Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field

Posted: May 28th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field

Theo Clinkard, This Bright Field, Brighton Dome, May 25

The dancers in Rike Zollner’s costumes in Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field (photo: Pari Naderi)

Field: a place where a subject of scientific study or artistic representation can be observed in its natural location or context.

Theo Clinkard’s This Bright Field, which received its world première at the Brighton Festival, is an abstract work that, like Francis Bacon’s use of colour, eschews representation for the affect of sensation. In Clinkard’s case, the sensation derives from his field of choreography that comprises the presence of the (superb) dancers, movement, colour, light and sound. What he set out to address in this work is ‘existing notions about the kind of contemporary dance that is usually created for larger theatres’ and he derived part of his inspiration from Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa’s book, The Eyes of the Skin. Whereas sight may be our most important sense, Pallasmaa argues that ‘problems arise from the isolation of the eye outside its natural interaction with other sense modalities…which increasingly reduce and restrict our experience of the world into the sphere of vision.’ Adapting this notion to the stage, Clinkard has in effect unified his own choreographic field to develop a theatre of the senses from the inside out, which in turn addresses notions of theatrical design.

To illustrate both of these achievements, This Bright Field is divided into two performances (called simply Part 1 and Part 2) in two different places that retain their own individuality and integrity yet form a whole. In the first, Clinkard has created his own physical context; audiences have timed entry through the stage door at the Brighton Dome to a small square space with dark, moveable panels. Cushions have been placed for the audience around the four sides with standing room behind. All the dancers are present in this miniature environment and we see them in the foreground or through the spaces between the panels which the dancers move often, so there is only a brief sense of a view being blocked; it will soon open up to a fresh glimpse, another dancer or dancers like life-size figures in a doll’s house performing phrases of idiosyncratic dance. The sound of birdsong and voices is muted to the scale of the environment so that even if the lighting is subdued the sense of intimacy with the expression of each performer is deeply felt. Although we don’t actually taste or smell the dancers, our close proximity to them engages all our senses in a synesthetic equation that makes this 20-minute Part 1 all-embracing and fulfilling. It is when we move, after a short break, into the Concert Hall of the Brighton Dome for Part 2 that Clinkard’s notions of intimacy are challenged by the cavernous space with its appalling sight lines. The further back you sit in the auditorium, the more the choreography is limited to the sensory vehicle of the eye as if the brain is relating to what it sees through a telescope. Nevertheless, with the help of light, sound and colour and with the memory of Part 1 still fresh in our minds, all is not lost.

Guy Hoare’s lighting is doing far more than illuminating the stage; his grand scheme is to reduce the visual distance of the theatre by building a wall of light at the back of the performance area that sets a scale to the movements of the dancers and, in the first section, exaggerates them in silhouette. In the second movement, Hoare lights the naked figure of Leah Marojević as delicately as the sound we can hear of rustling foil blankets on the stage. One sensation juxtaposed with another alters our perception; Marojević rises and falls with the weightlessness of the foil as she tries to break free of gravity. When the other dancers enter Hoare sculpts their naked bodies in light so their forms are almost tangible. The final section is all crimson, a passionate wash of colour that sets off the interlocking panels of Rike Zollner’s striking costumes as the dancers gather weight and dynamics.

Sound designer James Keane was inspired by other notions in Pallasmaa’s book. The first he cites is that ‘sound often provides the temporal continuum in which visual impressions are embedded’; Keane’s rumbling white noise in the opening section has the quality of space, holding in its thick embrace the movements of the dancers in silhouette. While appreciating this sensory element for its ability to scale down the size of the auditorium to the stage action, the sheer volume of sound seems to overcompensate, though when it dissipates into the sampling of strings and into song the aural relief is palpable; the rustlings of those foil blankets around the figure of Marojević could not have been quite so magical without the storm that preceded it.

What Clinkard and his creative team have accomplished is more significant than might first appear. Bacon’s paintings are limited by little more than our imagination and Pallasmaa’s architecture can define its own internal and, to a lesser extent, its external environments. But choreography is very much dependent on and limited by the architectural environment in which it is produced. It would be a circle completed if a dance performance inspired by Pallasmaa’s architectural writing might in turn inspire an architecture in which to experience dance; This Bright Field might well be a litmus test for such exploration. It so happens that Sadler’s Wells has plans to build a dance theatre on the former Olympics site and it would be fitting if Clinkard’s experience of creating This Bright Field might lead him to consulting on its design and implementation.

This Bright Field was co-commissioned by Brighton Festival, Dance4, Greenwich Dance and Trinity Laban Partnership, The Lowry and Tramway. It will be performed in the autumn at Tramway, The Lowry and Laban as part of a commissioners’ tour. 


Eleesha Drennan: Channel Rose

Posted: March 3rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Eleesha Drennan: Channel Rose

Eleesha Drennan, Channel Rose, The Place, February 28

Viivi Keskinen in Eleesha Drennan's Channel Rose (photo: ©Nicole Guarino Photography)

Viivi Keskinen in Eleesha Drennan’s Channel Rose (photo: ©Nicole Guarino Photography)

Eleesha Drennan’s Channel Rose (as in a TV station for Utopia-related content) is one of those rare physical statements with an intelligence that develops along a unique and mysterious path in which all the elements — the movement, the lighting and the live music — come together without faltering. Its completeness is the kind of unity characteristic of classical art: harmony of form and content. Drennan has dug deep into her choreographic heart to find a harmony that lies at the core of the disparate elements of her work; she calls it Utopia, but I think in looking for Utopia she has discovered something else: inspired creativity. “I am motivated to create a dialogue between thought and physical sensation”, she writes, but what if physical sensation — and dance in particular — is a way of thinking? Wouldn’t dialogue then give way to a physical stream of consciousness? It seems this is what Drennan has convincingly achieved; she forces us to think without words.

