Cloud Dance Friends

Posted: December 21st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Dance Friends

Cloud Dance Friends, New Diorama Theatre, November 29  

Miranda MacLetten and Daniel Whiley in John Ross's Blink (photo: Chris Jackson)

Miranda MacLetten and Daniel Whiley in John Ross’s Blink (photo: Chris Jackson)

Chantal Guevara’s birthday celebration this year includes, before the chocolate cake, a performance at the New Diorama Theatre by Cloud Dance Festival alumni and friends; it is the kind of event for dancers and choreographers to try out new work in as relaxed an atmosphere as any public performance can be.

Elise Nuding, who opens the evening with a first performance of her I, object, bravely juxtaposes linguistics and wordplay with choreography. She writes, ‘This little nugget emerged during a particularly frustrating period of article writing, as I grappled with the slipperiness of words and their implications.’ The struggle is apparent both in her semantic parsing and in her accumulative gestures. As she arrives at each breakthrough in her argument, Nuding takes off a layer of clothes; by the end she has only got to the level of underwear, which suggests this slippery little battle has not yet reached its logical conclusion. Nevertheless I, object reveals a sophisticated aesthetic at work that, depending on what Nuding does with it, makes this nugget either ‘a small lump of gold’ or ‘a valuable idea or fact.’

I am not sure why Mike Williams titles his work 4’33 after the famous John Cage piece of music and makes it last 8 minutes. Why not call it 8’? Besides, a dance in the spirit of Cage’s 4’33 would have no movement but there is plenty in Williams’ angular, long-limbed plasticity though (at least in this evening’s performance) there is a lack of pliable technique to get the most out of it. Cage’s 4’33 contains a world of ideas — his love of silence, the withdrawal of music from the score, his delight in incidental sounds — but Williams’ dance, for all its movement, lacks this kind of philosophical integrity; he points in the right direction but doesn’t embody what he wants to convey and his final gesture for silence underlies the self-conscious conceit of the whole.

Jason Mabana’s Hidden, a duet for himself and Jacob O’Connell, is driven by a tactile quality, part ferocious, part gentle, that describes ‘the ambiguity of a relationship between two conflicted and dominant people.’ Mabana’s choreography carries its imagery with great strength and poetry like a smooth, rich baritone in a youthful body. There is both a singing quality to Mabana and O’Connell’s movement and a silence in the way they dance that leaves our visual and visceral senses free to enjoy the movement without unwanted punctuation. Hidden achieves what it sets out to do with a purity and sincerity that are refreshing.

Humanah Productions’ Egress starts off with a pile of bodies from which the one underneath slithers out with great difficulty to stand but collapses from its independence and returns to the heap. It is a metaphor of growth and departure in the form of a game, one of many ludic adventures in the work that lead the performers to set out on their own paths without forsaking their social cohesion. The games take the form of a structured improvisation but despite the energy of the performers and the inspired live music Egress never really evolves beyond that initial phase of innocent play.

I saw Anna-Lise Marie Hearn’s Our Physical Intentions at the Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform at the Galvanizers Union pub not long ago where the intimacy of the setting enhanced the intimacy of the thought processes that weave their way through the work and where the intensity of Eleanor Mackinder, in particular, was palpable. It was as if we were watching a conversation between three people in the same room. Even though the stage at the New Diorama is not exactly large, the dancers appear isolated in space. Perhaps there is something else at work: the nature of Our Physical Intentions is an ‘exploration of how our thoughts directly determine and influence our emotions’ but on a seemingly subcutaneous level. The costumes (by Inês Neto dos Santos) resemble the patchwork system of the body’s nervous system and the three performers (Mackinder, Laura Boulter and Lydia Costello) are as much a ‘cognitive pattern’ of thoughts, emotions and reactions as they are flesh and blood. Danced stories have traditionally read from the outside to the inner emotions whereas Hearn turns the process inside out: you follow the process to arrive at a story. In a larger space, however, the internal processes (Mackinder’s intense expression, for example) are less easy to read, distancing them from the story on which they are based.

