Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: October 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Reckonings: Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva & Alesandra Seutin at Sadler’s Wells, October 13

BLKDOG

The cast in Botis Seva’s BLKDOG (photo: Johan Persson)

Marking its refurbishment 20 years ago as a production house catering uniquely to dance, Sadler’s Wells has commissioned 20 new works, three of which form Reckonings, a celebration of the future featuring UK-based choreographers Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva and Alesandra Seutin. Sadler’s Wells has lavished its production capacity on each and the result is a richly textured triple bill unified by Tom Visser’s lighting that demarcates regions of the stage into which the dancers can withdraw from sight and from which they can emerge; there are no theatrical exits and entrances. This corresponds particularly with the fluid spatial staging of Cunningham’s m/y and with Nell Catchpole’s engulfing interior soundscape. The work is a translation into choreographic form of Monique Wittig’s attempt in her novel, The Lesbian Body, to ‘create a new language that can function outside the dominant structures of patriarchal power’. It is not the cast of six women — Cunningham, Eleanor Perry, Hannah Burfield, Seira Winning, Sara Ruddock and Stephanie McMann — that suggests a lesbian discourse but the subtle structures that link them together, a fine weaving of almost abstract strands with sapphic overtones that creates a space in which no muscular, patriarchal figure would ever feel comfortable; the performers, dressed in Alexa Pollman’s body suits with diaphanous outer layers, seem to relish this independence. It is a pleasure to watch the way Cunningham opens up the space with such intellectual rigour; it starts in muffled containment as if the cast is an operatic chorus in a prison cell and develops into a sense of lightness and emancipation that Catchpole’s score reaffirms in its trajectory from dark clouds of industrial effluence to the open air, from interior rumblings to serene silence.

After the first intermission the contrasting, dark masculine energy of Seva’s BLKDOG is immediately palpable. In combination with Visser’s lighting, Ryan Dawson Laight’s wrapped anonymous costumes and Torben Lars Sylvest’s visceral score, Seva has invented a haunting, powerful reflection on depression inspired by Sally Brampton’s Shoot The Damn Dog. It was Winston Churchill who termed his depressive condition ‘The Black Dog’ from which Seva derives the title of his work and on top of Sylvest’s score are recorded voices from an imagined therapy session: ‘Let’s start with how you’re feeling.’ Set in a hip hop vocabulary on six dancers — Joshua Nash, Jordan Douglas, Ezra Owen, Victoria Shulungu, Shangomola Edunjobi and Naima Souhair — BLKDOG seethes with an inner malaise that explodes in tight, controlled gestures and broods in hooded acquiescence. Seva has developed an intricate and eloquent language within an urban context that manages simultaneously to get inside the head and flow through the body, seamlessly bridging emotional abstraction and a harrowing social narrative — an effect that is more Crystal Pite than Hofesh Schechter. In a work that depends for its affect on precision in both individual gesture and unison articulation it is a tribute to the dancers and to the rehearsal director Ekin Bernay that Seva’s conception is so fully embodied.

Like the two previous works, Seutin’s Boy Breaking Glass has a literary inspiration, this time through Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem of the same name. Breaking glass becomes in Seutin’s conception a metaphor for breaking through what may seem transparent but proves impassable, otherwise known as inequality of opportunity. She writes that five other authors ‘were all invaluable in my research about inequality, the act of survival and self-love.’ The problem is that however clear Seutin may be in her intellectual research such clarity fails to coalesce on the stage. From the outset there is a contrast between the formal volumes of the set — a broad white platform at the back for her five-piece band with a white dance floor bordered in black for her seven dancers — and the informal, folk-inspired choreography ‘inspired by Senegalese and Southern African traditional and social dances’. Visser’s liminal lighting is again on display but he seems unsure how to unite these contrasts. The members of the band are visually dominant which gives an importance to their presence and their music over the narrative taking place on the stage below them, while Randolph Matthews as the central figure among the dancers — the victim of inequality — is a vocalist. Attention on the primary theme is thus dispersed among the performative elements and while they are independently rich in expression, Seutin and her dramaturg/co-director Maxwell Golden have not succeeded in synchronizing their full value.


