Images Ballet Company

Posted: July 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Images Ballet Company

Images Ballet Company, Lilian Baylis Studio, June 13

(l to r) Briony Andrew, Courtney Reading, Eleonora Falovo, Maria Bruguet, Gwainn van der Bijl, and Jessica Harding in Liz Aggiss’s Scenes of Death and Disaster (photo: Billy Nichols)

Images Ballet Company is a showcase for the dancers who choose to specialize in classical ballet in their final year of professional training at London Studio Centre. The program at Lilian Baylis Studio tests this training in a broad spectrum of dance performance that challenges the students’ versatility and stretches their expressive abilities. While Artistic Director Jennifer Jackson’s own work of the evening, Distant Beauties, is the one work to merge classical technique with a classical image, Matthew Hart’s Concerto for Joyce and Dennis uses pointe work in a contemporary setting, and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s Handsfree uses classical articulation and elongation in an abstract work. Only Liz Aggiss, who comes from the august tradition of German Ausdruckstänz, makes the technique utterly subservient in her Scenes of Death and Destruction to a rich expressive approach to dance that just happens, in its irreverent approach to classical ballet structures, to deconstruct them with evident relish.

It might be said that this year-end showcase reflects the current prospects for students of classical ballet in this country and elsewhere, as Jackson is well aware (just consider Scottish Ballet’s recent program of works by Angelin Preljocaj and Crystal Pite). Her decision to include such a variety of styles will serve her dancers well as their comfort levels are tested from work to work. Shaun Reidman, the one male in the group, does not look entirely at home in Distant Beauties, but in Scenes of Death and Disaster he comes into his own as the figure of Death replete with black cloak and scythe. Eleonora Falovo carries the narrative in Concerto for Joyce and Dennis so convincingly as Joyce that she looks out through her eyes. This kind of transformation is at the heart of performance and Falovo’s natural ability to unite her technical ability with a high level of expressivity is a gift for dance narrative in whatever form it might take.

Jackson’s Distant Beauties is loosely based on the pas de six from the Petipa/Tchaikovsky ballet, Sleeping Beauty with which she would have been familiar in her days as a soloist with the Royal Ballet. Rather than getting her dancers to execute Petipa’s choreography, Jackson models the steps on the capacities of her dancers and ascribes contemporary values to the six Fairies of integrity, independence, humility, talent, resilience and confidence. By choosing Tom Armstrong to adapt Tchaikovsky’s score for a viola and flute (played live on stage by Rosie Bowker and Henrietta Hill), she has created a sparse aural environment which the dancers have the chance to fill with their ensemble work and solos. Classical technique is notoriously difficult to execute well, and not all the dancers do justice to the steps but they maintain the spirit behind them. Maria S. Catalayud managed both in her variation with a confidence that is a pleasure to see.

One of the characteristics that gives unity to the evening is the way Bowker and Hill play through the pauses between works, transitioning from one musical style to another as they wander like minstrels on stage. It allows the huge social gap between the Russian Imperial court and a care home to be bridged effortlessly along with the sterling efforts of the crew to transform the stage.

The central character of Concerto for Joyce and Dennis is modeled on Hart’s own grandmother whose physical condition has rendered her housebound and subject to a carer (Reidman) who doubles as her late husband. The cast enters into this poignant portrayal of memory and friendship with conviction, though the ideas in this narrative work carry a weight well beyond the scope of this performance; it is full of short scenes and episodes that strike me as the seed of a musical in which a larger, more diverse cast could more realistically portray the disparity in ages and physical (dis)abilities.

Handsfree, to the eponymous body-percussion score by Anna Meredith, is a response both to the music and to the sculpture of Dorothea Tanning. Set in rectangles of light that Runacre-Temple seems to relish, Handsfree is a complex rhythmical exercise in which the four dancers (Falovo, Catalayud, Courtney Reading, and Jessica Harding) engage with the music and with each other in close partnership where they seem to listen to the music in each other’s bodies. The exhilaration from the dancing and from the score itself is palpable, though the work seems more weighted towards Meredith than Tanning, missing a sufficiently visual component to satisfy the eye.

The title of Scenes of Death and Disaster accurately describes the progression of Aggiss’s work, from Reidman’s slow, cold, majestic entrance as the figure of death to the seven women with disheveled hair complaining about male choreographers of classical ballets who portray women as weak with a propensity for untimely deaths. Musically it progresses from its music box introduction through sampling of the ballet classics of Giselle, Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet to earthy gypsy tunes and Highland bagpipes. Its irreverence for the classical canon belies the rigorous construction of the work and the expressivity required of the dancers to make it work. And work it does, with ferocious wit and satire both in what it says and the way the entire cast says it. That Jackson has the pragmatism and insight to program this broad scope of work is testament to her stewardship of the company.