Although Channel Rose is predominantly abstract, there are material elements — a pile of sand, one red stiletto shoe, a fish bowl with water on a stand — that are sufficient to anchor a sense of narrative. At the beginning Drennan (who performs Annabeth Berkeley’s role this evening) sets the stage with a scenario that could go anywhere: to a variation of La Vie en Rose, Viivi Keskinen (‘a wild witch woman…struggling for control and power’) is building a wedding cake of a sandcastle next to the fish bowl; Kenny Wing Tao Ho (‘an ethereal wizard…who wants nothing more than to fly’) is lying on the floor exercising his wings and Drennan (‘a free-spirited gypsy woman’) is coming to terms with having lost one of her smart red stiletto shoes. Each of the dancers will interact with the water, the shoe or the sand — or all three — in the course of the work. Saxophonist Simon Haram stands modestly to one side in front of his music stand and percussionist Julian Warburton is the commander of an impressive array of instruments whose architecture is beautifully outlined by Guy Hoare’s lighting.

Keskinen destroys her sandcastle in a fit of pique, washing the sand off her hands in the fish bowl, and as the music starts – Fragment for solo saxophone by John Woolrich – she walks back towards Drennan but Drennan is hobbling gracefully forward to the front and Wing Tao Ho gets up to calm Keskinen, setting off a fit of trembling hands like a fringe of madness around her. She brushes him off and falls at Drennan’s feet, wrapping around her legs like an anchor while Wing Tao Ho tries to take off across the stage with the wind in his face and arms like propellers. Over the next 60 minutes this trio with their individual goals and strong, contrasting characters will remain true to themselves while playing off each other with endless variations. The performers (musicians included) are so caught up in the movement that it is impossible to watch them all and catch the ebb and flow of energy flowing through each, but wherever you focus there is something remarkable going on internally that is reflected in the face and gestures on the outside. Keskinen in particular has a rich supply of expression both in her face and body that constitutes a coherent trail of thought from beginning to end, from her possessed, finger-frenzied passages through the sly sense of wonder when she puts on the rose-tinted glasses to the climactic moment when she lifts Wing Tao Ho and spins him wildly before propelling him on his way.

Mark Bowden is responsible for the musical choices from John Woolrich, Andy Scott, Iannis Xenakis, Louiguy and Graham Fitkin, and provides three of his own, one for solo saxophone, one for solo percussion and one for saxophone and vibraphone. The quality of the works and the artistry with which Warburton and Haram play them create a dynamic structure for Channel Rose through which the dance flows and in which it sometimes gets thrillingly entwined. The influence works both ways: when Haram sits out the final Rebonds B for solo percussion he puts on the rose-tinted glasses to watch the dance.

There are only three costumes and Nia Thomson has entered into the imagination of the work to create three ‘characters’ that reflect their wearers and the way they move. They also respond beautifully to Hoare’s lighting which in turn sculpts the space around them and sets them free.

Channel Rose is a work that is governed by its search for freedom and finds it unexpectedly under its own feet. In the end the rose-tinted glasses are unnecessary; rather than being an ideal beyond our reach, Drennan shows us that Utopia is a reality to be discovered in our dancing bodies.

 

 

Eleesha Drennan is the recipient of the 2014 Sky Academy Arts Scholarship

The creative producer of Channel Rose is Tess Howell

 


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

 

 

 

 


Seeta Patel: Something Then, Something Now

Posted: October 5th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Seeta Patel: Something Then, Something Now

Seeta Patel, Something Then, Something Now, Lilian Baylis Theatre, September 25

Seeta Patel in Something Then, Something Now (photo @ Stephen Berkeley White)

Seeta Patel in Something Then, Something Now (photo © Stephen Berkeley White)

Wild Card is a series of specially curated evenings from a new generation of dance makers bringing fresh perspectives to the stage. For each Wild Card, an up-and-coming artist is given the opportunity to present work that excites them alongside their own.

Something Then, Something Now is both the title of Seeta Patel’s Wild Card evening and a way of understanding it. The evening is divided into two, with Patel dancing a Bharatanatyam solo to live Carnatic music in the first, and Pushkala Gopal performing a series of Abhinaya — the facial, gestural and character aspects of the Bharatanatyam tradition — with the some of the same Carnatic musicians in the second. In both cases, the compositions originate in the past (between the twelfth and the eighteenth centuries) but the interpretations are very much in the moment. Because both the artist and the art form are inextricably linked, we are not simply watching historical compositions reconstructed for the present: it is the past in the ever-present that makes the evening so rich.

Patel is one of a new generation of dancers who are born in England of Indian parents but she is considered an Indian dancer because she looks Indian and she dances an Indian form. Identity is something Patel has already tackled with playful irony in a short film she made with Kamala Devam, The Art of Defining Me, but for her Wild Card program she sets out to dispel the equally equivocal notion that Indian dance is an exotic, ethnic import. She sees Bharatanatyam as a classical form in the same way, perhaps, that Beethoven’s or Rossini’s music is part of the classical tradition independent of its cultural origin. It is a differentiation that may be lost on those who thrive on compartmentalization but for the two packed houses at her Wild Card program, the freshness of her approach and the quality of her dancing are indisputable.

