2018 Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Posted: June 30th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 2018 Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Ignition Dance Festival, Rose Theatre, Kingston, June 15

Ignition

Tina Omotosho, Stafan A Addaie and Danal Guy in MAN UP (photo: Gigi Gianella)

Rosie Whitney-Fish has taken a vision for dance and made it manifest. In an environment of financial scarcity where dance makers spend an inordinate amount of time writing applications for support from various cultural institutions, Whitney-Fish has grown DanceWest in four years from a seed of £1,000 of her own money into an organization that carries out a raft of community programs and projects centred around Lyric Hammersmith and co-founded Ignition Dance Festival with Kathryn Woodvine of Kingston Council. For the fifth festival DanceWest has been able to co-commission five mid-career choreographers — two solos, one duet, one trio and a quartet — whose works were seen for the first time recently at Kingston’s Rose Theatre.

As its name suggests, the festival is about igniting individual opportunities; each choreographer’s work can be seen for itself and while there is a curatorial hand in creating a viable program the interest of the festival is in the five singular approaches to creative expression. One of the parameters is that the commissions can only realistically cover a creation period of three weeks and while this may seem disadvantageous (though not unusual) to the creative process, some of the works have been in gestation for much longer: in the case of Jennifer Irons, for 20 years or more. With this much mental preparation, it was perhaps no surprise that her work, Yukon Ho!, arrived fully formed and bursting with life. Irons distills her formative years spent in the Yukon Territory in Northern Canada into a performative solo that integrates colourful anecdotes that are (almost) all true with her experience of dancing the can-can in the bars of Whitehorse. With assistance from writer Robert Churchill, Irons’ performance is as rich in texture as her delivery is timed to perfection and while she maintains a high voltage of humour there is a darker side not far behind it that comes with the Territory. In its present succinct form Yukon Ho! is a theatrical gem that holds light and dark in an unfathomable equilibrium.

Another work that has been forming over time is Kloe Dean’s MAN UP, an ambitious trio that honours the memory of her father, Raymond, while addressing the issue of his depression and suicide. As Dean writes in the program, her work is ‘a chance to break the silence of a stigmatized subject which does not get enough attention…It’s time to MAN UP!’ Using texts her father left behind and working the dark duality of a rope as both a recreational cord and an instrument of self-destruction, Dean plays hope against despair in a series of intense tableaux between Stefano A. Addae and Danal Guy. Weaving her irrepressible way through these scenes is Tina Omotosho who remains unaware of the tragedy about to unfold but is the one left to mourn. While Dean’s imagery is powerful and eloquent, the construction of MAN UP needs only to find a theatrical and choreographic ‘way through’ to allow the whole to be far more than the sum of its parts.

Avatȃra Ayuso’s angel is inspired by both the invisible, vengeful presence in Luis Buñuel’s film The Exterminating Angel and the sport of fencing, but in its translation to the stage it is the latter that overshadows the former. One would imagine an avenging angel, foil in hand, dispensing altogether with full fencing gear for something more alluring to her dark and erotic play; her powers, after all, need no protection as her adversaries cannot see her. Alas, we cannot see her either; the obstruction of her face by the mask removes a vital element of her mimetic drama. In the latter part of angel Ayuso begins to contort her fencing postures into images that are more devilishly menacing as if she is warming to her motif, but it is too late to offset her literal preoccupation with the sport.

Paying tribute, by way of Federico Garcia Lorca’s elegy, to the dancer Antonia Mercé, ‘La Argentina’, Sam Quy’s La Lengua Flamenca points to the distinctly Spanish notion of duende, which, in Lorca’s words, ‘sears the blood like powdered glass, exhausts, rejects all sweet learned geometry, breaks with styles and relies on human suffering without solace…’ Perhaps Quy has erred on the side of historical appreciation rather than re-creation, for while the legacy of flamenco she and guitarist El Fernan de Tottenham bring to La Lengua Flamenca is rich, her performance is lacking the essential agonistic quality on which it depends for its conviction.

Cameron McMillan’s The Chimera Construct is a quartet for Jonathon Baker, George Baan, Nicholas Tredrea and Jade Brider that uses the Chimera of Greek mythology — ‘a multi-faceted beast, composed of parts of different wild creatures’ — as a construct of contemporary identity. Initially using animal masks to suggest differentiation, McMillan’s subsequent concern with the shapes and extensions of his hyper-flexible and hyper-extended dancers invokes instead a tame homogeneity. Perhaps applying a concept to a form can impart a meaning but The Chimera Construct needs to explore its physical vocabulary more convincingly to approach its notional concept.


Semperoper Ballett, All Forsythe at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: June 25th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Semperoper Ballett, All Forsythe at Sadler’s Wells

Semperoper Ballett, All Forsythe Program, Sadler’s Wells, June 21

Forsythe

Jiri Bubenicek in Enemy in the Figure (photo: Costin Radu)

William Forsythe’s name is synonymous with a vision of classical dance that is on the advanced edge of contemporary ballet and the opportunity to see an evening of his work in London is rare. The three works on Semperoper Ballett’s London première at Sadler’s Wells — In The Middle Somewhat Elevated, Neue Suite and Enemy in the Figure — are all vintage Forsythe from his time at the helm of Ballet Frankfurt. This is both the draw and the challenge for the company’s artistic director, Aaron Watkin, and his 18 dancers. Watkin has strong connections to Forsythe both as a dancer and as one of those responsible for staging his work around the world, but here he stands at the helm of his own company that the Forsythe brand has put on the international map.