Yukiko Masui’s Unbox is an ‘investigation into cross-genre movements which aim to be unidentified as a dance genre’ in which she is ‘searching for a place that people cannot put me in a category as a dancer or a person.’ Indeed all we see of her at first is the fingers of one hand playing in a circle of down-light, and when she steps into the light we see a heavily clothed and hooded figure with the physical mien of a young man. She moves in a macho, feline way, mixing contemporary and street dance with androgynous strength and sensitivity though by the time she develops her beautiful, spiral movements the female is in the ascendant. Having expressed so succinctly in dance form the strength and ambiguity of her presence, the conclusion of Unbox appears to contradict the latter part of Masui’s goal: she makes a point of categorizing her identity by letting down her hair and removing layers of clothing. The mystery has evaporated.

In John Ross’s work, Blink — a single chapter previewing a longer work — the symbolic and the expressive are both present in the gestural body. Loosely based on a short novel by Mitch Albom, ‘The five people you meet in heaven’, Blink follows the sensory trail of Eddie (Daniel Whiley) who, having just died and before entering heaven, meets five important people from specific periods in his life. This episode involves his wife (Miranda MacLetten). I have already written about Whiley’s ability — in Sally Marie’s I loved you and I loved you — to plumb the depths of a movement to present us with the clarity of the imperceptible. In Blink Ross works with this ability, exploring the form and substance of a man whose memory is so far detached from the living as to borrow from a spectral world. At one point MacLetten calls his name, which sends a shudder of recognition through Whiley and brings out tears of distant recollection. His body is the material of this dematerialization, a duality Ross expresses in and out of light, seen and not seen. The intriguing power of Blink is the way Ross brings together these contradictions to make visible a relationship that MacLetten remembers all too well but Whiley only senses through his faltering gestures: his nose nuzzling her shoulder, his dancing with her on her toes as if he has no weight or motion of his own or in his tremulous singing an old, shared song. Ross is adept at creating these kind of in-between experiences, between life and death, between remembrance and loss with a subtlety and sensitivity that both MacLetten and Whiley embody so convincingly and that composer Greg Haines nurtures with a haunting, other-worldly solo piano score. Blink may be a fragment, but it contains the promise of something substantial.

I can’t help sensing Estela Merlos is slaying some of her demons in her solo, UKOK, so fiercely provocative is it. Merlos has a lot of fire in the flash of her eyes but there is also a poetic flow in the powerful dislocation of space her movement provokes. While she writes that the work is ‘inspired by the alliance of women with nature in nomadic culture’, Merlos clearly identifies viscerally with the ‘intuition and vigilance of the feminine figure’: she transforms it into a force that surges through her body to the extremities of her splayed fingers and stamping feet with total conviction. It is a fitting conclusion to an evening that celebrates Chantal Guevara’s love of and determination to promote the rich seam of independent dance.


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.

 

 


Cloud Dance Sundays

Posted: June 5th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Cloud Dance Sundays, Lion & Unicorn, Kentish Town, May 19

Bravo to Chantal Guevara for getting Cloud Dance Sundays (www.cloud-dance-sundays.com) underway, aiming to provide ‘monthly evenings of good contemporary dance in the comfort of a cosy pub – a great way to end the week, with time for a drink or two downstairs before heading home.’ On this first outing:

Rachel Burn, Pull Through, Flick.

Anna Pearce and Lauren Bridle in Pull Through, Flick. Photo: Chantal Guevara

Anna Pearce and Lauren Bridle in Pull Through, Flick. Photo: Chantal Guevara

One can almost feel cold flagstones underfoot in the tiny Giant Olive theatre in Kentish Town’s Lion & Unicorn as a sweeping trio of pre-Raphaelite women enters with the somberness of a procession of nuns. Rachel Burn’s Pull Through, Flick builds up images of darkness, pain, and penitence as the women shed and share veils in communal bereavement. Hildegard von Bingen’s O Pastor Animarium sets the tone as the shape of Lauren Bridle, shrouded in a veil, moves in a grey ecclesiastical light, shuffling from one foot to the other as if loosening her roots. Laura Erwin takes the pose of a classical orator with one hand on stomach and the other at her throat, unable to breathe, unable to speak, a blur of pain as Bridle and Anna Pearce coil around each other and around the stage in mutual support. The tone of Pull Through, Flick is predominantly mournful and the score between the glorious von Bingen bookends does not relieve the gloom, but somewhere in the middle Bridle slips into a stormy, spiral solo that releases a sense of light as if she holds some ineffable secret. Her beautiful lines and circles last momentarily but when she rejoins Pearce and Erwin on their knees and the night of penitence, cleansing and submission descends again, the knowledge of that solo pulls me through. Not a flick exactly, and I’m not sure about the hope, but there was a moment of light.

