A preview of Alexander Whitley’s new work, 8 Minutes

Posted: June 8th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Preview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A preview of Alexander Whitley’s new work, 8 Minutes

Alexander Whitley, 8 Minutes, Studio Wayne McGregor, May 25, 26

8 Minutes

Dancers rehearsing Alexander Whitley’s 8 Minutes (photo: Johan Persson)

Eight minutes is the time it takes for light to reach the Earth from the Sun.

On the white floor in the white space the figures and gestures of the seven dancers (Luke Crook, Hannah Ekholm, Tia Hockey, David Ledger, Leon Poulton, Victoria Roberts and Julia Sanz Fernandez) are as clear as atoms under a microscope moving with the detached precision and fluidity of dynamic particles. We are in the larger of the two studios in the Wayne McGregor Studio complex in the former Olympics media centre under the surprisingly composed gaze of choreographer Alexander Whitley. He wants to run for the first time his new work, 8 Minutes, but the closer he gets to starting the more the dancers are wondering ‘what comes next’ and the more Whitely realizes there are transitional details he hasn’t fully worked through with them. It is that moment in the choreographic process when the creator will see the first complete view of what until now has been rehearsed only in sections. It’s nerve-wracking for both the dancers and the choreographer and being a late Friday afternoon brains are tired if not fried.

There is a good deal of expectation sitting on Whitley’s new work as it is his first full-scale main-stage work for co-commissioner Sadler’s Wells. It was Alastair Spalding who brokered the idea between Whitley and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) to create a work based on solar science. Whitley has always been interested in and inspired by science and RAL has always been interested in finding artistic means to disseminate the knowledge that comes out of their research (the complete 8 Minutes project includes workshops in schools with a scientist and two dancers). This is the first time RAL has approached dance as a medium. Hugh Mortimer, the scientist who has been overseeing the project, sees himself and Whitley as interested in the same ideas about the world but differing in their approach; scientists seek an understanding of the universe as objectively as possible, while artists approach it more subjectively. And as Whitley points out, he shares the scientist’s interest in movement but on a vastly different scale.

Whitley is not choreographing to illustrate the science directly, but in talking with Mortimer he has narrowed down notions such as magnetic fields to translate into choreographic form. Some concepts were eliminated as untranslatable, but others led to interesting movement ideas that embody what Whitley describes as ‘relative complexity’. As he explains, “A lot of the material came from thinking about the physics and applying it to the body; how the body can get anywhere near the speed of light or thinking about scales unimaginably large within the body, or working with the minute atomic scale of things. It was about taking these principles and framing questions. It really has thrown up a quite different vocabulary of movement.”

For 8 Minutes, Whitley has collaborated with electro-acoustic musical innovator Daniel Wohl whose task is to imagine sound from the sun’s soundless environment, and visual artist Tal Rosner who has the advantage of access to RAL’s library of extraordinary solar images. It will be another week before Rosner’s contribution is added to the choreographic mix, but Whitley has relied on the composition of each section of Whol’s score for shaping the work.

Back in the studio, it’s a question of making form out of flow, adjusting the complex spatial patterns with the dancers in sections that have some predictable names like ‘a new day’, ‘sun’s rays’, ‘sun bathing’, ‘chasing the sun’ and some less predictable like ‘spring lambs’. It is choreographic imagery that helps dancers and choreographer keep track of sections that will be connected in the run-through. As one would expect from a dancer and choreographer who is naturally musical, Whitley knows his score intimately and he cues the dancers to sounds that take careful and repeated hearing (“This is easier on headphones”, he quips at one point). He accompanies his verbal corrections with kinesthetic ones, demonstrating a mastery of the phrases he wants his dancers to embody. In short, he is in control of his work and the dancers respond tirelessly with their own ability to refine and connect the phrases.

Watching the full run-through is to see a mature choreographic entity emerge that places human activity and solar science on the same plane, that imagines the effects of time and space on our daily lives. The solar science is the same but its influence on the movement of the dancers shows a transformation in Whitley’s vocabulary which in turn is influenced by, and influences our hearing of the score. The two work together beautifully. In the next few days Whitley will be seeing the lighting, visuals and costumes added to the mix for the first time. Uppermost in his mind as he watches the emergence of his work in all its complexity will be the kind of fragile ecological balance our planet requires for its continuing existence.

