Cloud Dance Sundays 2

Posted: August 9th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Dance Sundays 2

Cloud Dance Sundays 2, Lion & Unicorn, July 14

 

As the opening work of this second iteration of Cloud Dance Sundays, B-Hybrid Dance reprises Foundations, which I had seen at the Cloud Dance Festival two weeks before. The shortcoming I noted then is just as stark here: a static reading of the lyrics that leaves the music for the most part stranded. The brief solos of Eloise Sheldon and Jumar Aben show that choreographer Brian Gillespie is not insensitive to the musical inspiration, but such a literal interpretation of the lyrics ‘I climbed a tree to see the world’ as a dancer climbing the backs of her colleagues or of ‘I held on as tightly as you held on to me’ as the line of dancers linking arms over shoulders limits Gillespie to a one-dimensional response to the musical line.

Julia Pond is only four generations removed from the first teachers Isadora Duncan formed at her school; before dancing three works to the music of Schubert and Chopin, Pond gives a short introduction to Duncan’s legacy. It must be difficult to give life to the work of a dancer who was active at the beginning of the last century, but there is a freshness and freedom in Pond’s interpretation. The rhythm of each dance is in the feet while the beauty is in the upper body and Pond must have a powerful pair of lungs to keep her breathing so controlled and calm throughout the exertion. If the beautiful photograph by Arnold Genthe of an ecstatic Duncan with her head and arms raised is any indication, all that is missing in Pond’s performance is the abandon and longing that I imagine arose as much from Duncan’s lifestyle as from her dance style. There is a similar reserve in Pond’s own choreography, Take/Give, in which she sports enticingly with yards of flowing white cloth. Despite the voluptuous nature of the imagery and of the voice of Leonard Cohen (Take This Waltz), our connection to Pond keeps its distance on the edge of emotion. Perhaps Duncan’s art was so radical in its time that we still expect to be seduced by it, but like the value of money 100 years ago, it takes a lot more now to match it.

There is very little historical about Nina von der Werth, a recent graduate of London Contemporary Dance School, who is clearly influenced by reality television and conceptual dance. Francesco appears on screen to introduce the work that is based on his recent heartache. His commentary on losing his partner, to whom he refers as ‘my little yellow fairy’, takes on the nature of the performance and he is so plaintive and over the top (to a piano accompaniment of Someone Like You) that the audience is not sure whether to laugh or to get out their hankies. The real Francesco appears on stage and Tori, who plays his late love interest, appears in a flurry of yellow feathers to a live recording of (yes) Coldplay’s Yellow. This is already the climax of the work and there is not very much else to say though the duet continues to wild applause (from Coldplay’s performance) and some rather clunky partnering on stage until the departing Tori looks back at Francesco’s despair with calculated pleasure and runs off. Perhaps it should be Francesco who sweeps up the feathers instead of the stagehand. Either way, the feathers do not cooperate with the broom and have to be picked up one by one.

A wooden stool is placed on stage and Johnny Autin steps up to turn slowly, like a revolving mug shot, to a hypnotic violin track (Cajon by Daniel Waples and Flavio Lopez). There is a certain defiance in his strong rounded features. Taksim Square is a work in progress that refers to and is inspired by ‘the recent Turkish protests against Prime Minister Erdogan’s government and the violent clashes with the riot police in Ankara and Istanbul.’ Autin passes his hand across his face, then examines his hand in detail. From these small gestures, he builds up an intense physical portrait of repression that courses through his entire body. At one point he takes off his t-shirt to create a brutish, faceless choreography of the muscles of his back. His mime is clear and his articulation is imbued by a violence that is never far below the surface. Another musical track (the dance inside by Ceccal) accompanies his lightning gestures — a ferocious, internal struggle for sanity — in a square of light like a cell. His arms rise again in a fist, then an open hand, trembling; he suddenly and violently slaps his face, looking ready to explode; his eyes trust no one Once out of his square, facing unseen opponents, his entire body is shaking, answering gesture for gesture with a full-out body language. At the extremes of physical endurance, he nevertheless expresses a calm that reflects his unbowed, unrepentant core to the end. A remarkable performance.


Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna

Posted: July 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna

Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna, Bernie Grant Centre, July 7

Ieva Kuniskis, Charlie Cooper Ford and Helen Aschauer in Gone To Get Milk (photo: D. Matvejevas)

That Chantal Guevara managed to pull this festival together in such a short time is a testament to her untiring entrepreneurship. A lacuna is a gap, but rather than being a gap, Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna is filling one, making a generous opportunity for lesser known choreographers to show their work to the public: nineteen different works by seventeen choreographers over three days. There was no particular theme, no recognizable curatorial intervention: after a three-year hiatus, re-creating the opportunity was itself the catalyst for a strong roster of artists. Bernie Grant Centre was Guevara’s partner in this project and it proved well suited to the festival. Hopefully both will return in mid November for a joint venture, so watch the CDF space.

I was only able to see the last day — one of the hotter days of the year and the day Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon — but clearly Guevara has touched a vibrant nerve in contemporary dance presenting. The quality is uneven but rarely uninteresting. Ieva Kuniskis’s Gone to Get Milk has a strong theatrical value, a sense of humour, and a sense of the absurd. It starts with Helen Aschauer stumbling down from the stalls with an armful of oranges and spilling them on the stage. Because the lighting is still low, she bumps into a figure (Kuniskis) seated at a table before ricocheting off into the wings to pee (the sound of which is amplified into the auditorium, thanks to Peter Humphrey). She returns with a light bulb for the socket suspended above the table and reaches up to screw it in. The reaching morphs into images snatched in poetic concentration from an oppressive daily routine: hanging from an overhead hand rail, washing a floor and painting it, putting a restraining hand over her mouth and pulling out the side wall of her cheek with her finger. Charlie Cooper Ford enters with a milk pail, takes a chair and picks up an orange. Aschauer keeps an eye on him while she takes down her hair. Ford has a neat, small chopping action that suggests food preparation. He drops the orange and measures the room like the servant in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Kuniskis, who has been sitting quietly in the shadows, begins to stir while Ford has a conversation with himself and draws his frame into a Charlie Chaplin figure, pulling on his forelock and stuffing an orange under his chin, ready to waltz. Kuniskis in her peasant dress pulls up her socks (a repeated gesture with both women) and sets up a circular hand and torso movement until the bell rings and she seems to be anticipating hara kiri when Aschauer puts a hand on her wrist to stop her. Ford lightens up the atmosphere by initiating Pass the Orange…. and so it goes on until it reaches the end, which is back at the beginning. The lighting by Mikkel Svak is lovely and the eclectic music provides an aural framework while the visual one is less cohesive. The dreamlike, floating figures of Chagall come to mind: Gone to Get Milk has a multitude of colourful images that almost, but not quite, coalesce in the three dimensions of the theatre. A painting, which is still, can nevertheless move in our imagination; a piece of dance theatre that moves can yet remain relatively still. It is an interesting paradox.

I had seen Joseph Toonga’s work Picture Perfect? early in 2011 at East London Dance when he won that year’s Blueprint Bursary. I had thought then that he was not at ease in his style, which set out to cross the boundaries between hip hop and contemporary. Whatever he has been doing in the intervening two years, Toonga has bridged that gap: Moments, Past has a language of its own that is both mature and confident. He has also assembled an impressive group of dancers, all from London Contemporary Dance School.

When dance works, it doesn’t really matter what the program note says. Moments, Past has fine shapes, dynamic groupings, and a pervasive enthusiasm even if it is not a particularly extrovert work. Choreographed for five dancers to Jocelyn Pook’s Bleeding Soles, the material is divided into a number of solos, duos, trios and ensembles linked stylistically by willowy backbends, lunges, and slides along the floor. Toonga himself is quick, and expressive and Kenny Wing Tao Ho complements him with his explosive precision. Ishaan de Banya, Daniel Baker and Poh Hian Chia complete the lively quintet in what is a refreshingly mature work in a youthful form. Later in the program Toonga presents a short duet, Ours, for Wing Tao Ho and Lucia Txokarro, that is popping meets contemporary dance (a favourite theme Toonga’s) in the guise of boy meets girl. It is in the nature of a relationship to change us as we share, borrow and adapt each others’ thoughts and ideas, which is what the two dancers do in choreographic phrases. Only towards the end do they touch, but soon after it comes all too suddenly to an end.

The challenge for B-Hybrid’s Brian Gillespie is in using music that already has such a strong identity: Cinematic Orchestra’s To Build a Home with Patrick Watson’s hauntingly honeyed voice. Structuring the dance as a series of tableaux illustrating the lyrics (the work is called Foundations) sets apart what we see on stage from what we hear. Although Eloise Sheldon finds the sinuous, ethereal quality of the music in her first solo, and Jumar Aben gets close in his, Foundations loses sight of the music and thus fails to complement it.

