Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: September 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells

Natalia Osipova: Pure Dance at Sadler’s Wells, September 13

Natalia Osipova

Natalia Osipova (photo: Rick Guest)

Natalia Osipova is one of the great exponents of classical ballet because of both her fearless technique and her interpretive sensibility. That she is interested in exploring other forms of dance is no surprise, but her choice of choreographers for Pure Dance, a Sadler’s Wells co-production with New York City Centre, doesn’t always work in her favour. In an interview with Sarah Crompton she says, “…I have chosen the choreographers and partners I wanted to work with and through them I express myself.” It is on this question of expression that Pure Dance hinges. A great classical ballet like Giselle or Swan Lake — or a more contemporary masterpiece like John Cranko’s Onegin — requires the faithful expression of its choreography rather than the self expression of its prima ballerina. An interpreter like Osipova can step inside such choreography and express it on an emotional, spiritual and physical level because all these levels exist within it and within her. The irony of Pure Dance is that in a program she has designed to explore new avenues of expression we can’t always find her.

The meditative duet from Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading is not an ideal opener; divorced from its choreographic and scenic context it appears out of nowhere, but Tudor’s understanding of classical technique and gesture gives Osipova something to which she can give life. Everything necessary to the work is contained within it and although neither Osipova nor her partner David Hallberg seem entirely at ease at the beginning, their interpretation grows with the notion of memory that Tudor evokes with such refinement to Antonin Dvořák’s chamber string music. There is an autumnal sense in the work that is not only associated with falling leaves but with memories of falling in love; the recurring theme in the choreography is falling away and being swept up and here Osipova and Hallberg express the delicacy and poignancy of the emotion without having to add anything extraneous.

The contrast with Iván Pérez’s Flutter, choreographed on Nico Muhly’s Mothertongue, is marked. The manner in which Osipova and partner Jonathan Goddard repeat their opening sequence of capering down stage like two commedia dell’ artefigures from darkness into Nigel Edwards’ light and withdraw again is a metaphor for the emergence and disappearance of expression. There is fine partnering between the two, but Goddard’s technical affinity with the choreography upstages Osipova who is left to emote on its surface in the absence of an appropriate vehicle for her.

In Roy Assaf’s Six Years Later Osipova shares the stage with Jason Kittelberger, with whom she appeared two years ago in her first Sadler’s Wells production. This is a more successful balance between the two in what is essentially a choreographed dialogue between two old friends with qualities that recur in much Israeli choreography of tenderness juxtaposed with violence. The dynamics of the relationship are suggested by a progression from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata to Marmalade’s Reflections of my life where it is cut off in mid flight with an abrupt blackout. The choreography focuses on what lies between the two rather than on what each brings to the dialogue; six years before might have been more interesting.

As soon as Osipova and Hallberg begin to dance Alexei Ratmansky’s Valse Triste there is a welcome sense of connection between performers, choreography and music that lights up the stage. Ratmansky knows the qualities of both dancers and how to bring them out. There is also a Russian connection; as Osipova explains to Crompton, “When the three of us are standing together we feel like close souls.” Here, as in Tudor’s work, all expression is contained within the choreography and both dancers come alive in getting inside it.

The program also includes two solos, In Absentia for Hallberg by Kim Brandstrup, and Ave Maria for Osipova by Yuka Oishi. Brandstrup uses Bach’s haunting Chaconne in D minor for solo violin as the basis of a performative rehearsal, as if the music is circulating in Hallberg’s head while he sits listening or gets up to go over the steps he has just learned. It’s an intimate portrait that is given another dimension by Jean Kalman’s lighting. In Oishi’s Ave Maria Franz Schubert’s music, Adam Carrée’s lighting and Stewart J. Charlesworth’s white dress frame Osipova in playful innocence while Oishi’s lightning quick classical steps pay tribute to her devilish technique. Osipova is clearly having fun but it’s a confectionary portrait that starkly underlines the difference between self-expression and expressive choreography.


