A preview of Alexander Whitley’s new work, 8 Minutes

Posted: June 8th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Preview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A preview of Alexander Whitley’s new work, 8 Minutes

Alexander Whitley, 8 Minutes, Studio Wayne McGregor, May 25, 26

8 Minutes

Dancers rehearsing Alexander Whitley’s 8 Minutes (photo: Johan Persson)

Eight minutes is the time it takes for light to reach the Earth from the Sun.

On the white floor in the white space the figures and gestures of the seven dancers (Luke Crook, Hannah Ekholm, Tia Hockey, David Ledger, Leon Poulton, Victoria Roberts and Julia Sanz Fernandez) are as clear as atoms under a microscope moving with the detached precision and fluidity of dynamic particles. We are in the larger of the two studios in the Wayne McGregor Studio complex in the former Olympics media centre under the surprisingly composed gaze of choreographer Alexander Whitley. He wants to run for the first time his new work, 8 Minutes, but the closer he gets to starting the more the dancers are wondering ‘what comes next’ and the more Whitely realizes there are transitional details he hasn’t fully worked through with them. It is that moment in the choreographic process when the creator will see the first complete view of what until now has been rehearsed only in sections. It’s nerve-wracking for both the dancers and the choreographer and being a late Friday afternoon brains are tired if not fried.

There is a good deal of expectation sitting on Whitley’s new work as it is his first full-scale main-stage work for co-commissioner Sadler’s Wells. It was Alastair Spalding who brokered the idea between Whitley and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) to create a work based on solar science. Whitley has always been interested in and inspired by science and RAL has always been interested in finding artistic means to disseminate the knowledge that comes out of their research (the complete 8 Minutes project includes workshops in schools with a scientist and two dancers). This is the first time RAL has approached dance as a medium. Hugh Mortimer, the scientist who has been overseeing the project, sees himself and Whitley as interested in the same ideas about the world but differing in their approach; scientists seek an understanding of the universe as objectively as possible, while artists approach it more subjectively. And as Whitley points out, he shares the scientist’s interest in movement but on a vastly different scale.

Whitley is not choreographing to illustrate the science directly, but in talking with Mortimer he has narrowed down notions such as magnetic fields to translate into choreographic form. Some concepts were eliminated as untranslatable, but others led to interesting movement ideas that embody what Whitley describes as ‘relative complexity’. As he explains, “A lot of the material came from thinking about the physics and applying it to the body; how the body can get anywhere near the speed of light or thinking about scales unimaginably large within the body, or working with the minute atomic scale of things. It was about taking these principles and framing questions. It really has thrown up a quite different vocabulary of movement.”

For 8 Minutes, Whitley has collaborated with electro-acoustic musical innovator Daniel Wohl whose task is to imagine sound from the sun’s soundless environment, and visual artist Tal Rosner who has the advantage of access to RAL’s library of extraordinary solar images. It will be another week before Rosner’s contribution is added to the choreographic mix, but Whitley has relied on the composition of each section of Whol’s score for shaping the work.

Back in the studio, it’s a question of making form out of flow, adjusting the complex spatial patterns with the dancers in sections that have some predictable names like ‘a new day’, ‘sun’s rays’, ‘sun bathing’, ‘chasing the sun’ and some less predictable like ‘spring lambs’. It is choreographic imagery that helps dancers and choreographer keep track of sections that will be connected in the run-through. As one would expect from a dancer and choreographer who is naturally musical, Whitley knows his score intimately and he cues the dancers to sounds that take careful and repeated hearing (“This is easier on headphones”, he quips at one point). He accompanies his verbal corrections with kinesthetic ones, demonstrating a mastery of the phrases he wants his dancers to embody. In short, he is in control of his work and the dancers respond tirelessly with their own ability to refine and connect the phrases.

Watching the full run-through is to see a mature choreographic entity emerge that places human activity and solar science on the same plane, that imagines the effects of time and space on our daily lives. The solar science is the same but its influence on the movement of the dancers shows a transformation in Whitley’s vocabulary which in turn is influenced by, and influences our hearing of the score. The two work together beautifully. In the next few days Whitley will be seeing the lighting, visuals and costumes added to the mix for the first time. Uppermost in his mind as he watches the emergence of his work in all its complexity will be the kind of fragile ecological balance our planet requires for its continuing existence.