Despite the close lineage of Forsythe, there is an impression in watching Semperoper Ballett that — with some exceptions — the dancers are doing the choreography rather than letting it happen. In the creation of In The Middle Somewhat Elevated Forsythe was fascinated with the ability of dance to arise autonomously from a state of pedestrian languor; it was as much the formal extensions to which he took ballet as how a dancer got there that interested him. The constant play within In The Middle Somewhat Elevated between doing nothing and pulling off a sequence that takes the breath away is what maintains a sense of excitement and risk in the work, qualities that the score by Thom Willems unequivocally reinforces. What we are missing on the Sadler’s Wells stage is that space for what isn’t happening before a step, the coolness of non-anticipation; what we are seeing is the premeditated preparation. This extra effort takes away from the élan of the steps themselves — not to mention the sense of risk — and alters their precise musicality. Some technical lapses on this first night performance contribute to the general lack of brilliance of the dancing, though the rapturous applause recognizes the continuing allure of the work.

Neue Suite premiered with Semperoper Ballett in 2012 but it’s sequence of eight duets derives from three previous works Forsythe made for his own company: Invisible Film (1995) to Handel’s Concerti Grossi op. 6, Workwithinwork (1998) to Berio’s Duett für 2 Violinen and Kammer/Kammer (2000) to the Allemande of Partita No. 1 by Bach. Roslyn Sulcas writes in the program, ‘Forsythe may not be interested in emotional contents in the narrative sense but he is definitely interested in the relationships and emotions that are created through physical interaction.’ It’s a wonderful insight into how to read these duets and the inclusion of Neue Suite is a welcome addition to the program by presenting Forsythe’s choreographic intelligence — as well as the dancers — in intimate detail. As relationships go there’s as much tension as there is emotion in the partnering but individually it’s the women who come off more relaxed and self-assured, especially Alice Mariani, Jenny Laudadio and Sanguen Lee. It is only in the final duet that Zarina Stahnke and Houston Thomas find common ground and a shared exhilaration.

Enemy in the Figure is a wild beast of a work that gives the company a chance to revel in the rich theatrical complexity that Forsythe can bring to the stage not only as choreographer but as designer of the set, costumes and lighting. An undulating plywood wall divides the stage diagonally and the lighting is provided by an industrial-sized lamp that is wheeled round the stage by the dancers with the excitement and precision of explorers in a cave. Enemy in the Figure is as much about what moves in front of the light as what might be happening in its shadows or invisibly behind the wall. The stage becomes a dream-like phantasmagoria peopled with energy where Forsythe, reunited with a score by Willems, enjoys breaking free of old theatrical conventions and creating new ones, splitting the stage into zones of cerebral activity connected by a pulsing cortex of rope. It’s immediately apparent this is a work that suits the company’s men in particular, allowing their range of physicality and imagination to let loose. There’s a duet for two men where legs fly like helicopter blades against the partition, memorable interventions by Jón Vallejo and a wildly articulated solo by Christian Bauch where his black, fringed outfit makes him look like the devil incarnate. If light brought this work to life it is its withdrawal that brings it slowly and silently to a close with only the sound of someone knocking on the plywood partition.


Ian Abbott on the 2018 Birmingham International Dance Festival

Posted: June 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on the 2018 Birmingham International Dance Festival

Birmingham International Dance Festival, June 7 – 15

BIDF18

Becky Namgaud’s Rodadoras at BIDF18 (photo: Ian Abbott)

Settling into the cultural nooks and crannies of Brum over three weeks in June, Birmingham International Dance Festival — BIDF18 — returned to the city for a sixth edition under a new Midlands Dance united artistic leadership: Lucie Mirkova (interim artistic director) and Paul Russ (associate artistic director and CEO of Dance4). With the festival taking over a reduced sized Victoria Square (due to tram engineering works) the festival hub, stage, installations and refreshment trucks offered an outdoor base for the first ten days book-ended by two celebratory and free programs of work alongside some canny week-day programming (lunch and after work time slots) to attract city dwellers to encounter dance.

I will leave the suite of indoor work across the three weeks — Atomos by Company Wayne McGregor, Elements of Freestyle by ISH Dance Collective, Wasp by Rui Horta, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s studio program Polarity & Proximity and New Creation by Cecilia Bengolea and Florentina Holzinger — to other critical voices and focus instead on the work presented outdoors as there is often less written about work for this context. The only exception I’m making is to include the indoor performance of Kallo Collective’sOnly Bones v1.0.

Soil exists in a state of permanent duality; it represents a place of growth and fertility whilst it can also become a barren wasteland and the place where bodies are buried. Becky Namgaud’s Rodadoras takes Mexican femicide as its starting point, a brutal bodily trauma that dozens of Mexican women are still encountering every day. Rodadoras is a dance of the dead that has choreographic echoes of Damien Jalet’s Yama for Scottish Dance Theatre. We see a trio of dancers settled in a shallow soil pit, the bodies slowly vibrating into frenzied states of inbetweenness kicking up dirt and spraying those in the front row with the stuff of life and death. They slither above ground and undeaden themselves to reveal sullied limbs, torso and heads of hair but never faces. At 20 minutes long two of the dancers visibly tire in the third quarter as the strain and energy-sapping soil claims yet more bodies; however Namgaud has created a suite of haunting images on a delicate subject that unsettles and challenges the traditional outdoor arts festival content.

