Leila McMillan, Family Portrait

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Leila McMillan, Family Portrait

Leila McMillan, Family Portrait, The Borough Hall, Greenwich Dance, June 12

Family Portait (photo: Manuel Vasquez)

Family Portait (photo: Manuel Vasquez)

“What moves me is the actor who can move me, if only for an instant. True theatre is a balance between truth and poetry. “ Ariane Mnouchkine

If, like me, you hadn’t heard of the contemporary dance technique of Flying Low and Passing Through, you can look online for founder David Zambrano to get a full account of what he teaches. Briefly, he discovered over the course of rehabilitation for his injured feet how to use the floor to develop the dynamics of the rest of his body. Once he had regained the strength in his feet, Zambrano developed his technique that his friends jokingly referred to as Flying Low. Passing Through is a further development of his technique through improvisation. Choreographer Leila McMillan teaches the technique and has based her new work on its principles, though Family Portrait is perhaps less a demonstration of the technique as it is a framework for the improvisational play of one-upmanship that McMillan and the cast have developed.

It is hard to imagine a more heterogeneous family than this one: Faith Prendergast, Karl William Fagerlund Brekke, Karolina Kraczkowska, Monsur Ali, Martha Passakopoulou, Typhaine Delaup and Danilo Caruso. McMillan clearly relishes the diversity of the performers, not only of their characters but of their physical attributes — most noticeably the disparity in sizes between Brekke and Prendergast. What unites them is a wicked sense of humour that Paolo Fiorentini has brought out in his costumes topped with a selection of rakish hats that make these children chic and colourful on top of their natural exuberance. The set by I. Carlos is enclosed on three sides by banks of seating in The Borough Hall at Greenwich Dance, a stage emptied of furniture except for guitarist Domenico Angarano’s seat and musical equipment in one corner. Ben Pacey and Emerald Faerie light the stage to the intimate scale of the family with a selection of floor lamps and hanging chandeliers created by Faerie herself.

Silence descends on the room, a long silence in the dark broken by the creaking hinges of a metal door and the sound of scampering feet. The siblings emerge from the shadows in a tight group with what seems like trepidation but each is already wondering how best to upstage the others. This is no collection of shrinking violets; the stage is their frame and they make a point of presenting their best face to each of the three sides of the auditorium as if posing for a photographer. Each successive pose becomes a little more complicated, elongated and manipulated as the improvisation develops according to the machinations of each character. Delaup soon emerges as a provocateur, always smiling even while she is obstructing someone from the frame or throwing herself into it. Kraczkowska is the eccentric, duly unconcerned with all that is going on around her but managing to take centre stage whenever possible. There is something of the clown in her that permeates the flying low and passing through, giving it a character that is all her own.

Angarano’s guitar accompaniment enters into the sense of fun, plucking notes and playing riffs on the behaviour of the family, colouring it as well as taking it on a journey. In a sense he wills the dancers to continue without directing them.

The opening section is quite slow and subtle as the performers attune to each other’s movement tics and traits but the improvisation soon starts to open up as Prendergast and Passakopoulou drag Delaup out the frame and the subsequent groupings become more hilarious and bizarre: Brekke is upturned, the hats are passed around, Kraczkowska removes Prendergast by her overalls as if she is a carrier bag and there are headlocks and tripping over each other in the clambering for position. The Japanese have a saying that the nail that sticks up is always beaten down, and Brekke seems to suffer from the truth of this as he is cuddled, straddled and bent over to the height of his siblings. He subsequently uses his height to disguise himself as a lampstand until Kraczkowska tries to lift him into the light socket. Passakopoulou presents the lining of her jacket as a bullfighter’s cape, Kraczowska delivers a breathtaking improvisation in the middle of the bustle and then everyone is running. Angarano gets swept to his feet and enters into the rhythmic swirl as the children fly around the room. The hustling and scurrying reaches a climax when Brekke throws himself to the ground in what appears to be a series of fits. The mood changes to one of inward contemplation and the more extrovert siblings begin to tire. Ali and Caruso, like late developers, start to emerge into the light but nothing, it seems, will tire Kraczkowska’s imagination and drive; she makes wings of Passakopoulou’s shirt, picks up Prendergast again and tries to plug her into one of the lamps and finally puts on all the hats, framing herself between two lampstands as the others withdraw to watch the remnants of their family portrait. The lamps dim, Angarano resolves the music beautifully and all is quiet again.

 

For those who missed it in performance, there is a showing of Family Portrait on film on July 31

On December 3 Leila McMillan is curating a Wild Card evening at the Lilian Baylis

 


Touch Wood 1 at The Place

Posted: September 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Touch Wood 1 at The Place

Touch Wood, The Place, September 3

Three women relax, stretch and gaze out at the audience as we come into the studio. On stage there is a wooden platform with two tiny, coloured beach chairs on it and a long wire hanging above it with a light fitting at one end but no bulb. This is Touch Wood, in which ‘four choreographers straight out of the studio seek out the audiences’ reaction as they try out fragments of their latest work.’ Or as the director of theatre and artist development, Eddie Nixon, points out in his introduction, ‘What unites all these works is that nothing is yet finished.’

