Probe Project: Running on Empty

Posted: December 3rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Probe Project, Running on Empty, The Place, November 5

Greig Cooke and Antonia Grove in Running on Empty (photo: Matthew Andrews)

Greig Cooke and Antonia Grove in Running on Empty (photo: Matthew Andrews)

 

The printed program doesn’t give much away about the nature of the piece, but it’s immediately apparent that Running on Empty has a full tank of collaborators: apart from the three performers (Antonia Grove, Scott Smith and Greig Cooke) there is a director (Jo McInnes), writer (Brad Birch), choreographer (Charlie Morrissey), songwriter (Lee Ross), composer (Smith), set and costume designer (Fabrice Serafino) and lighting designer (Beky Stoddart) — an array of creative inputs that begs the question of who exactly has a handle on the direction. The marketing material features an enigmatic image of Cooke and Grove running together across a landscape as if escaping from a party: intense, focused, out of breath. That snapshot is replaced on stage by another indeterminate place but without a specific flight path. The set suggests a no man’s land where paths meet, an intriguing dreamland with a detrital heap of old furniture on one side with a tree of lights behind and a low wall delineating the unknown beyond. The set and lighting together create a sense of expectation as Smith takes his place behind a keyboard amongst the furniture as if sitting at a bar. He plays some doleful minor chords on the guitar as a prelude to a song remembering a relationship that Grove sings in a voice that is out on a husky limb, aching and velvety especially in its higher register: “Are we too close or too far apart?” with a bluesy harmonica accompaniment from Smith.

Cooke can just be made out lounging on the wall at the back, listening to Grove’s words: “I’d dive into the abyss if I thought I’d save your life”, she continues, glancing at Smith. Cooke stands, his hands and face caught in the narrow pane of light, and responds in dance, swishing and swirling in an intense solo in which he manifests his force and self-doubt in equal measure. Grove looks over at him for the first time. Smith, who plays both confidant and analyst to Grove, asks her: “What do you remember?” She shines a light underneath her chin, then at something unknown beyond her. Death? “What colour are its eyes?” asks Cooke. Grove is bathed in a subtle, fragile light, her arms raised and slightly behind her as if she had just been shot, and launches into a solo that is based on that arching back, wild and abandoned. With tenderness in his eyes Cooke comes to her rescue. “What are you doing?” “Bang, bang, arms, fuck,” is what I hear. The diction is rather muffled, perhaps a function of the portable mikes. “I’m building a boat,” she adds, kneeling, “to get you out of here. Just trying to build you a boat.” Evidently the running idea has been subsumed by metaphors of the sea, of boats and rafts.

The sound of breakers colours the clashing duet that follows, both Groves and Cooke forcing their limits (running towards empty) yet never touching; blowing each other away, shouting and screaming over the sound of sea. Smith pulls out a wooden pallet that serves as a raft on to which Groves and Cooke clamber. They look at each other. Is it over? Cooke leans out over the edge of the raft, hanging from Grove; she pulls him in; he takes her head as they fit into each other’s forms, but are they strangling or comforting? The Stevie Smith poem comes to mind,

‘…I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.’

The danger games persist. Who will fall off first? They kneel on the front of the raft and step with their hands and knees into the water. Smith reels in the raft, casting them away on the beach. Cooke and Grove embrace roughly then he chases her round the island, catching her, lifting and releasing her in a fury of entanglement and abandon. The sound of a storm whips up the action until it finally abates in an attempt at reconciliation: “Please forgive me” and “Where are we going?” but it’s impossible for Cooke to brake and he ends up — as I noted detachedly in my notebook — ripping her head off. It happens quickly, and its violence is unexpected. Grove crawls away; Smith brings her a glass of water and returns with the raft, dropping it with a bang as if offering a means of exit. “It’s not your fault,” he says, adding something about chance. She is in no mood for philosophical argument, so Smith goes back to his microphone and begins a song about an otter and a trout. It begins in surreal fashion with a pinwheel blast on his mechanical whistle, and prompts a series of surreal crustacean images: Cooke conjures up a lobster on its back as he crawls upside down towards Grove who scuttles in sympathy, or perhaps in fear. He crawls on to the raft, blowing out his cheeks like a conch shell, eyes popping, sounding like an angry elephant. Their duet develops into a tour de force of fragments of dialogue and screeching  fitting into behavioural tics: snorting, itching, scratching, spitting, leaping, At the end, Smith as analyst or agony uncle, brings Grove a beer: “You’re having problems.” She denies it. “Maybe that’s your first problem.” She counters: “Do you understand what it is to be me?” He mimics her itching, tentacle-like fingers that he then extrudes into the shape of a gun, the trigger caught in the light. Cooke is back on the sea wall. There’s text about illness and disease, the problems and insecurities of old age — all highly relevant but I’m not sure how it fits in here. “Will I recover, is it too late?” asks Grove. Smith smiles. It’s clearly too late for rhetorical questions. He rubs his hands and pushes away the microphone with his hip.

