Company of Elders, Mixed Bill at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: July 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company of Elders, Mixed Bill at Lilian Baylis Studio

Company of Elders, Mixed Bill, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Company of Elders

Sadler’s Wells publicity photograph for Company of Elders (photo: Matt Austin)

The program of this mixed bill by Company of Elders is made up of three short works interspersed with three films, two from the Sadler’s Wells Learning and Engagement team about the company and one featuring the 2016 video portrait by Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Hugo Glendinning, of Betsy Field and Mary O’Mahony, both dancers in the company. What emerge from the first two films are two major themes in Company of Elders, social and artistic. This mixed bill shows unequivocally the social underpinning of the group of seventeen dancers who Sadler’s Wells describe rather patronizingly as ‘demonstrating the power of lifelong creativity and proving it is never too late to start dancing.’ What the program affirms less convincingly is the artistic vision that comes with the creation of works by numerous choreographers over the past 29 years. This year Seeta Patel, Adrienne Hart and Dickson Mbi still only scratch the surface of the artistic capability in these dancers. Is Sadler’s Wells using these choreographers to advertise ‘the power of lifelong creativity’ in their flagship over-60’s company or does it wish to see the company develop its artistic potential? What parameters dictate that all seventeen dancers have to appear on stage in each work, for example? When Field and O’Mahony appear in their filmed portrait, they are given the freedom to establish their identity within a proscribed frame, sitting at a table, and with a minimum of gestural means. What comes across is an artistic endeavor that highlights the two performers in a way the three stage performances do not. Patel, Hart and Mbi introduce short solos and duets to differentiate dancers from the crowd and some highlighting is achieved, either through text or gesture, but the group as social entity is what each performance seems to endorse. It is a shame, as the group will always be limited in its physical reach by what the weaker performers can do, just as in a younger company. The general effect of this kind of choreography as social organization is a romantic, stereotypical vision of what being older means: waving arms in a tight group is one of the tropes that turn up again and again. And why (except for Patel’s work) keep these seventeen individuals in brightly coloured t-shirts like children at a summer camp? Is it not possible to allow each performer to suggest a costume they treasure and work it into a performance? The resemblance of one performance to another suggests a ceiling of artistic decisions that governs Company of Elders. In what strata of society will you find such conformity among seventeen individuals? Only where it is imposed from the outside.

There are attempts in this mixed bill to break up this conformity. Patel in her Fragments, Not Forgotten finds inspiration in potent individual memories and uses a variety of groupings and a differentiation of gesture to indicate a more organic approach. In her A Tentative Place of Holding Hart unites the goals of Company of Elders with the inspiration of Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ ‘reversible destiny’; she uses more intimate gestures, gets the dancers off the ground in partnering lifts and a hopping step, and finishes with a plucky group challenge to the audience. Mbi in his Abyss separates the men and has them popping in slow motion and stamping out rhythms while he coaxes the women to develop the power of their arms in a semi-circular gestural dance that borders on wild. You begin to see possibilities opening up. A newcomer to the company, Monica Duck, clearly has rhythm in her bones. Mbi knows it and let’s us enjoy her movement, but Duck too quickly withdraws into the surrounding group as if such natural ebullience is frowned upon.

The employment of choreographers to create work on Company of Elders and to present that work on stage shifts its purpose in a parallel direction to its social benefits. The current mixed bill pushes the envelope of community dance closer towards the goal of artistic expression. If Sadler’s Wells is proud of their flagship company — and they should be — it is time to withhold the empty rhetoric of its Learning and Engagement team, stop patting itself on the back for presenting Company of Elders as bodies in a social ageing experiment and work towards bringing out the expressiveness of age as an artistic virtue. They might even consider paying them as artists.