The idea of Ceyda Tanc’s Volta is potent: a walking prison dance for six women. ‘In Turkish prisons, to turn your back on your fellow inmate during a walking exercise is a sign of great disrespect. How do we convey this disrespect in everyday life, and how do people react to it?’ There is certainly a lot of walking, and the women keep a hawk-like eye on each other but Tanc has either abstracted the choreography to the point where the meaning is obscured or fallen prey to using dance forms that do not belong in this setting. There is an effective section of grounded, folk-inspired phrases but then the three subsequent duets were seemingly unrelated. I was not sure either if all the dancers were convinced of what they were doing. In a section where all six women are moving in unison, their look is fierce but the look does not come out of the body; it appears superficial. In the end, there seems to be too much walking, and not enough energy coursing through the body to make the walking tell the story Tanc set out to express.

When I first saw John Ross’s Man Down, it was on the tiny Lion & Unicorn stage. It came across as a tight interior landscape, and the space exaggerated the claustrophobic tension within the minds of the two protagonists. On a bigger stage the clarity of the gestures is the same, but the larger space has a tendency to thin down the intensity. However, it is the kind of work that rewards in the re-seeing, for there are so many details — like the officer who stabs himself with the pen that wrote the letter — that make up this passionate panegyric to a fallen solider. Ross performed a preview of another work, Woolfpack the previous evening, which I unfortunately missed.

Ballet slippers in this contemporary environment grab attention, and not necessarily for the right reason. Classical form is already embodied in the dancer’s body; there is no need to flag it with a plethora of classical clichés like bourrées, jetés, arabesques, and promenades. Raymond Chai’s Unbroken Silence may be about strong attraction and rejection, but the classical quotations feel out of place and tend to emasculate the emotion. Both Melanie Lopez and Oliver Freeston are trained in classical dance and if Chai were to choreograph on them without recourse to a single ballet cliché, the classical form would still be visible — especially with Nic Holdridge’s lovely lighting — and he would be free to concentrate on the emotional expression at the heart of the work.

Ella Mesma’s EvoL begins with its most powerful image in which she stands in a small square of light as if rooted to the spot or tied to an imaginary pole in a contradictory pose on the slippery side of yes. Her hand slides up her chest to form a fist under her chin, or traces her body curves up to her neck. ‘Yes!’ she screams, again and again, writhing beyond a point of control, her hand at her throat, ecstatic, while her other hand travels up from the stomach to take displace it. EvoL (LovE spelled backwards) is a solo on the serious theme of grey rape, ‘referring to the myth that sexual assault can sometimes be an accident.’ From that opening image, it is clear that Mesma has the form and the passion to tackle the theme, but as soon as she leaves that small square of light the concentration of energy dissipates with dance moves that meander further away from that initial statement. Nothing quite comes up to that level of communication until at the end, lying in the light, in pain, she says, ‘Yes’, then ‘No, no, no, yes… I said no.’ All the uncertainty and brutality can be found in the beginning and the end. The middle is the grey area.

 

 


Resolution! 2013: PanicLab, Ji-Eun Lee, B-Hybrid Dance

Posted: January 31st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Resolution! 2013: The Place, January 11

PanicLab: Throb: A Cardiovascular Romance

A curtained cubicle in hospital green with a single pillow and a basin of water is not the kind of setting that immediately comes to mind for a work with the provocative title, Throb: A Cardiovascular Romance, but choreographer Joseph Mercier juxtaposes sexual and clinical connotations in this meditation on the proximity of love and care, life and death, light and darkness.

