Hubert Essakow, Terra

Posted: March 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hubert Essakow, Terra

Hubert Essakow, Terra, The Print Room at The Coronet, March 12

Benjamin Warbis, Rob Bridger, Luke Crook and Monique Jonas in Terra

Benjamin Warbis, Rob Bridger, Luke Crook and Monique Jonas in Terra (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou)

Terra is the final part of Hubert Essakow’s trilogy based on the three elements of water, fire and earth. First came Flow, then Ignis and now Terra. I didn’t see Flow but in Ignis Essakow used the analogy of human passion to explore the element, and fire also made a dramatic appearance on stage. In Terra the analogy with earth is that of the human footprint but the element of earth does not appear on stage. In the handsome program for Terra are three performance photographs by Zadoc Nava of Estela Merlos, Luke Crook and Benjamin Warbis dancing on sand; the link with earth is immediate, but for some reason the concept has not been carried into the production.

After a stunning opening solo by Merlos as the romantic, half-naked spirit of Mother Earth, four chalky white dancers climb onto the cramped white stage with their white rhomboid suitcases, to begin Earth’s population. They look as if they are artists from a travelling mime circus who have lost their way. The contrast with Mother Earth couldn’t be greater, but paradoxically it is she who is out of place in Terra. The set, by Sofie Lachaert & Luc D’Hanis, is a paper cliff at the foot of which furniture thrown down from the top has come to rest: chairs, a table, a wardrobe, a lamp, a broken mirror. Everything is whitewashed, abstracted and drained of any hint of earth. The set instead belongs to an artistic concept for which Terra seems ill adapted. Lachaert and D’Hanis are designers who have ‘built together an intriguing oeuvre of objects, furniture and site-specific installations, in which they interrogate the boundaries between fine art, craft and design.’ That might work well in the Hayward Gallery but not here. Martina Trottman’s costumes are clearly influenced by Lachaert and D’Hanis so two of the principle theatrical elements in Terra take it in a different direction, one suspects, from that conceived by the choreographer. Militating against the shift is a poem by Ben Okri who was commissioned to write it for Terra. It is rich in allusions and allegories of Earth and we hear the sonorous voice of Okri reading passages from it through the work. Introduced initially over Merlos’s solo with sound designer Gareth Mitchell’s soft rumbling of falling rocks, Terra thus begins in harmony before the seismic conceptual shift takes over.

…Our beginning who knows it,
Except the silent mother
Who was the womb
For all this history.
From her we grow, we die,
We rise…

The four dancers (Crook, Warbis, Rob Bridger and Monique Jonas) gather cautiously on the shore, a confluence of strangers despite their similar appearance and identical suitcases. There is a little mistrust in their exploration of each other, a testing of boundaries and balance, as Merlos, now costumed similarly, tries to make them feel at home. Jean-Michel Bernard’s score is redolent of Debussy, airy and playful, while Mitchell’s growling sounds suggest weight and danger.

All these faces,
All these masks and dreams
And dances,
All these leaps into the unknown,
All these eyes
That gaze into the mysteries,
All these feet

That turn and leap and glide
Across continents
In the curving dance
Of time.

Essakow’s choreography keeps close to Okri’s poetry, finding in it both the keys to the non-narrative nature of his elemental drama and personal traits for his dancers; Jonas’s solo, like Merlos’s earlier, arises out of the verse, embodying it and enriched by it. The human footprint is extended by the appearance of Constance Booth whose maturity allows her to hold her own with the adults, as much a child of the family as she is an individual in her own right. Essakow now condenses the action to a series of short tableaux separated by blackouts: the family; broadening horizons; risk-taking and exploration on the paper mountain with a pulsing score. You get the idea, but in such a cramped space with a restrictive set that waters down the elemental force of Okri’s poem, the human footprint slows to a melodramatic plod with predictable symbolism; we hear a recording of different languages while the performers stare at the audience as if looking at the future. The three women dance to Okri’s lines:

Mother of culture
And all the magic
We can conceive,
She is the greatest
Magic of them all.

When the men rejoin, the stage is swirling in movement but without a clear idea of where it is going until it resolves in a line at the front of the stage. The cast leaves except for Merlos and Booth, the ‘spirit made flesh’ and the promise of a future. There is the rumbling sound again, and Merlos looks at the girl, performs a kind of benediction and retreats.

At a post-show talk with Marc Brew at the Lilian Baylis just two days before, Dame Evelyn Glennie had spoken of the nature of collaborations as being intrinically unstable; you just don’t know if it’s going to work until the collaboration is complete. With Terra Essakow staked his success on a raft of collaborators, some of whom understood his concept and others who just supplied their own. Perhaps that is, after all, an apt, if unintended comment on the current state of the Earth.