8 Minutes, a Sadler’s Wells commission, co-commissioned by DanceEast and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance,
will première at Sadler’s Wells on June 27 and 28 at 7:30
Sadler’s Wells Box Office: 020 7863 8000 www.sadlerswells.com
Twitter: @awdc_


Candoco Dance Company, CounterActs

Posted: November 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Candoco Dance Company, CounterActs

Candoco Dance Company, CounterActs, Laban Theatre, October 8

Candoco dancers in Alexander Whitley's Beheld (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

Candoco dancers in Alexander Whitley’s Beheld (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

There is something remarkable in the way Candoco’s dancers bring out the best in the choreographers they work with and how the choreographers bring out the best in the dancers. CounterActs is no exception, a chance to see again Hetain Patel’s witty Let’s Talk About Dis and to see a new work, Beheld, by Alexander Whitley. It is the latter that catches my attention immediately as I arrive late to see the end of a duet between Joel Brown and Adam Gain. Its virtuosity — especially from Brown in his wheelchair — and spatial ingenuity set the tone for the solo by Tanja Erhart that follows. Whitley does not so much create steps for Erhart as carve dynamic space around her; she is often in silhouette like a shadow puppet with her supports, revealing shapes that are starkly beautiful. The screen behind her, conceived by Jean-Marc Puissant and realised by Jessica Dixon and Amanda Barrow, is made up of four panels of stretched elastic material that looks like a silver metal barrier under Jackie Shemesh’s cool lighting but the dancers behind it bring it alive by pressing their faces and hands into it and lure Erhart towards them. As she approaches in a dream-like state — a quality the music of Nils Frahm conjures up beautifully — she abandons her crutches and presses herself into the material, invisibly supported on its vertical surface as if on water. Erhart shines in this subtle transference of weight and strength until the surface tension eventually gives way and the whole thing comes rippling down around her.

Whitley writes about his current interest in ‘how choreographic ideas can be extended into material forms beyond the body.’ The material the dancers handle in the opening (which thanks to the company I later saw on video) and later sections is a metaphor for bringing out not their differences but what binds them together; in their handling of the material they are all on the same footing and Whitley weaves this equality into playful, complex choreographic patterns.

Another achievement in Whitley’s work is its virtuosity, particularly in Brown’s duet with Gain where he spins on to his back in his wheelchair with a speed and precision that matches Gain; when the latter raises his legs over his head, Brown does the same effortlessly with his wheelchair. With his powerful torso and arms Brown makes his wheelchair subservient to his virtuosity until it becomes almost invisible. Beheld is a work that brings the company together in ways I haven’t seen before in Candoco’s repertoire and in doing so Whitley makes the company look brilliant.

In Let’s Talk About Dis (a witty reference perhaps to DV8’s Can We Talk About This?) Patel talks about attitudes to disability with an openness and humour that was missing from Lloyd Newson’s choreographic sermon on attitudes to multiculturalism. Patel’s idea of Let’s Talk About Dis is to throw all our preconceptions about disability up in the air, play with them, redefine them and let them fall back to the ground of our understanding. He takes his time to set the scene as the dancers wander on, take off their shoes and carefully mark out a square with white tape, a space in which a game of political correctness will be played by the home team on its home ground. Patel’s text, like all his works, is meticulously scripted and shaped (Eva Martinez helped with the dramaturgy); he loves voices both for what they say about the world and for what they say about the person. In his own solo shows he takes on any number of voices himself but here he has gifted his voice to the dancers and, like Whitley’s material, it allows them to compete on equal terms. As a gifted mimic Patel knows his way into the life behind the voice and by listening to the dancers’ stories and their banter he brings out their lives through their words, filtering their offerings through a sense of humour that verges on the absurd. The masterful trio of Toke Broni Strandby mis-translating into English Laura Patay’s story in French about what children have said about her missing arm with Andrew Graham signing in BSL is a like a Mozart aria in its witty complexity and beauty while Erhart relating her sex education in vocal harmony with Strandby is both poignant and gives the signers some hilarious moments. Patel succeeds in talking about dis, or more importantly getting the dancers to talk about dis, in a way that demystifies it, that breaks down barriers. The dancers look relaxed in Valentina Golfieri’s costumes and under Shemesh’s lighting as if their personalities have come dancing into the light, but as Gain says at the end, ‘We’re going to keep talking about it until we don’t need to keep talking about it.’

