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.


Rambert New Choreography

Posted: January 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rambert New Choreography

Rambert New Choreographers, The Place, December 16

Dane Hurst in O'dabo (photo: John Ross)

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.

 


Rambert at Theatre Royal Brighton

Posted: February 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Rambert Dance Company, Theatre Royal Brighton, February 26

Miguel Altunaga in Christopher Bruce's Rooster (photo © Hugo Glendnning)

Miguel Altunaga in Christopher Bruce’s Rooster (photo © Hugo Glendinning)

‘Twelve dancers trapped in a hell of their own making’ is how Barak Marshall describes his work for Rambert, The Castaways. They are certainly trapped, in an intriguing design by Jon Bausor that recreates a sub basement where refuse ends up after falling from a shoot that features prominently out of reach on one of the walls. At first sight the dancers lie on the floor as if they have just been emptied out. Jon Savage is the first to stir and introduces the cast like a compere in an underground cabaret. It is a catchy beginning, the archetypes expressed effectively in Bausor’s costumes and in the believable mix of characters among the dozen Rambert dancers. Then the first track of an eclectic playlist ‘taking in Balkan folk, Yiddish pop and Soviet pomp’ (arranged by Robert Millett and played live in the orchestra pit) starts and a dance begins, formed, shaped and cropped out of nowhere. From here to the end there is a sense of pastiche choreography, episodes of gratuitous violence and argument interspersed with group dances that resemble each other too closely with their flair for flamboyant despair. The only sparks fly from Estella Merlos and Miguel Altunaga who could be playing Anita and Bernardo in a Yiddish version of West Side Story. Intriguingly, there are similar character traits between The Castaways and Christopher Bruce’s Rooster: Vanessa Kang comes in for bullying in both, which is a bit worrying, and the men are unashamedly macho.

Richard Alston’s Dutiful Ducks, taken from the title of the sound score by Charles Amirkhanian, is a solo for Dane Hurst that begins in full flood and ends all too abruptly a few minutes later. Hurst is completely at home in this sinuous, fluid work and dances it to perfection, every little inflection and change of direction clearly and cleanly depicted. It may be short but the memory lingers.

There is a connection between Alston and Merce Cunningham that goes some way to introducing the latter’s Sounddance, though it is by no means a natural segue. Cunningham is an acquired taste and, I imagine, an acquired style that is uncompromisingly modern with a classical base. Sounddance is, according to Nancy Dalva, ‘a dance about dance, and about dancing.’ What marks it is the apparent lack of motivation, or linear construction, and there is an absence of any conceit or ego even if the presence of Cunningham the creator (with a wry sense of humour) is ever present. It is thus an opportunity to observe each dancer in the act of dancing, which is a treat (Adam Blyde and newcomer Carolyn Bolton stand out in this work). To a score by David Tudor (played with deafening enthusiasm by Robert Millett), Sounddance unfolds from a velvet-draped rococo screen through which Blyde swirls into being like the creator himself (this was a role Cunningham danced). His physical control and smooth dynamic contains the seed of the whole piece. The other dancers appear from the same velvet drapes one by one, increasing the complexity of the spatial and sexual interactions until the stage is close to controlled chaos before the dancers split off, one by one in a reversal of their entrances, passing back through the same curtained womb from which they had emerged. Blyde winds up the proceedings by whirling off at high speed.

There is one more work: Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, which has remained out of the company’s repertoire for thirteen years. The eight songs of the Rolling Stones to which Bruce created the work date it back even further to the 60s and 70s. Rooster is, Bruce writes, ‘a celebration of the music and of the times these tracks were recorded.’ It is also a celebration particularly of the men in the cast: Miguel Altunaga, Mbulelo Ndabeni, Adam Blyde, Dane Hurst and Stephen Wright who strut and soar with all the cockiness and virtuosity of the music, which is where Bruce uncovers the keys of his choreography, from the more obvious jutting thrust and pumping wings of the rooster that appear throughout as a leitmotif to the the more subtle courtly flourish suggested by the harpsichord in Lady Jane. You don’t see gratuitous steps in his work. The same sensitivity drives the choice of vivid costumes by Marian Bruce and the superb lighting by Tina McHugh. All these elements come together to create moments of pure magic: Altunaga as the prancing dandy in Little Red Rooster, light fading on Patricia Okenwa as Not Fade Away begins, Hurst’s non-stop twisted and contorted aerial solo in Paint it Black, and Merlos hurling herself into the arms of four men who throw her high into the air, long red dress flying, at the end of Ruby Tuesday. And while Wright has a fling with Kang in Play with Fire, a feather from her red boa lodges in his hair like a lick of flame or a devil’s horn for the start of Sympathy with the Devil. You couldn’t ask for better.

