Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me

Posted: April 1st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me

Deborah Light, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me, Chapter, Cardiff, March 17

Deborah Light in a sharing of Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me (photo: Warren Orchard)

Four years after chipping away at the inner life of the nineteenth century paleontologist Mary Anning in The Curio Cabinet, and six months into carrying a third child, Deborah Light has been turning her choreographic imagination to an excavation of her own life in an array of objects collected from the rocks and crevices of her mind and body. In this sharing of a development phase for a new work, Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me, she regales the invited audience in the studio at Chapter with a running commentary of her evolution that Darwin himself might have enjoyed if not fully appreciated. Nevertheless, her condensed trajectory from chordate to choreographer and from mollusk to mother is an accelerated but otherwise totally convincing line.

The studio is laid out with tables (they could be glass cases in a museum) on which are arrayed the objects and specimens Light has chosen to represent her. There is no particular order but they include balls of wool and knitting needles (her mother’s influence), fossils, rocks, seeds (her partner’s influence), her grandfather’s mantle clock, flowerpots and books (her private passion), all of which she invites the audience to inspect and handle. There are two other tables that are littered with notes or laid with paper for our written suggestions and interjections.

Kneeling on all fours in front of the clock Light demonstrates with rhythmic dorsal undulations the early chordate’s need for structural reorganization, then evolves into the shape of the mollusk’s hard shell and with evolutionary haste bypasses the seed’s slow-burning life with the vital attempt to stand up. This leads her to the table marked What’s Important on which she asks someone to add, ‘standing up’ and, as she catches her breath, ‘breathing’. As a mother of small children she also adds ‘dry pants’ to the growing list and as a human being she adds, ‘world peace’. In the space of an hour Semi Detached – An Archeology of Me builds up delightfully disparate layers of autobiographical sediment that form Light’s own particular landscape, her own history at this particular moment in her life, and as the unique curator she animates it all as both subject and object. She listens to the sounds of her own name as we might address it, as her mother might have pronounced it, as her children might call it, as she might have called her mother. It is harrowing and deeply moving to hear her label herself with these inflections of welcome, caution, fear and love, scratching under the name to give it life, identity and meaning.

Light has learned from raising her children that the art of dissembling can be very effective in keeping cool under fire. The way she leads us to believe the ‘indispensable’ bear, Mishu, is indeed borrowed from her five-year-old son as she proceeds to dissect his wooly chest with clinical precision is a master class in psychological manipulation. It also turns into a lesson in genetic association at a molecular level and a brief survey of an endangered species. ‘This species of bear will have to adapt’, she adds firmly as we all take a deep breath and follow her at a distance with our eyes.

Continuing to conflate the structures of archaeology and family, Light recreates a symbolic generational skeleton that she animates with her great grandmother’s Motherhood Book as brain, stones as vertebrae, the clock as biological time, a pot of seeds as ovaries and a rock as fused pelvis. She reinstates Mishu as the heart covered in a pinafore handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.

As if her version of evolution is totally logical, she totters across the room in two flowerpots with a ball of wool that she strings between pieces of table and chair like a game her mother used to play. She is gently inciting us to respond like children, to break through the historical into the present moment, but I think the episode with Mishu has kept us at arms length.

Archaeology and family life come full circle; Light’s final intervention reminds us of the nature of time, of the cyclical nature of starting and finishing. She takes off her outer garments and lies supine in her underwear on the What’s Important table, lying there so still like a living sarcophagus with her belly breathing two lives, while a recording of Handel’s aria Ombra Mai Fu infuses the image with the beauty of both life and death. When she rises to signal the end of the performance, some of the felt tip words are imprinted on her back. At moments like this you know something profoundly significant has just transpired, held in the moment and never to be repeated. It is a privileged moment for Light to be performing this and for us to be witnessing it, but the inspired and nonconformist workings of Semi Detached – An Archaeology of Me clearly have life after birth.


