet Petal rarely embodies the experience. When Adrienne O’Leary becomes momentarily the bare-chested figure of Mapplethorpe’s model, the body builder Lisa Lyon, eroticism is watered down by a self-consciousness that is nowhere evident in the original photographs. All the performers in Scottish Dance Theatre are good at display; some seem to relish it and their visual allure is undeniable but Pauline Torzuoli stands out as finding in herself the quality of conviction that makes Darkin’s choreographic evocation begin to materialise.

In considering the sound track of Velvet Petal the glaring omission is the music of Patti Smith herself. It is eschewed for a saccharine selection of songs arranged by Torben Lars Sylvest that renders the intoxication of the Chelsea Hotel years rather too sober and mainstream. Perhaps it’s a musical rights issue, but the loss of an appropriate tone for the work — one that encompasses in the quality of the voice both the rasping poverty and delirious richness of bohemian life — points to a sense of compromise either in the creative process or in its manifestation.

The evening begins quite uniquely for a dance performance. In her musical research Darkin had discovered a little-known musician, Abul Mogard, and took the brave step of using her company’s appearance at the Purcell Room to introduce his music to a London audience. It’s a revelation, the kind of atonal electronic music to take you on a journey through closed eyes. But on the bare stage with Marja de Sanctis’ video projections the elongated figure of Harry Kane improvises a brief erotic trio with the mattress and the empty clothes rack that gets closer to the spirit of Mapplethorpe’s imagery than Velvet Petal ever quite allows.


Ian Abbott at Tanzmesse 2018

Posted: September 10th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Coverage, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Tanzmesse 2018

Ian Abbott at Tanzmesse, Dusseldorf, Aug 29 – Sep 1 2018


Oona Doherty

Oona Doherty in HOPE HUNT & The Ascension into Lazarus (photo: Simon Harrison)