1898: Contemporary Dance Festival

Posted: February 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 1898: Contemporary Dance Festival

1898: Contemporary Dance Festival, Print Room at The Coronet, February 23

Choreographers of 1898: Hubert Essakow, Kirill Burlov, Tamarin Stott, Mbulelo Ndabeni

Choreographers of 1898: Hubert Essakow, Kirill Burlov, Tamarin Stott, Mbulelo Ndabeni

The good news is The Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill, built by WGR Sprague in 1898, has a new lease of life as Print Room at The Coronet under the artistic direction of Anda Winters. Winters, who founded Print Room in Westbourne Grove in 2010, is planning to bring her new home to its original splendor as a cinema and performing arts space. If you are lucky enough to get tickets for the current show, 1898: Contemporary Dance Festival, curated by Winters and Artistic Associate Hubert Essakow to celebrate the theatre’s founding, you are attending the first live performance there in almost a century and sitting on the very stage where Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry once performed.

Because the auditorium is being renovated, both the audience and the performing area are arranged across the old stage; if we could look through the wall on the left we would see the auditorium. What designer Hannah Hall has devised is a stage at one end like the corner of a box, all in white, with a side wall that curves seamlessly round to the back and a white floor that flows from the curved baseboards to the open front and side of the stage area. The wall allows for projections and is solid enough to take weight; the open sides are for seating. Any reserved seating is for the performers, including a dilapidated period sofa next to me that looks as if it could tell a few stories. The feeling is intimate, and the whiff of fin-de-siècle intoxicating.

This is immediately evoked in Essakow’s Adieu; Erik Satie’s wistful Gnossienne No. 3 and some Debussy songs of romantic sensibility, sweet suffering and passion swirl around ‘the ghosts of past performances at The Coronet…’ which include a sensual, all-embracing femme fatale, Naomi Sorkin, looking remarkably like Sarah Bernhardt in a long silk dress, black cape and wide brimmed hat. There are two beautiful youths (David Ledger and Cree Barnett Williams) whose promising hold on each other is undermined throughout by Bernhardt’s seduction of them both: those passionate, half-closed eyelids know no limit. We even hear Bernhardt’s own voice returning to the stage in a ghostly recording. Adieu is not so much saying goodbye as immersing the characters in the fleeting sense of beauty, love and parting that the word — especially in French — brings to mind.

While the trio wafts silently into the night, Kirill Burlov appears somewhat disheveled, dressed in a white collarless shirt and black high-waisted breeches that were in better shape earlier in the evening before he started getting in to the absinthe. The appropriately named Absinthe is essentially a solo for two dancers, with a similarly disheveled Rob McNeil as the demon of the infamous green goddess seeping out of the walls and plaguing Burlov’s poetic imagination. All the choreography is reflected in their eyes, the dazed lids, the staring expressions, the desperate searching for reality in an increasingly hallucinatory phantasmagoria. This inner state is reflected in Platon Buravicky’s manic score but the focus of the work is Burlov’s dark, unhinged choreography and the partnering with McNeil; despite the hallucinations their awareness of each other’s presence is so attuned that the partnering is, to the sober, like a dream until Burlov passes out between O’Brien’s legs and the green goddess dematerializes.

Tamarin Stott’s response to the theatre, Scene to be Seen, is more tightly choreographed, but then her subject is the contrast between tight-lipped etiquette and freedom, what she calls the social exterior and the private interior. She begins with her feet at either end of the century, dressed in a corseted cream dress with a smartphone in her hand as she sits on the side of the stage where her beau (Nathan Young) is getting annoyed with her apparent disregard for him. This simmering antagonism informs the undercurrent of violence in the partnering, one misunderstood gesture following another until it seems something has changed forever. That would be enough for a short piece, but on top of this Stott wants to ‘reflect on…the extraordinary changes witnessed over (the theatre’s) lifetime…’ which is more the role of an archivist than of a choreographer. Neither is she helped by Ryan Cockerham’s score that is so densely signposted and annotated that it leaves little room for the dance or our imagination. A little dip into Burlov’s absinthe might have helped both.

In Beholder of Beauty Mbulelo Ndabeni also spans a century, between the first opera performed at The Coronet in 1898, The Geisha, and the 1999 romantic comedy film, Notting Hill. The opening is thrilling with an exotic Ndabeni in a white face with pursed red painted lips and a geisha’s red robe dancing with a breadth of movement that fills the space with an excitement that makes you feel you know what is going on inside. When he lets his head back and screams silently you feel he is crying for help. The score by Shirley J Thompson is intense but non-obtrusive; it is Ndabeni’s image that fills the stage. But then Notting Hill enters the picture, and for me the spell is broken. The appearance of Piedad Albarracin Seiquer in contemporary rehearsal clothes is a literary idea that doesn’t translate choreographically. When Ndabeni as geisha dances with her he clearly doesn’t speak the same language and when she dances alone, expressive as she is, she has no connection to him. It is rather prosaic after the poetry but Mdabeni turns back to the exotic by dancing in front of a projection of a lily in the process of opening. He seems to be both looking back to the spirit of 1898 and forward to the flowering of this new performance space.

