Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma

Posted: January 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma

Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, Sigma, Lilian Baylis Studio, January 15

Iconographic collage of Seeta Patel in Sigma (photo: ASH)

In Sigma, presented at Lilian Baylis Studio as part of the 2018 London International Mime Festival, Sean Gandini, artistic director of Gandini Juggling and Seeta Patel, an accomplished bharatanatyam soloist and choreographer, propose a dialogue — or flirtation as Gandini calls it — between juggling and bharatanatyam. Sigma is the second of three such dialogues Gandini has curated, the first being with classical ballet (4×4 Ephemeral Architectures) and the third, Spring, with contemporary choreography by Alexander Whitley, which will premiere at Cambridge Junction next month.

The term ‘sigma’ means ‘sum of small parts’, aptly describing the structure of Gandini’s and Patel’s dialogue that examines aspects of their respective arts from their two distinct perspectives. Clearly nothing much will result from a dialogue where perspectives are too closely aligned, and on the surface there appears to be little in common between juggling and classical Indian dance. The history of juggling suggests it has always been an artistic form on the informal edges of entertainment; while it has developed its own virtuosic routines it has eschewed a formal musical or physical framework for the improvised freedom of the street or circus. By contrast, bharatanatyam has a long history of formalized representation with an improvisational core based on a close relationship with its musicians. In formalizing such a dialogue Gandini and Patel run the risk of either framing juggling too tightly or unframing bharatanatyam, but in their irrepressible curiosity they set out to explore how the geometries and dynamics of their respective arts intersect within their common experience of space and time.

By putting the two forms on the same stage, Sigma immediately reveals a formal affinity, a double intricacy of gesture and rhythm that initially sets the dialogue alight. It is in the inordinate physical dexterity, agility and coordination of hand and eye, as well as in the use of complex musical rhythms that the two art forms thrive. Seeing Patel’s refined hand gestures against the juggling hands of Kim Huynh and Kati Ylä Hokkala and to juxtapose the complex rhythms of bouncing balls with Patel’s and Indu Panday’s intricate footwork is to appreciate both arts in a fresh light. There are notable similarities, too, in the use of improvisation (uncommon in the western classical ballet tradition) and in the dynamic tension between concentration and relaxation that allows the performers of both forms to appear at ease as they negotiate demanding routines. Perhaps one of the most interesting developments in Sigma’s dialogue, one in which both art forms find themselves in new territory, is the section ‘Tribute to London’ in which both dance and juggling are performed to the syncopated rhythms of chanted tube station names. There are also some notable disagreements between the two forms: gesture in bharatanatyam is embedded in meaning, whereas in juggling it is a function of the dynamic act. This fundamental difference renders the section in which Patel and Huynh compete in physical expressivity rather flat because there is no standard of comparison. Another disagreement is in a contrasting sense of humour. Humour in juggling is a response both to the inherent illusion and the nonchalant virtuosity of the act. In bharatanatyam humour is embedded in the story that the artist expresses. Sigma carries no story in itself — except in the ethnological, autobiographical framing — so Patel and Panday are roped into Gandini’s sense of humour that appears to be less a result of dialogue than of acquiesence.

There is an external element in Sigma that enhances its presentation: the stage setting and Guy Hoare’s atmospheric lighting. What we see as we arrive is a bare stage with two bland, institutional dividers on wheels. As the performance unfolds, so do the screens, revealing mirrors on the hidden side that reflect both the audience and the performers. In the duet between Patel and Huyhn to the aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Panday and Hokkala circle the performers with the mirrored panels, extending the sculptural forms of the choreography to which Hoare’s lighting gives a visual unity even if the full effect is evident only to those sitting in the middle of the stalls.

Out of the sum of its many components, however, Sigma fails to create a cohesive whole. The initial exploration throws up ideas like balls and keeps the dialogue afloat, but the joint dynamics fall off, and balls drop as the exchange deconstructs into its constituent soliloquys. At the end illusion peters out with a muted chorus of regrets.