The Royal Ballet: Triple Bill (Balanchine, Schechter and MacMillan)

Posted: April 12th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Royal Ballet: Triple Bill (Balanchine, Schechter and MacMillan)

Royal Ballet, Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, March 30

Hofesh Schecter rehearsing The Royal Ballet cast in  Untouchable

Hofesh Schechter rehearsing The Royal Ballet corps and soloists in Untouchable

The history of a ballet is fascinating but it’s not what you see on stage. A work might be a masterpiece in the canon of ballet history but if it is not danced as a masterpiece what have we just seen? George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, with a brilliantly melodic, syncopated score by Paul Hindemith, is ‘a dance ballet without plot’, and is based on the ancient notion that the human organism is made up of four humours or temperaments: melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric. Balanchine (who commissioned the score) said of his ballet that he had made a negative to Hindemith’s positive plate but as danced by the Royal Ballet this evening something seems to have gone awry in the darkroom. The positive aspect of the score is there, with pianist Robert Clark and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the baton of Barry Wordsworth, but the dancing, with one or two exceptions, is not as closely matched as Balanchine designed it. Writing in 1952 Edwin Denby described The Four Temperaments as ‘developing a ferocity of drive that seems to image the subject matter of its title: internal secretions.’ Apart from Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell in the second theme, a moment when Federico Bonelli comes alive in the second variation and Zanaida Yanowsky’s arresting performance of the Choleric variation, Denby’s ‘ferocity of drive’ is replaced by a pusillanimous parade of Balanchine steps; the jazz-inspired hip movements barely register, the wit is missing and the precision of the choreography abandoned in the execution of the steps. The production is credited as staged by Patricia Neary, but that was possibly when she first set it in 1973. I wonder when it was last visited by Neary or anyone else from The George Balanchine Trust. In its present manifestation, it feels like Balanchine by numbers — or in choreographic terms, by notation.

Hofesh Schechter’s Untouchable, his first work for the Royal Ballet at the invitation of director Kevin O’Hare, is borrowed from his previous work; rather than developing new ideas inspired by new dancers he has simply drawn the new dancers into the comfort of his own mould. Untouchable has costumes with a military theme by Holly Waddington and apocalyptic lighting by Lee Curran who uses industrial amounts of haze and banks of lights to create a total scenography from which the dancers emerge at the beginning and into which they disappear and reappear throughout the work. But Schechter’s swarming choreography and Nell Catchpole’s score (to which Schechter contributed) fuse so seamlessly that Untouchable lacks any contrast; it looks like the staging of something that should be happening but never does. One interesting aspect of the work is that Schechter works only with the corps and soloists: there are no officers in this army as the choreography emphasises. No doubt the administration is happy to have sold out these performances but the programming of Untouchable seems to have less to do with the future of ballet — a topic O’Hare is discussing at the Dance UK conference this weekend — than with making money from a popular choice of choreographer.

The psychological baggage of Untouchable may have a closer affinity to Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria than to his Song of the Earth but it is the latter ballet that the Royal Ballet choses to program this evening. Song of the Earth is, like Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, a milestone in the choreographer’s creative output, a beautiful work that sets Mahler’s symphonic song cycle Song of the Earth to dance. It was not thought acceptable by the Board of the Royal Ballet at the time to choreograph Mahler so MacMillan had to create it on John Cranko’s company in Stuttgart. Happily the value of Song of the Earth has been vindicated since the Royal Ballet took it into its own repertoire 100 performances ago. Not all performances are equal, however. This evening, Laura Morera as the woman in white is the only vestige of transcendent beauty against a rather dense barrier of emotional inertia. Nehemiah Kish’s entrance as The Man — the very first entrance in the ballet — does not augur well and Edward Watson’s subsequent entrance does little to suggest he is the powerful messenger of death. The corps of men has a fey element or two that disturbs an otherwise grounded chorus into a discordant group; the women fare much better and Morera has some strong support in her chorus but she has to struggle too much to establish her emotional credentials with her Man and Death. In a score that is so thoroughly imbued with Mahler’s own struggle with love and death the conviction and sensitivity of this trio is essential to the success of MacMillan’s choreography. Morera’s force of character is convincing but the relationship is not.