Posted: April 1st, 2017 | Author: Nicholas Minns | Filed under: Performance | Tags: An Archaeology of Me, Chapter, Deborah Light | Comments Off on Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me
Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me, Chapter, Cardiff, March 17
Deborah Light in a sharing of Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me (photo: Warren Orchard)
Four years after chipping away at the inner life of the nineteenth century paleontologist Mary Anning in The Curio Cabinet, and six months into carrying a third child, Deborah Light has been turning her choreographic imagination to an excavation of her own life in an array of objects collected from the rocks and crevices of her mind and body. In this sharing of a development phase for a new work, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me, she regales the invited audience in the studio at Chapter with a running commentary of her evolution that Darwin himself might have enjoyed if not fully appreciated. Nevertheless, her condensed trajectory from chordate to choreographer and from mollusk to mother is an accelerated but otherwise totally convincing line.
The studio is laid out with tables (they could be glass cases in a museum) on which are arrayed the objects and specimens Light has chosen to represent her. There is no particular order but they include balls of wool and knitting needles (her mother’s influence), fossils, rocks, seeds (her partner’s influence), her grandfather’s mantle clock, flowerpots and books (her private passion), all of which she invites the audience to inspect and handle. There are two other tables that are littered with notes or laid with paper for our written suggestions and interjections.
Kneeling on all fours in front of the clock Light demonstrates with rhythmic dorsal undulations the early chordate’s need for structural reorganization, then evolves into the shape of the mollusk’s hard shell and with evolutionary haste bypasses the seed’s slow-burning life with the vital attempt to stand up. This leads her to the table marked What’s Important on which she asks someone to add, ‘standing up’ and, as she catches her breath, ‘breathing’. As a mother of small children she also adds ‘dry pants’ to the growing list and as a human being she adds, ‘world peace’. In the space of an hour Semi Detached – An Archeology of Me builds up delightfully disparate layers of autobiographical sediment that form Light’s own particular landscape, her own history at this particular moment in her life, and as the unique curator she animates it all as both subject and object. She listens to the sounds of her own name as we might address it, as her mother might have pronounced it, as her children might call it, as she might have called her mother. It is harrowing and deeply moving to hear her label herself with these inflections of welcome, caution, fear and love, scratching under the name to give it life, identity and meaning.
Light has learned from raising her children that the art of dissembling can be very effective in keeping cool under fire. The way she leads us to believe the ‘indispensable’ bear, Mishu, is indeed borrowed from her five-year-old son as she proceeds to dissect his wooly chest with clinical precision is a master class in psychological manipulation. It also turns into a lesson in genetic association at a molecular level and a brief survey of an endangered species. ‘This species of bear will have to adapt’, she adds firmly as we all take a deep breath and follow her at a distance with our eyes.
Continuing to conflate the structures of archaeology and family, Light recreates a symbolic generational skeleton that she animates with her great grandmother’s Motherhood Book as brain, stones as vertebrae, the clock as biological time, a pot of seeds as ovaries and a rock as fused pelvis. She reinstates Mishu as the heart covered in a pinafore handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.
As if her version of evolution is totally logical, she totters across the room in two flowerpots with a ball of wool that she strings between pieces of table and chair like a game her mother used to play. She is gently inciting us to respond like children, to break through the historical into the present moment, but I think the episode with Mishu has kept us at arms length.
Archaeology and family life come full circle; Light’s final intervention reminds us of the nature of time, of the cyclical nature of starting and finishing. She takes off her outer garments and lies supine in her underwear on the What’s Important table, lying there so still like a living sarcophagus with her belly breathing two lives, while a recording of Handel’s aria Ombra Mai Fu infuses the image with the beauty of both life and death. When she rises to signal the end of the performance, some of the felt tip words are imprinted on her back. At moments like this you know something profoundly significant has just transpired, held in the moment and never to be repeated. It is a privileged moment for Light to be performing this and for us to be witnessing it, but the inspired and nonconformist workings of Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me clearly have life after birth.
