Posted: March 7th, 2017 | Author: Nicholas Minns | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Danai Pappa, Darling I Don't Sell Dreams, Denis Santacana, Encuentros, Hanna Wroblewski, How to Play a Room, Jan Lee, Katsura Isobe, Lucy Hansom, Resolution 2017, Thelma Sharma, Victor Fernández, Victor Guadiana | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Jan Lee, Denis Santacana Dance Company, Hanna Wroblewski
Resolution 2017: Jan Lee, Denis Santacana Dance Company, Hanna Wroblewski, February 2
Danai Pappa, Katsura Isobe and Thelma Sharma in How to Play a Room (photo: Tim Murray-Browne)
I should begin by saying Jan Lee and I shared a dramaturgy course last year given by Lou Cope. What drew me to the course was the similarity I felt between dramaturgy and the process of writing about dance; one helps build the internal cohesion of a work while the other attempts a deconstruction of the work to reveal that cohesion. Lou had suggested that any of the participants who wanted dramaturgical help on future projects should ask amongst themselves as a way of offering practical experience, which is how I came to work with Lee on her How To Play A Room. It is a privileged position from which to write as I can view the work, as it were, from somewhere in the middle.
In How to Play a Room Lee explores her own experience of being an outsider crossing social boundaries, of how to play a room when you don’t feel you belong, so having three performers of different nationalities (Katsura Isobe, Danai Pappa and Thelma Sharma) is no coincidence. Lee approaches dance with a musical mind as she is both a musician and dancer; she makes musical gestures with the bodies of her dancers and uses their voices and her own processed recordings of conversation as muscular elements in the choreography. How to Play a Room about the messiness of hybridity and the discovery of what remains inviolable. Isobe may mistranslate the physical conversation of Pappa and Sharma, and may have difficulty finding a way into their circle, but her own identity is poignantly clear in her singing of a Japanese lullaby at the end. Pappa is anchored in a dramatic reality that moves with her and she can transform her environment — especially when expressed in voluble Greek — into an emotional maelstrom, while Sharma is a Chaplinesque figure who finds strength in making sense of the world’s conundrums; she plays down her own identity and knows instinctively how to play a room. Lee and her dancers have collaborated to allow all these elements to overlap like three beams of different-coloured light to see what develops where they meet. The process is as messy as hybridity itself but somehow Lee manages to keep all the action on stage, illumined by the costumes of Elisa Nader and the lighting of Lucy Hansom, so that How To Play A Room emerges as a celebration of cultural fluidity.
There is something brutally physical in much of the dance I have seen from Spain but there is a beauty that inevitably arises from it. Denis Santacana Dance Company’s Encuentros has both a grounded physicality that borrows from flamenco and moments of sinuous energy that fly upwards. Encuentros is as much a duet about the juxtaposition of two contrasting personalities — Santacana and Victor Fernández — as it is about the overlap between the earthy and the ethereal. But if physicality is the motor, the imagery of Encuentros is mercurial, borrowing from chance meetings with changing outcomes; it is not linear but seems to move forwards and backwards. Chairs, a table and a wine glass suggest the nature of the meeting place but the table and chairs also serve as platforms for dancing, and the glass becomes a musical instrument. The relationship between the two men oscillates between manipulator and manipulated, between puppet master and puppet, and between acceptance and rejection, all depicted through episodes of careful shading and projected shadows. The imagery merges into the physicality, sometimes tortured and percussive, sometimes sinewy and light, until the story is exhausted. It’s all in the cinematic flow of the music, too: Encuentros by Victor Guadiana.
Standing on a tall pedestal, Hanna Wroblewski with her trademark red hair and flowing robe, cuts a statuesque figure. In Darling, I Don’t Sell Dreams… she shrinks the theatre (with the help of Joseph Bisat Marshall’s design and Lucy Hansom’s lighting) into an artist’s studio in which she is both the model accepting our gaze and the artist of her own creation. Inspired by her ‘fascination with the public and private personas of silver screen sirens’, Wroblewski plays a very public figure to the music of her very private thoughts. In her stillness, the bareness of her legs, the downward angle of her head and the sound of her heavy breathing, she at first appears to be on a ledge contemplating her fate. As she leans further, tiny bright red hearts cascade from her dress, flashing in the light as they fall around the pedestal. Gravity wins, but the hearts are escaping dreams. She begins to hum as she continues to revolve, letting her hair down, dipping a leg languorously to either side or raising a pliant arm, to reveal both her defiance of fear and her full sculptural presence. It takes a lot of courage to maintain this slow revolution (interestingly it allows us to conjure up so many images) but it becomes a dream-like metaphor for another kind of courage Wroblewski is about to reveal. After lowering herself over the pedestal, head draped towards us, she breaks the silence with an admission: she has an age-old fear of singing in public except, she realises, when she is feeling comfortable with her surroundings. Evidently she does here, for she launches into the sentimental ballad, Dream A Little Dream Of Me, finding just enough breath and just the right notes, not selling dreams but wrapping them up as gifts.