8 Minutes, a Sadler’s Wells commission, co-commissioned by DanceEast and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance,
will première at Sadler’s Wells on June 27 and 28 at 7:30
Sadler’s Wells Box Office: 020 7863 8000 www.sadlerswells.com
Twitter: @awdc_


Cloud Gate 2, Triple Bill

Posted: December 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Gate 2, Triple Bill

Cloud Gate 2, Triple Bill, Sadler’s Wells, November 21

Cloud Gate 2 in Wicked Fish (photo: Liu Chen-hsiang)

Cloud Gate 2 in Wicked Fish (photo: Liu Chen-hsiang)

Part of Sadler’s Wells’ Out of Asia 2 platform showcasing dance in Asia, the appearance of Taiwan’s Cloud Gate 2 poses an enigma. Not to be confused with Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, an internationally renowned company in its own right and synonymous with its founder, Lin Hwai-min, Cloud Gate 2, founded by Lin in 1999, might well be seen as the junior company. Yet despite its parentage and the similarity in training for the dancers — a mix of ballet, contemporary, Tai chi and martial arts — Cloud Gate 2 evidently has a different destiny. For now the separation of the two companies is predicated on the younger one developing promising Taiwanese choreographers under the guidance of artistic director, Cheng Tsung-lung, and on laying the grassroots foundations of dance in Taiwan as broadly as possible in local communities, towns and cities. Appearing in London for the first time may not appear to fulfil that national function but Cloud Gate 2, by virtue of the quality of its dancers and its choreography, has the stature of an international company, as is evident from its performance at Sadler’s Wells on Monday.

The company’s international aspect is reflected in all three works on the program, but while Huang Yi’s Wicked Fish and Cheng’s The Wall touch on themes of human contact and isolation that are universal, Cheng’s more recent Beckoning is imbued with a more parochial element of native religious beliefs and ceremonies that turn our view inwards towards Taiwanese traditions.

Yi’s Wicked Fish begins with a buzzing, frenetic wave of dancers flitting in and out of darkness; Lee Chien-chang’s choreographic lighting dapples the dancers’ faces, arms and feet like sunlight on the surface of a shaded stream. It is not hard to see fish swimming just under the surface, yet there is also a continuous exchange of energy at play between pairs of dancers as well as between the group and the individual, an abstract microcosm of society in movement. It is as if the stage is the visible part of a much broader, continuous flow across it while Iannis Xenakis’ complex score, Shaar, sets up the changing and often turbulent currents. Both the lighting and the black and white setting of Wicked Fish shows off the dancers beautifully in their strength, their flow of movement, and the clarity of their lines.

In The Wall, Cheng sublimates his childhood memories of hawking his family’s brand of slippers on the streets into a spatial arrangement of walking figures that convey the notion of the individual facing social and psychological walls and barriers. It’s deeply personal, delving into Cheng’s sense of isolation at the time of its creation in 2009, and created with a masterful hand, maintaining a dynamic tension of tidal movements throughout. The groupings follow closely the orchestration of Michael Gordon’s Weather One so that Lee’s intense lighting seems to illuminate both the dancers and the music.

The third work of the evening, Cheng’s Beckoning, stands out for its bright costumes by Lin Bin-hao and in its wash of light by Shen Po-hung. But it also differentiates itself from the previous works by its subject matter. Cheng spent a lot of his childhood with his mother attending religious ceremonies; as he wrote in a written interview, “On the birthdays of the deities, religious parades like carnivals would be held, usually with an amazing line-up of people. Gigantic puppets, representing various gods in the heavens or in the underworld, would swing and walk along streets. In the old days when the plague struck, people believed it was caused by ghosts and bad spirits. When that happened, the street-dancing rituals of Ba Jia Jiang, the “Eight Infernal Generals,” would be responsible for casting out the evils.” There are no puppets here, however, but lots of swing; Cheng has subsumed the festivities into bright colours and an exquisite gestural language. The meditative opening solo by Chan Hing-chung represents, perhaps, the matured Cheng as subject; it has no overt choreographic religious connotations but as Beckoning progresses it becomes more objective, approaching Ba Jia Jiang through the external eye of tradition. This is heightened by composers Chung Cheng-da and Quiet Quartet’s use of traditional instrumentation (arranged by Blaire Ko) that incorporates bells and street sounds. Cheng insists, however, that the dance itself is not about religion. “I recall a story in Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth where a western sociologist asked a Shinto priest: “I don’t get your ideology. I don’t get your theology.” The Shinto priest gave deep thought and answered politely: “We do not have ideology. We do not have theology. We dance.”

And they do.


Nitin Sawhney with Wang Ramirez

Posted: November 8th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Nitin Sawhney with Wang Ramirez

 Nitin Sawhney with Wang Ramirez, Royal Albert Hall, November 2

Nitin Sawhney at Royal Albert Hall (photo: Morah Geist)

Nitin Sawhney at Royal Albert Hall (photo: Morah Geist)

Being an Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells means Nitin Sawhney has privileged access to dance; he is, after all, known to dance enthusiasts for his collaborations with Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. This evening, Royal Albert Hall and Sadler’s Wells have got together for the first time to co-produce a dance element by inviting the duo Wang Ramirez — Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez — to perform with Sawnhey and his guests. It’s a revelation not only on a musical level but choreographically.