Lighting designer Guy Hoare creates a cocoon of hazy light that engulfs the musicians seated at one side of the stage in the preamble to the performance. The violinist’s sliding fingers, the flautist’s swaying torso, the percussionist’s lightning fingers on the taut skin and the vocalist’s rich voice all prefigure Patel’s dance. Mavin Khoo, who sits with the musicians as conductor and vocal percussionist, half explains, half intones the story of praise and love Patel is about to dance, after which Hoare lowers the lights to prepare us for her entrance: first her hand and then her arm, then her entire body appear through a thin sheet of light. For the next fourty minutes Hoare integrates Patel’s dance and the Carnatic music into an intoxicating drama of mystery and light.

The focus of this eighteenth century work from the Raga Anandabhairavi is the relationship between three characters (the heroine, her friend and Lord Krishna) and the dual nature of love and devotion. Patel as the heroine and sole narrator is exquisitely beautiful, dressed in a turquoise costume accented with filigree gold and adorned with jewels that themselves seem to dance in the light. She uses her richly expressive facial features to convey the full spectrum of feeling and emotion and her graceful hand and arm gestures symbolize the motifs and details of her story.

Throughout the dance there is a heady sense of improvisation between Patel and the musicians that requires a heightened musicality from both. I don’t want to take my eyes off her, and the musicians never do. Between the narrative sections are the pure dance or rhythmical sections in which she becomes one with the music like a human instrument. Her rapid footwork, darting arm gestures and fast — unbelievably fast — turns are nevertheless clear and fully articulated as if there is a still point within her around which, and from which, everything moves. No wonder Anna Pavlova recognized the parallels between Indian dance and classical ballet.

In the second part of the evening, Pushkala Gopal sits authoritatively on a platform surrounded by the same group of Carnatic musicians with Divya Kasturi as an additional vocalist. Abinhaya are performed to explore texts written mostly, Gopal says in her introduction, by men fascinated by heroines in love. Her gestures arrive out of the words and the layers of meaning in the song. As in Patel’s dance, the symbiotic relationship between Gopal and the musicians is exhilarating.

The final song is about an Untouchable whose interest in seeing Lord Shiva is so pure that he succeeds against all odds in achieving his goal. It is appropriate that such a story should conclude the evening in which Patel has put her talent and passion at the service of an art form she wants to champion in this country. Patel is, to our eyes, an accomplished dancer but in the timeline of her art she can be seen as just a beginner, as Khoo — her teacher — pointed out in the post-show talk. It is lifelong artistic investment that lies at the heart of classical art, but with a public funding system that cannot look with confidence beyond the five-year political cycle there seems little hope of an enduring solution. Great art for all requires great artists, and great artists can’t mature on a fast-food project basis. But if an untouchable can see Lord Shiva then we can look forward to enjoying Patel’s long-term development in her chosen art.

 


The Integrated Dance Summit

Posted: May 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Integrated Dance Summit

The Integrated Dance Summit, presented by Pavilion Dance South West and Foundation for Community Dance at Pavilion Dance, May 16-17

Rosa Vreeling and James O'Shea in The Point At Which It Last Made Sense (photo: Chris Nash)

Rosa Vreeling and James O’Shea in The Point At Which It Last Made Sense (photo: Chris Nash)

Integrated Dance — loosely defined in this context as the participation of able-bodied and less able-bodied dancers in a single performance (think of the analogy with Charles Hazlewood’s Paraorchestra performing with Coldplay at the 2012 Paralympics Closing Ceremony) — is a genre that runs the gamut from fully integrated to polarized with subtle gradations in between. A lot of discussion at the Summit devolved, not unsurprisingly, around the contribution of integrated dance to the efforts to improve health and social services, its potential to engage audiences, and its ability to raise awareness of the phenomenal contribution of the disabled in society — aspects I came to appreciate more fully over the course of the forums. But when it came to looking at the performances with a critical eye, I looked beyond these aspects to the visual, psychological and emotional levels that lead me into a work or out of it.  After all, these are not works about disability but about the ability of each performer to surmount their restrictions to create something that inspires. The performances that achieved this were those that effectively dissolved the barriers between able and disabled.

Both Falling in Love with Frida by Caroline Bowditch and The Point At Which It Last Made Sense by Robin Dingemans and Nick Bryson fall into this category. If the former is fully integrated, the latter goes one stage further by using James O’Shea’s powerful upper body (he is a Paralympic swimmer) and handsome beachcomber head to extrapolate the satire on marketing to a surreal level. Rosa Vreeling is O’Shea’s sensuous companion basking in self-adulation, while Nick Bryson’s dry humour as political commentator keeps the whole structure hanging irreverently in the air. Add understated costumes by Louise Bennetts, a clarity of vision from Guy Hoare’s lighting, marketing photos by Chris Nash that eloquently describe the work without need of words, and the package is irresistible. There’s a score, too, by Alessandro Bosetti but my eyes were so busy my ears couldn’t keep up.

Bowditch’s approach is more personal; she projects her life on to an alter ego that is Frida Kahlo; she does not try to be Frida but chooses her to channel her own history and aspirations and from whom she derives inspiration and encouragement. Kahlo was handicapped by a traffic accident at the age of 18, and Bowditch has suffered a genetic bone disorder since birth but both women have transformed their obstacles into their respective arts. In the emotional and openly erotic layering of the work we learn about both Bowditch and Kahlo, and about the unbounded force with which both women approach life. Katherina Radeva’s set and costumes are as vibrant as Bowditch herself in red skirt and blue blouse lying supine on a yellow table surrounded by yellow chairs in front of two green neon cacti against blue and white hangings. The music you hear as you arrive (the program notes tell us) is the music that played in Frida’s house, the music she lay down to. Bowditch lies on the table dreamily looking at herself in a hand mirror when the motherly figure of Yvonne Strain enters in indigenous Mexican dress to join her; she is the wholly integrated BSL interpreter whose grasp of the erotic texts provides some well-earned respect and laughter. There are two other members of the cast, Welly O’Brien and Nicole Guarino, whose youthful beauty and movement enhance the sensual quality of the action, laughing with arms and tongues and sharing lascivious glances. The generosity of spirit in the work includes a shot of Tequila for all members of the audience, some unforgettable lines (‘You drank to drown your sorrows but the damned things learned to swim’) and an all-too-human questioning of the marks or traces our lives might leave. It’s all about falling in love with Frida, but it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with Caroline Bowditch.

