Eva Recacha: Aftermath at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: December 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Eva Recacha: Aftermath at Lilian Baylis Studio

Eva Recacha: Aftermath at Lilian Baylis Studio, October 25

Eva Recacha

Eleanor Sikorski and Charlotte McLean in Aftermath (photo: Jackie Shemesh)

How do you choreograph ennui? Eva Recacha has tackled it in her latest work, Aftermath, which was commissioned by Sadler’s Wells as part of its 20th anniversary, and received its world première at Lilian Baylis Studio. As a state of mind, ennui is not about what ishappening but about what isn’t, which had become a central concern of Recacha after becoming a mother and experiencing the ‘social isolation that can accompany this new role.’ Dancers have to move in order to think and prolonged inaction is akin to a slowing down of creative brain activity. Recacha has called Aftermath an ‘ode to pointlessness’ but this is perhaps as much a self-deprecatory acknowledgement of her starved creativity as it is a challenge to define her subject. In a post-show talk she described her transition from choreographer to mother as one in which she had no time for creative work and no sense of when that time might become available; beyond the celebration and excitement of motherhood it was for her a period of tedium that caused a feeling of inadequacy. Aftermath derives its keen sense of the absurd from trying to put a finger on the malaise she felt.

The opening is set somewhere in the stillness of the mind, in the heart of tedium itself. Kaspersophie’s set design is clearly not a domestic scene; it’s more like a clinical laboratory for the study of tedium with white walls, a couple of chairs (one upturned), a pile of toilet rolls, and red arrows on the floor to stimulate some kind of direction. The two patients are Charlotte Mclean, who lies prone and lifeless like an accident victim and Eleanor Sikorski, who although alive and sitting on a chair staring at the audience, lacks evident motivation. Time passes in a series of blackouts (part of Jackie Shemesh’s clinical grammar of lighting) and the only sound is piped birdsong (part of Alberto Ruiz Soler’s musical motivation). Recacha must have been aware that as long as there is life there is still energy, however small. It comes from Sikorski’s voice and while the message is bland — a series of statistics about ambition — there is something in its sardonic delivery that wakes up Mclean. It’s as if Sikorski is the idling conscience and Mclean its flattened ego. Once a connection has been made, however, the level of energy ramps up with the conscience changing from ignition to vituperative encouragement (“Stick to it, for fuck’s sake!”) until Mclean breaks out in an unintelligible rant.

Having established this desolate territory of the mind, Recacha is ready to recognize its positive value and sets out to challenge its engulfing presence with a generous dose of humour; Aftermath is thus both an uplifting narrative of internal psychological combat and its end product. Her highlighting of the toilet roll as variously a sculpture, a projectile, and a banner is an apposite metaphor.

Sikorski’s conscience is a fickle figure at best, pulling back her encouragement when Mclean’s creative energy is beginning to flow again, disdainfully tapping her green nails on the white chair beneath her pink dress until Mclean calms down (we learn later from Sikorski that the colour pink makes people calmer). But to function she also needs Mclean; it’s a love-hate relationship that sees their mutual dependency assuaged and exacerbated in oscillating fashion. It’s perfect casting with Sikorski as the acerbic, calculating wit and Mclean as the mercurial creative force; their two trajectories start on a fragile thread and fuse together to the point of familiarity and mutual admiration.

With its cross between The Private Life Of The Brain and Monty Python, Aftermath is as much an exploration of ennui as a picture of the divergent elements of artistic endeavour. For a choreographer who has experienced motherhood, perhaps the two are conjoined.The press release for Aftermath explains that ‘during the making of the show, Recacha carried out an outreach program for mothers and their small children, immersing herself again in that period of early childcare and its impact on the mother’s sense of identity and agency.’ While it must have taken Recacha back to the sense of tedium that inspired Aftermath, the Sadler’s Wells commission has given her an opportunity to move forward into the studio and to find within her own experience material for a work that in its level of craft, its wit and absurdity, shows no sign of creative lethargy.


Akademi, Staycation/Vacation

Posted: August 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Akademi, Staycation/Vacation

Akademi, Staycation/Vacation, Rich Mix, July 15

Kesha Raithatha in Traces (photo: Simon Richardson)

Kesha Raithatha in Traces (photo: Simon Richardson)

 This article was first published on Kadam’s website and appears here with kind permission. 

It is an evening of two separate performances and many contrasts: between student and professional dancers, classical Indian dance and contemporary dance, narrative and abstract forms, and context and style.

Staycation is a performance devised by Akademi for two schools in the Tower Hamlets area. Choreographed by Kamala Devam and Honey Kalaria for George Greens School and by Elena Catalano (assisted by Maryam Shakiba) for Langdon Park School, it is a project in which the performance reveals the value of the steps taken to achieve it. These are the kinds of projects that can change a life, and as such are vital to the development of the arts and education. One of the girls reveals a natural grasp of performing, while one of the boys is clearly thrilled at the opportunity to pursue his sense of self.

