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.


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.