Based on Mercier’s personal experience, Throb: A Cardiovascular Romance is a celebration of a significant event in a commonplace, clinical environment: a carer guides his terminally ill patient through the final stage of his life. It is ‘dedicated to Erin Mercier and many others.’ Throb refers both to the relationship that develops between the carer (Mercier) and his patient (Tim CJ Chew), and to Chew’s heart which is suspended in a jar with a breathing red light that he keeps close to him at all times. As the supine Chew restlessly changes position, Mercier swiftly places the pillow under his head, the two tracing Escher-like patterns on the floor. As Chew’s movements are driven by discomfort, Mercier’s are always tender and solicitous, feeling Chew’s forehead and stroking his temple. As their intimacy grows, Mercier rests Chew’s head on his lap instead of on the pillow and they exchange looks, smiles and sotto voce conversation. The fragile cardiovascular meter glows intermittently, beats and fades, mirrored in the growing pliancy and languor of Chew’s body. We hear the sound of a dog barking but there is no danger in this quiet room. Chew takes off his clothes and Mercier bathes him with a flannel and (one hopes) warm water in the basin. There is a sense of a Pietà in the attitude of the two bodies, the one supporting and the other pliant in decline, though the powerful physical bond is contrasted with the banal sound of the weather forecast on the hospital TV (sound design by Dinah Mullen). Mercier helps Chew on with his clothes and lays down next to him. Their intimacy is highlighted with a kiss before Chew gets weaker and needs to be supported in his efforts to move around. The sounds of a game of billiards and teeth cleaning impinge on the quiet and then a music box plays. As Mercier moves Chew to a new position, Chew no longer has the strength to move his jar; it is now Mercier who holds his friend’s life in his hands. Chew motions to Mercier for his jar, which Mercier places in front of him. It is still faintly alight and beating, but not for long.

Ji-Eun Lee: Play. Back. Again. Then.

From a hospital cubicle we move into an abstract space delineated at its four corners by two dilapidated metal-framed, plastic-seated chairs stacked on top of one another, and a couple of roles of packing tape stuck or looped on to the upturned legs. It is an unsettling image of decay or abandon, yet when Ji-Eun Lee appears on stage as if by accident it is transformed into one of strange beauty and mystery. Lee is tall and thin with a serene, commanding expression that imbues every movement she makes with stillness and purpose. She is aware of her audience, confides in them and draws them inexorably into her intent.

She walks in cradling what appear to be three large oranges; one falls to the ground and she picks it up apologetically, only to drop another and so it goes on until she scoops them up into her skirt and sways across the stage like an exaggeratedly pregnant woman. The oranges are made of soft clay and she places each one carefully on the floor in a diagonal to one of the chairs, stepping back with exaggerated precision, one foot length at a time, crouching lower with each step, like a lioness about to pounce. She returns to her clay oranges and shapes one into a primitive human figure. She takes her time, time that is constantly slowing down to a ritual stillness. She concentrates on modeling each one in turn, working her fine fingers into the flesh of each, three incarnate forms. She steps back from her work and stretches her blouse over her head, looking at us as if through a shaman’s mask. She then marks out an arena by using each chair as a corner and pulling the clear tape from one corner to the next and on round three times. She climbs into her ring and places one clay figure on a chair at the back, and one on each of the front chairs. She now adds another level of meaning by marking out on the stage three small taped squares with an opening on one side with their openings facing each other. She hurries a little with the finishing of the third (the only inkling of an external constraint — the musical line — impinging on her ritual). She places each clay figure in its respective taped enclosure and surveys her work, regarding them each in turn. She responds to each with semaphoric arm signals, increasing the intricacy until she breaks into a beautiful whirlwind phrase of dance that seems to come out of nowhere, a rising storm that breaks and then reverts to stillness as suddenly as it starts. She collapses in front of one of her creations and looks at it with a private intensity, spreading her fingers, investing life into the figure. She frees it, placing it just outside its taped enclosure, and considers carefully. She looks at us to signal her desire to place herself in the enclosure. Having done so, she changes her mind: unlike her clay figures, she has the power to decide her own destiny. She looks at the figures, looks at us and makes her final move: out of the enclosure, out of the taped ring and off the stage. Play. Back. Again. Then is a breath of fresh air in which Lee has created a work of haunting beauty even as she questions her role as creator.

B-Hybrid Dance: Independently Dependent

An element of minimalism has pervaded the first two pieces. Mercier builds up his simple tale in broad pale green strokes with skin tones, while Lee’s work is more akin to calligraphy. Both are quiet and focused, but the final offering on the program, Brian Gillespie’s Independently Dependent, is neither one nor — more importantly — the other. There is no lack of movement among the six dancers but a serious lack of intent. Perhaps the program note threw me: ‘Independently Dependent…explores a girl’s transition as she is swooped from the comfort of childhood and engulfed by a system where independence and dependency go hand in hand. The pressures placed on this youth permits few things to pass into growth.’ The description on The Place’s website does nothing to alleviate the confusion: ‘A bitter-sweet performance in response to a following where innocence is stripped, imagination restrained, and simple play is modernised and materialised. Place in our code-ridden society conflicts with blissful childhood.’ With two such convoluted briefs it is no surprise the resulting choreography passes by without any apparent grasp of its own scenario. What is left is movement that is energetically inarticulate.