Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & Process Day

Posted: February 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & Process Day

Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & Process Day, Dundee Rep, February 12

Scottish Dance Theatre in Process Day (photo: Brian Hartley)

Scottish Dance Theatre in Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Process Day (photo: Brian Hartley)

“Dreams have only one owner at a time. That’s why dreamers are lonely.” – Erma Bombeck

Anton Lachky’s Dreamers woke up last February in a Scottish Dance Theatre double bill with Jo Strømgren’s Winter, Again. Upon first viewing I struggled to see the fit as the pair were too similar — both showcasing lightness, comedy and a hyper-real quality. So I’ve come back to Dreamers to see how it has settled into the bodies of the dancers, into the company and how it sits with a new bedfellow, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Process Day.

Dreamers
 defines itself as “making sense from nonsense and exploring links between reality and surrealism” and over the course of 35 minutes it delivers its intention well. A police line-up forms the opening image where all nine performers face front and Aya Steigman erupts from the line, fizzes with skittish urgency and delivers a hiphop-laced solo that is startling in its ferocity. This is the opening minute and I wonder whether my eyes can contain or maintain the pace. The invisible energy passed between each of the solo performers is dialled down the further away from the original source we go until everyone has had a chance or two to show us their best moves.

Nothing lingers for too long and at the same time we’re not asked as an audience to invest much either; we see two or three playful examples of what the world might look like if the choreographic power is given over to Audrey Rogero and Francesco Ferrari. The strongest visual memory from my first Dreamers was the face-melting elasticity of Rogero and 12 months on, the malleability, facial contortions and impossibly extended neck stand out again as she out-Doyles Mrs Doyle. Slapstick, physical buffoonery and bodily control are re-employed again and again with Rogero manipulating the remainder of the company at her whim; spinning, flicking, and boot-camping them. As she discovers her power and ability to transform she gifts us one of the most infectious cackles heard on stage.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

When Ferrari emerges from the pack to take control, he’s barking orders ferociously in an unknown language and basking in the power of controlling the others — apart from when Amy Hollinshead marches out of the line like a rebellious tin soldier, frustrating Ferrari even more.

The lightness and humour shines alongside the musical choices of Bach, Verdi, Chopin and Haydn. Dreamers is a white, crisp, and frothy demonstration of personality, wild abandon and fine dancing.

“A man must dream a long time in order to act with grandeur, and dreaming is nursed in darkness.” – Jean Genet

As night follows day, dark will follow light and Process Day now follows Dreamers.
Are we in Dundee or have we been transported to a Weimar Republic cabaret, a dark world filled with luscious, crepuscular creatures, a place where gender is dissolved and eyes linger on the smallest of details? Eyal and Behar, alongside Ori Lichtik (musician), Rebecca Hytting (assistant and co-costume designer) and Alon Cohen (lighting) create an unsettling environment that either repulses or embraces the eyes that rest on the stage.

Clad in black from foot to ribs and a neutral scrim from the chest upwards, the dancers exist in a quarter light giving the impression of a floating set of torsos and amplified arms which frame and isolate each other like a vogue ball. From the nine performers, Josh Wild (apprentice dancer from London Contemporary Dance School) is a choreographic leech, creeping onto other performers, intruding and creating a series of unwanted duets before blending back into the dark. The dancers seem almost extra human and there’s a striking motif of Matthew Robinson’s controlled head-butting of Jori Kerreman’s stomach – it fits perfectly in this world and is one of the many lingering frescoes which sit amongst the larger-scale ensemble moments.

“So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” – T. S. Eliot

Cohen’s lighting design aligns well with the choreographic intention; despite the lights being so dim I am noticing the slightest of movements: twitches, ankle rotations and shoulder snaps were pulling my eyes all over the stage as a thin film of haze weighs heavily on the stage.

Classical strings, abrasive bass and relentless synths offer a sonic realm that promotes difficulty. Choreographic difficulty is also on show as not all the dancers are comfortable with this hard, sinewy performance style. Eyal and Behar are a brave choice from Artistic Director Fleur Darkin as they’re asking the dancers a completely different set of choreographic questions from those of Damien Jalet’s Yama, Darkin’s own Miann or Strømgren’s Winter, Again.

“Androgyny is not trying to manage the relationship between the opposites; it is simply flowing between them.” – June Singer

I am sucked into the world of Process Day by the scenographic control that Eyal, Behar and their collaborators have over me. It is satisfying to spend 40 minutes with them in their world of heavy and dark; but if the company does with Process Day what they did with Yama — extending it from an original half bill to a full-length work — now that would be a 30th birthday present worth unwrapping.

