LCDS Graduation performances at The Place

Posted: July 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on LCDS Graduation performances at The Place

LCDS Graduation performances, The Place, July 7

Going for broke: Laura Lorenzi in Igor and Moreno's Wolves will be watching (photo: Stephen Berkeley-White)

Going for broke: Laura Lorenzi in Igor and Moreno’s Wolves will be watching (photo: Stephen Berkeley-White)

A graduate performance is a form of theatre that can easily lose its shape. Its purpose is to showcase students who have spent the last three years in the school acquiring technique, character and endurance and who are ready to leave the nest. But the choreographers chosen by the school to create vehicles for the graduating students may want to showcase their own work at the expense of highlighting particular qualities in the performers.

This was one of two evenings where all four commissions for graduates were shown together. The concept of Shay Kuebler’s render akin to ‘explore elements of the individual with the group’ promoted the group rather than the individual. The entire cast is costumed in black (by Lydia Cawson) which binds them together visually to the point the individual disappears. Perhaps that is the point, but it’s a shame to hide the talents of someone like Jordan Adjadi whose achievement is nevertheless to shine in a work that sheds no light on the dancers. Renaud Weiser is so caught up in his letters and video in A smile petal that the dancers remain subservient to the concept. Each dancer has a letter affixed to his or her skin; in a line, the dancers spell words or their own names. It might be a good ruse as an exercise at the beginning of the three-year course, but a shame at the end to ignore the movement qualities of dancers like Théo Pendle who is used only enough to show his potential. The final work, Told and Collapsed by Kerry Nichols, is inspired by the last moments of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg before their execution in 1953. It is more menacing in its eclectic score than in the choreography which defaults to a McGregor-like physicality that provides little for the dancers to tackle emotionally. Amongst its complex patterns of duets, however, Mari Ishida is revealed dancing in a way one longs to see in a performance.

At the beginning of the evening there are two miniatures. I imagine Richard Alston’s choreography is de rigeur in a graduation performance at The Place, but it is deceptively difficult to dance well and Hymnos, to the eponymous score by Peter Maxwell Davies, falls rather flat. There is little in Alston’s work beside rigorous musicality and form so it requires a maturity and technical mastery that quickly show up weaknesses in its interpreters if either the one or the other is missing. The second miniature is Twin High Maintenance Machine by Ellen Slatkin and Yue Tong Kwan choreographed to Experiences No. 2 by John Cage with words by e.e. cummings. Slatkin and Kwan are both choreographers and performers of the work, which is a brave choice but as performers they are not challenged by the gestural nature of their duet and as this is a graduation of dancers rather than a choreographic showcase, they fall between two stools.

The one work of the evening that showcases both the dancers and the choreographers is Igor and Moreno’s Wolves Will be Watching. The name and its concept are metaphors for the stage at which the dancers find themselves: naked in experience, open to opportunities and ready to meet the challenges of what lies ahead. At the beginning it is as if the dancers emerge from a state of grace, wandering on stage under subdued lighting to find their clothes in piles against the back wall. The sensuality of the scene takes the breath away and the time the dancers take to help each other into their clothes relaxes us before the outrageously bright lights (on the white stage) and the roaming chorus of screaming. Nothing quite introduces the eight dancers as forcefully as this and they do not hold back. Neither do Igor Urzelai and Moreno Solinas in their uncompromising onslaught on the senses — not least on the sense of humour — and they are helped in this by the visual éclat of the costumes by Sophie Bellin Hansen. Interestingly some of the influences for the work include the worlds of fashion and photography (in particular Guy Bourdin, David Lachapelle and Cindy Sherman) in which a performative element and a whacky imagination are fused. Perhaps there is a natural law at work here because this particular group performing Wolves will be watching includes a lot of the naturally colourful characters in the graduating year. In the course of the work each dancer is given the space to show his or her self and each is challenged by the creative process to establish a strong theatrical presence. They all succeed and one of the delightful surprises (there are many) is Amarnah Osajivbe-Amuludun’s beautiful singing voice. For the audience the work blows apart the formality of the graduation evening and gives us space to delight in all the elements and ideas the work brings to the stage. Igor and Moreno have given a gift to the dancers and through the dancers a gift to the audience.

If these graduate performances represent what the dancers have to show for their three years, they are, with a few exceptions, disappointing. I can’t help feeling the dancers have a lot more to give, that their potential is hardly mined. This phenomenon might well play into the hands of such heavy-hitting choreographers as Akram Khan, Hofesh Schechter and Lloyd Newson whose recent much publicized argument is that the standard of training in the major UK schools is not up to (international) par. Wouldn’t the challenge for this heavily subsidized trio be to devote some of their time to working with the future graduates of these major dance institutions to open their eyes (and bodies) to what might be demanded of them? In an artistic discipline that relies more on example than on rhetoric it would certainly stretch the graduates in the right direction.