Jennifer Jackson, Making Room

Posted: September 25th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jennifer Jackson, Making Room

Jennifer Jackson, Making Room, GOLive Lab, Giant Olive Theatre, September 20

Jennifer Jackson in Making Room

Jennifer Jackson in Making Room

In A Room of One’s Own Virginia Woolf makes the controversial claim (for 1928 when she delivered the original series of lectures at Newnham and Girton Colleges in Cambridge) that in order to write a young woman needs to have money and a room of her own. Jackson, who trained at the Royal Ballet School and subsequently danced in both Royal Ballet companies, acknowledges Woolf’s claim in her opening remarks of Making Room and in her subsequent demonstration suggests that a dancer’s room is none other than her own body.

Currently senior lecturer in dance at Surrey University, Jackson is well versed in feminist attitudes to ballet — she quotes Germaine Greer who famously described it as ‘cultural cancer’ — but at the same time she can’t dismiss the truth that her bones, ligaments, muscles and sinews are inalienably shaped by classical ballet training. In Making Room, Jackson doesn’t back away from her feminist values but confronts the rhetoric on ballet by parsing its core values from the more superficial aesthetics to arrive at a place within her own body where classical form finds contemporary relevance. She wittingly dispels the ballerina image by clomping on stage in thick-soled shoes, slacks and a loose grey top as if addressing her students at the beginning of a lecture. Indeed it is in her role as lecturer that she begins her defense of classical ballet, even though, as she wryly admits, ballet dancers aren’t supposed to speak.

Clearly bruised by Greer’s harsh attack, Jackson turns to the more sympathetic Martin Creed (as in Ballet Work No 1020) and to a great theorist of the moving body, Jacques LeCoq: ‘Vertical movement situates man between heaven and earth, between zenith and nadir…‘ Jackson is on more familiar territory now and it is a short step for her to reveal the essence of classical dance: the contrasting en dehors (outward) and en dedans (inward) movements that allow the verticality of the dancer to express the fullness of classical technique. By also using en dehors and en dedans as metaphors, Jackson now turns ballet inside out through a series of improvisations on four very different musical compositions — though she carefully discards her clunky shoes before she begins.

In the second movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata, written almost 30 years before the period of romantic ballet began, Jackson establishes her classical movement language in a series of port de bras and spirals that are both grounded and free. ‘Now how might this feel to John Cage?’ she asks as Donald Hutera’s finger slides the dimmer button low. In improvising to Cage’s 4’33” of silence, Jackson continues to makes the movement speak but interestingly we are more keenly aware of the language (as anyone familiar with the work of Cage’s partner and collaborator Merce Cunningham will recognize). When Jackson’s language combines with the String Quartet No. 2 by South African composer Kevin Volans (which reminds her of her childhood in Rhodesia), she takes on — perhaps unconsciously — the gestures of a playful young girl, crawling on all fours at one moment and skipping the next. As the music comes to an end, she kneels, covers her face, and looks up as if contemplating maturity. György Kurtag’s piano miniature, Blumen die Menschen, brings her once more to her feet in a short, wistful epilogue.

Entirely at ease with herself in her body, Jackson shows eloquently that classical ballet technique is a somatic practice with an aesthetic that radiates out from within. In a 2006 research paper, My dance and the ideal body: looking at ballet practice from the inside out, Jackson committed her ideas to paper. Here in the Giant Olive Theatre she is giving those same ideas physical form, in a room within a room.

 


Dancing the Invisible

Posted: May 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Dancing the Invisible – Late Work at the Ivy Arts Centre, University of Surrey, with Jennifer Jackson, Susie Crow, Ann Dickie, Deborah Jones, Simon Rice

The stage at the Ivy Centre is bare, with seating arranged on three sides, and the two musicians and their array of electronic instruments taking up the fourth. Jennifer Jackson is the compere with words of welcome and orientation. Is this part of the performance? Simply and elegantly dressed, she looks as if she is about to cue the dancers to emerge from some dark edge of the performing space. But it is she who starts, initiating this dialogue into the transformative effect of ageing on dancers and its implications for choreographic practice. As Jackson writes in the program notes, “…opportunities for professional dance artists to sustain performance practice as they age, and for audiences to engage with repertoire that speaks to this experience, are still rare…” The trouble is that ballet dancers age so gracefully it is quite easy to forget this central focus of the research and to simply enjoy what Jackson and her colleagues perform. Perhaps this is the point. Watching Jackson’s introduction to the formal elements of the improvisation that will follow – the Signature section to Late work – it is immediately apparent that her classical ballet training is so deeply embodied in her that no advance in age can take it away. A fourth position of impeccable line and oppositional forces is a beautiful thing, and when Jackson finds this shape, in this intimate space, we are initiated into the essence of ballet without the historical context and trappings. That is another point worth remembering. Despite the years of accumulated training at the Royal Ballet, this loose collaborative of dancers will not be donning tights and tutus. As Jackson reminds us, “I am interested in…how dance might challenge the aesthetics of established dance performances.”

The musicians (Malcolm Atkins and Andrew Melvin) enter, playing spiritedly on melodicas, and Susie Crow follows them, like a small procession in a festive parade. Susie’s torso finds her own beautiful, subtle shapes, engaging the classical vocabulary in a fluid and understated way. Jackson and Crow are at ease in this performing space, filling it with their game of improvisation. Recognisable gestures – a raised arm pointing upwards, a framing of an angle with the hands – appear out of these shapes, as in a narrative. Late work is engagingly internal, addressing what is going on in the minds and bodies of the two dancers but there is also an external dimension, the mysterious domain of the dance that  transports us elsewhere. Behind their array of electronic equipment Melvin and Atkins are also intimately involved in what is happening, adding their own magic to that of the two dancers: four improvisers on a fluid theme.

