Jamila Johnson-Small, i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere

Posted: November 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Jamila Johnson-Small, i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere

Jamila Johnson-Small, i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere, Rich Mix, October 9

Jamila Johnson-Small in i ride in colour, no longer anywhere (photo:

Jamila Johnson-Small in i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou)

We need limitations and temptations to open our inner selves, dispel our ignorance, tear off disguises, throw down old idols, and destroy false standards.” – Helen Keller

What happens when an edge is invited to the centre?

Jamila Johnson-Small premiered her new solo work i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere at this year’s Dance Umbrella. Prior to the festival she was the subject of an in-depth portrait by Lyndsey Winship where Johnson-Small said: “I guess I still have my fantasies about not selling out.” Having encountered some of her other collaborative performance guises (Project O and immigrants and animals) I was curious to see the distillation of a solo voice and how it would manifest.

There’s a tension when an edge meets a centre. Nearly a month after I left Johnson-Small’s performance at Rich Mix I’m still carrying it, unable to shift it; there’s something inside this work that will not settle. It’s a work of resistance. One thing that tingles is the still image of Johnson-Small’s back as she is lying on the floor, head nestled in her arms, facing the same way as the projected images we’re watching. Her choice to stay on the stage, to be still and not remove herself from our gaze stays with me. This is her domain and we are guests who are fleetingly present and then disappear; she will remain. The projected film is full of deconstructed limbs twitching, rotating and removed from the baby-pink hooded torso of the architect of our experience. The edge and centre are in play again.

The need for change bulldozed a road down the centre of my mind.” – Maya Angelou

The lighting design by Jackie Shemesh tightly frames Johnson-Small for the first 25 minutes, isolating her body and framing legs and torso with hands bobbing amongst the shards of sidelight. Existing in a one-metre radius of space Johnson-Small is a groove finder and beat rider with a muted knee bounce despite encouragement from the score emanating from the towering sound system like a stage left shadow. With an 8-foot space rock fixed and glinting stage right the scenography and performance slowly suffocate the space.

What do you do when you meet a wall? How do you navigate it? This is what I’ve been wrestling with and I’m left in a void of emotion; I’m unsure which way my response faces. A resistance and tension were present and there’s the smell of a bristling Beckett character who is here yet not here, who acknowledges us but doesn’t necessarily want us to be here. However, something keeps whirring. i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere is hard to define. It’s not full of virtuosic or pre-supposed ideas of beautiful dancing; it’s numbed, reflecting different emotional states and different ways of being in this world.

The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps.” – Bob Black

Although it may feel like a stand-off with neither of us yielding attention, I think what I’ve encountered is an archive of the self. How does Johnson-Small not let her edge be pulled to the centre but still accept the offer and associated profile that comes with a premiere at Dance Umbrella? How do I let i ride in colour and soft focus, no longer anywhere enter my own archive? It’s currently resisting the established classification, so maybe I need to build a new space for it — closer to the edge.


Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter-rupted

Posted: November 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter-rupted

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter-rupted, Barbican, October 22

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company in Inter-rupted

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company in Inter-rupted (photo: NCPA)

When we look at the body in finer and finer detail, can we find what we’re protecting? If we visualise searching right down amid the very marrow for the thingness of our body, can we find it? Attachment to one’s physical form is based on the body being a reliable, continuous entity. But can we pinpoint what we’re clinging to when we probe its depths?” – Pema Chödrön.

The quote from Tibetan Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, is printed in the program for Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company’s Inter-rupted, part of this year’s Dance Umbrella. It is a text about attachment, the subject Mangaldas explores choreographically in 75 minutes of uninterrupted choreography. She and her six dancers appear and disappear, gather and disperse, disintegrate and reform, interlock and unlock, yet all these contrasts form a series of scenes without borders, one merging into the next, each with a symbolism of its own that is carried in the movement. While Mangaldas set out to counter the temporal nature of life by resisting the notion of attachment, in the course of making the work she had to face the very nature of attachment she had set out to explore. Woven into the cloth of the work is thus the solitary thread of its imperfection. Mangaldas herself embodies this dynamic contradiction as she brings us into the fragile moment, ‘like any we might strive to hold on to…even if all is transient, all is flowing, and all is Inter-rupted.’ Her dancers — Karan Gangani, Minhaz, Aamrapali Bhandari, Anjana Singh, Sunny Shishodiya and Manoj Kumar — move like a chorus that flows with and around her with virtuosic, fire-cracker footwork, vertiginous turning and a wonderfully lyrical use of gesture and voice. In addition to a recorded sound score by Sajid Akbar, the company is joined on stage by three gifted musicians — Mohit Gangani on tabla and padhant, Ashish Gangani on pakhawaj and padhant, and Faraz Ahmed on vocals — who punctuate the choreographic flow with, respectively, virtuosic rhythms and plaintive song.

