Ian Abbott on Duwane Taylor’s Conform to Rebel at Redbridge Drama Centre

Posted: November 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Duwane Taylor’s Conform to Rebel at Redbridge Drama Centre

Duwane Taylor: Conform to Rebel, Redbridge Drama Centre, October 26

Duwane Taylor

Duwane Taylor in Conform to Rebel (photo: Simon Adrians – Tangle Photography)

There are no norms. All people are exceptions to a rule that doesn’t exist.” – Fernando Pessoa

Conform to Rebel is Duwane Taylor’s first mixed-bill performance at Redbridge Drama Centre, commissioned by Artists 4 Artists, the increasingly valuable collective of Lee Griffiths, Joseph Toonga and Emily Crouch that works as a vehicle for change in the hip hop dance community; it’s achieving a lot more than 99 per cent of other dance development/venues who are paid to do a similar job.

As a performer Taylor has a fine hip hop pedigree as one the UK’s leading exponents of krump. As well as creating work for his own krump crew, Buckness Personified, he has performed with ZooNation, Boy Blue Entertainment and a suite of others. As a choreographer he has made a number of shorter works including the seven-minute Candle in the Dark presented at British Dance Edition in 2014, Speak presented as part of Resolution 2018 at The Place and he was one of four choreographers to work with LIFT 2018 and East London Dance’s East Wall under the overall direction of Hofesh Shechter.

Advertised as a mixed bill, the evening consisted of three works but with a first half of two works with a total duration of less than 20 minutes Conform to Rebel offers more of a choreographic tasting of Taylor’s range rather than fully developed works. With Taylor presenting the mixed bill under his own name rather than that of his crew, he follows a trend of some artists like Tony Adigun (Avant Garde Dance) and Kate Prince (ZooNation) stepping out of their company to profile themselves first and their company second.

Project producer Emily Labhart offered an overview of Taylor’s choreographic offerings as an introduction. The first work, Anchored to The Beat, (6 minutes) had been made with three emerging dance artists and one member of Buckness Personified in little over a day. It is unfair to offer any critical judgment on their performance or on a work that has had so little time in the studio; while it is noble to offer a platform to the emerging artists, putting them in front of an audience with so little rehearsal time feels a little exposing.

True rebels, after all, are as rare as true lovers, and in both cases, to mistake a fever for passion can destroy one’s life.” – James Baldwin

Letter to My… is a 10-minute solo that ‘explores the concept of absent fathers, which is often perceived as a recurrent reality within black communities’ with a score remixed by Jean-Pierre Nyamangunda and Taylor featuring Jay-Z and Will Smith’s spoken word. Taylor emerges with his face masked under an oversized rubbery hoodie which absorbs his arms and offers an interesting possibility of masking and swallowing his movement so that it becomes undefined and abstracted. Sitting facing an empty seat, Taylor plays the dual role of absent father and present son with a range of unsubtle reactions; he bursts out of his seat and hoodie to demonstrate the intensity of feeling while lip-syncing to some of the lyrics. It is well executed and technically proficient, but offers little choreographic, emotional or performative development from some of Taylor’s earlier works.

Seeing Conform To Rebel a week after Ffion Cambell-Davies’ evolving 20-minute solo Womb Paves Way offers an alternative perspective on how krump can be used in a hip hop dance theatre context. Womb Paves Way looks at gender violence and colonialism whilst using a number of theatrical techniques and styles of dance, including a short use of krump. Although it feels like the work is still evolving and not yet settled, Campbell-Davies uses that brief window of krump in such an intelligent, restrained and nuanced way that demonstrates an exceptional choreographic awareness and ability to shift the emotional plane of her audience.

Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul.” – Virginia Woolf

With a voodoo and ritualistic frame, the third work, Conform To Rebel, Rebel To Conform, gives Taylor and Buckness Personified the space and time (twenty-five minutes) to demonstrate their krump technique alongside a wider hip hop dance theatre vocabulary. Claire Hough skulks with menace and krump erupts from her limbs and face with a controlled power and threat which is mesmerising to watch. Her eyes and facial delivery have an almost abinhaya-like quality amplifying what her body is conveying as she corrals the other dancers into conformity with her choreographic line.

There is a consistent debate and schism within hip hop between those who wish to preserve the foundation and codified movement vocabulary and those who wish to experiment, evolve and re-present those original forms in a choreographic and theatrical setting. Taylor clearly wants to evolve, and there are riveting moments when he brings Viviana Roche on to his shoulder in an expression of double-decker krump and mixes the jab into a wider choreography. There is also a series of floor-based sequences with the performers on their backs; seeing krump on different planes, where the movement comes from within the body and projects into space is something I’ve not seen before.

There’s a definite Shechter influence in some of the travelling sequences and if the work is on a conformity-to-rebellion scale, it would sit in the light rebellion spectrum. However, there is something interesting in Taylor’s choreographic voice; Conform To Rebel, Rebel To Conform demonstrates that Taylor can create and integrate the use of krump and other hip hop dance forms into a powerful and resonant work.