Posted: August 22nd, 2016 | Author: Nicholas Minns | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Beth Powlesland, Cardiff, Chapter, Chloe Loftus, Coreo Cymru, Deborah Light, Groundwork Pro, Jessie Brett, Joanna Young | Comments Off on An introduction to Groundwork Pro in Cardiff
A multi-modal introduction to Groundwork Pro, Chapter, June 8
Groundwork Pro, working from the ground up (photo: James Merryweather)
When a young Gillian Lynn was taken by her mother to see a psychiatrist to assess her ability to learn, the wise man observed to her mother there was nothing wrong with her: she just needed to dance. Fortunately her mother followed his advice and Lynn found to her amazement that at dance school there were other kids who could not sit still; they had to dance in order to think.
Joanna Young and Deborah Light took this notion on board in their inaugural session of Groundwork Pro, a new Cardiff-based, artist-led collective, on the final day of Dance Roads at Chapter in Cardiff. The confluence of this workshop with Dance Roads, featuring dancers from five EU countries, was not coincidental. Referencing the cultural state of affairs the EU referendum threatened to affect, Young and Light titled it, Are We Independent or Interdependent Artists?
By definition ‘independent’ means free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority. In purely artistic terms each artist in the room is independent. But when training, performing opportunities and funding structures are taken into account, the notion of independence is no longer sufficient. A dance infrastructure in which artists can grow and thrive together in a relation of interdependence is necessary. The EU itself is an interdependent infrastructure in the political sphere and the result of the UK referendum has underlined just how fragile and volatile such a structure can be. There is nothing natural about any social structure; it is constructed according to the wishes and the constraints of the people it sets out to serve. It has to remain relevant. This in itself creates interdependence not as a requirement but as an effect of careful, continued planning. When the structure no longer serves the needs of its community, its effectiveness is diminished. By inviting artists in Wales to meet with their international peers from France, Holland, Italy and Roumania in a physical workshop, Young and Light wanted to provide an opportunity for open exchange, provocative questions and play, through which they hoped to clarify a basis on which to build a thriving dance community in Wales.
Because dancers use their bodies to think, Young and Light devised ways to articulate ideas in movement. Walking around the room is one way, loosening up our interactions with people we may not know; or by choosing three objects in the room and placing them somewhere inside the circle we have made, stating why that particular object and why that particular place. Humour arises from this kind of interaction and humour is a potent means of breaking down barriers. Closing our eyes and walking slowly from one end of the room to the other involves trust and group coordination. No strategies were formed during these exercises but we were becoming a unified group and when we were asked questions by Young or Light the responses and the freedom with which they were expressed were revelatory. We wrote phrases on long pieces of paper, or we called out an idea that someone else noted down. Discussing together whilst sitting on the floor was another strategy (this is groundwork after all). The process was like performing a guided improvisation. Actually it was a guided improvisation in which our moves and expressions formed the content of the work.
Groundwork Pro is an experiment, currently running a 6-month pilot. Its aim is to create a hub of activities in Cardiff that allow dancers and choreographers to develop their art as a community while connecting with developments in the UK and internationally. Activities include classes — teaching will be shared between Wales-based artists and their UK and international counterparts — and performances. Groundwork Pro also wants to highlight the work of practitioners in Wales and to provide artists with paid work that sustains and nourishes their practice. Supported by Coreo Cymru and Chapter in terms of studio space, reduced ticket prices and other support in kind, Groundwork Pro is funded by Arts Council Wales which allows assistance to Wales-based artists for travel, accommodation, access needs and childcare, as needed. Artists from outside Wales are welcome to attend events but the access fund is limited to Wales-based artists.
Groundwork Pro is now creating the opportunities that fulfill what the participants in the room felt were important. Such a structure is fragile, and in a sense needs to remain fragile to be able to respond to new demands, new directions, to keep alive the interdependence. It is equally vital that the participants, or members, of Groundwork Pro, support it actively and creatively so it doesn’t become a co-dependence. There will be ups and downs, but this is groundbreaking, as in laying the foundations for a new structure. What is built on this new structure will be the fruit of not just the initial meeting but of all the interactions and activities created for the purpose of nurturing the dance community in Cardiff and in all of Wales.