Richard Alston Dance Company: Alston at Home

Posted: June 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston Dance Company: Alston at Home

Richard Alston Dance Company, Alston At Home, The Place, June 10

Nancy Nerantzi, Elly Braund and Oihana Vesga Bujanin Overdrive (photo: Chris Nash)

Nancy Nerantzi, Elly Braund and Oihana Vesga Bujan in Overdrive (photo: Chris Nash)

As a portrait of Richard Alston in the twentieth year of his company, Alston At Home shows his recent and current preoccupations with just one short work to anchor the perception of change over time. Without the revival of the miniature, Brisk Singing Duet danced by University of Michigan students Maeve McEwen and Michael Parmelee to the music of Rameau, the program shows an unfamiliar landscape on both the musical and the choreographic front. There are six works in all, three by Alston, one by Associate Director Martin Lawrance, one by Joseph Toonga and one by company dancer Ihsaan de Banya (the last two commissioned by The Place). Of the six works four are world premières.

Having just that afternoon seen the Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty (highly recommended), what immediately strikes me in all these works is not simply the bareness of the stage but the blandness of the costumes. When Alston chooses to portray two Polish expatriate friends dancing to Chopin’s mazurkas in Mazur the inelegant costumes — a wan-coloured suggestion of a waistcoat by Peter Todd over army green chinos — immediately temper the emotional connection between the dancers and their context. If these are two friends ‘sharing what they love and what they feel they have lost’, their camaraderie is rather strait-laced; no vodka shots here, no dark passions or even live ones: the odd touch here and the odd look there are all that connect them. Take away the idea of Polish expatriates altogether and you have an interesting double concerto for two accomplished dancers (Liam Riddick and guest Jonathan Goddard) whose connection to the mazurkas (played onstage by Jason Ridgway on an elegant grand piano) is primarily through its rhythms rather than through any emotional content with which Chopin imbued his music. What is left is their angular, swirling movement and the precision of their musical phrasing in an otherwise bloodless setting.

The third work by Alston is a restaging by Lawrance of Overdrive (2006) set to Terry Riley’s score Keyboard Studies #1. It is, as Alston writes, ‘one of a series of works I made responding to the excitement and energy of pure rhythm.’ It requires you to sit back and concentrate which, as the sixth work and following the second intermission, is a tough call. But then none of the works this evening belong in that category of program ‘closer’ because they all congregate around similar pallid visual settings and emotionally purified choreography without beginnings or ends. Riley’s score — and Alston’s choreography — starts at a running pace and continues relentlessly till it suddenly stops. There is an intellectual rigour here, a physical argument in which Alston follows Riley’s structure, but the appearance of Overdrive is not so much paired down as dry.

Lawrance created his new work, Opening Gambit, as a birthday offering for Alston’s anniversary but it is choreographed on the muscular music of Julia Wolfe’s Dark Full Ride Part 1. It seems an odd coupling, one that celebrates Alston’s rigour but falls short of being a celebratory work. Lawrance has tamed the music rather than letting its natural force get away; he is helped in this by the capacity of Riddick to dance precisely on the musical beat without losing any detail (amongst the women Oihana Vesga Bujan shares this gift). Riddick brings a stillness to the heart of each movement, however quick, that gives each shape its full value. The opening line of ten dancers leaning nonchalantly against the bare back wall under Zeynep Kepekli’s lighting is the one inspired scenic element of the evening.

Ihsaan de Banya’s new work, Rasengan, begins as if he and the two other huddled dancers (Vesga Bujan and Nicholas Bodych) are standing in an underwater current, growing their small hand gestures to whole body undulations. The score by Ryoji Ikeda gives little for the dancers to feed off; the sound and the movement glide along on separate parallel paths. De Banya has pliant material to work with and brings out their physical attributes — Bodych’s never-ending back bend is an image that remains — but he is less inventive with the space in which they move and the dynamic patterns they create. He might want to take himself out of his future work so he can see the broader dimensions of his choreography.

Joseph Toonga’s Unease sets up a spatial intrigue immediately with de Banya alone in a corner talking to himself about something serious while four others stand in the opposite corner watching him. As he slowly sidles off stage deep in thought, the quartet moves as a counterbalance in a solo for four dancers that in its physical isolations has the appearance of muscular angst within a classical dynamic. Unease seems to trace the assimilation of de Banya into, and his influence on the quartet; Nancy Nerantzi is instrumental in her duet with him in winding him closer to the group until they are all moving together. Mirroring the beginning, the quartet with de Banya now sidles off in slow motion while one woman distances herself to dance alone but she too is drawn back into their rhythm before the work finishes in slow motion lighting.