Company Chameleon: Pictures We Make (preview)

Posted: December 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company Chameleon: Pictures We Make (preview)

Company Chameleon, Pictures We Make (preview), Z-Arts, Manchester, December 7

photo: Mickael Marso Riviere

photo: Mickael Marso Riviere

Wrong. Company Chameleon’s new show, Pictures We Make, has nothing to do with film or television, as I conjectured at the end of my review of Gameshow. It returns instead to the company’s more familiar roots in contact improvisation and partnering. On Friday evening at Z-Arts in Manchester, Kevin Turner and Anthony Missen took their new work out for a run and they were not alone. For those familiar with Turner and Missen as a duo, this is a new departure for they rarely if ever dance together here; they are too busy discovering the joys of interacting with Gemma Nixon and Elena Thomas who make up the quartet of characters. Pictures We Make explores the question of relationships, of ‘how we navigate the space between our experience and expectations’ as we plunge from I to We. ‘Our insecurities and perceptions about how things should be are tested and reflected back by those with whom we share relationships.’ It is a sometimes explosive but always passionate involvement between the four of them that has all the familiar physicality of Turner and Missen but with an equally powerful female element that gives as much as it gets. Pictures We Make will be one of two works on a double bill that will have its première on February 14 (an appropriate date for a theme of relationships) at The Lowry. The second work, to be created by Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon, will go into rehearsal next week. This evening’s showing was in front of invited guests and friends to garner feedback as much as to put in a good run before the creation of the second work begins.

The ‘pictures’ of the title refer to snapshots of relationships lived and remembered, of emotions exposed and hung out to dry, of joys as well as sorrows. Because there are only four characters and their proclivities are heterosexual, it is all too easy to interpret the heady display of relationships as a lot of feral swapping between the two couples, but there are no bust-ups or recriminations between the two men or the two women, which suggests the memories do not exist on a collective level but within the experience of each individual over a long period of time. Who ends up with whom is immaterial, as the narrative doesn’t run in that kind of linear progression: it is only the framing of the ‘pictures’ that closes the circle and gives the proximity of relationships an almost incestuous flow. What the various duets allow is the exploration of a rich seam of emotional involvement, and each dancer gives of him or herself in a risk-taking, primal way one audience member later characterized as relentless (the pictures we make are not always pretty, and if the pictures in this work were photographs, some of them would have been ripped up or burned). There are solos as well as duets: the solos – I am thinking particularly of Thomas’s – reveal the inner turmoil in the context of the particular relationship. Towards the end, Thomas is like a filly that is learning to get up, angular, awkward, unable to support her weight at first, but determined to place those legs under her. Of all the characters, she shows a certain emotional fragility — a victim almost — though she matches the other three in the abandon with which she approaches her relationships. Nixon sets the emotional tone with her opening solo, and seems to be in her element throughout the work, lyrical and tough with a formidable gaze when roused. The two men, divided in their attentions, nevertheless form a powerful unity.

The only props are chairs, a whole pile of them in the exposed wings and some on stage which become islands occupied by the recovering or simmering characters. Nixon is adept at hurling the chairs across the stage in moments of acute frustration or hurt. The starkness of the metal-framed wooden chairs is in marked contrast to the emotional maelstrom that engulfs the relationships, like the setting of an annual dance between the boys’ school and the girls’ school down the road.

Miguel Marin created the score as so many stories sewn together, finding a sound for each character and adjusting those sounds according to the situation in which they find themselves. It works beautifully with the choreography and its theme.

Looking back, the use of chairs and the circular nature of the relationships suggest a vestige of musical chairs, a game in which only one person is left standing. The transition from ‘I’ to ‘We’ inevitably comes down to ‘I’ after all.