On the professional side the contrasts constantly illumine the transformation of classical Indian dance within contemporary society. Kesha Raithatha presents the traditional form of Indian dance in a narrative work, Lalita Lavang, in kathak style with the delight and precision of her gesture, posture, rhythm and her storytelling eyes. Yet in the final work of the evening, Traces, Raithatha sets aside tradition to reveal a quite different dramatic presence, one that evolves out of a contemporary existential philosophy that demands its own expression. Traces is the result of a 2015 Choreogata commission from Akademi which allowed Raithatha to choose a choreographic mentor (Eva Recacha). Launching bravely into unfamiliar territory with no narrative and an aural environment of powerful prayer chant, a lot of silence, and some recorded sounds, Traces is a journey in which Raithatha’s body becomes her eyes as she searches for expression within a fortress of her imagination. There are moments of great beauty and force where her classical technique sustains her, but it is her choreographic approach and her innate sense of drama that takes her and Traces into exciting, unchartered territory.

Archana Ballal does not entirely leave behind her classical Indian training in As Small as a World and as Large as Alone, but she changes the context to a contemporary narrative on agoraphobia affecting a young woman planning to go on holiday. Using text and a contemporary musical context — including a sultry Pharaoh’s Dance by Miles Davis — Ballal represents herself as she is: a contemporary woman in a contemporary environment. She is dressed as she might be in her own flat, surrounded by a table with flowers in a vase, a couple of chairs, a suitcase and a wastepaper basket full of crumpled plans. She translates her text into gestures that avoid any literal relationship; they are a parallel physical expression with which she builds her dance. She spends a little too much time with the single idea of unpacking and repacking, losing the careful construction of the opening, but she finishes strongly where she began, with her indecision only delayed.

In Two by Two choreographer Hari Krishnan casts aside both the classical movement and the context. I am perhaps the only person not to have seen Vidya Patel win the South Asian category of the 2015 BBC Young Dancer of the Year Award, so when I see her natural ability in Krishnan’s work alongside Jaina Modasia I wonder who this extraordinary young woman is. First you notice the commanding eyes, and then she begins to move. Krishnan’s use of the thrust and parry gestures of a boxing match is a beautiful example of Patel’s flow extruded through a lyrical body, though it is also apparent in her effortless opening jumps. Krishnan’s vehicle is a witty and rhythmical abstraction of episodes that seem to wander in an out of classical dance with a sly and knowing grin. Modasia is a perfect foil for Patel, creating a harmony between the two that makes them and the choreography look as refreshing as a choreographic… vacation.


The Place Prize semi-final 4

Posted: September 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Place Prize semi-final 4

photo: Benedict Johnson

The Place Prize semi-final 4 (Eva Recacha, Robbie Synge, Goddard Nixon, Seke Chimutengwende), The Place, September 22

Martha Pasakopoulou stomps around the stage in a yellow dress proclaiming in a language I don’t understand, fist clenched in the air as if she is leading a demonstration of one. She has a clear, strident voice that is not afraid to climb into the higher registers, and there is something of the gamine in her unselfconsciously ebullient performance; she is evidently unaware anyone is watching. When she finishes her song there is a ringing silence in the theatre, and then laughter as she walks to the back, and steps carefully into the corner like a gymnast ready to begin a diagonal routine. With these two opening sequences, juxtaposed with disarming innocence, Pasakopoulou has captured our full attention; like an ingenuous child she can now lead us wherever she wants. This is Eva Recacha’s The Wishing Well, in which ‘a woman creates her own particular ritual to obtain her wish in order to get a direct line with the gods.’ It is full of observations and insights into the nature of hope and faith on the one hand, and of the superstitions and tricks we use to subvert them on the other. Recacha acts as storyteller and observer, commenting on the (at times) recalcitrant, (always) whimsical Pasakopoulou in her devout double-dealing, and demonstrating, in the poignant, final moments, the futility of her self-deception. Pasakopoulou’s character is called Martha, who begins by making three wishes, in lyrical, animated mime. It doesn’t matter what they are but rather what strategies she uses to achieve them, and the beauty of the work is in the imaginative mime Recacha devises for all these strategies that she incorporates into a body language Pasakopoulou so hearteningly delivers.

The stage is lit by Gareth Green like a game board, edged with a white band of light that forms the limit of Martha’s world; she never steps out of it. Martha has spent so much of her life in an unwinnable competition with God that she arrives at old age without ever having achieved her wishes. As an old crone, legs bent, she shuffles off to the corner of her world, as if to cross the road; only then does the white band recede, and after some hesitation Martha crosses; the band of light closes behind her.

The Wishing Well has been chosen for The Place Prize Final.

