Dance Umbrella 2017: Shoreditch Takeover

Posted: October 31st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Shoreditch Takeover

Dance Umbrella 2017, Shoreditch Takeover, Shoreditch Town Hall, October 28

Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan (photo: Luc Depreitere)

The final party of Dance Umbrella 2017 at Shoreditch Town Hall continues the festival’s experiments in matching dance and architecture, the body and its forms of expression. The theme of Shoreditch Takeover could well be the power of the moving word: Julie Cunningham & Company’s Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows is inspired by the writings of French feminist and literary theorist Monique Wittig; Lisbeth Gruwez embodies the songs of poet Bob Dylan, and Vanessa Kisuule performs a selection of her own poetry. For the word-weary there is Charles Linehan’s 18-minute choreographic film, The Shadow Drone Project, that loops silently in a space of its own throughout the evening. Shoreditch Town Hall was never designed for dance, but this pairing of dance and spoken word neatly blends its municipal role with a temporary focus on communicative performance.

Coming into the elegantly proportioned Assembly Hall for Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows, there is a heightened sense of order in the rectangle of black floor, the haphazard arrangement of lyre-backed chairs — some upturned or leaning against another like the silent aftermath of a domestic quarrel — and Richard Godin’s diffused lighting with the faintest whiff of haze. Three women enter in the dark; Anna Martine Freeman sits but in a gentle light Hannah Burfield and Londiwe Khoza start to recreate in halting, abstract terms their personal quarrel to which the mute chairs bear witness, an irretrievable chasm within the suggestion of an embrace. Freeman remains silent, untying her boots as she recalls through her skin the discomfort of the injurious past, when from behind the audience Cunningham enters noisily into the present like a latecomer in a skimpy black outfit supported on high-heeled boots and topped with a long unruly blonde wig. She minces directly to Freeman and climbs over her like an exotic dancer called upon to perform for a client. Cunningham’s raw, explicit imagery contrasts emotionally and spatially with duet of Burfield and Khoza, who wait for the right moment to slip away. Off come the wig and boots as Cunningham explores the relationship between Wittig’s textual imagery (delivered by Freeman) and her own. But while Freeman gives a forceful, emotionally mature reading through her gestures and the very texture of her voice, Cunningham’s response feels self-conscious, lacking the emotional potency conveyed in the spoken words. By the time Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows finishes, the order in the room has been replaced by a sense of unease.

Downstairs in the Council Chamber, Vanessa Kisuule presents a colourful set of her poems, following on from Freeman in delivering not only the words but the gestures that carry them. Dance is a non-verbal art form but used in the right way Kisuule reminds us these silent gestures move through figures of speech and poetic images in celebration of the sensual non-verbal eloquence of the poetry. Kisuule whets the appetite with a poem entitled Rosé, and follows it with a ribald tale about shaving assholes (‘the crassist of bathroom ballets’) before delivering in a soft patina of an American accent a dark, poignant reflection on Martin Luther King told through the voice of one of his lovers. Effusive, expressive and irrepressible, Kisuule then reads a touching tribute to her Ugandan grandmother before a final bullet-point poem of irreverent reflections.

Back upstairs after the intermission, Lisbeth Gruwez and musician/composer Maarten Van Cauwenberghe stand behind the sound console with the relaxed attitude of old friends and the nervous excitement of waiting for the audience to settle. Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan is what’s written on the tin, like the iconic covers of Dylan’s early vinyl LPs resting on the floor against the console. Van Cauwenberghe slips out a record on to a turntable and lowers the needle while Gruwez stands in bare feet and casual clothes, an image of expectancy in a field of energy. These are early songs, fresh, acoustic and enthusiastic; again we are reminded that words move and transport us into the worlds they create through the sensuality of sound and inflection. It is difficult to establish exactly where Gruwez positions herself in these songs though she is rhythmically attuned and the odd gesture picks out an accent in the poetic sequence of words. She is neither illustrating the songs, nor simply doing her own thing with them; it’s as if she has turned the rasp and lilt of Dylan’s dancing voice inside out and given it powerful, fluid gestures and an intense gaze; at times she even resembles Dylan. She relishes the verbal musicality, capturing the idiosyncrasies of Dylan’s alliterations, the expansiveness of his metaphors, and the minimalism of his synecdoche with exuberant delight and elegant nonchalance, but at the same time her gestures set up other images. Walking slowly upstage in Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, her white silk shirt sticking to her skin and emphasizing the muscular rippling in her back, she is like the lonely hero in Wim Wenders’s film Paris Texas; in the glorious Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands we see her floating bare-legged on the floor in a pool of light that Van Cauwenberghe guides around and over her, reflecting in the shiny black surface a seamless depiction of femininity in Western art from Venus to St Theresa. Catching her breath, she tenderly asks the audience ‘Is everyone all right’? Gruwez is very much at ease on stage; she comments on her own actions and jokes with Van Cauwenberghe in asides between songs and then climbs back inside the voice, romping delightfully through Subterranean Homesick Blues before inviting us to select a song (Hurricane is chosen), take off our shoes and join her on the stage to dance Bob Dylan together.