In front of a series of vertical panels on which is projected the artwork from his 2015 Dystopian Dream, Sawhney plays a number of tracks from the album and from his wide-ranging catalogue. His music is based on an elaborate layering of sounds and textures led by Sawnhey himself on guitar or piano. Occasionally a single instrument or voice from the ensemble will rise above the orchestration to sing its own song, as with tabla player Aref Durvesh, flautist and vocalist Ashwin Srinivasan, and cellist Ian Burdge. Despite their individual quality, other instrumentalists fare less well on the balance of sounds in the cavernous Albert Hall. Sawhney’s use of the voice as an integral part of his instrumentation leads to some fine performances, particularly from J’Danah and Tina Grace whose voices have what Roland Barthes called ‘le grain de la voix’, or a rich textural quality that carries the sound.

Wang and Ramirez dance two consecutive pieces in each half of the program. Sound quality is not something that concerns them yet in their first track, Time Trap, they perform like two additional instruments in the band, so totally inside the music that we see it as they dance. Like an inspired riff on the music, it’s infectious; if Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had had the disciplinary makeup of Ramirez and Wang — gymnastics, b-boying and martial arts, to name a few — this is how they might have moved. In addition to the rhythmic speed and precision — there are as many articulations in their bodies as there are notes in the music — there is a clarity of line and a mercurial virtuosity in the duo’s performance that takes the breath away. For the second piece, Silence, with Eva Stone on vocals, the balance of dance to music is less effective; the choreographic language is similar but it stands outside the framework of the song. I find myself watching the dance while the music continues in the background. In the second half, in which Sawhney introduces his Latin side, Wang and Ramirez dance to Redshift with lead vocals by J’Danah and to a recorded track, Dimensions. In both the fluid complicity with the music is back. The body is once again both instrument and musician, silently creating images like a skillful mime while building its vocabulary by effortlessly adopting and playing with such kathak idioms as the rippling arms. This is the alchemy of artistic collaboration, a process of contributing to and being transformed by the other. As artists working both inside and outside their cultural identities, Wang and Ramirez have built their reputation on this kind of sensitivity just as Sawhney has done in his fusion of musical influences. The three have a lot in common and it shows.

In a written interview I conducted with Wang and Ramirez, Wang remembers first hearing Sawhney’s Homelands when she was 16. ‘I loved that sound, but for me he was an artist who was far away from where I was…’ Before going on stage in the second half, she would have heard the same track with Srinivasan and Grace on lead vocals. Whatever distance there might have been has evidently shrunk to a proximity we can all enjoy.


An Interview with Wang Ramirez

Posted: October 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on An Interview with Wang Ramirez

An interview with Wang Ramirez

Wang Ramirez (photo: Filine Fink)

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez (photo: Filine Fink)

Sadler’s Wells is continuing to expand its remit, for the first time co-producing an event at The Royal Albert Hall on November 2: musician Nitin Sawhney, an associate artist at Sadler’s Wells, is performing takes from his most recent album, Dystopian Dream accompanied by singer Joss Stone and other guests. Already known in dance circles for his compositions for Akram Khan (Vertical Road, Zero Degrees, ITMOi and Bahok), Sawhney’s event will feature dance by the Wang Ramirez duo in their first appearance at The Royal Albert Hall. Honji Wang has already danced with Khan — so many roads lead to and from Khan, another Sadler’s Wells associate artist — but in her partnership with Sébastien Ramirez she has performed with flamenco dancer Rocío Molina, in hip hop, and for the Rebel Heart Tour with Madonna for which Ramirez provided choreography.

Wang was born of Korean parents in Germany. She studied gymnastics, classical ballet and hip hop with a flavour of martial arts. Ramirez is a French b-boy of Spanish origin who shares with Wang a start in gymnastics and a love of martial arts, with further interests in capoeira, boxing and Brazilian jujitsu. His career was already under way when he met Wang in 2004 at a freestyle event in Berlin. With their cultural identities and complementary dance forms already intermixed, the duo has openly searched for ways to cross-fertilize with other styles and traditions. Performing to the music of Sawhney is a continuation of that path.

“We are always experimenting with our way of dancing, moving, and creating together,” says Ramirez in conversation. “What it means to do certain moves with a certain intention, how this will be seen and understood by the audience…So we constantly search to develop the techniques we have mastered into a new growth that becomes our own form. It’s a life of exploring and it keeps us constantly moving…”

Wang uses an imaginative image to describe her approach to artists working in different styles: “I’m extremely nosy to experience their cocoon; I want to enter like a little mouse and see what they see.” Perhaps it is this willingness to see through the eyes of others that makes Wang Ramirez collaborations so seamless. When I saw her dance with Khan last year Wang remained faithful to her own dance but complemented Khan in her power and fluidity.

When she first heard Sawhney’s song, Homelands, Wang remembers, “I loved that sound, but for me he was an artist who was far away from where I was; I was just 16 and didn’t know what the hell was going to happen with my life. Later on when I heard his music again in performances of Akram Khan I was always thinking the music is such a great mix of something ethnic with massive beats and rhythms. So when we got a call from Sadler’s Wells to ask if the collaboration with Nitin would interest us, we thought, yes, of course.”

