Aakash Odedra Company, #Je Suis (European première)

Posted: February 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Aakash Odedra Company, #Je Suis (European première)

Aakash Odedra Company, #Je Suis, Patrick Centre, Birmingham, February 16

#Je Suis

Aakash Odedra Company in #Je Suis (photo: Sean Goldthorpe)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I picked up recently a copy of Arundhati Roy’s 2001 polemic The Algebra of Infinite Justice. About the role of the artist in our post-9/11 society she writes: ‘Painters, writers, singers, actors, dancers, film-makers, musicians — they are meant to fly, to push at the frontiers, to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the most unexpected things, to find magic in places where others never thought to look. If you limit the trajectory of their flight, if you weight their wings with society’s existing notions of morality and responsibility, if you truss them up with preconceived values, you subvert their endeavour.’ Roy’s concern here is the insidious nature of censorship, a form of oppression that is the subject of Aakash Odedra’s new work, #Je Suis, created for the post-hashtag-Charlie age and given its European première at the Patrick Centre in Birmingham. Having met a group of Turkish dancers while teaching in Istanbul, Odedra promised that when he had his own company he would create a work for them. As he writes in the program, ‘#Je Suis began as a conversation with these extraordinary dancers about what it is like to be living in Turkey right now, but quickly grew to occupy a much more universal landscape.’ In its seamless unity of artistic and polemic intentions, #Je Suis suggests a direct lineage from Kurt Joos’s The Green Table — to which there are references — but also from Roy’s ethical thinking in Odedra’s questioning of cultural bias. ‘The piece explores oppression in all its guises, layers and contexts. It acknowledges that some acts of oppression are more loudly heard and deeply felt than others. While #JeSuisCharlie brought solidarity, comfort and solace to a world grieving the horrific attacks in Paris 2015, other equally appalling attacks took place in Kabul and Istanbul, but failed to capture the attention of (social) media in quite the same way.’

The result is a work in which the feral quality of the choreography and the mastery of the dancing match the intensity of its subject. #Je Suis erases the divide so often seen between narrative and framing because these dancers are the subject of both. There is just enough setting — a long table and chairs, a radio, a hanging lamp, a pile of papers, a rubber stamp and a microphone — and costumes (all conceived by Ryan Dawson Laight) to suggest, with Alessandro Barbieri’s dense lighting, a claustrophobic interrogation room that is everywhere and nowhere. The lighting works with the choreography in the way its thick haze can dissolve unnecessary details into the dark or illuminate them when needed. Clearly the creative team, with Nicki Wells as composer and Lou Cope as dramaturg, are all on the same page, but it is the dancing that holds the attention in the space because it gets under the surface of both terror and resistance. As Odedra writes, ‘Notions of oppression are not specific to any time, country or religion. Sometimes the oppressor is a political figure, sometimes a culture or sometimes a friend; and sometimes, of course, it is inside us: our fear, cowardice, expectation and doubt.’ In their shifting relationship to each other the seven dancers invoke the ambiguity in these forms of oppression with an intensity and fluidity that blasts through the fourth wall and buries their emotional generosity in our hearts and minds, reminding us not of a specific narrative but of a disturbingly pervasive and volatile phenomenon.

#Je Suis is constructed on an appeal to apparent contradictions — the freedom of expression to convey a state of oppression is central — and the dual symbolism of physical language and of everyday objects. Animal gesture becomes an expression of both domination and subservience and virtuosity is the pitch of both. The radio set becomes, in white-gloved hands, a puppet that is either a source of solidarity or the voice of authority; the lamp is both instrument of illumination and of interrogation, and the headpieces of wrapped plastic hint at the facelessness of oppression while protecting specific identity. This thread of duality maintains a tension in the work that the dancers weave into a rich fabric of experience enhanced by their humility of approach. They do not set out to change the world, nor to propagandize, but to express their life in all its fullness from a perspective of freedom and its absence. Odedra dedicates #Je Suis ‘to all people whose stories and plights have not yet been “hashtagged”…It comes from the belief that the strength of the collective, and our ability to speak out and together, will see us through to brighter times.’

In short, #Je Suis is both vital and unforgettable.

 

Preview performances of #Je Suis at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award 2017.


Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

Posted: November 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card

Gianluca Vincentini, Wild Card, Lilian Baylis Studio, November 23

Gianluca Vincentini Wild Card

Amarnah Ufuoma Amuludun and Stefania Pinato in Encounter One (photo: Danilo Moroni)

For his Wild Card program at Lilian Baylis Studio, Gianluca Vincentini presents dance makers based in the north of England: Carlos Pons Guerra, Crystal Zillwood and Jamaal Burkmar. Having been artistic director of VERVE (the postgraduate company of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance) for five years, Vincentini knows these dancers and choreographers well. Prior to the main program, he presents his own company, Möbius Dance, in a short film, Encounter One, with Amarnah Ufuoma Amuludun and Stefania Pinato, followed by a structured improvisation to guitar accompaniment by Otis Jones with the same two dancers among the pre-show audience in Fox Garden Court. According to its website, Möbius Dance has two dancers (Amuludun and Pinato) and four collaborators, all of whom are presented or represented in the film. The program note for Encounter One — ‘Can I allow myself to let boundary lines blur while being within myself and accept compromises as part of co-existence’ — is so fluid and open-ended that the presence of two bodies moving in space is enough to fulfil its premise, and they do. But for those who enjoy a little more meat, Pons Guerra’s O Maria on the main stage hits the spot.

Written for two women, a man and a ham, it is played by two women, a man and a ham but gender correspondence is not on the menu. Concepción (Marivi Da Silva) and Armando (Azzurra Ardovini) are at home one evening, though all we see is the domineering Concepción sitting at the dinner table in a dress as black as her eyes with the wrapped or bandaged figure of Armando at her feet. There’s another wrapped figure (Phil Sanger) lying a little distance from the table, and a wrapped ham on the table. Clearly Ryan Dawson Laight has had as much fun with the costumes as Barnaby Booth with the lighting. The relationship between Concepción and Armando is described as ‘an unhappy marriage’ but this is an understatement; the ties that bind have turned to rope and bondage. In a beatific vision, Sanger’s arising — or arousal — as anything-but-the-virgin Mary is the catalyst that releases poor Armando from his wrapping to reveal his true gender and entangles Mary with the leg of ham. The program note for O Maria serves notice of nudity and sexual references but the satirical treatment of suffocating religious hypocrisy in 1950’s Seville is positively seditious.

Evolutio is one of three solos Zillwood will include in her creation, Spiral. In it she examines evolution with a little scientific guidance and abundant inspiration. She enters the stage out of darkness, from a distance too far to comprehend. Her postures on that first diagonal towards the light suggest the successive stages of human evolution but in reverse order, finishing on her haunches before repeating the sequence; at the third attempt she evolves into a dancer. Zillwood moves quietly and lightly along her exploratory journey, dancing a language that derives from classical technique but which breaks into a series of organic images derived from the natural world: from invertebrate motion to a human embryo, from a bird in flight to an anthropoid marveling at the stars. Her final pose is balancing on her coccyx, floating in the vastness of evolutionary history. She sketches these images fluently and fluidly against the musical phrases of a haunting arrangement by Nigel Kennedy of a Polish folk song, Ederlezi, that she has digitally altered and extended to fit the dynamic range of her choreography. There is nothing of the anthropological museum in Evolutio; it reveals itself like the spark of an idea with an intelligence that matches Zillwood’s musicality.

Jamaal Burkmar presents The Calm, one of three works he created for the New Adventures Choreographer Award showcase he won in 2016. Inspired ‘by family, home and music’, The Calm is a quartet of solos to a quintet of funky, soulful songs. Burkmar focuses first on the songs, playing Angie Stone’s Makings of You in the dark, and a second, D’angelo’s Send It On, as the four dancers — Burkmar, Lucia Chocarro, Tom Davis Dunn and Kasichana Okene-Jameson — lie in a stylised heap on the floor. As a choreographic device the heap is clichéd and artificial; no effort is made to suggest how the dancers arrive in that place, nor in the heap, nor how they relate to each other. Nor does the rest of The Calm offer any further clarification, but focuses instead on the individual choreographic responses to the music. Here Burkmar and his dancers are far more interesting, especially Okene-Jameson who blasts into her theatrical space with a freedom and invention that is all her own; if the others make it happen, she lets it happen. She also uses the direction of her head and eyes as she dances, which takes her expression to a level that is as generous as it is self-reinforcing. The Calm, however, ends on a note that is as anti-climactic as it is predictable, with the music fading and the lights dying slowly on a heap of dancers.

 

My friend Ian Abbott has also written about Carlos Pons Guerra’s De Nada Dance in a triple bill at mac last year. 


Gary Clarke Company, COAL

Posted: May 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gary Clarke Company, COAL

Gary Clarke Company, COAL, The Place, April 15

Gary Clarke Company in COAL (photo: Joe Armitage)

Gary Clarke Company in COAL (photo: Joe Armitage)

“She defined and overcame the great challenges of her age…” – David Cameron in his tribute to Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons, April 10, 2013

“Thatcherism…reeked the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage on this country…” – Glenda Jackson in the House of Commons, April 10, 2013

It is an uncanny coincidence that the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike should occur at a time the current Conservative government is trying to dismantle another longstanding institution, the National Health Service. Gary Clarke’s COAL, commemorating the 1984/85 miners’ strike in choreographic form, comes as a salutary reminder of how politicians who capitalise on the self-aggrandizing belief they are ‘overcoming the challenges of (the) age’ can ruin the lives of entire communities. Clarke understands this firsthand, having been brought up in Grimethorpe, a mining town in South Yorkshire. ‘It’s deeply, deeply personal, and I just wanted to share how it felt to live through these times. How it felt then, and how it feels now as the pain, loss and division linger on in our stranded communities.’ It is memory that drives the work forward.

