Fevered Sleep, Men & Girls Dance

Posted: April 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Fevered Sleep, Men & Girls Dance

Fevered Sleep, Men & Girls Dance, The Place, April 13

Matthew Morris and two of the girls in Fevered Sleep’s Men & Girls Dance (photo: Matthew Andrews)

I came away from Fevered Sleep’s Men & Girls Dance at The Place with an empty feeling that had started during the performance; for a theatrical presentation this means a failure. The empty feeling developed into a sense of annoyance, all the more vexing as there was nothing specific I could identify in the show that supported it and it was in marked contrast to the upbeat vibe of an audience who evidently loved it.

The idea for Men & Girls Dance started innocently enough when the directors of Fevered Sleep, Sam Butler and David Harradine, were auditioning trained male dancers for a project the day after seeing young girls performing in an end-of-term dance school show. Wondering what they might produce by bringing two such groups together, they explored the social and political implications of men and girls in our society. As Butler and Harradine explain in their newspaper of a program, ‘Men & Girls Dance hopes to offer provocations about, and ultimately solutions to, what we feel has fast become a problem around the culture of adults, and especially male adults, just being with children today.’ ‘We want people to be troubled’, says Butler elsewhere, to which Harradine adds, ‘To be troubled by witnessing playful, tender relationships. Why should that be troubling? But it is…’

The common language between men and girls is play, and this is where the production works best. The set is covered in newspaper pages, crumpled up and heaped at the back or carefully taped together in sheets like a quilt in the centre of the floor. Leaving aside the metaphorical significance of media coverage as floor coverage, the games played in this arena draw me into the engagement between the nine girls and the five men (including a brilliant entrance for Robert Clark who emerges from the crumpled newspapers at the back, dressed in…crumpled newspaper) with a theatrical sophistication that stands on its own. But beyond this delightful play, the choreographic ideas have the drawn-out quality of blandness with a giggly smile.

Part of the popularity of Men & Girls Dance undoubtedly has to do with the young girls who are auditioned locally wherever performances take place. In London the girls are Pebbles Doughty-White, Molly Beasley-Martin, Maya Demetriou, Belesther Huberson-Abie, Chadni Miah, Neve Seekings, Momoka Taniguchi-Warren, Amber Worboys Sayers and Rania Yarde. It must be a wonderful and nerve-wracking experience for them: wonderful to be performing with these five men (Clark, Kip Johnson, Luke Crook, Nick Lawson and Matthew Morris) and nerve-wracking to be learning both text and choreography to performance level in a short space of time. They do it brilliantly.

The other draw for Men & Girls Dance is that it’s a project whose premise you can’t easily reject: to create ‘a public space which allows play, tenderness, trust, empathy and love’ between men and girls. One can understand, for example, why the Wellcome Trust would want to support it and how the hype around the show generates ticket sales (the run at The Place has 9 performances, up to and including Saturday April 22). But a theatrical performance is more than its premise, and my empty feeling perhaps has its origin in the distance between the proposal and its manifestation. Men & Girls Dance treats a subject that is both light and dark, but its presentation on stage is only light; so where is the provocation, and to whom might it be addressed? It seems the only troubling thing about Men & Girls Dance is the absence of anything troubling. It’s a show the girls in their intuitively playful way might have choreographed and then asked the adults to formulate emotionally and intellectually. While the parallel social implications may well be contentious — the 64 pages of program text are an indication of how sensitive the subject can be — the choreographic manifestation in a controlled public space where the men need DBS checks to perform loses all pretensions of being provocative.

Could it be that an unintended consequence of current written funding applications is that what ticks the right boxes is the social significance and implications of a proposal rather than the quality of the performance which, at the point of application, may not yet have been created? Fevered Sleep has written a carefully worded newspaper about the subject of men and girls to accompany the show, offers discussions on the subject within each community where it plays and has garnered plaudits for broaching the subject — all valid — but it feels as if the company has sold us the funding application rather than the show.


