The Royal Ballet, works by Dawson, Wheeldon and Pite

Posted: April 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Royal Ballet, works by Dawson, Wheeldon and Pite

The Royal Ballet, Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, March 23

Kristen McNally and artists of the Royal Ballet in Flight Pattern (photo: Johan Persson)

This is a program of repertoire works by former Royal Ballet dancers, David Dawson and Christopher Wheeldon, wrapped around a new commission by Crystal Pite, the first female choreographer to perform her work on the main stage in a long, long, time. Despite this landmark achievement, Pite is not a classical choreographer, nor are her works in the classical idiom. Borrowing a leaf from Tamara Rojo’s astute book, the Royal Ballet has brought in a lauded contemporary name on a contemporary theme at an appropriate moment. It is also borrowing from the book of Sadler’s Wells associate artists. Much as I love Pite’s work, Flight Pattern blends uneasily with both the accompanying repertoire and the surroundings. It’s a beautifully fraught work (beautiful and fraught) about the fate of migrants, not a subject that lends itself naturally to the velvet and gilded glamour of the Royal Opera House. It’s an oddly imbalanced program, too, because Flight Pattern is not a natural closer, and neither Dawson’s nor Wheeldon’s work prepares for it in any way; it comes out of nowhere. It is nevertheless a sublime conception, both scenically and choreographically, for a mass of 36 dancers with the suggestion of a lead migrant couple (an incongruous notion) of Kristen McNally and Marcelino Sambé. Anyone who saw Pite’s monumental Polaris on the Sadler’s Wells stage for the See The Music Hear The Dance program just over two years ago will remember her powerful massed forms of 64 dancers responding to Thomas Adès’ orchestral storm of the same name. Flight Pattern is more poetic and less menacing, influenced by the eerie refinement of the first movement of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony, but its subject is harrowing. The work visualises the endless lines of stooped humanity on a desperate trek to an unknown future but Jay Gower Taylor’s set, Thomas Visser’s lighting and Nancy Bryant’s costumes bestow epic proportions on the entire journey. The movements of the dancers are muted and repressed throughout the work, hemmed in by heavy overcoats and by the giant partitions of the set that close inexorably on them until only a gently rocking McNally and a seething Sambé remain isolated. It is a moment that almost spits with rage but Sambé at this crucial point allows his pyrotechnical wizardry to infiltrate his character, dissipating Pite’s entire psychological build-up.

There’s plenty of legitimate technical display on the rest of the program, however, and the men get a thorough workout in Dawson’s first work for the Royal Ballet, The Human Seasons, to a commissioned score by Greg Haines. You know you’re at the Royal Ballet with this level of technical skill, though the loud landings (and there are many of them) of the men in particular exhibit some weakness in execution. The women are on display too, especially when upright; they are less so when being dragged unceremoniously along the ground.

Seeing The Human Seasons (2013) side by side with Wheeldon’s After The Rain (2005) one can’t help seeing similarities; both are in the neo-classical style with stripped down costumes, and there are one or two quotes by Dawson of Wheeldon’s lifts and slides. Where the two works differ is in the use of space as part of choreographic form. For all its intense movement, its entrances and exits, and its asymmetrical groupings, The Human Seasons, unlike Keats’ sonnet that inspired it, is constantly crying out for some kind of form to hold them all together. This is amplified by a lackadaisical deportment in the men in between partnering duties or bravura steps; they just amble over to the next sequence, killing the dynamics. Haines’ score can’t hold the work together either, so with all these holes Dawson’s form fails to gel, leaking out in all directions over the course of the work’s 35 minutes.

Scored for three couples, the first section of After The Rain is set to the first (Ludus) movement of Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa; as soon as it begins, Wheeldon’s spatial stagecraft is apparent. The form is held in place by the harmony of the music allied with the harmony of the choreography, pumpkin rolls and all. The second movement, to Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, is joined to the first but not closely related. It is often performed as a separate duet and its renown makes it appear as the feature film we’ve been waiting for. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares make it a powerful meditation on the beauty of strength and the strength of beauty, where each gesture is thought through and flows seamlessly to its natural resolution. But while the consummate elegance of this movement is framed on one side, the absence of a final, contrasting movement leaves it floating in splendid isolation; it should either be set free for good or the frame completed.


Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young, Betroffenheit

Posted: June 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young, Betroffenheit

Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young, Betroffenheit, Sadler’s Wells, May 31

Tiffany Tregarthen and Jonathon Young in Betroffenheit (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Tiffany Tregarthen and Jonathon Young in Betroffenheit (photo: Michael Slobodian)

‘The accident happened. It has happened. It’s happened’. The past is irrevocable and unchangeable. The past can loop a person in a repetitive rewinding of backward motions; there is no escape. In Betroffenheit, a collaboration between choreographer Crystal Pite and theatre director and actor Jonathon Young, this space of no escape is ‘the room’ — the site of trauma. Based on Young’s own experience, the work deals with horror, pain, loss and guilt. Trauma is not an easy subject to engage with, not so much because of its resistance to representation but rather because of its pervasive presence in our culture. Overused and glamorized, trauma has lost meaning and with it the connotations of the experience it designates. As a result, the risk for any artist wanting to engage with the subject is either that of slipping into self-confessional indulgence or in facile generalization or, even worse, universalization. Pite and Young resist these pitfalls. Betroffenheit does not steer from ‘the event’: it is focused on a moment in time and on the individual locked in its repetitive occurrence, constrained within the claustrophobic narrowness of pain and loss. There is no generalizing. It is one man’s experience — performed by Young himself — that isolates and is isolating: ‘The accident happened. It has happened. It’s happened’, repeats Young in his disjointed re-telling of the drama that unravels in his mind and on stage. ‘The room’ cannot be shared. The shock and the encounter to which the title Betroffenheit alludes are his fears, unbidden memories, guilt and survival. They are the ghosts that unremittingly draw him back to that space where the past repeats itself and attempts to get to terms with it are futile. Indeed, as trauma theorist Cathy Caruth observes, belatedness and incomprehensibility are at the heart of the traumatic event and its repetition opens up realms beyond what can be known.

Performatively, Betroffenheit enters such a space of belatedness and incomprehensibility by drawing on and weaving together a broad range of references from art, literature, theatre, psychology, film and dance. The first half is set within a narrow perimeter of false walls, clinical and industrial at the same time that are open on one side − ‘the room’. Voices intrude, personages enter it and lure Young into a disturbing vaudeville acting out, sinuously performed by Pite’s five dancers. The narrow space of ‘the room’ temporarily blasts open into the event — reminiscent of Hollywood’s disaster movies — then the room closes again onto its painful repetition. Pite and Young have set in motion what Jacques Rancière refers to as ‘a complex set of relations between the visible and the invisible’. This unleashes a chain of images, words, and movements that alter each other to convey ‘the sensible texture of an event’ whose forms are disquieting, grotesque, and nightmarish.

This motion continues in the second half, though the register changes. A spotlight defines the empty stage with its single pillar as a rarefied cone of incomprehensibility. If words and strident visual frames seemed to overtake the first part, dance regains its centrality in the second. Visual references are implicit in the moving tableaux of a Renaissance pietà and deposition reminiscent of the suffused rendering of Bill Viola’s slow-down video reenactments of The Passions (2000). Breathing becomes the sensorial punctum (in Barthes’s sense) on which the affective tension of Pite’s choreography unfolds. And breath carries the emotional movement of the work to its conclusion. The event happened, has happened. The event cannot be escaped nor understood. There is no resolution, only the possibility of acceptance. In the final solo by Jermaine Spivey, the spasmodic dance macabre of compulsive fears of the first half mutates into a fluid quietness of motion and emotion which wave through and across each other.

A question remains: where do Pite and Young position the audience in relation to the work? The first half of Betroffenheit makes subtle use of an alienating effect reminiscent of Antonin Artaud’s theatre of cruelty. Recorded applause cruelly marks the re-enactment of trauma. We are uncomfortably reminded of the spectacle and voyeurism with which horror is so often endowed. In the second half the carefully lit pillar whose shadow lengthens over the auditorium gestures towards another position for the spectator, that of attentive, intelligent and sensitive observance.


