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.


Cloud Dance Friends

Posted: December 21st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Dance Friends

Cloud Dance Friends, New Diorama Theatre, November 29  

Miranda MacLetten and Daniel Whiley in John Ross's Blink (photo: Chris Jackson)

Miranda MacLetten and Daniel Whiley in John Ross’s Blink (photo: Chris Jackson)

Chantal Guevara’s birthday celebration this year includes, before the chocolate cake, a performance at the New Diorama Theatre by Cloud Dance Festival alumni and friends; it is the kind of event for dancers and choreographers to try out new work in as relaxed an atmosphere as any public performance can be.

Elise Nuding, who opens the evening with a first performance of her I, object, bravely juxtaposes linguistics and wordplay with choreography. She writes, ‘This little nugget emerged during a particularly frustrating period of article writing, as I grappled with the slipperiness of words and their implications.’ The struggle is apparent both in her semantic parsing and in her accumulative gestures. As she arrives at each breakthrough in her argument, Nuding takes off a layer of clothes; by the end she has only got to the level of underwear, which suggests this slippery little battle has not yet reached its logical conclusion. Nevertheless I, object reveals a sophisticated aesthetic at work that, depending on what Nuding does with it, makes this nugget either ‘a small lump of gold’ or ‘a valuable idea or fact.’

I am not sure why Mike Williams titles his work 4’33 after the famous John Cage piece of music and makes it last 8 minutes. Why not call it 8’? Besides, a dance in the spirit of Cage’s 4’33 would have no movement but there is plenty in Williams’ angular, long-limbed plasticity though (at least in this evening’s performance) there is a lack of pliable technique to get the most out of it. Cage’s 4’33 contains a world of ideas — his love of silence, the withdrawal of music from the score, his delight in incidental sounds — but Williams’ dance, for all its movement, lacks this kind of philosophical integrity; he points in the right direction but doesn’t embody what he wants to convey and his final gesture for silence underlies the self-conscious conceit of the whole.

Jason Mabana’s Hidden, a duet for himself and Jacob O’Connell, is driven by a tactile quality, part ferocious, part gentle, that describes ‘the ambiguity of a relationship between two conflicted and dominant people.’ Mabana’s choreography carries its imagery with great strength and poetry like a smooth, rich baritone in a youthful body. There is both a singing quality to Mabana and O’Connell’s movement and a silence in the way they dance that leaves our visual and visceral senses free to enjoy the movement without unwanted punctuation. Hidden achieves what it sets out to do with a purity and sincerity that are refreshing.

Humanah Productions’ Egress starts off with a pile of bodies from which the one underneath slithers out with great difficulty to stand but collapses from its independence and returns to the heap. It is a metaphor of growth and departure in the form of a game, one of many ludic adventures in the work that lead the performers to set out on their own paths without forsaking their social cohesion. The games take the form of a structured improvisation but despite the energy of the performers and the inspired live music Egress never really evolves beyond that initial phase of innocent play.

I saw Anna-Lise Marie Hearn’s Our Physical Intentions at the Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform at the Galvanizers Union pub not long ago where the intimacy of the setting enhanced the intimacy of the thought processes that weave their way through the work and where the intensity of Eleanor Mackinder, in particular, was palpable. It was as if we were watching a conversation between three people in the same room. Even though the stage at the New Diorama is not exactly large, the dancers appear isolated in space. Perhaps there is something else at work: the nature of Our Physical Intentions is an ‘exploration of how our thoughts directly determine and influence our emotions’ but on a seemingly subcutaneous level. The costumes (by Inês Neto dos Santos) resemble the patchwork system of the body’s nervous system and the three performers (Mackinder, Laura Boulter and Lydia Costello) are as much a ‘cognitive pattern’ of thoughts, emotions and reactions as they are flesh and blood. Danced stories have traditionally read from the outside to the inner emotions whereas Hearn turns the process inside out: you follow the process to arrive at a story. In a larger space, however, the internal processes (Mackinder’s intense expression, for example) are less easy to read, distancing them from the story on which they are based.

Yukiko Masui’s Unbox is an ‘investigation into cross-genre movements which aim to be unidentified as a dance genre’ in which she is ‘searching for a place that people cannot put me in a category as a dancer or a person.’ Indeed all we see of her at first is the fingers of one hand playing in a circle of down-light, and when she steps into the light we see a heavily clothed and hooded figure with the physical mien of a young man. She moves in a macho, feline way, mixing contemporary and street dance with androgynous strength and sensitivity though by the time she develops her beautiful, spiral movements the female is in the ascendant. Having expressed so succinctly in dance form the strength and ambiguity of her presence, the conclusion of Unbox appears to contradict the latter part of Masui’s goal: she makes a point of categorizing her identity by letting down her hair and removing layers of clothing. The mystery has evaporated.