Tanzmesse 2018 is the first under the new directorship of Dieter Jaenicke. In his introduction he talks of this edition as one of change, a stepping stone towards something different in 2020: “Tanzmesse is going to change in the direction of an ideas fair where the most important topics (which are moving the international dance world) will be discussed and performed: topics like migration, democracy, on how to deal with the post colonial division of the world and its resources…from now on contemporary dance, contemporary ballet and urban dance will be presented on an equal level.”
Solos by Hodworks (Hungary) is a joyful, carefully crafted hour by Adrienn Hod with three exquisite performers (Emese Cuhorka, Csaba Molnar and Imre Vass). Hod has created a Generation Game prize belt of ever changing 4-6 minute solo choreographic scenes for an audience in the round. With each scene chained together by the end/start level of emotional intensity it’s an interesting way to view the range and versatility of the performers alongside the dozen or more miniature ideas that Hod wants to explore wrapped in a faux-fur creature singing big numbers from Cats and Disney classics, a gentle lingering hug for a single audience member, a hyper-inflated word stream outlining the trouble of the choreographic process or a sweet pepper eating trial. Solossits well in the late night cabaret slot of Tanzmesse and adds to the reputation of both Hod and Hodworks.
Crépuscule des Océans by Daniel Leveillé Danse (Canada) self describes as ‘a human tide, animated by opposing currents: busy, but at the same time on guard — concentrated to make no mistakes — resistant, ambitious and obsessive.’ The reality is a woeful 55 minutes in the 1200-seater Capitol Theatre of seven dancers, naked for 70% of the time, pairing up in small areas of the stage to repeat the same 8 minutes of out-of-time tippytoe-tensing, 80s-lungeing-with-pointy-fingers choreography to piano music by Jean-Sébastien Durocher. Heralded in the 1990s as the Canadian pioneer of presenting the unclothed body on stage, Leveillé’s concept or choreography appears not to have changed since; how ironic to be presenting this 11-year-old work on Jaenicke’s first program of ‘change’. As Crépuscule des Océans lurches on, one dancer makes three clear mistakes, forgetting the choreography and freezing in one group section and making two large stumbles elsewhere; as the audience leaves after a smattering of slow claps, there is angry talk of wasted time, the mistakes and the possibility of what could have been experienced on stage instead.
There is a suite of talks each day with one entitled The Future of Performing Arts Market featuring Sophie Travers (APAM), Jaenicke (Tanzmesse), Asa Richardsdottir (Ice Hot) and Alain Paré (Cinars): four current performing arts markets talking about their future? Unsurprisingly there is no real sense of what the future might look like because the speakers have no desire to erase their own presence and with no input from anyone outside a performing arts market there is no alternative perspective; the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. If the purpose of these events (the majority of which are still replicating near 30-year-old models) is to act as a meeting point, to stimulate new relationships and to ‘offer more space for communication, exchange and contact’ then we need voices from outside (in both programming and construction) to widen possibilities and ensure representation and intersectionality are considered at the centre of future editions.
In the Women’s Voices in Choreography talk, chair Andrea Snyder from American Dance Abroad highlighted the percentage of women represented in each part of the programme; it’s around a third. For every two performances or pitches by a male in the biggest dance trade fair in the world there is one by a female. This is unacceptable. Insightful contributions from the floor by Emma-Jayne Park (Scotland) and Annabelle Guérédrat (Martinique) as well as by Christine Bonansea (USA) on the panel are counterbalanced with some eyebrow-raising talk from other women in the room on how ‘women lack ambition and lack the ability to be strategic.’ There is a call for a consistent sisterhood that does not keep cutting each other down and a clear call for action in the Tanzmesse evaluation where we should demand an equal number of performances and programming slots for women as a minimum in future editions.
Alongside the talks programme there are some fifty 20-minute open studio/pitching slots over the two days where artists can offer a flavour of something new that is coming down the pipeline to generate interest in future international touring or building co-production partnerships. Seeta Patel presents a polished 8-minute excerpt of her bharatanatyam reimagining of The Rite of Spring that will tour the UK with 6 dancers from May 2019 and scale up to the Sadler’s Wells main stage with 12 dancers in 2021. Group bharatanatyam is a rarity and it is refreshing to see the intricate patterns multiplied and echoed across many bodies as the power and collective sound of the jattis leave me wanting to see and hear more.
HOPE HUNT & The Ascension into Lazarus (HHATAIL) by Oona Doherty blasts the dusty roof off Tanzmesse 2018 and if the rarely-heard decibel level of applause and the length of standing ovation are anything to go by, then the Belfast-based performer/choreographer is about to collect some serious air miles. With the audience starting out on the street, sardined on the narrow paths outside the FFT Kammerspiele, an ageing Volkswagen blaring 90s UK dance music screeches to a halt, the driver pops the boot and out onto the concrete night floor lands Doherty. As she discovers her Bambi legs and staggers into and out of the crowd, up and down the road, the audience begins to absorb her, spits her out and takes her back, in an exchange of energy that stays charged till the end. Dressed in three stripes, Shockwaves hair and gold-chained neck, Doherty screams at us to get inside into the black as we are about to witness ‘a man who is many men telling his story, a hunt for hope as we are twisted and contorted with ideas of masculinity, morality and nostaligia.’ With HHATAIL we are in the arc of an eruption; Doherty coughs and conjures up words, memories and choreographies that bite and nestle under the skin offering us a glimpse of an underclass, of Belfast and of a resistance. As we continue to see the repeated crunch of her body biting the floor it is her energy and performance that stains the mind. Injecting a fire and spirit into the audience against the relentless Tanzmesse schedule and the wearisome neoliberal politics of the West HHATAIL is testament to the quality of Doherty’s dramaturgy and performance.
There is a growing presence of work made for non-theatrical spaces at Tanzmesse and a highlight of that programme is DISCOFOOT by CCN Ballet de Lorraine (Petter Jacobsson and Thomas Caley). Two teams of 11 classically-trained dancers in short short gold lamé shorts, play/perform football with a mirrored disco football to a bass-heavy disco soundtrack played over two 10-minute halves on a marked out 5-a-side pitch outside Forum with a referee, live DJ and a set of ice-dance judges marking their performance alongside goals scored. It’s an absolute hoot and demonstrates a rarely seen lighter side of large-scale ballet companies. Tackling via the splits, twerk grinding whilst holding the ball up and with elaborate simulation when a foul has been committed, all demonstrate a clear knowledge of football with a wry sense of the growing theatricalisation and entertainment arena in which football and dance sits. As a model it could be exported to other events; imagine at the UK Dance Showcase having a 5-a-side beach version of DISCOFOOT with Avant Garde Dance vs Ladd Light and Emberton or Russell Maliphant vs Barrowland Ballet.
On the final day there is an addition of an ‘Urban Dance Art Day’ with a programme curated by Takao Baba at Welkunstzimmer presenting a conversation, Urban Dance Goes Theatre, and two 90-minute showcase blocks of works (in progress, excerpted, improvised) by the likes of The Ruggeds, Gladness, House as well as two 15-minute excerpts of longer works, Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច by Nick Power and Tangle by Kinetic Art. Presented on the classic taped b-boy cardboard floor we’re offered a series of quarter-baked ideas and a poor sound system so we’re unable to hear the names of performers and what the works are about. The only work to come out with any sense of quality, presentation or theatricality is Power’s: the audience is placed in a cypher, providing energy for the two b-boys (Erak Mith and Aaron Lim) as they skirt the edges, playfully mock the tropes of the genre and each other and fake and play like boxers in the ring sussing out their opponent before attempting to land the knockout blow/move. Nevertheless, presenting ‘Urban Dance Art Day’ in this context shortchanges the audience but more pertinently reveals an uneasy, ongoing attempt by presenters to box/shoehorn hip hop culture into existing theatrical conventions.
With advisors Malco Oliveros, Christian Watty and Carolelinda Dickey, Jaenicke’s first Tanzmesse displays not only an embarrassing lack of female choreographers and performers across the performance and pitching programme, but a geographical exclusion of dance from vast tracts of the world like Africa, the Middle East and South/Central America. I have only written about a very small percentage of the programme and one of hundreds of possible routes through the event but until the gender and geographical bias is acknowledged and altered then Tanzmesse will continue to feel like a central meeting place in Europe where the elite wield their power, position and privilege and deepen the chasm between those who are here and those who are not.


Ian Abbot at Edinburgh Fringe, Part I, August 2018

Posted: August 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbot at Edinburgh Fringe, Part I, August 2018

The Troth (Usne Kaha Tha), Army at The Fringe, August 16

Edinburgh Fringe

Daniel Hay-Gordon with members of the cast in The Troth (photo: Simon Richardson)

When Akademi chose Gary Clarke to direct and choreograph The Troth (a short story written in 1915 by the scholar Chandradhar Sharma Guleri) there was much consternation within the South Asian dance community. The organisation that receives Arts Council England investment to support and develop South Asian dance artists had actively chosen to employ a white, male contemporary dance choreographer for their signature WWI project.