Ballet BC, Birmingham Hippodrome

Posted: May 29th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet BC, Birmingham Hippodrome

Ballet BC, Birmingham Hippodrome, May 20

Artists of Ballet BC in Crystal Pite's Solo Echo (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Artists of Ballet BC in Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Without the fanfare and hoopla that surrounded the recent English National Ballet all-female triple bill, She Said, it is testament to Ballet BC and International Dance Festival Birmingham that female choreographers are not a scarcity in either the former nor the latter. With this being the only UK date, a premiere and the debate around non-male choreographers, I don’t understand why “the national critics” weren’t present, choosing to review NDT2 and Northern Ballet instead.

As part of #TheBENCH, an event and wider choreographic support programme designed by 2Faced Dance Company to address the gender inequality in UK contemporary dance, Ballet BC’s Artistic Director Emily Molnar was invited to speak and offer an international perspective. With integrity, sense and articulate coherence in spades she responded and mentioned to the crowd that the company would be performing a programme of Crystal Pite, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar as well as one of her own works. After seeing Eyal and Behar’s most recent commission on Scottish Dance Theatre earlier in the year and the fervour surrounding Crystal Pite’s forthcoming work on a series of national companies including Scottish Ballet, it was impossible not to be curious.

One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be a mere rushing on.”- D.H. Lawrence

Molnar’s work that premiered in 2013, 16+ a room, opened the evening. Riddled with detail, pace and luxurious unfurlings of time alongside a repeated slow and knowing presence of a stage walker who held a sign that read ‘This Is A Beginning’ or ‘This Is Not An End’, Molnar accentuated the visibility of time and allowed us to see all the full stops on stage. Almost imperceptible tremors in the bodies floated to the surface in the not quite stillness emphasising the control and fizz of the 16 company dancers. Building entrances and exits into the choreography nothing was wasted whilst oscillating between large packs of movement and intimate duets the piece became structurally familiar but no less impressive. With a lighting design like spots on a domino and an electric rasping soundtrack suiting the crispness of the taut choreographic vocabulary and Molnar’s staccato sock-sliding lunges and pulses 16+A Room was a satisfying start to proceedings.

When you acknowledge the integrity of your solitude, and settle into its mystery, your relationships with others take on a new warmth, adventure and wonder.” – John O’Donohue

Pite’s Solo Echo  left an emotional residue that I’ve only felt after watching the 1953 film Tokyo Story by Yasujirô Ozu. Both are a study of human connections, regret, present echoes and anticipation whilst leaving time for it to settle inside you. With an upstage set design of a constant drop of either snow, petals or sawdust and a sweeping piano and string soundtrack, I read Japanese cherry blossom in the spring, a time for renewal and rituals which were also present in the choreography. A recurring motif of the frozen run, giving space and a softness that supports others, showcased alternative qualities in seven dancers and their ability to connect with the audience and their material. Solo Echo has an emotional sting that remained inside the body long after the curtain had dropped.

There is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever.” – Lord Byron

Bill is my second live encounter with an Eyal and Behar choreography. Here they remould bodies through anatomical adventures. We see the same limbs and torsos used by Molnar and Pite, yet the angles are skewed, bodies inverted and are presented with a fevered ballet and jelly-legged solos. The stage is flooded with choreography for 22 minutes; patterns of repetitive walking and clockwise rocking provide mesmeric satisfaction mixed with the occasional choreographic burst that is reminiscent of a 90s WWF move by The Bushwhackers beating their arms to a wide invisible drum. They enable the dancers to command the stage with a cat-walking focus whilst conveying the rapturous joy of movement. There’s a depth of field in play, real care for the scenography and texture of the world and a constant eye on the end; Eyal and Behar are always building, always layering and always in control of our gaze. There are echoes of Hofesh Shechter in as much as Eyal and Behar, like Shechter, have the ability to be 1% different, which sets them aside choreographically and spawns a band of imitators. Their craft is a pleasure to revel in.

The construction of triple bills is a delicate game; wanting to build progressively but not drown and leave an audience with an emotional unevenness. Ballet BC’s triple bill was pitched well with an appetising opener, rich and complex main and a finale with all the trimmings and flourishes; here’s a company that has developed a repertoire of more than 35 works since 2009, from William Forsythe to Aszure Barton, and is actively collaborating with The National Ballet of Canada and Frankfurt Ballet to support artists, choreographers and audiences alike. Imagine if British companies would do the same.


