Resolution 2017: Helen Cox, John Ross Dance & Simone and Elisabeth

Posted: January 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Helen Cox, John Ross Dance & Simone and Elisabeth

Resolution 2017: Helen Cox, John Ross Dance, & Simone and Elisabeth

Simone Mousset and Elisabeth Schilling in Impressing the Grand Duke (photo: Bohumil Kostohryz)

Resolution is a festival of emerging artists, but for an explanation of the perilous stages of emergence there is no better guide than Simone Mousset and Elisabeth Schilling’s hilarious Impressing the Grand Duke. Having experienced the travails of ascending from ‘the deep and mysterious choreographic forest’ to ‘the deep inverted choreographic mountain’ they know how it’s done. Impressing the Grand Duke is told as a fable about an artist called Nymphadora who dances and dreams all day long in an obscure corner of the world. One day she receives a visit from the Grand Duke who recognizes her as an up-and-coming artiste, an original talent and future star and sends her on a mission to conquer the choreographic world. Nymphadora is played by both Schilling as Nympha, the stubborn, egocentric creative, and by Mousset as Dora, her harridan muse and business manager. Add the fairytale costumes by Mélanie Planchard and there are no limits to which these two consummate clowns will descend to deliver a satirical farce of the highest order. Despite Dora’s low opinion about their prospects (“Nympha, we are not getting anywhere in our art. You are always dancing the same dance….We have to emerge.”) the two manage to get through the various choreographic contests by squabbling or riffing verbally on their inability to choreograph. For Dora the goals are clear: international stardom, real visibility, real props and costumes, and sponsorship. For Nympha real costumes are trumped by the prospect of a visit from the Grand Duke.

They finally emerge (completely) to recorded congratulations against a Hollywood soundtrack so you can almost see the credits rolling up the screen as you reach for your Kleenex. Only one thing worries Nympha, who with devastating timing between the batting of her false eyelashes and the pouting of her red lips asks Dora, “And now?”

The choreography is ascribed to both Mousset and Schilling; not only are they natural counterparts to each other on stage but through their creative alchemy they anchor the theatricality of the work in a musical form. For last year’s Resolution Mousset and Schilling worked together on Their Past to the symphonic music of Yuri Khanon but for Impressing the Grand Duke music provides only the initial impetus. Schilling begins the work dancing with capricious delight to Claude Debussy’s Étude 10 pour les sonorités opposés, on pointe, and even when Mousset comes thundering down the aisle on to the stage she never disregards the music’s rhythmic structure. But when the Étude finishes, the work continues as a tightly coherent physical score with spoken and recorded texts, and the Hollywood finale. In Impressing the Grand Duke, Mousset and Schilling have added a delightful sense of humour to their musicality and ability to paint with dance, which makes them a creative duo to watch. All the more so now they have emerged.

Helen Cox’s double pendulum (ee cummings punctuation) opens the program. It takes place in either a spacious attic or a church nave sculpted in light and haze by Lucy Hansom and Ric Mountjoy. There is something of both the domestic and the spiritual in this duet that Cox dances with Andrew Oliver; their relationship has a domestic flavour in the way they set out their individual dynamics in their initial solos and then borrow from each other, but the spatial design, enhanced by the lighting, puts the work on a spiritual plane. Both dancers have the ability to stretch their gestures way beyond the reach of their limbs and Cox can effortlessly inhabit a spiral that wraps the space around her; together she and Oliver control space. They do not touch for much of the work (when Cox clutches Oliver’s wrist it comes as a shock) but glide around and replace each other in a silence of choreography that the selection of tracks by Loscil and Floating Points intensifies; their relationship develops out of the choreography rather than being described by it. It is one of the few works I have seen that stands on its own choreographic merits without any need for notes or explanations.

In an evening of duets (unless we count the offstage presence of The Grand Duke), John Ross and Nicole Guarino’s work, They Never Were, takes its title from its predominant motif of unfinished gestures. The choreography is a rich tapestry of gestures but the grounding of each one is constantly withdrawn like a quietly redacted conversation. As in double pendulum there is a silence that pervades the work, both in the quality of movement and in the intertwined gestures that barely connect. Hannah Kidd’s costumes soften the bodies while Hansom herself again works her magic with a mist of lighting that further dissolves the figures into sculptural forms: we barely see the faces of the two dancers. Enhancing this sense of the ethereal is a score of Arvo Pärt’s haunting Für Alina and an extract from Jon Hopkins’ Immunity on top of which we hear a series of short, recorded phrases (written by Drew Taylor) like memory traces. Ross and Guarino keep these elements in constant suspension while their feet remain effortlessly on the ground. The nature of the work withdraws quietly into its title with equal elegance.