Ramirez describes the process of creation: “We always want to get as close as possible to strong emotions by using body movement, dance, visuals, and technology…having met Nitin in his studio and after listening to the music, we enjoyed exchanging ideas and concepts right away; it came very naturally and a it’s project we are excited to work on. The way we will prepare is a spontaneous process between each of us around lots of discussion and emotional statements that we will relate to our choreography and graphics.”

Whatever the outcome on November 2, Wang Ramirez will not simply accompany Sawhney’s music; they are catalysts who will transform it through their own alchemy while letting the music transform them. That’s after all the true nature of an artistic collaboration.

Wednesday 2 November 2016 at 7.30pm
Royal Albert Hall, SW7
Tickets: £25 – £60
Ticket Office: 020 7589 8212 or www.royalalberthall.com / 020 7863 8000 or www.sadlerswells.com


Natalia Osipova, Three Commissions

Posted: October 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Natalia Osipova, Three Commissions

Natalia Osipova, Three commissions, Sadler’s Wells, October 1

Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin in Arthur Pita's Run Mary Run (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Natalia Osipova and Sergei Polunin in Arthur Pita’s Run Mary Run (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Natalia Osipova is a dancer I could happily watch in any performance. Brought up in the Russian classical tradition, a supreme technician and dramatic presence, she is at home in the classical repertoire but itching to broaden her scope as an artist. Without retracting that opening statement, this evening of contemporary work for Osipova at Sadler’s Wells falls somewhere short of my anticipation. The issue is who commissioned this triple bill — first seen here in June — and why. Sadler’s Wells’ chief executive and artistic director, Alistair Spalding, suggests in the program’s welcome note that Sadler’s Wells commissioned the works, which happen to include two by Sadler’s Wells associate artists: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Russell Maliphant. In Sarah Crompton’s overview of the evening in the same program she makes it appear that Osipova commissioned the works. But if she did, why so early in her drive to broaden her horizons would she commission new works from choreographers she has already worked with (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Arthur Pita) so recently? And is Russell Maliphant’s choreographic process likely to expand Osipova’s artistic range? I don’t think so. No, it is unlikely Osipova commissioned these works but has instead lent her name and talent — along with those of her partner Sergei Polunin — to the evening in return for the creation of three works brokered for her by Sadler’s Wells. It’s a compromise in which neither party comes off particularly well artistically; Osipova is not challenged enough because the works fall short of providing her with a vehicle for her scope. Cherkaoui’s Qutb thinks about it in philosophical terms but delivers a trio in which Osipova’s desire for flight is constantly grounded and smothered by the overpowering physique of Jason Kittelberger and in which the only (rather uninteresting) solo is given to James O’Hara. Qutb is Arabic for ‘axis’ but the axis of the work is Kittelberger not Osipova. Some commission.

Maliphant’s Silent Echo without the lighting would be like watching Osipova and Polunin consummately messing around in the studio. Maliphant’s choreography is so totally dependent on the lighting of Michael Hulls (a dependence that has become derivative) that any artistic development for the dancers is merely subordinate to the Maliphant/Hulls formula; the greatest hurdle for them is to dance on the edges of darkness.

Pita’s Run Mary Run is the only work in which Osipova and Polunin have roles to explore; Pita puts them centre stage in a musical narrative of love, sex, drugs and death to the songs of the 60’s girl group, The Shangri-Las. Known for their ‘splatter platters’ with lyrics about failed teenage relationships, Pita invests Run Mary Run with a theme of love from beyond the grave that he can’t resist associating — in the opening scene of two arms intertwining as they emerge from a grave — with Giselle. But Osipova’s persona is closer to Amy Winehouse (whose album Back to Black was inspired by The Shangri-Las and whose life Pita cites as the major influence for the work), and Polunin in his jeans, white tee shirt, black leather jacket and dark glasses is more like bad-boy Marlon Brando than a remorseful duke. While Pita’s narrative mirrors the destructive relationships in Winehouse’s life, the romantic elements of raunchy duets, flirtatious advances and feral solos feed off the partnership of the two dancers. Pita is pulling out of them elements of their own lives and putting the audience in the privileged position of voyeurs; we are living their emotions in the moment. This gives the work its edge and inevitable attraction. The colourful lightness of Run Mary Run — thanks to costumes and sets by Luis F. Carvalho and lighting by Jackie Shemesh — thus reveals a genuine heart that saves the work from its dark parody. But such is the nature of the heart that Run Mary Run may only succeed with these two protagonists.

Pita’s work is a step in the right direction for Osipova, as is the idea of her performing works outside her comfort zone. But if she really wants to find works that allow her more than an opportunity to dance a different vocabulary, she needs to find choreographers able and sensitive enough to fulfill her full potential by creating enduring works that are irrevocably stamped with her technical ability and personality.


