Neon Dance, Empathy

Posted: February 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Neon Dance, Empathy

Neon Dance, Empathy, The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, February 13

Neon Dance in Empathy (screen shot from filmmaker Tom Schumann)

Neon Dance in Empathy (screen shot from filmmaker Tom Schumann)

“The story is a machine for empathy. In contrast to logic or reason, a story is about emotion that gets staged over a sequence of dramatic moments, so you empathize with the characters without really thinking about it too much.” – Ira Glass

Empathy is a work that I have already danced with a little. I invited the artistic director of Neon Dance, Adrienne Hart, and dancer Annapaola Leso to Bournemouth in 2014 for two research residencies, saw snatches of a duet at Tony Adigun’s The Factory during Dance Umbrella in late 2015 and viewed the video series released in the run-up to the première of Empathy in 2016. This ensured a proximity to the ideas and flavours prior to stepping into the theatre and this exposure influenced my receipt of the work and not necessarily in a way I was expecting. Being closer to Empathy I felt partially blunted, encountered less discovery on the evening and it made me question whether I want my pre-information appetite dry, whetted or drowned.

Hart and her creative co-conspirators in sound (composers Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen, Shahzad Ismaily and Gyda Valtysdottir) and design (Numen and Ana Rajcevic) have deftly woven a seamless environment that sits equally between the choreographic, sonic and scenographic. Letting the performance grow over two years has imbued it with a depth and rigour that is missing in many works that are constrained by a 3-to-4 week rehearsal process. With five human performers and an insentient laser feeding our eyes, Empathy executes Hart’s aim of asking us to think about this state of being through an elaborate, dense and stimulating world. With a tight choreographic palette of amorphous floor-dwelling bodies, melting into each other and the floor, I found it hard to like and yet easy to admire – but the work is still resonating.

Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men.”– Theodor Adorno

Hierarchies are consistently present: human vs. human and human vs. laser; the invisibility of power is enhanced through the (wo)man/machine battles. The behaviour of the laser oscillated between playfulness and brutality; ambushing movement and suffocating extensions whilst framing the dancers with an incisive clarity. I couldn’t help but project emotional narratives on these duets and at those moments I’m looking at the empathy spectrum and deciding who should I side with? The lasers acted as a metronome, carving the stage, dictating the pace and in its more flighty moments slowing down my perception of the dancers.

There were resonances for me on the tender spectrum; when Annapaola stepped slowly towards the laser wall and waited with the tips of her hairs brushing the edge of the light as her breath settled suggesting a possibility to move through and beyond. There was emotional dissonance too; Carys Staton (a glacial technician) during her glitching laser tunnel duet failed to connect as it narrowed, slowly constricting her space — I felt nothing. This spectrum of emotional attachment to and between the performers was a large part of the success of the work; however, there were two late arrivals into this cast who weren’t present throughout the making period and were (re)presenting movement that had been generated and embodied by other bodies and this lack of investment was telling.

“Empathy is the faculty to resonate with the feelings of others. When we meet someone who is joyful, we smile. When we witness someone in pain, we suffer in resonance with his or her suffering.” – Matthieu Ricard

Rajcevic’s costume pieces enhanced the notion of empathy; mouth pieces and masks disguised areas of the body that are usually used to convey emotion challenging the dancers to present alternatively through their bodies. The arm extensions worn by Annapaola affected her movement quality, masked the hands and helped attune her to her surroundings and other bodies in her orbit.

Hart is playing the long game and her extended practice and approach to collaboration, inquiry and audience ensures Empathy remains with you long after you’ve left the theatre. She’s an architect, commentator and conductor of an orchestra of empathy, with human instruments revelling in her excavations.


Stephanie Lake: Dual

Posted: June 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Stephanie Lake: Dual

Stephanie Lake, Dual, Théâtre de Chaillot, Paris, June 4

Ian Abbott

Alisdair Macindoe and Sara Black in Stephanie Lake's Dual (photo: Byron Perry)

Alisdair Macindoe and Sara Black in Stephanie Lake’s Dual (photo: Byron Perry)

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” William James

How can a single body act as a vessel for another?