London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional

Posted: July 28th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional

London Contemporary Dance School, Postgraduate to Professional, The Place, June 21

From London Contemporary Dance School's Postgraduate to Professional

Eleanor Sikorski in Comebacks I thought of later (photo: Marta Barina)

The London Contemporary Dance School’s evening of Postgraduate to Professional dance, now in its third year, offers choreography from a current postgraduate student (Marcus Foo), alumni (Feet off the Ground Dance, Helen Cox, and Eleanor Sikorski) and faculty (Mickael Marso Riviere). As an evening of dance it falls somewhere between a showcase for the school and a choreographic platform, but its predictably uneven quality makes it an unwieldy concept.

The first work, Éter, by Feet off the Ground Dance, an all-female group who describe their mission as ‘contact improvisation and partnering for performance’ is just that: contact improvisation and partnering for performance. But where is the performance? Beginnings, as Ben Duke (another graduate of London Contemporary Dance School) quips at the beginning of Paradise Lost as he searches for his place in the text, are vital for capturing the attention of the audience. But the opening minutes of Éter, in which two women inch slowly sideways, on hands and knees, forehead to forehead, along either side of a diagonal shaft of light has little to recommend it but the contact. The lighting is dim and pulsating and the live score is a low-level wash of sound that makes the sensory compass unable to find its bearings. Most significantly the performance appears to extend class-based contact improvisation exercises on to the stage without any spatial framework. The action of Éter develops with two other women, but without the objectivity that an audience brings, the whole never takes on a performative quality. It is significant that the program note lacks any identifying feature of the work.

Foo’s Automaton Animalia is another piece of choreography that starts in the mist and gets lost. The program note is telling: ‘If I look hard enough, if I could will my mind to look beyond the arch, I might still see it. Maybe it’s still there, just not really here anymore.’ There is an archway of crates we can see through a backlit haze, and five performers moving slowly, mysteriously as they dismantle it and reconfigure it. At least there is a visual focus, but the choreographic concept has no legs; it turns on itself with a score that fails to inspire it. Inspire is to ‘breathe in’ and education is to ‘lead out’, but here the breathing is restricted and the exit is obscured. Creation is the victim.

I wrote about Cox’s de/construct after I saw it at Roehampton University’s Footprint Dance Festival earlier this year. Interestingly her program note has changed focus. ‘Reflect on a time in your life when you were in a period of transition. It is sometimes said that this space in between is the most creative, but also the most vulnerable. Using the dancing body, I move through this space, deconstructing routines and listening to the infinite possibilities of what lies between.’ But this version doesn’t take into account the organic, tree-like hemp dress she wears at the beginning, which ties her to the landscape of her original conception. Once she sloughs it off she is wearing everyday clothes that are closer to the idea of a dancing body exploring the creative space. Somewhere in between the two is the true nature of Cox’s work.

Sikorski’s Comebacks I thought of later substitutes a quote from Shelley for a program note: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” The register is slightly off, for Sikorski’s ‘songs’ are not so much sweet as bitingly funny and the sadness is in her derisive tales of sexual misadventure. Comebacks consists of spoken texts about grunting male chauvinism, minimal musical accompaniment on a portable keyboard, to Sikorski’s vitriolic physical responses to her tales. The poignancy of the performance is as much in the wit of Sikorski’s ribaldry as in her self-deprecatory realization of her inability to think up the comebacks at the moment they were needed. The great strength of Comebacks is in its mastery of the anecdotal form and its scathing celebration of male failings.

Riviere brings the evening to a close with his Éteins Pas, a reworked version of a 2009 piece he made at The Place during Choreodrome. It is inspired ‘by the idea of life after death, with many ideas coming from reading stories about out-of-body experiences.’ Riviere is bold at the beginning to remain supine and motionless for some time; all we hear is the air conditioning. Then he adds the smallest gestures of fingers and hands, ripples through his back to rise on to his knees and to stand, looking slightly sheepish as he looks at us for the first time as if saying, ‘I am not really supposed to be here.’ But having traced his revival with such sensibility, Riviere then subverts it with a display of breaking technique to a driving track by Armand Amar. It comes all too soon and all too easily; Éteins Pas in effect bridges two languages without acknowledging the bridge.