Clarke is someone who has little connection to the South Asian community, the history of the Sikh Rifles in WWI or a familiarity with the myriad South Asian dance forms. The Troth features six dancers (Dom Coffey, Daniel Hay-Gordon, Vidya Patel, Deepraj Singh, Songhay Toldon and Subhash Viman Gorania) who gamely deliver what Clarke asks of them in a frothy piece of hollow melodramatic entertainment that serves only to reinforce the reputation of Akademi and Clarke.

Recycling a significant number of minutes and tropes from Clarke’s previous work COAL (1915 Belgium looks choreographically very similar to a Yorkshire 1980s coal mine) we see a yearning Patel mourn and repetitively deploy the Kathak spin as the dizzying emotional losses pile up (husband, son and first love). With the men thrashing, flopping, crawling and nearly dying for 25 minutes the only visual and/or historical point of interest is the archival footage/photography drawn from the Imperial War Museum and the Council of National Army Museum showing how colonial Britain captured on celluloid these choreographed moments of formation marching, trench digging and hospitalisation.

With an inexplicably homoerotic British/German soldier cameo from Hay-Gordon (also Assistant Director) there’s a black-leather-glove-biting sequence that has so little dramaturgical relevance and is so artistically and culturally out context and that it smacks of a signature self-indulgent move; I wonder how this section didn’t trigger Lou Cope’s dramaturgical alarm.

After seeing The Troth it is clear why Mira Kaushik (its Executive Producer and Director of Akademi) chose Clarke for this commission; riding off the back of Clarke’s commercial success of COAL across the UK, Akademi wanted a piece of that relevance. However, in their desire to build audiences in new territories, by employing a white male choreographer they have committed a bizarre act of reverse colonial exoticisation and by doing so continue the erasure of South Asian dance choreographers in the UK. The empire strikes back.

For another opinion on The Troth see the review by Nicholas Minns and Caterina Albano

UniverSoul Circus and SHIFT, Underbelly Circus Hub, August 15

Billed as “Hip Hop Under The Big Top”, this was the European debut of UniverSoul Circus after touring the US for 25 years. Our hosts Cheyenne Rose-Dailey and Lucky Malatsi introduced a dozen acts drawn from Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, USA, Guinea, Mongolia — and more — for a riotous 55 minutes of sugar joy and technical circus wizardry climaxing in a flawlessly smooth 12-piece Mongolian teeterboard act with four people balanced atop each other. Alongside the rainbow-wigged and whistle-mouthed Fresh the Clownsss charged with keeping the disappointingly small crowd entertained in between the acts there are nice touches of audience participation with lip syncing to paint rollers and the ever-present oversized inflatable balls slapped around the venue as each succeeding act is readied.

Unfortunately when I attended, the bone breakers contortionists were, “due to unforeseen circumstances” unavailable and although there were a couple of hip hop call and responses from our hosts alongside the odd east coast track, it would be hard to call this ‘hip hop under the big top’. Nevertheless in the increasingly white, able-bodied and middle-class fringe landscape, UniverSoul Circus should be celebrated for the exquisite technical execution, charismatic audience engagement and attention to detail in every act. In an active choice from founder Cedric Walker every member of the cast (and safety crew dressed in exquisitely tailored suits and bow ties) is a person of colour.

Seeing UniverSoul Circus after the recent gal-dem women and non-binary people takeover of the Guardian’s Weekend some of the thoughts of gal-dem’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Liv Little came to mind: “As a black person I feel very undervalued as a consumer. If mainstream media and TV and film valued people of colour, you would see a lot more of us behind the screen and on the screen. So one of the most important things is who is getting to tell the story.”

I had seen SHIFT by Barely Methodical Troupe (BMT) immediately before UniverSoul Circus, a scheduling that emphasised the gulf in class, finish and care between the two companies’ works, yet SHIFT was in the smaller Circus Hub venue and still had at least double the audience. After their breakout hit Bromance in 2014 and having made and toured their previous work Kin (directed by Ben Duke) at last year’s fringe BMT appear to be a company ploughing a barren field. They need to take some time out to recharge, find inspiration from other places and come back with a quality product. Choreographed and co-directed by Ella Guildfoyle, the premise of SHIFT is loosely tied to a set of tricks, experimentation and testing the boundaries of multiple-sized blue industrial resistance bands alongside some appalling attempts at comedy/acting in between the predictable set pieces. Perhaps in their original run at Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May SHIFT was tighter, the performers less tired and the rush of a première had elevated safety endorphins, but in the middle of a body-and-energy-sapping run at the fringe SHIFT was lacking in care and the choreographic details were fraying. There were at least four tricks that resulted in stumbles and almost fail/falls demonstrating a weary set of limbs that were clearly not intentional; it’s close to this point that circus can become dangerous if those who are catching and responsible for each other on stage aren’t able to ensure standards of safety.

With a cast of four (Louis Gift, Esmeralda Nikolajeff, Elihu Vazquez and Charlie Wheeller) the only person to emerge with any distinction is Vazquez with a set of fresh b-boy skills, freezes and combinations that flickered temporarily but he is sorely underutilised throughout the rest of the show; his demonstrable control and ability to hold an audience’s attention is a pleasure to watch.


