MYSTERYSKIN, Brocade

Posted: December 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on MYSTERYSKIN, Brocade

MYSTERYSKIN, Brocade, Tramway, Glasgow, December 2, 2016

MYSTERYSKIN’s Brocade (photo: Emli Bendixen)

They say you start weaving clearer, sharper memories after you’ve been to a place at least twice. Because then the reflection is more of validation. Let the rush come to you and let your senses be flushed the first time. There will be time for reflection after you’ve had your fill.” – Psyche Roxas-Mendoza

Brocade is an adventure in minting time, maintaining rhythm and weaving space with four dancers (Kirsty Arnold, Laura Dannequin, Morrighan MacGillivray and Roberta Jean), and one musician (Angharad Davies). With two rows of chairs facing another on the opposite side of a 3-metre x 18-metre runway, we are all lines.

 Greeted by four female backs that slowly begin to rotate we are introduced to a family of movement that exists somewhere between a hop and a stationary skip (very rarely a jump); it feels like a close cousin of a folk dance with knees raised high, always bouncing on the toes, arms neutral at the sides and landing with a satisfying flat-soled slap on the floor.

Grant Anderson’s lighting design uses a series of lamps with exposed filaments to mark the centre line of their territory with the arches of Tramway 4 lit up drawing attention to the industrial history of this former tram shed. There is a neat historical fit in this presentation as the trams used to replay the same journey and trace the same lines across Glasgow — here the scale is shifted and the performers wear away the floor through their repeated solo and group parades and promenades up and down, embossing their own histories upon the venue.

I have learned that each and every piece of cloth embodies the spirit, skill, and personal history of an individual weaver…it ties together with an endless thread the emotional life of my people.” – Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez

As each dancer runs, shuttles, dashes, scuttles and stretches into awkward metronomic steps they invite other dancers to join or dissolve with them; we see and hear combinations of rhythms from 1, 2, 3 or 4 dancers like machines beating out their own time stamps. I’m aware of the rhythm and multi-rhythmic step patterns in play, building, shifting and alternating for the first 30 minutes of this 50-minute encounter. Feeling the waft of the wind as the performers sweep in front and behind at alternative paces alerts you to the labour that is being invested and to the reality of glistening backs and flushed brows as the endurance becomes apparent.

There is a delicious intimacy in a single stop when two of the dancers raised on tip toes, two other performers joined them, tessellated in behind and put their own toes under the raised heels; as they cradled their arms under the arms of the other using their whole palms and fingers took the head of their partner as breath and rest took over. I wanted time to pull out even more, I wanted hours of these parades and space weaving — there is joy to be found in losing and re-finding yourself amongst their rhythms.

Of what is the body made? It is made of emptiness and rhythm. At the ultimate heart of the body, at the heart of the world, there is no solidity… there is only the dance.” – George Leonard

Brocade describes itself as ‘a sound and movement piece which celebrates energetic alliances between unique female dancers and musicians.’ What I struggled to find was a connection or a thread towards the dancers — they rarely present their face or acknowledge the audience as they’re consistently moving and concentrating on step patterns and wider rhythms. There are plenty of alliances on show between the performers, but I felt little was offered to me as audience; if we were invited in to share their rhythm and territory then we could join them and retreat into their glorious oscillations.

Towards the end and still leading from the shoulders with ulna nerves and palms out Jean stepped out and began layering vocal cries and breaths via a loop station switching the sonic from warp to weft. Previously we had intermittently heard Davies plucking the violin with asymmetric sounds and pulses adding textures to the foot-tapping polyrhythms from the dancers. The three dancers embarked on a spin, folded from their centre with waves of sound playing through their spines. This focal shift from the parading (which asked us to follow, to choose where and who and what to follow as it was impossible to drink them all in in one set of eyes) was welcome as my visual rhythm had been consistently disturbed as I kept turning my head left and right attempting to hold them all in my eyes.

Brocade is a work where it pays to notice and if you do there is plenty to mine; as the performers weave the space with invisible geometries the only physical residue they leave is that which we choose to carry in our own memories.


Swan Lake II: Dark Waters & This Moment Now

Posted: December 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Swan Lake II: Dark Waters & This Moment Now

Paniclab, Swan Lake II: Dark Waters & Sylvia Rimat, This Moment Now, Chelsea Theatre, November 25

Jordan Lennie on his island of feathers in Swan Lake II: Dark Waters (photo: Nicola Canavan)

Jordan Lennie on his island of feathers in Swan Lake II: Dark Waters (photo: Nicola Canavan)

This is a Swan Lake that is perhaps closer to the Imperial Russian court and Siegfried’s hunting party than you might think but admittedly miles from the choreography of Petipa and Ivanov. When you hear Tchaikovsky’s overture you might be forgiven for thinking director Joseph Mercier is taking cheap shots at a classic ballet but this is more like a surreal 55-minute preface to Swan Lake: what is happening at home in the nest while Odette fights for her freedom against the demonic control of Von Rothbart in the royal palace. Presumably her mate is unaware of her true identity.