Marco Flores & Olga Pericet, Flamenco Festival London

Posted: March 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marco Flores & Olga Pericet, Flamenco Festival London

Marco Flores & Olga Pericet, Paso a Dos, Flamenco Festival London, Sadler’s Wells, February 27

Marco Flores and Olga Pericet in Paso a Dos (photo: Paco Villata)

Marco Flores and Olga Pericet in Paso a Dos (photo: Paco Villalta)

Marco Flores & Olga Pericet’s Paso a Dos is part of London’s Flamenco Festival, a mighty river of Spanish culture merging with the mineral springs of Sadler’s Wells. Now in its 13th edition, the festival is a two-week immersion in what Alistair Spalding calls ‘the best flamenco dance and music performed today.’

The origins of flamenco lie deep within the history of Spain. Its four elements are voice (cante), dance (baile), guitar (toque), and hand clapping, foot beating and shouts of encouragement (jaleo) all connected through what is called duende (soul). Although dance is just one element of flamenco it is the most readily recognisable: the arched back and arms, sharp, steely lines, shapely costumes, florid gestures of the wrists and hands are all signifiers of its long tradition. What we see tonight is flamenco in a contemporary theatrical setting in which tradition and commercial development are combined.

What is apparent in Paso a Dos is an interesting contrast: while the musical element still evokes the rough depths of emotion, of pain and suffering from which flamenco arose, the dance is refined and polished. When the singers in Paso a Dos draw up such rich and visceral sounds from their depths it is as if they are coming from another time and place, sometimes uncomfortably so. There is nothing uncomfortable about the dance, however, which is rich in its smoothness and litheness without any visible reminders of the suffering in its musical accompaniment.

This is immediately apparent in the opening section where the six musicians are seated next to each other. When Ismael El Bola begins to sing his voice gives form to a contorted dance of its own; his facial and corporal gestures seem to come directly from the passion of the song. When Flores and Pericet enter they strut through the music in a line of elegant stretch that winds up like a spring ready to release. And release it does, in flashes of mercurial posture and riveting beaten foot rhythms while the arms sing like a melody. The two forms together suggest that the voice is the rough earth from which the elegant flower of the dance emerges in its beauty and sensuality. These levels of expression are what make flamenco so complete.

And yet there is something in Paso a Dos that is less than compelling as a theatrical performance. Interestingly, it ‘originated from an idea by poet and flamencologist José Maria Velázquez-Gaztélu’ as an illustrated conference on the art of duo dancing in which the poet’s words alternated with Pericet’s and Flores’ dance. The two dancers subsequently ‘developed Paso a Dos, turning it into a dance show.’ So the idea of the dance developing out of the music is here turned on its head and the integrated experience in which all the elements of flamenco arise from the same source is reduced to the piecing together of elements under a single idea: the show. The bland entrances of the dancers are the unfortunate vestige of the lecture demonstration.

There is no lack of virtuosity, however. Pericet and Flores can hammer out the fastest beats and turns, and their partnering is a passionate display of precise attention. When Flores places his hand on Pericet’s waist or shoulder, he is not simply holding her but communicating with her through his fingers that continue a dance of their own. Pericet’s solo simmers with suppressed energy until she lets fly with her feet and swirls her long dress like an ornate and very lively fishtail. She expresses a range of emotions in her dances, while Flores, ardent as he is, tends to maintain a similar register throughout. The same cannot be said of the musicians: the two guitarists (Antonia Jiménez and Victor ‘El Tomate’) strum and pick their way through Spain with melancholy beauty and fire, while the four singers (El Bola, Miguel Lavi, Mercedes Cortés and Inma Rivero) each wrench from their bodies the most exciting vocal shades and rhythms; Rivero seems to exorcise her words with her fists. Each song, each instrumental solo or duet is rich in expressive power.

So while all four elements of flamenco are present in Paso a Dos, each performed by artists at the height of their powers, it is the form of the show itself that disappoints; its overall effect falls short of being any more than the sum of its parts.


Boris Charmatz: manger

Posted: May 24th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Boris Charmatz: manger

Boris Charmatz / Musée de la danse, manger, Sadler’s Wells, May 20

The setting of Boris Charmatz's manger (photo: Ursula Kaufmann)

The setting of Boris Charmatz’s manger (photo: Ursula Kaufmann)

That Boris Charmatz has based his choreographic research in manger on the mouth and its functions is not as inhibiting as might at first appear. From the mouth issue words and song and the mouth is the entrance to the alimentary canal that affects swallowing, digesting, excreting and any ailments associated with their functioning. In other words there is plenty of scope for creative development and Charmatz seems to relish the possibilities, both physical and conceptual: “Creation, as I now see it, is increasingly tending towards a form of disappearance: treating food in terms of swallowing it, blotting it out.” What we actually see, however, is the physical manifestation of the eating process and the only item on the menu is rice paper — reams of it.