St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake at The Coliseum

Posted: August 28th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake at The Coliseum

St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, Swan Lake, The Coliseum, London, August 23

Irena Kolesnikova in St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake (photo: Vladimir Zenzinov)

George Balanchine was a great admirer of the music of Tchaikovsky; both were Petersburgers and Balanchine felt that to understand Tchaikovsky’s music you had to know St. Petersburg. In introducing the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre to its London audience, founding director Konstantin Tachkin has included in its program not only information on Tchaikovsky and the company but on the city from which the music arose, its Imperial history, its architecture and its rich ballet heritage. It is the home of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, once known as the Imperial Ballet School, that has trained some of the great Russian dancers of the last century (including Balanchine) and where St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s principal Irena Kolesnikova graduated in 1998. By association with the history of St. Petersburg Tachkin lays out the expectation that what we are about to see has all the marks of authenticity but Swan Lake is built up of layers of cultural refinement gathered from many countries and traditions and its lasting appeal is based not only on its score but on its inspired choreographic language and stirring mythology. Classical ballet is essentially ephemeral; a production of Swan Lake relies each time on live performance for its inspiration and genius to be embodied and appreciated. If this doesn’t happen the ballet becomes a product, an approximation that resembles the original in its structure but fails to ignite an emotional response to its essential character. For all the expectation of authenticity, St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s touring production of Swan Lake fails to convince in performance.

The essence of Swan Lake — redemption through love — is released in the music but it must also materialize on stage. In a narrative ballet the story is linked through mime whose meaning arises from the relationship between an established theatrical lexicon and the intention of the person using it. If the lexicon is clear but the intention is lacking, the meaning is lost. One example is when the Princess (Inna Svechnikova) arrives in Act 1; she is supposed to indicate to her son, Prince Siegfried (Bolshoi Ballet’s Denis Rodkin) that as he’s about to reach the age of 21 it’s time to think of getting married. In fact she’s arranged a ball at the palace the next day to invite a few eligible princesses for Siegfried to choose from. But by the time the Princess has left, we are none the wiser as to what she might have expressed as her mime is delivered in an inarticulate display of ornamented gesture; only a knowledge of the plot fills the narrative gap. Another example is the divorce of Rodkin’s mimed gestures toward Odette and Odile from any indication of his feelings for her. This uncertainty of any manifest intention renders St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s production a cardboard cutout of the original ballet. One gesture that has no trouble in communicating its intent is Odile’s contemptuous grimace as she throws her bouquet of flowers over the remorseful Siegfried.

Although Kolesnikova triumphs in this moment, she is not averse elsewhere to another form of obfuscation in her mime, that of hyperbole. Her swan-like gestures err on the side of melodrama to the extent that her interpretation of the duplicitous Odile seeps prematurely into the earlier appearances of the lyrical Odette.

When so much depends in a company of 44 dancers on the presence of its principal ballerina and her Bolshoi and Mariinsky guests, the focus of our attention is inevitably drawn to them and away from the story; as the ballet becomes a vehicle for the quality of stardom so the significance of the story is diminished. In Kolesnikova’s 32 fouettés — taken at a tempestuous tempo by conductor Vadim Nikitin — we are watching not the rapturous culmination of her deception over Siegfried but a resolute display of her technical achievement. The one figure in the production who matches his extrovert behaviour with commensurate physical prowess and gesture is Sergei Fedorkov’s court jester.

As Alexei Ratmansky’s recent reconstructions of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake reveal, there is a subtle balance between music, mime and choreography that makes the story comes to life through the integration of all its elements. Of course there are principal roles in the original narrative but they support the story through mime and dance that are intimately related. What Ratmansky has also unwittingly revealed is the misunderstanding in current productions of the classics where an over-reliance on technical display and self-expression removes from the narrative the logic — and the magic — of its creators.


André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre

Posted: August 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre

André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre, July 20

Kamienski

Karianne Andreassen and Harriet Waghorn in Bed (photo: Michelle Rose)

As a title, An Evening, A Beginning is in turn factual and hopeful. It is an evening of two new 30-minute choreographic works by André Kamienski but it is also their offering to the public in the hope they will have a future. Blue Elephant Theatre is a good place to start; there is no artist hierarchy in place and its ethos welcomes the unknown while its stage offers a charismatic incubator for experimentation. Kamienski, whose background is in ballroom dance, shows his natural understanding of space and movement in both works but it is his sense of theatre that makes this beginning promising. 

The first work is called X is M00N, a count-down scenario that borrows from science fiction in its focus on ‘the connections between physics, outer space and conspiracy theories.’ Choreographed on four dancers from London Studio Centre (Gabriella Bantick, Amy Cross, Abigail Attard Montalto and Tuva Svendsen), X is M00N is a vehicle for anxiety that finds its initial expression in the choice of music. To begin a work with six minutes of white noise is to engulf the action in an aural approximation of what Einstein described as a gravitational field; it creates a dense, viscous space in which the dancers slither into a series of freeze-frame poses as if trapped in space-time. Subsequent pieces by Christina Vantzou, Niels Frahm and Emptyset do little to allay the sense of running towards an impending disaster as Pixie Tan’s projected clock flicks ominously from M10N to M00N. Set designer Afra Zamara, in conjunction with Tan, has devised an angular neon tube installation at the rear of the stage that has the casual air of instability while Sherry Coenen’s lighting is darkly oppressive. It’s not the kind of environment you would expect to find classically-trained dancers, though there is at one point a reference to an exhausted, if not dying swan. Dressed in black with luminous chokers, the four women never quite enter into the harshness and peril suggested in their surroundings. Perhaps it is not in Kamienski’s heart to pursue such abstract anxiety, although in the section with Montalto’s choking voice and helpless, stifling gestures he finds not only a strikingly human expression of angst but an emotional form with which, as the next work reveals, his talent begins to find its voice.