Grove and Cooke in smiling mood embrace and explore each other. After they have been through so much, the question arises of where this is going. The mood is playful, producing a natural, infectious laugh from Grove before she appears to confront her present. “Do you drink?” asks Cooke, followed by a question about dreams. “This is where my dreams are set,” she responds. Her final words to Cooke are, “Can you do me a favour? Stay away from the cliffs.” It is the first time the cliffs are mentioned, the landscape described beyond the rear wall, and in this place above the sea she starts to dance, scooping, twisting and turning to Smith’s guitar accompaniment that is somewhere between flamenco and hillbilly banjo. She throws herself into her moves, repeating phrases with a mix of courage, abandon and hopelessness and finishes by running around the stage, running out of steam. She prompts Smith into a last song (which repeats the melody of the opening song), dragging the microphone to centre stage, pouring all her emotional exhaustion into the lyrics: “So slowly now you bow into eternity… How long can you keep running?” with that gutsy, velvety voice running full on empty.

At the close, we are left elevated by the visual and aural imagery but there’s a disconcerting sense of gaps in the narrative cohesion. We learn later that Cooke has fallen off the cliffs to his death, but this loss fails to register. Does it matter? Death offstage seems a uniquely theatrical concept that dance can’t do by itself, which leads me to think that the narrative and the dance in Running on Empty are like oil and water; they are not blending. Grove suggests in the program that the work moves ‘from the dark and surreal world of dreams to the intricate and sometimes absurd nature of our daily human interactions.’ This is something that dance can do really well, and Grove is particularly adept at drawing the drama out of dance. Perhaps Running on Empty simply suffers from too many creative inputs; dreams inevitably have a consistency because all their fragmented elements can be traced back to the individual psyche. Running on Empty needs to forge a unity of its own creative psyche before its dream will ring true.

 


Dan Canham & Theo Clinkard: Double Bill

Posted: February 25th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Dan Canham: 30 Cecil Street and Theo Clinkard: Ordinary Courage, Pavilion Dance, February 21

Dan-Canham-30 Cecil Street

Watching Pavilion Dance’s inspired double bill of Dan Canham’s 30 Cecil Street and Theo Clinkard’s Ordinary Courage I had the stimulating if somewhat unnerving experience of sitting with a playwright (Nell Leyshon) and a theatre director (Jessica Swale). Where dance merges with theatre, these are the kinds of eyes and ears and intelligence — attuned to what makes theatre alive and sensitive to any dramatic inconsistency or to anything remotely artificial — that choreographers need to work with if their creations are to effectively merge the two disciplines. Canham’s 30 Cecil Street triumphs because all its elements hang together within an intelligently delineated frame which leaves abundant room for his sometimes haunting, sometimes comic and always heartfelt response to the life once lived in the theatre whose walls he traces in white tape on the stage floor like an architectural drawing. Clinkard’s Ordinary Courage, however, divides along the fault lines of dance and theatre. The six performers each have a solo that is very much the property and personality of the individual dancers, but the framework of the piece, even though it is much tighter than when I first saw it, does not hold together. It is for the most part a loose assembly of loosely disguised rehearsal exercises that are decidedly un-dramatic, which leaves the individual solos unsupported by a context. When I first saw Ordinary Courage at Laban, I felt the overall tone was muted, and even though I was happy this time to return to each solo like returning to a favourite painting in a gallery, the integrity of the work still fails to coalesce. It is Clinkard’s first work, and one in which he himself performs. As he ruefully admits in the Q&A afterwards, it was only after he saw a filmed version of the work that he saw for the first time what he had created. He has made changes that have improved the work, but I don’t imagine he will repeat the dual role for his next creation.