Charmatz has reduced the boundaries of the main theatre at Sadler’s Wells to the stage itself, divided from the auditorium by the safety curtain. We are seated on four sides of the stage that allows an intimacy a proscenium arrangement would not have allowed: digestion is, after all, an intimate act. The dancers arrive from the ranks of the audience informally dressed, distinguished only by the sheaf of rice paper in their hands. Dotted around the performance area and hitting a pose, they either arrange their sheets on the floor, let them fall to the ground or hold on to them. One of the dancers begins to tear at the rice paper with his teeth, and one by one they each start chewing, sucking, nibbling and ripping their paper. It occurs to me that the duration of the performance will be dictated by the time it takes the performers to finish their meal. Merging with the sounds of digesting paper is a sophisticated a cappella polyphony by the dancers of what is called sound material: brilliant arrangements by Dalila Khatir of a range of styles from Josquin des Prez’ Qui Habitat, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and Corelli’s La Folia to The Kills’ Ticket Man, Daniel Johnston’s King Kong and Sexy Sushi’s Je t’obéis. As the food enters the alimentary canal and begins its descent, so do the bodies of the dancers bend towards the floor where polyphony gives way to a digestive cacophony. It is as if the company has been given the task of visualizing the digestive system as they writhe, contort, groan and occasionally regurgitate. It’s a messy scene with bodies littering the stage in introverted examination. There’s an interesting self-referential text about a man who is full of shit (Le bonhomme de merde by Christophe Tarkos) with the line, ‘everything he danced was shit.’ Is Charmatz making fun of himself? He is known as a provocateur and manger is certainly provocative albeit in a playful way.

Continuing on the theme of mouths, dancers suck and lick their own flesh — arms, breasts, feet or whatever they can get within range of their tongues with contortion and imagination, not to mention abandon. Initially all the dancers perform in isolation but gradually individuals self-propel like seals towards a partner. Duets constitute a game in which the upper partner uses all parts of his or her body to balance and slide over a slithering lower partner without touching the ground. Once all the dancers are thus ensconced, two duets roll slowly into a wrap that gathers a third into a duodenal sextet. Meanwhile one of the women starts a vocal rhythm while a second bites her backside (a function of the mouth that has been unexplored till now). The singer is unfazed and continues to eat paper while leading the development of a stunning seven-part motet that is followed by Aesop Rock’s Leisure Force with a solo hip hop accompaniment. Corelli’s La Folia emerges like a divine anthem while the lighting levels of the suspended neon tubes (courtesy of Yves Godin) rise and fall and the dancers improbably slither back to their opening places, lying like dying warriors on a battlefield of paper and pulling up their shirts to reveal distended stomachs. The sound of high-pitched inbreath gives way to a bluesy rendition of Daniel Johnston’s King Kong and digestion gives way to energy in an episode of elevated turns and split jumps that accompanies a chorus of vocal punctuation. The manual vacuuming of paper continues and my initial suspicion is confirmed. The stage is being picked clean and the sheets of paper are almost gone. The dancers gather in the centre, massaging their throats like geese as they digest the remaining paper and sing part of Hey Light by Animal Collective with the line, You have made me smile again. manger certainly has its smiling moments; the dancers are fully and delightfully engaged in Charmatz’s choreographic proposal but it is the incongruity of the physiological exploration with the uplifting nature of the vocal (the one goes down while the other goes up) that keeps manger in concentrated tension. How do you end such an orgy of the senses? A violent gastrointestinal attack in a blinding flash of light, then complete darkness.


Wim Vandekeybus – Ultima Vez: What the Body Does Not Remember

Posted: February 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Wim Vandekeybus – Ultima Vez: What the Body Does Not Remember

Wim Vandekeybus – Ultima Vez: What the Body Does Not Remember, Sadler’s Wells, February 10

Ultima Vez in Wim Vandekeybus's What the Body Does Not Remember (photo © Danny Willems)

Ultima Vez in Wim Vandekeybus’s What the Body Does Not Remember (photo © Danny Willems)

If I could collect and access my favourite dance performances as easily as I can my favourite music on an iPod, Ultima Vez’ What the Body Does Not Remember would be one of them. The era in which it was created — the latter half of the eighties — was one in which many creators were devising dance-theatre works with a rich, contradictory vocabulary of tension, harmony, tearing apart and coming together. Many social and political barriers were beginning to fall (not least of which the Berlin Wall at the end of the decade) and dance was part of that tectonic change. In the same year (1987) Wim Vandekeybus first presented What the Body Does Not Remember, Pina Bausch’s Palermo Palermo opened prophetically with the collapse of a huge wall filling the entire proscenium arch. Vandekeybus was clearly not working in a vacuum; he was tuned in through contemporary philosophy (particularly the social theorist Jean Baudrillard) to an understanding of his time and he developed a movement language that was a highly physical expression of emotional turmoil, chaos and freedom from establishment ethics. It was in the same period in Montreal (where I was living at the time) that Édouard Lock created Human Sex (1985) for LaLaLa Human Steps (with the extraordinary Louise Lecavalier) and Gilles Maheu created Le Dortoir (1988) for his company Carbone 14, in both of which action prevailed over narrative to provide thrilling, visceral spectacles that caught the public imagination and propelled their creators to mythic status overnight. Vandekeybus took the dance world by storm with What the Body Does Not Remember and he has since continued to make works in theatre, film and dance. It is not often his work is seen here (most recently at Southbank Centre with his booty Looting in 2013) but fortunately someone at Dance Touring Partnership loves his work, for DTP toured Blush in 2004 and Spiegel in 2007 (the last time Ultima Vez was at Sadler’s Wells). For those outside London who want to see What the Body Does Not Remember, these performances are just the beginning of an extensive UK tour.