Unease suffers from being too similar in feeling (though not in detail) to the other works on the program. Alston at Home is broad in solicitude for the future direction of the company but on this showing the forms of creative endeavour show a remarkable sameness. The musical choices may be one factor but there is also an over-reliance in the choreography on the purely physical nature of dance which under-exploits the musical and spiritual qualities of the dancers.


Richard Alston: 20th Anniversary Performances

Posted: February 3rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston: 20th Anniversary Performances

Richard Alston Dance Company, 20th Anniversary Performance, Sadler’s Wells, January 26

 Nicholas Boydich and full company in Rejoice in the Lamb

The idea of celebrating 20 years of his company with a retrospective program of highlights is not, I imagine, one that Richard Alston would countenance. But clearly a lot of careful thought has gone into the program at Sadler’s Wells — modestly titled ‘20th Anniversary Performances’ — that says less about the past than the present. Alston has created a new work, Rejoice in the Lamb, which receives its London première, and associate choreographer Martin Lawrance has his own London première of Burning in addition to Madcap from 2012. The remaining slot on the program is filled with the world première of Nomadic, a joint adventure in which Alston shares the choreography with dancer Ajani Johnson-Goffe. Those who prefer a more concentrated Alston program will have to wait for the company’s upcoming UK tour.

At the end of 2013 Alston produced an evening of work that celebrated the music of Benjamin Britten to mark the composer’s centenary. It was as much a celebration of Alston’s choreography as it was of Britten’s music because their sensibilities seem so well matched. Rejoice in the Lamb, which Alston created perhaps in that same flush of inspiration to Britten’s 1943 setting of Christopher Smart’s poem of the same name, opens under a pale blue light with a circle of dancers woven head to toe on the floor and a pensive Nicholas Bodych crouching like a luminous gargoyle to one side. He is Christopher Smart, 18th century poet and man of fervent religious faith who was susceptible to bouts of depression; his sustenance was music and poetry. He also had a steady companion in Jeoffry, his cat, danced here in tabby colours by Ihsaan de Banya. Smart and Jeoffry are the only two named characters; the remaining cast of five women and three men are possibly an expression of the joy and simplicity of Smart’s mind. As soon as Bodych begins to move, the measure of Alston’s own peace of mind is clear; there is a quiet economy in Bodych’s gestures, unadorned and free, that extends to the entire cast, giving Rejoice in the Lamb a serenity that the pastel colours of the costumes by Peter Todd and the lighting by Zeynep Kepekli enhance. Alston is evidently still in love with making dances and his dancers respond with a clarity that is a pleasure to see. This is quiet dancing with moments of stillness and humour; Alston does not have a repertoire of difficult steps but they are precise and when danced well, as they are by the entire company, they move effortlessly with the music.

Martin Lawrance’s Burning is a piece in the style of Alston but without his most endearing qualities. Set to Franz Liszt’s Dante Sonata played on a grand piano by Amit Yahav, Burning is about the composer’s relationship with Countess Marie d’Agoult (Nancy Nerantzi) and his many other liaisons with adoring women. As soon as Liam Riddick (as Liszt) begins his introductory solo it is clear we are in for a bumpy ride; Lawrance’s choreography is simply not on the same plane as the music. Not only that but he translates Liszt’s relationships into bruising, harsh duets that read as serious abuse. Lawrance may have historical evidence to justify it but if he does he is imposing this on the music and it jars. Gestures and dance are separated from the music, solos begin without narrative intent and there’s just too much choreography that gets lost on the floor. Burning may well refer to Liszt’s passion for Marie but it is expressed in the music rather than in the dance.

Nomadic is Alston’s first-ever joint choreographic venture, but his stake in it is unclear. Co-choreographer Ajani Johnson-Goffe, who also dances in it, has an idiosyncratic way of moving that separates him from the rest of the cast; when he dances the choreography makes sense, but when his movements are embodied by others it doesn’t. Alston’s dancers weave their patterns and their duets tirelessly but the energy of Nomadic is drawn down by an internal gaze that give the impression the dancers are listening to the music of Shukar Collective through earphones. What is missing is a sense of cohesion, that intangible element that nomadic tribes must cultivate in their wandering lives.

Alston offers the place of honour on the program to Lawrance’s Madcap, set to ‘possibly two of the most challenging pieces I have ever tackled’ by Julia Wolfe (Lick and Believing). Just as with Liszt’s Dante Sonata, Lawrance’s choreographic form tends to write over the music with his ideas rather than delve into its structure and some of the elements that weaken Burning reappear here: a concentration on highly physical male solos (for de Banya and Riddick) in a company of lyrical women, an overdependence on floor work and an unsettling violence in a duet between Nerantzi and Riddick. This is not a natural closer to an evening of dance, let alone to a 20th anniversary of what Alston and his dancers have achieved. Whatever the reasons for the order of program, the memory of Alston’s beatific Rejoice in the Lamb eclipses what follows.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.