Bed is nominally inspired by Tracey Emin’s installation My Bed in which an unmade bed holds within its display of personal effects an autobiography of intimate details. Kamienski focuses instead on the intimate relationship between two women (Karianne Andreassen and Harriet Waghorn) with only a suggestion of a bedroom, appropriating George Bernard Shaw’s definition of dancing as ‘a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.’ Even if the desire in question is conflicted, the fluency with which Kamienski treats it shows his affinity with questions of the heart and in Andreassen and Waghorn he has found two interpreters who understand what he wants. 

There is an asterisked note in the program that the piece ‘involves partial nudity’,  but apart from bare arms and legs the only nudity is in the voyeuristic suggestion of a steamy relationship. The program note invites us to ‘take a peek’ into ‘the partnership, connection and intimacy between two people’ but the engagement between Andreassen and Waghorn is such that they draw us inexorably into the room. We first see Andreassen preening herself langorously, eyes half closed, propped against the back wall that is draped in silk; there is an unmade bed but we don’t see it. Having already got up some time before we arrived and thrown on a t-shirt Waghorn reappears; we don’t know when the argument happened but there is tension in the air. Kamienski plots the affect of disenchantment as an intimate dialogue between the two women that channels both pleasure and pain in the ambiguity of their physical expressions and frames it in a partnering language that is both tender and forceful. His playlist of light piano, breathy vocal, strings and choral excerpts washes over the room, too, as the aural accompaniment to emotional upheaval. Just as expressions of pleasure and pain can be uncannily interchangeable, so earthly and spiritual paths overlap: Waghorn’s attempt to wash away Andreassen’s touch takes on a ritualistic cleansing and purification. The struggle finishes in silence, with only the heavy breathing of force and resistance filling the air, but for Kamienski, hopefully, it’s an auspicious beginning. 


Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells

Company Wayne McGregor: Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells, July 26

McGregor

Wayne McGregor © Rick Guest

In the program for Company Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography, dramaturg Uzma Hameed writes eloquently about the ideas and processes by which McGregor arrived at this creation. It is one of the finest introductory essays to appear in a Sadler’s Wells program, but while Hameed addresses the semantic significance of each of the elements of the title — Auto/self, Bio/life and Graphos/writing — that clarify the creative input, what she does not and cannot address is the choreographic form these ideas take and their effect on an audience. 

McGregor has never been one to favour clarity of meaning in his choreographic oeuvre. However, from her inside knowledge Hamzeed reveals some of the elements in his life that have influenced his choice of choreographic material — ‘a school photo, a poem about Icarus, a family history of twins, an Olivier de Sagazan film, influences of Meredith Monk, Robert Irwin, Beckett, Cuningham and more’ — but she also acknowledges McGregor’s ‘sense of continuous palimpsesting aspects of life encoded in choreography, overwritten by genetic code, in collaboration with software architect Nick Rothwell and transforming in every iteration.’ Add in the substantial collaboration of musician Jlin’s eclectic score, of set designer Ben Cullen Williams and lighting designer Lucy Carter and the contribution of costume designer Aitor Throup and the palimpsesting takes on the complexity of a genetic code. Where is McGregor in all this? It is, after all, the sequencing of his own genome that forms the basis of the work. In sitting through all 23 episodes of Autobiography at Sadler’s Wells the answer is everywhere and nowhere.

Everywhere because this is what he continues to do in his projects for his own company: mine the scientific community for inspiration and collaboration then create a work with fine dancers and high production values that is overdosed on inspiration and underpowered in terms of choreographic invention. The suggestion of an interesting work always appears as the curtain rises but there is a self-indulgent gene in McGregor’s work that quickly degrades the sense of cutting edge to déjà vu; the process has become formulaic. Atomos was based on cognitive science, Autobiography on genetics. 

And nowhere because in invoking the fragment as a structural form of autobiography linked to his genetic code McGregor loses himself in the science. The fragment has been the trope of self-narrative for decades as writers and artists have used it to convey the layered and idiosyncratic experience of being. As Roland Barthes would have it, the body is the text. By leaning on the science of the body, McGregor uses choreographic fragmentation to reveal aspects of his biography but ends up concealing them under an inexhaustible appropriation of ideas, steps and gestural phrases that borrow from classical ballet and yoga with little contextual meaning. His genetic inspiration reveals itself in a vocabulary of hooked limbs and arms and rotating torsos that evoke the movements of chromosomes and their diagrammatic visual rendering (as does the lighting), but by overloading the language of his dancers with a pseudo-scientific aesthetic McGregor renders their expressive bodies — and thus his own autobiography — paradoxically bland; he retreats into a notional authorship that lacks the authority of ‘auto’ and the pathos and idiosyncracy of ‘bio’; what is left is the grandstanding ‘graphos’. 

In the program there is a photographic portrait of McGregor by Rick Guest; he gazes over our left shoulder into the distance with his eyes closed, viewing his inner landscape while appearing to be present to our gaze. This stance is symptomatic of Autobiography. Rothwell’s software includes an algorithm based on McGregor’s genetic code that decides the order of the 23 sections; this evening the algorithm places section 1, titled Avatar, at the beginning but each evening the order will be unique. For McGregor this is thrilling because ‘the piece suddenly becomes a living archive of a collection of decisions,’ but for an audience that sees the work only once it is simply a solipsistic conceit that doesn’t take into account the inherent rhythm and punctuation of each section, not to mention its lighting and musical cues. If the opening section this evening feels like an opening, the last few have the flagging pace of a never-ending end; lighting effects overlap, musical tracks butt against each other and the choreography becomes an exercise in prolonged absurdity. Perhaps that is the cost to the audience of giving McGregor the satisfaction of playing with his algorithmic toy. 