Dog Kennel Hill has been working on Etudes in Tension and Cries, which Rachel Lopez de la Nieta introduces. It is the outcome of five days of work ‘appropriating scenes of high drama and conflict to see how we find ourselves in relation to them.’ ‘Appropriating’ is the operative word here; despite the gravity of the material the result is ambivalent, coming across as almost parodic. The melodramatic title could be a clue. There are four tableaux in which aggressor and victim change roles. In the first Lopez de la Nieta is a parade ground sergeant barking at a choreographer (Heni Hale) who is gently punching out a movement motif and answering back in army parlance about the duality of mind and body. The second frames a face-off between Lopez de la Nieta as a domineering director and Hale as her terrified, speechless assistant. The director wants her to talk about the work. Lopez de la Nieta’s languorous gyrations betray her pleasure at inflicting discomfort, while Hale is petrified and withers under the scrutiny. Finally, she stammers, ‘I think we should show it to some people and get some feedback.’ In the third tableau, Hale is the bullying aggressor pushing Lopez de la Nieta to her physical limits in a comic book treatment of boot camp with American accents, and the fourth portrays a sexual aggressor (a gyrating Hale this time) whose victim places a length of rope on her own lap, tapes her own mouth and puts her hands behind her chair. Neither Lopez de la Nieta nor Hale hold back in their performance but the treatment of violence remains enigmatic. Annie Loc is on stage to manage the lights — Guy Hoare’s lightprint is in the work already — but has no role in the action.

I had misread the title of William Collins’ work, Untied States, as United States, thinking he was an American in London. As soon as he begins to talk in a broad Scottish accent, I realize my mistake. In his introduction, Collins compares a dance in which the act disappears as soon as it is performed to the written word that can be left and picked up again at any time. I don’t remember what else he said, but his performance remains indelibly imprinted on my memory. Collins shares Untied States with Airen Koopmans and Eleanor Sikorski, but his quirky, angular choreographic style is so idiosyncratic that they wear it rather than inhabit it. As soon as Collins takes the stage, not unlike an Egon Schiele drawing in motion, it is clear he is totally committed to what he is doing; it’s in the eyes which are as engaged as the rest of his body. Collins is someone (he explains later) who can read a book in no particular order, and his choreography borrows from this propensity, though remaining (and this is what dance has over the written word) rivetingly in the moment. When we see emerge from his gestures the image of a long-haired girl throwing her hair around (he has no hair), and fanning herself before taking a refreshing shower, we are not sure if it’s the end of the story or the beginning, but he has fixed it in our minds with his wry sense of humour and inimitable mime, giving meaning to what has gone before. While he is rinsing his hair, Nixon calls ‘time out’ and the work steps out of its frame. In a revealing session of questions and answers with the choreographer afterwards (part of the Touch Wood format), Collins speaks about the beginning of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves in which she describes in minute detail all the elements of a sunrise before the reader can put all the micro elements together to see the bigger picture. Collins seems to have pulled off a similar accomplishment in his choreography.

Valentina Golfieri walks on clutching her Mac, sets up a screen on the side, beams some images on to it and introduces her work, Strange and Unproductive Thinking to David Lynch’s track of the same name. Golfieri says she is not working towards making a product as much as she wants to create a means to an end. The images on the screen are a record of her influences. Standing centre stage, without moving her feet, her arms pull her neck and back down to her feet, again and again, faster, like peeling off a jumper or taking off layers to see what is left. What is left? Golfieri is not sure; her dark and lively eyes wear an expression of uncertainty as the unpeeling gets out of control. She pulls it back from chaos and her face relaxes; she is enjoying the process, circling her body now with raised arm gestures, until a sense of worry and despair returns. As the music stops she is left holding her head. In the silence she repeats a phrase ‘What if I speak now’ quietly, somewhere between a prayer and an incantation. Golfieri’s bold process reminds me of Paul Taylor’s early choreographic experiments in which he deliberately used everyday gestures (walking, queuing, standing) in an effort to rid himself of the influences of his past on any present or future choreography. To some it was strange and unproductive, but it gave him a platform (and the confidence) on which to build. Golfieri’s process is also one of divestment but we shall have to wait to see if it is the stimulus she wants.

Joseph Mercier lugs on his Mac connected to a keyboard. Tess Letham rolls on a suitcase and Leila McMillan and Jordan Lennie drag on large crash pad. Mercier and his Panic Lab colleagues introduce the concept of Toxic as a comic strip: how we might be superheroes, using a movement vocabulary of characterization with little bits of a story. Letham takes her suitcase with her to the microphone to set the story’s context; she has just the right intonation and delivery. The show begins with city sounds; Joseph is a man reading the Daily Mail (with the headline Pupils packed in like sardines) waiting for a bus with two others. Letham herself is, we are to imagine, dressed in a yellow leather biker suit, ‘like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.’ Mercier picks a fight with her in which the other two join, but Letham makes quick work of his attack and defends herself convincingly in slow motion combat circling the stage, beating them all. She is the only one left standing. ‘It was not my intention to do that in front of you’ she demurs heroically into the microphone.

In the second clip, Lennie is locked up in jail. Mercier the interrogator asks him his name. ‘T-Cell’. We hear the sound of a whip (thanks to sound designer Dinah Mullen). What’s your real name? asks Mercier, trying hard to look menacing. Whip. What do you know about the one they call Canary? McMillan walks down the stage provocatively, arms rising, looking at each of us, a femme fatale. Letham provokes her by saying, ‘I’m the Iron Lady, the world’s most powerful.’ McMillan tells us that the girl wearing the yellow suit is a whole world of trouble. They strut around each other. McMillan zaps her with her fingers: round one to the femme fatale. Mercier moves the crash pad to meet Letham’s next knockout. Meanwhile Lennie wakes up and tangles with her but McMillan steps in to destroy them both while Mercier looks on wide-eyed.

He warns us that the next scene is a little violent. He and Lennie are walking around in another slow motion fight scene, punctuated by violent contact blows or lifts that send Lennie flying while the two girls look on. Letham concludes in a bubble of speech that she knows exactly what she needs to do. They all do. To be continued.