The Place Prize semi-final 4

Posted: September 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Place Prize semi-final 4

photo: Benedict Johnson

The Place Prize semi-final 4 (Eva Recacha, Robbie Synge, Goddard Nixon, Seke Chimutengwende), The Place, September 22

Martha Pasakopoulou stomps around the stage in a yellow dress proclaiming in a language I don’t understand, fist clenched in the air as if she is leading a demonstration of one. She has a clear, strident voice that is not afraid to climb into the higher registers, and there is something of the gamine in her unselfconsciously ebullient performance; she is evidently unaware anyone is watching. When she finishes her song there is a ringing silence in the theatre, and then laughter as she walks to the back, and steps carefully into the corner like a gymnast ready to begin a diagonal routine. With these two opening sequences, juxtaposed with disarming innocence, Pasakopoulou has captured our full attention; like an ingenuous child she can now lead us wherever she wants. This is Eva Recacha’s The Wishing Well, in which ‘a woman creates her own particular ritual to obtain her wish in order to get a direct line with the gods.’ It is full of observations and insights into the nature of hope and faith on the one hand, and of the superstitions and tricks we use to subvert them on the other. Recacha acts as storyteller and observer, commenting on the (at times) recalcitrant, (always) whimsical Pasakopoulou in her devout double-dealing, and demonstrating, in the poignant, final moments, the futility of her self-deception. Pasakopoulou’s character is called Martha, who begins by making three wishes, in lyrical, animated mime. It doesn’t matter what they are but rather what strategies she uses to achieve them, and the beauty of the work is in the imaginative mime Recacha devises for all these strategies that she incorporates into a body language Pasakopoulou so hearteningly delivers.

The stage is lit by Gareth Green like a game board, edged with a white band of light that forms the limit of Martha’s world; she never steps out of it. Martha has spent so much of her life in an unwinnable competition with God that she arrives at old age without ever having achieved her wishes. As an old crone, legs bent, she shuffles off to the corner of her world, as if to cross the road; only then does the white band recede, and after some hesitation Martha crosses; the band of light closes behind her.

The Wishing Well has been chosen for The Place Prize Final.

Robbie Synge’s Settlement is a piece for two performers and three sheets of chipboard, with a score by James Alaska. At the beginning the three sheets are centre stage, leaning tentatively against each other, lit by Brian Gorman as an architectural form. Settlement develops as a game between Erik Nevin and Robin Dingemans in which one creates an equilibrium of sheets, and the other knocks it down; one proposes, the other disposes. Settlement can apply both to the built elements of a community and to an agreement between two entities in a dispute. Synge’s work covers both meanings in a seamless structure, as he explores the effect of the everyday built environment on our physical and mental states. It would be easy to see the rivalry between Nevin and Dingemans as a personal narrative, but if one understands the chipboard sheets to be a metaphor for the built environment, then both characters are reacting to it in their respective ways, which in turn affects them individually, like neighbours arguing over a fence or, on a much larger scale, townspeople suffering from an ill-thought planning scheme: one person’s order is another person’s chaos. There are also elements of cooperation: Nevin and Dingemans stand side by side, each holding a sheet upright on the ground. They let go of their respective sheets and change places. Moving the sheets further and further apart they repeat the game, with surprising and unpredictable results. Later, the sheets become islands and the two performers help each other move from one to the other. In the end, Synge reflects on the sense of loss: one might rejoice in the destruction of a house, for example, while the other may be lost without it. After Nevin kicks down a final chipboard structure, Dingemans leans against the back wall as if wounded.

The title of Goddard Nixon’s Third, is taken from a line in the T.S. Eliot poem The Waste Land: “Who is the third who walks always beside you?” Eliot apparently included this line after hearing of a mysterious encounter experienced by the explorer Ernest Shackleton and his men on his famous 1916 expedition. It is now known as ‘the third man factor’, a psychological phenomenon also linked to guardian angels or divine intervention. Michael Hulls’ extraordinary lighting and set design place the context of Third quite literally, on a blue-white, ice-bound floe that Lawren Harris might have painted. He even brings on a snowstorm at the end that envelops the dancers and the space around them. But the weather conditions Hulls so brilliantly evokes are inimical to the nature of the duet, to the loose-fitting, urban, hooded costumes (by Alice Walking) and to the often floor-bound choreography. Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon are not dressed for this level of cold, their duet does not belong in the Antarctic – even if the subject matter derives from an expedition there – where lying on an icy floe would be unthinkable. Hulls has taken his inspiration and run with it, but he has outrun the duet on which it is focused.