 


Hubert Essakow: IGNIS

Posted: March 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hubert Essakow: IGNIS

Hubert Essakow, IGNIS, The Print Room, February 11

Lukasz Przytarski, Jordi Calpe Serrats and Sara Kestelman in IGNIS (photo: Zadoc Nara)

Lukasz Przytarski, Jordi Calpe Serrats and Sara Kestelman in IGNIS (photo: Zadoc Nara)

Fire is the theme of Print Room Associate Artist and Choreographer Hubert Essakow’s new work, IGNIS, the second in a planned elemental trilogy that began with Flow, based on water. Ignis is a Latin word for fire but here fire is a metaphor for memories that have burned their way into both heart and mind.

The seating at The Print Room is intimate, arranged on three sides of the stage as if around a fireplace and Lee Newby’s polished steel back wall tilting slightly forward reflects the human forms on the shiny black stage as flickering embers. Within this heated landscape Essakow — with the help of dramaturg Laura Farnworth — succeeds in getting his cast to embody in those embers all the longing, desire and regret of a passionate life. It is a tall order, and something that dance alone is only partially equipped to handle but Essakow’s coup is to integrate the expressive power of actor Sara Kestelman (whose training in classical ballet still informs her quality of movement) with his three accomplished dancers (Noora Kela, Jordi Calpe Serrats and Lukasz Przytarski). She plays the older woman reflecting on her younger self (Kela) and her conflicted passions, sometimes watching the sporting of the youthful trio and sometimes participating; she sees everything, she notes everything and, more importantly, we read everything through her. Interestingly she doesn’t dominate the stage but like an alchemist transforms it.

Newby is also something of an alchemist because part of his polished steel wall transforms magically into a transparent screen with the help of Matthew Eagland’s lighting. IGNIS begins with the recumbent figure of Kela in light grey loose-fitting clothes reflected on both the floor and the back wall. Like someone licked by flames, she turns and twists the shimmering line of Jon Opstad’s score until she rises to a sitting position and stands looking at her image in the polished mirror. As she walks towards it Kestelman’s image appears through the screen gazing back at her fondly as if at a photograph. Kestelman fades to return seconds later with two young men at her side. Time dissolves in this mirage, and as Kela retreats from our focus Kestelman materialises on stage on the arms of her two youthful companions. In this way both cast and creative team unite in their evocation of time revisited, of remembered pleasure and pain. The four characters weave memories and past events in contrapuntal choreographic sequences in which the men have one phrase and the women another, followed by unison sections and phrases in canon that suggest the hesitation of selective memory (sitting, getting up, sitting again) and the sudden punctum when Kestelman claps her hands and the flood of memories comes to an abrupt end. “Here it almost ended…” she begins, a sculptural figure eloquently recalling a decisive moment in her life as the three dancers draw their arms slowly across their chests like the stretching of a bow. But the memories continue to play, small accelerating gestures of look and touch and rebuff that Essakow painstakingly builds into an intense physical argument. Kestelman watches raptly until the triangle resolves with the departure of Przytarski. Kela snaps at Serrats in a combative duet that finishes with the lovers lying together on the floor but Kestelman recalls the return of Przytarski and we see the tantalizing pull and push of her heart.

The two boys duel in solos and duets that Kestelman sees in reflection on the wall: reflections on reflections. “I know the scene can never be the same.” Her voice adds a further emotional element to the performance. Dancers are not used to flexing their vocal chords in the same way as the rest of their muscles and Kestelman’s voice has all the power of an athletic body. She also adapted or transposed her own poetry for IGNIS so there is a unity between mind and body whenever her voice emerges.

It is now the turn of the youthful trio to manipulate Kestelman as if she is no longer in control of her past: selective memory, or history re-writing itself. A touch sends a shiver through her; she tells Kela she failed to see the anguish to come. “Now I see him everywhere.” Serrats joins Przytarski in dancing with Kela; she moves from one to the other. Kestelman remains on the sidelines as they switch and battle, watching Kela in particular, but despite the passionate uncertainty of the time — or perhaps because of it — she has no regrets: “Charred and changed”, she affirms, “Burnt out embers flicker into life, a lick of flame, leaping from the ashes, sudden burst of fire, white hot, brilliant, bright, beautiful, alive. I am alive.”

She sits, then lies like Kela at the beginning, dancing with her arms, rolling gently one way then another, and arches her back to sit up. Przytarski lights a fire in a grill along the back of the stage, transforming the stage into line of flame. Bathed in the light, Kestelman conjures up the three youths who dance in response to the heat: her passion in all its complexity. The two boys help her to her feet but Kela remains on the ground looking up at her. There is a transferal of understanding from the one to the other as the fire burns low. Kestelman’s eyes brim with the clarity of memory but the eyes of the others are as if blinded for they cannot see into the future. Kela circles and leaves Kestelman forming a heart with her hands, potent symbol of her journey. As she stands reflected in the wall, the ghostlike trio appears briefly behind it and vanishes.