In the intermission, there were too many people in the room watching Linehan’s film projection, The Shadow Drone Project, to be able to stand back and contemplate Karolis Janulis’ (already) long-distance photography from a drone of dancing figures in various landscapes. We returned after Gruwez and before the DJ had started up in the Council Chambers. Linehan has made choreographic poetry of the aerial photography by featuring the extended shadows of dancers in the late sunshine; we are watching their patterns superimposed on the dancing patterns of the landscape or shoreline. It’s a serenely simple concept and the result takes dancing to another distant realm, totally enchanting and surreal at the same time.


Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill

Posted: June 8th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill

Transitions Dance Company, Triple Bill, Laban Theatre, June 1

Giannis Economides and Bryn Aled in Christian Duarte’s & (photo: James Keates)

It would be hard to imagine an evening of dance in which there was less transition from one work to the next. If Charles Linehan’s Nothing But Time raised high the bar for minimal movement in Transitions Dance Company’s Triple Bill, Oded Ronen’s Kintsugi added to it only a superficial psychological layer and Cristian Duarte’s & framed it in conceptual conceits. Linehan shows how minimal movement can be interesting; his spatial awareness and the intent in starting a movement are worth experiencing. Not all the dancers are comfortable in beginning movement from stillness but when it works you know something significant has happened; Becky Horne shows how it can be done at the very beginning of the work as she peels off from Sean Murray. There is also an idea in Nothing But Time that lends itself to choreographic treatment; it evolved out of Linehan’s research combining choreography and drone technology. In a film he showed at the Brighton Festival last year it was the long shadows of moving figures seen from the air at sunset that formed the choreographic material. Here, Michael Mannion’s searchlight stands in for the sun and Jonathan Owen Clark’s electro-acoustic score places us in the heart of the drone, its engine in our ears, looking down on the mundane motions of silent figures far below. There is thus a dynamic tension between Clark’s stormy, elemental score and the stark simplicity of Linehan’s movement that holds the work together. Linehan presents the dancers in a neutral unmannered way, their motion and gestures removed by distance from their implicit thoughts and relationships.

We might expect to find the dancers in Ronen’s Kintsugi inhabiting a different universe from Linehan’s, but the layers of psychological gesturing Ronen uses to suggest ‘a broken, lonely and fragmented world’ are little more than psychological dressing. Ronen uses the metaphor of Kintsugi — the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery — to suggest a parallel art of healing social wounds, but his choreography digresses too often into accumulative patterns and endless solos to keep the subject alive. Woven into all this action is the shaping of a line of yellow confetti — ‘leaking’ like stuffing from the pockets of the dancers — into a crack on the stage that is erased by one of the dancers in the final moments. To conclude the work with this facile reference to Kintsugi is to diminish the metaphor.

If, as the program note states, Duarte’s & ‘invites the dancers to (re)visit and plunder their own physical and conceptual memory banks’, can we be sure they have accepted the invitation? And if they have, what does Duarte’s work reveal about their years of training? Not very much. But judging by the self-conscious flirtation with minimal movement, the involvement with absurdist props and the derisory breaking down of the third wall, the dancers have been duped into adopting Duarte’s physical and conceptual memory banks as their own. There are moments when dancers like Bryn Aled and Marcus Alessandrini do re-visit their own physical memory bank, pulling off some bravura steps that light up the stage, but they are sparks in what is otherwise a rather damp confection of conceptual clichés.

I realised at the beginning of & that once the dancers had appeared in Linehan’s work, they did not seem to change in any physical or psychological way in subsequent works; they simply reappeared in different costumes. At this level of postgraduate performance it would have done the dancers a service to provide a more varied program in which they would be challenged by contrasting choreographic voices to bring out their own intrinsic qualities. Audiences might have benefited too.