(Dreamers and Process Day are on Scottish Dance Theatre’s double bill tonight and tomorrow at Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh)


Scottish Dance Theatre: Miann at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted: April 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: Miann at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Scottish Dance Theatre, Miann, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, April 9

Amy Hollinshead in Fleur Darkin's Miann (photo: Brian Hartley)

Amy Hollinshead in Fleur Darkin’s Miann (photo: Brian Hartley)

The word ‘miann’ is Gaelic for ‘the ardent desire to know God.’ Ardent is the operative word in Fleur Darkin’s new work for Scottish Dance Theatre not only in terms of the choreography but in the music of The One Ensemble who play live on stage. Miann is also a spiritual work that battles with death and separation not in philosophical terms but in a visceral, personal confrontation that commemorates Darkin’s stepfather. Darkin’s description of the work is every bit as passionate as her choreography: ‘I wanted to create a space that we could share. I wanted the music of The One Ensemble to ring out like a thunderstorm shaking our bodies. I wanted the dancers to remind us that life is felt before it is thought about. I wanted us to taste the fresh water, breathe in forest air and feel the willow under our bare feet. I wanted to prove that feelings are real. I wanted a space where the invisible might be felt. I wanted a space to honour my parent…I wanted to create a gift out of dance.’ Seeing Miann is to embrace these words in physical form.

With no curtain at the Queen Elizabeth Hall we have plenty of time to contemplate the set. Designed by Alexander Ruth and lit by Emma Jones, it looks as if it was conceived for in-the-round performance: a circle of white floor in the middle of which is what looks like a sundial or a sail on its mast. All around the white circle are bundles of dry branches and beyond them towards the back are the spaces for the four musicians and their instruments. On either side at the front of the stage are two urns of flowers that Audrey Rogero and Naomi Murray pick up and hold like living statues at the entrance to a cemetery. The smoke that issues from the urns is probably dry ice that looks like incense for there is no fragrance. I suspect Darkin’s original idea of immersing our olfactory senses in the production has been compromised by health and safety (another administrative incursion into the production is that after Rogero and Murray circulate with their urns through the audience and return backstage the QEH reminds us to turn off our mobile phones).

In her program note, Darkin references the Callanish stone circle on Lewis, a landscape in which she ‘wanted us all to get lost…with no story, no orientation points, only beckoning paths.’ When Amy Hollinshead first appears on stage she has muddied limbs and hands as if she has been running and slipping among the stones on a wet day; she carries with her the evidence of the wild countryside but it is not embodied in Ruth’s clean and dry construction; I keep wishing for a simple stage of turf or peat. Hollinshead sets the physical tone of the choreography in jumping frenziedly, repeatedly, exhaustively to the sound of her exertion. It is a motif that will return poignantly at the end suffused with uncontrolled grief and anger. On this occasion it is the anticipation of Francesco Ferrari’s arrival — the loved one — who wraps her, after some trepidation on her part and some coaxing on his, in his long cloak (Ruth’s costumes, as one might expect from a fashion designer, excel here). The other dancers enter as different manifestations of filial grief: a stoic Quang Kien Van in a dance with ritual overtones, a tentative or agnostic Matthew Robinson and a maternal Aya Steigman carrying her child (Murray) clasped to her front. The ensuing mêlée of dancers running, rolling and hurling themselves to the floor is like a wild mating game of sensual, brutal proportions. But this is not narrative; this is raw, primal emotion expressed in familiar human patterns; the message is in the rawness not the patterns. Steigman and Murray work like demons to rip up part of the floor to reveal turf: a funeral plot before the grave is dug. Artur Grabarczyk dances a powerful, erotically charged duet with Murray while Steigman remains motionless on the grave and the other dancers make their reptilian way around the branches like the circular path of life. When Ferrari has completed his circle, Murray brings in a crown of flowers with which she finally crowns him like a chosen one. He watches Hollinshead don a black mourning shroud and the sundial/sail element becomes a metaphor for the river Styx that the Greeks represented as the division between life and death. As Ferrari passes through to the other side, Hollinshead tries to follow. Her final outburst and the communal response is an apotheosis in dance and music of heroic proportions.