Ian Abbott on Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban

Posted: July 27th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban

Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade: K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Trinity Laban, July 17

Oloyade

The cast in Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P. Macbeth (photo: Stefano Ottaviano)

A man who aspires to rise above the mediocre, to be something more than the ordinary, surely deserves admiration, even if he fails and loses a fortune on account of his ambitions… if one has failed only where others have not had the courage or will to try, there is consolation — indeed, deep satisfaction — to be gained from his observation when looking back over one’s life.” – Kazuo Ishiguro

Riding, reworking and interpreting classic works of western literature is the default setting for a lot of UK male-led dance companies of late; Lost Dog’s Paradise Lost/Juliet & Romeo, Mark Bruce Company’s The Odyssey and Dracula, Avant Garde Dance’s Fagin’s Twist, James Wilton Dance’s Leviathan and James Cousins Company’s Rosalind are just some of the examples. Often framed as an opportunity to attract new or theatre audiences to dance, it could be seen as a smart marketing device or a poverty of original ideas. Macbeth has a particularly strong hold on current choreographic minds with Company Chordelia’s Lady Macbeth Unsex Me Here, Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth and now K.R.U.M.P Macbeth by Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade all undertaking the Shakespearean Scottish play in the last 12 months.

At 55 minutes long with a cast of four (Amanda Pekfou, Jordan Franklin, Dean Stewart and Vincent Maduabueke) this is Oloyade’s first full-length theatrical work after spending a number of years performing with Boy Blue Entertainment, making shorter works at Breakin’ Convention as well as being an excellent exponent and teacher of krump. Whereas others may ply their trade at Resolution, building up experience in other platforms, or refining the work back in the studio Oloyade has chosen to premiere K.R.U.M.P Macbeth at Laban after an earlier showing of a few sections at Redbridge Drama Centre in May. Macbeth is a text full of hooks and angles of approach: power, murder, psychological warfare and familial tyranny. Mix this with the depth of emotion, delicate and explosive qualities and body shuddering invigoration that krump has in the cypher or battle and K.R.U.M.P Macbeth has a suite of possibilities; unfortunately it fails at nearly everything it attempts.

With no director, dramaturg or outside eye present according to the programme notes, Oloyade as choreographer is left holding responsibility for the blocking, movement and stagecraft, but his theatrical inexperience is brutally exposed with a raft of saggy scenes, continual slow movement of limbs that do not result in tension or emotional engagement, a number of moments inexplicably playing upstage left, and a stick-stabbing shadow death scene that would fit better in a 1970s schlocky horror film. The staccato nature of K.R.U.M.P Macbeth feels like a diluted version of a York Notes guide to a Chinese whisper broadcast of the original Shakespearian play. It is unrecognisable as Macbeth and Oloyade offers no alternative artistic interpretation, little depth of research/inquiry and no emotional narrative to help us feel anything towards any character.

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston

Choreographically Oloyade has constricted the form and at the same time constricted the work; it is full of unnecessary blockages with the dancers waiting for the obvious musical changes from Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante’s dominant soundtrack stretching out the movement without developing the narrative, and attempts at synchronised krump are inadequate with the stomps out at least 50% of the time. There is an uneven quality in their jabs, isolation/physical punctuation and our eyes are consistently drawn to those dancers who are unable to keep time. Mixing and/or blending krump with contemporary knee slides and fake rifle holding neither satisfies the krump purist nor brings a new choreographic vocabulary to those unfamiliar with the form; we’re left with a sticky choreographic mess that is only exacerbated when in the final scene ‘KRUMP’ is blurted out over the soundtrack offering all the subtlety of a hip hop anvil. Can you imagine a Scottish Dance Theatre soundtrack blaring ‘CONTEMPORARY DANCE’ in a climactic scene or Ballet Cymru using a ‘BALLET’ audio sting in the final moments? When the stage is bathed in red the Goddess of Blunt Instruments is making it obvious: we know what is going on.

Within the company there are dancers with individual talent and virtuosity; Maduabueke offers charged flickers of intensity whilst Stewart delivers some moments of choreographic power and complexity, but there is so little glue, context or relationship forged between them that it erases any of the possibilities.

When Oloyade presented his eight-minute work Hell’s Gate 7 at Breakin’ Convention last year there were interesting relational dynamics, power and theatrical possibilities demonstrating that he has choreographic talent, but the leap from an eight to a 55-minute work is too big. The stagecraft, direction and dramaturgy need consideration and attention if he wants to make a full-length theatrical work. Within the individual scenes of K.R.U.M.P Macbeth there are interesting shorter sections that either could be harvested and sit alone in their own right as smaller pieces or re-worked and expanded.