An introduction to Groundwork Pro in Cardiff

Posted: August 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on An introduction to Groundwork Pro in Cardiff

A multi-modal introduction to Groundwork Pro, Chapter, June 8

Groundwork Pro, working from the group up (photo: James Merryweather)

Groundwork Pro, working from the ground up (photo: James Merryweather)

When a young Gillian Lynn was taken by her mother to see a psychiatrist to assess her ability to learn, the wise man observed to her mother there was nothing wrong with her: she just needed to dance. Fortunately her mother followed his advice and Lynn found to her amazement that at dance school there were other kids who could not sit still; they had to dance in order to think.

Joanna Young and Deborah Light took this notion on board in their inaugural session of Groundwork Pro, a new Cardiff-based, artist-led collective, on the final day of Dance Roads at Chapter in Cardiff. The confluence of this workshop with Dance Roads, featuring dancers from five EU countries, was not coincidental. Referencing the cultural state of affairs the EU referendum threatened to affect, Young and Light titled it, Are We Independent or Interdependent Artists?

By definition ‘independent’ means free from outside control, not depending on another’s authority. In purely artistic terms each artist in the room is independent. But when training, performing opportunities and funding structures are taken into account, the notion of independence is no longer sufficient. A dance infrastructure in which artists can grow and thrive together in a relation of interdependence is necessary. The EU itself is an interdependent infrastructure in the political sphere and the result of the UK referendum has underlined just how fragile and volatile such a structure can be. There is nothing natural about any social structure; it is constructed according to the wishes and the constraints of the people it sets out to serve. It has to remain relevant. This in itself creates interdependence not as a requirement but as an effect of careful, continued planning. When the structure no longer serves the needs of its community, its effectiveness is diminished. By inviting artists in Wales to meet with their international peers from France, Holland, Italy and Roumania in a physical workshop, Young and Light wanted to provide an opportunity for open exchange, provocative questions and play, through which they hoped to clarify a basis on which to build a thriving dance community in Wales.

Because dancers use their bodies to think, Young and Light devised ways to articulate ideas in movement. Walking around the room is one way, loosening up our interactions with people we may not know; or by choosing three objects in the room and placing them somewhere inside the circle we have made, stating why that particular object and why that particular place. Humour arises from this kind of interaction and humour is a potent means of breaking down barriers. Closing our eyes and walking slowly from one end of the room to the other involves trust and group coordination. No strategies were formed during these exercises but we were becoming a unified group and when we were asked questions by Young or Light the responses and the freedom with which they were expressed were revelatory. We wrote phrases on long pieces of paper, or we called out an idea that someone else noted down. Discussing together whilst sitting on the floor was another strategy (this is groundwork after all). The process was like performing a guided improvisation. Actually it was a guided improvisation in which our moves and expressions formed the content of the work.

Groundwork Pro is an experiment, currently running a 6-month pilot. Its aim is to create a hub of activities in Cardiff that allow dancers and choreographers to develop their art as a community while connecting with developments in the UK and internationally. Activities include classes — teaching will be shared between Wales-based artists and their UK and international counterparts — and performances. Groundwork Pro also wants to highlight the work of practitioners in Wales and to provide artists with paid work that sustains and nourishes their practice. Supported by Coreo Cymru and Chapter in terms of studio space, reduced ticket prices and other support in kind, Groundwork Pro is funded by Arts Council Wales which allows assistance to Wales-based artists for travel, accommodation, access needs and childcare, as needed. Artists from outside Wales are welcome to attend events but the access fund is limited to Wales-based artists.

Groundwork Pro is now creating the opportunities that fulfill what the participants in the room felt were important. Such a structure is fragile, and in a sense needs to remain fragile to be able to respond to new demands, new directions, to keep alive the interdependence. It is equally vital that the participants, or members, of Groundwork Pro, support it actively and creatively so it doesn’t become a co-dependence. There will be ups and downs, but this is groundbreaking, as in laying the foundations for a new structure. What is built on this new structure will be the fruit of not just the initial meeting but of all the interactions and activities created for the purpose of nurturing the dance community in Cardiff and in all of Wales.