Posted: January 20th, 2017 | Author: Nicholas Minns | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Andrew Oliver, double pendulum, Drew Taylor, Elisabeth Schilling, Hannah Kidd, Helen Cox, Impressing the Grand Duke, John Ross, John Ross Dance, Lucy Hansom, Mélanie Planchard, Nicole Guarino, Resolution 2017, Simone Mousset, They Never Were | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Helen Cox, John Ross Dance & Simone and Elisabeth
Resolution 2017: Helen Cox, John Ross Dance, & Simone and Elisabeth
Simone Mousset and Elisabeth Schilling in Impressing the Grand Duke (photo: Bohumil Kostohryz)
Resolution is a festival of emerging artists, but for an explanation of the perilous stages of emergence there is no better guide than Simone Mousset and Elisabeth Schilling’s hilarious Impressing the Grand Duke. Having experienced the travails of ascending from ‘the deep and mysterious choreographic forest’ to ‘the deep inverted choreographic mountain’ they know how it’s done. Impressing the Grand Duke is told as a fable about an artist called Nymphadora who dances and dreams all day long in an obscure corner of the world. One day she receives a visit from the Grand Duke who recognizes her as an up-and-coming artiste, an original talent and future star and sends her on a mission to conquer the choreographic world. Nymphadora is played by both Schilling as Nympha, the stubborn, egocentric creative, and by Mousset as Dora, her harridan muse and business manager. Add the fairytale costumes by Mélanie Planchard and there are no limits to which these two consummate clowns will descend to deliver a satirical farce of the highest order. Despite Dora’s low opinion about their prospects (“Nympha, we are not getting anywhere in our art. You are always dancing the same dance….We have to emerge.”) the two manage to get through the various choreographic contests by squabbling or riffing verbally on their inability to choreograph. For Dora the goals are clear: international stardom, real visibility, real props and costumes, and sponsorship. For Nympha real costumes are trumped by the prospect of a visit from the Grand Duke.
They finally emerge (completely) to recorded congratulations against a Hollywood soundtrack so you can almost see the credits rolling up the screen as you reach for your Kleenex. Only one thing worries Nympha, who with devastating timing between the batting of her false eyelashes and the pouting of her red lips asks Dora, “And now?”
The choreography is ascribed to both Mousset and Schilling; not only are they natural counterparts to each other on stage but through their creative alchemy they anchor the theatricality of the work in a musical form. For last year’s Resolution Mousset and Schilling worked together on Their Past to the symphonic music of Yuri Khanon but for Impressing the Grand Duke music provides only the initial impetus. Schilling begins the work dancing with capricious delight to Claude Debussy’s Étude 10 pour les sonorités opposés, on pointe, and even when Mousset comes thundering down the aisle on to the stage she never disregards the music’s rhythmic structure. But when the Étude finishes, the work continues as a tightly coherent physical score with spoken and recorded texts, and the Hollywood finale. In Impressing the Grand Duke, Mousset and Schilling have added a delightful sense of humour to their musicality and ability to paint with dance, which makes them a creative duo to watch. All the more so now they have emerged.
Helen Cox’s double pendulum (ee cummings punctuation) opens the program. It takes place in either a spacious attic or a church nave sculpted in light and haze by Lucy Hansom and Ric Mountjoy. There is something of both the domestic and the spiritual in this duet that Cox dances with Andrew Oliver; their relationship has a domestic flavour in the way they set out their individual dynamics in their initial solos and then borrow from each other, but the spatial design, enhanced by the lighting, puts the work on a spiritual plane. Both dancers have the ability to stretch their gestures way beyond the reach of their limbs and Cox can effortlessly inhabit a spiral that wraps the space around her; together she and Oliver control space. They do not touch for much of the work (when Cox clutches Oliver’s wrist it comes as a shock) but glide around and replace each other in a silence of choreography that the selection of tracks by Loscil and Floating Points intensifies; their relationship develops out of the choreography rather than being described by it. It is one of the few works I have seen that stands on its own choreographic merits without any need for notes or explanations.
In an evening of duets (unless we count the offstage presence of The Grand Duke), John Ross and Nicole Guarino’s work, They Never Were, takes its title from its predominant motif of unfinished gestures. The choreography is a rich tapestry of gestures but the grounding of each one is constantly withdrawn like a quietly redacted conversation. As in double pendulum there is a silence that pervades the work, both in the quality of movement and in the intertwined gestures that barely connect. Hannah Kidd’s costumes soften the bodies while Hansom herself again works her magic with a mist of lighting that further dissolves the figures into sculptural forms: we barely see the faces of the two dancers. Enhancing this sense of the ethereal is a score of Arvo Pärt’s haunting Für Alina and an extract from Jon Hopkins’ Immunity on top of which we hear a series of short, recorded phrases (written by Drew Taylor) like memory traces. Ross and Guarino keep these elements in constant suspension while their feet remain effortlessly on the ground. The nature of the work withdraws quietly into its title with equal elegance.