In John Ross’s work, Blink — a single chapter previewing a longer work — the symbolic and the expressive are both present in the gestural body. Loosely based on a short novel by Mitch Albom, ‘The five people you meet in heaven’, Blink follows the sensory trail of Eddie (Daniel Whiley) who, having just died and before entering heaven, meets five important people from specific periods in his life. This episode involves his wife (Miranda MacLetten). I have already written about Whiley’s ability — in Sally Marie’s I loved you and I loved you — to plumb the depths of a movement to present us with the clarity of the imperceptible. In Blink Ross works with this ability, exploring the form and substance of a man whose memory is so far detached from the living as to borrow from a spectral world. At one point MacLetten calls his name, which sends a shudder of recognition through Whiley and brings out tears of distant recollection. His body is the material of this dematerialization, a duality Ross expresses in and out of light, seen and not seen. The intriguing power of Blink is the way Ross brings together these contradictions to make visible a relationship that MacLetten remembers all too well but Whiley only senses through his faltering gestures: his nose nuzzling her shoulder, his dancing with her on her toes as if he has no weight or motion of his own or in his tremulous singing an old, shared song. Ross is adept at creating these kind of in-between experiences, between life and death, between remembrance and loss with a subtlety and sensitivity that both MacLetten and Whiley embody so convincingly and that composer Greg Haines nurtures with a haunting, other-worldly solo piano score. Blink may be a fragment, but it contains the promise of something substantial.

I can’t help sensing Estela Merlos is slaying some of her demons in her solo, UKOK, so fiercely provocative is it. Merlos has a lot of fire in the flash of her eyes but there is also a poetic flow in the powerful dislocation of space her movement provokes. While she writes that the work is ‘inspired by the alliance of women with nature in nomadic culture’, Merlos clearly identifies viscerally with the ‘intuition and vigilance of the feminine figure’: she transforms it into a force that surges through her body to the extremities of her splayed fingers and stamping feet with total conviction. It is a fitting conclusion to an evening that celebrates Chantal Guevara’s love of and determination to promote the rich seam of independent dance.


Sally Marie and John Ross: Questions and Dancers

Posted: February 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Sally Marie and John Ross: Questions and Dancers

Sally Marie and John Ross: Questions and Dancers, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, February 7

All seven dancers in Sally Marie's I am 8 (photo: Chantal Guevara)

All seven dancers in Sally Marie’s I am 8 (photo: Chantal Guevara)

It was the witty title of the show that I first noticed but I was also interested in seeing new work by choreographers Sally Marie (whose work I didn’t know) and John Ross, but I didn’t read any more about Questions and Dancers until I arrived at the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre and saw all these children taking their seats. Clearly I had missed something. As there was no program available until after the performance I checked the Sadler’s Wells site: ‘Questions and Dancers is a double bill of new works for young people…Both works are commissioned thanks to the Choreography for Children Award 2014 produced by Sadler’s Wells, Company of Angels, The Place and London Contemporary Dance School in partnership with MOKO Dance.’

It is Peter Laycock as a bright-eyed compère who explains the running of the show: we will see the first performance, Sally Marie’s I am 8, and then there will be a period for the audience to give impressions of what we had just seen and to ask questions of the dancers. Afterwards we will see Ross’s work There, There, Stranger and have the same period of reflection and questioning.

Still not entering into the uncomplicated, non-psychological spirit of the evening, I was expecting eight dancers in I am 8 but there were only seven. In fact I spent the entire performance waiting for the revelation of the surprise eighth dancer. As any child will tell you, what her title refers to is seven dancers aged 21 acting out the stories of eight-year-olds. To do this Marie collected stories from school children, their experiences and dreams, and wove them into a dance for big children.

I am 8 enters into childhood with a music box playing a nursery rhyme. There’s a girl in a tutu who has decided it is time (being 8) to put her Teddy in a box, a magician (Deepraj Singh) on an imaginary motorcycle and a girl who must have been mischievous in her childhood, so well does she portray a rebellious sense of fun here. Another girl says she finds it difficult talking in front of a group of more than five and two lively springs bounce in with buoyant jumps. All the girls gang up on Singh keeping him out of their circle. He finds a friend in the girl in green with whom he starts a duet that attracts everyone else (the story of Tubby the Tuba comes to mind). Remember these are real stories of the experiences of young children; all Marie has done is to change the perspective, elongate the lines, enlarge the voice by turning second year students at the London Contemporary Dance School into big kids as if they are reaching out across the age divide to provide assurance that life will remain fun at 21. And the children in the audience got it completely (“I loved it because it was really happy!”).

Ellis Saul in John Ross's There, There Stranger (photo: Chantal Guevara)

Ellis Saul in John Ross’s There, There Stranger (photo: Chantal Guevara)

If Marie’s work takes the children’s perspective and grows it, Ross takes a more mature theme and scales it down, not unlike Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland except that Ellis Saul enters her imaginary world through a front loading washing machine. She meets a variety of bodies (or anti-bodies) wearing tight black body suits (Jordan Ajadi is still recognizable) including one (Antonin Chediny) wearing flippers, a diving mask and speaking French (a frogman?). I thought they were all specks of dirt loosened by the wash cycle but Ross’s conception was a labyrinth through which Saul navigates in an expedition of the mind that lasts as long as the wash cycle, a dream or nightmare if you like. At the end Saul reappears at the washing machine door, takes a look out but decides to remain inside, not forgetting to take her shoes. There is a surreal aspect, suspense (when the laundry basket comes alive), humour (when the penguin/frogman sneezes), and tension that set up fluid interpretations. Once you got Marie’s concept (unlike me) you could follow the dance easily; with Ross it was more complex and solicited more concentration and more questions from the audience. I like this approach because it stretches the imagination in a way the so-called fairy tales from the brother’s Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson or Charles Perrault did: they are sophisticated life lessons with dark shades of psychological drama raised to an other-worldly level that can be read on many different levels. Children can evidently take a lot more on board in their imaginations than we might be willing to admit.


