Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 20th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios

Mette Edvardsen, No Title, Fest en Fest, Laurie Grove Studios, June 24

Edvardsen

Mette Edvardsen’s No Title (photo: Lilia Mestre)

In this first edition of Fest en Fest, curators Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard establish a benchmark for their festival in works with a rigorous choreographic approach to language. Karen Røise Kielland used it in A Slow Escape to compress a vast geographical journey on to a small stage, while Mette Edvardsen uses its negation in No Title to extrapolate the space of a small stage into the vast landscape of imagination.

At her last appearance in London, at the 2012 Dance Umbrella, Edvardsen presented a project called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, where she gathered a group of like-minded dancers to each commit a book to memory in the same way that dancers memorize a sequence of steps. The performance was in reading the story or poetry from memory to an audience of one (at a time) in a public library. No Title’s approach to language requires a similar closeness and concentration between performer and audience but Edvardsen’s craft has evolved around her own authorship and an expanded sense of theatrical space.

No Title (2014) is part of a trilogy of works with Black (2011) and We to be (2015) that explore the notions of appearance and disappearance through language. As Edvardsen observes in an interview with Eva Decaesstecker, ‘When I was making Black I thought it was the end of something, that I had closed a circle. I painted all my objects (from previous pieces) black in order to make them disappear, and with this removal of objects came language.’ In Black Edvardsen used language to make the objects reappear, whereas in No Title she uses negation in language to suggest disappearance. ‘The beginning is gone. The space is empty,’ she starts. When a word is invoked its sound signifies a reality with which it is associated; both the sound of the word (the signifier) and its reality (the signified) pass through our brain to corroborate the signification. But when the negation of a word is invoked, the signification is short-circuited; it becomes a space. As Edvardsen continues her series of verbal negations she creates a space on stage that represents the full potential of what has nominally disappeared. At the same time she constantly reminds us of the irreducible presence of the speaker — ‘Me not gone’, as she says — amongst what has disappeared or fallen away. The role of the choreographer in such an approach to choreographic writing that makes the signification of words a key element is to divest the creative language of any extraneous meaning. With a minimum of means Edvardsen eloquently demonstrates this to the point that No Title reveals the stage as a vibrant space from which all associative clutter has been removed. It is a lesson for any choreographer who takes space for granted as a container to fill with movement.

Edvardsen’s voice does not simply pronounce words but expresses its own muscular quality — ‘le grain de la voix’ in Roland Barthes’ terms — and she gives it even more power by sticking paper eyes over her closed eyelids. Blindness is the negation of sight, so the phenomenon of performing without seeing underlines the idea of extracting reality from the influence of words. Using her body to see, Edvardsen senses the physical limits of the space she is making either through touch or the sensation of proximity. At one point she traces in chalk a line on the ground from the back of the stage to the front, a feathery, uncertain line from source to completion. Putting aside the chalk she works her way back upstage making the motions of erasing the line with her hand but in her blindness misses it. ‘Line is gone’ she says, setting up a slippage between verbal negation and the physical attempt to achieve it.

Dance is often referred to as ephemeral but that doesn’t alter its ability to lodge itself in the emotional core of our being; while Edvardsen erases the appearances of her craft she never discards the core reality she signifies in her performance. As a writer of choreography she has created a work through its disappearance — even the title has gone — and at the end, as author, she also disappears. The stage we are left to ponder is far from empty; it resounds with the echoes of Edvardsen’s words and gestures and the chalk line is still there with the two paper eyes stuck to the proscenium. Even after she has left she remains pointing to her own withdrawal.


Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios, June 23

Kielland

Karen Røise Kielland in A Slow Escape (photo: Kristine Jakobsen)

Karen Røise Kielland’s A Slow Escape is one of seven works presented as part of a new dance festival in London, Fest en Fest, organized and curated by Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard of H2Dance. The festival aims to question ‘choreographic practice, the context for art production, current programming and aesthetic power structures’ through a series of talks, discussions and performances. In this first outing of the festival Gillgren, who is Swedish, and Rustgaard, who is Norwegian, have chosen works that arise from a predominantly Nordic geography and sensibility, none more so than A Slow Escape. It is based on two walks from Norway to Italy, one by Catherine H. Kølle in 1841 and the second by Kielland in 2011 following as closely as possible in Kølle’s footsteps. The evidence of Kølle’s trip — and the primary source for Kielland’s own — is contained in her diary of meticulous details like the colour of roofs, the topography or the number of paintings in a museum. The evidence for Kielland’s walk is contained in her edited field recordings, her spoken travelogue and an exhibition of mnemonic artifacts on the stage in front of her. Kølle also painted a series of watercolours of her travels in a shorthand style that predates painting by numbers, a visual corroboration Kielland references by inviting artist Tom Mason to join her on stage with an overhead projector and a pile of acetates on which he illustrates her travels in the manner of a graphic novel.