John Ross, Man Down.

John Ross in Man Down. Photo: Chantal Guevara

John Ross in Man Down. Photo: Chantal Guevara

As John Ross kneels in a pool of light, the voice of Matthew Lackford reads the opening paragraph of a letter from the platoon commander of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to the soldier’s mother. Ross replays the soldier’s last moments in a series of abstract gestures — kneeling, crawling, urging, now standing, crumpling, turning — that he imbues with a maturity (gained perhaps through his research) that transforms these gestures into a commanding presence, a commanding officer: signaling, enjoying the danger, throwing himself out of harm’s way, then getting up and seeing it coming. Hit, he crumples, hands to ears, muffling the sounds of gunfire and perhaps hearing the urgent shouts of “Where, where, where?” but unable to respond. We are inside his head, aware of his mortality. Ross stands up looking back at where the fallen soldier lay. He is now the platoon commander, bravado gone, standing at ease with his troops, 19-year old boys any of whom could become, like their former colleague, a dead man. He looks away, tries to take it all in and throws up; he looks for memories, for friends, but finds only a nightmare of loss, throwing up again and violently throwing himself to the ground. Ross shows the reaction to the violent death of a comrade is more violent than the experience of death itself. Defeated by the loss, the violence, the brutality, the commander’s eyes — and Ross’s — seem to have seen what ours have not. He stands, takes off his top and turns his back, on which is written across his shoulder blade Bang! and a small hole just behind the heart: expressing the inexpressible. The performance is not only remarkable for its maturity and in avoiding any cloying sentimentality, but for the sound collage in which Ross has seamlessly layered a grungy, churned up track from Nine Inch Nails with his own thoughtful instrumentation and battleground sounds. A gem.

Tom Jackson Greaves, Vanity Fowl

Tom Jackson Greaves in Vanity Fowl. Photo: Chantal Guevara

Tom Jackson Greaves in Vanity Fowl. Photo: Chantal Guevara

Vanity Fowl follows an ordinary man, full of the usual insecurities that affect us all. A man who craves love, friendship and the need to belong…’ So begins the program note, with a title that could have come straight from early Matthew Bourne. In fact Tom Jackson Greaves has danced with New Adventures and Vanity Fowl was the runner up in the New Adventures Choreography Award last year, but although there is certainly something of Bourne in Vanity Fowl, Greaves has a sincerity and a self-deprecating sense of humour that sets him apart. His style does not wander far from his own physical capabilities, and its idiosyncrasy may prove to be limiting when he creates on other bodies, but here he is on his own territory creating on himself an imaginary rite of passage in three movements, which he labels Commonplace, Grace, and Disgrace. These designations are misleading: the trajectory is from gauche and stammering to rousingly articulate and back to self doubt and despair.

The context is set in a filmed introduction, a chic bar peopled with the stylish and the beautiful, where Greaves appears underdressed and out of character with everyone dancing around him. He catches the eye of an impossibly vain man who comes up to shake his hand and ridicule his appearance. This is the point at which Greaves comes on stage to prolong the handshake so we see only his reactions to the unseen man’s overarching snobbery and withering assessment. Greaves’ timing and squirming responses are very funny as he is skewered to the dance floor. The middle, transformative section begins with a Cinderella moment in his flat when he takes from his cupboard and puts on a handsome mirror jacket (courtesy of Theo Clinkard). His inhibitions fall away and he returns to the chic bar to dance his dreams. This is Greaves giving his all, and he does it effectively until the mirrored jacket falls apart, like the clock striking midnight. Self-doubt assails him once again as he props up his smiling face in his framed hands, removes his jacket and curls up on what is left of it in the dying light: not so much disgrace as sincerity about the superficial.