Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Posted: October 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Frauke Requardt & David Rosenberg’s DeadClub™, The Place, September 15

Requardt & Rosenberg’s DeadClub™ (photo: Manuel Vason)

The last time I saw a collaboration between Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg was at night in a freezing carpark on a deserted site near the Brighton Marina in 2012. The scope of Motor Show was to rein in the forces of an outdoor venue through a binaural technology that brought the action to the space between your ears; the scale was visually heroic and aurally intimate. In their fourth and most recent collaboration, DeadClub, they have assembled a similarly scaled performance in which the heroic resides in notions of memory and dream, and the intimate in the way the auditorium of The Place has been shrunk and transformed, thanks to Hannah Clark, to a raised gaming table within David Price’s auditory den. In keeping with a theme of random processes, we are each issued a raffle ticket that corresponds to our numbered, standing-only place around the perimeter of the table/stage. It’s a unique perspective from which to see the show, not only looking up at the performers but looking across at other members of the audience. We may have arrived with a friend, but our relationships have been shuffled in the DeadClub pack.

This kind of attention to detail brings the audience together as part of the show; we are not simply spectators but collectively share in the staged experience. In each place there’s a black and white party hat to match the decor, but putting it on is optional. At intervals, a spotlight scans the inside of the four sides of the square like a ball flying round a roulette wheel to stop in front of a randomly picked person (how randomly I’m not sure, as it never stopped in front of an empty space and on one occasion picked out Requardt herself for a cameo response). The highlighted person is either asked a question or becomes the focus of a particular dance. There are a lot of sleight-of-hand appearances and disappearances of the five performers emerging through trapdoors as if from an underworld and descending back into the depths like contortionist dolls; ‘severed arms’ and ‘stuffed crows’ drop on to the stage, small-scale plaster figures suddenly arrive out of the dark and appear to speak, while microphone stands and pianos rise up from below and once played descend again with all the logic of an arbitrary event. It is a phantasmagoria of the inexplicable and the absurd that borrows as much from Sigmund Freud as it does from neuro-psychological concepts about the function of remembering which, according to current models, serve to make sense of our present, aid in our socialization and help us to imagine the future.

It is this last function that fascinates Requardt and Rosenberg. Memories are not straightforward images from the past but composite mental reconstructions that we adapt to our present and future projections. As Dr. Denis McKeown, a senior lecturer in cognitive psychology at the University of Leeds, writes in the program notes, “Memories are like dreams. They are an internal world played upon by an internal consciousness, often outside our awareness.” Indeed, the visual vocabulary of DeadClub makes the analogy with dreams overt by gesturing not only to Surrealism but to film, a medium akin to remembering not so much because of its possibility of flashback but because of the malleability of its internal procedures. Like the moving image, Requardt and Rosenberg’s imagination is a fluid element that has the possibility of flying of its own volition but when it comes into contact with so many overtly theatrical effects held together with tape, screws and hinges, and magnified by our proximity to the stage, its wings are clipped. The sheer complexity of the staging is staggering but it draws our attention for the wrong reason: the theatricality is just too clunky, making DeadClub appear to be a raft of dream-like concepts trapped in the wrong medium.

The one technical asset that mediates between the ideas and the scenic elements is the lighting by Chahine Yavroyan for he can use his palette to smooth physical edges, focus on the essential action or reduce the stage to total darkness. His use of light allies the stage to the cinema: he allows the fluid traces of ideas in Valentina Formenti’s songs of death, in Neil Callaghan’s ghostly presence and in the solos by Jordan Ajadi and Owen Ridley-Demonik to exist apart from the substantive woodwork and machinery underneath them so as to express their intrinsic aural, dramatic and rhythmic poetry. These are the overriding successes of DeadClub, but outside these contemplative moments, even Yavroyan cannot avoid the theatrical framework becoming the centre of preoccupation.


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.