A preview of Alexander Whitley’s new work, 8 Minutes

Posted: June 8th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Preview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A preview of Alexander Whitley’s new work, 8 Minutes

Alexander Whitley, 8 Minutes, Studio Wayne McGregor, May 25, 26

8 Minutes

Dancers rehearsing Alexander Whitley’s 8 Minutes (photo: Johan Persson)

Eight minutes is the time it takes for light to reach the Earth from the Sun.

On the white floor in the white space the figures and gestures of the seven dancers (Luke Crook, Hannah Ekholm, Tia Hockey, David Ledger, Leon Poulton, Victoria Roberts and Julia Sanz Fernandez) are as clear as atoms under a microscope moving with the detached precision and fluidity of dynamic particles. We are in the larger of the two studios in the Wayne McGregor Studio complex in the former Olympics media centre under the surprisingly composed gaze of choreographer Alexander Whitley. He wants to run for the first time his new work, 8 Minutes, but the closer he gets to starting the more the dancers are wondering ‘what comes next’ and the more Whitely realizes there are transitional details he hasn’t fully worked through with them. It is that moment in the choreographic process when the creator will see the first complete view of what until now has been rehearsed only in sections. It’s nerve-wracking for both the dancers and the choreographer and being a late Friday afternoon brains are tired if not fried.

There is a good deal of expectation sitting on Whitley’s new work as it is his first full-scale main-stage work for co-commissioner Sadler’s Wells. It was Alastair Spalding who brokered the idea between Whitley and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) to create a work based on solar science. Whitley has always been interested in and inspired by science and RAL has always been interested in finding artistic means to disseminate the knowledge that comes out of their research (the complete 8 Minutes project includes workshops in schools with a scientist and two dancers). This is the first time RAL has approached dance as a medium. Hugh Mortimer, the scientist who has been overseeing the project, sees himself and Whitley as interested in the same ideas about the world but differing in their approach; scientists seek an understanding of the universe as objectively as possible, while artists approach it more subjectively. And as Whitley points out, he shares the scientist’s interest in movement but on a vastly different scale.

Whitley is not choreographing to illustrate the science directly, but in talking with Mortimer he has narrowed down notions such as magnetic fields to translate into choreographic form. Some concepts were eliminated as untranslatable, but others led to interesting movement ideas that embody what Whitley describes as ‘relative complexity’. As he explains, “A lot of the material came from thinking about the physics and applying it to the body; how the body can get anywhere near the speed of light or thinking about scales unimaginably large within the body, or working with the minute atomic scale of things. It was about taking these principles and framing questions. It really has thrown up a quite different vocabulary of movement.”

For 8 Minutes, Whitley has collaborated with electro-acoustic musical innovator Daniel Wohl whose task is to imagine sound from the sun’s soundless environment, and visual artist Tal Rosner who has the advantage of access to RAL’s library of extraordinary solar images. It will be another week before Rosner’s contribution is added to the choreographic mix, but Whitley has relied on the composition of each section of Whol’s score for shaping the work.

Back in the studio, it’s a question of making form out of flow, adjusting the complex spatial patterns with the dancers in sections that have some predictable names like ‘a new day’, ‘sun’s rays’, ‘sun bathing’, ‘chasing the sun’ and some less predictable like ‘spring lambs’. It is choreographic imagery that helps dancers and choreographer keep track of sections that will be connected in the run-through. As one would expect from a dancer and choreographer who is naturally musical, Whitley knows his score intimately and he cues the dancers to sounds that take careful and repeated hearing (“This is easier on headphones”, he quips at one point). He accompanies his verbal corrections with kinesthetic ones, demonstrating a mastery of the phrases he wants his dancers to embody. In short, he is in control of his work and the dancers respond tirelessly with their own ability to refine and connect the phrases.

Watching the full run-through is to see a mature choreographic entity emerge that places human activity and solar science on the same plane, that imagines the effects of time and space on our daily lives. The solar science is the same but its influence on the movement of the dancers shows a transformation in Whitley’s vocabulary which in turn is influenced by, and influences our hearing of the score. The two work together beautifully. In the next few days Whitley will be seeing the lighting, visuals and costumes added to the mix for the first time. Uppermost in his mind as he watches the emergence of his work in all its complexity will be the kind of fragile ecological balance our planet requires for its continuing existence.