Infinite Womanhood is a collaboration between Vanhulle Dance Theatre and tabla player Mendi Mohinder. Laura Vanhulle is an exquisite technician; her lines are full, wholesome and delivered with zip. Her relationship with Mohinder is also a treat to experience as they walk and blur the musical line of who is leading and who is responding. Each accentuates and amplifies the other’s work with beats, physical punctuation and lashings of precision. Vanhulle uses a cushion to symbolize multiple female roles and identities that morph from baby to mop to mirror but she flashes over them in a suite of mimetic actions which underwhelms and feels dramaturgically thin; each one needs more room to expand, land and let us reflect on what she is trying to say. Mendi and Vanhulle’s execution and charisma just about paper over the conceptual cracks and ensure the 16 minutes fly by leaving me wanting to see more of them both.

On the international program of outdoor work on June 9, Roll Up, Roll Up harkens back to the classic hatting street/circus performers who have the ability to keep holding an attention, drip feeding trick after trick drawing out the maximum length of time to stop an audience from walking away. Although it contains very little dance it offers oodles of individual circus tricks, crowd-pleasing skills on the cyr wheel, juggling and a lot of audience interaction. Kieran Warner and Christopher Thomas of Simple Cypher have constructed an increasingly difficult juggling routine ending up with a 5 ball sequence dropping and feeding balls above and below creating unexpected rhythms and patterns; this is followed by a similar pattern on the cyr wheel resulting in a number of one handed holds with legs knitted frozen at unexpected angles ensuring mass applause. Simple Cypher know how to squeeze the juice out of every moment and Roll Up, Roll Up generates the longest and loudest applause on the Saturday program demonstrating that sometimes an outdoor audience just wants to be entertained.

Nottingham was the birthplace and playground of Torvil and Dean’s gold medal-winning ice dance routine and in remixing the Midlands heritage, BIDF18 presented the UK premiere of Bolero by Jesus Rubio Gamo. Set against an 18-minute extended remix of the iconic music by Ravel the two dancers set about a playful and repetitive feat of increasing physical exertion bringing unexpected partner lifts, rolls, skips, hops, holds and step patterns to a point of pleasure and exhaustion. Covering the stage like an ice rink, with barely a heel touching the floor and playing to all three sides of the increasingly buoyed audience we see both performers acknowledging their exhaustion and inviting the crowd to support them. Bolero could suit an extended and durational three-hour encounter as we would see the body begin to genuinely deteriorate as muscles begin to collapse, lactic acid hardens and lungs begin to burst; instead what we have is a delicate 20-minute sliver presented on fast forward and executed to perfection. Consider Bolero as your friendly neighbourhood introduction to outdoor endurance performance.

As the lead festival image and driver of the social media hype, Didier Theron’s AIR & La Grande Phrase introduces his bouncing pink men to an avalanche of attention as they anarchically ambled, scrambled and rambled their way around unsuspecting shops, art galleries and iconic city centre landmarks filling camera rolls wherever they went. The pink suits (complete with an internal air filled inner tube) offered a range of inflatable choreographic possibilities that deceived the eye and played with perception: when they pliéd they shrank to an almost unfathomable height. Mixing deadpan audience interaction, running at speed up to and into the audience, leaning in and asking the crowd to bear their weight before nonchalantly wandering off and twocing a pram (and baby) generated consistent audience smiles. What looks like a simple improvisation with their environment and audiences in a funny costume is actually a raft of performance intelligence derived from dozens of performances, unexpected encounters and testing the boundaries of what an audience will accept. Since the work first premiered in 2013 Theron has brought his pink joy to cities across the world and Birmingham will not forget the bouncing pink men anytime soon.

Choreographed by Caroline Bowditch for Candoco Dance Company, Dedicated To is a solemn duet performed by Victoria Fox and Welly O’Brien that presents an entirely different energy and necessitates a different quality of attention. Set on two benches and referencing the death plaques you find on benches overlooking a favourite haunt, beach or viewpoint, Dedicated To creates a space for reflection and contemplation with intimate partner lifts, lakes of stillness and echoes of an invisible past. Although it is pleasant enough and Fox and O’Brien clearly embody a consistent performance tone, it stands out against the wider program of outdoor events as meandering and its plateau of interest brings the energy of the crowd down. This internalised focus would be more suited to a small-scale theatre where distractions are muted or to a curated outdoor program that doesn’t veer wildly from fizzing pink to rainbow bright to sludgey brown to polka dot tartan.

Kallo Collective’s Only Bones was the only indoor performance I saw (the second performance of Guide by Věra Ondrašíková & Collective I was booked to see was cancelled with less than 24 hours notice due to low ticket sales). Only Bones is a 45-minute whistle stop solo clown frenzy performed under a lampshade by Thom Monckton as a sketch show that rattled through dozens of physical skits displaying the dexterity and extremity of every part of Monckton’s body. With little room to rest or reset Monckton drew attention to a scab-picking finger duet like The Addams Family’s Thing, to a jelly neck lolling about and unable to hold the weight of his head, to a kneecap and Adam’s Apple isolation micro-solo that twitched, twerked and pulsed to the beat-glitching soundtrack. Monckton is an accomplished and highly watchable wordless performer with a suite of waving and popping skills that underpin his comedic clowning; using Mr. Bean-like noises to emphasize and punctuate his anatomical isolation he had the audience hollering with laughter.

Sitting through the entire day of outdoor work the tone was wild and it was hard to find a through line if indeed there was one.  Maybe there was an internal expectation that a transient audience might only stay and engage for a single show as they follow the noises and discover the program while traversing the city rather than planning the day and investing in the entire program. Mix this with the often 10 to 30-minute gap between performances which dissolved any momentum or reason to stay in that area then audiences chose to leave and spend their time elsewhere. BIDF18 was in reality a selection of performances and not a festival; a festival needs glue, reasons to stay, socialise and lose yourself for a while. I haven’t even mentioned 2Faced Dance’s Moon, a dance and circus work for families with integrated Audio Description and British Sign Language or the irritating wastrels of Gravitas by Ofir Yudilevitch who inflated a mattress and bounced on it like children on a settee.