This version is a revival with a fine new cast of dancers who clearly enjoy the challenge and, for the London performances only, with live accompaniment by ICTUS of Thierry de Mey and Peter Vermeersch’s brilliantly percussive score (there is even an encore of De Mey’s Musique de Tables, a composition for six hands on three tables).

I never saw the original cast but I didn’t pick up from this performance what Vandekeybus calls the ‘fear and catastrophe’ inherent in the work. Perhaps that is the passage of time or the more refined training of these nine dancers (or both), but I got the impression of wild games played by fearless children with beards and muscular legs. It doesn’t detract from the work, but the original revolutionary force may have been replaced over time by a more ludic intensity. Vandekeybus acknowledges that “It’s not limited to a time or age-related; you can show it to kids and the kids enjoy it! It’s something universal.”

The most menacing sequence is the opening in which two women are manipulated by the hand movements on a sound table of a manic puppet master (Zebastián Méndez Marin). The amplification is powerful and the percussive gestures on the table transmit violent phrases of tension and collapse in the two women writhing on the floor, the one on the right (Maria Kolegova) controlled by Marin’s right hand, the one on the left (Livia Balážová, if I remember rightly) by his left hand. He is relentless and merciless in his game, watching them intently as they respond to his control. Satisfied with the game, he simply leaves the stage while Kolegova and Balážová meekly remove their tormentor’s table and chair.

The subsequent sequences are fast-paced variations on daredevil games of risk in which the dancers compete with and taunt each other by throwing or catching bricks, endlessly removing and putting on each other’s jackets and towels with split-second dexterity as they pass, annoying each other, riffing on the airport body search, keeping feathers airborne, circulating the stage at high velocity, hurling themselves to the floor, stamping on each other or taking evasive action to avoid imminent impact (early on one disdainful critic termed the genre ‘eurocrash’) that makes the head spin from the sheer energy and effervescence. The final sequence is a reprise of the menacing opening but with Germán Jauregui Allue as a foot-stamping puppet master who has lost his power. When the last woman has walked off he is left stamping tempestuously all alone, a final dose of impish humour spread throughout the evening that makes the show (let’s admit it) so irrepressibly entertaining.

 


The Associates, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Associates, Sadler’s Wells

The Associates, Sadler’s Wells, February 6

The Associates themselves (l to r): Kate Prince (photo: Simon Prince), Hofesh Schechter (photo: Jake Walters) and Crystal Pite (photo: Michael Slobodian)

The Associates themselves (l to r): Kate Prince (photo: Simon Prince), Hofesh Schechter (photo: Jake Walters) and Crystal Pite (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Over the last ten years Sadler’s Wells has developed a roster of 16 Associate Artists reflecting the different genres of dance it produces. Artistic Director Alistair Spalding is not in the habit of putting together a program of Associates’ work but this particular one came about through the almost simultaneous request from two of them, Hofesh Schechter and Kate Prince, to test run their works in front of their home audience. Seeing an opportunity, Spalding called on the most recent Associate, Crystal Pite, to complete the program.

I am not familiar with Kate Prince’s choreography but here she directs Smile, a solo choreographed (with a little help from Shaun Smith) and performed by Tommy Franzén. He starts out as Charlie Chaplin’s famous tramp in a delightful riff on those familiar gestures but very quickly loses his way amongst the storage room full of props. It is only in the final scene nine tracks later that he wipes off his white face and black mustache, but he could have done it much earlier. If Chaplin’s tramp is the peg on which Smile hangs it is soon overwhelmed by all the imagery Prince/Franzén/Smith heap on it. There is clearly an attempt to contrast the comedic with the tragic without realizing (as Chaplin did) that both reside within the same gestures and postures. Prince separates the two with the result that Franzén can never gain the stature of the tragic because he is too busy trying to be funny.

There is only a pause between Smile and Crystal Pite’s A Picture of You Falling (2008) but the contrast is marked. Pite’s writing of dance has the clarity of a Joni Mitchell song or of a photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson: the focus is unmistakable and immediate. The writing is intelligent and meaning is built up with each creative element, from choreography to setting to costumes to light and sound. Linda Chow, who created the carapace-like costumes for Polaris in the Thomas Adès program, is here in more casual mode but dresses the dancers in layers they then discard as the story is revealed. In the hands of Robert Sondergaard light becomes a metaphor for space and time, and can speak as demonstratively as a dancer’s gesture, as it does at the opening when a roving light seems to embody the voice of Kate Strong recalling aspects of a relationship. Peter Chu and Anne Plamondon are the couple whose history is Pite’s subject and although it is broken up like snapshots shuffled from an album the emotional core is beautifully expressed through movement. “I am fascinated and convinced by the shared narratives that live in our bodies,” writes Pite, “the familiar, repetitive storylines that move across cultures and generations — and the body’s role as illustrator.” It is Pite’s ability to mine this illustrative potential of the body with such finesse that sets her apart as a remarkable choreographer.