COAL is divided into three acts: the first is a slice of early-morning ritual in a single home that suggests the foundation of social life in a mining community. The wife (TC Howard) peels spuds in a bucket while the husband (Alistair Goldsmith) sleeps under a blanket; she is cook and feisty timekeeper, long-time lover and loyal supporter. Costume and set designer Ryan Dawson Laight takes delight in the details (Howard is reading a newspaper with the headline ‘Tory Cuts’) and Clarke fashions the spirit of comradeship in an earthy dance among the assembled miners (Goldsmith, Nicolas Vendange, James Finnemore, Joss Carter and Connor Quill) on their way to work. The second act is set underground (the pit cage and tunnels beautifully delineated in light by Charles Webber); it is a long section and full of tension. The qualities of their movement are a reflection of both the physical effort and their underground minds, a brutal existence spurred on by chalked targets, punctuated by bells and constantly threatened by hazards to limbs and lungs. It is perhaps the first time the opening movement of Beethoven’s 5th symphony has been used at the coalface and Daniel Thomas’ soundscape exaggerates the sense of pressure and confinement until we can’t take any more. Act three takes us up again into the air to the relative freedom of a social gathering, a chance to party and to relax, which is the moment Clarke introduces the figure of then prime minister Margaret Thatcher (Eleanor Perry with the voice of Steve Nallon). This is the dramatic fulcrum of the work, the moment that defines the beginning of the end. From the intimately complex social solidarity of the first two acts, Thatcher’s intervention turns the community into a toxic, socially divisive battleground with Perry prowling like a bird of prey on one side of a picket line that bears a chilling resemblance to a gallows rope.

Clarke maintains COAL is not a political work but the politics are inextricable from the story and he plays the political aspect directly to the audience. If Perry doesn’t get booed during a performance she feels she hasn’t wrung a sufficiently derisive charge from her role. This raises questions as to the exact nature of COAL. In choosing to interpret this story through the medium of dance — particularly using his five muscular, handsome dancers as interpreters — Clarke mixes a social and political polemic with a soft image; he has us bathe in the action until we are as helpless in the face of fate as the miners with whom he is siding. The form of COAL thus straddles the tragedy of a community and an epic story of resistance, but in pointing the finger at Thatcher we collectively miss the opportunity to challenge our readiness to fight such injustices in the future. As Ernst Fischer wrote in The Necessity of Art when discussing Berthold Brecht’s use of emotional detachment to appeal to audiences’ reason and critical action, ‘The work of art must grip the audience not through passive identification but through an appeal to reason which demands action and decision.’

What Clarke has achieved is an intimate, nostalgic memoir in which the material is still full of pain and anger. The work is rooted in the communities he is honouring: apart from the permanent cast of Perry, Howard and the five male dancers, the supporting characters come from local mining communities or have a relationship to them and he uses songs played by colliery bands from areas of the country in which he is performing. This close-knit network of performers strengthens the cohesion of the work, but it is the lack of artistic detachment that weakens the dramatic impact. It implodes rather than explodes, draws us in rather than spits us out on a path to change. It is designed to rouse the emotions of the audience — and is more or less successful depending on where it is performed — to reaffirm the sense of betrayal that continues today.

We want COAL to succeed because what it depicts is vital to an understanding of these blighted communities and of our collective history but it falls short primarily because of its desire to entertain. The reality was and is far worse than COAL can ever admit but commemoration can also be a call to action; the struggle for the survival of the NHS is history repeating itself.


Deaf Men Dancing in Hear! Hear! and Rosa

Posted: October 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Deaf Men Dancing in Hear! Hear! and Rosa

DMD+, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, September 28

Deaf Men Dancing (photo: Mikah Smillie)

On the morning I start writing this the postman coincidentally delivers a product catalogue from Action on Hearing Loss that is addressed to a previous tenant. The devices advertised in the catalogue were not available to Mark Smith — the artistic director of Deaf Men Dancing — when he was growing up. Diagnosed as severely deaf at the age of 4, he had to wear a ‘constrictive harnessed hearing aid box’ that was strapped to his chest, but with this he was able to hear piano music at his sister’s ballet class and went on to train as a dancer. He founded Deaf Men Dancing in 2010 to bring together similarly hearing-impaired male dancers — five including Smith — and for their program at the Lilian Baylis Studio (part of Sadler’s Wells’ =dance strand) Smith includes a woman, which accounts for the + after DMD.