The Groundwork Pro team is Joanna Young, Chloe Loftus, Jessie Brett, Beth Powlesland and Deborah Light. For more information on activities and schedules, visit www.groundworkpro.com.


Light, Ladd & Emberton: Caitlin

Posted: August 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Light, Ladd & Emberton: Caitlin

Light, Ladd & Emberton: Caitlin, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, August 5

Eddie Ladd wrapped around Gwyn Emberton in Deborah Light's Caitlin (photo: Warren Orchard)

Eddie Ladd wrapped around Gwyn Emberton in  Light, Ladd & Emberton’s Caitlin (photo: Warren Orchard)

“My husband was a very famous poet and I was going to be a very famous dancer,” says Caitlin wistfully at the beginning of her eponymous show as she revisits the ambitions and disappointments of her life with Dylan Thomas. It was a famously unfaithful, fractious yet inseparable relationship recorded in Caitlin’s Leftover Life to Kill and in numerous biographies of Dylan. In their recreation of the relationship, however, the team of Deborah Light (director), Eddie Ladd (Caitlin) and Gwyn Emberton (Dylan) decided not to follow the well-trodden textual paths but instead built a high energy, highly physical language to convey the passions of these two lives to the point of overflowing. It is not a pretty work of artistic-romance-turned-alcoholic-upheaval but a brutally subjective reconstruction that makes use of the dispassionate, mass-produced folding chair as an extension of the body to express the rage, subservience, servitude, consummation and consumption that infused, confused and ultimately broke apart these two lives for ever.

The folding chair is in itself emotionally neutral but something happened during rehearsals for Caitlin to make the folding chair a central metaphor for the entire story. Upturned and backwards, it becomes a low highchair on which Emberton turns quietly reading Agatha Christie and stuffing sweets; it is used on different occasions as a straightjacket, a noose, a yoke, even Dylan’s penitential cross. Folded, stacked and loaded on Ladd’s back or balancing on her head it is her intractable burden; laid on her supine figure it becomes a self-imposed grave and tombstone on which Emberton lays his manuscript in hommage. It is a token bed, a dais for Dylan’s recitals and unfolded and precariously stacked, a fêted throne from which he topples and crashes. The chairs are also thrown, scattered, refolded and stacked like pieces of a desperate game in tune with the narrative tide.

As we arrive in the studio at Chapter, however, the red or grey chairs form a harmonious circle in the centre, a stasis. We occupy only the twenty grey chairs; on some of the red ones are assorted plastic cups, sweets/pills and a rumpled manuscript. The circle takes its inspiration from the form of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with which Caitlin became familiar some 20 years after Dylan’s death in 1953. “My name is Caitlin and I’m an alcoholic,” says Ladd at the end, but the end is a lifetime away from the beginning.

Emberton is sitting in the circle as we enter to take our seats. He is dressed casually, inconspicuously, and looks as if he is waiting, like us, for the performance to begin. Ladd walks in with an almost imperceptible flounce in a red tartan skirt and an embroidered velvet top the colour of blood (costumes by the subtly imaginative Neil Davies) and sits on her hands to deliver her matter-of-fact opening line. She engages her audience directly, looking around at us as if we are all complicit in her situation, knowing we know what she knows but determined to refresh her side of it with grim familiarity. Emberton is immediately drawn to her as if he is seeing her for the first time and runs to plant his face in her lap. This is the connection that sets their fate; he will return to this place as often as he needs absolution, forgiveness, reassurance, sex. ‘It was going to be a truce between his brain and my body’ she says as she wraps herself around his head like a scarf, his mouth filled with her thighs. They collapse, not for the last time, under the weight of each other’s passion.

This is Caitlin’s story, her circle of chairs and we are her guests; Dylan is merely the argument, the flashback, the colour and flame in her story. Emberton’s focus is fixed on Ladd; his eyes are dead to all but her. She is the one who engages us directly with her eyes and irony: “He wrote three poems that year; I gave birth to our third child,” she bristles, her motherly activities contrasting with the famous husband standing on a chair silently intoning his immortal words. “We were supposed to be equal”, she adds, withdrawing a chair rudely from the circle while Emberton pushes his to the centre. The harmony of the chairs is broken and the domestic tension breaks with it as they both bounce off the walls in inebriated, screaming abandon and crawl on all fours with the empty plastic cups held tightly in their teeth. The soundscore of Thighpaulsandra manipulated by Sion Orgon punctuate the action with unnerving accuracy.