StopGap Dance Company’s The Awakening, choreographed by Chris Pavia, is performed on the West Terrace in glorious sunshine. The four dancers (Amy Butler, Nadenh Poan, Hannah Sampson and Tomos Young) rope off a square with thick black ribbon inside which all the action takes place. The creative line of the work is not easy to fathom, though the common gestures of awakening to the sun and sky are clear; I feel on the outside of Pavia’s thought process but the work has an integrity that draws me in, especially to Poan’s physical expressiveness in his wheelchair. Legs can be expressive but when a dancer has no control over them, the focus of expression is in the torso, arms and face. The Awakening is one of the works in which the dancers with disability are more interesting by comparison than the dancers without; perhaps because their physical and emotional process comes from a deeper source. What this Integrated Dance Summit reveals is that able-bodied dancers have to go that much further in all senses to be on a similar footing when performing with less able-bodied dancers. The Awakening thus creates a juxtaposition rather than an integration of abilities. It is the same with Pavia’s lovely, tentative solo of spirals for Sampson in which her arms are like rays of light. What could possibly correspond in the able-bodied to this, or to Poan’s freeing himself from his chair? He is suddenly in another unfamiliar element and it is an emotionally significant moment. At one point Poan takes Sampson’s arm like a guide or teacher, laying on his hands: a powerful metaphor for dance as a healing art. The work accelerates with Poan’s chair off balance, animated arms once more raised in a ritual of sun and air worship until all the performers slowly remove the bindings from their wrists, drop the material on the ground and promenade slowly around the square, discarding that which binds for a sense of freedom.

Marc Brew’s (i)land also lends itself to the terrace outside, this time overlooking the beach. There is an irony of bringing six tons of sand to build an island on a terrace within sight of the beach but there are technical reasons for it. On this tiny desert island topped by a mast and a vestige of rigging there are buried some seemingly unrelated objects that the Robinson Crusoe figure (Rob Heaslip) begins to uncover. What may be evident to us is not evident to Heaslip who builds with them a makeshift deck chair and settles down in the sun to rest. Up pops the head of Marc Brew from within the sand, a wonderful image like Christ rising from the dead. A third character (Rebecca Evans), dressed as The Lady of the Sea, wanders on to the island to complete the trio. The narrative follows the development of an escape plan with the limited resources available but it is Marc’s struggle from being buried to becoming mobile that holds my attention because his movements constantly express both fragility and determination. There are overtones of Lord of the Flies in Heaslip’s attempt to stop Brew from assembling his means of escape but the relationship between Heaslip and Evans and between Evans and Brew are barely defined by comparison. Once Brew’s means of escape is constructed (an antediluvian contraption with wheels and sails, somewhat like Da Vinci’s sketch of a helicopter), we want him to take off into the blue sky, but this alas is not within the production’s means. Evans returns to the sea, Heaslip remains on the lookout atop the mast, but Brew can only wheel away his contraption. Perhaps it is an allegory of dependence and independence, of freedom and restraint, of mobility and immobility but the contradictions within the work preclude a real sense of integration and appropriate resolution.

Arc Dance presents two works choreographed by Suzie Birchfield, a dancer who early on in her training developed Dystonia that has left her in a wheelchair. She has worked tirelessly over the last twelve years since establishing ActOne ArtsBase as a dancer, teacher, choreographer and advocate for accessible dance, which is the inclusion of people with disabilities in dance-related classes, workshops and performances. In Conversations with Dystonia Birchfield dances with Peter Baldwin and Tyrone Herlihy and in A Sense of Beauty Rosie Leak expands the trio into a quartet. In both works composer Nao Masuda provides a dexterous live accompaniment. Birchfield is both choreographer and central character in each work, a difficult balance to pull off at the best of times, but with the weight of her experience and advocacy it is almost impossible to avoid a polarization of disability: we are drawn in to her affliction so closely that the contrast with the athletic prowess of Baldwin and Herlihy is uncomfortable to watch. Yet there is a moment in Conversations with Dystonia — when Birchfield is supported on the equipment designed by Alex Harvey of Ockham’s Razor and slowly descends in a classical plié as she looks out with those lucid eyes — that is pure magic. The powerful metaphor of support is contrasted with the fragility of the body and force of mind; it is perhaps in itself a pure form of integration.

One final performance element of the Integrated Dance Summit is the Integrated Choreolab, ‘a partnership between South East Dance, Pavilion Dance South West and GDance to respond to the lack of development and choreographic opportunities for artists working in integrated dance.’ The three artists chosen (Noëmi Lakmaier, Kate Marsh and Mark Smith) were asked to choose their own collaborators. Lakmaier choose Rachel Gomme to perform a durational piece that took place over four hours outside on the South Terrace, of which I saw very little as it coincided with work going on inside. Marsh chose Welly O’Brien whom she has known since their days in Candoco Dance Company and Smith chose two dancers who suffer like him from deafness: Anthony Snowden and Kevin Jewell. Anyone thinking they had a good grasp of integrated dance before this Choreolab had yet another aspect to consider: the integration of artists with complementary or similar disabilities. Marsh has two arms, one hand, and two legs, while O’Brien has two arms, two hands and one leg (though I never noticed in Falling in Love with Frida), making a collective total of four arms, three hands and three legs. Marsh and O’Brien use their respective limbs as a composer might use a key signature: an intricately inventive composition both constrained and enriched by the imposition of a set of rules. Marsh and O’Brien know each other well and have a similar clarity and consistency in their collaboration tinged with a sense of humour that develops from an opening motif to a ratcheting up of cattiness in competitive gestures.

