Didy Veldman’s Umanoove, The Happiness Project

Posted: May 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Didy Veldman’s Umanoove, The Happiness Project

Didy Veldman’s Umanoove, The Happiness Project, The Place, May 6, 2017

Dane Hurst, Estela Merlos, Mathieu Geffré and Hannah Kidd in The Happiness Project (photo: Chris Nash)

Happiness is an elusive state and like the Mona Lisa’s smile remains enigmatic under scrutiny. There have been a couple of dance projects at The Place created around the concept of happiness: Robert Clark’s Promises of Happiness and now The Happiness Project by Didy Veldman, her first independent work for her own company, Umanoove. As their respective titles suggest, neither Clark nor Veldman set out to put their finger directly on happiness, but instead gather together some of its more familiar signifiers as a point of departure to explore it and disseminate their findings.

There are many such explorations in The Happiness Project, but the principal vehicle of Veldman’s work is the dancing itself. Veldman, a Rambert Company alumna, rejoices in the sheer pleasure of dancing, and the dancers with whom she created the work — Dane Hurst, Estela Merlos, Mathieu Geffré and Hannah Kidd — respond in equal measure (Kidd, however, was unable to perform the work and was replaced at short notice by Madeleine Jonsson). The movement is loose-limbed and generous, it jumps and turns with joyous intensity and is at times ecstatic.

In turn the dancing is inspired by the music, in which The Happiness Project is blessed with the presence on stage of composer and violinist, Alexander Balanescu. Balanescu takes on the central role of agent provocateur, a wandering musician who incites movement and laughter in his comrades. He is passionate in his playing, and his gestures are in themselves a form of dance linked directly to the music. Sometimes he plays solo and sometimes accompanied by a recorded ensemble, but he is always animated and his musical presence is pivotal to all that happens.

The inclusion in The Happiness Project of these two exalted expressions of music and dance are more than enough to fulfill the project’s promise; witnessing the dionysian nature expressed so fully in both musician and dancers is intoxicating. But for Veldman there is an additional rationale for the work: sorting out her approach to happiness by illustrating what it might be and rejecting what it is not. For a spectator this is less uplifting than it is interesting, for to follow Veldman’s illustrations is to learn as much about her thought processes as about happiness itself.

Her illustrations are in turn amusing, poignant and clichéd. They range from an individual desire to find love and inclusion to the pursuit of eternal youth, from the commercial association of happiness and fashion to sexual gratification, and from winning a pub quiz to enjoying Sunday mornings. With four dancers Veldman can vary reactions to a given stimulus, most notably in the episode on fashion. Hurst pulls out a piece of clothing from a box, announces its brand name and passes it to Jonsson who admires the design but passes it to Merlos who is generally unimpressed and passes it to Geffré who goes into fetishist rapture. The brands keep coming until Geffré comes too, Faun-like, on his pile of clothing. (Veldman is fond of quoting, and this is not the only dance reference; in a duet with Geffré and Jonsson there is a particularly egregious one from Pina Bausch’s Café Müller, which Geffré himself used in his duet, What Songs May Do). Veldman also questions notions of happiness through its antithesis: Hurst is a figure who at times stands back from the enjoyment of his peers like a cloud on a sunny day or dances up a storm to wreck what he sees the others enjoying. Geffré, in one of the more surreal episodes, carries desire to masochistic extremes.

Laughter is often synonymous with happiness though more as signifier than the state itself. In the same way, Veldman indicates happiness through an early performative display of slow-motion laughter (reminiscent, as one audience member pointed out, of Bill Viola), and Balanescu later conducts the quartet of dancers as a laughing chorus. In both cases the dancers appear to be happy but we cannot be sure. In a section where they each perform their response to the question, Are you happy?, a sense of equivocation infuses their words and gestures and when they display on a large piece of plastic sheeting what makes them happy, the scope of happiness is reduced to written indications. There is thus a dual nature in The Happiness Project: the more Veldman explores happiness, the further away she seems to get, and yet the vehicle of her exploration — the dance and the music — are singing its praises all along. In the question and answer session following the show, audience questions were uniquely about aspects of the performance rather than about happiness. I’m not sure if that is a mark of success or failure.


Resolution 2017: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré & Stephen Quildan

Posted: February 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré & Stephen Quildan

Resolution 2017, January 28: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré, Stephen Quildan

Marie Astrid Mence in a publicity photo for Not Hard (photo: Jack Thomson)

Bridget Lappin last year toyed with dual notions of exposure and concealment in The Art of Exposure and for this year’s Resolution she explores the dual notions of femininity and animality in Who’s Afraid of a Pussy Cat? Lappin is clearly drawn to paradoxes and she moves between them with her natural gifts of sensuality and strength. Here she takes her fascination with paradox to a sexually provocative level, conflating animality and femininity in a seamless line from forest to go-go bar, from faun to lap dancer. But there is a difference between embodiment and posture; Lappin indicates her inner paradoxes without fully expressing them and because of the sensual nature of dance in general and her performance in particular, she is partially successful. She seems to be aware of this paradox within a paradox for at one point she deliberately invokes Nijinsky’s portrayal of a faun in which, by all accounts, the separation between performer and animal was scandalously fine. Despite her best efforts (but not helped by her utilitarian costume of flowered bra and pants), Lappin’s own femininity maintains a distance from her animality, leaving a regret that the two are not more fully and selflessly integrated.

A recording of Nina Simone’s 1976 performance of Feelings at the Montreux Jazz Festival is the starting point for Mathieu Geffré’s What Songs May Do. The idea is that his two dancers, Angela Boix Duran and Joseba Yerro Izaguirre, are attending the concert in real time and their duet is the affect of Simone’s performance on their relationship. The beginning works beautifully as Duran and Izaguirre seem to arise out of the audience and walk languidly on to the stage to Simone singing Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas. This looks like a preview to a romantic duet but Simone’s Feelings brings out both tenderness and irritation, expectation and rejection in the couple: the feelings start to run amok. While Geffré’s title prepares us for this altercation between the musical and the physical, the latter starts to take on a separate existence; there is a section of locked bodies on the floor and another with dramatic runs and lifts that are effective in themselves (both dancers are totally immersed in what they do), but lose their choreographic relation to the music. Simone’s concert continues, applause and all, while Duran and Izaguirre become embroiled in a Bauschian tangle too reminiscent of Café Mueller. Our attention has been drawn away from what songs may do to the couple to what the couple is doing to the songs.

The final work comes wrapped in Rambert livery with Rambert support. The opening gambit of Stephen Quildan’s Not Hard is a well-constructed conceit that takes the entire piece to unravel. At the opening we watch two immobile, macho figures in bulky leather jackets, baggy pants and hats pulled well down on their heads changing positions and poses in a series of closely controlled, hazy blackouts (great lighting by Joshua Harriette). The first intimation of movement is an entrance by one of them on a BMX bike. The arrival of a ripped Lucy Balfour in red swimsuit and fashion backpack clears the haze but leaves us none the wiser as to where this is all going. The slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony may be a clue but it sits incongruously next to a hilarious lip-synched version of Lethal Bizzle’s Pow (Forward) by the trio of Balfour, Vanessa Kang and Kym Sojourna dressed by Quildan himself (who also wrote some of the music). The glossy production values with which Quildan juggles seem inspired by fashion photography — Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin spring to mind — and slick music videos, and he wraps them in the format of a social media event in which the scrolling visual content carries the message. Not Hard finishes with Balfour standing very close to the front row of seats holding a two-litre bottle of water in each outstretched arm until her toned muscle strength fails and one bottle falls after the other. It becomes a metaphor for a work that relies so heavily on its visual strength.