After more drinking and pills and vomiting the chairs go flying; ours are the only ones left in the circle. “That year he went to America for the first time” Ladd informs us, rocking a chair like a cradle, while Emberton spins dizzyingly outside the circle. In between building his throne of chairs on the other side of the Atlantic (from the wreckage of chairs in the family circle) he returns to Caitlin to be ‘tickled by the rub of love’ which inevitably turns into a brutal battle, reconciliation, head rubbing and departure on yet another North American tour. At four chairs high Dylan’s throne finally topples and Emberton crashes to the ground; Ladd in a circle that has suddenly lost its tension falls to the floor in shock.

The difference between Dylan and Caitlin is that Dylan was able to transform his desires into words that gained him immortality while Caitlin remained unfulfilled outside her family circle. All she knows is that without her Dylan would not have succeeded. Resigned to this and proud, she thanks us for listening. What she cannot see is that Light, Ladd & Emberton have made her a gift of her chosen art in providing her with a rich body of language she was unable to develop during her life with Dylan.

Caitlin was commissioned by National Library of Wales and funded by Arts Council Wales. It is supported by Volcano, Chapter, Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Borough Theatre Abergavenny. It will be at the Edinburgh Fringe from August 21-30 at DanceBase.


Aura Dance Theatre

Posted: October 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Aura Dance Theatre’s double bill of Birute Letukaite’s Am I The One Who I Am? and Deborah Light’s The Curio Cabinet, Chapter, Cardiff, October 15

Andrius Stakele and Marius Pinigis in The Curio Cabinet (photo Noel Dacey)

Andrius Stakele and Marius Pinigis in The Curio Cabinet (photo Noel Dacey)

How refreshing to see a new company that hails from off the beaten cultural track. Such is Aura Dance Theatre from Kaunas in Lithuania that presented a double bill at Chapter in Cardiff with a recent work by their director Birute Letukaite (Am I The One Who I Am?) and new choreography by Deborah Light (The Curio Cabinet).

The title of Letukaite’s piece is a little convoluted, which may be a translation problem or an indication of the complexity in dealing with the theme of identity. Certainly there is a lot going from the very beginning of the performance as we enter the theatre. On the way down to my seat, I pass a line of four women in costume and makeup draped against the wall and sit in the front row next to a tall young man in makeup wearing a skirt and jacket, and wonder if I will be part of the performance. He gestures to the seat as if to say it’s ok and I trust him. On stage a woman lies in the steely blue light looking as if she is having contractions. Another woman sits facing the back apparently naked in an office chair next to a textile clock (I thought of the painting by Dali I had just seen — The Persistence of Memory — that features his melting watches). Four moulded-textile anatomical forms (by Almyra Bartkeviciute-Weigel) hang lifeless on a rail at the back as if waiting for a body to fill them. Imprinted on each is an office chair in lurid, silky blue.

The woman with contractions (Gotaute Kalmataviciute) sits up and marks the space around her with precise, repetitive, bird-like gestures of the head and arms with breathtaking sensuality. The young man next to me (Andrius Stakele) gets up to join her and is immediately sniffed by the bird-like head and hands before he introduces himself in a solo of large gestures that blur the lines around him with a bull’s force to Kalmataviciute’s avian curiosity. In the posture and gestures of a second man (Marius Pinigis), there is a suggestion of Nijinsky’s introverted prankster Tyl Eulenspiegel, gestures of illness or instability delivered with uninhibited force. Letukaite has nurtured the identity of these three characters convincingly, enhancing their natural stage presence and ability to make beautiful shapes. Delve under the surface of identity and you come quickly to the sexuality and eroticism of gender and these are explored as well in the repeated interlocking and piling of bodies, but there is an equality of sexual expression between men and women, even if Kalmataviciute’s mastery of space makes her identity dominant.