In some ways Inter-rupted is familiar territory; it is a journey of ‘exploring the past (of kathak) with a modern mind’ that Akram Khan has been forging in this country for the last 16 years. Khan, however, was born in England and has been working with an international cast of performers in a country that welcomes cross-cultural fertilisation as an expression of its identity; Mangaldas and her dancers have had to challenge the established norms of kathak from within its own cultural context. As she wrote in response to a question I asked her, this process ‘does raise debates in India but that makes the entire conversation alive and relevant. There is a growing appreciation of looking at our classical traditions in contemporary contexts and a huge appreciative viewership that encourages change. So the environment is quite vibrant with debate and interesting new directions.’ Inter-rupted thus resists tradition while remaining very much within it, a very different proposition to that of Khan; Mangaldas’s work looks refreshingly like the real thing.

What makes the aesthetic of Inter-rupted familiar, perhaps, is that the production team includes some of Khan’s key figures he had introduced to Mangaldas nearly seven years ago, since when they have been working together on various productions: Farooq Chaudhry is listed as dramaturg, Fabiana Piccioli as lighting designer and Kimie Nakano designed the costumes. The confluence of Piccioli and set designer Manish Kansara — a sculptor based in Delhi — is visually stunning: an airy, three-sided space in shades of ochre that acts, depending on the lighting, as much like a large interior room as it does an undefined exterior space. The very opening shows a solitary man short of breath shaking uncontrollably in his room as he stares out at the audience, his body disintegrating until he recedes into the dark. Out of the dark we see the figure of Mangaldas slithering diagonally backwards through a shadowy, open space dragging a cloth that unwinds into a broad stream of material before she gathers it in slowly and purposefully as six figures enter the space that becomes a room once again.

Nakano’s evident understanding of, and sensibility to kathak rhythms allow her costumes to breathe and flow with the movement while maintaining an ascetic, spiritual quality in which the work is painted.

But while Mangaldas’s collaborators give Inter-rupted its aesthetic cohesion, it is the richness of the material — Pema Chödrön’s ‘thingness’ — and its interpretation that make this body-and-mind struggle to face its true nature a cause for celebration.

 

This review was commissioned by Pulse Asian Dance and Music and appears here with the very kind permission of its editors. 


Le Patin Libre, Vertical

Posted: January 15th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Le Patin Libre, Vertical

Le Patin Libre, Vertical, Somerset House, January 13, jointly presented by Dance Umbrella and Somerset House

A Dance Umbrella Commission in partnership with National Arts Centre, Canada and Theatre de la Ville, Paris. Research supported by Jerwood Studio at Sadler’s Wells and Dance Umbrella

Le Patin Libre at Somerset House (photo: Alicia Clarke)

Le Patin Libre at Somerset House (photo: Alicia Clarke)

When I first saw Le Patin Libre at Alexandra Palace in Dance Umbrella’s 2014 festival I arrived late and saw only the latter part of their first half, Influences. The second half was Vertical which is the work Dance Umbrella has brought back to London for a limited run on the skating rink in its front yard at Somerset House. Renegade skaters, cutting edge ice dance performance runs the publicity with a smile. Watch the award-winning Le Patin Libre (they won the Total Theatre & The Place Award for Dance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015) carve the ice, with their signature blend of technical skill and cutting edge style (at the Quebec Delegation reception Emma Gladstone added that the group had also a strain of bloody-mindedness for forging ahead with their project despite criticism and jeering from hockey players and ice dancers at home in Montreal). Their mix of intricate footwork, wit, speed and grace pushes the boundaries of what is physically possible and carries ice-skating performance into the 21st century. There’s certainly some disambiguation to be done to separate the skating of Le Patin Libre from other forms of dancing on ice. Translating the company name — free skating — is true to its origins but doesn’t do justice to the artistic endeavor of the group and ‘artistic free skating’ sounds like an Olympic category. So until some apt description can be found the only way to know what it is they do is to see them perform. They have some work to do as well; while all five (Alexandre Hamel, Taylor Dilley, Jasmin Boivin, Pascale Jodoin and Samory Ba) dress casually (no glitter to be seen) and take care to present their work without the trappings of figure skating, they are not averse to feats of skating virtuosity, as if to reassure us they are former professional skaters. They don’t need to. The articulated solo by Ba, Jodoin’s sensuous spirals and the long, sweeping, swooping, interweaving patterns of the quintet up and down the ice are what mark the originality of Le Patin Libre: understated artistry that could not be achieved without their level of skill.

It’s not just the ice but the space that Le Patin Libre transforms with their art. Seeing what they did at Alexandra Palace was a revelation of sheer volume; at Somerset House the space is, paradoxically for an open-air rink, constrained, perhaps by the monumentality of Sir William Chambers‘ neoclassical architecture with its ice-sugary lighting in shades of blue and pink. By comparison with the performance at Alexandra Palace, Vertical at Somerset House seems more of a sampler, welcome nonetheless and well worth seeing, but not fully representative of what this quintet can do. Their ideas need the freedom and distance of the largest indoor rinks because their lines and speed and dynamics — like a flock of long-legged birds in formation — can best be appreciated on that scale. Although the development of the group originated on outdoor rinks in Montreal, the performers feel more at home navigating at high speed the vast indoor spaces of skating rinks where the theatrical effects (here by Lucy Carter) of lighting and haze, moreover, are not subject to the vagaries of outdoor weather.