Act I. Enter Alisdair Macindoe. He moves as if the floor is electrified and his body the conductor. Unable to commit to stillness and rest, pulses fizz through him — he’s physically dancing alone as a wild mass of trembling limbs for a dozen or more minutes. However, his mind is dancing elsewhere. As the driving, syncopated soundtrack by Robin Fox frenzied the air in the hot basement of Théâtre Chaillot, Macindoe with clean isolations and crisp pops would begin motifs before an invisible vacuum cleaner would suck him back to the start. It’s here in the unwinding and rewinding that the central inquiry of Dual lies: the surrender of control. Exit Macindoe.

ACT II. A shift in lighting design. The overhead stark white makes way for six warmer booms. Enter Sara Black. Her delicate solo of physical lyricism offers a tonal difference but her eyes are even further away and a sense that her body is not within her control. Black’s execution is flawless, disconcerting and the emotional detachment bordered on the dangerous but it is eminently watchable and strangely addictive. I imagine Lake, like a glowing maniacal brain, sitting at the lighting desk feeding telepathic signals to control her dancers.

“We adore chaos because we love to produce order.” MC Escher

Act III. A solo plus a solo equals what? Dual lets bodies inhabit the same space — at first alone and then together. What can two bodies achieve that a single body cannot? Together they build connections, make invisible pathways detectable and their bisections add extra layers to a previously presented solo narrative. Now we see a fit and a tessellation. The essence of this duet is alchemy.

“Placing one work of art near another makes one plus one equal three. Two artworks arranged alchemically leave each intact, transform both, and create a third thing.” Jerry Saltz

To forge a connection, we search for the eyes of another. Eyes are an important part of Dual. Here Lake considers them, erases their emotion, blurs their focus and limits their expression to see if we, the audience, can connect in a different way. Black and Macindoe’s eyes are possessed with intentional vacancy. A disconnection is reinforced.

At a little over 40 minutes Dual was an intensely satisfying experience filled with A x B = AB. In this equation, is the audience the = ? The staging for the evening is configured in traverse so throughout the work I’m able to see half an audience whose eyes are alive to shifts in light and speed and are tracing the movement on stage. It’s OK to surrender; Stephanie Lake is in control.


Jasmin Vardimon Company: MAZE

Posted: April 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Jasmin Vardimon Company: MAZE

Jasmin Vardimon Company & Turner Contemporary: MAZE, Winter Gardens, Margate, April 11

By Ian Abbott

An scene in Jasmin Vardimon Company's MAZE (photo: Martin Godwin)

An scene in Jasmin Vardimon Company’s MAZE (photo: Martin Godwin)

‘Show not what has been done, but what can be. How beautiful the world would be if there were a procedure for moving through labyrinths.’ (Umberto Eco)

Nothing has shifted.

MAZE offers no prologue, no rules and no explanation; therefore everything is permitted. As the audience (30 capacity) are de-coated, de-bagged and de-shoed in airlock settings and broken down from 30 to 10 we are eventually granted permission by a MAZE Guardian to enter. A labyrinth has but one path; to qualify as a maze there must be choices and it is when we’re finally permitted to enter one at a time that we are presented with our first choice. Left or right? Philosophically this idea of choice is central to the work; MAZE is an offer to engage, to play, to look and to share as much or as little as you’re willing to in a cathedral of foam with 20 performers for 35 minutes.

I entered MAZE twice (the one in the afternoon is a place where children are welcome and the one in the evening has some amended content and is suitable for adult eyes only). In the afternoon I gobbled up experiences and was hungry for content; I frenzied around MAZE, mimicking the intensity of the performers. The eruptions of movement, the slamming of self and others into foam walls was enhanced by the close proximity of my witnessing. The brutal and technical physicality which Vardimon’s choreography demands resonated much deeper for me than when it has previously been presented on a stage. I left MAZE drunk, having thrown, rolled and foamed myself senseless in this new world.

‘It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling-bond between two people.’ (Lewis Hyde)

For my second entrance I chose to behave differently; to dwell in spaces more, to follow performers, let experiences unfurl, deepen my interaction and actually taste the MAZE. This approach offered a rewarding and embedded experience; more akin to the agency experienced in a computer game. I oscillated between two single characters who were giving me tasks to complete with miniature rewards in return and it was this ability to alter the course (not of the whole) of my experience that created a tissue of connection between myself and MAZE. One time I alone witnessed a depraved act and after it was complete the perpetrator buried me in foam and escaped from me and the echoes of the space.

