Ballet Black at the Linbury

Posted: March 9th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet Black at the Linbury

Ballet Black, Linbury Studio Theatre, March 5

Works by Robert Binet, Ludovic Ondiviela, Javier de Frutos, Christopher Marney

Full company in War Letters

Full company in War Letters

I shouldn’t have read it before going to see Ballet Black on Tuesday. I dipped into a memoir of Isadora Duncan by Edward Gordon Craig. ‘She threw away ballet skirts and ballet thoughts. She discarded shoes and stockings too… She was speaking in her own language, not echoing any ballet master, and so she came to move as no one had ever seen anyone move before.’ As I walked to the Linbury Studio Theatre, this is what I had in mind: a new language of dance, free of conventions.

Perhaps because the classical ballet language has its roots in the courts of Europe 350 years ago, it can come across in unimaginative hands as an esoteric, affected language that conjugates incongruously with contemporary life. Robert Binet, whose EGAL began Ballet Black’s program, bends and collapses his forms like a sculptor, taking full advantage of the pliant qualities of his two dancers, Cira Robinson and Jacob Wye, but I quickly lose interest when I see a pirouette here and an assemblé there like cryptic signposts dropped into everyday parlance — or worse, as lazy abbreviations of classical dance. Binet has a great talent — he choreographed the hauntingly beautiful solo for Daniela Neugebauer, Lake Maligne, at Bob Lockyer’s birthday celebration at The Place last year — but he might well take heed of his own program note as a metaphor for his relationship to his craft: ‘Both people being strong, but for moments unsure of their relative strength, can tip the relationship easily towards conflict. However, once the strength of each individual is harnessed…the two people are able to combine physical and emotional resources to go further than they imagined possible: to soar.’

In Dopamine (you make my levels go silly), Ludovic Ondiviela happily chooses a subject (attraction, love, lust) that dance can do really well (and we can easily understand), wrapping it in Fabio D’andrea’s music that is dripping with so much sentimentality that by the time the dancing starts we are like sponges at high tide. On top of that you can sense immediately that the abundantly sensual Sayaka Ichikawa is happy and impulsive and drawn to her man, and that Jazmon Voss is equally drawn to her. We thrive on their emotional involvement and Ondiviela is good at making his dancers talk without words while keeping the conversation colloquial.

The One Played Twice is once too much for me. Javier de Frutos is in love with the genre but the acapella male-voice Hawaiian Barbershop quartet just doesn’t do it for me. Nevertheless the two couples set off along the beach together, but the weather gets really humid and enervating, a balmy day without a wave, and there’s nothing to do and they seem to be going round in circles like a hoola-hoop, until Kanika Carr’s solo resembles Sarah Kundi’s and they’re back where they started. I have seen the imaginative heights to which de Frutos can rise but The One Played Twice is as low-flying as the bass in the barbershop quartet.

Glen Miller and Dmitri Shostakovich are strange bedfellows, though they never really get into the same bed in Christopher Marney’s War Letters. One goes out dancing while the other comes back from a dangerous sortie, and so it goes on. When the Glen Miller plays, the choreographic language finds its inspiration in social dancing, but when the Shostakovich plays the choreography falls back to the default classical pastiche. There is one moment that defies the trend: Ishikawa crawling away under the coat. But the facile patterns and thin characterisations wrapped in a pseudo romanticism about war all reek of Matthew Bourne’s influence: you know what’s coming and in no time it’s delivered.

What we do see throughout the evening, and what the audience rewards with such evident relish and pride, is a company of eight dancers who are a pleasure to watch, and who can dance as if there’s no tomorrow. All that is missing on this program is a language they can embrace with all the passion at their disposal. I was waiting for that Isadora moment when someone would come on stage and dance their words. Maybe I’m just going deaf.


Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play

Posted: November 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play

Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play, Laban Theatre, October 17.

Programming is everything in a triple bill; it can be an uneasy alliance of repertoire and new work, an indigestible three-course meal, or it can be like three acts of a play, an analogy Candoco Dance Company adopted for its most recent triple bill. Two of the acts are welcome re-stagings — Trisha Brown’s Set Reset/Reset and Wendy Houstoun’s Imperfect Storm — and the third is a new duet for Mirjam Gurtner and Dan Daw, Studies for C, by Javier de Frutos.

