Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & Process Day

Posted: February 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & Process Day

Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & Process Day, Dundee Rep, February 12

Scottish Dance Theatre in Process Day (photo: Brian Hartley)

Scottish Dance Theatre in Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Process Day (photo: Brian Hartley)

“Dreams have only one owner at a time. That’s why dreamers are lonely.” – Erma Bombeck

Anton Lachky’s Dreamers woke up last February in a Scottish Dance Theatre double bill with Jo Strømgren’s Winter, Again. Upon first viewing I struggled to see the fit as the pair were too similar — both showcasing lightness, comedy and a hyper-real quality. So I’ve come back to Dreamers to see how it has settled into the bodies of the dancers, into the company and how it sits with a new bedfellow, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Process Day.

 defines itself as “making sense from nonsense and exploring links between reality and surrealism” and over the course of 35 minutes it delivers its intention well. A police line-up forms the opening image where all nine performers face front and Aya Steigman erupts from the line, fizzes with skittish urgency and delivers a hiphop-laced solo that is startling in its ferocity. This is the opening minute and I wonder whether my eyes can contain or maintain the pace. The invisible energy passed between each of the solo performers is dialled down the further away from the original source we go until everyone has had a chance or two to show us their best moves.

Nothing lingers for too long and at the same time we’re not asked as an audience to invest much either; we see two or three playful examples of what the world might look like if the choreographic power is given over to Audrey Rogero and Francesco Ferrari. The strongest visual memory from my first Dreamers was the face-melting elasticity of Rogero and 12 months on, the malleability, facial contortions and impossibly extended neck stand out again as she out-Doyles Mrs Doyle. Slapstick, physical buffoonery and bodily control are re-employed again and again with Rogero manipulating the remainder of the company at her whim; spinning, flicking, and boot-camping them. As she discovers her power and ability to transform she gifts us one of the most infectious cackles heard on stage.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

When Ferrari emerges from the pack to take control, he’s barking orders ferociously in an unknown language and basking in the power of controlling the others — apart from when Amy Hollinshead marches out of the line like a rebellious tin soldier, frustrating Ferrari even more.

The lightness and humour shines alongside the musical choices of Bach, Verdi, Chopin and Haydn. Dreamers is a white, crisp, and frothy demonstration of personality, wild abandon and fine dancing.

“A man must dream a long time in order to act with grandeur, and dreaming is nursed in darkness.” – Jean Genet

As night follows day, dark will follow light and Process Day now follows Dreamers.
Are we in Dundee or have we been transported to a Weimar Republic cabaret, a dark world filled with luscious, crepuscular creatures, a place where gender is dissolved and eyes linger on the smallest of details? Eyal and Behar, alongside Ori Lichtik (musician), Rebecca Hytting (assistant and co-costume designer) and Alon Cohen (lighting) create an unsettling environment that either repulses or embraces the eyes that rest on the stage.

Clad in black from foot to ribs and a neutral scrim from the chest upwards, the dancers exist in a quarter light giving the impression of a floating set of torsos and amplified arms which frame and isolate each other like a vogue ball. From the nine performers, Josh Wild (apprentice dancer from London Contemporary Dance School) is a choreographic leech, creeping onto other performers, intruding and creating a series of unwanted duets before blending back into the dark. The dancers seem almost extra human and there’s a striking motif of Matthew Robinson’s controlled head-butting of Jori Kerreman’s stomach – it fits perfectly in this world and is one of the many lingering frescoes which sit amongst the larger-scale ensemble moments.

“So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” – T. S. Eliot

Cohen’s lighting design aligns well with the choreographic intention; despite the lights being so dim I am noticing the slightest of movements: twitches, ankle rotations and shoulder snaps were pulling my eyes all over the stage as a thin film of haze weighs heavily on the stage.

Classical strings, abrasive bass and relentless synths offer a sonic realm that promotes difficulty. Choreographic difficulty is also on show as not all the dancers are comfortable with this hard, sinewy performance style. Eyal and Behar are a brave choice from Artistic Director Fleur Darkin as they’re asking the dancers a completely different set of choreographic questions from those of Damien Jalet’s Yama, Darkin’s own Miann or Strømgren’s Winter, Again.

“Androgyny is not trying to manage the relationship between the opposites; it is simply flowing between them.” – June Singer

I am sucked into the world of Process Day by the scenographic control that Eyal, Behar and their collaborators have over me. It is satisfying to spend 40 minutes with them in their world of heavy and dark; but if the company does with Process Day what they did with Yama — extending it from an original half bill to a full-length work — now that would be a 30th birthday present worth unwrapping.