The other seven dancers are used less forcefully, more to illustrate a point than to express their inner selves. In a secondary theme of identity in the workplace, a woman concentrates on repeating a series of mechanical gestures and there is a comic reference to our reliance on mobile technology to promote and enhance our identities. These clichés are underlined and explored further in an accompanying film, though the medium’s ability to draw our attention tends to eclipse the action on the stage. We are left with a woman dancing to a repetitive beat who nevertheless reveals a tenacious spirit of individuality and the quiet woman in the office chair who has been wheeled around by a trio of acolytes is finally revealed to be pregnant: the regeneration of life, a new identity in a complex world.

Identity of course goes far deeper than the shadow of an occupation, of the clothes we wear or of any other external cause. Perhaps the three main characters come across so well because their identity is allowed to develop from the inside in its genuinely anarchic, sometimes anti-social way. As soon as identity is processed, it loses its richness. The success of Am I The One Who I Am? is divided along this fault line.

Identity also infuses Deborah Light’s The Curio Cabinet, though in terms not so much of individual expression as of the gender issue. Light, one of whose ‘guilty pleasures’ (her term) is reading historical novels, drew her inspiration for The Curio Cabinet from the story of Mary Anning, whose name is little known outside the world of palaeontology to which she devoted her life in the first half of the nineteenth century. Her significant contribution to the science of fossils — then called curios — was acknowledged in her time though not officially recognised by the male-dominated scientific circles in which she would have moved had her gender not been a barrier. In The Curio Cabinet there is not a curio in sight, no delicate pick in Anning’s hand, for this is no historical tale. The one indication of Anning’s fieldwork is the ruggedness of her outfit: a bodice, corduroy pants, woollen socks and hiking boots.

Light takes us straight onto the un-level playing field, marked out by a white taped square within which Anning’s two male counterparts (Andrius Stakele and Marius Pinigis) search, strut and squabble. They are conceived as a homoerotic Tweedledum and Tweedledee and costumed with unsparing satire by Neil Davies in old school black shoes and socks with suspenders, woollen underwear, boned corsets and an exaggeratedly high Etonian collar. Anning (Solveiga Vasiliauskaite) with her flaming red hair moves for the most part outside the white taped square, keeping her nose to the ground, but her feminine alter ego (the beautiful Gotaute Kalmataviciute) dressed in a black lace body suit finds a way in that sends the two males into a tailspin. Light is uncompromising in championing Anning as a model for the female cause, but she never lets her sharp wit upset the tone of the story: at one point she repeats a motif where her characters chip away at the rock; Anning and the men make the percussive sound with their feet but the über-female uses her hand, sensing precisely where the hidden curios lie in this game of opening up opportunities.

The imagery is both striking and beautiful, with an erotic charge that drives the action. Anning is left on the sidelines after the heat of battle, as she was in her professional life, but Light has chipped away at the fossil of male chauvinism to reveal her rightful identity. Perhaps Anning herself has the last word: like the curios she so painstakingly released from the rock, the identity of the choreographer is inherent in the choreography. Keep chipping.

This performance is the result of the first stage of a collaboration between Deborah Light and Aura Dance Theatre supported by Chapter and Wales Arts International. A full version of the work will be developed and performed by Aura Dance Theatre in Kaunas in November.

Deborah Light’s HIDE can be seen at the Traverse, Edinburgh on January 31 as part of the 2014 British Dance Edition.


Deborah Light: HIDE

Posted: February 27th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Deborah Light, HIDE, Chapter, Cardiff, February 22

photo: John Collingswood

Rosalind Hâf Brooks in HIDE photo: John Collingswood

Since she left Laban in 2001, Deborah Light has been researching the notions of inside and outside, what is revealed about a person and what is hidden. She would have agreed with the painter René Magritte that ‘There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us.’ Using the body and mind as material, Light is concerned with the deeper layers of the human psyche; the program note for HIDE says it ‘delves beneath our outer shell, revealing internal worlds, and exposing the multiplicity of human nature.’ The three performers (Jo Fong, Rosalind Hâf Brooks and Eddie Ladd) have already marked out significant journeys in dance theatre and their experience is a vital ingredient in HIDE. They work close to that boundary of fearful and fearless, following the notion of abandonment of inhibition as a way forward.