Annie Hanauer and cast in Set and Reset/Reset. Photo: Hugo Glendenning

I saw Set and Reset/Reset last year in the company’s Turning Twenty program and thought it suited the company beautifully. It still does. Robert Rauschenberg’s design floats above the stage, though it seems there is a little less floating than before. Even though there is a structure to the choreography, the dancers seem to walk or run on as the spirit takes them, joining in Laurie Anderson’s musical procession that strolls down the west coast of California with its bells, assorted sirens and vocal improvisations in a spirit of carefree timelessness. There is a seductive dynamic of improvisation in the dance, too, a freedom of movement in which the dancers bump into each other and ricochet off each other with singular unconcern. The wings are of diaphanous material so we see what is going on off stage as well as on, a spatial continuum that Brown clearly enjoys and which is enhanced by Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting. The dancers are quite at ease, partly because the choreography is at ease and partly because the dancers have contributed to some of the choreography in the creative re-setting process. ‘Go with the flow’ seems to be the philosophical underpinning of the work, with its random connections, playful exits and entrances and a lightness that comes from Brown’s joy in exploring the air. As might be expected, there is no purposeful ending; the music fades away into the distance and the dance continues until we can no longer see it.

Dan Daw and Mirjam Gurtner in Studies for C. photo: Hugo Glendenning

Studies for C is pure magic. The setting suggests a domestic hearth with a carpet and two chairs, drawn in to an intimate space by de Frutos’ own lighting and haze, but the context suggests a wrestling ring with Daw and Gurtner fully masked and wearing leather jackets covered in painted phrases like ‘Better to Die’, and ‘The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks’. The inspiration is more Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real than Becket’s Waiting for Godot, but the songs by Lila Downs take us definitively to Mexico. In this rich juxtaposition of influences, Daw and Gurtner converse or argue with mute passion in their carpeted ring, giving a rich reading of the characters. The effect of the masks pushes the physical element to a stifling pitch of psychological intensity. Gurtner is mad, and flies across the floor. Daw is upset and stands truculently with his hands on hips. They are a couple that feels trapped by their familiarity, and struggles in vain to break free. The masks add an insectile quality to the characters and the inclusion of the song of La Cucaracha suggests two cucarachas down on their luck going through their death throes, legs in the air, trembling on the edge of extinction. They crawl over each other, Daw pulling at Gurtner’s mask. She kicks him, he howls and after a semblance of compassionate support, the two retreat to their respective corners to the lament, Yunu Yucu Ninu. Gurtner starts to take off her mask as the lights go down. Will she break free? We never see her face.

Victoria Malin in Imperfect Storm. photo: Hugo Glendenning

Annie Hanauer takes the microphone at the beginning of Wendy Houstoun’s Imperfect Storm, surrounded by her group of actors. ‘Tonight we were going to do The Tempest, by Shakespeare. William Shakespeare. But we found it a little wordy.’ Deciding to act it without the text, the only way to get people on and off the stage is to use the stage directions, she explains, and to use lighting (by Chahine Yavroyan) to create a series of tableaux, like paintings layered with costumes. Enter Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio; enter Ferdinand and Gonzalo; enter Prospero; enter Boatswain. Miranda’s already at the microphone. John Avery created just the right music, and Nicola Fitchett found just the right ruffs, hats and other assorted costumes and props. Each character picks a vestige of costume from the overturned costume rack. Sound of storm and lashing rain. Daw puts on his Boatswain’s hat, while others are quaking from the storm, pitched and tossed across the stage. Alonso pulls in a string of lights and drapes then around the shipwrecked group. Victoria Malin begins to recite snatches of Prospero’s lines, which devolve into a commentary on the progress of the play (‘we got trapped in this corner…by lighting’) as three characters fight with two wooden swords and a coat hanger. Malin continues with a brilliant monologue on the courage to stay… while all the characters leave. She then describes the stages of a storm that Daw illustrates in an extended solo, dancing in the spotlight. It is wonderful, from feeling the wind in his face (stage 1) to leaves rustling (stage 2) to whole trees in motion (stage 5) and widespread structural damage (stage 7) by which time Daw is running around in a circle jumping and flapping his arms. Alonso and Miranda enter and Daw is carried off, exhausted.