The boots and shoes come off and are replaced by the ballet slipper. Aurora and the Queen, pale deconstructed eminences from the past, play before us. It is enough for Jackson to say “I am a princess” and for Crow to say, “I am a queen” for us to believe it and to enter into the play. A recorded voice reminds us that steps a dancer has learned are without meaning unless experienced within the context of a rhythmical whole. It is Marius Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty choreographed by Samuel Becket. Jackson develops phrases from classical ballet: en dedans, en dehors. Taken apart, detached from a sequence, they nevertheless have a power of association. En arrière, backwards, into the past. Aurora has been here before. Jackson and Crow change roles, and Crow journeys through the body’s memory, bringing out courtly gestures, childlike longing, a trembling leg and arm. The two Auroras embrace, comfort each other, merge.

In the Pulse section, the music is off in all directions and the two dancers are sitting on chairs improvising a set of movements to different counts. This is the evidence, if any is needed, that the mind of an ageing dancer is not in decline. It is functioning at lightning memory speed until the game comes to a halt. This is where the men come in, or so it seems from the musical cue. But it is a section called Fragmentation, sung in disconnected syllables, with an accent on the second syllable. The movement vocabulary is fragmented too, breaking dance phrases into abstract fragments, what Crow calls ‘the merging of personal memory and disciplinary structures.’ In the Haiku section, brief phrases of movement and gesture suggest a poetic narrative, transferred from one dancer to the other. There is an element of contemplation here, eyes closed, a suggestion of an afternoon of a faun. It is this section that is perhaps the most tantalizing, because the relationship between the two dancers begins to acquire some context, a story that is about to find expression, a potential that is awaiting to find its form. The improvisation of movement and music fuses here most convincingly.

In the final section, Rhythm and Melody, Jackson and Crow are seated opposite each other. They begin with a basic port-de-bras and develop it in mirror image, sharing elements of the classical canon that are explored, extended and broken. Assemblé, développé, élancé are quoted though without relation to the seated movements. The two dancers slow down, as if lost in space, fingers searching, reaching across a divide in silence, watching each other, closing in, bending forward in a gentle but inevitable surrender to the pull of gravity.

Part 2, Dancing the Invisible, is set to the Bach’s cello suite no. 2 in D minor, played beautifully by Emily Burridge. The suite’s movements derive from the courtly dances of Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Menuet and Gigue. Jackson and Crow are joined by Ann Dickie, Deborah Jones and Simon Rice. The five dancers are seated in the audience. During the Prelude one dancer follows the weaving, courtly musical line across the stage to introduce another, until all five are on stage. The choreography is, like Late work, a collaborative venture with all the dancers, though here the improvisation has already happened and the choreography has by now acquired a set structure. The four women disperse once again to their seats leaving Simon Rice propping up the back wall at a rather desperate angle. Rice is the one male presence of the evening’s works, and he takes full advantage, playing the cock among the hens. Jackson chases him into the beginning of the Allemande, but once caught, Rice playfully makes her repeat movements as if in rehearsal. Rice then dances with Jones, commenting that the last time they danced together was 29 years ago at this very university in 1983. It is an anecdotal dance of old friends with a shared past. Crow expresses reticence in her solo, then Dickie and Jones join in a gestural conversation of searching hands and eyes. Dickie’s wrists and hands seem to begin a dance all by themselves, winding and interweaving, engaging her expressive arms and torso. Reminding us of the strains and stresses of a long stage career, the five dancers regroup in the centre to agonise and sympathise with their respective aches and pains. Jones is a shiatsu therapist, but this is not the moment. Each dancer has a signature movement that they express and develop in a final gigue-inspired game.

Dance is often described as ephemeral, but for the dancer it is anything but ephemeral. It is lodged in their muscles and the mind. Looking at these dancers, it is clear the dance has never left them, a vast resource that needed the gentle enticement of academic research for it to emerge into the light. And even if the dance doesn’t come out as a variation from Sleeping Beauty with full orchestra, the power of its associated elements is richly rewarding. The importance of age in this process is that it provides a greater reservoir of experience from which to bring these memories to the surface. Because all forms of memory are invisible, this is dancing the invisible, but the aspect we saw last night was manifestly visible. These are not older dancers strutting their stuff past their virtuosic prime – as some older dancers have been known to do – but offering us the rich territory of individual and shared dance experience.

Jackson herself affirms this in the final lines of her introduction in the printed program: “Does the dancing stop as the body ages? Clearly I think not…and it is a pleasure to share ways in which for us as ageing people the dance and music continue to provoke and promote life, well-being, communication and community.”

For more information on this research, please follow the website and blog:

www.surrey.ac.uk/dft/research/currentprojects/dancingtheinvisible

www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/dancingtheinvisible

www.surrey.ac.uk/arts