Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso double bill at The Place

Posted: March 5th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso double bill at The Place

Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso double bill at The Place, March 2

Masui-Tirabasso
Publicity images for Léa Tirabasso and Yukiko Masui’s double bill

In a well-curated double bill of works by two choreographers each creates a context for the other. On the surface and in their treatment of their respective subjects Yukiko Masui’s Falling Family and Léa Tirabasso’s The Ephemeral Life of an Octopus are quite different, but each is based on a personal experience about the nature of life and death. The subsequent self-questioning creates a bridge between the works that allows us to confront mortality in ways that, as Masui writes, are ‘simply not expressible in speech.’ While Masui takes us into her Falling Family with a heightened sensibility that creates feelings of empathy, Tirabasso’s The Ephemeral Life Of An Octopus leads us through the confusion and corrosion of life’s breakdown with a confrontational performance that ends up counter-intuitively expressing an exhilarating sense of joy. 

Falling Family builds on the metaphor of dominoes; different arrangements of coloured tiles are used throughout the work while the four performers — Julie Ann Minaai, Annakanako Mohri, Daniel Phung and Yumino Seki — demonstrate within a loosely defined family structure their support for each other, their interdependence, and their disorientation and vulnerability when one of them is no longer there. As Masui writes, the work ‘taps into the dark, conflicted, emotional space that cracks open when we encounter a loved one’s illness, mental breakdown or even death.’ 

The subtlety of Masui’s conception reflects the passage of time in meticulously constructed moments that suggest rather than define until metaphor and narrative become so intimately entwined that they coalesce. She introduces us to the members of the family one by one in separate sections delineated by Ben Moon’s lighting and Ezra Axelrod’s spliced snippets of Japanese conversation. As the work unfolds, relationships begin to overlap and then build up in a choreographic layering in which the characters move with a resigned sense of self-control that their use of articulate gesture further refines; Mohri’s opening hand gestures of everyday life in Moon’s precise downlight sets the tone for the entire work. Seki’s quiet presence is the one that starts to retreat into itself; Axelrod’s score becomes plangent in its final evocation of drama, leaving Mohri — reflecting perhaps Masui’s own response — challenging fate in a final, uplifting solo of rage against the dying of the light. 

The visual contrast between Fallen Families and Tirabasso’s The Ephemeral Life Of An Octopus is marked. Nicolas Tremblay’s high-voltage lighting keeps the levels high on a white stage littered with black microphone cables while the subtle hues of Giulia Scrimieri’s costumes are replaced by bright splashes of coloured swimwear for the four extrovert performers: Caterina Barbosa in Prussian blue, Alistair Goldsmith in pink, Joachim Maudet in green and Rosie Terry Toogood in bright orange. Stark juxtapositions abound, perhaps none more so than that of the romantic third movement of Brahms’ second piano concerto with the flagrantly staccato, animalistic contortions of the performers (Gabrielle Moleta is listed as Animal Transformation Coach). But given the work is informed by Tirabasso’s own experience with ovarian cancer, such contrasts are not as virulent as might appear; the romantic notion of life that Brahms lays before us has no place in it for the contemplation of disease. 

Tirabasso’s metaphors derive from philosopher Thomas Stern’s essay, The Human and the Octopus, in which he takes his own illness as a starting point for discussing the relationship of mind and body, quoting on the one hand from Proust who sees the mind with which we identify as trapped inside the body of an alien — an octopus — and on the other from JM Coetze for whom the flesh of the body and its susceptibility to pain is an incontrovertible reminder of our humanity. In The Ephemeral Life of an Octopus, Tirabasso uses the dance body as a thick brush with which to paint these conflicting notions. 

Corrosive metaphors of physical breakdown are not unfamiliar in art but there is an undercurrent of wit in Tirabasso’s choreography, in her choice of music (including an original composition by Martin Durov), in the colour and light of the production and in the relentless play of healthy bodies in a compulsive setting of dis-ease that negotiates a path between spirit and flesh, between intellect and play that taken as a whole borders on an unequivocal celebration of life. 