The duet itself is intimate and warm, the flow of movement soft and pulsing; Goddard and Nixon are two dancers who move with extraordinary agility, speed and precision but who also possess a lyrical quality that appears effortless; their performance is anything but cold, and in this context, the pulling on and off the hoods becomes an unnecessary distraction. However, their artistry is just a pleasure to watch, radiating enough heat to melt even the most inhospitable conditions.

The evening ends on a warmer note with a smile of a work from Seke Chimutengwende, The Time Travel Piece. This one is too tongue-in-cheek to make it to the finals, but sends us home feeling that much better for having felt its infectious irreverence. The stage is lined with banners that are reminiscent of the recent Olympics, and Chimutengwende is our amiable dance commentator. He has been fortunate enough to travel forwards in time to see dance performances at three different but not consecutive periods, 2085, 2501 and 2042. He is thus in a position to comment on, and illustrate, the styles of dance in those respective eras for our benefit. He has a troupe of the ‘best available’ contemporary dancers on whom he has restaged the dances from memory; it proved impossible for him to record what he saw as our technology doesn’t work in the future. Due to the huge financial costs of his government-sponsored time travel, he could only spend an hour at each performance.

By 2085, scientists are probing smaller and smaller objects – far smaller than atoms – and choreographers are similarly interested in smaller and smaller movements. Fortunately the audience’s powers of perception have increased dramatically. Chimutengwende introduces a trumpeter and five dancers who start performing. If nothing seems to be happening, it is all to do with our reduced powers of perception, though it is clear that the dancers have a remarkable control of their movement vocabulary and one can see in the choreography an evocative blend of influences from the early part of this century. The score is rich in tonality, and beautifully played on the trumpet by its composer, Michael Picknett.

By 2501, everyone has access to time travel; it’s as easy as texting today, which makes the idea of a rehearsal period obsolete; you can rehearse one day and return to it the following day, which means that choreographers can spend unlimited time on making work. Another trend, and one that was realized in the performance Chimutengwende saw, is the development by each dancer (over an unlimited period of rehearsal) of a movement sequence that perfectly expresses their essential nature, which is then the only movement they need to perform. This is what Chimutengwende presents, though due to limited rehearsal time the essential nature of each dancer is only approximate. The same goes for the trumpet accompaniment by the time-traveling Picknett.

2042 is an extrapolation of only thirty years from our current situation, when the pace of life has accelerated to such an extent that there is barely any time to make work, and what work is made is made very quickly because the dancers and choreographers need to move on to the next thing. At the performance Chimutengwende attended, the choreographer was teaching the performance on stage, as he had no time to rehearse. This is clearly a cause for concern, as the performance demonstrated.


Rambert’s season of new choreography

Posted: June 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Rambert Dance Company: Season of new choreography

Queen Elizabeth Hall, May 31

Dance is close to music in that what we see on stage can move us emotionally, but an intellectual gap can exist between what we see and what we understand of what we see. Without bridging this gap, the scope for further discussion and debate about dance is diminished. One has only to think of the talks and explanations about classical music on Radio 3 to appreciate the value of such insights. Rambert Dance Company is evidently aware of this, and for their Season of New Choreography at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, provide helpful program notes and a brief Q&A session with both the choreographers and composers immediately following the performance, mediated by Rambert’s head of learning and participation, Joce Giles. It is clear, for example, that the creative process began with the movement and the music followed, often by long-distance communication. In the music for Face Up composer Semay Wu has incorporated a familiarity with choreographer Mbulelo Ndabeni’s culture that makes the score  as much reflective as descriptive. Ndabeni’s explanation of the use of clicks in his language and the meaning of passages in his native tongue that were incorporated into Wu’s composition was not only instructive in itself but an invaluable entrance into the world of the choreographer and his work.