For all its apparent chaos, Imperfect Storm is a sophisticated work with beautiful writing (Houstoun takes sophistication and writing to another level in her 50 Acts). Houstoun allows the dancers to be themselves on stage while playing a failed amateur drama group without hamming it up. What comes across is a work that seems built up from an acute observation of what the dancers can do, and with their creative cooperation: a work that is not imposed on them, but grows out of them.

We have arrived at the finale, the end. Hanauer muses on how best to achieve the ending since everyone has already left and there are no more stage directions. Perhaps the lights fade slowly to black, or the lights could go off one by one, or there could be hundreds of candles we could blow out, or someone with a torch and the battery runs down. Or perhaps…

And as she continues to muse, the lights go suddenly and convincingly to blackout.


HeadSpaceDance: Three & Four Quarters

Posted: September 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on HeadSpaceDance: Three & Four Quarters

HeadSpaceDance, Three and Four Quarters, Linbury Studio Theatre, September 11

There is a story of JMW Turner on varnishing day at the Royal Academy. In 1832, when Constable exhibited his painting, Opening of Waterloo Bridge, it was placed next to a seascape of Turner’s – a grey picture, beautiful in its own watery way, but with no positive color in any part of it. Constable’s Waterloo, by contrast, seemed as if painted with liquid gold and silver, and Turner came several times into the room while Constable was heightening with vermillion and lake the decorations of flags of the city barges. Turner stood beside him, looking from the Waterloo to his own picture, and at last brought his palette from another room. Putting a round daub of red lead, somewhat bigger than a shilling, on his grey sea, he then went away without saying a word. The intensity of the red lead, made more vivid by the coolness of his picture, caused even the vermilion and lake of Constable to look weak. ‘He has been here,’ said Constable to his colleagues after Turner had left ‘and fired a gun.’

I will come back to this.

HeadSpaceDance’s debut evening of premières, Three & Four Quarters, at the Linbury Studio Theatre, opens with Javier de Frutos’ Studies in M, with what appears to be three of the four cygnets from Swan Lake danced to the first movement of Bach’s concerto for oboe and violin which is repeated three times as the dancers regroup and embellish their disintegrating links. Christopher Akrill, Charlotte Broom and Clemmie Sveaas appear to know each other well; their performing history suggests it and there is a harmony and ease in their styles, a complicity rather than a familiarity. There is even a similarity in appearance, though this is possibly the softening effect of Fabrice Serafino’s androgynous nightdresses with tendril-like tassels and grey socks they each wear. The choreography also seems at ease, but this is the illusion of a performance that is timed and spaced to perfection; to repair the delicately absentminded breaching of their choreographic patterns is only an artful step away, a slight realignment of an errant arm or head. The structure of the trio follows Bach’s musical precision, though De Frutos takes advantage of the trio’s subtle, subversive humour and their quiet dramatic presence to keep them at times on the music’s lyrical path and at others insouciantly off it. At the end only Sveaas is left on stage, focusing intently on her movement phrases until Bach stops and she is left somewhere between the silence and the ticking of a clock. She walks half-way off, hesitates, then creeps quietly through the door at the back. There is applause, but no bows; the evening is programed as one work in several acts.

Akrill and Sveaas reappear from that same door carrying a roll of white, padded material that they unroll on the floor like a giant duvet. This is the bedroom setting of Didy Veldman’s insomniac In the skin I’m in 1, the first of his triptych of autobiographical portraits of each of the dancers. Veldman writes in his notes that in working with the dancers, he had set them a task of writing down their thoughts for five minutes. ‘This text was so interesting that it became the basis for what we’ve created together.’ Broom is recapping her to do list: teabags, phone Carole, tap: thoughts that punctuate this delightful watercolour sketch. The music, Alexander Balanescu’s Aria, is a perfect choice for Broom’s sleepless solo in which she uses the duvet as her stage, rolling in it, jumping on it, hiding her head under it, shuffling across it and pulling at a corner with her teeth. The advantage of watching from the balcony is that you can see the beautiful patterns she makes with the duvet. Broom has a childlike, playful quality that is infectious. Towards the end, as she throws herself again and again on the piled up duvet, she is laughing, and so are we. She suddenly remembers something she has to do, gathers up the duvet and drags it off.