This is a wider issue that a lot of hip hop dance artists are facing: how to make the shift from making micro works to a full evening. There is a gap that needs filling around the 25-30 minute work that could be presented in a double bill that would enable that growth, choreographic expansion and depth of idea to be tested. Often the ego and the ambition says Yes, I can make a full-length work, but would an architect make the step from designing a conservatory to building an entire town? But perhaps Oloyade can take comfort in what Kurt Vonnegutonce wrote: “And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”


Holy Body Tattoo, Godspeed You! Black Emperor: monumental at Barbican Hall

Posted: July 26th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Holy Body Tattoo, Godspeed You! Black Emperor: monumental at Barbican Hall

Holy Body Tattoo with Godspeed You! Black Emperor: monumental at Barbican Hall, July 13

monumental

Holy Body Tattoo and Godspeed You! Black Emperor in monumental (photo: Yannick Grandmont)

monumental is partly a live, updated performance of their 1997 debut album, F#A#∞, by the Montreal band, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and partly an integrated response by the dance company, Holy Body Tattoo. The stage is divided between a raised platform with an array of instruments and amplifiers for the nine musicians and, in front of it, pedestals of varying heights for the nine dancers. The musicians create a wall of sound with electro-acoustic strings, tape loops and a vibrant percussive section that sounds somewhere between a revolutionary anthem and a lament; its dissonance refers to a view of society as a cancer but the romantic swell of its key progressions carves out a place for emotional resistance. The choreography, originally by Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras but restaged recently by Gingras, expresses the affect of a cancerous society as anxious compulsion. It is the combined forces of music and choreography that create this monumental ode to an ever-present moment.

The music was recorded at the approach of the millennium while the original choreography was created post-9/11 in 2005. A lot had happened in those intervening years to dash the promise of a new century and unleash violent socio-political forces from which the world is still reeling. In the monologue from the album’s opening The Dead Flag Blues guitarist Efrim Menuck intones, ‘The car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel. And the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides. And a dark wind blows. The government is corrupt and we’re on so many drugs with the radio on and the curtains drawn. We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death…’ It’s a dark, dark place but it’s not so hard to distinguish its outlines on the current geopolitical map even from the comfort of our seats in the Barbican Hall.

As we check our phones for the latest news on the current government’s Machiavellian tactics to bring about a no-deal Brexit with the invocation of upholding the will of the people the issue of our individual ability to determine the course of our lives is sorely challenged. Against this foreground the performance of monumental serves as both cathartic experience and rallying cry, a channel for our secret or not-so-secret frustrations at the level of lying and dissemblance in the geopolitical arena and the ever-impinging disquiet and uncertainty in our personal sphere. As artist Jenny Holzer’s first of 21 projected aphorisms states, ‘Some days you wake up and immediately start to worry. Nothing in particular is wrong. It’s just the suspicion that forces are aligning quietly and there will be trouble.’

Raised on their pedestals in Marilène Bastien’s black-and-white city outfits the dancers play constantly with their corporal and psychological equilibrium in an environment of competition and insecurity. They are physically isolated from one another, enacting their individual psychoses in the form of frenetic tics and gestures, but also acting like a small society, calling out commands, shouting at and cussing each other and stamping their feet in unison. Caroline Gravel is the first to lose her footing; it appears at first to be accidental but the slipping and getting up becomes an entropic motif that permeates the group until the tension they have accumulated atop the pedestals drops to the floor and dissipates. It’s as if they have all descended from their high-rise offices to gather for a drink but although there are now opportunities for contact and support their underlying anxiety creates a pandemic of social chaos and disorder instead. Fights break out, individuals are ostracized and threatened and balance is overthrown; it is the sheer physical exertion of the dance that communicates the affect of the crisis we are in, bringing out the element of despair that underscores the music. As the level of commitment ramps up between musicians and dancers the emotional apotheosis of monumental reveals itself paradoxically in a stage littered with spent bodies while three dancers with searchlights reveal the havoc.

Over a recording of Menuck’s opening monologue the dancers take stock and turn to the audience, kneeling on the front of the stage to deliver a message of hope but words fail them; their angst has consumed any possibility of reconciliation. One by one they fidget quietly and disperse leaving Neil Sochasky as the last dazed inhabitant of an emotionally exhausted landscape; the formidable energy of monumental has been entirely transferred to the audience.

Godspeed you! Black Emperor.


Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios, June 24

Edvardsen

Mette Edvardsen’s No Title (photo: Lilia Mestre)

In this first edition of Fest en Fest, curators Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard establish a benchmark for their festival in works with a rigorous choreographic approach to language. Karen Røise Kielland used it in A Slow Escape to compress a vast geographical journey on to a small stage, while Mette Edvardsen uses its negation in No Title to extrapolate the space of a small stage into the vast landscape of imagination.

At her last appearance in London, at the 2012 Dance Umbrella, Edvardsen presented a project called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, where she gathered a group of like-minded dancers to each commit a book to memory in the same way that dancers memorize a sequence of steps. The performance was in reading the story or poetry from memory to an audience of one (at a time) in a public library. No Title’s approach to language requires a similar closeness and concentration between performer and audience but Edvardsen’s craft has evolved around her own authorship and an expanded sense of theatrical space.

No Title (2014) is part of a trilogy of works with Black (2011) and We to be (2015) that explore the notions of appearance and disappearance through language. As Edvardsen observes in an interview with Eva Decaesstecker, ‘When I was making Black I thought it was the end of something, that I had closed a circle. I painted all my objects (from previous pieces) black in order to make them disappear, and with this removal of objects came language.’ In Black Edvardsen used language to make the objects reappear, whereas in No Title she uses negation in language to suggest disappearance. ‘The beginning is gone. The space is empty,’ she starts. When a word is invoked its sound signifies a reality with which it is associated; both the sound of the word (the signifier) and its reality (the signified) pass through our brain to corroborate the signification. But when the negation of a word is invoked, the signification is short-circuited; it becomes a space. As Edvardsen continues her series of verbal negations she creates a space on stage that represents the full potential of what has nominally disappeared. At the same time she constantly reminds us of the irreducible presence of the speaker — ‘Me not gone’, as she says — amongst what has disappeared or fallen away. The role of the choreographer in such an approach to choreographic writing that makes the signification of words a key element is to divest the creative language of any extraneous meaning. With a minimum of means Edvardsen eloquently demonstrates this to the point that No Title reveals the stage as a vibrant space from which all associative clutter has been removed. It is a lesson for any choreographer who takes space for granted as a container to fill with movement.

