1898: Contemporary Dance Festival

Posted: February 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 1898: Contemporary Dance Festival

1898: Contemporary Dance Festival, Print Room at The Coronet, February 23

Choreographers of 1898: Hubert Essakow, Kirill Burlov, Tamarin Stott, Mbulelo Ndabeni

Choreographers of 1898: Hubert Essakow, Kirill Burlov, Tamarin Stott, Mbulelo Ndabeni

The good news is The Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill, built by WGR Sprague in 1898, has a new lease of life as Print Room at The Coronet under the artistic direction of Anda Winters. Winters, who founded Print Room in Westbourne Grove in 2010, is planning to bring her new home to its original splendor as a cinema and performing arts space. If you are lucky enough to get tickets for the current show, 1898: Contemporary Dance Festival, curated by Winters and Artistic Associate Hubert Essakow to celebrate the theatre’s founding, you are attending the first live performance there in almost a century and sitting on the very stage where Sarah Bernhardt and Ellen Terry once performed.

Because the auditorium is being renovated, both the audience and the performing area are arranged across the old stage; if we could look through the wall on the left we would see the auditorium. What designer Hannah Hall has devised is a stage at one end like the corner of a box, all in white, with a side wall that curves seamlessly round to the back and a white floor that flows from the curved baseboards to the open front and side of the stage area. The wall allows for projections and is solid enough to take weight; the open sides are for seating. Any reserved seating is for the performers, including a dilapidated period sofa next to me that looks as if it could tell a few stories. The feeling is intimate, and the whiff of fin-de-siècle intoxicating.

This is immediately evoked in Essakow’s Adieu; Erik Satie’s wistful Gnossienne No. 3 and some Debussy songs of romantic sensibility, sweet suffering and passion swirl around ‘the ghosts of past performances at The Coronet…’ which include a sensual, all-embracing femme fatale, Naomi Sorkin, looking remarkably like Sarah Bernhardt in a long silk dress, black cape and wide brimmed hat. There are two beautiful youths (David Ledger and Cree Barnett Williams) whose promising hold on each other is undermined throughout by Bernhardt’s seduction of them both: those passionate, half-closed eyelids know no limit. We even hear Bernhardt’s own voice returning to the stage in a ghostly recording. Adieu is not so much saying goodbye as immersing the characters in the fleeting sense of beauty, love and parting that the word — especially in French — brings to mind.

While the trio wafts silently into the night, Kirill Burlov appears somewhat disheveled, dressed in a white collarless shirt and black high-waisted breeches that were in better shape earlier in the evening before he started getting in to the absinthe. The appropriately named Absinthe is essentially a solo for two dancers, with a similarly disheveled Rob McNeil as the demon of the infamous green goddess seeping out of the walls and plaguing Burlov’s poetic imagination. All the choreography is reflected in their eyes, the dazed lids, the staring expressions, the desperate searching for reality in an increasingly hallucinatory phantasmagoria. This inner state is reflected in Platon Buravicky’s manic score but the focus of the work is Burlov’s dark, unhinged choreography and the partnering with McNeil; despite the hallucinations their awareness of each other’s presence is so attuned that the partnering is, to the sober, like a dream until Burlov passes out between O’Brien’s legs and the green goddess dematerializes.

Tamarin Stott’s response to the theatre, Scene to be Seen, is more tightly choreographed, but then her subject is the contrast between tight-lipped etiquette and freedom, what she calls the social exterior and the private interior. She begins with her feet at either end of the century, dressed in a corseted cream dress with a smartphone in her hand as she sits on the side of the stage where her beau (Nathan Young) is getting annoyed with her apparent disregard for him. This simmering antagonism informs the undercurrent of violence in the partnering, one misunderstood gesture following another until it seems something has changed forever. That would be enough for a short piece, but on top of this Stott wants to ‘reflect on…the extraordinary changes witnessed over (the theatre’s) lifetime…’ which is more the role of an archivist than of a choreographer. Neither is she helped by Ryan Cockerham’s score that is so densely signposted and annotated that it leaves little room for the dance or our imagination. A little dip into Burlov’s absinthe might have helped both.

