Resolution 2017: Watts Dance, John Livingston Dance, Alice Webber and Ben Saffer

Posted: February 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Watts Dance, John Livingston Dance, Alice Webber and Ben Saffer

Resolution 2017: Watts Dance, John Livingston Dance, Alice Weber and Ben Saffer  

An original poster and Rosalie Bell in WLA No.657005 (photo: Cecilia Watts)

Inspired by Vita Sackville-West’s wartime book, The Women’s Land Army, Cecilia Watts’ WLA No. 657005 is a narrative work that ‘celebrates the significant role of young women working as agricultural labourers during the Second World War.’ As such it will have resonances with an audience who has either some recollection of the WLA or a relationship with someone who did. The specific identity in the title suggests the latter — perhaps a celebration of a family member — for Watts is far too young to remember the WLA herself. She has, however, done her research and found a physical and musical imagery that convincingly conjures up the era. In some of her groupings of the five women (Rosalie Bell, Rachel Elderkin, Zoe Moody, Caitlin Murray and Alice White) there is a sense of the wholesome, patriotic activity depicted in WLA posters, and their frequent peering up at the sky immediately suggests passing aircraft. In her choreography Watts effortlessly weaves dance and muscular gestures from the sowing and planting repertoire (not for her the Lumber Jills of the Women’s Timber Corps) with a strong suggestion of mutual support among the women. Watts also weaves a story into WLA No. 657005: a young hedonistic woman (White) prefers to party than to join the WLA until she receives word of the death of her lover; her friends support her in her mourning and she finally exchanges her polka dot dress for WLA working clothes. There are some hiccups in the narrative and nervousness in some of the performers that limits, especially in such a short work, the full spirit that inhabits it. Pianist Robin Porter, who also wrote and arranged some of the songs, is seated out of sight behind the upright piano as if we are listening to the radio, so when his spirited playing is enhanced by a couple of tracks by The Andrews Sisters the shift is seamless. He makes a brief appearance as the messenger of bad tidings and inexplicably walks off with the sheet music during his final playing of Boogie Woogie Bugle Girl, though it allows White to redeem herself, and to re-find herself, by continuing on the ivories to the end.

John Livingston is a fascinating performer for he brings to his dancing a vocabulary of disability that is both eloquent and powerful. With a provocative and savagely self-deprecatory title, Am I a waste of space?, Livingston challenges what we see by what he does, quoting Henry David Thoreau in the program notes, ‘It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.’ There are three emotionally laden tracks — When I am laid in earth, from Henry Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, Bjork’s Black Lake, and Anna Calvi’s The Heart of You — to which Livingston improvises with a range of images from refined, heroic sweeps of the arms to raw, idiosyncratic gestures like tucking his chin into his tee-shirt while putting it back on, gestures that both uncover the process of his thinking and enhance its physical execution. His gestural vocabulary repeats enough for us to recognize his language, his tropes, rather than follow a choreographic path but what we see is a concentration on unearthing his own physical meaning from the music. Mesmerizing.

What a relief to see Alice Weber freed from the trauma of Pomodoro and displaying a relaxed, sassy double in the opening tryptich of Inter/action. Filmmaker (and erstwhile collaborator) Ben Saffer’s bright, even light and Weber’s off-white costume suggest something heavenly as we see her dancing the same sequences that are projected on the screen behind her. Is she following her filmed self or is the film following her? The breaks in sequence and Weber’s wry gestures soon suggest a bad rehearsal day, but between bouts of inner frustration or self-doubt her dancing has the relaxed flow of someone enjoying herself in eerie serenity. A second section begins with a track of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Pieces Form the Whole), heralding Merritt Millman dressed in black with a facial smirk; the suggestion of Black Swan is inevitable. The duet becomes a tussle, a choreographed rugby scrum with two players, the creative facet of performance locked against the demonic or, as the program note suggests, ‘exploring the different relationships of the body and self in performance space.’ In the third section Weber is again dancing on her own accompanied by Saffer’s Music for Inter/action against his filmed collage of time-lapsed natural phenomena —scudding clouds and the reproductive systems of plants. Becoming one with her filmed environment, Weber evokes a healing presence, and when the flowers begin to close up she yields to their impulse and folds into herself.

Emerge Festival, Week 2, The Space, November 19

Posted: December 5th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Emerge Festival, Week 2, The Space, November 19

Emerge Festival, Week 2, The Space, November 15-19

Joe Garbett and Jessica Haener in No. Company at Emerge Festival

Joe Garbett and Jessica Haener in No. Company at Emerge Festival

The appeal, not to mention the importance, of a festival like Emerge that presents new and experimental work by new and experimental choreographers, is the possibility of a work appearing on the program that stands out, that leaves a palpable trace or sensation. It doesn’t mean the work is ready to tour nationally or internationally but simply that it ushers in the possibility of new developments in choreography. Such innovations don’t necessarily require lots of money but they do need to be seen.