Russell Maliphant Company, maliphantworks2 at Coronet Print Room

Posted: March 19th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Russell Maliphant Company, maliphantworks2 at Coronet Print Room

Russell Maliphant Company, maliphantworks2, Coronet Print Room, March 13

Russell Maliphant

Russell Maliphant and Dana Fouras in Duet (photo: Tom Bowles)

Russell Maliphant’s week at the Coronet Print Room in Notting Hill is a very intimate affair, to which the chic délabré intimacy of the former Coronet theatre is ideally suited. It is one of those theatres whose atmosphere critic Cyril Beaumont described as having a ‘warmth and friendliness that gives the spectator the feeling of being a member of a pleasant club’ and there is a sense of the membership of this particular club coming to pay homage to one of their own. It is not exactly a full evening — the first intermission is longer than the first two works — and it’s a performance of re-immersion into a body of work that has a very recognizable form of craftsmanship in which the influence of sculpture is evident in the plasticity of the dance movement. There is no indication in the program when these works were created, but it doesn’t really matter; however new Maliphant’s works may be there is always an element of the retrospective in their presentation. His synonymous association with the lighting designer Michael Hulls serves to reinforce this familiarity; it is a given that all four stage works are choreographed and directed by Maliphant and all lighting designs are by Hulls.

Maliphant creates material forms with the body that Hulls transforms in light. Their opus is at its best an exquisite aesthetic experience — as those who saw their collaboration on Afterlight with Daniel Proietto as Nijinsky might attest — but too often lacks the inspiration to rise above precious familiarity. Of the four works on the program this evening, the visual and emotional gauge is more aligned with familiarity than with the exquisite. In the duet with Dana Fouras and Grace Jabbari, Two Times Two, the sculptural forms are reminiscent of Maliphant’s Rodin Project: classical marble figures moving in a kinetic dream. Andy Cowton’s score and Hulls’ lighting subject the forms to a process of dematerialization until the final slicing arm gestures diminish to beautiful swathes of light. Critical Mass performed by Maliphant and Mbi is a meditation on balance and posture as they are redefined by tension and suspension. There is dexterity of movement as the centres of the dancers’ and that of the composition shift and hold still, building a critical mass through repetition. Hulls’ lighting here is subtle, but in Dickson Mbi’s solo section of his duet with Jabbari, Still, he is trapped in Jan Urbanowski’s animation that with Hulls’ lighting covers him in a moving barcode on a gloomy ground. When Mbi dances it is worth watching; to superimpose a light project that all but obscures his movement and reduces it to a mere plastic aesthetic is to take advantage of the choreography, and to do it in a way that is unsettling on the eyes is tiresomely self-indulgent.

The final work, Duet, is a world premiere in which Maliphant dances with his wife and collaborator, Fouras; it is the first time in fifteen years that London audiences have the opportunity to see them dance together and it is a moment worth celebrating. There is a genuine sentimentality here that is in the vein of a recording of Caruso singing Una Furtiva Lagrima that emerges from Fouras’s sound score. Interestingly, Hulls keeps a respectful distance in lighting Duet which allows a very personal narrative of two lovers to emanate from the choreography. It is a polished performance of natural elegance and carries an emotional implication that is not lost on the audience.

What to make of the fifth work on the program, Other? It is a ten-minute video installation that is played on a loop in the theatre’s smaller studio that shows Maliphant and Fouras, on their respective sides of a split screen, embroiled in the turbulent surf off the Atlantic coast of West Cork, gesturing wildly and powerlessly in their evening dress against its incoming force. It is not clear if the installation was made specifically for this week’s program or was edited from original material to bolster the length of the evening. It is ‘made from footage originally conceived, directed and shot by Tim Etchells and Hugo Glendinning’, with a sound score by Fouras. Other could well illustrate the condition of the artist flailing against the forces of contemporary society in which impotence becomes the subject of a work of art, except that without a context the very artfulness of its solipsistic concept turns the work in on itself and robs it of any wider significance.


Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre

Posted: August 25th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre

Blue Cloud Scratch, Blue Elephant Theatre, July 28

A Positive Life_1

Michael Kelland, Katie Albon, Jerome Wilks and Becca Thomas in Johnny Autin’s A Positive Life

Blue Cloud Scratch is a partnership between Cloud Dance Festival and Blue Elephant Theatre, providing valuable opportunities for small-scale new work.