Hubert Essakow, Terra

Posted: March 17th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hubert Essakow, Terra

Hubert Essakow, Terra, The Print Room at The Coronet, March 12

Benjamin Warbis, Rob Bridger, Luke Crook and Monique Jonas in Terra

Benjamin Warbis, Rob Bridger, Luke Crook and Monique Jonas in Terra (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulou)

Terra is the final part of Hubert Essakow’s trilogy based on the three elements of water, fire and earth. First came Flow, then Ignis and now Terra. I didn’t see Flow but in Ignis Essakow used the analogy of human passion to explore the element, and fire also made a dramatic appearance on stage. In Terra the analogy with earth is that of the human footprint but the element of earth does not appear on stage. In the handsome program for Terra are three performance photographs by Zadoc Nava of Estela Merlos, Luke Crook and Benjamin Warbis dancing on sand; the link with earth is immediate, but for some reason the concept has not been carried into the production.

After a stunning opening solo by Merlos as the romantic, half-naked spirit of Mother Earth, four chalky white dancers climb onto the cramped white stage with their white rhomboid suitcases, to begin Earth’s population. They look as if they are artists from a travelling mime circus who have lost their way. The contrast with Mother Earth couldn’t be greater, but paradoxically it is she who is out of place in Terra. The set, by Sofie Lachaert & Luc D’Hanis, is a paper cliff at the foot of which furniture thrown down from the top has come to rest: chairs, a table, a wardrobe, a lamp, a broken mirror. Everything is whitewashed, abstracted and drained of any hint of earth. The set instead belongs to an artistic concept for which Terra seems ill adapted. Lachaert and D’Hanis are designers who have ‘built together an intriguing oeuvre of objects, furniture and site-specific installations, in which they interrogate the boundaries between fine art, craft and design.’ That might work well in the Hayward Gallery but not here. Martina Trottman’s costumes are clearly influenced by Lachaert and D’Hanis so two of the principle theatrical elements in Terra take it in a different direction, one suspects, from that conceived by the choreographer. Militating against the shift is a poem by Ben Okri who was commissioned to write it for Terra. It is rich in allusions and allegories of Earth and we hear the sonorous voice of Okri reading passages from it through the work. Introduced initially over Merlos’s solo with sound designer Gareth Mitchell’s soft rumbling of falling rocks, Terra thus begins in harmony before the seismic conceptual shift takes over.

…Our beginning who knows it,
Except the silent mother
Who was the womb
For all this history.
From her we grow, we die,
We rise…

The four dancers (Crook, Warbis, Rob Bridger and Monique Jonas) gather cautiously on the shore, a confluence of strangers despite their similar appearance and identical suitcases. There is a little mistrust in their exploration of each other, a testing of boundaries and balance, as Merlos, now costumed similarly, tries to make them feel at home. Jean-Michel Bernard’s score is redolent of Debussy, airy and playful, while Mitchell’s growling sounds suggest weight and danger.

All these faces,
All these masks and dreams
And dances,
All these leaps into the unknown,
All these eyes
That gaze into the mysteries,
All these feet

That turn and leap and glide
Across continents
In the curving dance
Of time.

Essakow’s choreography keeps close to Okri’s poetry, finding in it both the keys to the non-narrative nature of his elemental drama and personal traits for his dancers; Jonas’s solo, like Merlos’s earlier, arises out of the verse, embodying it and enriched by it. The human footprint is extended by the appearance of Constance Booth whose maturity allows her to hold her own with the adults, as much a child of the family as she is an individual in her own right. Essakow now condenses the action to a series of short tableaux separated by blackouts: the family; broadening horizons; risk-taking and exploration on the paper mountain with a pulsing score. You get the idea, but in such a cramped space with a restrictive set that waters down the elemental force of Okri’s poem, the human footprint slows to a melodramatic plod with predictable symbolism; we hear a recording of different languages while the performers stare at the audience as if looking at the future. The three women dance to Okri’s lines:

Mother of culture
And all the magic
We can conceive,
She is the greatest
Magic of them all.