John Ross Dance, Triple Bill

Posted: September 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

John Ross Dance, NACA showcase Triple Bill, Hackney Empire, September 17

 

John Ross Dance

John Ross Dance

It was at a Cloud Dance Sunday at the Giant Olive Theatre that I first saw John Ross in his Man Down, then Wolfpack later at a Cloud Dance Festival. Thanks to Matthew Bourne and his friends who provided the initial funds to start the New Adventures Choreographer Award, Ross has stepped up to another level by winning the 2014 NACA Showcase award. As a result his company, John Ross Dance, is presenting a triple bill at the grand Hackney Empire in a full stage production and a printed program to rival those at the Royal Opera House or Sadler’s Wells.

Man Down is a visceral solo about a commissioned officer killed in Afghanistan, while Wolfpack is a slice of contemporary youth culture. Both works make intelligent use of theatre and dance that have pathos, drama and in the case of Wolfpack, a dark sense of humour. Neither, however, prepare me for the first work on the NACA showcase, Eclipse, that Lee Smikle, artistic director of Shoreditch Youth Dance Company, commissioned Ross to create on his dancers earlier this year (Smikle is also Ross’s producer and a former dancer in Matthew Bourne’s various companies, so this is a close family affair).

Eclipse is pure dance with an inventiveness, excitement and musicality that is matched by the beauty and conviction of the Shoreditch dancers (Joey Barton, Kathy Collings, Hester Gill, Eimi Leggett, Joe Martin, Will Thompson, Elena Zube Perez and guest artist Jordan Ajadi) who take ownership of each detail of the dance. All the elements of the production come together seamlessly: the music is a blend of tracks by Greg Haines, If These Trees Could Talk and Ezio Bosso, while the costumes by Lez Brotherston (with original skirt design by Sara Rigden) serve the swirling rhythms of the dance to perfection. The work is based on the ancient Chinese notion that an eclipse is caused by a creature eating the sun and yes, there is a deep orange orb and a smaller black eclipse (both made by Amber Scarlett) that the dancers glide across each other to illustrate the tale. There are global echoes in an opening circle of dancers and a final tableau of arms like fiery tentacles appearing from behind the sun but in between Ross deploys a thrilling use of pattern, space and form in the choreography that to someone who has seen only Man Down and Wolfpack appears to arise out of nowhere, fully formed. Stunning.

How do you follow that? At this point it is perhaps just as well that Matthew Bourne makes an appearance in front of the curtain to introduce the NACA awards, like a palate cleanser in between courses. He ends by introducing Wolfpack, reworked for a new cast (Fionn Cox Davies, Stephen Moynihan, Erik Nyberg and Lewis Wilkins) that depicts four lads who start off a little the worse for wear and work backwards through the rambunctious, phantasmagoric events that got them there. Wolfpack started life as a piece called Occupied for six male dancers in a male bathroom. Ross has evidently kept one of the flushing toilets (offstage) but otherwise leaves the location of the action to our imagination. You get the picture quite quickly, but it is Ross’s wealth of imagery (complemented by Emma Robinson’s surreal masks) and the uncomfortable juxtaposition of camaraderie and self-destruction in his characterization that keeps the performance constantly on the edge. The music, an eclectic blend of tracks by Modeselektor, Moderat, Goran Bregovic, Brian Eno and Fennezs, weaves through the work, sometimes in front of the action and sometimes behind, so Ross keeps our attention moving in subtle and some not so subtle ways, juggling all the elements at his disposal.

Taken together, Eclipse and Wolfpack suggest Ross has the ability to create a full-scale West-End production, and that is almost what he provides with the second world premiere of the evening, Little Sheep. Inspired by the London riots of 2011, it is an outpouring of anger and frustration painted in large brush strokes that cover political incompetence and the impunity of social revolt. Lez Brotherston has moved the street on to the stage with crowd control barriers ready to be deployed where needed. Smoke hangs ominously over the set as does a large painted effigy of David Cameron with a blacked-out slogan that is revealed bit by ironic bit throughout the action (but only fully at the end). Given the cast is just seven strong (the four from Wolfpack plus Ana Mrdjanov, Maria Fonseca and Pauline Raineri) there is no possibility of massing police against rioters, but Ross appears to contradict the combined forces of Lucy Hansom’s ominous lighting, the foreboding set and the brooding complexity of the original score (by After They Left) with an uncharacteristic touch of caricature, first for the police (in full riot gear) and then the rioters. Strength in imagery returns with Maria Fonseca being dressed for action and with Fionn Cox-Davies reeling from a dose of tear gas, but it is only when Stephen Moynihan takes up the megaphone with an impassioned call to arms through to the final capitulaton of ideals that Ross’s conviction comes through. Little Sheep is his first large-scale creation but while the evidence of his past work indicates he is more than capable of handling the subject there are elements here that diminish its full expression and undermine his true talent.


Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna

Posted: July 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna

Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna, Bernie Grant Centre, July 7

Ieva Kuniskis, Charlie Cooper Ford and Helen Aschauer in Gone To Get Milk (photo: D. Matvejevas)

That Chantal Guevara managed to pull this festival together in such a short time is a testament to her untiring entrepreneurship. A lacuna is a gap, but rather than being a gap, Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna is filling one, making a generous opportunity for lesser known choreographers to show their work to the public: nineteen different works by seventeen choreographers over three days. There was no particular theme, no recognizable curatorial intervention: after a three-year hiatus, re-creating the opportunity was itself the catalyst for a strong roster of artists. Bernie Grant Centre was Guevara’s partner in this project and it proved well suited to the festival. Hopefully both will return in mid November for a joint venture, so watch the CDF space.

I was only able to see the last day — one of the hotter days of the year and the day Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon — but clearly Guevara has touched a vibrant nerve in contemporary dance presenting. The quality is uneven but rarely uninteresting. Ieva Kuniskis’s Gone to Get Milk has a strong theatrical value, a sense of humour, and a sense of the absurd. It starts with Helen Aschauer stumbling down from the stalls with an armful of oranges and spilling them on the stage. Because the lighting is still low, she bumps into a figure (Kuniskis) seated at a table before ricocheting off into the wings to pee (the sound of which is amplified into the auditorium, thanks to Peter Humphrey). She returns with a light bulb for the socket suspended above the table and reaches up to screw it in. The reaching morphs into images snatched in poetic concentration from an oppressive daily routine: hanging from an overhead hand rail, washing a floor and painting it, putting a restraining hand over her mouth and pulling out the side wall of her cheek with her finger. Charlie Cooper Ford enters with a milk pail, takes a chair and picks up an orange. Aschauer keeps an eye on him while she takes down her hair. Ford has a neat, small chopping action that suggests food preparation. He drops the orange and measures the room like the servant in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Kuniskis, who has been sitting quietly in the shadows, begins to stir while Ford has a conversation with himself and draws his frame into a Charlie Chaplin figure, pulling on his forelock and stuffing an orange under his chin, ready to waltz. Kuniskis in her peasant dress pulls up her socks (a repeated gesture with both women) and sets up a circular hand and torso movement until the bell rings and she seems to be anticipating hara kiri when Aschauer puts a hand on her wrist to stop her. Ford lightens up the atmosphere by initiating Pass the Orange…. and so it goes on until it reaches the end, which is back at the beginning. The lighting by Mikkel Svak is lovely and the eclectic music provides an aural framework while the visual one is less cohesive. The dreamlike, floating figures of Chagall come to mind: Gone to Get Milk has a multitude of colourful images that almost, but not quite, coalesce in the three dimensions of the theatre. A painting, which is still, can nevertheless move in our imagination; a piece of dance theatre that moves can yet remain relatively still. It is an interesting paradox.

I had seen Joseph Toonga’s work Picture Perfect? early in 2011 at East London Dance when he won that year’s Blueprint Bursary. I had thought then that he was not at ease in his style, which set out to cross the boundaries between hip hop and contemporary. Whatever he has been doing in the intervening two years, Toonga has bridged that gap: Moments, Past has a language of its own that is both mature and confident. He has also assembled an impressive group of dancers, all from London Contemporary Dance School.

When dance works, it doesn’t really matter what the program note says. Moments, Past has fine shapes, dynamic groupings, and a pervasive enthusiasm even if it is not a particularly extrovert work. Choreographed for five dancers to Jocelyn Pook’s Bleeding Soles, the material is divided into a number of solos, duos, trios and ensembles linked stylistically by willowy backbends, lunges, and slides along the floor. Toonga himself is quick, and expressive and Kenny Wing Tao Ho complements him with his explosive precision. Ishaan de Banya, Daniel Baker and Poh Hian Chia complete the lively quintet in what is a refreshingly mature work in a youthful form. Later in the program Toonga presents a short duet, Ours, for Wing Tao Ho and Lucia Txokarro, that is popping meets contemporary dance (a favourite theme Toonga’s) in the guise of boy meets girl. It is in the nature of a relationship to change us as we share, borrow and adapt each others’ thoughts and ideas, which is what the two dancers do in choreographic phrases. Only towards the end do they touch, but soon after it comes all too suddenly to an end.