Helen Cox, de/construct

Posted: May 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Helen Cox, de/construct

Helen Cox, de/construct, Footprint Dance Festival, Michaelis Theatre, May 14

Helen Cox in de/construct (photo: Lawrence Choi)

Helen Cox in de/construct (photo: Lawrence Choi)

I had seen Helen Cox at Resolution! in February 2014 in a piece called Lapse, co-created with Heather Stewart. Both Stewart and Cox seemed like pawns in a complex game of text and movement, so it was interesting to see Cox performing in her own right at Roehampton University’s Footprint Dance Festival. According to the program note, de/construct traces the patterns of growth found in natural landscapes; though the title has rational connotations, both the imagery and the music by Alog are decidedly organic. As the lights come up we see a small island of sinewy hemp rope and sacking (designed and made by Cherrie Lau) that envelops the kneeling Cox, fitted to her waist and trailing around her like a network of roots. It is not a heart that beats but hands that quiver as she grows slowly out of this material; her body takes on its distinctness, its edges clearly defined. She sloughs off the skin to revel in the space around her but Cox does not take this separation for granted; she looks back at it in breathless moments of stillness, drawn up to her full and immaculate balance. When she begins to move, the agency of her movement is neither inside nor outside her; she simply elongates and stretches her sinuous, smooth gestures around herself in circular patterns that have no end. Watching her is like hearing fragments of speech in the wind, but they are fragments of speech in another language, eerily incomprehensible yet fully formed and complete. She lowers herself to the ground, silently. More quivering hands and smooth, sweeping diagonal gestures across her body, like a conversation with the air, her face intently listening, her body somewhere between birth and independence in the natural world. de/construct is but a fragment but for a moment all social constructs, all structures of human life, dissolve.

de/construct was the last of eight varied works on the final evening at Roehampton’s Footprint Dance Festival, about which more later.


Resolution! 2014: Waldeinsamkeit, Stewart and Cox, Kuniskis

Posted: March 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution! 2014: Waldeinsamkeit, Stewart and Cox, Kuniskis

Resolution! 2014: Waldeinsamkeit Theatre, Heather Stewart and Helen Cox, Ieva Kuniskis, The Place, February 6

Rachel Burn in Women's Tales (photo: Judita Kuniskyte)

Rachel Burn in Women’s Tales (photo: Judita Kuniskyte)

One of the pleasures of attending Resolution! is that you never quite know what you are going to see. This evening’s program ranges from theatre with very little dance to dance with very little theatre to a fertile mix of the two.

The three creative minds behind Waldeinsamkeit Theatre all trained in theatre rather than in dance, which perhaps explains the heavy dependence on text in You must be the one to bury me. The title comes from the translation of the first part of an Arabic phrase that crops up in a language game a couple, Richard (Joseph Lynch) and Sophie (Stephanie Bain), plays. The second part reads, ‘for I cannot bear the thought of living without you.’ The arc of the narrative falls rather short of the title’s expectation; as Richard and Sophie’s relationship falls apart the conclusion reads more ‘I can’t bear the thought of living with you’. The contraction of a relationship into twenty minutes — from its online introduction to courtship to holiday to descent into routine to misunderstanding, jealousy and a final attempt at saving it — creates problems in the telling, though the opening scenes are refreshing in the fast-forward/playback mode in which they are played. But by the time a third party (Rea Mole) enters the picture late in the game like a fortune teller behind a screen, the humour dwindles away in an attempt to draw the increasingly drawn-out ends to a close: it needs to fast forward but there’s nowhere to go. Bain understandably wants to prolong the work but the problem is not so much the theatrical treatment as the narrative itself: ‘bury’ becomes less a metaphor for the strength of desire as for the weakness of the plot.