Posted: January 2nd, 2015 | Author: Nicholas Minns | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Dane Hurst, Lucy Hansom, Luke Ahmet, No. 1 Convergence, O'dabo, Patricia Okenwa, Paul Gladstone Reid, Pierre Tappon, Rambert, Related, RIFT, Simone Damberg Würtz, The Place, Unspoken Dialect | Comments Off on Rambert New Choreography
Rambert New Choreographers, The Place, December 16
Dane Hurst in O’dabo (photo: John Ross)
A student handed in a paper to his professor. The next time the professor saw the student he asked him if he considered the paper the best he could have done. Nonplussed, the student reflected, re-read his text, made some changes and re-submitted the paper the following day. When the professor saw him again he asked the same question. The student thought he must have missed something and decided to rework the paper one final time. On submitting it again, and faced with the same question, he replied with conviction, “Yes, sir.” “Then I will read it,” responded the professor.
A ticket-paying member of an audience, like the professor, has a similar expectation of the work he or she is about to see. Even if the performance comprises new choreography from dancers within a company trying their hand at the form, one wants to see works that have found their final form. Works that are still in a process of evolution should remain in the studio or be shown in an open rehearsal. As the evening in question involves Rambert, what excuse could possibly be wanting to open the doors of their new home for such a purpose?
Of five works on the program at The Place, only one has found its form, and that is Dane Hurst’s paean to Nelson Mandela, O’dabo. The other four, for all their crafting, are closer to sketches: interesting only in the context of the final form but as the final form they lose their cogency. Artistic Director of Rambert, Mark Baldwin, explains at the beginning of the evening that this annual platform is a necessary step for aspiring choreographers within the company towards making work for the main stage. Patricia Okenwa, who is working towards her first commission for the company in 2016, admits in her program notes that No. 1 Convergence is a process, but this is not her first attempt at choreography; she is experienced in this program and should, with a commission in the offing, be closer to bringing the parts of No. 1 Convergence into a formal unity. Choreographed on six dancers, the convergence of patterns is evident but the convergence of overall form is not.
Luke Ahmet’s duet Unspoken Dialect starts from an interesting premise of making internal dialogue visible, but it is a premise that lends itself more to a solo than to a duet. Adam Blyde and Carolyn Bolton in effect perform two solos that happen to intersect on the same stage at the same time. They are both striking dancers but the reason for them dancing together is missing and this detracts from the ideas Ahmet sets out to develop.
Some ideas for choreography seem destined not to translate and Simone Damberg Würtz’s RIFT, based on an old ad from her native Denmark illustrating the fatal consequences of not wearing a seatbelt whilst driving is a case in point. It might have helped to create the aural impact of a crash to set a clear, dramatic context, but instead Damberg Würtz takes an existential idea of ‘the unshakeable sense of guilt a death can have on the conscience’ on which to base her physical exploration. Such cerebral concerns reduce dance space and time in RIFT to a stillness unrelieved by an accompanying Danish text that, if it has significance for Damberg Würtz, is not shared with those of us in the audience who don’t understand Danish.
It is in Pierre Tappon’s Related that a clear choreographic idea begins to develop between the trio of Liam Francis, Antonia Hewitt and Stephen Wright. Tappon calls it a short story and sets up a stage of symbolic sculptural elements — a rock-like doorway and pedestal — on which and around which the characters dance. In the story, Hewitt appears to be a siren whose initial allure fails to win over the two men, perhaps because it is Francis who demonstrates a palpable allure in the fluidity of his dancing and the movement he is given to explore.
Hurst explains O’dabo (a Yoruba expression meaning ‘until I return’ or ‘goodbye’) as ‘a physical reaction to my reflections on the many faces of Nelson Mandela.’ Hurst, who was brought up in South Africa, has made the country his focus once before (The Window) in a Rambert choreographic evening, and his connection with his subject is visceral; his inspiration flows not only into his movement but through all the elements of the work — the first movement of Paul Gladstone Reid’s Symphony of Dust and Air, the richly coloured carpets laid out so carefully, Lucy Hansom’s lighting and Hurst’s costume of cloth and powder. He expresses in his body what he imagines it is like to build hope, to have a vision, to counter frailty, face defeat and emerge victorious and he has the courage to keep his choreographic language close to the ground, transforming his internal conviction into the physical symbolism of Mandela’s journey. This transformation breaks down only when Hurst defaults to classical technique in the form of turns and barrel rolls that appear more about the dancer than the master. If he can develop the early imagery and follow it through to its apotheosis rather than borrowing from a foreign idiom, O’dabo will gain in cohesion, something Mandela himself championed.
Posted: September 20th, 2014 | Author: Nicholas Minns | Filed under: Performance | Tags: Eclipse, Eimi Leggett, Elena Zube Perez, Erik Nyberg, Fionn Cox Davies, Hester Gill, Joe Martin, Joey Barton, John Ross, Jordan Ajadi, Kathy Collings, Lee Smikle, Lewis Wilkins, Lez Brotherson, Little Sheep, Lucy Hansom, Matthew Bourne, NACA Showcase, Shoreditch Youth Dance Company, Stephen Moynihan, Will Thompson, Wolfpack | 1 Comment »
John Ross Dance, NACA showcase Triple Bill, Hackney Empire, September 17
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.