The challenge for B-Hybrid’s Brian Gillespie is in using music that already has such a strong identity: Cinematic Orchestra’s To Build a Home with Patrick Watson’s hauntingly honeyed voice. Structuring the dance as a series of tableaux illustrating the lyrics (the work is called Foundations) sets apart what we see on stage from what we hear. Although Eloise Sheldon finds the sinuous, ethereal quality of the music in her first solo, and Jumar Aben gets close in his, Foundations loses sight of the music and thus fails to complement it.

The idea of Ceyda Tanc’s Volta is potent: a walking prison dance for six women. ‘In Turkish prisons, to turn your back on your fellow inmate during a walking exercise is a sign of great disrespect. How do we convey this disrespect in everyday life, and how do people react to it?’ There is certainly a lot of walking, and the women keep a hawk-like eye on each other but Tanc has either abstracted the choreography to the point where the meaning is obscured or fallen prey to using dance forms that do not belong in this setting. There is an effective section of grounded, folk-inspired phrases but then the three subsequent duets were seemingly unrelated. I was not sure either if all the dancers were convinced of what they were doing. In a section where all six women are moving in unison, their look is fierce but the look does not come out of the body; it appears superficial. In the end, there seems to be too much walking, and not enough energy coursing through the body to make the walking tell the story Tanc set out to express.

When I first saw John Ross’s Man Down, it was on the tiny Lion & Unicorn stage. It came across as a tight interior landscape, and the space exaggerated the claustrophobic tension within the minds of the two protagonists. On a bigger stage the clarity of the gestures is the same, but the larger space has a tendency to thin down the intensity. However, it is the kind of work that rewards in the re-seeing, for there are so many details — like the officer who stabs himself with the pen that wrote the letter — that make up this passionate panegyric to a fallen solider. Ross performed a preview of another work, Woolfpack the previous evening, which I unfortunately missed.

Ballet slippers in this contemporary environment grab attention, and not necessarily for the right reason. Classical form is already embodied in the dancer’s body; there is no need to flag it with a plethora of classical clichés like bourrées, jetés, arabesques, and promenades. Raymond Chai’s Unbroken Silence may be about strong attraction and rejection, but the classical quotations feel out of place and tend to emasculate the emotion. Both Melanie Lopez and Oliver Freeston are trained in classical dance and if Chai were to choreograph on them without recourse to a single ballet cliché, the classical form would still be visible — especially with Nic Holdridge’s lovely lighting — and he would be free to concentrate on the emotional expression at the heart of the work.

Ella Mesma’s EvoL begins with its most powerful image in which she stands in a small square of light as if rooted to the spot or tied to an imaginary pole in a contradictory pose on the slippery side of yes. Her hand slides up her chest to form a fist under her chin, or traces her body curves up to her neck. ‘Yes!’ she screams, again and again, writhing beyond a point of control, her hand at her throat, ecstatic, while her other hand travels up from the stomach to take displace it. EvoL (LovE spelled backwards) is a solo on the serious theme of grey rape, ‘referring to the myth that sexual assault can sometimes be an accident.’ From that opening image, it is clear that Mesma has the form and the passion to tackle the theme, but as soon as she leaves that small square of light the concentration of energy dissipates with dance moves that meander further away from that initial statement. Nothing quite comes up to that level of communication until at the end, lying in the light, in pain, she says, ‘Yes’, then ‘No, no, no, yes… I said no.’ All the uncertainty and brutality can be found in the beginning and the end. The middle is the grey area.

 

 


Cloud Dance Sundays

Posted: June 5th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Cloud Dance Sundays, Lion & Unicorn, Kentish Town, May 19

Bravo to Chantal Guevara for getting Cloud Dance Sundays (www.cloud-dance-sundays.com) underway, aiming to provide ‘monthly evenings of good contemporary dance in the comfort of a cosy pub – a great way to end the week, with time for a drink or two downstairs before heading home.’ On this first outing:

Rachel Burn, Pull Through, Flick.

Anna Pearce and Lauren Bridle in Pull Through, Flick. Photo: Chantal Guevara

Anna Pearce and Lauren Bridle in Pull Through, Flick. Photo: Chantal Guevara

One can almost feel cold flagstones underfoot in the tiny Giant Olive theatre in Kentish Town’s Lion & Unicorn as a sweeping trio of pre-Raphaelite women enters with the somberness of a procession of nuns. Rachel Burn’s Pull Through, Flick builds up images of darkness, pain, and penitence as the women shed and share veils in communal bereavement. Hildegard von Bingen’s O Pastor Animarium sets the tone as the shape of Lauren Bridle, shrouded in a veil, moves in a grey ecclesiastical light, shuffling from one foot to the other as if loosening her roots. Laura Erwin takes the pose of a classical orator with one hand on stomach and the other at her throat, unable to breathe, unable to speak, a blur of pain as Bridle and Anna Pearce coil around each other and around the stage in mutual support. The tone of Pull Through, Flick is predominantly mournful and the score between the glorious von Bingen bookends does not relieve the gloom, but somewhere in the middle Bridle slips into a stormy, spiral solo that releases a sense of light as if she holds some ineffable secret. Her beautiful lines and circles last momentarily but when she rejoins Pearce and Erwin on their knees and the night of penitence, cleansing and submission descends again, the knowledge of that solo pulls me through. Not a flick exactly, and I’m not sure about the hope, but there was a moment of light.