Inserted like an unofficial preview into the opening of Vertical (as Alexandre Hamel told me after the performance) are some ideas the company is developing for a new show which hint at a form of minimalism, enhancing the geometry of patterns with the glistening lines of the skaters’ trajectories to expand our sense of space and time. While Vertical and Influences have gone a long way towards creating a new spatial dynamic of dance, this new work has the opportunity to consolidate the form. Perhaps by then it will have a name.

There are eight more performances of Vertical at Somerset House on Friday January 14 at 18h30 and 20h00 and on Saturday and Sunday January 15 & 16 at 18h30, 20h00 and 21h30.

Théâtre de la Ville will be presenting Le Patin Libre in Vertical Influences at the Patinoire de Bercy in Paris from 14 to 17 June.


La Veronal: Voronia

Posted: November 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on La Veronal: Voronia

La Veronal, Voronia, Dance Umbrella at Sadler’s Wells, October 20

La Veronal in a scene from Voronia (photo © Josep Aznar)

La Veronal in a scene from Voronia (photo © Josep Aznar)

If the old paradox is correct that there is no theatre without a spectator, what exactly is the role of the spectator? One writer who develops the idea of the relationship between the choreographer/performance on the one hand and the spectator on the other is French philosopher Jacques Rancière in The Emancipated Spectator. Rancière begins by positing two difficulties about being a spectator. ‘First, viewing is the opposite of knowing: the spectator is held before an appearance in a state of ignorance about the process of production of this appearance and about the reality it conceals. Second, it is the opposite of acting: the spectator remains immobile in her seat, passive. To be a spectator is to be separated from both the capacity to know and the power to act.’ To overcome such difficulties Rancière positions the spectator differently in relation to the performance by recognizing his or her active knowledge and agency, what he calls the ‘emancipated spectator’. He compares this to a teacher-pupil relationship in which the pupil will learn not what the teacher knows but what the teacher can encourage the pupil to discover what he or she doesn’t yet know. In this sense the role of a choreographer is similar to that of a good teacher. Pina Bausch allows us to make our own discoveries through her open-ended imagery, whereas Marcos Morau, the artistic director of La Veronal, whose new production, Voronia Dance Umbrella presented this season, is keen to have us understand something he is passionate about: in this case, the concepts of evil and religion.

Last year Dance Umbrella presented the company’s Siena which embodied Morau’s take on art and the human body in the seductive setting of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In Voronia Morau has conceptually moved his world of darkness and evil to the deepest cave in the world, Krubera Voronia in the western Caucasus but the stage set is neither deep nor dark: designer Enric Planas has contrived what looks like a convention-centre setting for the last supper: a table laid for a feast in a banqueting room with its red carpet and scalloped beige curtains hiding a steel cargo elevator that doubles as an operating theatre. As we take our seats we see the company dressed in white overalls meticulously cleaning the carpet with vacuum cleaners, buckets of water, sponges and mops while a young boy (Jared Irving) dressed as a waiter looks out at the audience. Above the stage is projected the Latin phrase, ‘In girum imus nocte ecce et consumimur igni’, a riddle in the form of a palindrome that means ‘we wander in the night and are consumed by fire.’

In the program note, Morau invokes the philosophies of Saint Augustine to state that in the same way that darkness is the absence of light, so evil is the absence of good. According to Morau, ‘humanity created God to secure the boundaries of morality; God serves as the keeper of goodness and a moral refuge for humankind. But in the hands of man, religion has gone to seed. For to kill in the name of God is to kill God and the absolute moral system.’ (As I write Paris is under a state of emergency following the terrorist attacks). In its printed form this is a cogent argument — a one-on-one with the reading spectator. But what happens when it is translated into the layered imagery of the stage with its surtitled text, visual imagery, dance, operatic music and spoken word? More importantly, what happens to the relationship between performance and spectator? In such a hybridization of media in the service of such a rational argument, it appears Morau and his dramaturgs Roberto Fratini and Pablo Gisbert have meticulously prepared all the translation and interpretation in advance, leaving the spectator to unravel an intellectual puzzle in which he or she wanders passively through a bewildering set of images to return at the end, for want of clarification, to the printed proposal. Part of the problem is that some elements of the layering do not read in the theatrical space — it is difficult to take in the texts of Saint Augustine while watching the action below, for example — and others, like the choreographic language cloned from the idiosyncratic Manuel Rodriguez or the soundscape that devolves from a heartbeat into a series of rousing opera choruses are not developed sufficiently to make them integral to the creative arc. But the major problem is the withdrawal of control from the spectator by the creator. It is like a teacher whose determination to inculcate his knowledge leaves no room for the pupil to learn.


Dan Canham/Still House, Of Riders and Running Horses

Posted: October 26th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dan Canham/Still House, Of Riders and Running Horses

Dan Canham/Still House, Of Riders and Running Horses, NCP Car Park Farringdon, October 16

The setting of Dan Canham's Of Riders and Running Horses (photo: Paul Blakemore)

The setting of Dan Canham’s Of Riders and Running Horses (photo: Paul Blakemore)

There is something unconventional if not transgressive in putting on a contemporary folk dance event atop a multi-story car park on an October night in London, but that is what Dance Umbrella and Dan Canham have done with Of Riders and Running Horses that opened this year’s festival. It is an apt pairing, for while Canham aims with his dance and music to carve out a space for people to gather, Dance Umbrella aims ‘to be a catalyst that introduces…the audience to artists in new ways.’