Gandini Juggling, 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures

Posted: January 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gandini Juggling, 4×4 Ephemeral Architectures

Gandini Juggling, 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures, Linbury Studio Theatre, January 13

Gandini Juggling in 4x4: Ephemeral Architectures (photo: Beinn Muir)

Gandini Juggling in 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures (photo: Beinn Muir)

Directed by Sean Gandini with four jugglers and four classically trained dancers choreographed by Ludovic Ondiviela, a score by Nimrod Borenstein (Suspended opus 69) and lighting by Guy Hoare, 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures relishes its cross-fertilization of art forms to give us a glimpse beyond conceptual ideas to what dance and juggling do so well: spatial stimulation. Gandini’s program note itself is an inspired expression of collaboration: ‘This piece is a return to our love of pure patterns and mathematics, our roots in imagining juggling as a form of dance.’

After the Camerata Alma Vira take their places at the back of the stage — a setting that suggests both classical concert and travelling band — the four dancers and four jugglers enter in a line. This is the opening proposal that sets the tone for the subsequent development. The jugglers begin juggling balls while the dancers’ arms circle above their heads and drop down to slap their thighs, together setting up spatial and aural rhythms enhanced by light. There are solos, the first by Kieran Stoneley that is expansive with lovely lines and then by Owen Reynolds who states the mathematical formula for a juggling act and then performs it. With the introduction of Borenstein’s music (hopefully it will be recorded by now) there is an additional mathematical layer: when the jugglers exchange clubs across a line of advancing dancers it is as if arms, legs and clubs are all dancing to the musical rhythms.

Although the Gandini jugglers are brilliant technicians (I can’t take my eyes off them any more than they can take their eyes off the objects they are juggling), they are relaxed and in their relaxation they dance. There is something in their insouciant virtuosity that reminds me of the dancers in a Pina Bausch work. Every now and then they drop a ball or a club or a ring but it doesn’t seem to matter; they have a self-deprecating humour that is built into the art. There’s a scene where Owen Reynolds juggles three or four balls perfectly. Dancers Erin O’Toole and Kate Byrne are either side of him on pointe like malevolent fairies urging him to juggle more balls. He does and while he’s juggling they bourrée in place with a vengeance. When Reynolds succeeds, they clap enthusiastically but when he drops a ball they stop with a loud sigh of disappointment. The audience laughs. But is there a parallel scene where two jugglers stand round a dancer urging more and more pirouettes? No, and this signals the one flaw in 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures: the four jugglers are at the height of their art and constantly push its limits but Ondiviela and his four dancers seem constrained by their classical dance; they can’t simply let go of their training and enter into the movement with the same freedom as the jugglers accomplish their feats.

But there are so many moments in the work that are infused with a ludic sense of exploration. O’Toole hones her juggling skills and the jugglers dance a phrase of Scottish dance; the rhythm of the coloured balls is continued in the girls’ underwear; Byrne dances quick phrases while the balls Reynolds is juggling are in the air; both dancers and jugglers use their voices to state mathematical patterns as well as to comment on their skills (‘A bit wonky’ says Sakari Männistö as one of the balls flies off its orbit). The most impressive moments occur when the jugglers exchange clubs over the heads of the dancers like a canopy of flying tears enhancing the musical rhythms. Hoare’s lighting is an essential ingredient: he makes the rhythms visible. Gandini refers to Hoare’s passion for geometry and architecture and writes that they quickly found they spoke similar languages. 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures is all about the similarities in languages and how they can be brought into a creative focus, but in its exploration it inadvertently asks the same question of classical dance as the Mock Turtle asks of Alice: ‘Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?’

When Reynolds stands alone on stage suggesting five possible ways to finish the show, the fourth (I can’t remember the first three) is to expound on the profound similarities between the two art forms. He means the two art forms of juggling and dance, but as we have seen, 4×4: Ephemeral Architectures comprises four art forms that each contributes to the creative vision of the work. Reynolds avoids the issue by choosing the fifth option which is a juggler standing alone on stage deciding how to finish the show.

 

4×4: Ephemeral Architectures is presented as part of the London International Mime Festival