In both performances, as I poured myself into the moment I was choosing to commit to, I recognised that there are many other moments (hidden exchanges, group choreographies, intimate moments of revelation) that are happening and I could be experiencing, but was not. I resolved this envy of the other and resisted the pull of what could be as these were the internal ceremonies and external theatres that I had chosen to be a part of.

The level of preparation and the ability to improvise when the performers had no control of what was going to happen or what an audience member would say to them left me feeling confident that they were able to deal with any interaction. This confidence and ability to shift and flex alongside the material triggered an instinct in me to acknowledge the intensity of the gaze and fix my eyes onto theirs.

You can decide to stand still and in that same act, you can decide you’re waiting for something. Nothing has shifted. Everything has shifted.

In such a highly controlled entrance and immersion in a space, the ending and exit of this clearly defined world felt inconsistent. We were offered the possibility of an awkward wedding dance duet outside the structure with one of the company and then left to drift away of our own accord. However, it will be the previous 35 minutes that linger longer as those exchanges are embossed on my skin and still ricocheting around my brain.

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are – if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.’ (Joseph Campbell)


Scottish Dance Theatre: YAMA

Posted: February 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: YAMA

I have invited my friend Ian Abbott to contribute to these musings on dance. As some of you will already know, Ian was until recently Head of Creative Programs at Pavilion Dance Southwest in Bournemouth and I was always grateful for his encouragement through invitations to review various shows or summits he had planned there. We would also cross paths at performances elsewhere. If there was something I really enjoyed I would say to him, Ian you should program this. ‘I already have’ was the inevitable reply. Ian has now moved to Scotland and I am very happy to welcome his thoughts on performances he is seeing there. 

Scottish Dance Theatre, YAMA, Dundee Rep Theatre, February 12

Scottish Dance Theatre in Damien Jalet's YAMA (photo: Brian Hartley)

Scottish Dance Theatre in Damien Jalet’s YAMA (photo: Brian Hartley)

“Entering a novel is like going on a climb in the mountains: You have to learn the rhythms of respiration – acquire the pace. Otherwise you stop right away.” Umberto Eco

Mountains invite a challenge.

Scottish Dance Theatre, under the artistic direction of Fleur Darkin, at first commissioned Damien Jalet to create YAMA (Japanese for mountain) as half of a double bill, a munro if you like, in February 2014. Originally inspired by his trip to Japan and the Yamabushi’s (a practising group of ascetic monks) pagan and animalistic rituals, Jalet was invited back to re-build and re-birth a new mountain in the shadow of Dundee’s extinct volcano, The Law.

With a low, rumbling electronic soundscape provided by Winter Family, the opening frames of YAMA created a set of the most striking and original experiences I’ve come across in a theatre. As an opening and immovable central focus, the revelation and consistency of Jim Hodges’ ‘abstract geometric form’ sink hole provided the only channel through which the Scottish Dance critters could arrive or depart. Legs began to slither and ooze from the surface leaving me unsure of the number of bodies present. A giant amorphous flesh ball – with each individual covered by Jean-Paul Lespagnard’s nude shorts and torso-brushing horse-hair facial stockings – started to divide into smaller iterations, writhing and mesmerising me for over 20 minutes: I realised I was already on the journey with them, halfway up the mountain. Through a careful handling and guiding of my attention, I realised I’d been sucked in by the physical concatenation and snap and flow of bodies; the way they’d scurry and come together like a hairy chorus drawn from the brush of Busby Berkeley’s undulating worship of geometric forms and patterns was verging on sorcery. I didn’t want to leave this brave and unusual world.

“Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top.” Dag Hammarskjold

YAMA is the total theatrical realisation of a mountain; the dizzying and breathless ascent, the embrace of the summit and a dawning that the journey home will never contain a place so high again. Ritualistically the performers removed their hair and revealed their faces for the first time. The sonic and visual world was broken. An evolution had taken place and the final 25 minutes consisted of what others would recognise as contemporary dance. The intensity of the choreography – the dancers matched what Jalet painted on their bodies – increased until the striking finale of the channel reclaiming the bodies which had birthed them 55 minutes ago. I left with an increasing sense of regret of what might have been. Had that strong and pioneering world that was so well crafted in the first half been continued I believe YAMA would have been an incredibly courageous and special work.

YAMA invites a challenge and it’s a work that deserves to be encountered and conquered. Scottish Dance Theatre is a rare company in the UK – they house a set of dancers equal to any choreographic challenge – and are traversing a daring choreographic path with confidence and without fear.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”      William Blake