Canham is one of the most grounded choreographers I know and has compelling arguments behind each of his projects. Of Riders and Running Horses is the confluence of two principal ideas: to reimagine the transformative effect of folk traditions like the Molly dances of East Anglia, the straw bear festival of Whittlesea or the tar barrels of Ottery St. Mary, and to recreate the kind of urban public space where such events might happen. In his two previous works Canham proved adept at finding language to translate tradition and geography into dance: a paean for his childhood countryside in Ours Was the Fen Country and a tribute to the ghosts of an abandoned theatre in Limerick in 30 Cecil Street. His choreographic ideas grow not from abstract ideas but from fertile soil, from the life of the countryside he knows and loves. This is what makes his works not only graspable but memorable.

In thinking about what might constitute a modern folk idiom — one that eschews ownership and belongs to the life of the community in which it is practiced — Canham has taken aspects of house, jump and street dance as his point of departure for the work. And in the age of the Internet where the concept of ‘local’ is no longer bound by parochial geographical boundaries, Canham has borrowed and adapted steps he had seen in video clips of street dance in other parts of the world.

Of Riders and Running Horses is choreographed on five dancers: Anna Kazsuba, Isabelle Cressy, Odilia Egyiawan, Tilly Webber and Tanya Richam-Odoi. To be more precise, the choreography developed through both Canham’s input and the dancers’ improvisation to the music of drummer Luke Harney (aka Typesun) and singer Sam Halmarack. These two are the ‘Riders’ in the title and the dancers are the ‘Running Horses’. In other words it is not always clear who is leading the way but once they get going there is no stopping them. It is Halmarack who cuts through the crowd’s chatter with a singing voice that instantly commands attention. Canham has each dancer in turn jump, step or fly out of the audience to begin dancing to Harney’s complex musical rhythms with a mastery of undulation and quicksilver footwork that builds into high-energy ensemble sections with thigh-slapping rhythms punctuated with calls. In between these group dances, four of the five performers merge back into the audience while a fifth dances alone, giving free rein to her personality until the group reassembles. Although there are shared elements in the vocabulary, each solo has variations in temperament; on one end of the scale Kazsuba is contemplative, winding down with sinuous grace to an eloquent whisper of movement, while the space around Egyiwan has no chance to rest. Yet when they all move together they are an irrepressible quintet.

The NCP car park in Farringdon is perhaps more exciting in theory than in practice. Its promise as a communal urban space is diluted by fixing the boundaries of the performance area at one end of the top floor, surrounded on three sides by the audience and an inner sanctum of a tent for the two musicians behind. The stage may be open to the elements but it is effectively a theatrical culture (with its ethos of watching rather than participating) transposed to the rooftop instead of an organic congregational format where people are drawn into the activity to watch, mingle and wander at will (a format suggested in Paul Blakemore’s photograph on the cover of the festival program).

Perhaps because the audience is so formally arranged around the ‘stage’ the celebratory aspect of the performance doesn’t physically ignite the audience, however hard the dancers try and however gleefully they reach out to the front row of hands as they pass. It is only at the end that the dancers breach the wall and invite the audience on to the dance floor. The opportunity to warm up may be one reason for the eagerness to join in but it also suggests a desire to engage with the dancers and musicians that has been too long withheld by imposed convention.


La Veronal: Siena

Posted: November 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on La Veronal: Siena

La Veronal: Siena, Dance Umbrella, Queen Elizabeth Hall, October 30

Titian's Venus of Urbino

Titian’s Venus of Urbino

Major art exhibitions often borrow works from museums around the world, but the Barcelona company La Veronal seems to have borrowed an entire room from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in which hangs Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Our seats in the Queen Elizabeth Hall are as it were behind a glass wall peering into the space. The details of the room are meticulously reproduced (courtesy of La Veronal and Enric Planas): benches facing the painting, a small descriptive plaque on the wall to its right, an attendant’s stool between the plaque and the doorway through which we see a corridor with red carpeting. The walls of the gallery rise to a classical cornice, and the lighting is diffuse with a soft spotlight on the face of Venus. The only thing missing is the ubiquitous audio guide though there are two recorded audio commentaries spliced into the score. Audio guides influence the way we see a work, but without the guide we may miss some useful context; it’s a choice we make each time we attend an exhibition. In Siena, there is no choice. Marcos Morau, director and choreographer of La Veronal, choses to provide a lot of recorded and spoken text (by Pablo Gisbert) but he strings it together in such a way that makes understanding problematic.

More dreamlike than rational, more abstract than logical, Siena is billed as ‘a haunting reflection on art and the human body (that) takes us on a journey through the history of art from Titian’s Venus of Urbino to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.’ That’s a long way to travel in an hour and almost impossible to digest in a single viewing. What comes through Morau’s dense layering of art, cinema and dance is a preoccupation with the nude female body as art object and with representation as a form of death. The result is a visually rich feast of symbols and images in which intellectual threads are undeniably present but woven in such a way as to be constantly unraveling. It makes you want to reach for an audio guide.