Mark Smith is, amongst other things, the artistic director of Deaf Men Dancing, so his collaboration with Snowden and Jewell sidesteps the Summit’s notion of integrated dance for an integration of dance with gesture and sign language. The music is by creative signer Pete Waller, aka Deafboyone, and it is Jewell’s pinpoint timing in his hand gestures to the first song that communicate extraordinary power. Smith explains in the subsequent Q&A that one of the causes of deafness is the scrambling of hair nerves in the ear that impede the incoming sound waves. As with other performances over the weekend, it is the transformation of these kinds of disabilities into a clear communication of overriding truth that makes integrated dance — in all its manifestations — not only a vital element within the broader dance field but a universally valid art form in itself. Two other writers were invited to comment on the Summit: Dave Young and Rebecca Nice. Their reviews can be read on the Pavilion Dance South West site.


Shobana Jeyasingh Dance: Strange Blooms & Configurations

Posted: December 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Shobana Jeyasingh Dance: Strange Blooms & Configurations

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, Strange Blooms & Configurations, Queen Elizabeth Hall, December 3

Noora Kela in Strange Blooms (photo: Chris Nash)

Noora Kela in Strange Blooms (photo: Chris Nash)

This review was commissioned by Pulse Magazine and first appeared online at www.pulseconnects.com. It was subsequently published in the Winter issue of the magazine. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the editor. 

It is no coincidence that Shobana Jeyasingh chose the biology of plants to underpin the twenty-fifth anniversary of her choreographic debut and the birth of her company. The program at Queen Elizabeth Hall included her first work, Configurations, as well as the world première of Strange Blooms. If the latter is the flowering of her artistic development, her bold collaboration with Michael Nyman in 1988 that became Configurations illustrates the clarity of the process by which she achieved it. Dylan Thomas used the metaphor of a ‘force that through the green fuse drives the flower’, and there is a very real sense in both works of Jeyasingh’s rich, fertile imagination driving the creative process towards fulfillment. Her initial use of the traditional bharatanatyam dance form has broadened – she spoke candidly in the question and answer session following the performance about feeling ‘over-defined at the beginning by race and culture’ – but she remains focused on generating meaning in dance without recourse to stories. Her materials are space, time and the bodies of her dancers; her process is one of consummate design.

The members of the Benyounes Quartet sit patiently in the shadows before the start of Configurations. They will be playing Nyman’s String Quartet No. 2 which itself is based on a rhythmic score in six sections that Jeyasingh had prepared as a brief for the composer. Such close artistic collaboration is key to the unity of purpose in each work. Lucy Carter’s lighting design projects a series of rectangles on to the floor that change pattern in rhythm with the music and create pathways for the four arching, spiraling dancers whose steps are so precisely choreographed to the music that they are as much human instruments as they are indefatigable interpreters. Two years ago Jeyasingh reworked the choreography. ‘I wanted to say the same thing but find a simpler way to say it.’ It is this economy of means and her painterly use of space that give the music such a rich visual quality that is further enhanced by Ursula Bombshell’s costumes in reds and orange. The dancers never falter as they carry the lyrical forms, beauty, patterns and colour – even a moment of deadpan humour – through to the work’s conclusion.

A similar organic line is at work in Strange Blooms, not only as the basis of its design but in the subject matter itself. It is organized in four sections based on different aspects of plant biology: the first on the way tendrils curl and swirl in their frenzied search for support; the second on the algorithms of branching; the third on cellular instabilities within plants that help them to move, and the fourth about hybridity or cross breeding. From the very first moment these eight strange blooms unfold before our eyes as if we are looking through a microscope or at a time-lapse film, with Guy Hoare’s patterns of light reminiscent of Rothko in fauve colours suffusing the choreographic development. Graphic projections are not easy to get right in a dance context, but Jan Urbanowski’s laser-like etchings of plant forms play beautifully on the dancers’ bodies while Fabrice Serafino’s costumes subtly harmonise gender and reveal the dance. One can still see the low plié of bharatanatyam but the dance vocabulary belongs more with the urgency of natural forms than with any particular style.

If Strange Blooms reveals the hidden life of plants, Gabriel Prokofiev’s score simulates the process in music. By dissecting a recording by Jane Chapman of Louis Couperin’s harpsichord piece, Chaconne la Complaignante, Prokofiev lays bare its mysterious internal processes before putting it all back together again in pristine form. Like the design of Strange Blooms, it is a remarkable journey that reminds us of the richness hidden in the depths of life. As Jeyasingh says, ‘Choreography is a way of revealing what is already there.’


Spring Loaded: Triple Bill

Posted: June 10th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Spring Loaded: Triple Bill

Spring Loaded: Triple Bill, The Place, June 5

Robert Clark, Amstatten

Louise Tanoto in Amstatten. Photo Ludovic des Cognets

Louise Tanoto in Amstatten. Photo: Ludovic des Cognets

The spill of light from the exit lamps dimly illumines Louise Tanoto’s preparations before the start of the performance (wouldn’t it be wonderful if a performance could start in a true blackout), which takes some of the magic away. This is a finely tuned, concentrated performance that should appear out of the dark with the immediacy and vividness of a dream. Nevertheless, Tanoto soon puts back the magic when Guy Hoare’s lighting works it’s own magic with hers. Magic is not something one associates with imprisonment, but Robert Clark has chosen to take the brutality out of the prison and replace it with heart, imagination and stoicism, suggesting that our interior state of life is enough to transform a place or situation. Even if it is clear the stage at The Place is not a prison, still the sense of poetry and freedom in Tanoto’s sensitive performance has the ability to remove any barrier that may fetter our spirit.