In Beholder of Beauty Mbulelo Ndabeni also spans a century, between the first opera performed at The Coronet in 1898, The Geisha, and the 1999 romantic comedy film, Notting Hill. The opening is thrilling with an exotic Ndabeni in a white face with pursed red painted lips and a geisha’s red robe dancing with a breadth of movement that fills the space with an excitement that makes you feel you know what is going on inside. When he lets his head back and screams silently you feel he is crying for help. The score by Shirley J Thompson is intense but non-obtrusive; it is Ndabeni’s image that fills the stage. But then Notting Hill enters the picture, and for me the spell is broken. The appearance of Piedad Albarracin Seiquer in contemporary rehearsal clothes is a literary idea that doesn’t translate choreographically. When Ndabeni as geisha dances with her he clearly doesn’t speak the same language and when she dances alone, expressive as she is, she has no connection to him. It is rather prosaic after the poetry but Mdabeni turns back to the exotic by dancing in front of a projection of a lily in the process of opening. He seems to be both looking back to the spirit of 1898 and forward to the flowering of this new performance space.

 


English National Ballet: Emerging Dancer 2013

Posted: March 13th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet: Emerging Dancer 2013

English National Ballet: Emerging Dancer 2013, Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 4

Nancy Osbaldeston in Bach Suite No. 2 photo: Patrick Baldwin

 

English National Ballet has an enterprising Learning program that encourages the public to engage in ballet through various interactive projects. This time last year I was drawn to their Dance in Focus, an opportunity to develop dance photography under the guidance of Chris Nash, and recently I joined their stimulating Dance is the Word workshop on critical dance writing with Donald Hutera. It was structured around ENB’s Emerging Dancer 2013, a platform that encourages promising artists within the company to step up to a new level. Each year six dancers — thee men and three women up to the rank of soloist (this year they are all Artists of the Company) — are chosen to prepare for this privilege on top of their demanding touring schedule. Unlike last year, where dancers were judged on two solos, the 2013 competition is based on a solo and a pas de deux, a framework that allows both individual expression and fine-tuning with a partner.

We watch the dancers in company class in the Festival Hall’s Clore Ballroom and later in dress rehearsal on stage in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Neither of these preparatory processes is designed for public observation; they are places for each dancer to iron out technical, spatial, costume or lighting problems under the aegis of company teachers and directors, so the presence of even a small number of spectators can have an ambivalent effect on the artists. It is the performance on which the dancers are judged, after all, and that is the moment for which they summon all their powers.

It is the nature of competition to single out a winner and Nancy Osbaldeston rose to the challenge to carry off this year’s prize. John Neumeier’s fluid solo Bach Suite No. 2 is a perfect vehicle for her radiant turns and effortless ballon and in the pas de deux from Don Quixote with Ken Saruhashi she replaces Kitri’s dark vein of passion with her naturally bright ebullience. Osbaldeston doesn’t have the classical lines of Laurretta Summerscales or Alison McWhinney, but she has a star quality that makes her shine in whatever she does.

The award is made on the night by a jury of five (Tamara Rojo, Darcey Bussell, Luke Jennings, Tommy Franzén and Jude Kelly), but an additional prize is the result of audience votes over the previous season. In 2012 the jury and the public concurred, but this year’s People’s Choice recognized the qualities of Summerscales, whose wit and intelligence and swan-like ability to reveal beauty without any apparent effort are the mark of a great artist. For her solo, she danced the Calliope Rag from Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Élite Syncopations; she could have brought out a more unctuously flirtatious quality, but her musicality and sense of fun were evident. My heart went out to McWhinney, whose ethereal tenderness in Giselle — she will save many a young man from an early death and will make them all eternally repentant — and her lovely line and poise in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique are a joy to watch.

It is fitting in the year Tamara Rojo becomes artistic director that the women feature so strongly in this competition. In a sense they have already emerged, showing a mature self-awareness in their choice of solo to complement their pas de deux. The men are not quite so astute: Saruhashi and Nathan Young choose solos that challenge their technical skills but that do little to enhance their stage presence, while Guilherme Menezes, whose enthusiasm and innocence draw us naturally into his confidence, has the right idea — a loose, clown-like solo by Nicky Ellis to contrast with the Black Swan pas de deux — but the choreography is not well enough developed to fully reveal his energies and qualities. Saruhashi has prodigious technical ability but wears his emotions close to the skin, giving an impeccable if somewhat inscrutable rendering of Don Quixote and unwinding only slightly in the all-too-brief Patrice Bart solo, Verdiana. Nathan Young gives full play to his romantic spirit and partnering ability in Giselle, but his style in Bournonville’s Napoli variation is too muscular to bring out the Danish charm and buoyancy.

It is worth noting that Osbaldeston and Summerscales were finalists in 2011 and 2012 respectively; it will be interesting to see which of this year’s three men will emerge in 2014.