Manuel Rodríguez, an elongated, angular El Greco figure, brings the gallery to life as he enters through the doorway in a buttoned black suit, green shirt and red tie. He is both attendant and master of ceremonies, using his long limbs and torso to conduct events, knotting himself into tortured shapes and giving directions with equal facility. He turns to look at the painting. A blackout serves as a cinematic cut to a woman-in-green (Cristina Facco) sitting on a bench in front of the Venus. Rodríguez looks at her looking at the painting. Two fencers minus their rapiers enter, bow to each other and commence a danced duel of sharp thrusts and jabs. Rodríguez now serves as umpire to the duel. What are two fencers doing dueling in the Uffizi? We don’t know, but we are visually drawn in by the superimposition of images. A hospital bed with a body bag is wheeled into the gallery, an image of clinical mortality that runs throughout the work. Facco gets up from the bench, lies down on the bed and zips herself up in the bag. The fencers finish and wheel her off, waving goodbye like two astronauts about to enter their capsule. The young woman who wheeled in the bed now takes Facco’s place in front of the painting. The attendant looks at the lap dog in the painting with some interest. Sau-Ching Wong lies on the floor like Venus in a fencing outfit and talks about the constant mystery of seeing the naked female body over the centuries. A young woman undresses in the corner like Venus herself in contemporary form and lies on the gallery floor. Death stalks once again in the form of the hospital bed passing along the corridor.

Now that Morau has set out the central themes of death and representation, he plays with the elements in flashbacks, monologues (in Italian with English surtitles), two audio guide commentaries and a duet to the voices (so I was told) of Mussolini and Berlusconi. Adding these layers is one thing, but connecting them and bringing them to some kind of formal resolution is quite another. Morau’s poetry falters in a rather literal ripping out of the Titian canvas to reveal a funeral parlour and coffin (with Facco laid out) behind, while Rodríguez as a figure of death dressed in a shiny gray bodysuit looks as if he has climbed out of the pages of a comic book — a crude climax to the trajectory from Eros to Thanatos.

Siena is made up of so many fragmented, interacting episodes it is difficult to find a unifying element, unless we make Morau’s imagination the source — Siena as a kind of unintended autobiography. What does unite the entire work, however, is the sumptuous lighting (again a collaboration of La Veronal and Enric Planas) as one might expect from a director with roots in cinema and photography: the triumph of the visual over the intellectual.

 


Le Patin Libre: Vertical Influences

Posted: November 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Le Patin Libre: Vertical Influences

Le Patin Libre, Vertical Influences, Dance Umbrella, Alexandra Palace Ice Rink, October 29

Le Patin Libre (photo: Rolline Laporte)

Le Patin Libre (photo: Rolline Laporte)

Two hours drive from Teddington should get you well out of London but on this particular Thursday it only got me to Alexandra Palace 15 minutes after the performance of Le Patin Libre started but as some kind soul who was wheeling his fold-up bike on his way to see the Hugging Guru in another part of Alexandra Palace told me, the time you arrive is precisely the time you should arrive. Notwithstanding the wisdom of his statement, I would have liked to see the beginning of Le Patin Libre’s Vertical Influences because what I saw subsequently was such a revelation.

Here you are on the ringside of this vast arena watching six skaters tracing lines in the ice like exuberant explorers, pushing space in front of them and pulling it behind them like a flock of birds. There is still a sense of the proscenium theatre because we are seated in a cosy rectangle on one side of the rink and the performers play towards us. But otherwise the dynamics of the conventional theatre are blown away by the sheer volume of this space, and also by the dance form. The origins of Le Patin Libre began on the frozen lakes and outdoor rinks of Montreal where ice underlies the national temperament. Every local park in winter has its seasonally constructed ice rink dedicated for the most part to hockey but also to free skating (patin libre). The photograph on the front of Dance Umbrella’s printed program gives you the idea. All but one of the members of Le Patin Libre took to the ice as naturally as we might learn to dribble a ball in the back yard. They then developed their skills in figure-skating competition but found the creative side limited. Alexandre Hamel got together a small group to develop a choreographic form on ice, and the rest, as they say, is icestory.

Back to Alexandra Palace where the skaters are like free spirits in autumn colours (courtesy of Jenn Pocobene) stamping out rhythms on the ice and swooping around the rink chasing each other, Hamel in an orange shirt darting in an out of the group. I am reminded of Paul Klee’s description of his doodle sketches as ‘taking his pencil for a walk’. Taylor Dilley doodles on one leg for long, slow stretches, but for the most part the skaters take their entire shape around the ice at high speed, skating with ballet bravura without having to compete for points. All six skaters have characters that brim with confidence without ever getting haughty about their skills or precious about their choreography; they have removed themselves from the trappings of figure skating and simply dance on ice, drawing the audience into their performance with endearing modesty. Perhaps it’s because I lived in Montreal for so long that the performance touches me deeply, but I felt at Alexandra Palace that I was not alone.