As we enter the auditorium we see an island of white feathers on the stage with its sole occupant, Odette’s cob (Jordan Lennie) lying naked on his feather bed brooding languidly on the eggs while awaiting her return. It is a startling homoerotic opening image that joins a long history of erotic swan associations. Hanging from a rope above him is the body of another swan, the collateral damage, perhaps, of the royal hunting party. The stark beauty of Rachel Good’s set is like the swan itself: elegant on the surface with all the workings hidden underneath. Lennie is a tidy, industrious mate who keeps his feathers pristine and buries his domestic appliances out of sight in the soil beneath the feathers: an electric hob, a frying pan, a spatula, a dressing tent, a mobile phone and an old pair of tights.

One of the characteristics of Joseph Mercier’s work is that he presents performers on stage without any distinction between self and character: in Swan Lake II: Dark Waters Lennie is a swan keeping the nest eggs warm but when he is sexually roused he signals climax by crushing an egg in his hand, when hungry he eats one raw, rustles up an omelette or peels a chocolate egg and eats it while watching the audience watching him. There is no slipping in and out of character for it is all undifferentiated Lennie.

Despite Mercier’s description of the work as an ‘estranged ode’ there are moments when he has his tongue firmly in his cheek — his use of Dusty Springfield singing I just don’t know what to do is one — but there is something deeply creative and satisfying in his imagination and the work provides Lennie with moments of extraordinarily beautiful imagery. There is a brief quote from The Dying Swan, a more extended one from Nijinsky’s Faun in which Lennie finds comfort among the wings of the dead swan (to the Springfield track), but the overpowering image is the naked swan staggering blindfolded on pointe among the feathers of his nest screaming for Odette. Mercier might well be expressing aspects of his own psyche but I can’t help feeling he is also touching on aspects of Tchaikovsky himself. Swan Lake II: Dark Waters lives up to its name, swimming from one emotion to another — from sensuality to loss, from frailty to strength, from the clarity of laughter to the loneliness of self-reflection — lapping ever closer to the edge of madness. Lennie’s performance shines but this is an inspired team effort: Good’s set, Ziggy Jacobs-Wyburn’s lighting, Dinah Mullen’s sound design, Lennie’s choreography and Mercier’s direction.

Sylvia Rimat with drummer Chris Langton in This Moment Now

Sylvia Rimat with drummer Chris Langton in This Moment Now

Swan Lake II: Dark Waters is part of Chelsea Theatre’s season of contemporary performance, Sacred. It is the kind of programming that challenges and demands an investment of time, which is the subject of Sylvia Rimat’s This Moment Now that opens the evening. Rimat is as caught up in her subject as Mercier is in his but its nature — the elusive concept of time — demands a more analytical if playful approach. Rimat in her delivery is as precise as the metronomes set ticking at the beginning of her performance though these stand no comparison to the notion of atomic time to which she introduces us from outside the theatre via skype at the beginning of the show. She writes that the work is inspired by conversations with three eminent professors but it is her way of research to start with the highbrow and then find lowbrow, ludic ways to express her findings. She expresses time through spoken text, demonstrates it palpably through the beat of drummer Chris Langton and slows down the performance itself by serving tea half way through. We experience vicariously the present moment of a live cockerel on stage (thanks to the skillful stewardship of stage manager Alasair Jones) and watch filmed interviews with the elderly Eileen Ashmore (who also dances up a storm) and the young sisters Lola and Marlina Steinhauser Somers (clearly influenced but not prompted by dramaturg Tanya Steinhauser). Despite the arcane nature of the science Rimat keeps all her explanations within the framework of performance. It is what might be termed performative science: time is the subject but Rimat’s intelligent stagecraft makes it the unassuming star.

 


Still House / Dan Canham: Ours Was The Fen Country

Posted: June 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Still House / Dan Canham: Ours Was The Fen Country

Still House / Dan Canham:  Ours Was the Fen Country, The Place, June 7

Ours Was The Fen Country. Photo © Still House

Ours Was The Fen Country. Photo © Still House

‘The relationship between human beings and the earth is very complex, but it is not something remote from our daily lives. Rather, the people/earth relationship is involved in everything we do, and it affects every aspect of our experience….’ So wrote Tsunesaburo Makiguchi in his 1903 treatise A Geography of Human Life, and Dan Canham would agree. He takes the relationship between the flat land of the Fens and the people who have lived there for generations, farming, fishing, trapping and surviving the windswept, desolate, sinking countryside as the starting point for his choreographic exploration, Ours Was The Fen Country. The Fens are where Canham grew up, so the piece is both a revisiting of familiar geography and an autobiographical ode to the landscape and culture that formed him, distilling the people and places into an essence with which we can feel an emotional connection with an indelible sense of respect and humility.