Edvardsen’s voice does not simply pronounce words but expresses its own muscular quality — ‘le grain de la voix’ in Roland Barthes’ terms — and she gives it even more power by sticking paper eyes over her closed eyelids. Blindness is the negation of sight, so the phenomenon of performing without seeing underlines the idea of extracting reality from the influence of words. Using her body to see, Edvardsen senses the physical limits of the space she is making either through touch or the sensation of proximity. At one point she traces in chalk a line on the ground from the back of the stage to the front, a feathery, uncertain line from source to completion. Putting aside the chalk she works her way back upstage making the motions of erasing the line with her hand but in her blindness misses it. ‘Line is gone’ she says, setting up a slippage between verbal negation and the physical attempt to achieve it.

Dance is often referred to as ephemeral but that doesn’t alter its ability to lodge itself in the emotional core of our being; while Edvardsen erases the appearances of her craft she never discards the core reality she signifies in her performance. As a writer of choreography she has created a work through its disappearance — even the title has gone — and at the end, as author, she also disappears. The stage we are left to ponder is far from empty; it resounds with the echoes of Edvardsen’s words and gestures and the chalk line is still there with the two paper eyes stuck to the proscenium. Even after she has left she remains pointing to her own withdrawal.


Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios, June 23

Kielland

Karen Røise Kielland in A Slow Escape (photo: Kristine Jakobsen)

Karen Røise Kielland’s A Slow Escape is one of seven works presented as part of a new dance festival in London, Fest en Fest, organized and curated by Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard of H2Dance. The festival aims to question ‘choreographic practice, the context for art production, current programming and aesthetic power structures’ through a series of talks, discussions and performances. In this first outing of the festival Gillgren, who is Swedish, and Rustgaard, who is Norwegian, have chosen works that arise from a predominantly Nordic geography and sensibility, none more so than A Slow Escape. It is based on two walks from Norway to Italy, one by Catherine H. Kølle in 1841 and the second by Kielland in 2011 following as closely as possible in Kølle’s footsteps. The evidence of Kølle’s trip — and the primary source for Kielland’s own — is contained in her diary of meticulous details like the colour of roofs, the topography or the number of paintings in a museum. The evidence for Kielland’s walk is contained in her edited field recordings, her spoken travelogue and an exhibition of mnemonic artifacts on the stage in front of her. Kølle also painted a series of watercolours of her travels in a shorthand style that predates painting by numbers, a visual corroboration Kielland references by inviting artist Tom Mason to join her on stage with an overhead projector and a pile of acetates on which he illustrates her travels in the manner of a graphic novel.

Kielland remains quite still throughout, poised as if chatting to the camera by the roadside with one foot resting on a stile, wearing a hazard jacket, holding a revolver in one hand and an umbrella in the other. We travel her entire journey in our imagination, fed by her pace of delivery, her walking guide to the history of Europe, her ongoing investigation into Kølle’s diaries — a historical riddle in itself — and by Mason’s imaginative fluency of line. It’s a brilliant collaborative adventure with dramaturgy by Marit Grimstad Egggen, advice from Christina Hauge, lighting by Ingeborg Staxrud Olerud, set and costume advice from Jennie Bringsaker and sound editing assistance from Erlend Hogstad.

A Slow Escape is also a commentary on how Europe has evolved since Kølle set out on her journey. While headlines in the daily Morgenbladet paper on the morning of Kølle’s departure of April 4, 1841 cited an economic crisis in Greece, and again on June 19, 2011 when Kielland left on her trip, the social and geographic aspects had changedforever; routes that Kølle described were no longer available to Kielland because of the expansion of transport infrastructure and some villages Kølle had passed through had since been drowned by hydroelectric projects. She also encounters sites that Kølle had never even imagined like the abandoned airport of Templehof near Berlin. Kølle’s dispassionate numerical annotations are ever present next to and contrasted with Kielland’s own commentary. Her diary was written in German Gothic script that no researcher, it seems, had ever bothered to read. Kølle was known as Norway’s first hiker and her walk to and from Venice was considered a matter of irrefutable fact, even according to her biographer. Over the course of her journey, however, Kielland’s reading of the script becomes more fluent and as she matches her own experience with Kølle’s she realizes that the diary includes passages about riding in coaches for some of the way. Her entire adventure, it seems, is based on a false premise. Her sense of deception on her arrival in Venice is aggravated by confounding the end of her project with the end of Europe as she had imagined it.

Kielland conjures up a walking map of Europe at a time when people barely walk any distance at all; she says at one point in her travelogue that she hasn’t met a soul all day and imagines Kølle having more people from whom to ask the way: ‘there is company in a voice,’ she observes. The act of talking mediates between mind and body and although she remains static for most of the performance — a remarkable endurance test in itself — Kielland’s words succeed in connecting us to the journey of the walking body she describes. A Slow Escape is thus the record of an ambulatory dance on the geographical scale of Europe that Kielland has compressed in all its richness to a small stage in Deptford at a time when the British government is in the very process of redrawing the map yet again.