On each week of its two-week run, Emerge’s curator, Adam Towndrow of C12 Dance Theatre, has produced a single program of five works that is performed five times, and there is no connection between the works apart from their intrinsic interest. The little miracle happened in the second week. Most of the works involve a single choreographer but Joe Garbett coordinated eight (Jacob Bray, Daisy Farris, Chloe Mead, Joel O’donoghue, Hannah Parsons, Hannah Rotchell, Thea Stanton and Cornelia Voglmayr) in the work he conceived and directed, No.Company. It’s all about collaboration that keeps the collaborators out of the room, a choreographic form like remote surgery with the haptic feedback coming from the performers. It’s an interesting creative paradigm; choreographic ideas sent by text message — anything from a suggestion, to word play, to a precise instruction — from each of the choreographers and translated by the two interpreters, Garbett and Jessica Haener, into formal phrases. Garbett says the process of interpreting the texts and directing the finished work took three studio days.

‘Finished work’ might be an overstatement; with its fluid, interpretative basis, No.Company has the quality of an improvisation — albeit within restrictions — with the refreshing continuity of a spontaneous conversation replete with asides, pauses, connecting gestures and phrases. I saw it twice and the second time it had matured but not substantively changed. Garbett and Haener are relaxed together, freely and informally engaged in the moment without any indication they know what’s coming up next. Neither do we; the nature of the collaboration is eight unrelated subjects with eight unrelated soundtracks joined together to form a single discursive performance. But because Garbett and Haener are so engaging and the work so full of suggestion, we as an audience can draw our own conclusions like a directorial line. Paul Klee once described his doodles as taking his pencil for a walk; No. Company takes the body for a walk, and in its expressive articulation — even the pastel colours of their clothes help legibility — I have a sense of reading the choreography as it is written in space. Garbett’s governing idea is about the process of creation, but the result is that the eight creators and two translators, through some special alchemy, have created an intriguingly coherent work.

Also on the program is a reworking of Pomodoro by Alice Weber. It is a more powerful work than when I first saw it at Blue Cloud Scratch but Weber understandably skirts round the full horror of the experience that prompted it. It is a dark meditation on the vulnerability of the human body to trauma. Using the fragility of tomatoes as a metaphor is a stroke of genius but the potential menace of her conception is susceptible to psychological escape valves that leave the audience unsuspecting and the work unfulfilled. Weber shared the solo with Merritt Millman but even by detaching herself from the work through another interpreter, she maintains a safe distance from the subject.

The last time I saw a work by Rhiannon Brace (Baby), she was celebrating the birth of her son, Dylan; in The Last Dance On Earth she has jumped to the other end of the spectrum with the depiction a family living out its final day. Drawn from a reading of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, we meet the three generations of family sitting listening to the radio announcing the end of the world. Jay Jeyakumar has changed from a teddy-bear father in Baby to a stunned and confused one, but Mary Cox is still the smiling grandmother whose memories transform her movements into optimism. Brace herself is the mother, and Marta Polak the daughter who takes with her all the longing and pluck in her body. It’s a finely drawn characterisation that lifts the miniature work to a level of poignant urgency.

Paola Napolitano’s work on mental health, SELphOBiA, has far-reaching ideas that have not yet developed a coherent choreographic language to convey them, nor a setting in which to frame them. How do you convey emotional fragility through a body and mind that are strong and healthy? Napolitano’s imagery stays too much on the surface to convey the psychological depths she wants to explore. A straight jacket can point to a condition but does not in itself convey it, and Napolitano’s use of a broken mirror as a metaphor is similarly too literal; we should be looking through it rather than at it. I am reminded of those harrowing photographs by Richard Avedon of his sister and other inmates in a mental asylum: we see them through his lens and at the same time we feel the his emotional connection. In the theatre we are in effect behind the lens and it is only the physical language of the performer that can create that connection. No easy task, but there is more to unlock here.

By contrast, in Amy Foskett’s Through The Cottongrass the choreographic language dominates the narrative. Inspired by the beloved Swedish fairy tale, Princess Cottongrass, Foskett has created an episodic duet with Katherine Whale that picks up on the companionship of the princess and the elk in their magical journey through the forest. Of course in a theatre you can’t go very far, so the various stages of the duet rely for their effect on the quality of physical connection between the two dancers. Their duets create an ever more urgent but always precise and eloquent dynamic that is a pleasure to watch but the narrative basis of the work is only crudely tacked on to either end. The tale is certainly suitable for translation into dance but that, perhaps, is another project.

Just a final word to signal the heroic efforts of Edmund Sutton on the lighting desk and of Charlotte Tuckwood for her cameo performances in preparing the stage for each work.

Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre

Posted: August 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre

Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre, July 28

A Positive Life_1

Michael Kelland, Katie Albon, Jerome Wilks and Becca Thomas in Johnny Autin’s A Positive Life

Blue Cloud Scratch is a partnership between Cloud Dance Festival and Blue Elephant Theatre, providing valuable opportunities for small-scale new work.

Lewys Holt doesn’t look like he’s going to dance his Phrases at all as he languishes on the stage watching the audience shuffling in watching him. It’s a standoff but he wins by moving first, walking to a microphone near the exit so it’s not clear if he’s leaving or staying. Then he talks about the link between apples and doctors but what he really wants is the doctor not the apple. He’s not really sick; he just needs to move a little, which he does. He thinks on his feet like all dancers do, except the thoughts are a long way from his feet because Holt is long and lanky. But he’s well connected so he moves well, really well. His phrases start with the same jump, like a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, and accumulate eloquently. And he’s got a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour, so after his mouth fixation, when the slideshow of postcard towns ending in ‘–mouth’ doesn’t start when it should, we all laugh with him. He’s engaging like that, a natural performer. It’s all pulled out of the air, or his brain, in the moment. And he keeps us in the moment until it ends.

Out of the wings comes a man with a chair (Craig Bennett of Indefinite Article Dance Theatre); gravity is present and a heavy game. Belinda Grantham follows with another chair. She and Bennett exchange seats but it’s territorial and not in the least genteel. If they used their voices they would growl, but they don’t; they use their bodies like words, their eyes like daggers and move in surly sentences on a game board. It’s a dislocated conversation without resolution. Fern Maia lightens up the equation, leaving space for a solution. But the two women climbing on Bennett is no solution because he’s strong enough to move both their objections aside. That’s Momentum. It’s a momentum that can’t be stopped, an accident about to happen.

There’s a deliberate irony in using A Positive Life as the title of a work about sex, love and relationships in an HIV world, especially for teenage audiences for whom choreographer Johnny Autin is preparing this work. It’s really engaging, so he will have no difficulty in getting his message across. But what is the message? When Becca Thomas dances her story of being raped at a party in which she drinks herself out of control, she does it so powerfully it’s beautiful. When Michael Kelland dances his overhung distress on one side of the stage while the others watch he does it so well we sympathise. Perhaps the full work (of which this is only a part) will balance the equation. Ken Loach finds a way in his films to make socio-political comment while we can still feel sympathy for the characters: he shows the rude consequences. Autin doesn’t, at least not yet. He needs to make his socio-political stance clear in the choreography, otherwise he might end up giving mixed messages.

I love ballet. I really do. But it’s hard to get excited about a company called Point(e) Taken Dance Theatre; it’s just too self-referential and cute and Ian Parsons’ Dual Deviation has a similar quality. Arabesques and pirouettes are such immediately recognizable signs of ballet that without the right framing they can lose their appeal and their meaning all at once. Dual Deviation desperately needs framing; it could borrow the guile of Phrases, the weight of Momentum, or the engagement of A Positive Life but without these kinds of qualities it is too blandly abstract and the chosen tracks of Ezio Bosso don’t provide any contrast. Something else stands out: the lines of the dancers are long and clean but their technique seems to stop at the neck. Nami Furukawa is the only one of the four women to make a gesture of her head. That is worth watching. Point(e) taken?

Thank goodness for Dickson Mbi’s ShowTime in which he creeps out from the darkness crouched on his toes, beetling around the stage like an ominous caryatid broken loose from a gothic cathedral. His dark, brooding figure breathes cool, quiet strength. There is no program note because the performance is what it is: Mbi using his impressive technique in the service of his choreographic imagination. He dances to a track by Jocelyn Pook from Akram Khan’s Desh in which he contrasts twisted lyrical violence to the innocence in the music: just him and the music; nothing else is needed.

You wouldn’t think the angelic, smiling Rachel Elderkin could murder a tomato, but she does. Perhaps she is simply the accomplice of choreographer Alice Weber, just doing what she’s told. But she’s so calculating, spending the first few minutes of Pomodoro picking from a crackling plastic supermarket container a selection of tomatoes that she presets precisely on the stage. There are plump ones and little ones that roll like red marbles. The way Elderkin does it gives the tomatoes  human qualities: adults and children in a park, perhaps. Once the tomatoes are set the game begins, which is when Elderkin steps slowly, coquettishly across the stage like fate in disguise and knowingly crushes a tomato under her bare foot, splattering its seeds and juice. Weber juxtaposes the action with a blues song of Bessie Smith dreaming of being dead. The contrast between Smith’s dark, stirring voice and Elderkin’s indiscriminate act is striking and suggests there is something more here. Weber’s imagination has grasped a powerful allegorical image that needs pushing further. How many more tomatoes will have to perish before she finds it?