John Ross, Man Down.

John Ross in Man Down. Photo: Chantal Guevara

John Ross in Man Down. Photo: Chantal Guevara

As John Ross kneels in a pool of light, the voice of Matthew Lackford reads the opening paragraph of a letter from the platoon commander of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to the soldier’s mother. Ross replays the soldier’s last moments in a series of abstract gestures — kneeling, crawling, urging, now standing, crumpling, turning — that he imbues with a maturity (gained perhaps through his research) that transforms these gestures into a commanding presence, a commanding officer: signaling, enjoying the danger, throwing himself out of harm’s way, then getting up and seeing it coming. Hit, he crumples, hands to ears, muffling the sounds of gunfire and perhaps hearing the urgent shouts of “Where, where, where?” but unable to respond. We are inside his head, aware of his mortality. Ross stands up looking back at where the fallen soldier lay. He is now the platoon commander, bravado gone, standing at ease with his troops, 19-year old boys any of whom could become, like their former colleague, a dead man. He looks away, tries to take it all in and throws up; he looks for memories, for friends, but finds only a nightmare of loss, throwing up again and violently throwing himself to the ground. Ross shows the reaction to the violent death of a comrade is more violent than the experience of death itself. Defeated by the loss, the violence, the brutality, the commander’s eyes — and Ross’s — seem to have seen what ours have not. He stands, takes off his top and turns his back, on which is written across his shoulder blade Bang! and a small hole just behind the heart: expressing the inexpressible. The performance is not only remarkable for its maturity and in avoiding any cloying sentimentality, but for the sound collage in which Ross has seamlessly layered a grungy, churned up track from Nine Inch Nails with his own thoughtful instrumentation and battleground sounds. A gem.

Tom Jackson Greaves, Vanity Fowl

Tom Jackson Greaves in Vanity Fowl. Photo: Chantal Guevara

Tom Jackson Greaves in Vanity Fowl. Photo: Chantal Guevara

Vanity Fowl follows an ordinary man, full of the usual insecurities that affect us all. A man who craves love, friendship and the need to belong…’ So begins the program note, with a title that could have come straight from early Matthew Bourne. In fact Tom Jackson Greaves has danced with New Adventures and Vanity Fowl was the runner up in the New Adventures Choreography Award last year, but although there is certainly something of Bourne in Vanity Fowl, Greaves has a sincerity and a self-deprecating sense of humour that sets him apart. His style does not wander far from his own physical capabilities, and its idiosyncrasy may prove to be limiting when he creates on other bodies, but here he is on his own territory creating on himself an imaginary rite of passage in three movements, which he labels Commonplace, Grace, and Disgrace. These designations are misleading: the trajectory is from gauche and stammering to rousingly articulate and back to self doubt and despair.

The context is set in a filmed introduction, a chic bar peopled with the stylish and the beautiful, where Greaves appears underdressed and out of character with everyone dancing around him. He catches the eye of an impossibly vain man who comes up to shake his hand and ridicule his appearance. This is the point at which Greaves comes on stage to prolong the handshake so we see only his reactions to the unseen man’s overarching snobbery and withering assessment. Greaves’ timing and squirming responses are very funny as he is skewered to the dance floor. The middle, transformative section begins with a Cinderella moment in his flat when he takes from his cupboard and puts on a handsome mirror jacket (courtesy of Theo Clinkard). His inhibitions fall away and he returns to the chic bar to dance his dreams. This is Greaves giving his all, and he does it effectively until the mirrored jacket falls apart, like the clock striking midnight. Self-doubt assails him once again as he props up his smiling face in his framed hands, removes his jacket and curls up on what is left of it in the dying light: not so much disgrace as sincerity about the superficial.


Tom Dale Company: Refugees of the Septic Heart

Posted: March 29th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tom Dale Company: Refugees of the Septic Heart, Pavilion Dance, March 28

Tom Dale

Septic hearts, refugees, apocalyptic overtones and the universe; there’s enough here for a university course in philosophy but Tom Dale packs it all into a single performance of dance and you don’t need a student loan to get a ticket.

Dance collaborations with other arts disciplines have been around for a long time: narrative dance has a particular affinity for sets and costumes and a musical score. Dale’s artistic vision is no different, though he updates the media to electronic music and the digital arts. He also employs Rick Holland as creative consultant and dramaturge, for the massed forces in Refugees of the Septic Heart are considerable: the music of Sam Shackleton, projections by Barret Hodgson, lighting design by Liam Fahey, sets and costumes by Kate Unwin, and text by Vengeance Tenfold form an all-engulfing environment for a group of six dancers. For the most part Dale’s choreography manages to stand out from all this, though the dancers have strong competition. It is one of the drawbacks of projections that the more arresting they are, the more focus is drawn away from the dancers, and the more arresting the dancers are, the more focus is drawn away from the projections. Once the curtain opens on Swan Lake, you barely notice the sets, but here you can’t take in all the visual elements at the same time because they haven’t quite learned the manners of serving one another; they are more like siblings with a secret rivalry who are seen together in public but keep to their separate rooms at home. It is the same with Shackleton’s music and the texts by Tenfold: impossible to hear both clearly at the same time, which begs the question, why add a layer of text at all? It may be relevant, but if it can’t be heard, it would perhaps be better to print it in the program.