Lewys Holt doesn’t look like he’s going to dance his Phrases at all as he languishes on the stage watching the audience shuffling in watching him. It’s a standoff but he wins by moving first, walking to a microphone near the exit so it’s not clear if he’s leaving or staying. Then he talks about the link between apples and doctors but what he really wants is the doctor not the apple. He’s not really sick; he just needs to move a little, which he does. He thinks on his feet like all dancers do, except the thoughts are a long way from his feet because Holt is long and lanky. But he’s well connected so he moves well, really well. His phrases start with the same jump, like a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, and accumulate eloquently. And he’s got a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour, so after his mouth fixation, when the slideshow of postcard towns ending in ‘–mouth’ doesn’t start when it should, we all laugh with him. He’s engaging like that, a natural performer. It’s all pulled out of the air, or his brain, in the moment. And he keeps us in the moment until it ends.

Out of the wings comes a man with a chair (Craig Bennett of Indefinite Article Dance Theatre); gravity is present and a heavy game. Belinda Grantham follows with another chair. She and Bennett exchange seats but it’s territorial and not in the least genteel. If they used their voices they would growl, but they don’t; they use their bodies like words, their eyes like daggers and move in surly sentences on a game board. It’s a dislocated conversation without resolution. Fern Maia lightens up the equation, leaving space for a solution. But the two women climbing on Bennett is no solution because he’s strong enough to move both their objections aside. That’s Momentum. It’s a momentum that can’t be stopped, an accident about to happen.

There’s a deliberate irony in using A Positive Life as the title of a work about sex, love and relationships in an HIV world, especially for teenage audiences for whom choreographer Johnny Autin is preparing this work. It’s really engaging, so he will have no difficulty in getting his message across. But what is the message? When Becca Thomas dances her story of being raped at a party in which she drinks herself out of control, she does it so powerfully it’s beautiful. When Michael Kelland dances his overhung distress on one side of the stage while the others watch he does it so well we sympathise. Perhaps the full work (of which this is only a part) will balance the equation. Ken Loach finds a way in his films to make socio-political comment while we can still feel sympathy for the characters: he shows the rude consequences. Autin doesn’t, at least not yet. He needs to make his socio-political stance clear in the choreography, otherwise he might end up giving mixed messages.

I love ballet. I really do. But it’s hard to get excited about a company called Point(e) Taken Dance Theatre; it’s just too self-referential and cute and Ian Parsons’ Dual Deviation has a similar quality. Arabesques and pirouettes are such immediately recognizable signs of ballet that without the right framing they can lose their appeal and their meaning all at once. Dual Deviation desperately needs framing; it could borrow the guile of Phrases, the weight of Momentum, or the engagement of A Positive Life but without these kinds of qualities it is too blandly abstract and the chosen tracks of Ezio Bosso don’t provide any contrast. Something else stands out: the lines of the dancers are long and clean but their technique seems to stop at the neck. Nami Furukawa is the only one of the four women to make a gesture of her head. That is worth watching. Point(e) taken?

Thank goodness for Dickson Mbi’s ShowTime in which he creeps out from the darkness crouched on his toes, beetling around the stage like an ominous caryatid broken loose from a gothic cathedral. His dark, brooding figure breathes cool, quiet strength. There is no program note because the performance is what it is: Mbi using his impressive technique in the service of his choreographic imagination. He dances to a track by Jocelyn Pook from Akram Khan’s Desh in which he contrasts twisted lyrical violence to the innocence in the music: just him and the music; nothing else is needed.

You wouldn’t think the angelic, smiling Rachel Elderkin could murder a tomato, but she does. Perhaps she is simply the accomplice of choreographer Alice Weber, just doing what she’s told. But she’s so calculating, spending the first few minutes of Pomodoro picking from a crackling plastic supermarket container a selection of tomatoes that she presets precisely on the stage. There are plump ones and little ones that roll like red marbles. The way Elderkin does it gives the tomatoes  human qualities: adults and children in a park, perhaps. Once the tomatoes are set the game begins, which is when Elderkin steps slowly, coquettishly across the stage like fate in disguise and knowingly crushes a tomato under her bare foot, splattering its seeds and juice. Weber juxtaposes the action with a blues song of Bessie Smith dreaming of being dead. The contrast between Smith’s dark, stirring voice and Elderkin’s indiscriminate act is striking and suggests there is something more here. Weber’s imagination has grasped a powerful allegorical image that needs pushing further. How many more tomatoes will have to perish before she finds it?