The Groundwork Pro team is Joanna Young, Chloe Loftus, Jessie Brett, Beth Powlesland and Deborah Light. For more information on activities and schedules, visit www.groundworkpro.com.
Posted: August 10th, 2015 | Author: Nicholas Minns | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Caitlin, Chapter, Deborah Light, Dylan Thomas, Eddie Ladd, Gwyn Emberton, Neil Davies, Sion Orgon, Thighpaulsandra | Comments Off on Light, Ladd & Emberton: Caitlin
Light, Ladd & Emberton: Caitlin, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, August 5
Eddie Ladd wrapped around Gwyn Emberton in Light, Ladd & Emberton’s Caitlin (photo: Warren Orchard)
“My husband was a very famous poet and I was going to be a very famous dancer,” says Caitlin wistfully at the beginning of her eponymous show as she revisits the ambitions and disappointments of her life with Dylan Thomas. It was a famously unfaithful, fractious yet inseparable relationship recorded in Caitlin’s Leftover Life to Kill and in numerous biographies of Dylan. In their recreation of the relationship, however, the team of Deborah Light (director), Eddie Ladd (Caitlin) and Gwyn Emberton (Dylan) decided not to follow the well-trodden textual paths but instead built a high energy, highly physical language to convey the passions of these two lives to the point of overflowing. It is not a pretty work of artistic-romance-turned-alcoholic-upheaval but a brutally subjective reconstruction that makes use of the dispassionate, mass-produced folding chair as an extension of the body to express the rage, subservience, servitude, consummation and consumption that infused, confused and ultimately broke apart these two lives for ever.
The folding chair is in itself emotionally neutral but something happened during rehearsals for Caitlin to make the folding chair a central metaphor for the entire story. Upturned and backwards, it becomes a low highchair on which Emberton turns quietly reading Agatha Christie and stuffing sweets; it is used on different occasions as a straightjacket, a noose, a yoke, even Dylan’s penitential cross. Folded, stacked and loaded on Ladd’s back or balancing on her head it is her intractable burden; laid on her supine figure it becomes a self-imposed grave and tombstone on which Emberton lays his manuscript in hommage. It is a token bed, a dais for Dylan’s recitals and unfolded and precariously stacked, a fêted throne from which he topples and crashes. The chairs are also thrown, scattered, refolded and stacked like pieces of a desperate game in tune with the narrative tide.
As we arrive in the studio at Chapter, however, the red or grey chairs form a harmonious circle in the centre, a stasis. We occupy only the twenty grey chairs; on some of the red ones are assorted plastic cups, sweets/pills and a rumpled manuscript. The circle takes its inspiration from the form of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with which Caitlin became familiar some 20 years after Dylan’s death in 1953. “My name is Caitlin and I’m an alcoholic,” says Ladd at the end, but the end is a lifetime away from the beginning.
Emberton is sitting in the circle as we enter to take our seats. He is dressed casually, inconspicuously, and looks as if he is waiting, like us, for the performance to begin. Ladd walks in with an almost imperceptible flounce in a red tartan skirt and an embroidered velvet top the colour of blood (costumes by the subtly imaginative Neil Davies) and sits on her hands to deliver her matter-of-fact opening line. She engages her audience directly, looking around at us as if we are all complicit in her situation, knowing we know what she knows but determined to refresh her side of it with grim familiarity. Emberton is immediately drawn to her as if he is seeing her for the first time and runs to plant his face in her lap. This is the connection that sets their fate; he will return to this place as often as he needs absolution, forgiveness, reassurance, sex. ‘It was going to be a truce between his brain and my body’ she says as she wraps herself around his head like a scarf, his mouth filled with her thighs. They collapse, not for the last time, under the weight of each other’s passion.