BIDF18 definitely felt different to the previous David Massingham-flavoured editions; there were less original mass spectacles although it felt like there were more artists that were new to the city. It is clearly a festival in transition which may have offered a glimpse towards a Midlands United future or has cleared the path for a new voice (imagine an artist-curated model of BIDF like Meltdown) to prepare the 2020 edition


Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

Posted: June 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord at The Place

Faustin Linyekula, In Search of Dinozord, The Place, June 16

Linyekula

Jeannot Kumbonyeki in Faustin Linyekula’s In Search of Dinozord (photo: Steve Gunther)

Faustin Linyekula is a dancer and choreographer based in Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is safe to say his country has had a volatile existence over the last century at the hands of colonial exploiters and of its own successive political regimes since gaining independence in 1960. Profits from its vast natural resources have funded bitterly internecine wars that claimed the lives of an estimated 5.4 million people between 1996 and 2003 alone. The names of its presidents Lumumba, Mobutu and Kabila have filled newspaper headlines but at The Place in London recently, as part of LIFT’s 2018 program, Linyekula and a handful of colleagues have recalled both the rich complexity of their country and its tortured legacy through the powerful theatrical mediums of dance and storytelling. In Search of Dinozord, as its name suggests, sets out on a journey without knowing if it will find what it is looking for or even what or where it may be. Did the journey really take place? The question is irrelevant, for the journey enters the emotional intensity of memory in which the distinctions between reality and imagination are forever blurred.

The setting is visually sparse yet charged with significance. A wide strip of crimson material hangs vertically on the back wall from floor to ceiling next to a large plywood panel; a group of performers huddle around a battered red metal trunk on one side and on the other a man sits in front of a typewriter at a desk in preparation for writing. Linyekula, his face daubed in white, stands behind a low wooden frame waiting to nudge his laptop into action. What he unleashes is the sound of helicopter blades layered into a frantic, screaming cauldron of sound that is Nierica by the French experimental and conceptual composer Joachim Montessuis; Linyekula sings through it, his trembling hands becoming a motif that will later spread to the bodies of his dancers, a fretful image of disease, fear or pain. Nierica is the sonic earthquake of the past from which the present performance can begin: creativity out of chaos.

The political history of the Democratic Republic of Congo is never far from the surface of In Search of Dinozord but Linyekula focuses instead, as with his current infrastructure projects in Kisangani, on building a new cultural landscape in which the future can thrive. This was also one of the dreams of his friend Richard Kabako who died of the plague on his way into exile. Kabako was a poet and playwright whose writings are kept in that red metal trunk and some of whose stories are related by Linyekula and singer Hlengiwe Lushaba during the performance. The man behind the typewriter is the theatre director Antoine Vumilia Muhindo some of whose aphorisms are projected on to the plywood screen. Muhindo was sentenced to life imprisonment in the infamous Makala prison in Kinshasa but managed to escape after nine years. And there’s a video appearance on a makeshift screen of another of Linyekula’s friends, the exiled actor and storyteller Maurice Mbwiti. It’s as if the stage has become the ground on which a new history of the Congo and its diaspora is being devised.

Linyekula has stated that ‘My only true country is my body’ and it is in the body that the search for Dinozord takes place. Linyekula convincingly appropriates a predominantly western play list — from Mozart to Arvo Pärt, from Jimi Hendrix to Montessuis — into the bodies of his performers. Pärt’s short organ works are seamlessly worked into the soundscape his three dancers (Jeannot Kumbonyeki, Papy Ebotani and Yves Mwamba) starkly inhabit while Lushaba’s extraordinary vocal range delivers a cappella sections of Mozart’s Requiem that are shorn of all western ecclesiastical references. But it is Kumbonyeki’s response to Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile where the body is transfigured, raising his krumping to the explosive levels of Hendrix’s mastery of the guitar. If Linyekula has honoured the dead with a discursive Requiem, in this final act he conjures up the passion of the Resurrection.

In Search of Dinozord is an open-ended performance in the sense that nothing seems finished but what is presented is complete. It takes you out of a familiar, tightly constructed theatrical framework where you know when to laugh, when to applaud and where individuality can so easily become the focus of a performance. This is a broad landscape in which a small group of charismatic performers carry the forgotten dreams of an entire country.


Alexandra Waierstall, And here we meet, Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: June 19th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alexandra Waierstall, And here we meet, Lilian Baylis Studio

Alexandra Waierstall, And here we meet, Lilan Baylis Studio, June 14

Waierstall

Evangelia Randou in Alexandra Waierstall’s And here we meet (photo: Katja Illner)

After recently seeing so many works commemorating events in the First World War it was a relief to be able to contemplate Alexandra Waierstall’s UK première of And here we meet at the Lilian Baylis Studio. A quiet, poetic and thoughtful meditation on our evolution, the form of the work is inspired, it would seem, by the enigmatic stories that Laurie Anderson delivers so beautifully, one of which (The beginning of memory) prefaces the performance. For And here we meet, Waierstall and dancer Dani Brown have revised a text found online about the mess we have made of the 200,000 years of our Anthropocene period, a startling list of factual observations on our current ecology and environment that will be familiar to many. It is as much the wryly impeccable logic of Anderson’s stories as the way in which they are related that make them so arresting: the dry tone of voice, the lilting accents, the artful timing and the flattening out of the ends of sentences that leave the words hanging in the air. Brown, who is also American, does this admirably while employing her body as an additional referent; the poetic nature of the words and sentences floats on the shapes she makes while Waierstall and Ansgar Kluge have together shaped the space with light — a small number of Christmas lights suspended close to the ground — that further modulate the body’s motion and its emotional effect.