What makes Deaf Men Dancing unique is their ability to develop a gestural language that merges dance with signing. When I first saw the company at the Integrated Summit at Pavilion Dance South West, it was a revelation. The gestures are eloquent because the intention behind them comes not only from a desire to communicate but from a need to communicate. There is a world of difference and one doesn’t need to understand sign language to appreciate its clarity. Smith was inspired to incorporate sign language and dance after seeing Caroline Parker’s work. Parker has training in mime and her development of dramatic and emotional aspects of sign language derives in large part from this visual language of the entire body.

The image on the backdrop at the beginning of the show is a witty expression of Smith’s starting point: we see him in close-up holding a gramophone-sized horn to his ear. There is a harsh light on his shaved head that could be simply the reflection from a shiny surface or a cerebral conflagration induced by the difficulties in hearing and the scourge of tinnitus.

Smith explores these elements in the first work, Hear! Hear! which begins with a personal recollection. Four men enter rather sheepishly wearing the hearing contraption Smith remembers wearing as a child. They stand in a line bewildered by the straps and wires, gesturing silently amongst themselves how it might work. Once they have it figured out, Joseph Fletcher, Anthony Snowden, Kevin Jewell and Denny Haywood each perform a short solo about the new sensations of hearing, both the discomfort of certain frequencies and the delight of comprehension. Snowden dances two poems (by Joyce Mear and Donna Williams) that are recorded by Jacqui Boatswain with the words projected on the backdrop alongside a photograph of a young boy — possibly Snowden himself — seated in a world of silence. Snowden breaks through that silence with gestures that are almost audible; he is bewildered then shocked by the new sensations. Smith has layered the score with a poignant song of deaf musician Pete Waller (aka DeafboyOne), Please excuse me for the interference… Jewell’s concentration of expression is strikingly beautiful throughout this demonstration of different aspects of deaf communication: all four men lip synch the song, sign the words and incorporate the signing with dance. The picture on the backdrop changes to a fuzzy TV screen and we hear a poem that begins, ‘Tinnitus in many guises comes…’ with the kind of high-pitched sounds someone with tinnitus might experience. Again, the gestural resources of all four men are developed to express both pain and discomfort, dancing in a trio, then a quartet as if they are breaking through a barrier. The muscular, bearded Haywood, who has trained in hip-hop, moves as one as he bounces and undulates through his movement. There is a final song, Silence will sing again once more, that the men interpret as if from the inside, their bodies and articulated hands integrated, their eyes following their gestures, in an art that is perhaps closer to the Indian dance tradition than to classical ballet. The hearing of these four men may be limited, but there is no limitation in their communication.

The second work on the program is Rosa, based on monologues from Shakepeare’s As You Like It. The monologues have gone through different permutations: translated into modern English, then into British Sign Language, then adapted into Sign-Movement and finally incorporated into the choreography. Dressed in shorts and fanciful beach wear with seventeenth-century ruffles (designed by Ryan Dawson Laight), the same four men as in Hear! Hear! file in as four manifestations of Orlando. Fletcher has now frizzed his hair and Haywood is bare-chested with feathered wings like a plucked and very muscular bird. There is a lot more dancing in Rosa, more conventional movement in which technique comes to the fore. Michael England’s synthesized, percussive score drives the narrative while playing creatively with the register to give us, the hearing audience, an idea of what a deaf person might sense: it’s like listening to music in one of the Regent’s Canal tunnels. England neatly frames the Shakespeare monologues that are recorded once again by a velvet-voiced Jacqui Boatswain.

Natasha Volley — the plus of DMD+ — enters as the flirtatious Rosalind in laced bodice and long skirt with a lovely smile and unctuous gestures that she incorporates into a dance that is all about delight and freedom. The four temperamental Orlandos ignore her but not for long. Haywood is the first to be drawn in by her charms: he is wild, lascivious and powerful, showing off his moves as if competing for her favours. He is. Jewell steps in, petulant and unforgiving and similarly unsuccessful. He is followed by Snowden who doesn’t have a chance because he can’t contain his angry and abusive behaviour. Fletcher with all that hair is altogether softer, romantic and kind; Volley is clearly smitten and after a few clichéd romantic ballet gestures they kiss. This is where the gestures and signing start to go out the window: the lights go up and all the dancers enter into a jazzy sequence with smiling exuberance, which looks like a lot of fun, but conceptually it has gone somewhere else. Smith calls this a new departure but it is not one that develops the unique opportunity he has in DMD+ — and which he has begun to mine in Hear! Hear! — to create a powerful integrated dance language.