Richard Alston Dance Company: Alston at Home

Posted: June 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston Dance Company: Alston at Home

Richard Alston Dance Company, Alston At Home, The Place, June 10

Nancy Nerantzi, Elly Braund and Oihana Vesga Bujanin Overdrive (photo: Chris Nash)

Nancy Nerantzi, Elly Braund and Oihana Vesga Bujan in Overdrive (photo: Chris Nash)

As a portrait of Richard Alston in the twentieth year of his company, Alston At Home shows his recent and current preoccupations with just one short work to anchor the perception of change over time. Without the revival of the miniature, Brisk Singing Duet danced by University of Michigan students Maeve McEwen and Michael Parmelee to the music of Rameau, the program shows an unfamiliar landscape on both the musical and the choreographic front. There are six works in all, three by Alston, one by Associate Director Martin Lawrance, one by Joseph Toonga and one by company dancer Ihsaan de Banya (the last two commissioned by The Place). Of the six works four are world premières.

Having just that afternoon seen the Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty (highly recommended), what immediately strikes me in all these works is not simply the bareness of the stage but the blandness of the costumes. When Alston chooses to portray two Polish expatriate friends dancing to Chopin’s mazurkas in Mazur the inelegant costumes — a wan-coloured suggestion of a waistcoat by Peter Todd over army green chinos — immediately temper the emotional connection between the dancers and their context. If these are two friends ‘sharing what they love and what they feel they have lost’, their camaraderie is rather strait-laced; no vodka shots here, no dark passions or even live ones: the odd touch here and the odd look there are all that connect them. Take away the idea of Polish expatriates altogether and you have an interesting double concerto for two accomplished dancers (Liam Riddick and guest Jonathan Goddard) whose connection to the mazurkas (played onstage by Jason Ridgway on an elegant grand piano) is primarily through its rhythms rather than through any emotional content with which Chopin imbued his music. What is left is their angular, swirling movement and the precision of their musical phrasing in an otherwise bloodless setting.

The third work by Alston is a restaging by Lawrance of Overdrive (2006) set to Terry Riley’s score Keyboard Studies #1. It is, as Alston writes, ‘one of a series of works I made responding to the excitement and energy of pure rhythm.’ It requires you to sit back and concentrate which, as the sixth work and following the second intermission, is a tough call. But then none of the works this evening belong in that category of program ‘closer’ because they all congregate around similar pallid visual settings and emotionally purified choreography without beginnings or ends. Riley’s score — and Alston’s choreography — starts at a running pace and continues relentlessly till it suddenly stops. There is an intellectual rigour here, a physical argument in which Alston follows Riley’s structure, but the appearance of Overdrive is not so much paired down as dry.

Lawrance created his new work, Opening Gambit, as a birthday offering for Alston’s anniversary but it is choreographed on the muscular music of Julia Wolfe’s Dark Full Ride Part 1. It seems an odd coupling, one that celebrates Alston’s rigour but falls short of being a celebratory work. Lawrance has tamed the music rather than letting its natural force get away; he is helped in this by the capacity of Riddick to dance precisely on the musical beat without losing any detail (amongst the women Oihana Vesga Bujan shares this gift). Riddick brings a stillness to the heart of each movement, however quick, that gives each shape its full value. The opening line of ten dancers leaning nonchalantly against the bare back wall under Zeynep Kepekli’s lighting is the one inspired scenic element of the evening.

Ihsaan de Banya’s new work, Rasengan, begins as if he and the two other huddled dancers (Vesga Bujan and Nicholas Bodych) are standing in an underwater current, growing their small hand gestures to whole body undulations. The score by Ryoji Ikeda gives little for the dancers to feed off; the sound and the movement glide along on separate parallel paths. De Banya has pliant material to work with and brings out their physical attributes — Bodych’s never-ending back bend is an image that remains — but he is less inventive with the space in which they move and the dynamic patterns they create. He might want to take himself out of his future work so he can see the broader dimensions of his choreography.

Joseph Toonga’s Unease sets up a spatial intrigue immediately with de Banya alone in a corner talking to himself about something serious while four others stand in the opposite corner watching him. As he slowly sidles off stage deep in thought, the quartet moves as a counterbalance in a solo for four dancers that in its physical isolations has the appearance of muscular angst within a classical dynamic. Unease seems to trace the assimilation of de Banya into, and his influence on the quartet; Nancy Nerantzi is instrumental in her duet with him in winding him closer to the group until they are all moving together. Mirroring the beginning, the quartet with de Banya now sidles off in slow motion while one woman distances herself to dance alone but she too is drawn back into their rhythm before the work finishes in slow motion lighting.

Unease suffers from being too similar in feeling (though not in detail) to the other works on the program. Alston at Home is broad in solicitude for the future direction of the company but on this showing the forms of creative endeavour show a remarkable sameness. The musical choices may be one factor but there is also an over-reliance in the choreography on the purely physical nature of dance which under-exploits the musical and spiritual qualities of the dancers.


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.