(Dreamers and Process Day are on Scottish Dance Theatre’s double bill tonight and tomorrow at Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh)

Scottish Dance Theatre: Miann

Posted: April 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: Miann

Scottish Dance Theatre, Miann, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, April 9

Amy Hollinshead in Fleur Darkin's Miann (photo: Brian Hartley)

Amy Hollinshead in Fleur Darkin’s Miann (photo: Brian Hartley)

The word ‘miann’ is Gaelic for ‘the ardent desire to know God.’ Ardent is the operative word in Fleur Darkin’s new work for Scottish Dance Theatre not only in terms of the choreography but in the music of The One Ensemble who play live on stage. Miann is also a spiritual work that battles with death and separation not in philosophical terms but in a visceral, personal confrontation that commemorates Darkin’s stepfather. Darkin’s description of the work is every bit as passionate as her choreography: ‘I wanted to create a space that we could share. I wanted the music of The One Ensemble to ring out like a thunderstorm shaking our bodies. I wanted the dancers to remind us that life is felt before it is thought about. I wanted us to taste the fresh water, breathe in forest air and feel the willow under our bare feet. I wanted to prove that feelings are real. I wanted a space where the invisible might be felt. I wanted a space to honour my parent…I wanted to create a gift out of dance.’ Seeing Miann is to embrace these words in physical form.

With no curtain at the Queen Elizabeth Hall we have plenty of time to contemplate the set. Designed by Alexander Ruth and lit by Emma Jones, it looks as if it was conceived for in-the-round performance: a circle of white floor in the middle of which is what looks like a sundial or a sail on its mast. All around the white circle are bundles of dry branches and beyond them towards the back are the spaces for the four musicians and their instruments. On either side at the front of the stage are two urns of flowers that Audrey Rogero and Naomi Murray pick up and hold like living statues at the entrance to a cemetery. The smoke that issues from the urns is probably dry ice that looks like incense for there is no fragrance. I suspect Darkin’s original idea of immersing our olfactory senses in the production has been compromised by health and safety (another administrative incursion into the production is that after Rogero and Murray circulate with their urns through the audience and return backstage the QEH reminds us to turn off our mobile phones).

In her program note, Darkin references the Callanish stone circle on Lewis, a landscape in which she ‘wanted us all to get lost…with no story, no orientation points, only beckoning paths.’ When Amy Hollinshead first appears on stage she has muddied limbs and hands as if she has been running and slipping among the stones on a wet day; she carries with her the evidence of the wild countryside but it is not embodied in Ruth’s clean and dry construction. I keep wishing for a simple stage of turf or peat (I didn’t have long to see one in Peter Pabst’s set for Tanztheater Wuppertal’s Auf dem Gebirge). Hollinshead sets the physical tone of the choreography in jumping frenziedly, repeatedly, exhaustively to the sound of her exertion. It is a motif that will return poignantly at the end suffused with uncontrolled grief and anger. On this occasion it is the anticipation of Francesco Ferrari’s arrival — the loved one — who wraps her, after some trepidation on her part and some coaxing on his, in his long cloak (Ruth’s costumes, as one might expect from a fashion designer, excel here). The other dancers enter as different manifestations of filial grief: a stoic Quang Kien Van in a dance with ritual overtones, a tentative or agnostic Matthew Robinson and a maternal Aya Steigman carrying her child (Murray) clasped to her front. The ensuing mêlée of dancers running, rolling and hurling themselves to the floor is like a wild mating game of sensual, brutal proportions. But this is not narrative; this is raw, primal emotion expressed in familiar human patterns; the message is in the rawness not the patterns. Steigman and Murray work like demons to rip up part of the floor to reveal turf: a funeral plot before the grave is dug. Artur Grabarczyk dances a powerful, erotically charged duet with Murray while Steigman remains motionless on the grave and the other dancers make their reptilian way around the branches like the circular path of life. When Ferrari has completed his circle, Murray brings in a crown of flowers with which she finally crowns him like a chosen one. He watches Hollinshead don a black mourning shroud and the sundial/sail element becomes a metaphor for the river Styx that the Greeks represented as the division between life and death. As Ferrari passes through to the other side, Hollinshead tries to follow. Her final outburst and the communal response is an apotheosis in dance and music of heroic proportions.

The depth of Darkin’s emotion is clearly a powerful creative force. Her physical movement phrases have the authenticity of grief and anger and she has harnessed the force of the music to amplify them. She seems to drag her dancers into the ring and they give themselves fully to this production, a quality in Scottish Dance Theatre that is impressive. When I first saw them it was at the very beginning of Darkin’s appointment in a double bill of Jo Strømgren’s Winter, Again and Victor Quijada’s Second Coming; it was a wonderful cast but one of the difficulties with a change in artistic direction is a possible (some may say inevitable) shakeup in dancers. I hope Darkin can keep the present dancers together; they are well worth watching. In a performance like Miann there are enormous benefits when the dancers are used to each other, open to each other and familiar with the way they each move.

If only the setting could descend to the earthy intensity of the music, costumes and the choreography…