This is Caitlin’s story, her circle of chairs and we are her guests; Dylan is merely the argument, the flashback, the colour and flame in her story. Emberton’s focus is fixed on Ladd; his eyes are dead to all but her. She is the one who engages us directly with her eyes and irony: “He wrote three poems that year; I gave birth to our third child,” she bristles, her motherly activities contrasting with the famous husband standing on a chair silently intoning his immortal words. “We were supposed to be equal”, she adds, withdrawing a chair rudely from the circle while Emberton pushes his to the centre. The harmony of the chairs is broken and the domestic tension breaks with it as they both bounce off the walls in inebriated, screaming abandon and crawl on all fours with the empty plastic cups held tightly in their teeth. The soundscore of Thighpaulsandra manipulated by Sion Orgon punctuate the action with unnerving accuracy.
After more drinking and pills and vomiting the chairs go flying; ours are the only ones left in the circle. “That year he went to America for the first time” Ladd informs us, rocking a chair like a cradle, while Emberton spins dizzyingly outside the circle. In between building his throne of chairs on the other side of the Atlantic (from the wreckage of chairs in the family circle) he returns to Caitlin to be ‘tickled by the rub of love’ which inevitably turns into a brutal battle, reconciliation, head rubbing and departure on yet another North American tour. At four chairs high Dylan’s throne finally topples and Emberton crashes to the ground; Ladd in a circle that has suddenly lost its tension falls to the floor in shock.
The difference between Dylan and Caitlin is that Dylan was able to transform his desires into words that gained him immortality while Caitlin remained unfulfilled outside her family circle. All she knows is that without her Dylan would not have succeeded. Resigned to this and proud, she thanks us for listening. What she cannot see is that Light, Ladd & Emberton have made her a gift of her chosen art in providing her with a rich body of language she was unable to develop during her life with Dylan.
Caitlin was commissioned by National Library of Wales and funded by Arts Council Wales. It is supported by Volcano, Chapter, Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Borough Theatre Abergavenny. It will be at the Edinburgh Fringe from August 21-30 at DanceBase.
Posted: October 8th, 2013 | Author: Nicholas Minns | Filed under: Coverage | Tags: Andrea Gallo Rosso, Beth Powlesland, Carole Blade, Chapter, Dance Roads Open Process, Emmanuel Grivet, Jasper van Luijk, Jefta Tanate, Jo Fong, Laura Lee Greenhalg, Luca Cacitti, Manolo Perazzi, Pauline Buenerd, Sarah Bronsard, Teilo Troncy | Comments Off on Dance Roads Open Process
Sarah Bronsard in 4 kilos
Dance Roads is a European Network, working in partnership with Montreal-based organisation Tangente, dedicated to supporting innovative choreographers and providing them with an opportunity to emerge on to the international stage.
It was a privilege to be able to observe the process of creation at Dance Roads Open Process (DROP) at Chapter in Cardiff for the two weeks from September 16.
The process of creation starts with the human being at the heart of the idea who then searches for some kind of form to mould the idea on to a body or bodies. The life of the dancers in the work — which is part of their interpretation — then transforms the idea further, so by the time the public sees it, a dance work has undergone the successive overlays of creator, performer, and other artistic collaborators (like composer, costume, set and lighting designers) to form a complex interplay of human communication. In addition, as you will see in these five works, the subject matter is very personal, so that the link between our own life and that of the work is barely distinct from the relationship between two people. I have found at Dance Roads that getting to know each choreographer has led me to an appreciation of their respective works, an appreciation that resides as much on the personal level as on formal aesthetics or philosophical research; the gift of dance is the opening up of our lives to receive it.
One might object that we don’t always have the option of this level of knowledge before we see a work; that a dance performance should stand on its own feet. In its final form, I would agree. But I would suggest that this personal element is an integral part of the process of creation and must be taken into account in any appreciation of the final work. It also has an impact on how we might communicate the nature of dance performances — especially contemporary dance — to the public. Program notes and post-show talks thus take on particular significance.
I would also like to talk about respect. Consider this answer from the choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton on being asked to define choreography:
Choreography is my whole being, my whole life, my reason for living. I pour into it all my love, my frustrations and sometimes autobiographical details. To me in many ways it has more reality than the life that I live. I couldn’t conceive of existing unless I could do choreography.