A chair stands in the shadows beside a cell of light in which Tanoto lies prone, toes tensed against the floor, a bag over her head. To the eerie sound of a repeated organ phrase and a ticking clock her hand scuttles out from under her, reaching away blindly to the perimeter of the rectangle. Having done the rounds she gets up and bumps into the chair on which she sinks her head in a gesture of silent prayer or exhaustion. The bag on her head looks like it has ears but she slowly removes it, crumples it absent-mindedly and takes another tour round her cell. Three steps long, one step wide, she reacts to the sense of constriction by backing out of the light as if someone is sucking her life through a hole in the back wall. A masked figure in black stands ominously in the shadows like an executioner, then disappears. A recollection, a presentiment? The foreshortening of movements, the contortions of her body to keep within the confines of her cell are powerful reminders of physical repression, contrasted with an inner life that is both comic and surreal. As she sits bent forward on her chair, two fingers poke through her long hair, two imaginary eyes peering at us. Now all her fingers comb through her hair and end in fists, becoming defensive gestures, violent gestures that with a sinuous struggle end with hands held firmly behind her back. As we contemplate her next move, she faces us, turns her hands over, wrists uppermost, brushes back her hair, looking at us dispassionately. Hoares’s lighting alternates her outer form with her inner form, making her in turn both opaque and translucent. The music now takes over – Katyna Ranieri singing Riz Ortolani’s Oh My Love — providing a sentimental short cut to memories of better times and dreams of a bright new day. As the volume of music increases, Tanoto turns like a record, or a dervish, arms extended to her side, faster and faster. She has an ecstatic smile on her face as she spins out of control and gropes for the chair. Back to the ticking clock in her solitary cell. Tears.

James Wilton, In Cycles

In Cycles is a solo James Wilton created on a female dancer. It is evidently fungible as he writhes through it effortlessly, twisting and turning his well-developed torso into dynamic shapes and lyrical forms that defy gravity with a playfulness that is breathtaking. The title of the work derives from the idea of reincarnation and while certain of Wilton’s phrases repeat like a musical refrain, there is little else in the work to suggest the cyclical nature of life. If the idea has made its mark on his sensibility, its choreographic development has been hijacked by Wilton’s particular form of movement: for such a spiritual subject, the impression is unremittingly physical. I had a similar reaction to Wilton’s earlier work, Cave, that was inspired by the philosophy of Plato and Jean-Paul Sartre, perceptions of reality and the desire to uncover the truth: more the dialectical territory of Robert Pirsig’s The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance than dance material. It is as if Wilton’s intellectual questioning wanders far beyond the capacity of his choreographic body to respond, or that his choreographic body is in a comfortable groove and he is dressing it up in different intellectual clothes. Either way, the clothes don’t fit. Perhaps I am making too much of a program note, but it is Wilton’s note, not mine and I assume his note is a way of giving himself a direction. He did seem, however, to be attracted to, and to have unconsciously given expression to his choice of music, a couple of songs by Einstürzende Neubauten that have a dark, secular fascination that roots one to the ground. Wilton’s introverted gaze and moments of existential angst seemed clearly attuned to the band’s sound while his rhythmic tapping with his foot or the heel of his hand engaged with the unctuous beat of the songs. Wilton has no lack of physical ability and his mind is evidently searching. Perhaps he simply needs to breathe in some fresh air to discover the true form of his intellectual and spiritual yearnings.

James Cousins, There We Have Been

Aaron Vickers and Lisa Welham in There We Have Been

Aaron Vickers and Lisa Welham in There We Have Been Photo: David Foulkes

Lisa Welham’s torso is illuminated (thanks to Lee Curran) high in the air but her source of elevation is for the moment invisible. She brushes her hair back as if sitting at her boudoir, bends forward, arches to the side and all the way round to the front again, then languidly reaches up with her arms for the full effect of being artificially high. She drops down through the ozone layer to a crouching position, just off the ground, in the miraculous embrace of Aaron Vickers. For the next sixteen minutes Welham never touches the ground, like a circus artist on a human trapeze, circling Vickers, climbing him, straddling him, and cantilevering her body from his iron grip. Vickers is undemonstrative, allowing Welham to do all of this without once complaining; he seems in his quiet way to revel in it. Some of the partnering is stunning, but it is not always pretty; there are some awkward angles and manoeuvres (otherwise described as ‘a daringly intimate glimpse into a secluded world of fragile dependency’), but this is inevitable given what Vickers has to do to keep Welham airborne. To suggest There We Have Been ‘takes its inspiration from the troubled relationships portrayed in Murakami’s bestselling novel, Norwegian Wood’ (this is my day for program notes) may be true but it is irrelevant: the entire focus of the piece — what Roland Barthes might call the ‘punctum’ — is that Vickers keep Welham off the ground. Any emotional involvement is swallowed up by this overriding physical objective. How do you end such an exercise? Cousins cheats. Vickers brings Welham down from the final lift in the dark, where a third person lifts her up again and Curran’s lighting picks her out as in the beginning sequence. Relieved, Vickers walks by himself into a circle of light.