Entering the stage in loose workout clothes, Brown is so in the moment and matter-of-fact that the poise of her voice comes as a surprise. She begins her story by indicating she will start with the end but then almost inconsequentially discards her clothes. We soon discover the end of the story is set in the future, 100 million years from now, when a group of post-Anthropocene explorers discovers our planet and finds its geology worth investigating. And here we meet is thus a vision of dystopia in which the naked human body serves as our archaeological guide to the present. In a metaphorical sense Waierstall has laid bare the current state of our environment but as the story proceeds, the simplicity of the body’s contours in the simplicity of the theatrical space raise it from the didactic to the poetic, from an apoplectic rant to an apocalyptic ode on the fate of mankind. In a constant alignment between words and movement, Brown’s voice seems to affect the articulation of her body and her gestures in turn add layers of meaning to the text. Every now and then her accent drops into a Southern drawl as a form of mordant exaggeration that continues into her body, as when from a crouched position with her tensed hands and fingers splayed over her head like a blind exotic oracle she describes the future discovery of our cities ‘empty from lack of food or drought’.

Waierstall’s visual depluming of the story to set it free of current contextual detail continues in the soundscape of her collaborator Volker Bertelmann, aka HAUSCHKA, in a composition that provides a perfect counterpart to her exploration through an other-worldly rhythmic evocation of a timeless past that defies a solid musical footprint. Waierstall had met Bertelmann after hearing about one of his projects inspired by abandoned cities and it is not hard to sense the similarity of their emotional approach to disappearance in And here we meet.

Whereas Laurie Anderson’s story is very much in the past, Brown’s is very much in the future. She ends her story with the kind of questions archaeologists might ask about the possible causes of their findings before slowly counting down from 10 to 4, where she breaks off. This is the point at which that vast span of horizontal time between past and future meet somewhere in the present with the appearance of Evangelia Randou. She is equally vulnerable in her lack of clothing, perhaps more so because she doesn’t speak; it’s as if she and Brown recognize each other but can’t remember where they met. Randou’s articulated avian gestures return to the birds of Anderson’s prologue, and for a moment she carries within her a hope that the future cannot comprehend. Brown retreats into the dark but it is not long before Randou, in a subdued gesture of disbelief, follows her. We have lost them both, but the poetry remains.


Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation) at the Barbican

Posted: June 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation) at the Barbican

Rhiannon Faith, Smack That (a conversation), Barbican Centre, June 12

Smack That

The cast in Rhiannon Faith’s Smack That (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulu)

The Pit at the Barbican is decked in balloons and pink folding chairs around its perimeter and as we enter a sextet of similarly dressed and wigged hostesses welcomes us with a drink (cider or water) and a snack (popcorn) before we take our seats. All the hostesses are called Bev and once seated we are each given a name tag that carries the same (m)atronymic with a descriptive forename; I am Specs Bev and Caterina is Pearl Bev. In the centre of the floor is a circular arrangement of identical boxes tied with pink bows from which the hostesses hand out one each with instructions not to open it before we are told. It’s like the setting of a giggly sixth form annual dance.

Choreographer and social activist Rhiannon Faith has a knack of wrapping up serious social concerns in settings that belie the nature of their subject. She and Maddy Morgan did it with Scary Shit, which dealt with their phobias and insecurities, and she follows up with a show about domestic abuse that starts with a party. But although the party is the way into Smack That, it is also a form of festive affirmation for the performers who have all been through abusive relationships and have come out of them stronger and wiser. In this sense Smack That is both a celebration of resilience over adversity and a call to action, for what Faith also does is to tap into solutions. In Scary Shit she introduced audiences to cognitive behavioural therapy and in Smack That she works with a domestic abuse charity, Safer Places, and introduces the J9 Domestic Abuse Initiative named in memory of Janine Mundy who was killed by her estranged husband in June 2003 while he was on police bail. Faith is responsible for making Harlow Playhouse the first J9 Venue in the UK, and the Barbican is now signed up and accredited, which means it has a safe place where victims of abuse can use a phone line to access information and a full support system. Look out for the pink J9 heart.

Presented by the Barbican as part of its 2018 season, Art of Change, Smack That takes the experiences of seven women (Rebekah Dunn, Valerie Ebuwa, Yukiko Masui, Maddy Morgan, Kim Quillen, Hollie Stevenson-Phipps and Casey Tohill) as a starting point for a conversation with the audience about domestic abuse. Six of those women — Quillen is on maternity leave — happen to be our hostesses, so this is not verbatim but autobiographical theatre (as Scary Shit had been), a fact that makes the setting disarmingly ambivalent. Just as the pervasiveness of domestic abuse (according to statistics, one in four women will experience it in their lifetime) far exceeds the social recognition, it is difficult to fully comprehend the reality behind Smack That in the performances of these six women. It is only half way through a light-hearted confessional party game when Stevenson-Phipps completes the statement, ‘Never have I ever…’ with ‘been grabbed by the throat’ that the atmosphere suddenly freezes; this is the moment in Smack That when we become aware of how domestic abuse can so easily go undetected until the victim has a chance to speak up. The somber atmosphere is soon relieved by the permission to open of our presents: party crackers and streamers (for immediate usage) along with information from the National Centre for Domestic Violence.