 

CounterActs at Dance East in Ipswich next week is sold out, but the company will be performing it again at the Bristol Old Vic on February 12, 2016


Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance

Posted: November 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance

Thomas Adès, See the Music, Hear the Dance, Sadler’s Wells, November 1

Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance (Design: AKA, photo: Johan Persson)

Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance (Design: AKA, photo: Johan Persson)

The subtitle of this evening’s celebration of the music of Thomas Adès — the second in Sadler’s Wells’ Composer Series — is where dance and music share their inherent qualities: See the Music, Hear the Dance. Such complementarity, however, can be elusive and this evening is no exception. With Wayne McGregor, whose Outlier (to Adès’ violin concerto, Concentric Paths) opens the evening, it is not so much the music we see as the space in which he develops his signature physical dynamics, a visual environment in which dance, set design and lighting take precedence over the music. Lucy Carter is here credited with both lighting and set design and it is her symbolic concentric motif that provides a visual link to Adès’ score rather than the dance. Created for New York City Ballet, Outlier opens with a quintet of dancers that is subdivided into a trio with a duet, two duets with a solo and a duet with a trio that remains motionless. In the second movement, Thomas Gould’s solo violin sings above the turbulence of the orchestra while the choreography for a trio of dancers hits some turbulence of its own in clumsy lifts and interlocking partnering between the two men. Nine dancers start the third movement in three trios glued one behind the other dancing in canon. Carter’s circles yield to a rectangle of light framing a duet to the solo violin that the other seven watch in silhouette. There is a final visual image of a white circle of light on the stage into which a dancer steps with the last splash of the violin.

Karole Armitage chooses Adès’ Life Story set to a poem of the same name by Tennessee Williams. There is a grand piano on stage with the soprano Claire Booth dazzling in sequins standing against it and Adès at the keyboard. Booth’s lovely soprano voice sings of the lazy aftermath of a first encounter between two lovers (danced by Emily Wagner and Ruka Hatua-Saar) lying on a bed ‘like rag dolls’ telling their life stories. It is not a context that immediately suggests pointe shoes and when one of Wagner’s shoes slips off her heel early in Life Story the intimacy of the setting is unforgiving. The classical vocabulary fails to find a correspondence with the jazzy score and the final manège to the line about people burning to death in hotel rooms just throws Williams’ cautionary tale to the wings.

Alexander Whitely created The Grit of the Oyster to Adès’ Piano Quintet. Both choreographer and composer are on stage in their respective dual roles and for the first time this evening the music and dance are in harmony. The Grit of the Oyster is a trio with three lyrical dancers (Whitely, Antonette Dayrit and Jessica Andrenacci) on a white rectangle of floor while the quintet plays behind. The lighting has the murkiness of an oyster bed with lime-green and blue costumes, but the fluidity of the choreography shines, particularly in Dayrit’s solos. During a turbulent musical passage she takes off her green top and puts on a white one, becoming a pearl. Whitely and Andrenacci return for a duet and at the opening of the third movement the trio whip through a fast section in unison. Dayrit dances one final, beautiful solo that leaves the musical line floating as the light fades.

Adès’ Polaris is a huge orchestral work and Crystal Pite responds with a cast of 64 dancers in superbly designed identical black costumes (by Linda Chow) that leave only the face and hands bare. An articulated mass of curved, crustaceous black bodies with hands like dead leaves slithers on to the stage in silence like a menacing, malevolent energy. It becomes a circle with heads rising and descending again before it unravels and moves across the space with the addition of a circular wave formation. Still the music hasn’t started, but when it does Pite has prepared us; we have already seen it. Pite fills the stage in the same way the music fills our ears; here at last is a complete expression of See the Music, Hear the Dance. The mass retreats leaving two figures like flotsam on the beach who struggle to remain attached until they are ripped apart by invisible forces. For the individual roles Pite uses six dancers from her own company, Kidd Pivot, and they are mesmerizing in their control of the details and dynamics of the choreography. The mass is an elemental force crossing like tectonic plates or two massed armies confronting one another, and the sextet rises above it like instruments above the orchestral turmoil. At one point all 64 dancers form a single entity, crouching with arms to the side, hands pointing to the floor. All we see is the fingers quivering but the image is one of powerful kinetic energy. Pite’s artistic control over the stage elements — choreography, costumes, lighting (by Thomas Visser) and backdrop (by Jay Gower Taylor) — corresponds to the way Adès controls the instrumentation and the Britten Sinfonia he is conducting: Polaris is a confluence of two imaginations in tune with each other. On the final musical crescendo Adès’ hand is caught in the light as it rises above the pit, his finger pointing upwards like a blessing or a warning. The dancers halt and suddenly all that energy discharges into the audience as a storm of applause.