Gary Clarke Company, COAL

Posted: May 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gary Clarke Company, COAL

Gary Clarke Company, COAL, The Place, April 15

Gary Clarke Company in COAL (photo: Joe Armitage)

Gary Clarke Company in COAL (photo: Joe Armitage)

“She defined and overcame the great challenges of her age…” – David Cameron in his tribute to Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons, April 10, 2013

“Thatcherism…reeked the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage on this country…” – Glenda Jackson in the House of Commons, April 10, 2013

It is an uncanny coincidence that the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike should occur at a time the current Conservative government is trying to dismantle another longstanding institution, the National Health Service. Gary Clarke’s COAL, commemorating the 1984/85 miners’ strike in choreographic form, comes as a salutary reminder of how politicians who capitalise on the self-aggrandizing belief they are ‘overcoming the challenges of (the) age’ can ruin the lives of entire communities. Clarke understands this firsthand, having been brought up in Grimethorpe, a mining town in South Yorkshire. ‘It’s deeply, deeply personal, and I just wanted to share how it felt to live through these times. How it felt then, and how it feels now as the pain, loss and division linger on in our stranded communities.’ It is memory that drives the work forward.

COAL is divided into three acts: the first is a slice of early-morning ritual in a single home that suggests the foundation of social life in a mining community. The wife (TC Howard) peels spuds in a bucket while the husband (Alistair Goldsmith) sleeps under a blanket; she is cook and feisty timekeeper, long-time lover and loyal supporter. Costume and set designer Ryan Dawson Laight takes delight in the details (Howard is reading a newspaper with the headline ‘Tory Cuts’) and Clarke fashions the spirit of comradeship in an earthy dance among the assembled miners (Goldsmith, Nicolas Vendange, James Finnemore, Joss Carter and Connor Quill) on their way to work. The second act is set underground (the pit cage and tunnels beautifully delineated in light by Charles Webber); it is a long section and full of tension. The qualities of their movement are a reflection of both the physical effort and their underground minds, a brutal existence spurred on by chalked targets, punctuated by bells and constantly threatened by hazards to limbs and lungs. It is perhaps the first time the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th symphony has been used at the coalface and Daniel Thomas’ soundscape exaggerates the sense of pressure and confinement until we can’t take any more. Act three takes us up again into the air to the relative freedom of a social gathering, a chance to party and to relax, which is the moment Clarke introduces the figure of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (Eleanor Perry with the voice of Steve Nallon). This is the dramatic fulcrum of the work, the moment that defines the beginning of the end. From the intimately complex social solidarity of the first two acts, Thatcher’s intervention turns the community into a toxic, socially divisive battleground with Perry prowling like a bird of prey on one side of a picket line that bears a chilling resemblance to a gallows rope.

Clarke maintains COAL is not a political work but the politics are inextricable from the story and he plays the political aspect directly to the audience. If Perry doesn’t get booed during a performance she feels she hasn’t wrung a sufficiently derisive charge from her role. This raises questions as to the exact nature of COAL. In choosing to interpret this story through the medium of dance — particularly using his five muscular, handsome dancers as interpreters — Clarke mixes a social and political polemic with a soft image; he has us bathe in the action until we are as helpless in the face of fate as the miners with whom he is siding. The form of COAL thus straddles the tragedy of a community and an epic story of resistance, but in pointing the finger at Thatcher we collectively miss the opportunity to challenge our readiness to fight such injustices in the future. As Ernst Fischer wrote in The Necessity of Art when discussing Berthold Brecht’s use of emotional detachment to appeal to audiences’ reason and critical action, ‘The work of art must grip the audience not through passive identification but through an appeal to reason which demands action and decision.’

What Clarke has achieved is an intimate, nostalgic memoir in which the material is still full of pain and anger. The work is rooted in the communities he is honouring: apart from the permanent cast of Perry, Howard and the five male dancers, the supporting characters come from local mining communities or have a relationship to them and he uses songs played by colliery bands from areas of the country in which he is performing. This close-knit network of performers strengthens the cohesion of the work, but it is the lack of artistic detachment that weakens the dramatic impact. It implodes rather than explodes, draws us in rather than spits us out on a path to change. It is designed to rouse the emotions of the audience — and is more or less successful depending on where it is performed — to reaffirm the sense of betrayal that continues today.

We want COAL to succeed because what it depicts is vital to an understanding of these blighted communities and of our collective history but it falls short primarily because of its desire to entertain. The reality was and is far worse than COAL can ever admit but commemoration can also be a call to action; the struggle for the survival of the NHS is history repeating itself.