Bruce not only develops his own language and ideas, but he develops his dancers both technically and expressively. The excitement is palpable on both sides of the curtain.


Abigail Reynolds: Double Fold

Posted: January 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Abigail Reynolds: Double Fold

Abigail Reynolds, Double Fold, Rambert Studio, Upper Ground, December 9

Double Fold installation

Abigail Reynolds is the current artist-in-residence at the Rambert Dance Company and to celebrate the company’s move to their new home on Upper Ground, she conceived Double Fold as a choreographic work in response to an installation of suspended acoustic panels that were cut out from the walls of the company’s old rehearsal space in Chiswick. In their recycled form they hang in the centre of the magnificent new Rambert Studio like an exploded axonometric view of soft interlocking planes. What attracted Reynolds to these panels was their symbolism: they contain — if only we could decode their stored experience — the voices, breath, sweat (and smoke) of thirty years of rehearsals: a material history of the company that provides a somatic link between old and new.

Chairs for the audience arranged around the installation define the performing area. The panels and Malcolm Glanville’s clean lighting create a sense of architectural design reminiscent of the intersecting planes in Gerrit Reitveld’s work, which was in turn influenced by the ideas of Piet Mondrian and the de Stijl movement. The positive and negative spaces create a small theatre within this expansive studio, focusing our attention from architecture to dance.

Hannah Rudd is the first of the five dancers to ‘enter’ the installation, bowing deferentially in front of a horizontal plane before crawling under it and following a maze-like path through the panels, mirroring the material shapes with her own. The fabric panels are hung to the scale of the dancers’ anatomy and the other four (Kym Alexander, Carolyn Bolton, Patricia Okenwa and Simone Damberg Würtz), loosely costumed in earthy colours by Rosalind Keep, likewise respond to the shapes with their bodies: placing their arms either side of a panel, kneeling or back-bending to fit neatly into an open space, the delicate planes broken or enhanced by sculptural movement. How you see the dancers in relation to the panels is a question of perspective, so after the fifteen-minute work is performed once, the audience is asked to move seats to see it again from another angle. It is an idea drawn from the art gallery, where the public has the freedom to wander around an object instead of contemplating it from a fixed point. It also derives from the cubist construct of seeing a single subject simultaneously from different angles. The gesture is reciprocal: while Reynolds is feeding the dancers with the richness of her visual training, the dancers define the visual elements with the quality of their dynamics.

Hannah Rudd, Patricia Okenwa in Double Fold

Hannah Rudd, Patricia Okenwa, Kym Alexander and Carolyn Bolton in Double Fold (photo: Abigail Reynolds)

The movement for Double Fold was conceived by Reynolds in close collaboration with Kirill Burlov, a Rambert company dancer and choreographer, whose role was to bridge whatever gap existed between visual and movement vocabulary. The unity of the dance and its environment is evidence of the clarity of Reynolds’ vision and of the subtlety of Burlov’s contribution: the panels interlock in the same way the dancers interlock; body images are formed in and through the cutout spaces, like photographs; a torso here, a foot there, endlessly rich in visual imagery. The five dancers move through the spaces as if through a piazza on a sunny day, alone, in duets or trios, framing and being framed by the light and shade, never separated from their architectural environment. Boundaries were challenged in the creative process: Reynolds had not initially conceived the panels as being part of the dance, but Burlov instinctively suggested the dancers wind themselves up in them like coats or scarves (Rudd, under the watchful eye of Okenwa, for a moment seems to revisit the fate of Isadora Duncan).