The theatrical form of Smack That cannot be dissociated from its social content; it is a reflection of the need to spread awareness of a pervasive but private violence and to offer help. As part of this engagement, Faith’s audition process was firstly to select women who had first-hand experience of domestic abuse who were willing to work together on stage; only three of the Bevs have formal dance training but the six women work so intimately together that it is solidarity that triumphs over individual qualities. Faith unites the Bevs through an egalitarian vocabulary of movement that extends beyond formal dance training, but at the same time she uses the expressive potential of Ebuwa, Masui and Morgan to add layers of gestural imagery to verbatim text as well as to portray physical and psychological states that are beyond words. It is here that Faith’s work as choreographer rather than director finds its emotional eloquence.

In its concern with social issues, Smack That follows naturally from Scary Shit, but in its loosening of choreographic imagery for theatrical articulation Faith has subtly changed the relationship of the audience to her work and of her work to society. The effects are already apparent.


ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

Posted: June 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms at Shoreditch Town Hall

ANU / CoisCéim Dance Theatre, These Rooms, Shoreditch Town Hall, June 8

These Rooms

Justine Cooper in These Rooms (photo: Pat Redmond)

In the pantheon of dance commemorations commissioned by 14-18 NOW, These Rooms, which remembers an incident in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, is not a lavish spectacle like Akram Khan’s XENOS, nor a staged narrative with a literary source like Gary Clarke’s The Troth, but a theatrical rendering based on archival material and witness accounts that takes history’s many facets into account. A collaboration between ANU and CoisCéim Dance Theatre and presented as part of this year’s LIFT, These Rooms doesn’t try to glorify the dead but to bring them back to life, to give them a chance to explain what happened. In the North King Street Massacre there were casualties on both sides; the voices of victims and survivors are heard amid the rush and adrenalin of the promenade performance created in the maze of spaces in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. While Owen Boss’s meticulous designs that Ciaran Bagnall has lit suggest the rooms in which the original action took place, the costumes of Niamh Lunny, the hair and make-up of Lucy Browne and Chloe Bourke and the musical indications of Dennis Clohessy and Carl Kennedy place the events on the fiftieth anniversary of the massacre in 1966, making These Rooms a commemoration within a commemoration. Tragedy in the face of loss never descends to the level of melodrama but is rendered in profound states of danced gesture, while grief and despair are matched with bleak humour and resilience. All eight performers are note perfect in their emotional involvement: Justine Cooper, Damian Gildea, Úna Kavanagh, Niamh McCann, Jonathan Mitchell, Robbie O’Connor, Emma O’Kane and Matthew Williamson.

These Rooms does not aim to trace the entire scope of the Easter Rising, but takes one of the key skirmishes — where Irish rebels had occupied numerous small buildings and had barricaded the streets — as a simulacrum of the bold attempt to establish an Irish Republic. One of the controversial aspects of the North King Street Massacre was the indiscriminate nature of the killings; whoever lived in the houses was considered a rebel and the British troops were given the order to take no prisoners. Yet one of the transformative elements of the production is the portrayal of death, however violent, as a moment of release. The image of Williamson’s filigree hands and wide-eyed, slow-motion tumbling down the stairs after being shot is memorable.

The violence in the street is constantly suggested by the tensions between the men and women inside. Threads of stories are started then interrupted by our urgent relocation to another ‘safer’ room or corridor only to be reprised and resolved later; one cohort might see the representation of a story the other will hear recounted, but by the end we have all taken in the full picture. The audience both observes and participates for the direction of David Bolger and Louise Lowe invites us to join in the action — whether it’s sitting around in the pub, blowing up balloons, playing darts, dancing with the women, responding to questions or eating bread and jam.

Before the performance starts, the audience is divided into two cohorts that follow two separate narrative paths, one nuanced by the perspective of the Irish rebels and the other of the British troops. I start in the pub while Caterina starts in the barracks of the South Staffordshire Regiment. The sheer complexity of the logistics for the eight performers to make these two threads coherent for the audience is breathtaking for neither cohort is aware of the other until we meet in the pub to watch the 1966 tickertape parade on the bar’s television screen. Having witnessed a view of the events from the inside — particularly through the experiences of the women who in their support for the rebels had to bear the brunt of the violence and its consequences — this solemn filmed memorial appears to smooth out all the pain of history. And the story of a British soldier who thought he was being sent to France and was unprepared to kill civilians reminds us how much ‘official history’, no matter from which side, is heavy with silences.

Honouring the dead is itself a minefield of codified ritual pitting the political power and authority of the state over the privations and losses of those directly affected. These Rooms brings these two aspects into stark and uneasy cohabitation. After watching the televised parade we are ushered out the door with a solicitous word of encouragement. There is no place for applause.


A Truefitt Collective Triple Bill of Love & Spaghetti at Blue Elephant

Posted: June 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Truefitt Collective Triple Bill of Love & Spaghetti at Blue Elephant

Love & Spaghetti, Triple Bill, Blue Elephant Theatre, May 31

Love & Spaghetti

Eva Escrich Gonzalez and Jay Yule in Love & Spaghetti (photo: Ross Truefitt)

Blue Elephant Theatre’s importance in London’s dance infrastructure is that you can’t hide in production values what you present on its tiny stage. What you see are the bare essentials of artistic endeavor that will always be the true starting point of any work. And because you can’t put more than a handful of people on the stage and the audience is very close, this is intimate dance, and as such it is unforgiving. That this triple bill, curated by Kasia Truefitt of A Truefitt Collective, survives the ordeal is already a measure of its success. The title of the evening — Love & Spaghetti — lumps together a commonly misunderstood subject with a commonly misunderstood pasta dish, but while each of the three works clearly chooses love as a central ingredient, spaghetti is relegated to a metaphor for the tangled relations love engenders.