By taking the sport and artistic competition out of skating, Le Patin Libre presents a new dynamic of dance, one that allows shapes to glide and swoop and turn at dizzying speeds. And because the performers need so much space to move, the dance venue has expanded to heroic stature. Alexandra Palace is not exactly beautiful but tracking these dancers as they course around its rink is exhilarating. It is as if our senses grow into the new volume, enlarging our perceptions and expectations. Perhaps this is what Edward Gordon Craig had in mind when he wrote about his vision of theatre having heroic stature. There is much to explore in this new form and it is an inspired co-commission by Dance Umbrella.

After the interval, the ‘front’ has changed from the side to one end of the rink where we are seated on benches on a covered section of the ice. The skaters enter from the furthest point from the audience gliding endlessly towards us in Lucy Carter’s brilliant backlight until they turn effortlessly at the very last, impossible moment to regroup in the distance. In between these long patterns that resemble cloverleaf motorway intersections, the skaters introduce their individual skills in a narrow band of light across the front of the ice. Coming forward again, they stop suddenly in the silence of snow. Jasmin Boivin, doubling as the composer for the group, smiles a wicked smile in front while the others weave down the ice in S-curves and in beautiful counterpoint Boivin skates up the ice as the others race down towards him, splitting around him like water round a pebble. There are quartets, a lovely turning solo by Pascale Jodoin and a superbly articulated riff by Samory Ba with his elongated body in shirt and orange pants that has the syncopated, ice-tapping rhythms of free improvisation. The others join for more gliding patterns at speed, their camaraderie as palpable as their joy of movement.

Driving home was a breeze.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tao Dance Theatre: 6 & 7

Posted: November 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Tao Dance Theatre: 6 & 7

TAO Dance Theatre, 6 & 7, Dance Umbrella, Sadler’s Wells, October 21

Tao Dance Theatre in Tao Ye's 7 (photo: Alastair Muir)

Tao Dance Theatre in Tao Ye’s 7 (photo: Alastair Muir)

TAO Dance Theatre’s two works, 6 and 7, on the Dance Umbrella program are an uncompromising integration of concept and movement. This is how Artistic Director Tao Ye puts it in words: ‘I deeply understand the narrowness of the individual, and that the possibilities of humanity are created precisely within the limitations of that narrowness. The body, the physical existence that bears within itself the intrinsic order of life, is where the greatest wisdom lies.’ In distinguishing the wisdom of the body from the narrowness of the individual, Tao Ye equates dance with wisdom and his work can be construed as giving that wisdom a physical form while eschewing the dominance of the individual. This approach precludes the possibility of narrative because there is no subject to narrate: this is dance as a purely visual form. The proscenium becomes a frame and the lighting fills the frame with a painterly wash — engulfing the dancers in a masterly fog in 6 and highlighting them in shadowless light in 7. The sense of two dimensions is enhanced by Tao Ye’s approach to colour: ‘We live in an era of dazzling colours; my chosen path of thought in such an era is to create a single distilled colour.’ 6 is a study in grey and black, 7 in white. In formal terms, Tao Ye reduces the planes on which the dancers perform to a single line from which they never break free (nor from each other): ‘When it comes to pluralism versus binary opposition, I believe more in the existence of the single unitary.’ This heady package of philosophical concepts with parallels to traditional Chinese landscape painting challenges western ideas of space, perspective, being and eternity. It is, however, the radical integrity of the concept that gives 6 and 7 a calming, meditative quality. Tao may be the name of the company’s founder, but it also signifies — in its English spelling at least — a universal principle.

Within this carefully constructed conceptual framework the choreography is remarkably fluid. The six dancers in 6 (and the seven in 7) are of similar heights and qualities, dressed in long stretchy costumes that transmute gender and individuality into a single (binary) form. They move in unison throughout and because their bodies are so supplely articulate they undulate together like a single organism with several heads. In both works their hands are held close to the body so the entire visual vocabulary remains focused on the pliant vertical axis of the body, from freely rolling head to planted foot.

Ellen Ruge’s lighting for 6 is allied closely to the choreography, controlling the opacity of the fog, picking out the moving heads like glints of armour, highlighting hands and faces, stretched-up necks or the fineness of the jaw. With backlight Ruge detaches the group from the fog to focus our attention on the willowy forms of the dancers, their subtle changes of direction and unexpected variations, always in mesmerizing unison, always in the same relationship to one another. Xiao He’s throaty, sonorous score is neither subservient to the choreography nor overpowers it; it seems to exist within the bodies of the dancers and like them never tires. There is a point at which the dancers stop suddenly; they backbend and roll through their hips to kneel in one fluid movement. Their knees gently touching the floor is a rare punctuation but when the music starts again they slowly roll up to the vertical and continue without any sense of exhaustion as if the tide has just turned. The score is the only element that carries a sense of beginning and end (one feels the dancers could go on forever) and it heralds the end with a frenzied passage of bowed strings. The dancers hinge to their knees once again but when they rise they slowly recede into the dusk as the music fades. After the curtain descends there are no bows. The relationship of the dancers is with the plane in which they move and with each other, like a painting in a gallery. We do not applaud a painting but it is a convention of the theatre that Tao Ye cannot control.