Laïla Diallo: Hold everything dear

Posted: July 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Laïla Diallo: Hold everything dear

Hold everything dear, Laïla Diallo, ICIA Bath, May 26

The ability of the theatre to transport us somewhere else, the footloose, peripatetic lifestyle of artists, ideas of migration and dislocation, and the state of arts funding are all present in Laïla Diallo’s Hold everything dear, although it is not about any one of them: it is only framed by them, like a play within a play. The richness of the meaning is in the unity of the complete work.

Since March, when the initial work was presented at the Linbury Studio Theatre as a new dance commission, Diallo has been planning to extend the work into a full-length work but she and the dancers have only two weeks together at Bath University’s ICIA to stage those ideas and shape them. Why only two weeks? The tight schedule is partly to do with money – Diallo is stretching the grant money for the project as far as it can go – and partly to do with developments in the creative process that were not conceived at the time the initial grant was submitted. Nevertheless, Guy Hoare has been revising the lighting for the last four days, dramaturge Chris Fogg has been involved on and off for the last two weeks and the musicians arrive just the day before. Time may be condensed but there is clearly an experienced and brilliantly creative team on hand to deliver.

Diallo has said that she only choreographs what is close to her life, and Hold everything dear draws from her experiences of traveling as part of a dance company and in her own right as a dancer/choreographer and her learning about the effects of war zones on refugees and hearing stories of displacement. Given this background, it is no surprise that Diallo cites as a primary inspiration John Berger’s book of dispatches on survival and resistance, Hold Everything Dear – primarily its Ten Dispatches About Place. It gives the work a political undertone that is not evident in the performance, but has clearly influenced Diallo’s conception of the work:

Every day people follow signs pointing to some place that is not their home but a chosen destination. Road signs, airport embarkation signs, terminal signs. Some are making their journeys for pleasure, others for business, many out of loss or despair. On arrival they come to realize they are not in the place indicated by the signs they followed. Where they now find themselves has the correct latitude, longitude, local time, currency, yet it does not have the specific gravity of the destination they chose. [1]

As people come into the theatre, they see the cast on stage in relaxed freeze frame: standing, sitting, or lying down, staring at the floor or into the distance, as if they finished in these positions at the end of the last show and are recharging for the next one. The heartbeat is a single note on an accordion, breathing in and out. The place is indeterminate, many places superimposed on each other:

I imagined, Diallo writes, a stage that could become the end of a pier for a moment, then a station, a void or a home – a stage that might suggest all those places at once maybe, a space where solitudes would find a heightened resonance and where individuals, their stories and emotional worlds might collide expressively.

At a given moment, everyone except for the figure that remains covered with a raincoat on the floor changes into active state to prepare for the performance: Jules Maxwell pushes the piano into place and tunes it, Helka Kaski sweeps up the pile of polystyrene snow from the stage and scoops it into an old-fashioned suitcase; Seke Chimutengwende picks up his cards and puts them back in order. Theo Clinkard unwinds the string of lights from the porter’s trolley and stretches it across the front of the stage. Chimutengwende puts his suitcase on the empty trolley and wheels it away. Gabi Froden (of Foreign Slippers’ fame) is limping towards a chair in one high heel shoe to put on the other one, while Diallo takes the raincoat off the figure on the floor and puts it on herself. Chimutengwende begins a sales pitch about the benefits of a holiday in the sun, standing on his soapbox of a trolley, but his voice is in competition with an increasing volume of recorded music and we only see his mouth and gestures continue as Wu wheels him off. Finally the figure on the floor wakes up to find she is bound up in luggage tape, herself a piece of luggage. Letty Mitchell struggles out of the tape and stands up, but her knees give way and she falls to the floor. She tries to stand again but faints; Kaski is nurse, supporting her, wiping her brow, trying to keep her upright. This disparate group of people, joined by outer circumstance as much as by inner connection, is at once the performer and the performed. Over the course of the evening they reveal their individual selves in their dances and gestures, in their music, and in their relations with each other, but their presence here is dictated by forces beyond their control. As John Berger writes of the former Red Cross shelter for refugees and emigrants at Sangatte near Calais and the Channel Tunnel:

After long and terrible journeys, after they have experienced the baseness of which others are capable, after they have come to trust their own incomparable and dogged courage, emigrants find themselves waiting on some foreign transit station, and then all they have left of their home continent is themselves: their hands, their eyes, their feet, shoulders, bodies, what they wear, and what they pull over their heads at night to sleep under, wanting a roof. [2]

Froden sings the first line of a song in her rich folksy voice, and the dancers begin to cross and re-cross the stage together like a broom, always leaving someone or something behind in their wake, to be swept up in the next time across. Through such images of displacement, temporary residence and the detritus it leaves behind, Diallo portrays her ideas, not to be read as in a book, but to be sensed: frailty, insecurity, a search for home. As she writes, ‘It is an attempt to convey something about leaving, arriving, letting go, holding dear – an attempt to say something about being forever in transit or in a state of waiting.’