Canham has already explored the notion of place as common denominator between dance and geography in his idiosyncratic history of a derelict theatre in Limerick, 30 Cecil Street, in which a building is a proxy for the town; in Ours Was The Fen Country, it is the Holme Fen Post that is a proxy for the entire countryside. The original cast-iron column, represented on stage by a wooden post, was sunk into the fen in 1852 till its top was flush with the peat surface. It now rises some four metres above ground level, a metaphor for a disappearing way of life.

Canham shares this project with three other performers, all attuned to its physical and spiritual nature: Neil Paris, Tilly Webber and Ian Morgan. Canham and assistant director, Laura Dannequin, conducted the interviews that form the raw material of the work over a period of two years, cycling or taking trains to seek out the colourful characters who people Ours Was The Fen Country and who reveal as much about themselves as the land on which they live: an indication of the trust they invested in their two interviewers, a trust that will be returned later this month when Canham and company perform Ours Was The Fen Country in some of the communities where these people live (see www.stillhouse.co.uk for dates). There’s the man who makes and lays willow traps for eels, the cattle farmer concerned about the viability of his farm, the stress counselor who gives her son the heebie-jeebies, the stableman who has shaken hands with seven members of the Royal Family, and the daughter who feels she is seeing the end of the traditional way of life. Canham holds up a mirror to their lives, like a painter who sees and develops the identifying characteristics of his subject on canvas, but he also honours them.

The recorded conversations are disembodied voices, but Canham pulls the disembodiment out of the ether and on to the stage by the way the performers inhabit the characters. We hear the words on different layers: the original interview, the same words spoken by one of the performers or lip synced; sections of conversation may alternate all three techniques, and at other times they will overlap to provide different emotional reactions. Canham, who has done the brilliant work of editing the interviews, has mined the conversations for their nuggets of wisdom and insight, and sets them in a textual framework like gemstones on a ring. At the beginning it is Webber who personifies a woman who wonders why anyone would want to learn more about the Fens, then Paris speaks about the village he lives in, Canham about Sutton Market and Morgan about the closeness of the rural communities. This is the neutral documentary style, the vanilla flavor, on top of which Canham layers additional techniques as the work progresses. There are projections of the countryside overlaid with verbal descriptions (‘flat’ is a word that comes up frequently) and a little history of the transformation of the marshland into agricultural land, and even into political land: Paris reminds us this is Cromwell country, with a portrait of the independent, cussed and awkward parliamentarian on the screen looking remarkably similar to Paris (without the warts).

Each performer is synchronized with the other three — and with the recordings — through individual iPods with earphones. For those who have seen 30 Cecil Street, the setup will be familiar, with a computer and speakers on a table at the side (updated technology from the reel-to-reel machine), timber to demarcate the performing space, chairs to sit on and some 4×4 fence posts to build a frame for the makeshift projection screen: all redolent of a summer fair on the green, a small-scale countryside laid out before us under Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting and beautifully costumed by Dannequin. But it is in the dance that I feel Canham has taken the documentary to new levels of power and poetry. There are no steps that could be characterized as ballet or modern, contemporary, hip hop or jazz; the movement finds its form from the sometimes percussive and sometimes lyrical rhythms of the recorded speech, from the hesitancies of expression as much as from the sly humour. It is dancing to the voice as an instrument, incorporating body-at-the-pub gestures and personality ticks extrapolated into rhythmic steps and forms. There is a sense that the steps emerge only when needed as an additional layer of emphasis or colour, and always echo in their groundedness the ties to the earth. When Webber’s character speaks, she looks and thinks with her, head back, arched back, tensed shoulders and turned-in feet, her stress evident before she starts to move. All the men look at her until they stand up swaying as if the world is turning too fast. Canham is aware of the fissures in this rural way of life (his title is in the past for good reason) and places himself both inside it and outside, inhabitant and commentator. The four characters look at each other, exchanging positions, keeping eye contact. Two fall to the ground then get up, before they all lurch backwards, balanced on the edge, on the brink. Canham begins a simple gesture of slowly creaking back on his chair, until all four performers seem to be riding in place. Moving off their chairs, advancing slowly, they keep the rhythm while Webber articulates her arms and head so expressively within their minimalist range. The music takes on a unifying role as its rhythms urge the characters to find new ways of moving forward together. Keeping their focus on each other, they circle the stage, their steps getting bigger, anchored in the music, now turning, now jumping in place, an optimistic, joyous expression of ‘yes’ in the obdurate shadow of the Holme Fen Post.