‘Double fold’ is a librarian’s term for testing the brittleness of paper by folding it one way and folding it back again. Seeing the dance from a different angle, we are in a sense folding the dance back on itself, but its resilience is enhanced. Dancers that had been in shadow are now in the light and choreographic processes are revealed afresh, countering the ephemeral nature of dance. No live performance is the same as another, and even here, back to back, Double Fold reveals new qualities and images, and the score by Emika, which begins in dense electro-acoustic sound and softens to a solo piano, filters more clearly into our consciousness as yet another overlapping, interlocking element.

After the performance there is a panel discussion hosted by Rambert’s artistic director, Mark Baldwin, on art and dance with Reynolds, Michael Craig-Martin and Catherine Yass. The discussion both derives from what we have seen and suggests a basis for continued exploration, something Rambert does so well.

On the way out, in the light-filled lobby, are two portraits of Madame Rambert, one more formal, the other quite free in the style of Isadora Duncan. Reynolds created the distinctive frames, and seems to have framed her dance within these very parameters of Madame Rambert’s image.


Rambert Dance Company: Mixed Bill — a question of perspective

Posted: June 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Rambert Dance Company: Mixed Bill — a question of perspective

Rambert Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells, Mixed Bill, May 17.

There are two perspectives from which to view Rambert’s recent program at Sadler’s Wells: the historical and the spatial. The range of styles of the four works spans 100 years, from Vaslav Nijinsky’s L’après-midi d’un faune of 1912 (in its 1967 staging by Ann Whitley) to artistic director Mark Baldwin’s response to it, What Wild Ecstasy. Itzik Galili’s SUB, created on his own company in 2009, and Siobhan Davies’ 1995 gem, The Art of Touch, are more recent but almost diametrically opposed in approach. Is it possible for a company to do justice to four such diverse works in a single evening? The answer to this could well depend on the spatial perspective, which is the view the spectator has of the stage. No choreographer creates a work with dancers in a studio two floors below across the road, so viewing a work from the perspective of the Second Circle at Sadler’s Wells is to see it in a way that was never intended. Seated in the stalls, you only have to be concerned by the historical perspective; sitting in the Second Circle, it could be the historical or the spatial, or a mixture of the two.

One thing that can be seen from above is pattern. Fortunately there is plenty of that in Itzik Galili’s SUB and the lighting by Yaron Abulafia is particularly sculptural. SUB starts with an explosion of thunder in the dark. A lone figure dances in a circle of light, naked but for what seems to be a long tutu that adds to the all-male cast’s androgynous look as the lighting blasts the dancers’ skin. (I gather later from a critic who sat in the stalls, that the costume is in fact an army greatcoat worn as a kilt). Adding the relentless pulse of Michael Gordon’s string quartet, Weather One, to the white light and military imagery, the scene is set for a work that is in turn hard-edged, nervy and menacing. These qualities are laid down on each layer of music, choreography and lighting. Indeed, the time coding of the lighting is so intimately linked to a commercial recording of the score that the quartet cannot be played live, giving a sense that SUB has been choreographed in light as much as in movement. Abulafia has created shadows on the stage in which a line of dancers will lurk while a duet or trio takes place in the light and the dancers never seem to exit; they glide instead into dark light, giving the work a feeling of constant intense activity. He also forms lines of light in front of the wings, like a lintel (this you wouldn’t see from the stalls, because the lighting designer has the added advantage of working like an architect with a plan). The choreographic structure is closely based on the rhythmic episodes in the music. There are constant juxtapositions of chaos and order, storm and calm, with complex spacing and interweaving that will suddenly transform into a line. The seven men dance for all they are worth, taking risks with their own force and in last-minute catches. The frenetic movement slows into a duet or trio accentuating the lines of the dancers slowly stretching into their shapes while others watch in their line of light at the side of the stage. The quiet is shattered by another explosion of energy, a frenetic movement that resolves in a line of dancers across the front of the stage watching a solo that has the feel of an interrogation under blinding light. Now we see the posse of men break out into seven wild solos that build in intensity until it re-forms with all seven jumping in unison to the rhythm of the music, reducing the evocative strings to a pounding, ominous pulse. Six men line up on the front of the stage, now facing the audience like a line of security guards, while the movements of a single dancer behind them fade in the dying of the light and the music.