Before the curtain rises on 7, there is a cryptic announcement that for this new work the choreographer would appreciate if the audience would remain silent as any noise will affect the performance (it turns out that the dancers create their own score with their voices that are amplified by overhead microphones). The curtain rises on a stunning opening scene in white, brightly lit (by Ma Yue), with seven dancers in long, white, stretchy costumes on a white floor. There is an irrepressible burst of laughter in the audience. From this point on, the formal elements of 7 follow closely those of 6. The dancers once again form a single entity in a single plane and the unison movement is equally fluid…and equally mesmerizing. The addition of the dancers’ voices is eerily beautiful, but haven’t we just been down this philosophical route in the first half? Tao Ye states that ‘…through my work I hope to return attention to the essence of the process of sensing and perception — what makes dance truly express its purity and progression. When we allow ourselves the freedom to see without controlling pre-conceptions, only then can we experience a genuine dialogue with the true nature of what is in front of our eyes, and finally begin to walk into the infinite unknown.’ It is perhaps Tao Ye’s explicit purpose to emphasize in white the concepts he has covered in black and grey as he progresses towards ‘the infinite unknown’, but on the choreographic side this suggests a limiting form for the wisdom of the body. I have not seen Tao Ye’s works 1 through 5, but on the evidence of 6 and 7, his choreographic conception seems too self-referential to allow for the freedom he espouses.

 

 


Eduardo Fukushima / Eleanor Sikorski: Dance Umbrella

Posted: October 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Eduardo Fukushima / Eleanor Sikorski: Dance Umbrella

Eduardo Fukushima’s Crooked Man and Eleanor Sikorski’s Big hands, big heart, Dance Umbrella, Siobhan Davies Studio, October 26

Eduardo Fukushima in Crooked Body (photo ©RolexBart Michiels)

Eduardo Fukushima in Crooked Man (photo ©RolexBart Michiels)

Great artists are those who can transform their weaknesses into strengths. I don’t know what Eduardo Fukushima has had to deal with in his life, but his artistry reveals he has challenged his demons and won. Short and stocky in stature with an expansive and sympathetic personality, he stands motionless against the end wall dressed in a black pants and high-collared jacket watching the audience arrive. His eyes seem to take in each person. The second-floor studio of Siobhan Davies Studio is divided into three as if for a fashion show, with a broad performance corridor down the middle stretching from one wall to the other with benches and floor cushions either side for the audience.

There is a blackout with a blinding distraction of sound and when the lights come up again Fukushima is standing in the same place, in the same pose, in the same high-waisted black pants but bare chested. This sleight of hand, this piece of magic by Fukushima and stage director, Hideki Matsuka, marks the beginning of Fukushima’s pilgrimage that sees him traveling tirelessly down this corridor of experience towards the light. It is as if we are witnessing the struggle in his head, the fevered hallucinations that work their way through his body, the body of the Crooked Man.

At first Fukushima doesn’t seem to move but there is an almost imperceptible struggle going on that is tightening his arms behind his back, pulling his shoulders back and leaving his chin jutting out like someone being tied to a stake. His face is imperturbable, noble, his body vulnerable. Then his shoulders relax, his arms come to his side and he stumbles forward as if untied to embody a series of images that will develop in the course of the work into a fully modulated study of a man whose suffering is his gift; it is all he has. His reward for offering this gift is his redemption.

Fukushima builds his images through distorted poses like crossed turned-in feet, in the way he walks at times on the knuckles of his toes, hands that are taut and tensed as they stutter out their message, an unexpected shudder that shakes his entire frame like a fever, his fluttering eyelids and his mouth opening and closing in dumb astonishment. There are certain leitmotifs: the sudden release to a back bend, the violent rotation of his upper body and undulation of his hips that test his precarious equilibrium on the floor and an occasional kneeling as if in reverence or proud defiance. Images of a bullfighter and a pugilist pass briefly before our eyes only to be deconstructed in the constant procession of nightmarish forms and shapes that keep pace with the relentless beat of Tom Monteiro’s score. In this masterful depiction of feverish states of mind, Goya comes to mind, and like Goya Fukushima sublimates his journey into something beautiful; terror becomes pathos, grotesque distortion becomes wholeness, suffering becomes compassion. He reaches the far wall and stands facing it. His shoulders list very slowly to one side as the illumination round him increases. From stillness he is suddenly drawn back up the corridor, feet scuttling and arms raised as if pulled involuntarily to his starting point where he stands purified. He has managed to transport us there, too. Sublime.