Dane Hurst: The Window

 Choreographer Dane Hurst writes in the program notes, “The most devastating phenomenon to affect the residents of old South End  (a neighbourhood of South Africa’s Port Elizabeth, where Hurst was born) was undoubtedly the Group Areas Act. The Act was part of a clutch of apartheid laws passed after the National Party came to power in 1948; it was intended to give effect to the Population Registration Act of 1950 which labeled and classified all South Africans as part of a defined population group. Soon after, eviction notices were handed out followed by protests and unrest; but inevitably thousands of families were displaced and homes demolished.”

A tall lamp with a reddish glow is the only visible furniture. A woman (Angela Towler) lies restless on her back at its base, her hand on her stomach. The evocative score by Christopher Mayo describes Towler’s contrasted state with a passage for solo violin and harp combined with an ominous drum. Three girls appear, one after the other, similarly dressed. In this particular household, we imagine them to be three sisters and Towler their mother. The score increases its instrumentation as the family discusses the ramifications of the Group Areas Act. All the girls seem to be talking at the same time, but not listening to each other until Towler focuses their attention. They share a frightened gesture of hand across the face, legs raised forward, unsure of what will happen. Another woman appears, in a light grey dress, moving calmly, unaffected by the commotion. Her hands are open, raised to her face. Raucous trumpets herald the arrival of three men in suits with what we assume to be an eviction notice, flaunting their power in large, expansive movements, swinging legs wide in predatory jumps. The three sisters remain in the shadows but the men grab them by their necks and are about to rape them when a girl in white (Estella Merlos) flies into the room, disrupting the proceedings but focusing all the brutal attention on herself. She is possibly a local activist, and she is interrogated, turned upside down, and threatened with the eviction notice. She treats it with contempt, incensing the men to continue their assault. Shown the notice again, she screws it up and puts it in her mouth, for which she is beaten and left on the floor. The men leave. The scene changes to an overt choreographic quote from Kurt Joos’ Green Table: the family is standing around a table drumming their arms on the surface to a war-like rhythmic pulse in the music. Towler presides as they pass around the eviction note, snatching it from each other. The eight dancers – the family enlarged by a number of neighbours – are angry; the men want to resist, but the women are worried what will happen to them. While they express their frustrations amongst themselves, the light intensity floods in through the wall. A calm descends, and the children dance their way across the stage and out of the room. The woman in grey reappears, a muse indicating a way forward for Towler, who replicates her movements and gestures. Towler is left alone in a pool of fading light, her hand raised in an attitude of stoic resolve, or prayer.

Mbulelo Ndabeni: Face Up

 Two figures arrive stage left in the dark. Under a spotlight we see two men, one standing (Miguel Altunaga), the other (Mbulelo Ndabeni) seated on a bench. Altunaga takes off his raffish hat and jacket while Ndabeni remains reflective looking off into the wings. Face Up is clearly about the relationship between these two men, and it works on the dual levels of personal diary and public affirmation. The choreography derives from personal gesture and movement and its philosophical tone is dictated by three phrases in Ndabeni’s native tongue. One phrase states that when we are assailed by too many problems, it is better to take a step back and another that when you take a step back, the knots or problems can be undone. A third advises that even when you feel a lack of kindness in a given situation, don’t give up. From the repeated opening sequence of Altunaga running across the stage, stopping and walking backwards to where he starts, indecision is evidently one of the problems in this relationship, which alternates phases of fighting like children, pulling shirts and jumping on each other’s back, with other more accepting, more caring gestures. It is a constant struggle to retain a sense of respect despite their differences and the pressures they feel. Altunaga is the more extrovert, excitable and sulky, Ndabeni more quiet and philosophical, the one more likely to seek resolution even in the face of rejection. At one point Ndabeni embraces Altunaga, who ducks out leaving Ndabeni holding his position while Altunaga loses himself in a convoluted, shoulder-slapping dance with pumping sobs and the image of bound hands that returns from an opening sequence. After finally exhausting themselves in a flurry of flying falls and floor play, Ndabeni gets up. Both have their hands over their faces, as if not wanting to see or be seen. He drags his friend back to the bench where they take up their opening positions with Ndabeni’s rich, clicking voice saying “I will not give up” as the lights and music fade.

Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon: Heist

The only program note for Heist is a quote from René Magritte: “Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” Whatever it holds of significance for the choreographer’s creative juices, such a quote leaves the spectator in total panic of ever figuring out what he or she is about to see. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jonathan Goddard is in the spotlight, adjusting his tie, wiping his neck, pushing at his lapel, his hand around an imaginary figure. There is a figure in the background, in mirror image. It is Gemma Nixon who is backing up towards Goddard. Another man, Eryck Brahmania, enters between Nixon and Goddard. There is a conversation going on in which it is evident that Goddard has a beautifully expressive mime quality. The three form a fluid relationship puzzle, joined but not joined (remember the Magritte quote). The movement sequences repeat. Estella Merlos (much in demand in this evening’s program) enters into the light, a ménage à quatre. She repeats a gesture towards the ground made earlier by Brahmania, and the same lapel gesture as Goddard. She and Brahmania form a duet, melting into one another, turning, lifting, to a rumbling, driving, ticking soundtrack by Miguel Marin. Goddard and Nixon are sitting close by, watching until Nixon gets up to repeat Merlos’ gestures. The two men now partner the two women, starting with the same movements and then mutating them. The relations between the four are constantly shifting, formally and emotionally. The final statement before the lights fade is an enigmatic gesture by Merlos with her back to us. Heist is a fragment of a work, but a beautiful one. Despite the Magritte quote, this is the easiest work to take in visually as it is not narrative but choreographic in structure. There is no story to worry about, only patterns changing, reversing, repeating; it is the overall form that expresses something beyond what we are seeing. Heist seems to be the vestige of an original idea for the work; the idea has changed but the name hasn’t. Very Magritte.

Patricia Okenwa: Viriditas

 Viriditas, as the program notes explain, is a word associated with abbess Hildegard von Bingen and has many connotations, but fecundity is the one that seems to have struck a chord with Patricia Okenwa and her designer, Hyemi Shin: the stage is covered in white, polystyrene eggs of all sizes. Before the performance can begin, the stage manager and his assistant are placing them, carefully at first in a circle in the centre, then increasingly randomly around the stage, emptying out the last few with a suggestion of impatience. In the dark we hear what sounds like an ancient drawbridge descending, and a thundering avalanche followed the call of displaced ravens, a medieval prologue to Mark Bowden’s score, Viriditas. After such a cataclysmic event there shouldn’t be many eggs left, but as the lights come up five women in flowing grey robes and crocheted cowls are kneeling among them, unharmed and intact. The program notes explain that there are ‘six types of material’ in the music, ‘all derived from a continuous and never repeating melodic line, intertwined to create a continually shifting structure that moves between moments of tranquil calmness and erratic, hocketing episodes.’ In the Q&A after the performance Bowden has a simpler explanation and a revised figure: there are five women, five distinct characters and five corresponding types of music ‘chopped up into lots of little bits and mixed up into a structure so these five characteristics intertwine with each other.’ The costumes suggest an ecclesiastical setting, and the intensity of this medieval play without words is charged with religious fervor. Hannah Rudd is the first character to break out of the circle, light and jaunty, and a second follows to a darker, more moody theme. A third character is more frenetic and Antonette Dayrit is positively possessed, dancing out a wild ritual in expiation or exorcism of animal spirits. There are sections of healing and mutual encouragement, as when the four women watch Estela Merlos dance cathartically as the chosen sister. However, the brooding sense of ritual exorcism and self-flagellation continues to a dramatic climax with the crash of a gong. It is Rudd who then brings back an element of calm after a moment of silence. The women minister to Merlos who has dropped from exhaustion, lifting her up and circling around the egg-strewn stage in a final redemptive procession.