Kielland remains quite still throughout, poised as if chatting to the camera by the roadside with one foot resting on a stile, wearing a hazard jacket, holding a revolver in one hand and an umbrella in the other. We travel her entire journey in our imagination, fed by her pace of delivery, her walking guide to the history of Europe, her ongoing investigation into Kølle’s diaries — a historical riddle in itself — and by Mason’s imaginative fluency of line. It’s a brilliant collaborative adventure with dramaturgy by Marit Grimstad Egggen, advice from Christina Hauge, lighting by Ingeborg Staxrud Olerud, set and costume advice from Jennie Bringsaker and sound editing assistance from Erlend Hogstad.

A Slow Escape is also a commentary on how Europe has evolved since Kølle set out on her journey. While headlines in the daily Morgenbladet paper on the morning of Kølle’s departure of April 4, 1841 cited an economic crisis in Greece, and again on June 19, 2011 when Kielland left on her trip, the social and geographic aspects had changedforever; routes that Kølle described were no longer available to Kielland because of the expansion of transport infrastructure and some villages Kølle had passed through had since been drowned by hydroelectric projects. She also encounters sites that Kølle had never even imagined like the abandoned airport of Templehof near Berlin. Kølle’s dispassionate numerical annotations are ever present next to and contrasted with Kielland’s own commentary. Her diary was written in German Gothic script that no researcher, it seems, had ever bothered to read. Kølle was known as Norway’s first hiker and her walk to and from Venice was considered a matter of irrefutable fact, even according to her biographer. Over the course of her journey, however, Kielland’s reading of the script becomes more fluent and as she matches her own experience with Kølle’s she realizes that the diary includes passages about riding in coaches for some of the way. Her entire adventure, it seems, is based on a false premise. Her sense of deception on her arrival in Venice is aggravated by confounding the end of her project with the end of Europe as she had imagined it.

Kielland conjures up a walking map of Europe at a time when people barely walk any distance at all; she says at one point in her travelogue that she hasn’t met a soul all day and imagines Kølle having more people from whom to ask the way: ‘there is company in a voice,’ she observes. The act of talking mediates between mind and body and although she remains static for most of the performance — a remarkable endurance test in itself — Kielland’s words succeed in connecting us to the journey of the walking body she describes. A Slow Escape is thus the record of an ambulatory dance on the geographical scale of Europe that Kielland has compressed in all its richness to a small stage in Deptford at a time when the British government is in the very process of redrawing the map yet again.


H2Dance, Strangers & Others

Posted: January 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on H2Dance, Strangers & Others

H2Dance, Strangers & Others, iC4C, Nottingham, 2nd December 2017

H2Dance with Strangers & Others

H2Dance with Strangers & Others (photo: Benedict Johnson)

Sometimes one feels freer speaking to a stranger than to people one knows. Why is that? Probably because a stranger sees us the way we are, not as he wishes to think we are.” – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If I am not a stranger, then I must be other. I have developed an alternative relationship with the latest work, Strangers & Others, of H2Dance (Heidi Rustgaard and Hanna Gillgren) by working as their writer-in-residence, talking to people at three of their tour dates (Colchester, Peterborough and Nottingham) to gauge and document their reactions to the work. H2Dance have described their intention for this work, which has only participants and no seated audience, in these terms: “Invited to look, touch, assume and judge, audiences choose how to respond, placing themselves into lines, groups and pairs. Witnessed only by the choreographers, they use appearance, physicality and behaviour as a guide to negotiate each other as they cooperate in silence.”

As writer-in-residence my interaction was solely with the audience before and after their participation in Strangers & Others, listening to them describe in detail the parts of that resonated with them. While this meant that all surprise was erased when I entered the studio at iC4C as one of the participants in the last performance on the last date of the Autumn 2017, this erasure enabled me to create a mechanical and objective plot of what happens in the studio over the course of 80 minutes but left me space to inhabit the incoming interactions without the emotional distraction of surprise.