The Associates, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Associates, Sadler’s Wells

The Associates, Sadler’s Wells, February 6

The Associates themselves (l to r): Kate Prince (photo: Simon Prince), Hofesh Schechter (photo: Jake Walters) and Crystal Pite (photo: Michael Slobodian)

The Associates themselves (l to r): Kate Prince (photo: Simon Prince), Hofesh Schechter (photo: Jake Walters) and Crystal Pite (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Over the last ten years Sadler’s Wells has developed a roster of 16 Associate Artists reflecting the different genres of dance it produces. Artistic Director Alistair Spalding is not in the habit of putting together a program of Associates’ work but this particular one came about through the almost simultaneous request from two of them, Hofesh Schechter and Kate Prince, to test run their works in front of their home audience. Seeing an opportunity, Spalding called on the most recent Associate, Crystal Pite, to complete the program.

I am not familiar with Kate Prince’s choreography but here she directs Smile, a solo choreographed (with a little help from Shaun Smith) and performed by Tommy Franzén. He starts out as Charlie Chaplin’s famous tramp in a delightful riff on those familiar gestures but very quickly loses his way amongst the storage room full of props. It is only in the final scene nine tracks later that he wipes off his white face and black mustache, but he could have done it much earlier. If Chaplin’s tramp is the peg on which Smile hangs it is soon overwhelmed by all the imagery Prince/Franzén/Smith heap on it. There is clearly an attempt to contrast the comedic with the tragic without realizing (as Chaplin did) that both reside within the same gestures and postures. Prince separates the two with the result that Franzén can never gain the stature of the tragic because he is too busy trying to be funny.

There is only a pause between Smile and Crystal Pite’s A Picture of You Falling (2008) but the contrast is marked. Pite’s writing of dance has the clarity of a Joni Mitchell song or of a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson: the focus is unmistakable and immediate. The writing is intelligent and meaning is built up with each creative element, from choreography to setting to costumes to light and sound. Linda Chow, who created the carapace-like costumes for Polaris in the Thomas Adès program, is here in more casual mode but dresses the dancers in layers they then discard as the story is revealed. In the hands of Robert Sondergaard light becomes a metaphor for space and time, and can speak as demonstratively as a dancer’s gesture, as it does at the opening when a roving light seems to embody the voice of Kate Strong recalling aspects of a relationship. Peter Chu and Anne Plamondon are the couple whose history is Pite’s subject and although it is broken up like snapshots shuffled from an album the emotional core is beautifully expressed through movement. “I am fascinated and convinced by the shared narratives that live in our bodies,” writes Pite, “the familiar, repetitive storylines that move across cultures and generations — and the body’s role as illustrator.” It is Pite’s ability to mine this illustrative potential of the body with such finesse that sets her apart as a remarkable choreographer.

Hofesh Schechter has a new commission for the Royal Ballet at the end of March and I wonder if he is either testing out some ideas here or if he is getting this piece out of his creative system to make way for the new. The barbarians in love is more delicate than his previous work, perhaps influenced by his embrace of François Couperin’s music, and comes across as a meditation on the past without setting out in any new direction. Lee Curran’s lighting through levels of mist and the white tops and dark jeans devised by Merle Hensel enhance a sense of searching for purity or redemption. The final section in which the six fine dancers emerge from the darkness naked or semi naked strikes me as an intensely personal statement; the dancers remain in the half shadow facing us self-consciously, using their arms in eerily simple gestures redolent of departure without wanting to go. The barbarians in love — the title itself is infused with ambiguity — is a strung together on a series of ethical imperatives or lessons intoned with intimate sensuality by Natascha McElhone that culminate in a recorded dialogue between her in the role of a teasing God and a skewered Schechter trying to justify his work. It borders quite heavily on the self-indulgent but there are mitigating factors. Whether the barbarians in love signals a turning point in Schechter’s creative output will not be known until the end of March with his new commission at the Royal Opera House.