There is also an illuminating difference in the initial inspiration for the two works. With Canham it is direct and physical: he had come across the near-derelict Theatre Royal in Limerick after finishing a tour with DV8, looking to replenish his inspiration. He was immediately attracted to the place and began to explore his feelings about it in movement in the street at night or in the early morning when nobody else was around. He then filmed some of his choreography in the building itself before creating the stage version. The soundtrack, played on a reel-to-reel tape deck, is a collage of interviews with people associated with the theatre, snatches of music, bingo calling, glass harmonica, music hall and opera that had once been heard there. John McCormack singing Down by the Sally Gardens is particularly poignant. Canham’s movement seems to originate as much from the dank walls and drunken conversations as from the foot shuffling music hall routines and there is a section where his hands tune in to the invisible waves of past performances that crackle into being on the tape and disappear again as he moves around the stage. Although it is only Canham we see, it is the theatre that is the subject of the piece, the heart of the piece and out of respect he removes himself from the stage at the end (by the steps and the door he has marked), leaving us to hear the resigned tones of a conversation about the end of the theatre.

The inspiration for Ordinary Courage is more spiritual and indirect. As he explains himself, Clinkard felt he was ready to choreograph but was searching for a theme. While teaching in Chile, he saw an illustration of a heart with the words Without Fear inscribed inside and took this at his theme for the new work. The theme is recognizable — specifically the courage to face loss — but the message is internalized, inward looking. Clinkard had lost a friend, the choreographer Tanja Liedtke, and his mother Robin (to both of whom Ordinary Courage is dedicated), which may explain his almost private response. Canham draws us in — indeed he wants to draw us in — but Clinkard seems more focused on the crafting of the dance, as if our eyes never quite meet. The lighting (by Zerlina Hughes), based on photographic soft boxes suspended from the lighting bars, also tends to flatten the dance, though there are moments when the colours and textures of the costumes benefit beautifully. The central series of six solos is linked to keyboard partitas and sonatas by Bach and Scarlatti — played live by Clíodna Shanahan — which sit elegantly within an elemental sound design by Alan Stones that conjures up a rising squall at the beginning that gradually overpowers a Bach partita and against which the group tries in vain to advance. Helka Kaski’s beautifully nuanced dance of helplessness and Charlie Morrissey’s wild despair succeed best in capturing a state of grief in movement; I enjoy watching Clinkard’s solo for its intimacy and lyricism, though I wonder to what extent his expression of loss is coloured  by the inherited vocabulary of previous work. Maho Ihara’s sensitivity is a joy to watch, her mime — a mother’s memories of nurturing a child — a delight, and her singing to calm the enigmatic bear an inspired addition. Margarita Zafrilla Olayo’s solo is an attempt to break free of the ‘family’, to grieve alone, while Adam Blanch’s solo, which he heralds by leaving the stage and returning in black shoes, is danced with bravado, but feels more technically formal and less integrated into the theme than the others. We are also expecting it, as he is by now the only one not to have danced a solo (the element of surprise is quite low in Ordinary Courage).

This is Clinkard’s first ensemble work, and he will be relieved to have given it birth. But if he wants to hone his dramatic skills on the next piece, I know just the people to give him feedback.


Bob Lockyer’s Bash

Posted: April 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bob Lockyer’s Bash

Usually one receives presents on one’s birthday, but legendary BBC dance producer, Bob Lockyer, decided to celebrate his 70th birthday by asking his dance friends to commission a work or select one of their own to present at an evening of dance at The Place. There was a private showing on April 12th, and an opportunity for the public to see the works the following evening. Bob stipulated that the proceeds from the two evenings would benefit one of two charities: the Royal Philharmonic Society Drummond Fund and The Place’s Pioneering Fund. Among the Lockyer luminaries who contributed to the program were Dame Monica Mason, Robert Cohan, Mark Baldwin, Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies and Wayne McGregor.