Shackleton’s music has been described as ‘brooding atmospheres, intricate lattices of percussion and warm, embracing sub-bass lines’ and its driving force derives in part from its being played at high volume in a club atmosphere. In its theatre setting, the score for Refugees of the Septic Heart is not all dance music; there are sections of landscaping as well, but as one layer among many in the work, its complexity absorbs a considerable amount of energy and density.

Taking place on the fringes of society, the set resembles a small cove enclosing a tiny beach; the dancers climb over the geometrically shaped rocks for their entrances and exits, and they dance on the sand. This and the reptilian infighting and oppression in the choreography makes me think of Lord of the Flies, though this ‘island’ is more of a refuge on the outskirts of a city whose glinting skyscrapers we see in some of the projections. The dancers work incredibly hard with the spatial precision and timing that comes with endless rehearsal and not a few bruises. The costumes, however, tend to distract rather than enhance the figures: too much flapping about of pseudo rags on the one hand and too many costume changes on the other. An isolated, apocalyptic group with a wardrobe?

Barrett’s projections range from the galactic to the domestic, from a depiction of the universe of stars to a clock winding backwards, from arcane mandalas to media clips. The set as well as the costumes become the material on which the images are projected, so they move on different planes. Surprisingly for light, this layer, too, takes up a disproportionate amount of space. The concept of Fahey’s lighting for a Christmas nativity at a donkey sanctuary begins to appear attractive.

The dancers — four men and two women — are the core of the work. Their relationship is not defined, but they clearly know each other. Dale suggests they are the refugees of the title, a loose collective of like-minded souls escaping a septic, heartless society to keep the creative fires alight. Dale does not develop characters so much as fast-paced, physical relationships that give the impression of emotionless ties between the dancers that are nevertheless tightly defined by their movement. One opportunity for a warmer, almost comic exchange is between Ariadna Gironès Mata and Joshua Smith as they point at each other and out into the audience as if to ascribe some fault or condemnation. Another is Hugh Stainer as messianic jester carrying a worn piece of cardboard on which is written ‘Time’s Up’ which he repeatedly shows to John Ross, who rejects it. But these instances are isolated, with neither precedent nor development, and thus take on the quality of the absurd, which may or may not be deliberate.

Despite its initial promise, philosophy is perhaps the weakest layer in Refugees of the Septic Heart, yet it offers in its encouragement of creative independence in the face of an apocalyptic vision the one thread that can link all the layers. Its important voice, however, is overpowered by the others, one layer on top of the other, each with its separate identity that you may like (and grasp on to) or not (and reject). Perhaps it comes down to a question of time and resources: with such an ambitious task, eight weeks in production including choreography is insufficient to do justice to Dale’s integrated concept. Finding that balance and completion is to come.

Refugees of the Septic Heart unite!


C-12 Dance Theatre: Emerge

Posted: November 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on C-12 Dance Theatre: Emerge

C-12 Dance Theatre, Emerge, The Space, November 24.

 A show full of super heroes, a sofa and some pretty angry women.

There is not a lot of space in The Space on The Isle of Dogs. It occupies what was once St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, built in 1856 for the Scottish shipyard workers employed on the building of Brunel’s The Great Eastern. The features of the chapel have been maintained, with the stubby ionic columns of the vaulted apse framing the thinly raised stage and the nave continuing the stage at floor level with room for about fifty chairs at one end. There are no wings but the two doors at the back of the stage and the aisle entrance to the auditorium are the principal entrances and exits for the performers. Had those Scottish shipyard workers seen the performance of C-12 Dance Theatre, they might have thought they had died and gone to heaven.

Before the performance begins, Adam Towndrow, artistic producer of C-12 and the initiator of Emerge, welcomes everyone and gives a breakdown of the evening: three works by three choreographers: one by C-12’s artistic director, Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, and two by emerging choreographers James Williams and Miranda Mac Letten. On stage for the first piece, James Williams’ In New Light, are a drum kit played by Williams’ sister Janette and a bass guitar played by Andrew Willshire. The only prop is a medium-sized black sofa, like a soft brick, on the auditorium floor.

