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.


Scottish Dance Theatre: Second Coming & Winter, Again

Posted: March 25th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: Second Coming & Winter, Again

Scottish Dance Theatre, Double Bill, The Place, March 8.

Lewis Wilkins and Eve Ganneau in Second Coming. Photo Maria Falconer

Lewis Wilkins and Eve Ganneau in Second Coming. Photo Maria Falconer

Joan Clevillé draws me so convincingly into his subterfuge that I can forgive Victor Quijada for the beginning of his Second Coming; I had checked the running time of the show and had booked a train that would give me just enough time between the end of the performance and the departure from Victoria station. When Clevillé, who is rehearsal director of the company as well as a dancer, announces that there will be a delay to the start of the show — he has an excellent command of English but his searching for a word and his roving accentuation underlines the hesitation and insecurity of his explanations — I feel my comfort zone shrink rapidly. Luckily I am sitting next to Chantal Guevara who surreptitiously checks online and reassured me that this is in fact the beginning of the show (but don’t tell anyone). It’s a forewarning that we will be kept in a constant state of unpreparedness throughout the evening as there is no clear demarcation between true and false, belief and non-belief. Even the score by Jasper Gahunia erases boundaries, seamlessly interpolating turntable riffs into classical music and vice versa. Quijada and Gahunia are clearly on the same wavelength.

Twenty minutes into the show, Clevillé admits to the dramatic subterfuge, and starts another, but we are now attuned: the choreographer has been fired. It is a harmless, self-deprecating put-down of choreographers as macho control freaks with anger management issues, but, as Clevillé states modestly, there is still some amazing dancing to come and he saves the best for last: his own solo. What follows is much more, for although it starts (after a false start) with his slow, deliberate, finger-tracing solo to a phrase of a Bach prelude, it develops with Mozartian richness into a confrontational duet with Jori Kerremans on a spirited phrase of Paganini, and then into a trio with Nicole Guarino on a phrase from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 13 (Emma Jones’ must have been dancing along to get the cues so perfectly). It is as if Quijada has arranged an epic breaking battle for these three composers who then join forces to play variations on their respective themes and by the end we are all laughing and cheering so loudly because Quijada, Gahunia, the three dancers and Jones have it all down so perfectly.

Matthew Robinson cuts through the applause (he has to wait a while) to deliver his critique of this ‘performance-non-performance thing’ as ‘overworked pseudo-intellectual rubbish’, but he has to continue his defiant monologue in defense of dancers while being dragged slowly by his collar around the stage.

Quijada has reached the summit but there is no lessening of quality as the ensemble descends the mountainside climbing through and under each other in a grouping that leaves behind the opening images of birds and street gangs, flocks and individuals, suspicion and tension as it slips freely to the point of dispersal. Only Eve Ganneau and Lewis Wilkins are left to deliver a duet that is as magical as it is off balance, as heartfelt as it is artfully constructed and which ends on a mysterious note of inversion.

It is rare to find a company with such a diverse range of qualities and a delight to see choreography that brings out those qualities to perfection. We are doubly fortunate this evening for it happens twice.

SDT in Jo Stromgren's Winter, Again.

Lewis Wilkins, Giulia Montalbano, Julian Juárez, Jori Kerremans, Joan Clevillé, Nicole Guarino and Eve Ganneau in Jo Stromgren’s Winter, Again.

Jo Strømgren is as much a theatre director as a choreographer; in his Winter, Again he brings together both drama and dance in a fluent form that integrates visual imagery and choreography so well that the dancers could well be speaking. Strømgren’s text is the cold and bitter emotion of a selection of songs from Schubert’s Winterreise (played by fellow Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes and sung by Ian Bostridge) though he can never take quite seriously the high romanticism of Wilhelm Müller’s verse. Instead he mischievously juxtaposes Schubert’s music with the bloodthirsty, churlish actions of an isolated hunting community dressed in shades of ghostly white (by Bregje van Balen) that lives its daily fight for survival with as little emotion as the winter itself. Echoes of Ibsen and Chekhov abound in the chilling screams, pistol shots, dead birds and other furry carcasses but Strømgren has us laughing helplessly from the beginning with his brand of dark, irreverent humour. Not even the fate of a young girl (Natalie Trewinnard) who spends the entire performance searching for her eyeballs that the pigtailed beauty Maria Hayday finds in a tin and mindlessly drops in the snow can prompt a sense of sympathy. Trewinnard finally finds her eyes and pops them back in, but her focal adjustment is so masterfully funny — and Strømgren’s dramatic sense so seasoned — that her subsequent suicide by pistol shot that brings the performance to an end is less of an emotional charge than a dramatic full stop.

This program is the parting gift of former artistic director Janet Smith. Fleur Darkin is in the seat now. In the evening’s program she writes that ‘contemporary dance is a form that lives by destroying its past’ and yet both of this evening’s remarkable works make creative use of the past to find new forms rather than destroying it. Scottish Dance Theatre is, in its present form, a gifted company and while it has such a rich repertoire may the only kind of destruction under discussion be creative destruction. And long may it last.