Because of the spatial limitations of Blue Elephant, each work is physically small-scale, but that doesn’t mean the idea or the performance is similarly constrained. It is always preferable to have a small space and boundless ideas than small ideas and a boundless space. Marie Rambert began her ballet company — and the careers of Sir Frederick Ashton and Anthony Tudor — on the tiny stage of the Mercury Theatre, so space is no limitation to quality and ambition.

Elisha Hamilton’s Too Close to the Bone is an intimate concept that nevertheless asks for a dozen volunteers on stage, which requires a certain amount of squeezing. It is a performative exercise on power and confession where each of the volunteers in turn reads a statement from an envelope. They all have to indicate its truth or falsity by picking up a paper flower or by remaining in place. Hamilton’s role is at first to perform the turning, twisting minefield of mental processes in each calculated or spontaneous response. In the second half the roles are reversed: she performs to a text about the sexual exploitation of a girl at a party that is contained in a series of envelopes she asks her volunteers to read. Because of the problem of an inconsistent level of clarity in the reading, our attention is drawn both to the text and to Hamilton’s interpretation, like watching surtitles at an opera. But dance doesn’t need explanatory text; it can express the meaning — and a lot more — all alone.

Sorry Flowers Die by Jay Yule and Tommy Cattin is a work that thrives on intimacy by contrasting emotional and physical proximity with relational distance and space. They carefully lay out a two-cubit square of white tape that delineates the space of their domestic arrangement like a miniature reenactment of the opening scene in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. They can barely fit inside it let alone dance a mambo and as they jostle and manoeuvre around each other with burlesque exaggeration they punctuate their entanglements with a very British refrain of ‘Sorry!’ In a moment of slapstick exuberance Yule is ejected from the square and makes one of her own, much smaller, in front of the memento mori of expiring cut flowers. Seeing she’s enjoying her freedom (grooving happily to Cierro Mis Ojos), a piqued Cattin tries to muscle in but is in turn ejected. He tapes a much larger square that contains the other two and for a while he and Yule enjoy the space to be themselves until she gently but firmly takes up a section of his tape and ushers him out. Sorry Flowers Die has a lot more to it than Yule and Cattin allow; it is in a neat prose form that has a wealth of humour but hides its poetic and theatrical potential.

Truefitt’s Love & Spaghetti is the longest of the three works and builds on the preceding two to arrive (almost) at a form of cabaret. According to the program note, the work is based on a social experiment in which two strangers answered Arthur Aron’s ‘36 questions that can make you fall in love with anyone’. Some of the questions can be heard as part of a broader emotional context — Jo Cooper’s ironic choice of songs about love — in Truefitt’s adaptation of the experiment as a duet with Yule and Eva Escrich Gonzalez in which they embrace notions of connection and independence. Even spaghetti has an appearance as a length of tangled rope. There’s a wealth of ideas here, two excellent performers, and a subject that anyone can understand and enjoy. What it needs is a production that renders its voice as richly vibrant as what it’s saying.


Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018 at Laban

Posted: June 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018 at Laban

Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill 2018, Laban, June 1

Transitions Dance Company

Transitions Dance Company in Jarkko Partanen’s Lovers (photo: Lidia Crisafulli)

Transitions is called a conservatoire dance company, which means it renews its dancers each year within Laban’s MA Dance Performance program and is designed to help these artists ‘fill the gap between formal training and their entry to the professional world.’ The artists are selected ‘through an intense and competitive international selection process’ so on the one hand Laban seems to suggest the BA level formal training for these dancers — including those from Laban itself — is not sufficient to give them a competitive chance of joining a professional company upon graduation, and at the same time the formation of Transitions relies on the ability of these dancers to be so competitive in an international audition process to win a place in the company.

The nature of Transitions — and of any conservatoire dance company — is thus somewhere between institutional and professional, and is essentially transient. The invited choreographers are not creating a repertoire that allows the company to mature and grow — there is no possibility of maturity and growth — but that enables the dancers to demonstrate what they have learned. One corollary of this approach is that all fourteen dancers are included in each work; no marked choreographic preference is given to an individual’s ability. The qualities of individual dancers may shine in a given work but only in the sense of an accent of colour or texture in a choreographic quilt. In effect the constraints of these triple bills show not so much the possibilities of the dancers and choreographers as the nature of the MA Dance Performance program itself.

This is certainly a more varied selection of works than last year and one that tests the dancers in quite different ways. Paradoxically, Jarkko Partanen’s work, Lovers, is the most challenging for its initial lack of any recognizable dance element. Partanen has organized the dancers ‘in such a way as to allow them to act, understand, and continue only through touch’ and in partnership with Laban’s Suzie Holmes has covered them in layers of foil and mesh that entirely obscure their identity; not only is their sight impaired but Partanen has evoked sightlessness in sculptural form. At the beginning there is an uncompromising lack of sound, too, leaving the audience to ponder in silence what appears to be a neat row of black plastic bags on the upper side of Fay Patterson’s square of floor lights. The initiation of movement is barely perceptible but as the dancers rise in their coverings Partanen’s vision is transferred to their sense of touch. Their challenge in subsequent couplings and grouping is to convey the sensory limitation as sensually and naturally as possible. When it is successful it is powerfully poignant, but if the level of gestural intention slackens or falters it can become comic. When a mirror ball descends and Rihanna’s Diamonds breaks the silence we feel a sense of relief as our sensory apparatus is restored but for the dancers the concentration must remain until the final, sightless exit.