 


Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance

Posted: November 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance

Thomas Adès, See the Music, Hear the Dance, Sadler’s Wells, November 1

Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance (Design: AKA, photo: Johan Persson)

Thomas Adès: See the Music, Hear the Dance (Design: AKA, photo: Johan Persson)

The subtitle of this evening’s celebration of the music of Thomas Adès — the second in Sadler’s Wells’ Composer Series — is where dance and music share their inherent qualities: See the Music, Hear the Dance. Such complementarity, however, can be elusive and this evening is no exception. With Wayne McGregor, whose Outlier (to Adès’ violin concerto, Concentric Paths) opens the evening, it is not so much the music we see as the space in which he develops his signature physical dynamics, a visual environment in which dance, set design and lighting take precedence over the music. Lucy Carter is here credited with both lighting and set design and it is her symbolic concentric motif that provides a visual link to Adès’ score rather than the dance. Created for New York City Ballet, Outlier opens with a quintet of dancers that is subdivided into a trio with a duet, two duets with a solo and a duet with a trio that remains motionless. In the second movement, Thomas Gould’s solo violin sings above the turbulence of the orchestra while the choreography for a trio of dancers hits some turbulence of its own in clumsy lifts and interlocking partnering between the two men. Nine dancers start the third movement in three trios glued one behind the other dancing in canon. Carter’s circles yield to a rectangle of light framing a duet to the solo violin that the other seven watch in silhouette. There is a final visual image of a white circle of light on the stage into which a dancer steps with the last splash of the violin.

Karole Armitage chooses Adès’ Life Story set to a poem of the same name by Tennessee Williams. There is a grand piano on stage with the soprano Claire Booth dazzling in sequins standing against it and Adès at the keyboard. Booth’s lovely soprano voice sings of the lazy aftermath of a first encounter between two lovers (danced by Emily Wagner and Ruka Hatua-Saar) lying on a bed ‘like rag dolls’ telling their life stories. It is not a context that immediately suggests pointe shoes and when one of Wagner’s shoes slips off her heel early in Life Story the intimacy of the setting is unforgiving. The classical vocabulary fails to find a correspondence with the jazzy score and the final manège to the line about people burning to death in hotel rooms just throws Williams’ cautionary tale to the wings.

Alexander Whitely created The Grit of the Oyster to Adès’ Piano Quintet. Both choreographer and composer are on stage in their respective dual roles and for the first time this evening the music and dance are in harmony. The Grit of the Oyster is a trio with three lyrical dancers (Whitely, Antonette Dayrit and Jessica Andrenacci) on a white rectangle of floor while the quintet plays behind. The lighting has the murkiness of an oyster bed with lime-green and blue costumes, but the fluidity of the choreography shines, particularly in Dayrit’s solos. During a turbulent musical passage she takes off her green top and puts on a white one, becoming a pearl. Whitely and Andrenacci return for a duet and at the opening of the third movement the trio whip through a fast section in unison. Dayrit dances one final, beautiful solo that leaves the musical line floating as the light fades.

Adès’ Polaris is a huge orchestral work and Crystal Pite responds with a cast of 64 dancers in superbly designed identical black costumes (by Linda Chow) that leave only the face and hands bare. An articulated mass of curved, crustaceous black bodies with hands like dead leaves slithers on to the stage in silence like a menacing, malevolent energy. It becomes a circle with heads rising and descending again before it unravels and moves across the space with the addition of a circular wave formation. Still the music hasn’t started, but when it does Pite has prepared us; we have already seen it. Pite fills the stage in the same way the music fills our ears; here at last is a complete expression of See the Music, Hear the Dance. The mass retreats leaving two figures like flotsam on the beach who struggle to remain attached until they are ripped apart by invisible forces. For the individual roles Pite uses six dancers from her own company, Kidd Pivot, and they are mesmerizing in their control of the details and dynamics of the choreography. The mass is an elemental force crossing like tectonic plates or two massed armies confronting one another, and the sextet rises above it like instruments above the orchestral turmoil. At one point all 64 dancers form a single entity, crouching with arms to the side, hands pointing to the floor. All we see is the fingers quivering but the image is one of powerful kinetic energy. Pite’s artistic control over the stage elements — choreography, costumes, lighting (by Thomas Visser) and backdrop (by Jay Gower Taylor) — corresponds to the way Adès controls the instrumentation and the Britten Sinfonia he is conducting: Polaris is a confluence of two imaginations in tune with each other. On the final musical crescendo Adès’ hand is caught in the light as it rises above the pit, his finger pointing upwards like a blessing or a warning. The dancers halt and suddenly all that energy discharges into the audience as a storm of applause.