Everything moves, in and out of the light, which also moves. People drop in and drop out of the group, form pairs and remain for a time in each other’s arms, then walk away. There are also moments of solitude and calm reflection, as when Diallo walks to the end of a makeshift pier carrying her shoes; you can almost feel the breeze in her face and hear the gulls. She breathes deeply and looks into the distance as Chimutengwende sings a hauntingly beautiful acapella version of I get along without you very well and Clinkard dances an intimate, introspective, inside out solo. Across the stage, four dancers offer their hands in a mutually supportive group; they lean on each other, pull, and counterbalance:

the pledge of offered arms, the single sheet that is our common walking
the map of the palm held
in a knot
but given as a torch
[3]

Something disrupts the group; Diallo is the first to walk away. Mitchell and Chimutengwende follow her, leaving Clinkard by himself. Diallo dances a beautiful solo in two opposite directions not knowing which way to go and as she backs up into the piano, Maxwell plays a children’s tune. Everyone is drawn in to the music, accompanying with their own instruments: a band of traveling musicians. Even the piano is traveling. Dancers and musicians pair up, beginning a slow, intimate waltz. Chimutengwende breaks away; he is claiming his travel points and is on his way to Hawaii. Mitchell gives him a pair of sunglasses, places a lei lei around his neck and wheels him around the stage to the piano that doubles as a bar. He is relaxed and downs a cocktail, happy to have escaped his humdrum job and to be close to the beach: the illusion of a holiday when all that we wish to escape is still in our baggage. Mitchell, Diallo and Clinkard carry three muslin clouds suspended from fishing rods over Chimutengwende’s head and follow him around until he exits, we imagine, to the beach. The three forecasters sit down with their back to us, gently wafting their clouds up and down until the storm passes. On the other side of the stage, Kaski is nurse once again, trying to support and encourage a constantly shifting group, but she can’t manage to keep up their spirits or their bodies.  She herself succumbs as they fall one by one, leaving only Mitchell standing alone.

Meanwhile (and there is a lot of meanwhile in this environment), Froden begins to haul in the lights along the front of the stage until they are now wound round her arms, making her face radiant. Kaski’s group has recovered, puts on shoes and begins to dance a conversation, huddling together, clasping arms and hands, dispersing and then running into each other’s embrace. They all break off to sing their songs of homeland, and to reminisce. Kaski lays down polystyrene stones on an imaginary path so she can find her way back;

Our poems
like milestones
must line the road. [4]

Chimutengwende takes a plant from his suitcase and places earth around its roots, while Mitchell sits with her battered suitcase, lost in thought. In a beautiful light, Kaski launches into a precariously off-balance dance like a willow in the wind. We see her hands, her face and blonde hair as accents in the dance, as she sinks and rises up, retiring gently into a dimming light to sit on the floor with a bench behind her, staring into the distance. Diallo is the first to step up on the bench and open a suitcase of polystyrene snow on Kaski’s head, a blinding white light falling on her. Mitchell follows with another, then Clinkard with a third, as Kaski lies in the white pile of snow, yearning for the light of home.

They are beside the place they chose to come to. The distance that separates them from it is incalculable. Maybe it’s only the width of a thoroughfare, maybe it’s a world away. The place has lost what made it a destination. It has lost its territory of experience. [5]

The lights dim and a last waltz begins. Everyone dances the same movement sequences but at their own pace. Froden captures in her voice both the transience and the wistfulness of the moment: Hold everything dear till the sky is clear. The song disintegrates and the dancers disperse to the back of the stage. Clinkard walks to the front and passes Diallo circling in the opposite direction. In a flash of recognition they clasp hands and cling to each other, dancing a tango as their comrades approach and clap in accompaniment. The couple breaks apart and comes back together, pushing and shoving as if in the middle of an argument. Chimutengwende and Mitchell begin to dance a slow waltz together but the tensions between Diallo and Clinkard overpower their fragility. Clinkard leaves her on the bench, and immediately falls apart. He turns to Kaski and Mitchell who offer him faltering support. Chimutengwende reads his set of cards, one at a time: “For fear, for hope, for love…” answering the question of why we move around so constantly and what we hope to find. Mitchell is falling again, and as she rolls on the floor she becomes entangled in more tape, watched impassively by all the others. Wrapped up and waiting to be shipped off again…or preparing for the next performance?

the yearning to begin again together
animals keen inside the parliament of the world
the people in the room the people in the street the people
hold everything dear [6]

Diallo spent eight years in Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance, so you might expect her style of movement to have been influenced by his, but this is not immediately evident. What Diallo seems to have picked up from McGregor is more the creative approach to which she contributes her own issues and sense of movement. One might also expect each person in Hold everything dear to be quite distinctly delineated in such a diverse assembly, but there is a homogeneity in the choreographic language that suggests the hand of one person, Diallo herself, although the unity of the group is also a factor. The way Clinkard moves and Kaski moves is not dissimilar to the way Diallo moves, so their body language naturally forms a cohesive whole. I could imagine Mitchell having a different voice if left to her own devices, but her nature fits easily into this group, forming a unity in diversity. Chimutengwende is the extrovert declaimer of the crowd, a versatile performer and striking presence who can sing acapella sublimely with a minimum of vocal chords, and Froden’s rich voice provides in the songs much of the poignancy of the music, though she is backed up by a trio of expressive players: Grigory Tsyganov (violin), Semay Wu (cello) and Jules Maxwell (piano), who made all the musical arrangements. Clinkard contributed the subtle earthen colours of the set and costumes, which form another unifying element. The lighting of Guy Hoare is superb, telling the story as evocatively as the music and the choreographic images and Chris Fogg has had a decisive if unseen hand in shaping the finished work.

I like to think of dance,Diallo has said, as a way of communicating something of what it is to be human (Berger might well say the same about his writing)…The pleasure of being a choreographer is meeting people and discovering the route with them. What we see in Diallo’s Hold everything dear is the particular route she has taken with her fellow artists, and what emerges is a poetic celebration of the human spirit.


[1] John Berger, Hold Everything Dear, Verso, 2007 p 113

[2] John Berger, op.cit., p 114

[3] Gareth Evans, Hold Everything Dear, for John Berger, op. cit.

[4] Poem by Nazim Hikmet, quoted in John Berger op. cit., p 25

[5] John Berger, op. cit., p 114

[6] Gareth Evans, Hold Everything Dear, for John Berger, op. cit.