The depth of Darkin’s emotion is clearly a powerful creative force. Her physical movement phrases have the authenticity of grief and anger and she has harnessed the force of the music to amplify them. She seems to drag her dancers into the ring and they give themselves fully to this production, a quality in Scottish Dance Theatre that is impressive. When I first saw them it was at the very beginning of Darkin’s appointment in a double bill of Jo Strømgren’s Winter, Again and Victor Quijada’s Second Coming; it was a wonderful cast but one of the difficulties with a change in artistic direction is a possible (some may say inevitable) shakeup in dancers. I hope Darkin can keep the present dancers together; they are well worth watching. In a performance like Miann there are enormous benefits when the dancers are used to each other, open to each other and familiar with the way they each move.

If only the setting could descend to the earthy intensity of the music, costumes and the choreography…


Scottish Dance Theatre: YAMA

Posted: February 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: YAMA

I have invited my friend Ian Abbott to contribute to these musings on dance. As some of you will already know, Ian was until recently Head of Creative Programs at Pavilion Dance Southwest in Bournemouth and I was always grateful for his encouragement through invitations to review various shows or summits he had planned there. We would also cross paths at performances elsewhere. If there was something I really enjoyed I would say to him, Ian you should program this. ‘I already have’ was the inevitable reply. Ian has now moved to Scotland and I am very happy to welcome his thoughts on performances he is seeing there. 

Scottish Dance Theatre, YAMA, Dundee Rep Theatre, February 12

Scottish Dance Theatre in Damien Jalet's YAMA (photo: Brian Hartley)

Scottish Dance Theatre in Damien Jalet’s YAMA (photo: Brian Hartley)

“Entering a novel is like going on a climb in the mountains: You have to learn the rhythms of respiration – acquire the pace. Otherwise you stop right away.” Umberto Eco

Mountains invite a challenge.

Scottish Dance Theatre, under the artistic direction of Fleur Darkin, at first commissioned Damien Jalet to create YAMA (Japanese for mountain) as half of a double bill, a munro if you like, in February 2014. Originally inspired by his trip to Japan and the Yamabushi’s (a practising group of ascetic monks) pagan and animalistic rituals, Jalet was invited back to re-build and re-birth a new mountain in the shadow of Dundee’s extinct volcano, The Law.

With a low, rumbling electronic soundscape provided by Winter Family, the opening frames of YAMA created a set of the most striking and original experiences I’ve come across in a theatre. As an opening and immovable central focus, the revelation and consistency of Jim Hodges’ ‘abstract geometric form’ sink hole provided the only channel through which the Scottish Dance critters could arrive or depart. Legs began to slither and ooze from the surface leaving me unsure of the number of bodies present. A giant amorphous flesh ball – with each individual covered by Jean-Paul Lespagnard’s nude shorts and torso-brushing horse-hair facial stockings – started to divide into smaller iterations, writhing and mesmerising me for over 20 minutes: I realised I was already on the journey with them, halfway up the mountain. Through a careful handling and guiding of my attention, I realised I’d been sucked in by the physical concatenation and snap and flow of bodies; the way they’d scurry and come together like a hairy chorus drawn from the brush of Busby Berkeley’s undulating worship of geometric forms and patterns was verging on sorcery. I didn’t want to leave this brave and unusual world.

“Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top.” Dag Hammarskjold

YAMA is the total theatrical realisation of a mountain; the dizzying and breathless ascent, the embrace of the summit and a dawning that the journey home will never contain a place so high again. Ritualistically the performers removed their hair and revealed their faces for the first time. The sonic and visual world was broken. An evolution had taken place and the final 25 minutes consisted of what others would recognise as contemporary dance. The intensity of the choreography – the dancers matched what Jalet painted on their bodies – increased until the striking finale of the channel reclaiming the bodies which had birthed them 55 minutes ago. I left with an increasing sense of regret of what might have been. Had that strong and pioneering world that was so well crafted in the first half been continued I believe YAMA would have been an incredibly courageous and special work.

YAMA invites a challenge and it’s a work that deserves to be encountered and conquered. Scottish Dance Theatre is a rare company in the UK – they house a set of dancers equal to any choreographic challenge – and are traversing a daring choreographic path with confidence and without fear.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”      William Blake

 


Scottish Dance Theatre: Second Coming & Winter, Again

Posted: March 25th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: Second Coming & Winter, Again

Scottish Dance Theatre, Double Bill, The Place, March 8.