Robbie Synge’s Settlement is a piece for two performers and three sheets of chipboard, with a score by James Alaska. At the beginning the three sheets are centre stage, leaning tentatively against each other, lit by Brian Gorman as an architectural form. Settlement develops as a game between Erik Nevin and Robin Dingemans in which one creates an equilibrium of sheets, and the other knocks it down; one proposes, the other disposes. Settlement can apply both to the built elements of a community and to an agreement between two entities in a dispute. Synge’s work covers both meanings in a seamless structure, as he explores the effect of the everyday built environment on our physical and mental states. It would be easy to see the rivalry between Nevin and Dingemans as a personal narrative, but if one understands the chipboard sheets to be a metaphor for the built environment, then both characters are reacting to it in their respective ways, which in turn affects them individually, like neighbours arguing over a fence or, on a much larger scale, townspeople suffering from an ill-thought planning scheme: one person’s order is another person’s chaos. There are also elements of cooperation: Nevin and Dingemans stand side by side, each holding a sheet upright on the ground. They let go of their respective sheets and change places. Moving the sheets further and further apart they repeat the game, with surprising and unpredictable results. Later, the sheets become islands and the two performers help each other move from one to the other. In the end, Synge reflects on the sense of loss: one might rejoice in the destruction of a house, for example, while the other may be lost without it. After Nevin kicks down a final chipboard structure, Dingemans leans against the back wall as if wounded.

The title of Goddard Nixon’s Third, is taken from a line in the T.S. Eliot poem The Waste Land: “Who is the third who walks always beside you?” Eliot apparently included this line after hearing of a mysterious encounter experienced by the explorer Ernest Shackleton and his men on his famous 1916 expedition. It is now known as ‘the third man factor’, a psychological phenomenon also linked to guardian angels or divine intervention. Michael Hulls’ extraordinary lighting and set design place the context of Third quite literally, on a blue-white, ice-bound floe that Lawren Harris might have painted. He even brings on a snowstorm at the end that envelops the dancers and the space around them. But the weather conditions Hulls so brilliantly evokes are inimical to the nature of the duet, to the loose-fitting, urban, hooded costumes (by Alice Walking) and to the often floor-bound choreography. Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon are not dressed for this level of cold, their duet does not belong in the Antarctic – even if the subject matter derives from an expedition there – where lying on an icy floe would be unthinkable. Hulls has taken his inspiration and run with it, but he has outrun the duet on which it is focused.

The duet itself is intimate and warm, the flow of movement soft and pulsing; Goddard and Nixon are two dancers who move with extraordinary agility, speed and precision but who also possess a lyrical quality that appears effortless; their performance is anything but cold, and in this context, the pulling on and off the hoods becomes an unnecessary distraction. However, their artistry is just a pleasure to watch, radiating enough heat to melt even the most inhospitable conditions.

The evening ends on a warmer note with a smile of a work from Seke Chimutengwende, The Time Travel Piece. This one is too tongue-in-cheek to make it to the finals, but sends us home feeling that much better for having felt its infectious irreverence. The stage is lined with banners that are reminiscent of the recent Olympics, and Chimutengwende is our amiable dance commentator. He has been fortunate enough to travel forwards in time to see dance performances at three different but not consecutive periods, 2085, 2501 and 2042. He is thus in a position to comment on, and illustrate, the styles of dance in those respective eras for our benefit. He has a troupe of the ‘best available’ contemporary dancers on whom he has restaged the dances from memory; it proved impossible for him to record what he saw as our technology doesn’t work in the future. Due to the huge financial costs of his government-sponsored time travel, he could only spend an hour at each performance.

By 2085, scientists are probing smaller and smaller objects – far smaller than atoms – and choreographers are similarly interested in smaller and smaller movements. Fortunately the audience’s powers of perception have increased dramatically. Chimutengwende introduces a trumpeter and five dancers who start performing. If nothing seems to be happening, it is all to do with our reduced powers of perception, though it is clear that the dancers have a remarkable control of their movement vocabulary and one can see in the choreography an evocative blend of influences from the early part of this century. The score is rich in tonality, and beautifully played on the trumpet by its composer, Michael Picknett.

By 2501, everyone has access to time travel; it’s as easy as texting today, which makes the idea of a rehearsal period obsolete; you can rehearse one day and return to it the following day, which means that choreographers can spend unlimited time on making work. Another trend, and one that was realized in the performance Chimutengwende saw, is the development by each dancer (over an unlimited period of rehearsal) of a movement sequence that perfectly expresses their essential nature, which is then the only movement they need to perform. This is what Chimutengwende presents, though due to limited rehearsal time the essential nature of each dancer is only approximate. The same goes for the trumpet accompaniment by the time-traveling Picknett.

2042 is an extrapolation of only thirty years from our current situation, when the pace of life has accelerated to such an extent that there is barely any time to make work, and what work is made is made very quickly because the dancers and choreographers need to move on to the next thing. At the performance Chimutengwende attended, the choreographer was teaching the performance on stage, as he had no time to rehearse. This is clearly a cause for concern, as the performance demonstrated.