Set to Satie’s Gymnopedies No. 3, Akrill’s portrait, In the skin I’m in 2, starts with watery images in a more outdoor, autumnal setting. Veldman accentuates Akrill’s long legs and arms, suggesting insecurity in his uncertain equilibrium. He has a secret that he wants to let out but can’t; he makes mistakes, but shrugs his shoulders or hides his head under his top. Like Broom’s portrait, it is dreamlike, punctuated not by verbal reminders but by some beautifully lyrical acrobatics, and at the end it is the element of air that prevails: inflating a plastic bag of nuts he has just finished, Akrill carefully ties it up. I think he is going to burst it, but instead he lies down next to it on the floor and blows it gently towards the wings.

For those who have not shuffled out to the bar, the interval is a continuation of the relaxed relationship the dancers have created with the audience and gives a sense of their ownership of the stage. Sveaas warms up while Broom brings in a chair and sweeps the stage; they chat, Sveaas puts down a centre mark and checks it with Akrill who has just arrived as if he is about to leave, in smart shirt and trousers with a backpack over his shoulder. There is some lighting focus, a consultation about a bump in the floor, and the three rehearse some moves. All is made clear after the interval with Luca Silvestrina’s After the Interval, ‘a piece about dance and dancers’ that makes a performance out of the dancers’ preparations. It starts ironically at the end with a parody of bows and works backwards, shining a light on rehearsals, the process of marking, the difficulty of talking through moves, the frustrations and contradictions of too many corrections, snatches of biography from an imaginary question-and-answer session and a run-through in the studio of a Brahms Intermezzo that is beautiful and beautifully danced (in relaxed studio mode, we are led to believe, without anybody watching). It is fun, it is light, it is cleverly put together but it is essentially introspective and as self-referencing as the previous works. We are getting to over three quarters of the way through the evening, and the introduction to the company has barely changed gear. Sveaas is still to come with her Veldman portrait, In the skin I’m in 3, set to another piece by Alexander Balanescu, Empty House Space. The pace increases, as this is more energetic than the other two portraits, more intense and serious, a balancing act between sunshine and shadow in the form of long horizontal bars of light across the stage. It is a fighting solo, with agitated arms and elbows and frenetic hands and fingers, Sveaas’ body falling and recovering, with both weight and a sense of being lost in space. The lighting (by Simon Bennison throughout the program) works closely with the choreography, removing one bar of light at a time until Sveaas (happily) walks off along the one remaining.

Broom then opens the door at the back of the stage and steps in, holding the door for Akrill to follow; light pours in and the colours of Broom’s skirt and blouse blast the stage with energy, light and emotion at the beginning of this extract from Light Beings, by Mats Ek. The music is the Andante Festivo by Jean Sibelius, a festive piece to which Ek adds an acutely colourful variety of gestures and steps that seem to overpower it to the point of mockery. There is a moment in this short piece when the dancers leave the stage for Sibelius to regain his composure, but when they return with shaking heads and hands and Akrill’s drunken, swaggering gait, the dancing once again puts an arm around Sibelius and leads him to the bar. Akrill’s extraordinary jeté with his supporting foot suspended in Broom’s hands is a climax of Ek’s daring and outrageously imaginative choreography.

Introductions finally over, this was the keynote moment, like Turner’s daub of red lead, that illuminates everything that has gone before, as if we have been watching the slow growth of a pale stem that suddenly opens in a glorious, pleated apricot and turquoise bloom and the vein of humour coursing through the evening finally bursts out in Ek’s broad, uplifting, joyous laugh. It is brilliant programming, and if the triumph of the evening’s dancing belongs to the company’s founders, Akrill and Broom, it could not have happened without the supporting role of Sveaas. All three (finally) take a (proper) bow and receive a well-deserved ovation.