Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: October 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Reckonings: Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva & Alesandra Seutin at Sadler’s Wells, October 13

BLKDOG

The cast in Botis Seva’s BLKDOG (photo: Johan Persson)

Marking its refurbishment 20 years ago as a production house catering uniquely to dance, Sadler’s Wells has commissioned 20 new works, three of which form Reckonings, a celebration of the future featuring UK-based choreographers Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva and Alesandra Seutin. Sadler’s Wells has lavished its production capacity on each and the result is a richly textured triple bill unified by Tom Visser’s lighting that demarcates regions of the stage into which the dancers can withdraw from sight and from which they can emerge; there are no theatrical exits and entrances. This corresponds particularly with the fluid spatial staging of Cunningham’s m/y and with Nell Catchpole’s engulfing interior soundscape. The work is a translation into choreographic form of Monique Wittig’s attempt in her novel, The Lesbian Body, to ‘create a new language that can function outside the dominant structures of patriarchal power’. It is not the cast of six women — Cunningham, Eleanor Perry, Hannah Burfield, Seira Winning, Sara Ruddock and Stephanie McMann — that suggests a lesbian discourse but the subtle structures that link them together, a fine weaving of almost abstract strands with sapphic overtones that creates a space in which no muscular, patriarchal figure would ever feel comfortable; the performers, dressed in Alexa Pollman’s body suits with diaphanous outer layers, seem to relish this independence. It is a pleasure to watch the way Cunningham opens up the space with such intellectual rigour; it starts in muffled containment as if the cast is an operatic chorus in a prison cell and develops into a sense of lightness and emancipation that Catchpole’s score reaffirms in its trajectory from dark clouds of industrial effluence to the open air, from interior rumblings to serene silence.

After the first intermission the contrasting, dark masculine energy of Seva’s BLKDOG is immediately palpable. In combination with Visser’s lighting, Ryan Dawson Laight’s wrapped anonymous costumes and Torben Lars Sylvest’s visceral score, Seva has invented a haunting, powerful reflection on depression inspired by Sally Brampton’s Shoot The Damn Dog. It was Winston Churchill who termed his depressive condition ‘The Black Dog’ from which Seva derives the title of his work and on top of Sylvest’s score are recorded voices from an imagined therapy session: ‘Let’s start with how you’re feeling.’ Set in a hip hop vocabulary on six dancers — Joshua Nash, Jordan Douglas, Ezra Owen, Victoria Shulungu, Shangomola Edunjobi and Naima Souhair — BLKDOG seethes with an inner malaise that explodes in tight, controlled gestures and broods in hooded acquiescence. Seva has developed an intricate and eloquent language within an urban context that manages simultaneously to get inside the head and flow through the body, seamlessly bridging emotional abstraction and a harrowing social narrative — an effect that is more Crystal Pite than Hofesh Schechter. In a work that depends for its affect on precision in both individual gesture and unison articulation it is a tribute to the dancers and to the rehearsal director Ekin Bernay that Seva’s conception is so fully embodied.

Like the two previous works, Seutin’s Boy Breaking Glass has a literary inspiration, this time through Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem of the same name. Breaking glass becomes in Seutin’s conception a metaphor for breaking through what may seem transparent but proves impassable, otherwise known as inequality of opportunity. She writes that five other authors ‘were all invaluable in my research about inequality, the act of survival and self-love.’ The problem is that however clear Seutin may be in her intellectual research such clarity fails to coalesce on the stage. From the outset there is a contrast between the formal volumes of the set — a broad white platform at the back for her five-piece band with a white dance floor bordered in black for her seven dancers — and the informal, folk-inspired choreography ‘inspired by Senegalese and Southern African traditional and social dances’. Visser’s liminal lighting is again on display but he seems unsure how to unite these contrasts. The members of the band are visually dominant which gives an importance to their presence and their music over the narrative taking place on the stage below them, while Randolph Matthews as the central figure among the dancers — the victim of inequality — is a vocalist. Attention on the primary theme is thus dispersed among the performative elements and while they are independently rich in expression, Seutin and her dramaturg/co-director Maxwell Golden have not succeeded in synchronizing their full value.


Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & TuTuMucky, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Posted: March 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & TuTuMucky, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers and TuTuMucky, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, March 3

Scottish Dance Theatre in Botis Seva’s TuTuMucky (photo: Brian Hartley)

My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.” – Ta-nehisi Coates

Welcome to Groundhog Day, fellow dreamers. This is my fourth sitting with Dreamers since it premiered in February 2015; Anton Lachky’s choreography has shared the stage with Jo Strømgren, Sharon Eyal/Gai Behar and now Botis Seva. The choreography has switched back to the original 29-minute iteration after being tweaked and extended last year. The last few months have seen a significant amount of change for Scottish Dance Theatre that has brought a different energy to the company: 7 out of 10 dancers are new and there’s a newly appointed rehearsal director, Naomi Murray (who was in the original Dreamers cast). The new dancers are stepping into choreography that was created for and with dancers who are no longer there; they’re inhabiting ghosts and it is difficult for me to un-imagine those who forged and imprinted themselves in their work with Lachky. Although Dreamers has been shaved by 5 or 6 minutes, the essence of taking control and taking back control (though that phrase has been used and coloured since the EU referendum) is the same; narratively it is tighter, but the bullet sharpness and anatomical prowess from the majority of the new dancers isn’t there and consequently the difference between the vignettes isn’t as pronounced.