Siobhan Davies’ The Art of Touch is a work that should definitely be seen close up. Her inspiration was ‘how a musician’s hand touches the keyboard and how the plectrum makes contact with the strings.’ How intimate and intricate is that? There are so many subtleties of gesture that get lost in seeing it from an upper balcony seat. Later, when I see the film of the original cast on the Siobhan Davies digital archive (see links), it is a revelation.

Harpsichord is not the easiest of instruments to listen to (Sir Thomas Beecham once likened its sound to two skeletons copulating on a tin roof), but there is a sumptuous quality to the playing by Carole Cerasi of five keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti and the specially commissioned Sette Canzoni of Matteo Fargion. Mathematics apart, the work is set in seven movements for seven dancers. Seeing the work close up on screen, the choreography is so rich and ripe it just bursts on to the stage from the first moment. Thrilling. It is difficult to know if the Rambert dancers are underplaying the subtleties of gesture, or if my own spatial perspective is the reason why what I see on stage is not what I see later on the screen. Not all is lost, however: in the second sonata duet you can feel the gentleness of his touch on her stomach, and in the solo in the third sonata (originally danced by the late Gill Clarke) there are beautiful arm movements, swaying behind the back and the head thrown back in abandon. When the buoyant Scarlatti ends and the reflective, introspective Fargion begins, there is a clear break, psychologically and choreographically. It doesn’t last long. In the following section there is a relentless volley of notes to which a line of dancers one behind the other bourré like a caterpillar on speed. There are spirited games, an element of madness and chaos, patterns flowing from one group to another, solos and duets, and a line wheeling around to a final diagonal, in which the movement seems caught in suspended animation.

The stage is beautifully set by David Buckland, reminiscent of a Paul Klee painting, the colour of reddish cork, and as soft. Now that I have seen the original cast, I notice the costumes have changed since those first performances; a turquoise waistcoat stands out as a vestige of Scarlatti himself. Even if the experience of seeing The Art of Touch from the Second Circle is frustratingly incomplete, it has led to an appreciation of the work through other means. This is the advantage of a digital archive.

When L’après midi d’un faune was first performed at Covent Garden, Diaghilev had made Les Ballets Russes the centre of artistic endeavour: he was determined to make the ballet a catalyst for all that was modern and exciting in the arts. Nijinsky was in his prime as a dancer and Faune was his first choreographic exploration. Crucially, he choreographed the faun on himself, with a cast of seven maidens to frame his erotic episode. Nijinsky’s reputation is always going to be an enigma to audiences today, but one person who saw him dance the faun, Cyril Beaumont, wrote in his memoirs: “Nijinksy’s Faun was a curious conception, a strange being, half human, half animal. There was little of the sprightliness, lasciviousness, and gaiety which legend has ascribed to such beings. There was something cat-like about his propensity for indolence and the elasticity of his slow, deliberate, remorseless movements. His features were set and expressionless, and did not change throughout the ballet. By this means he suggested the brute, the creature actuated by instinct rather than by intelligence. Perhaps the most unusual characteristic of Nijinsky’s portrait was this lack of emotion, all feeling being subjected to the exigencies of pure form.” If I hadn’t seen this quality for the first time in a dancer just last week, I would not have known what Beaumont meant. Dane Hurst has beautiful line and poise, but he has not that brutish quality. Faune is only superficially about turned-in lines and shapes; at its heart is the animal nature in pure form, something primeval. There is no notation that can capture that.

Mark Baldwin’s What Wild Ecstasy is his celebration of the centenary of L’après midi d’un faune and at the same time his response to it in terms of its outdoor nature, its ‘primal instincts and urges, fascinations and attractions.’ The score by Gavin Higgins suggests ‘Acid House music with its hedonistic home in the underground rave scene’ and the design by Michael Howells, dominated by a giant insect hanging above the stage, enhances both approaches: we see a wildly ecstatic dance in wildly colourful costumes from beginning to end. In the program notes, Baldwin writes about his fascination for the ritualized dance gatherings in his native Fiji and their ability to help ‘bond a community, bolster its individuals and act as a way of releasing tension.’ This is perhaps more true for the participants than for the onlooker, especially one seated so far away from the action.