As the gathering of 20 people begins in the foyer we are invited to wear Silent Discoesque headphones; I notice that some wearers have blue lights and some red on their headphones. I begin to think about the idea of a stranger and things that are strange to us. Strangers & Others is a stranger to me, to the collective us and we (as a body of people) are strange to each other. The word stranger has a history and resonance in the UK that is forged in childhood; we are told to not trust strangers, to question their intentions and reject any attempt at interaction. Its etymology suggests an “unknown person, foreigner” derived from the Old French estrangier. As a form of address to an unknown person, it is recorded from 1817, and has a meaning of “one who has stopped visiting” first recorded in the 1520s.

Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” Malcolm X

H2Dance invite us to construct a social choreography; we are architects of our own awkwardness through a set of solo, duet and group instructions offered through the headphones. A slow desensitisation occurs and as the instructions escalate we begin to un-strange each other whilst acclimatising to the rhythm of the work. Starting with “notice the space”, progressing to “take the hand of someone who is your equal” and finishing with “rub the bum of the person opposite” the voices of Rustgaard (my ear instructor) and Gillgren offer little inflexion, emotion or judgement and are the conductors of an ever-decreasing sense of erasure of our personal boundaries. If this is what happens after 80 minutes, imagine where an audience might be persuaded to go after 3hrs hour or half a day. It’s a choreographic alternative to Milgram social psychology experiments, a study which measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. How persuadeable are we? Here we are offered no reward but continue to be subservient to those voices in our ears.

Nestled in the stiffness of some of the bodies in the room a sense of childhood stranger scepticism lingers; the interactive and participative nature of Strangers & Others makes for an interesting combination as it is full of the childlike and playful possibilities which forge bonds, create gangs through awkward physical encounters. We continue to revisit each other. Encounters with those who are unknown to us as we get older can be equally fraught; the currency and resonance of #MeToo with the recent exposure of intimidation, sexual abuse and rape of women and men at the behest of those exercising their power is clearly present. H2Dance are whispering in our ear with an invitation to “stand next to someone you find sexy” and later on “point to the person you think is sexist” followed by “stroke the cheek of the person” and “put your hands on the chest of the person opposite”. It leaves you in a moral quandary — do I participate (as everyone else seems to be doing) or do I remove myself (as I’m uncomfortable with what is being asked of me)?

Strangers & Others deals in power, invitation and suggestion with Rustgaard and Gillgren having created a tightly crafted work that leaves your moral compass askew and lingers long in the mind after leaving the studio. Although we are told at the beginning that “any response is valid” this phrase is not repeated or emphasised; amongst the sensorial and social input of making judgements on people does this crucial phrase settle into the mind? Can we reject what is being asked of us? We are asked to consider a spectrum of: trust, class, privilege, income, homophobia, racism, age, sexuality and foreignness based entirely on sight, smell and touch. When we exit the space (one by one) we are greeted by a glass of prosecco and a new invitation; a chance to decompress the previous 80 minutes and to verbalise all that has gone before; we are no longer strange, we are now other.

There is an odd synchronicity in the way parallel lives veer to touch one another, change direction, and then come close again and again until they connect and hold for whatever it was that fate intended to happen.” Ann Rule


The Place Prize semi-final 2

Posted: September 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Place Prize semi-final 2

photo: Benedict Johnson

The Place Prize Semi-final 2 (Mamoru Iriguchi, Rick Nodine, Dog Kennel Hill Project, h2dance), The Place, September 18

The narrow strip of stage is littered with wires, screens, projectors and cameras, the electronic detritus of multimedia performance artist, Mamoru Iriguchi. There are four rectangular screens, two placed equally either side of centre stage, and on top of each is a seat number from the Royal Opera House: Balcony B2, Stalls A15, A16 and Dress Circle C54. Iriguchi’s training as a zoologist and his fascination with video evidently influenced his original concept of creating a ‘dramatic tapestry’ of different perceptions (from different seats in the house) of a single performance. In One Man Show Iriguchi plays both performer and (onscreen) audience but his subjective concept has turned in on itself and becomes a self-parody and his feedback a solipsistic loop. His performance is a mercilessly melodramatic dissection of Hamlet’s monologue To Be or Not To Be and his on-screen, alter-ego audience tells him if he misses a line (he does) or if his acting is up to scratch (it isn’t). What further undermines the concept is that Iriguchi’s self-deprecating humour erases any trace of ego. Every now and then thought bubbles from his ‘audience’ are projected on his screens that say things like ‘Don’t fall asleep, you snore’ or ‘what on earth is he doing now?’ Indeed, it is difficult to know if Iriguchi is taking self-deprecation to a new level of seriousness, or if he and his dramaturgs, Nikki Tomlinson and Selina Papoutsell, are pulling our collective leg. Not all is lost, however; although Iriguchi’s Hamlet and his playing of Ophelia in the traditional Shakespearean way is pure ham, the way he introduces the ghost of Hamlet’s father is a brilliant slip of technology: he knocks over his own image on a screen and the image is immediately projected on to the back wall like a giant ghost. Technician Michael Sowby slurs the ghost’s speech to almost unintelligible basso in what develops into a multimedia trio between the ghost (who doesn’t recognize his son in drag), one of Iriguchi’s alter-egos who has been drinking and offers his own version of Hamlet’s soliloquy, and Iriguchi himself who continues to declaim his lines above the chaos. In the end, one of his ‘audience’ screws up his program sheet in disgust and it drops down on to the stage with the whistle of a doodlebug; it is Iriguchi’s comment on his chances of getting to the final, but he is still smiling.