Lewis Wilkins and Eve Ganneau in Second Coming. Photo Maria Falconer

Lewis Wilkins and Eve Ganneau in Second Coming. Photo Maria Falconer

Joan Clevillé draws me so convincingly into his subterfuge that I can forgive Victor Quijada for the beginning of his Second Coming; I had checked the running time of the show and had booked a train that would give me just enough time between the end of the performance and the departure from Victoria station. When Clevillé, who is rehearsal director of the company as well as a dancer, announces that there will be a delay to the start of the show — he has an excellent command of English but his searching for a word and his roving accentuation underlines the hesitation and insecurity of his explanations — I feel my comfort zone shrink rapidly. Luckily I am sitting next to Chantal Guevara who surreptitiously checks online and reassured me that this is in fact the beginning of the show (but don’t tell anyone). It’s a forewarning that we will be kept in a constant state of unpreparedness throughout the evening as there is no clear demarcation between true and false, belief and non-belief. Even the score by Jasper Gahunia erases boundaries, seamlessly interpolating turntable riffs into classical music and vice versa. Quijada and Gahunia are clearly on the same wavelength.

Twenty minutes into the show, Clevillé admits to the dramatic subterfuge, and starts another, but we are now attuned: the choreographer has been fired. It is a harmless, self-deprecating put-down of choreographers as macho control freaks with anger management issues, but, as Clevillé states modestly, there is still some amazing dancing to come and he saves the best for last: his own solo. What follows is much more, for although it starts (after a false start) with his slow, deliberate, finger-tracing solo to a phrase of a Bach prelude, it develops with Mozartian richness into a confrontational duet with Jori Kerremans on a spirited phrase of Paganini, and then into a trio with Nicole Guarino on a phrase from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 13 (Emma Jones’ must have been dancing along to get the cues so perfectly). It is as if Quijada has arranged an epic breaking battle for these three composers who then join forces to play variations on their respective themes and by the end we are all laughing and cheering so loudly because Quijada, Gahunia, the three dancers and Jones have it all down so perfectly.

Matthew Robinson cuts through the applause (he has to wait a while) to deliver his critique of this ‘performance-non-performance thing’ as ‘overworked pseudo-intellectual rubbish’, but he has to continue his defiant monologue in defense of dancers while being dragged slowly by his collar around the stage.

Quijada has reached the summit but there is no lessening of quality as the ensemble descends the mountainside climbing through and under each other in a grouping that leaves behind the opening images of birds and street gangs, flocks and individuals, suspicion and tension as it slips freely to the point of dispersal. Only Eve Ganneau and Lewis Wilkins are left to deliver a duet that is as magical as it is off balance, as heartfelt as it is artfully constructed and which ends on a mysterious note of inversion.

It is rare to find a company with such a diverse range of qualities and a delight to see choreography that brings out those qualities to perfection. We are doubly fortunate this evening for it happens twice.

SDT in Jo Stromgren's Winter, Again.

Lewis Wilkins, Giulia Montalbano, Julian Juárez, Jori Kerremans, Joan Clevillé, Nicole Guarino and Eve Ganneau in Jo Stromgren’s Winter, Again.

Jo Strømgren is as much a theatre director as a choreographer; in his Winter, Again he brings together both drama and dance in a fluent form that integrates visual imagery and choreography so well that the dancers could well be speaking. Strømgren’s text is the cold and bitter emotion of a selection of songs from Schubert’s Winterreise (played by fellow Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes and sung by Ian Bostridge) though he can never take quite seriously the high romanticism of Wilhelm Müller’s verse. Instead he mischievously juxtaposes Schubert’s music with the bloodthirsty, churlish actions of an isolated hunting community dressed in shades of ghostly white (by Bregje van Balen) that lives its daily fight for survival with as little emotion as the winter itself. Echoes of Ibsen and Chekhov abound in the chilling screams, pistol shots, dead birds and other furry carcasses but Strømgren has us laughing helplessly from the beginning with his brand of dark, irreverent humour. Not even the fate of a young girl (Natalie Trewinnard) who spends the entire performance searching for her eyeballs that the pigtailed beauty Maria Hayday finds in a tin and mindlessly drops in the snow can prompt a sense of sympathy. Trewinnard finally finds her eyes and pops them back in, but her focal adjustment is so masterfully funny — and Strømgren’s dramatic sense so seasoned — that her subsequent suicide by pistol shot that brings the performance to an end is less of an emotional charge than a dramatic full stop.

This program is the parting gift of former artistic director Janet Smith. Fleur Darkin is in the seat now. In the evening’s program she writes that ‘contemporary dance is a form that lives by destroying its past’ and yet both of this evening’s remarkable works make creative use of the past to find new forms rather than destroying it. Scottish Dance Theatre is, in its present form, a gifted company and while it has such a rich repertoire may the only kind of destruction under discussion be creative destruction. And long may it last.