However, new bodies fitting into old shapes can breathe something revelatory into those carcasses and James Southward (last seen in Janis Claxton Dance’s Pop Up Duets) is a fine example. An excellent addition to the company bringing an energy, presence and attitude to the movement, Southward dances everything with his whole body, hits his lines, responds and reacts to others and he draws the eye as he moves around the stage. Such is his ease with the choreography and in his relationships with the other dancers it feels as if he’s been in the company for years. However, the time it takes for a choreography to really settle on a dancer is different every time and the majority of the company has had only two months to revive Dreamers and create and learn a new work, TuTuMucky; this is evidently too little and the gel and magic isn’t quite settled yet.

It’s not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that walks in us. It’s all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can’t get rid of them.” – Henrik Ibsen

TuTuMucky is an invitation for the company to move differently. Scottish Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Fleur Darkin, saw Botis Seva’s company Far From The Norm perform at British Dance Edition 2016 (I too was in that audience) and commissioned Seva to make a new work on SDT. Seva established Far From The Norm, aged 18, in 2010 and he and its members have developed and refined a shared physicality, training rhythms and performance vocabulary that is unfamiliar to many UK theatre audiences. What makes Seva and his company unique is the trust and commitment to what they want to do; he has kept close control over who is and who isn’t in the company and consequently has developed a trust and communication system that enables his dancers to deliver exceptionally distilled performances. Forged ‘outside’ the subsidised dance sector, Far From The Norm is creating an alternative choreographic language that is attracting attention from London’s dance critics’ cabal, commissioners, festivals and venues across Europe. Darkin was canny to be the first to commission him for SDT and she won’t be the last.

TuTuMucky offers the programme note: ‘Botis Seva defies traditional classification to offer a distinctly new form of dance that blurs the boundaries between ballet, contemporary and hip hop technique.’ Opening in dusky par-can haze we’re aware of writhing backs isolated in pools of light; with these slithery articulations Seva is attempting to get the company to move differently and unlike anything I’ve seen in the previous seven SDT productions. Shifting their energies and dropping their gravitational centres, he’s trying to school them in the hunger, urgency and articulacy of krump. Dressed in dark mesh tutus, the dancers combine a ballet-backed and first-position stiffness with the unnerving Wheelers from Return To Oz — rigid dolls hovering across the stage, mechanical in body and face.

The narrative pace and emotional zoning doesn’t begin to emerge till over halfway through the 30-minute work; it feels like the dancers need to start dancing 15 minutes before they come on stage so the adrenalin is running and we are immediately dunked into their world. Until that point I saw classically-trained dancers attempting to recreate an alien, krump-inspired language. Harry Clark (trained at Rambert and previously dancing with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures) is particularly exposed in Seva’s choreography, needing to soften his spine and to give himself over to what is being asked. I think it would benefit the dancers if they were to experience and participate in a krump battle, to drink in and taste the emotional shower that spurts from those who krump when they are entirely in that other zone.

The duet between Amy Hollinshead and Southward pivots the energy of the entire work and we see Hollinshead take to krump like a cat giving birth to a fur ball, hissing and verbally banishing her ballet training to birth a new movement language on her body. The transformation of form is the root of the work: seeing bodies begin in one state, transformed to another and then resort back to their default setting. Southward revels in the intensity required and his face channels that intensity whilst his body matches the demands for articulation from his neck to his wrist. From here TuTuMucky begins to build and the electro, glitch noise soundtrack by Torben Lars Sylvest swirls the energy around the dancers and the audience; we begin to be pulled towards the rhythms, potency and urgency of the movement and I get a sense that the dancers finally start to believe; they’ve found Seva’s groove and in taking on his language transform themselves.

When some dancers are able to transform and execute a new language and some really can’t, the effect is a visual unevenness that leaves me unsettled; in a company like SDT I’m left with the question of where the responsibility lies for such unevenness? Is it with Seva who has not communicated or built the necessary trust with the dancers to convince them to give themselves over to his world? Is it the rehearsal director who isn’t noticing the stark differences in the stiffness and supple spines and taking steps to resolve them? Is it the dancers who are unable to execute what is being demanded of them or do not understand what they’re being asked to do? Or is it with Darkin in her choice of bringing a choreographer who is without doubt carving a name for himself but whose language creates an incompatibility with the current company of dancers?

When a choreographer like Seva is invited to make a work on full-time, salaried dancers who exist in a place of comfort and privilege it is impossible for him to recreate the conditions and terrain which he and his company have encountered and which make them so rare. The reality and experience gap is too large and consequently I feel like the two worlds haven’t come together; trust hasn’t been established and they’re still eyeing each other across the choreographic divide. If those who encounter TuTuMucky love what they see, they should seek out the work of Seva’s own company that is offering a choreographic palette, emotional intensity and insight as to where the next wave of British choreography could be going.

I think certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform—or perhaps distort—yourself through that persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality.” – Haruki Murakami