Eleanor Sikorski (photo: Clare Sikorska)

Eleanor Sikorski (photo: Clare Sikorska)

There is no better antidote to Fukushima’s Crooked Man than Eleanor Sikorski’s free-spirited Big hands, big heart, but it comes before not after. Sikorski herself, dressed all in red to match her lipstick ushers us in to the first floor studio, escorting certain individuals into place like stage props. In the middle of the space is a collection of large red inflatable latex toys including a sofa, a lilo, a dragon, some skittles and a large beach ball. Once we are all in place Sikorski launches herself with total abandon on to the inflated toys and lands sprawled on the floor on the other side. She remains there for a moment; nobody seems to want to see if she is alright. She gets up when the the pulsing music starts, and begins to pulse herself, jumps like a firecracker, does a brief highland dance and skip-hops towards her toys. She picks up the beach ball and launches it through her legs. The musical pulse slows and Sikorski winds down with it until it stops. She lies down on the lilo to catch her breath in silence. We wait; car headlights criss-cross the walls and ceiling. Scarves are coming off as the heat in the room rises, knee joints creak as weight is transferred. Oblivious, Sikorski remains supine. On a whistle she jumps up and gives the lilo to a group of four to hold. ‘Just hold it’, she explains. ‘Are you allergic to latex?’ she asks, followed by ‘Is it possible to buy a ship on the Internet?’ ‘I don’t think so’, ventures one (what half-hearted performers we are). Sikorski hands another group the latex dragon. ‘Feel the bass’, she urges, ‘just feel the bass.’ Since there is no music, it seems an odd command. She invites another member of the audience to sit in the armchair and hands out the remaining skittles. The pounding bass notes begin and shake the floor, us and the latex toys. We are feeling the bass. Seeing we are occupied, Sikorski leaves the room while we stand vibrating with amused (or bemused) expectation. Both Sikorski and Fukushima have big hearts, expressed in such contrasting ways. Great programming.

 

 


Dan Watson’s Jacket Dance

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dan Watson’s Jacket Dance

Dan Watson’s Jacket Dance, Founders’ Studio, The Place, October 12

Dan Watson in a jacket (photo: Brian Archer)

Dan Watson in a jacket (photo: Brian Archer)

 

This year there was a big heart beating at Dance Umbrella, epitomized not only in such works at Gunilla Heilborn’s This Is Not A Love Story and Robyn Orlin’s Beauty Remained For Just A Moment Then Returned Gently To Her Starting Position, but in a rather special Fringe element curated by Bellyflop Magazine. This is Heart with a capital H, accompanied by a printed program (only £5) in which the collaborative artist-led team produced a delightfully informative and refreshing approach to dance. What caught my attention was Flora Wellesley-Wesley’s article on Ridiculous Dancing, a name that summoned up a David and Goliath challenge to the neuroscientific-banks-of-research approach to choreography prevalent in some of our more serious (and well-funded) dance establishments; Ridiculous Dancing, it seems to promise, takes the ‘&’ out of R&D.

As an advocate of Ridiculous Dancing and the choreographer of Jacket Dance, Dan Watson explains to Wellesley-Wesley, ‘I genuinely enjoy watching people who feel compelled to express themselves in the moment: these spontaneous little personal dances that have nothing to do with rightness or composition and everything to do with humanity and physicalising internal states, whether that be a reaction to music or the moment itself….You can see the person more than the movement. The movement is a vehicle to see the humanity.’

There is an intimate scale in Watson’s approach, so it is appropriate that Jacket Dance is performed in the Founders’ Studio, a large living room with the audience packed in at one end and a floor-to-ceiling muslin backdrop at the other — what traveling players might once have set up in the village square. Watson and fellow dancer Matthew Winston are warming up as we enter. The signal to start is the donning of their jackets that hang on either side of the room.

Jacket Dance comprises a handful of scenes in a single fifteen-minute act, a ludic exploration of impulsive dance that favours exultation over technique. As Watson further explains: ‘Jacket Dance is a lot to do with joy: kids dancing to their favourite music, drunk old men dancing for each others’ enjoyment, comedians — both alternative and more traditional — provoking laughter in their audiences.’

Watson starts to riff on a shuffle and Winston picks it up and adds to it. They alternate, playing off each other like a Vaudeville team before establishing a single rhythm that one of them then muddles up. Part two develops individual sequences quite independently of each other, short dance phrases with interlinking shuffles and silly walks until Watson limps away with the choreographic equivalent of a throwaway line. Watson and Winston each wear their character like a mask: Winston’s is over-concentrated effort, while Watson’s is more abandoned though there is an underlying sense of fun in both. They watch each other and surreptitiously copy each other but for the most part they sense the space between them with the eyes of the body.

The next section explores contact in the context of Ridiculous Dancing: Winston and Watson fall against each other, embrace, and shake down. Watson picks Winston up, loses interest and drops him. The dropping and the getting up are treated as movement not story, so there are no recriminations. They judder together, jump like beans, and riff on silly walks until Watson knocks Winston down. Punch and Judy? No matter, they are up and shaking again until they both fall as flailing angels in the snow. A brief musical interlude follows, in which the two men alternate, one playing itsy-bitsy spider on his fingers while the other sings. The songs have an unselfconscious rawness — not to mention breathlessness — about them that goes hand in hand with the movement. In the coda the gloves come off in a dance of one-upmanship that adds the element of extreme to Ridiculous Dancing in some knee-crashing landings until both men are ready to drop, which they do, tracing angels in the snow again. Winding down further, they walk round the room to face each other as at the beginning. The only way to stop is to take off their jackets. Naturally.