Rick Nodine’s work is called Dead Gig. He is a tall, lightly bearded American expatriate with an academically seasoned look, standing in trousers and a jacket (lovingly picked out by Eleanor Sikorski) made shapeless by a harness connected by a rope, over a pulley, to a shoe hanging in space (beautifully lit by Gareth Green). Nodine’s work ends at its beginning, but he has to take us through the story to arrive there. He starts by asking, “Why was I into a band twenty years after their heyday? Why was I born twenty years late?” As he walks across the stage, pumping his arms front and back, the shoe on the end of the pulley rises, and as he returns the shoe descends. He talks as he develops his improvised tasks, telling the story of the Grateful Dead, to which the Dead in his title refers. His clear text is accented by his movement, and the band’s live recordings punctuate the narrative. At one point he sings along into his shoe as microphone; his voice is powerful, and his singing is pretty damn good. If you consider the voice as a physical instrument, his voice is dancing. He takes the harness off and puts on his shoe as we hear another Grateful Dead song: their music, like a drug, is beginning to have an effect on me. Nodine says he was inspired to dance because of the band; this is his dance of appreciation. I said earlier he is a big man, and seeing him whip around his long, heavy limbs and torso with such power and equilibrium as he gets into the music is impressive. Green provides a light show that suggests at times a 70’s rock concert and at others a Haight-Ashbury happening with a massed flower pattern on the back wall. The more Nodine dances, the more he is out of breath, but he continues to take us through the history of the band, how it became the house band for the LSD-fueled acid test festivals that Ken Keasey staged, how their imagination was given full rein, and how he once saw a Deadhead dancing at a concert, ‘bucking like a bronco, his spine undulating, pumping his arms front and back’, as if in a trance. ‘Dancing in a Dead show could best be expressed as ecstatic dance that was communal but self-absorbed and purely focused on the pleasure of moving to music’, Nodine says in his introductory video. He keeps the beat going, whirling like a dervish, as he takes us into the heart of the matter: Jerry Garcia’s death. He lowers a disco ball covered in a veil, places the veil on his head like Garcia’s mass of hair, puts on a pair of dark glasses, and sets the ball spinning. At one moment he is on the floor in mourning weeds, then standing, listening as if in transcendent communication with the band, his elegant hands crisped, his eyes looking far away. The question at the heart of this piece, Nodine explains in his video, is how the ecstatic relates to the aesthetics of dancing on stage. His performance answers that question, and as he lets the track Death Don’t Have No Mercy wash over us, he transforms us, too, into Deadheads.

Dead Gig has been chosen for The Place Prize Final.

Dog Kennel Hill Project’s Execute Now is a polemic about values. ‘Execute now’ is a trading term used in the buying and selling of stocks and shares and the set can be seen as a metaphorical trading floor with weights instead of computer terminals. There are three performers, Luke Birch, Matthew Morris and Ben Ash, and their clothes (conceived by DKHP with Marisa Lopez de la Nieta) are the antithesis of stock exchange couture. Morris is bare-chested, displaying his full-body tattoos, with jeans and an apron, like a smithy in his workshop. Birch is in blue lab coat and pixie hat, while Ash looks like a messiah in a judo outfit with a red bandanna. The atmosphere is intense, passionate, angry and confrontational. The original concept was more about ‘pendulums, Pythagoras and purpose’, and the use to which pure mathematical numbers might be put, but the drive of the finished work has taken on the zeal of a diatribe by the environmentalist David Suzuki (I found out later from Ash) from a film called Surviving Progress: ‘The economists say if you clear-cut the forest, take the money and put it in the bank, you could make 6 or 7 percent. If you clear-cut the forest and put it into Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, you can make 30 or 40 percent. So who cares whether you keep the forest, cut it down, put the money somewhere else? When those forests are gone, put it in fish. When the fish are gone put it in computers. Money doesn’t stand for anything and money now grows faster than the real world. Conventional economics is a form of brain damage.’