Heather Stewart and Helen Cox’s Lapse is intriguing. There is an integrity to the work that makes me want to see it again, but the subject is so cerebral that it puts me off. Shaped by Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget (an intense observation of each and every body movement Goldsmith made on June 16, 1997), Lapse has a similarly compulsive approach to movement while sparing us the details. To a reading of sections of the text by Robin Toller, Stewart and Cox perform movement phrases that repeat and syncopate in a matrix as astringent as it is precise. There is even a clock ticking to remind us of how relentless time can be when acutely observed. The reading by Toller gives lightness to the work while Stewart and Cox’s patterns lend it the complexity of a chess game or mathematical puzzle in which their neat technique and clean lines make their phrases almost hypnotic: the body as unemotional instrument. Toller accelerates his reading and Stewart and Cox move faster but not on his rhythm, playing a game of catch-up before they slow down to half-time. Toller eventually runs out of voice and the exhaustive catalog of movements grows silent, but he rallies with a commentary on, among other things, Lapse‘s ‘perverse inability to convey body language except through language.’ Thank goodness for Stewart and Cox. 

The opening haze of Ieva Kuniskis’ Women’s Tales draws its inspiration (so I learned later) from a scene in Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Nostalgia. Such a timeless sense of space — notwithstanding The Place’s initially over-enthusiastic haze machine — is a perfect setting (thanks to lighting designer Maria Klochkova) for this intricate weaving of four separate women’s stories.

Rachel Burn kneels on a bench with her legs tucked under her and Victoria Winter stands facing her. Andreea Padurariu brings in a flowerpot and defiantly tips both flowers and earth on to the floor, looking behind her with sly contempt to see if she is being observed before running off. She returns with a stash of letters and sits on a chair reading them, crumpling each one as she finishes it and dropping it on the floor. Helen Aschauer enters with a bowl of water that she places close to Burn, then paces up and down ranting at nobody in particular — sotto voce at first but the volume rises — interjecting at critical moments with a passionate prodding of her thigh and backside or a wild gesticulation of her arms: a physical and verbal monologue in a voluble language that has the flavour of a hot climate. Kuniskis builds her choreography from these carefully observed details, revealing her characters through their actions, developing their tics and idiosyncrasies into rich and imaginative dance that gives her work a sense of being grounded in the psychology of the earth (mirrored by the autumnal colours of Maiko Sakurai Karner’s costumes and a delicious Tupelo Blues by John Lee Hooker). Each woman’s quite independent tale is carefully superimposed on the others like a collage through which relationships are revealed by a sudden coincidence of gesture or by an act of sympathy.

After her rant, Aschauer returns to her bowl of water and washes Burn’s long hair.Winter’s pensive self-questioning leads her to comfort the disconsolate Padurariu. Aschauer takes off Burn’s cardigan to dry her hair before braiding it. Burn, who has been serenely meditative up to now suddenly erupts and clambers up Aschauer like a tree to perch briefly at the top, then knocks her down in her rush to the corner where Winter stood, but Winter has by now exchanged places and sits next to Aschauer, hand on her shoulder. There is a cinematic quality to Women’s Tales, with our focus shifting from one gesture or act to another like joining the dots of a broad canvas suffused with a dreamlike melancholy. Aschauer takes a sip of water from the bowl and removes her shoes. Burn returns to her bench, aided by Winter who then helps Aschauer put on Burn’s cardigan. Aschauer scribbles something on her knee and sets off at a delirious pace around the broken flower pot, tripping, falling, getting up, furiously writing in the air in one long flowing intensity. Meanwhile Winter is carefully piling up Padurariu’s crumpled letters on her lap, balancing them carefully in a paper pyramid. Just as the pile is complete, Padurariu stands up: it is her turn to tell her story, and she, unlike the others, comes forward into an imaginary spotlight as if to speak…but she cannot get a word out. She turns upstage and moonwalks to the music as if she is somehow elevated and continues to dance her story through her back, private and sensuous. Towards the end of her dance Aschauer begins to clean up the mess of the broken pot, Burn turns round quietly on her bench to face away and Winter sits in Padurariu’s chair: all four are ineluctably trapped in the web of their tales. It is only when Burn begins to sing a Lithuanian lullaby in a beautifully clear voice that the spell begins to break; Aschauer adds her voice as she sweeps and Winter joins in to form a trio as she picks up the crumpled letters. Padurariu ends her story and helps Aschauer with the cleaning. As each woman finishes her task she leaves, still singing; our ears strain to hear the final notes as our eyes accustom to the darkening light, somewhere between the end of the dream and waking.