When the men rejoin, the stage is swirling in movement but without a clear idea of where it is going until it resolves in a line at the front of the stage. The cast leaves except for Merlos and Booth, the ‘spirit made flesh’ and the promise of a future. There is the rumbling sound again, and Merlos looks at the girl, performs a kind of benediction and retreats.

At a post-show talk with Marc Brew at the Lilian Baylis just two days before, Dame Evelyn Glennie had spoken of the nature of collaborations as being intrinically unstable; you just don’t know if it’s going to work until the collaboration is complete. With Terra Essakow staked his success on a raft of collaborators, some of whom understood his concept and others who just supplied their own. Perhaps that is, after all, an apt, if unintended comment on the current state of the Earth.


Holly Blakey: Some Greater Class

Posted: September 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Holly Blakey: Some Greater Class

Holly Blakey, Some Greater Class, Hales Gallery, August 21

Holly Blakey's Some Greater Class at Hales Gallery (photo © Hales Gallery London)

Holly Blakey’s Some Greater Class at Hales Gallery (photo © Hales Gallery London)

The convergence of art gallery and dance performance is an interesting one, especially when the dance is presented as an exhibit. At the invitation of Hales Gallery, choreographer and director Holly Blakey brings her experience of performance art and music videos to the gallery space in the form of Some Greater Class. Dance in this kind of setting is not new but Blakey’s presence here goes beyond the performance itself. One of the preoccupations of Some Greater Class focuses on the relationship between High Art and pop culture, or rather on the perceived value systems and expectations of the two. By transposing on to a formal gallery setting a popular commercial dance form based on the pop music video and with DJs Gwilym Gold and Darkstar on hand to provide the music, Blakey invites our attention to shift from subjective association to objective appreciation.

Against a wall of Hales Gallery the narrow temporary stage with potted plants at either end acts as a frame for the dance, more like the frame of a painting than a theatrical proscenium. Blakey’s dance is contained mostly within the frame using the columns of the gallery as additional props. She nevertheless plays with this formal display, having one of the dancers step off the stage at one point to continue his dance among the galleried throng and occasionally sitting her dancers on the front of the stage, observing members of the audience observing them. The fourth wall is thus perforated but not entirely removed; the onlooker, by close proximity to the action, also participates. The audience is seated close to the stage as at a fashion show and the six dancers (Luke Crook, Chester Hayes, Grace Jabbari, Naomi Weijand, Busola Peters and Ted Rogers) take their places at the beginning like models on a catwalk. The costumes by Blakey and Hannah Hopkins are a layered patchwork of skin-coloured trappings over bare skin or body tights, a commercially sensual image that hides as much as it purports to reveal.

Blakey’s mediation between pop culture and High Art is a provocative blurring of the edges of both art form and perception but it comes with its own artistic risk. Some Greater Class does not simply place a pop music video in a highbrow establishment to test perceptions; Blakey has distilled elements of commercial dance into an expressive choreographic form that points to but does not mimic the original. It is as if she has gone some way to bridging the perceived gap in values before presenting her thesis. But on reflection it is the interplay of ideas that comes across more compellingly than the performance. Some Greater Class delivers a quality of movement that is intimate bordering on narcissistic with a heady mixture of gestures from bodybuilding, martial arts, yoga as well as stylized sexual play. At the end the six characters take stock of their exertions with a blank stare that speaks of euphoria or exhaustion or both; Some Greater Class functions according to its own hedonistic rules and fades out, presumably to start again at the next opportunity. In bringing the characters and the movement (and the DJs) to a gallery, Blakey succeeds in framing Some Greater Class as an artifact but does not translate it fully to the stage; it thus sits ambivalently between the two. It reminds me of the ubiquitous selfie: a camera (and a universe) turned on itself in which the viewer and the viewed are one and the same. It is a picture with significance for the participants and for those related to them but it lacks the detachment that marks a work of art.