Ana Dias and James Williams in In New Light photo: Chantal Guevara

A single drum beat rings out in the dark like a call to arms. As the thunderous beat continues, a very lazy strobe illuminates the sofa and two men (Williams and Willshire) sitting either side of it like guardians in the night. Enter Ana Dias as a glowing apparition down the aisle. She quickly sheds any illusion of a spectre by jumping up on the sofa, her huge shadow projected on to the side wall. She turns towards us with protective arm gestures, standing as if on the prow of a ship while the sofa is turned beneath her. Over the course of In New Light the sofa becomes in effect a third performer that is upended, turned and overturned in counterbalance to the equilibrium of its human occupants. The roots of Williams’ inspiration derive from parkour, or freerunning, but he reduces the limits of his environment to this sofa and the stage. Because the dance involves a man and a woman, there is also an inherent tension in the narrative and it is the combination of the freerunning and the narrative with the physical prowess of the two performers that is intoxicating: two performers sliding into spaces with the speed and precision of acrobats yet with a warmth of feeling that is rooted in the living room rather than the ring. Intensely physical, In New Light is conceived on an intensely personal scale, in which all the creative elements link together into one dynamic, multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

John Ross in The Endeavour to be Super photo: Chantal Guevara

The aerial buzz descends, and the weight of the chapel reasserts itself as we watch the change of scenery for Miranda Mac Letten’s The Endeavour to be Super. Exit drum kit, bass guitar, amps and sofa; enter Marty Stevens’ and Mac Letten’s coat stand, black telephone on a side table and two screens (as in room dividers) with scraps of Batman memorabilia stuck on with childlike enthusiasm. Mac Letten is a C-12 performer (though not in this work) and the founder of her own company, Kerfuffle Dance, of which three of the dancers in the piece are members: John Ross, Camila Gutierrez and Esther Vivienne. The fourth is Chris Rook. Three of them have graduated from London Contemporary Dance School and one (Gutierrez) is in her third year. Together they have a lot of drive and a lot of fun, with the more experienced Rook as rehearsal director for this work, ‘a comical, high-energy performance based on the human psyche’s need to believe in something bigger than oneself.’ It’s a tall order, but the idea is based less on Nietzsche than on Bob Kane’s Batman as translated into the camp 1960’s television series. Not that The Endeavour to be Super is camp; from Ross’s first entrance as Batman at home hesitating to pick up the phone and petulantly flipping his cloak when he misses the call, or Gutierrez as Batgirl trying to recharge her batteries – and her libido – by massaging her nipples, it never intends to be serious. What comes across is a romp of egos and alter egos, dastardly subterfuges (Rook in dastardly good form) and disguises that deliver the comedy and high energy while going light on the bigger picture. Perhaps that is the fault of an over-ambitious program note, but what Mac Letten does develop is the comical gap between our aspirations and our actions. Kane’s Batman developed his aspirations before he donned his disguise; this quartet of masked raiders starts with the disguise and work backwards to discover indecision and confusion, which lead to catfights (Gutierrez and Vivienne pull out all the stops) and a delightful, simulated scrap between Batman and Batgirl in which the inflicted damage is recorded in true comic strip style on cue cards reading (among many others)Bam! Biff! Wham! and Pow! It is all too much for this Batman, whose aspirations are left dazed and confused, but the infectious vitality, fun and bravado of the choreography and of the performers remain.

Miranda Mac Letten in Scorned photo: Chantal Guevara

After the intermission (for which we are ushered outside), we return to find two figures standing on stage enveloped ominously in a white sheet. A row of candles burns in the back of the apse, creating an almost monastic environment (the design sensitively conceived by Tomoe Uchikubo and lit beautifully by Mikkel Svak). Two women dressed in black (Alice Gaspari and Cindy Claes) enter and free the two figures (Miranda Mac Letten and Alicia Pattyson) from their mute captivity and clothe them in long silk dresses. Scorned is an extract from a new work by Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, but if the backstory is unknown the emotion of the work is very quickly apparent. Scorned takes its cue from the phrase ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ from William Congreve’s Restoration play, The Mourning Bride, and there is indeed a sense of jilted love on the eve of a wedding that threads through the work. It could also very well be a reworking of the mad scene from Giselle choreographed for a quartet of women with very different bodies and different training but united in their emotional response to unseen events, and it is how each one express it — in their eyes, in their gestures, in the way they hurl themselves through space — that draws us inexorably into their suffering and draws the work tightly together. There is something about Claes’ krumping vocabulary that tenses the space around her like an expressionist drawing, and there is in Gaspari’s lyrical, classical line a sculptural quality that expands her space. Mac Letten’s white dress and Pre-Raphaelite look is as icily cold as her madness is raging and Pattyson’s gently quality is rendered vulnerable rather than fearsome by high emotion. Add to the play of qualities the total involvement of the women and Foster-Deakin’s choreography extending the expression dynamically in all directions, it is all the space can do to contain it. There are some beautiful images: the muted sheet is stretched into a symbol of taut emotion, a catapult for Mac Letten and has undertones of a nunnery; crisped hands erasing a stain on the floor, Claes’ hand at her throat fighting for her life: images from the edge of sanity. And then the dawn seems to break and the wildness calmed. Congreve’s play has another famous line: ‘Music has charms to soothe a savage breast’, and this is exactly what Kerry Muzzey’s Where There’s A Will does. Pattyson resolves her doubts and fears, is helped by Gaspari into a white wedding dress and ascends the aisle towards the exit, but Mac Letten’s fury has not yet abated; she cannot bring herself to meet her groom. Claes leaves her in Pre-Raphaelite dishevelment lying on her wedding gown like Ophelia at the edge of a watery grave.