Hagit Yakira’s The Ar/ct of Moving Forward celebrates the freedom of movement as a mode of expression. The dancers initially walk or run in one by one from alternate sides of the stage; it is like a choreographic form of introduction, but instead of moving forward towards the audience they move away from it, from downstage to upstage, glancing back to look at us and to allow us to look at them. As one exits upstage another enters downstage in a mirror-like procession. The range of movement accumulates and accelerates over the course of the work, reveling in an abandoned enthusiasm that is contagious. As in Lovers, there is more to this choreography than the doing of it; it requires presence over reserve, connection over isolation, solicitude over individuality. The surge of Sabio Janiak’s upbeat score adds to the work’s sense of travel as bubbling pockets of exuberance explode and dissolve in a continuous stream of humanity.

Richard Chappell’s When running starts and stops contains within its title a sense of what has gone before but introduces the articulation and flow of classical dance in an intriguing evocation of ‘animalistic physicality’. Created on eight dancers (there is an alternate cast of six with Orion Hart and Umut Ozdaloglu appearing in both) who form a band of friends caught up in a mysteriously undefined adventure, the work retains a muscular vocabulary that engages the dancers technically and allows individual expression within the whole. Albert E. Dean’s electronic score is implicated in the action like a ninth performer, playing counterpart to the physicality and marking the way forward, while Chappell’s choreographic grammar reveals a convincing ability to coax a story out of movement.


Akram Khan Company, XENOS, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: June 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Akram Khan Company, XENOS, Sadler’s Wells

Akram Khan Company, XENOS, Sadler’s Wells, May 30

Xenos

Akram Khan in XENOS (photo © Jean-Louis Fernandez)

Co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts program for the First World War centenary, XENOS is billed as a commemoration of an Indian soldier in the trenches representing the more than a million mobilized from what was then a colony of the British Empire. But it is also billed as the final full-length solo Akram Khan will choreograph on himself. So what, or who, is XENOS actually commemorating? Sarah Crompton titles her program article, ‘A new myth’ in which she discusses with Khan the making of XENOS, its creative components and the summation of his career. She concludes that the new myth is ‘to help everyone remember.’ Remember what? Both Khan’s role and the production itself are equivocal in their response.

Even though Khan was born in a south London borough to Bangladeshi parents, his dancing roots are in his classical kathak training, which makes his portrayal of ‘X’ — who dramaturg Ruth Little describes as ‘no man and everyman, the unknown and the eternal soldier, alone in a foreign land…’ — unquestionably poignant. The opening of XENOS (meaning ‘foreigner’ or ‘stranger’) is a masterful depiction of ‘X’ at the convergence of dance and conflict. As we arrive in the auditorium of Sadler’s Wells, vocalist Aditya Prakash and percussionist BC Manjunath are seated on stage performing a classical concert unperturbed by our lack of attention. Mirella Weingarten’s set is a study in absence: empty, dusty chairs, an abandoned swing and a low table covered in a fine layer of earth below a string of bare light bulbs and an array of ropes leading up an incline towards the back. It is a deserted interior scene that anticipates the passing of the present into a bleak future. It is only with an amplified electrical short circuit and a temporary blackout that the audience becomes attentive and subsides into silence; the concert continues and Khan enters as if discharged violently from a traumatic past. The music serves to revive him and he begins a haltingly remembered kathak dance; at times Manjunath has to prompt him with the chanted rhythms and the three men build up a haunting image of life interrupted and changed forever. Khan is in a sense playing himself, remembering past glories from a conflicted present, his mature body reliving what it could once do so effortlessly. More electrical short circuits and an extended black out lead us to a plangent space and time where the snake-like ropes draw Khan and all the furniture inexorably up the slope as if by an outside force — the original tug of war — and over the top.

The parapet remains throughout XENOS as the locus of the trenches and of Khan’s place in this desolate world; he connects a rope like a field cable to what appears to be a gramophone to hear a crackly recording of the names of fallen Indian soldiers, one of whom died laying cables in the mud. The horn of the gramophone later becomes a searchlight, but with these surreal allusions the connection to the First World War begins to veer off into the discursive themes of myth and evolution. Khan invokes Prometheus, the Greek Titan who is credited with the creation of man from clay and who stole fire from Zeus to facilitate the development of civilization — and its unintended consequence, war. Khan’s depiction of evolution seems to cover the period from Mowgli to the Mahabharata, subtly shifting the focus of XENOS from the representation of colonial ‘X’ into the current myth of Khan himself. It’s as if ‘X’ has offloaded his ‘otherness’ and has returned home, which is now in Wimbledon.

In the Crompton interview, Khan acknowledges an Indian academic who had thought remembrance was ‘a white thing’. This notion had spurred Khan to delve into the archives of Indian involvement in the First World War, which in turn imbued his empathetic memorialization of ‘X’ at the beginning of XENOS. However, any further attempt at excavating the memory of these forgotten soldiers from oblivion is lost in the meandering rhetoric and the ‘whiteness’ of this lavish monument of a production.

By the time lighting designer Michael Hulls, composer Vincenzo Lamagna and sound engineer Julien Deloison introduce that glorious go-to expression of sorrowful beauty, Mozart’s Lacrimosa from his Requiem mass, blasted from a Schechtian gallery of musicians suspended in light above the stage, the commemoration has turned fully on Kahn: the end of the war has become conflated with the end of his solo career.