8 Minutes, a Sadler’s Wells commission, co-commissioned by DanceEast and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance,
will première at Sadler’s Wells on June 27 and 28 at 7:30
Sadler’s Wells Box Office: 020 7863 8000 www.sadlerswells.com
Twitter: @awdc_

1898: Contemporary Dance Festival

Posted: February 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 1898: Contemporary Dance Festival

1898: Contemporary Dance Festival, Print Room at The Coronet, February 23

Choreographers of 1898: Hubert Essakow, Kirill Burlov, Tamarin Stott, Mbulelo Ndabeni

Choreographers of 1898: Hubert Essakow, Kirill Burlov, Tamarin Stott, Mbulelo Ndabeni

The good news is The Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill, built by WGR Sprague in 1898, has a new lease of life as Print Room at The Coronet under the artistic direction of Anda Winters. Winters, who founded Print Room in Westbourne Grove in 2010, is planning to bring her new home to its original splendor as a cinema and performing arts space. If you are lucky enough to get tickets for the current show, 1898: Contemporary Dance Festival, curated by Winters and Artistic Associate Hubert Essakow to celebrate the theatre’s founding, you are attending the first live performance there in almost a century and sitting on the very stage where Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry once performed.

Because the auditorium is being renovated, both the audience and the performing area are arranged across the old stage; if we could look through the wall on the left we would see the auditorium. What designer Hannah Hall has devised is a stage at one end like the corner of a box, all in white, with a side wall that curves seamlessly round to the back and a white floor that flows from the curved baseboards to the open front and side of the stage area. The wall allows for projections and is solid enough to take weight; the open sides are for seating. Any reserved seating is for the performers, including a dilapidated period sofa next to me that looks as if it could tell a few stories. The feeling is intimate, and the whiff of fin-de-siècle intoxicating.

This is immediately evoked in Essakow’s Adieu; Erik Satie’s wistful Gnossienne No. 3 and some Debussy songs of romantic sensibility, sweet suffering and passion swirl around ‘the ghosts of past performances at The Coronet…’ which include a sensual, all-embracing femme fatale, Naomi Sorkin, looking remarkably like Sarah Bernhardt in a long silk dress, black cape and wide brimmed hat. There are two beautiful youths (David Ledger and Cree Barnett Williams) whose promising hold on each other is undermined throughout by Bernhardt’s seduction of them both: those passionate, half-closed eyelids know no limit. We even hear Bernhardt’s own voice returning to the stage in a ghostly recording. Adieu is not so much saying goodbye as immersing the characters in the fleeting sense of beauty, love and parting that the word — especially in French — brings to mind.

While the trio wafts silently into the night, Kirill Burlov appears somewhat disheveled, dressed in a white collarless shirt and black high-waisted breeches that were in better shape earlier in the evening before he started getting in to the absinthe. The appropriately named Absinthe is essentially a solo for two dancers, with a similarly disheveled Rob McNeil as the demon of the infamous green goddess seeping out of the walls and plaguing Burlov’s poetic imagination. All the choreography is reflected in their eyes, the dazed lids, the staring expressions, the desperate searching for reality in an increasingly hallucinatory phantasmagoria. This inner state is reflected in Platon Buravicky’s manic score but the focus of the work is Burlov’s dark, unhinged choreography and the partnering with McNeil; despite the hallucinations their awareness of each other’s presence is so attuned that the partnering is, to the sober, like a dream until Burlov passes out between O’Brien’s legs and the green goddess dematerializes.

Tamarin Stott’s response to the theatre, Scene to be Seen, is more tightly choreographed, but then her subject is the contrast between tight-lipped etiquette and freedom, what she calls the social exterior and the private interior. She begins with her feet at either end of the century, dressed in a corseted cream dress with a smartphone in her hand as she sits on the side of the stage where her beau (Nathan Young) is getting annoyed with her apparent disregard for him. This simmering antagonism informs the undercurrent of violence in the partnering, one misunderstood gesture following another until it seems something has changed forever. That would be enough for a short piece, but on top of this Stott wants to ‘reflect on…the extraordinary changes witnessed over (the theatre’s) lifetime…’ which is more the role of an archivist than of a choreographer. Neither is she helped by Ryan Cockerham’s score that is so densely signposted and annotated that it leaves little room for the dance or our imagination. A little dip into Burlov’s absinthe might have helped both.

In Beholder of Beauty Mbulelo Ndabeni also spans a century, between the first opera performed at The Coronet in 1898, The Geisha, and the 1999 romantic comedy film, Notting Hill. The opening is thrilling with an exotic Ndabeni in a white face with pursed red painted lips and a geisha’s red robe dancing with a breadth of movement that fills the space with an excitement that makes you feel you know what is going on inside. When he lets his head back and screams silently you feel he is crying for help. The score by Shirley J Thompson is intense but non-obtrusive; it is Ndabeni’s image that fills the stage. But then Notting Hill enters the picture, and for me the spell is broken. The appearance of Piedad Albarracin Seiquer in contemporary rehearsal clothes is a literary idea that doesn’t translate choreographically. When Ndabeni as geisha dances with her he clearly doesn’t speak the same language and when she dances alone, expressive as she is, she has no connection to him. It is rather prosaic after the poetry but Mdabeni turns back to the exotic by dancing in front of a projection of a lily in the process of opening. He seems to be both looking back to the spirit of 1898 and forward to the flowering of this new performance space.