Bob Lockyer’s Bash

Posted: April 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Bob Lockyer’s Bash

Usually one receives presents on one’s birthday, but legendary BBC dance producer, Bob Lockyer, decided to celebrate his 70th birthday by asking his dance friends to commission a work or select one of their own to present at an evening of dance at The Place. There was a private showing on April 12th, and an opportunity for the public to see the works the following evening. Bob stipulated that the proceeds from the two evenings would benefit one of two charities: the Royal Philharmonic Society Drummond Fund and The Place’s Pioneering Fund. Among the Lockyer luminaries who contributed to the program were Dame Monica Mason, Robert Cohan, Mark Baldwin, Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies and Wayne McGregor.

The public evening gets underway with Drone, danced by two students from the London Contemporary Dance School, Drew Hawkins and the choreographer, Andy Macleman, to music of The Haxan Cloak. The costumes have the elegance of Quaker simplicity, and the movement itself alternates quiet austerity with bursts of energy. The two dancers set up an intense but sympathetic dynamic between them in both spirit and touch. It is a work of surprising maturity.

It is not often that pointe shoes and classical ballet steps grace the stage at The Place, but Dame Monica Mason’s commission, Papillon, by Royal Ballet School dancer and choreographer, Sebastian Goffin, reminds us just how far the language of dance has developed since the 1830s. Using Dvorak’s Silent Woods, played on stage by Rebecca Herman and Andrew Saunders, Goffin creates a romantic picture of young love and abandoned scholarship in rustic Kensington Gardens with the delightful Mayara Magri and Skyler Martin, both dancers at the Royal Ballet School.

Mark Baldwin’s contribution is Prayer, for four girls from the Rambert Dance Company, each revealing their respective lyrical qualities in a series of solos and forming a remarkably harmonious ensemble. Hannah Rudd’s solo would make any heart melt and the fiddler, Stephen Upshaw, plays a solo within a solo during a section of Julian Anderson’s score, while the dancers look on.  His movements are unchoreographed and utterly true to form. A revelation.

Richard Alston is clearly an esteemed colleague of Bob Lockyer because he is responsible for two offerings of the evening. Jo Kondo’s music, Isthmus, sets the tone for the first little gem. And it is little, although the dancers – all from the Richard Alston Dance Company – make it seem so much bigger.

The Way it Works is This… could have been the beginning of Eddie Nixon’s opening discourse, but Orlando Gough uses it as a starting point to frame a series of isolated phrases in a soundscape for Charlie Morrissey’s consummate dance of the same name. Brilliant. Siobahn Davies commissioned this, and chose the projected images from the work of Étienne-Jules Maray representing some of the earliest attempts to record movement photographically (I’m reading from the notes). Morissey’s thoughtful work, like Gough’s soundscape, is a lot of fun and its roots go way back to the minimalist contemporary dance of New York’s Judson Dance Theatre, something Bob would appreciate.

Robert Cohan’s choice is significant for both Bobs. These two go back a long way, which may be why In Memory is chosen, but it also clearly holds memories for Cohan, and there is a passion in the work that is life size. Set to a gorgeous score by Hindemith, his Sonata for unaccompanied viola (played beautifully on stage by Alistair Scahill), this extract of the work sees four men from Alston’s company dancing together until a girl in red with Cleopatra eyes, Nancy Nerantzi, arrives, which is where the passion really begins.

Wayne McGregor offers one of the most beautiful commissions of the evening, Lake Maligne, by Royal Ballet choreographic apprentice, Robert Binet. It is inspired by the paintings of Lawren Harris, one of Canada’s iconic Group of Seven and known for his luminous paintings of the Great White North. Well, the luminosity comes through in the dancing of Daniela Neugebauer of Random Dance. Binet’s choreography is fluid and suits Neugebauer’s qualities beautifully. Her hands and arms turn and reach and then come to perfect rest, articulating shapes that stay in the imagination, while the sonorous voice of Bill Callahan is like dark clouds on a summer day. Neugebauer is totally convincing, her eyes know exactly where and how to focus. Everything is just right, and the audience senses it.

Richard Alston’s big, final present is Shuffle It Right, to the irrepressible music of Hoagy Carmichael. Performed by eight of Alston’s dancers, everyone enters into the swing of the music, on stage and in the audience. This is a great way to end a memorable evening.

This is the kind of performance that could and should be shown on the BBC. It would be a fitting tribute to the man who devised it, but since there has been an evident change in thinking about what public broadcasting can present since Bob Lockyer’s pioneering days, what is familiarly known as Bob’s Bash will have to wait in the wings for a reappraisal of the value of dance production on public television.