On the bare stage, under Guy Hoare’s seeringly white light, we see the system of pulleys with small sandbags on the ends of three ropes, hanging inert. There is a turntable either side of the stage with amplifiers and controls. At the start the three performers swing the weights across the space and catch them according to the value reported through the ‘trading floor’: 10,000, descending to 40. As the value decreases the weights’ arc diminishes; at 40 it stops. There are other weighted ropes that the trio hoist up and down themselves from the fly rig, and they also work the turntables, playing ‘excerpts of various vinyl pressings’ to which Birch dances around the weighted sandbags that Ash and Morris manipulate. At one point each takes hold of a rope and shakes it like a trio of bell ringers to the taped voice of an auctioneer in full flood. The ropes look like wild snakes. Ash raises a bag above his head and lets it fall, collapsing to the floor a split second before it reaches him; it remains suspended just above his supine head. The significance of ‘Execute Now’ suddenly takes on a more sinister meaning. To wind up, Ash counts down with hand signals, each a sign for some activity. On four fingers, Morris demonstrates yoga at the front of the stage, rippling his stomach muscles and tattoos; on three, Ash skips across the floor and screams silently; on two Birch and Morris stand either side of two weights staring at us and on one – which also resembles a warning – the three stand back to back around a single weighted rope, like heretics at a stake.

Joining the dots in Execute Now is not easy, such is the distance between the abstracted metaphors and what they represent. What carries the work forward is the passion and intensity of the performers. Like the weights, my understanding of the work swings one way and another, never quite finding its point of repose, but perhaps that is what Ash wanted to achieve.

After a workout for the theatre crew, the stage is set for a very different kind of performance. From its original, loose, concept to this iteration, h2dance’s Duet has established a remarkably polished form as a choreographed dialogue between the cheerful Hanna Gillgren and the sardonic Heidi Rustgaard. The work is intense in its own psychological way and, as with any work in which Wendy Houstoun has a creative role, it has a rich, dark vein of comic deconstruction. It is brightly lit by Andy Hammond, and Rustgaard designed the cheerfully coloured costumes.

Once Hanna and Heidi have established, after deferring to one another, that it will be a duet – not a solo and not a trio – they begin a four-step shuffle that accompanies Sylvia Hallett’s soundscape as the beat of their first dialogue, about the couple therapy session they have just attended (‘haven’t we, Heidi?’). It is immediately clear that the therapy hasn’t improved anything in their relationship. Heidi is the rudder and Hanna the sails and it is all Heidi can do to try to keep the two on (her) course. The four-step shuffle gains a jump and an arabesque, and a little hit-the-leg dance ensues. Heidi adds a head and arms, and while Hanna takes a break offstage, Heidi looks for approval from the audience. That changes when Hanna returns, and lets it all hang out with her provocative pelvic gyrations and moans and the ever-alluring smile. Heidi leaves for a pee, the sound of which is amplified for our benefit, and by the time she returns, Hanna is feeling much better but Heidi is smouldering with frustration. Hanna is not paying enough attention so Heidi takes the smoke machine and blows smoke at her like a pesticide with barely concealed contempt, after which she lies down from the exertion. Hanna calmly stands on her back. ‘You had a breakdown, didn’t you Heidi?’ And I wasn’t there for you, was I?’ Evidently not, as Heidi launches into a calmly disparaging attack on Hanna’s cloud-nine, bubble lifestyle at the time (to a dramatic heightening of the score), while she herself was slogging away at the excel sheets and budgets and promoting the work. While she lists all she had to do and all she achieved, she goes into a routine of push ups, sit ups, neck-ups and rants about cash flow, no flow, overflow, and the Arts Council, until Hanna comes in drinking a glass of water. Rant over (‘Never heard you speak that much, Heidi’), Hanna soothes Heidi’s ruffled ego back to the feel-good four-step shuffle and a long list of analogies. ‘We’re like Gilbert and George (aren’t we Heidi?), like Morecombe and Wise, fish and chips, bubble and squeak, strawberries and cream, two peas in a pod….’ As the movement phrases and the music gradually fade, Hanna is back in control: ‘We’ll finish there, then… Andy, you can take the lights out now.’ And he does.

Duet won the audience prize, and will be in The Place Final.