The three meanings of ‘hide’ are printed in the program and become immediately apparent in the auditorium: Fong stands naked on a pedestal on stage as we file into our seats. From our darkened hide in the audience we see her hide that she cannot hide. She may be shivering from the cold air, but she is definitely out of her comfort zone, and we witness her struggle as she experiences that psychological barrier between clothed and unclothed, private and public. If she cannot hide her body, what is she revealing? That metaphysical question — and its obverse — is a central theme in the work. While Fong is on her pedestal, Ladd is kneeling with her back to us writing on the floor something we cannot read (and which she later rubs out) and Brooks is facing the back corner crouching in her underwear on a loudspeaker. All three women are materially visible, but their internal worlds are obscured. In the course of HIDE these three charged characters collide like atoms in an accelerator releasing in the process facets of their own inner worlds that interact and reform as new layers of experience.

There is an element of Huis Clos here: three characters confined in one space without the possibility of leaving. The stage (designed by Neil Davies with lighting supplied by five mobile studio lamps manipulated by the performers) is their cell, and over the course of HIDE their initial detachment breaks down into a mutual dependence (as in climbing into each other’s clothes) that is broken only when Fong abruptly announces ‘I’m off’ and leaves. Unlike the Sartre scenario, there is a way out of eternity.

The soundscape by Sion Orgon is a driving, frenetic electronic score with a quality of crossed wires that weaves in recorded sounds of children in a playground, distorted voices, dream-like fragments, birdsong, cavernous Morse code, and Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Given its non-narrative, almost random nature, it is all the more remarkable when the score, the choreography and the characters suddenly coalesce to create a moment of extraordinary power and beauty like an ascending mountain path that suddenly opens on to a breathtaking vista. Ladd is describing, with appropriate sounds and words, the cutting up of a carcass, hanging from its two back legs, while we hear repeated snatches of Bach’s Crucifixus from the B Minor Mass that Fong seems to control as she swoons and sings, twitches and falls. Brooks, to whom reality is revealed through her olfactory sense, is endlessly sniffing around like a fly around the carcass. Magical.

Ladd puts in a powerful performance, acting as the central narrator (in both official languages); perhaps it is her personality, or the force of her presence, but she anchors the dramatic action. She weaves aspects of her life story through the work, from the length of her hair over the past decades, to changing her name to learning how to walk like a man — all strategies for hiding, it seems, but she carves her way through the performance with blinding confidence. As she says at the end with quiet determination, ‘I am a Welsh speaking female. I should not hide.’ Fong has a fluid quality — like water to Ladd’s fire — that flows from wild abandon to introspection and Brooks is air, breathing out animal exhalations like a dragon when she is not taking in the scents around her.

Some of HIDE’s material comes from Light’s solo work: one can recognize idioms from Cortex in Brooks’ crazed scrabbling on the floor, her fluttering hands in a gesture of abandon, in the references to animal behaviour, and the flirting with nakedness. In HIDE Light has taken her research to another level, an original voice with a stark, uncompromising vision and the ability to coax out of her performers the material they need for their long journey — one that is never quite finished because, as Magritte points out, ‘Everything we see hides another thing.’

Fong finally turns the performance on its head, demurring that ‘It’s not me you came to see. You came to see a show.’ She leaves and Brooks disguises herself as a powerful inert image in black (see the photo above), part animal in platform hoofs and part hooded human. With no further interaction possible, Ladd is left to turn out the remaining lights, one by one, clothing us all in darkness. And with nothing left to see, we leave our hide.

What a lovely printed program: well designed by Marc Heatley, with no hype, lovely photography by John Collingswood and just enough text…even if the proof reader missed the printing schedule.