If a choreographer invests this much of his or her life into a work, the work deserves our attention and respect whether we like it or not. Mutual respect is at the heart of our humanity. Throughout this two-week residency, I have been able to observe and learn about the lives of the choreographers and dancers in the process of creation: their way of working, the organization of their work, the fragility with which an idea is grown from a seed and its manifestation in form and rhythm. We have a lot to learn from all five of these choreographers and I am grateful to them for opening up their lives and the inspiration they have provided as a result.
In Sarah Bronsard’s case, she had performed a work called 4 Kilos in her native Montreal; her subject was the life of the cicada, its evolution from a long period of gestation to its brief, sonorous outing in the sunshine before dying. She became pregnant soon after the performance and gave birth to Adrien who is now 4 months old and is here with her. The work she is creating for Dance Roads is a sequel to 4 Kilos not in its formal structure or thought (though related) but in the light of her subsequent pathway of motherhood. The starting point of Jo Fong’s work is an exploration of the dichotomy between the performers and the audience that derives from a mind that is constantly questioning the status quo. Her earliest work was made on such a small scale that only one person could see it at a time, and there is still that intimacy in the way she works. Watching her in class each morning with Emmanuel Grivet has been another illuminating insight into her singular way of working. She is her work, and Laura Lee Greenhalg and Beth Powlesland are not only responsive to her way of working but represent different characteristics of Jo: her comical sense of the absurd and a dream-like sense of beauty.
Perhaps one can read too much into the life of a choreographer but I could not help make a connection between the serious accident that Andrea Gallo Rosso suffered as a teenager when a car hit him with the compassion that he exudes in his work and in his working process with Manolo Perazzi. Having had to challenge the frailty of his body and to stimulate its capacity to heal, he works with great patience and respect for the body and the person. He also brings into the studio five years of research in bio-medical physics: he experiments with movement until he gets the result he wants. He is also unique in the group as he is both choreographer and performer. But more than that, he filters what for me is quintessentially Italian — commedia del’arte, Vittorio de Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves, photographs by Richard Avedon of the street performer Zazi and I Pagliacci — into a living, contemporary form. Jasper van Luijk was an accomplished ballroom dancer who subsequently studied philosophy at university and was quickly drawn in to contemporary dance. All these elements are present in his work: his sense of the flow of movement, the philosophical exploration of withdrawal, death and mourning, and the formal use of the well-trained and responsive bodies of Jefta Tanate and Luca Cacitti to shape one movement into another. I am constantly amazed at how quickly he seizes on a solution to a choreographic problem; he knows what he wants, and I am confident he will continue to find it. Teilo Troncy studied theatre in Bordeaux before moving to Holland to train in dance. His approach to choreography is quite different from van Luijk’s; through his own developing state of curiosity, he is like a coach or a guide researching the inner states that he wants to manifest on stage, a delicate and fragile task, both for himself and his muse, Pauline Buenerd, in which he perseveres with the utmost sincerity. I found a book in Cardiff, a translation of Jean-Louis Barrault’s Réflexions sur le Théâtre and in it I came across Barrault’s definition of subjective mime, which could very well refer to Troncy’s work: ‘the study of the states of the soul translated into bodily expression. The metaphysical attitude of man in space.’
Each of these choreographers was chosen independently from five different countries, but the happy confluence of their creative approaches in Dance Roads is matched by their singular integrity.
This is also the first year that a mentor has been invited to help in the creative process and Emmanuel Grivet seems to have just the right approach to accomplish this. His work in improvisational movement has a universality that allows all the dancers to participate in morning class without contradicting any of their own individual technique. In particular his concept of centre leads in practice to a freedom of movement that enhances not only body but mind. In his mentorship of each creation he brings that freedom into the theatre so that his intervention is not invasive of any work already done, encourages a free development and yet advances the work. In short Grivet has provided the kind of supportive environment in which each of these choreographers can develop their work. Open Process describes it well even if the acronym DROP has connotations that move in the wrong direction to the creative flow.
The Dance Roads tour will take place in May 2014. For dates, please see the Dance Roads website.