The public evening gets underway with Drone, danced by two students from the London Contemporary Dance School, Drew Hawkins and the choreographer, Andy Macleman, to music of The Haxan Cloak. The costumes have the elegance of Quaker simplicity, and the movement itself alternates quiet austerity with bursts of energy. The two dancers set up an intense but sympathetic dynamic between them in both spirit and touch. It is a work of surprising maturity.

It is not often that pointe shoes and classical ballet steps grace the stage at The Place, but Dame Monica Mason’s commission, Papillon, by Royal Ballet School dancer and choreographer, Sebastian Goffin, reminds us just how far the language of dance has developed since the 1830s. Using Dvorak’s Silent Woods, played on stage by Rebecca Herman and Andrew Saunders, Goffin creates a romantic picture of young love and abandoned scholarship in rustic Kensington Gardens with the delightful Mayara Magri and Skyler Martin, both dancers at the Royal Ballet School.

Mark Baldwin’s contribution is Prayer, for four girls from the Rambert Dance Company, each revealing their respective lyrical qualities in a series of solos and forming a remarkably harmonious ensemble. Hannah Rudd’s solo would make any heart melt and the fiddler, Stephen Upshaw, plays a solo within a solo during a section of Julian Anderson’s score, while the dancers look on.  His movements are unchoreographed and utterly true to form. A revelation.

Richard Alston is clearly an esteemed colleague of Bob Lockyer because he is responsible for two offerings of the evening. Jo Kondo’s music, Isthmus, sets the tone for the first little gem. And it is little, although the dancers – all from the Richard Alston Dance Company – make it seem so much bigger.

The Way it Works is This… could have been the beginning of Eddie Nixon’s opening discourse, but Orlando Gough uses it as a starting point to frame a series of isolated phrases in a soundscape for Charlie Morrissey’s consummate dance of the same name. Brilliant. Siobahn Davies commissioned this, and chose the projected images from the work of Étienne-Jules Maray representing some of the earliest attempts to record movement photographically (I’m reading from the notes). Morissey’s thoughtful work, like Gough’s soundscape, is a lot of fun and its roots go way back to the minimalist contemporary dance of New York’s Judson Dance Theatre, something Bob would appreciate.

Robert Cohan’s choice is significant for both Bobs. These two go back a long way, which may be why In Memory is chosen, but it also clearly holds memories for Cohan, and there is a passion in the work that is life size. Set to a gorgeous score by Hindemith, his Sonata for unaccompanied viola (played beautifully on stage by Alistair Scahill), this extract of the work sees four men from Alston’s company dancing together until a girl in red with Cleopatra eyes, Nancy Nerantzi, arrives, which is where the passion really begins.

Wayne McGregor offers one of the most beautiful commissions of the evening, Lake Maligne, by Royal Ballet choreographic apprentice, Robert Binet. It is inspired by the paintings of Lawren Harris, one of Canada’s iconic Group of Seven and known for his luminous paintings of the Great White North. Well, the luminosity comes through in the dancing of Daniela Neugebauer of Random Dance. Binet’s choreography is fluid and suits Neugebauer’s qualities beautifully. Her hands and arms turn and reach and then come to perfect rest, articulating shapes that stay in the imagination, while the sonorous voice of Bill Callahan is like dark clouds on a summer day. Neugebauer is totally convincing, her eyes know exactly where and how to focus. Everything is just right, and the audience senses it.

Richard Alston’s big, final present is Shuffle It Right, to the irrepressible music of Hoagy Carmichael. Performed by eight of Alston’s dancers, everyone enters into the swing of the music, on stage and in the audience. This is a great way to end a memorable evening.

This is the kind of performance that could and should be shown on the BBC. It would be a fitting tribute to the man who devised it, but since there has been an evident change in thinking about what public broadcasting can present since Bob Lockyer’s pioneering days, what is familiarly known as Bob’s Bash will have to wait in the wings for a reappraisal of the value of dance production on public television.