Evangelia Kolyra’s 10,000 litres

Posted: May 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Evangelia Kolyra’s 10,000 litres

Evangelia Kolyra, 10,000 litres, Rich Mix, May 12

Justyna Janiszewska and Evangelia Kolyra in 10,000 litres (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou)

The title of Evangelia Kolyra’s new work derives from an estimate for the amount of air that passes through our lungs each day in the process of respiration. After the Rich Mix performance of 10,000 litres I was walking to Old Street tube station when I saw a man in his crash helmet lying very still on his back beside his motorcycle and the van with which he had collided. In the theatre, respiration had been in play, while on the street respiration was held in the balance between life and death. The contrast was stark but rather than influencing my feeling about 10,000 litres, it served to underline the sense of lightness I had felt in Kolyra’s theatrical treatment of something that in a different context appeared so vital and precarious.

It would be safe to say 10,000 litres is not primarily concerned with the physiological phenomenon of breathing but rather with its primary role in the process of movement; without breath, as with the image of the motorcyclist, there can be no movement. In effect it is the lungs of the three dancers (Joss Carter, Justyna Janiszewska, and Kolyra herself) that are given principal roles in 10,000 litres, costumed in hooded plastic breathing suits designed by Sisters From Another Mister, and amplified through the use of microphones embedded close to the chest. The set, designed by the same Sisters, is sparse with a white floor and two black metal chairs while Sherry Coenen’s lighting completes a predominantly clinical environment for these breathing machines.

We first see two of them, Kolyra and Janiszewska, lying supine side by side as if laid out on two hospital beds. They begin a conversation, distorted by speaking through the inbreath as well as the outbreath, about the present and future as if the two are on the verge of dying and departing to the unknown. The words are full of ambiguity with a nod to the absurd, but there is an uncertainty as to where the scene has come from and where it is going. The program note suggests that ‘three individuals take movement right back to its most essential function and use it to define their personality and create relationships whilst touching upon issues of existence, power and freedom.’ This opening would fit into that premise if movement was used as its primary means of expression, but it is the words that take precedence. It comes across as a false start, for elsewhere in the work Kolyra develops physical images for the working of the breath that, without recourse to words, are more eloquent. When the trio of dancers plays a game of mutual gagging, repeatedly stopping each other’s breath with their hands to the point of exhaustion, the image has political and military overtones. Unfortunately the costumes seem out of place in this sinister usage, diverting any sense of threat to a clinical exercise. There is a similar mismatch of costume and tone later in the work when Carter places a harmonica in his mouth to extrapolate his volatile breathing as he tests his increasingly precarious balance on a tilting chair. However costume and movement do work together when the three dancers lie side by side and use their undulating chests, two harmonicas and Janiszewska’s voice to create an amoebic musical trio. Kolyra’s horizontal flip over Carter’s supine form during a sequence of lateral shifts is the kind of physical humour that seems to derive naturally from her brand of theatre. Costumes aside, these physical explorations seem to respond more closely to the promise of 10,000 litres and I wish Kolyra had developed them further rather than resorting to the textual links which tend to dilute the significance of the work to a level of lightness and frivolity that the accident outside only exacerbated.


Gary Clarke Company, COAL

Posted: May 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gary Clarke Company, COAL

Gary Clarke Company, COAL, The Place, April 15

Gary Clarke Company in COAL (photo: Joe Armitage)

Gary Clarke Company in COAL (photo: Joe Armitage)

“She defined and overcame the great challenges of her age…” – David Cameron in his tribute to Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons, April 10, 2013

“Thatcherism…reeked the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage on this country…” – Glenda Jackson in the House of Commons, April 10, 2013

It is an uncanny coincidence that the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike should occur at a time the current Conservative government is trying to dismantle another longstanding institution, the National Health Service. Gary Clarke’s COAL, commemorating the 1984/85 miners’ strike in choreographic form, comes as a salutary reminder of how politicians who capitalise on the self-aggrandizing belief they are ‘overcoming the challenges of (the) age’ can ruin the lives of entire communities. Clarke understands this firsthand, having been brought up in Grimethorpe, a mining town in South Yorkshire. ‘It’s deeply, deeply personal, and I just wanted to share how it felt to live through these times. How it felt then, and how it feels now as the pain, loss and division linger on in our stranded communities.’ It is memory that drives the work forward.

COAL is divided into three acts: the first is a slice of early-morning ritual in a single home that suggests the foundation of social life in a mining community. The wife (TC Howard) peels spuds in a bucket while the husband (Alistair Goldsmith) sleeps under a blanket; she is cook and feisty timekeeper, long-time lover and loyal supporter. Costume and set designer Ryan Dawson Laight takes delight in the details (Howard is reading a newspaper with the headline ‘Tory Cuts’) and Clarke fashions the spirit of comradeship in an earthy dance among the assembled miners (Goldsmith, Nicolas Vendange, James Finnemore, Joss Carter and Connor Quill) on their way to work. The second act is set underground (the pit cage and tunnels beautifully delineated in light by Charles Webber); it is a long section and full of tension. The qualities of their movement are a reflection of both the physical effort and their underground minds, a brutal existence spurred on by chalked targets, punctuated by bells and constantly threatened by hazards to limbs and lungs. It is perhaps the first time the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th symphony has been used at the coalface and Daniel Thomas’ soundscape exaggerates the sense of pressure and confinement until we can’t take any more. Act three takes us up again into the air to the relative freedom of a social gathering, a chance to party and to relax, which is the moment Clarke introduces the figure of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (Eleanor Perry with the voice of Steve Nallon). This is the dramatic fulcrum of the work, the moment that defines the beginning of the end. From the intimately complex social solidarity of the first two acts, Thatcher’s intervention turns the community into a toxic, socially divisive battleground with Perry prowling like a bird of prey on one side of a picket line that bears a chilling resemblance to a gallows rope.

Clarke maintains COAL is not a political work but the politics are inextricable from the story and he plays the political aspect directly to the audience. If Perry doesn’t get booed during a performance she feels she hasn’t wrung a sufficiently derisive charge from her role. This raises questions as to the exact nature of COAL. In choosing to interpret this story through the medium of dance — particularly using his five muscular, handsome dancers as interpreters — Clarke mixes a social and political polemic with a soft image; he has us bathe in the action until we are as helpless in the face of fate as the miners with whom he is siding. The form of COAL thus straddles the tragedy of a community and an epic story of resistance, but in pointing the finger at Thatcher we collectively miss the opportunity to challenge our readiness to fight such injustices in the future. As Ernst Fischer wrote in The Necessity of Art when discussing Berthold Brecht’s use of emotional detachment to appeal to audiences’ reason and critical action, ‘The work of art must grip the audience not through passive identification but through an appeal to reason which demands action and decision.’

What Clarke has achieved is an intimate, nostalgic memoir in which the material is still full of pain and anger. The work is rooted in the communities he is honouring: apart from the permanent cast of Perry, Howard and the five male dancers, the supporting characters come from local mining communities or have a relationship to them and he uses songs played by colliery bands from areas of the country in which he is performing. This close-knit network of performers strengthens the cohesion of the work, but it is the lack of artistic detachment that weakens the dramatic impact. It implodes rather than explodes, draws us in rather than spits us out on a path to change. It is designed to rouse the emotions of the audience — and is more or less successful depending on where it is performed — to reaffirm the sense of betrayal that continues today.

We want COAL to succeed because what it depicts is vital to an understanding of these blighted communities and of our collective history but it falls short primarily because of its desire to entertain. The reality was and is far worse than COAL can ever admit but commemoration can also be a call to action; the struggle for the survival of the NHS is history repeating itself.