Hofesh Schechter has a new commission for the Royal Ballet at the end of March and I wonder if he is either testing out some ideas here or if he is getting this piece out of his creative system to make way for the new. The barbarians in love is more delicate than his previous work, perhaps influenced by his embrace of François Couperin’s music, and comes across as a meditation on the past without setting out in any new direction. Lee Curran’s lighting through levels of mist and the white tops and dark jeans devised by Merle Hensel enhance a sense of searching for purity or redemption. The final section in which the six fine dancers emerge from the darkness naked or semi naked strikes me as an intensely personal statement; the dancers remain in the half shadow facing us self-consciously, using their arms in eerily simple gestures redolent of departure without wanting to go. The barbarians in love — the title itself is infused with ambiguity — is a strung together on a series of ethical imperatives or lessons intoned with intimate sensuality by Natascha McElhone that culminate in a recorded dialogue between her in the role of a teasing God and a skewered Schechter trying to justify his work. It borders quite heavily on the self-indulgent but there are mitigating factors. Whether the barbarians in love signals a turning point in Schechter’s creative output will not be known until the end of March with his new commission at the Royal Opera House.

 


KnowBody, Elixir Festival

Posted: September 22nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

KnowBody, Elixir Festival, Sadler’s Wells, September 12

Mats Ek and Ana Laguna in Memory (photo: Stephanie Berger)

Mats Ek and Ana Laguna in Memory (photo: Stephanie Berger)

The image on the front of the program (above) is of Mats Ek and his wife Ana Laguna in a duet called Memory. It is a fitting image, not only because Ek and Laguna in that fleeting moment express all the joy and sensuality of their lived experience, but almost the entire evening — the opening salvo of Sadler’s Wells Elixir Festival — is about memory, the kind of memory that dancers call body, or muscle memory. Dancers don’t simply learn steps like facts to repeat them on stage; they embody them on both a physical and emotional level through the mechanism of repetition and the stimulus is often, but not always, music. The body and mind of a dancer thus constitute a treasury of memories that can, as the Elixir Festival proved convincingly, offer up their remarkable wealth or even be coaxed out of a state of voluntary hibernation.

Matteo Fargion and Jonathan Burrows do just that in The Elders Project, weaving remembered movement phrases of a select group of retired dancers into a droll, intelligent, touching collage of their dancing lives. Kenneth Tharp, Geraldine Morris, Linda Gibbs, Brian Bertscher, Anne Donnelly, Christopher Bannerman, Lizie Saunderson, Betsy Gregory and Namron provide a unique glimpse into what once was, but more interestingly, what still is and could be again. There is a palpable emotional response from the audience who are either reliving past memories or are simply drawn into the delightful euphoria of the work, or both.

Mats Ek is one of the early champions of mining the expressive quality of mature dancers, and with his extensive experience in theatre and dance he has developed a mastery for choreographing theatre. His first duet with Laguna, Potato, is a reminder that a simple idea — sharing a bag of potatoes — can be heightened into something universal by the corresponding depth of experience of the dancers performing it. Ek’s work is not overly concerned with technique, but more with ‘a lyrical approach which conveys through movement the underlying emotions and feelings rather than just the narrative detail.’ His pared-down and often idiosyncratic vocabulary draws in the spectator through its unpretentious, ludic sense of reality.

To watch Dominique Mercy in the solo, That Paper Boy, created on him by Pascal Merighi is to be transported to a state of physical and emotional weightlessness, nowhere more so than in the section he dances to the Reckoning Song by Asaf Avidan (‘one day baby we’ll be old, think about all the stories that we could have told…’). With fourty years of performing with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, he can elicit the same kind of attention whether he stands still (as he does at the beginning), dances, recites an existential text on silence and death, or scans himself with a neon light. As with Ek and Laguna, his every stance or gesture, however small or transitory, is filled with both genial abandon and infallible conviction; his physical and emotional intelligence leaves no room for half measures.

In an evening that celebrates the value of maturity, Hofesh Shechter chooses to restage part of an existing work, In Your Rooms, by replacing younger dancers with older ones (Sadler’s Wells own Company of Elders). According to the program notes, this is an adaptation ‘to suit the bodies and life stories of this older group of dancers’ but in the overpowering music and claustrophobic choreography there is more a sense of oppression than setting free. Perhaps that is what Shechter wants, but it sets his choreographic vision above the potential of his dancers.

Jane Hackett, the creative producer and guiding spirit behind the Elixir Festival, invited the Chilean company, Generación del Ayer, to perform at the Elixir Festival after seeing them in their hometown of Santiago. Unique on this evening’s roster, this is an artist’s collective founded in 1996 specifically to allow professional dancers to continue their artistic life cycle beyond what is culturally accepted. Lo Que Me Dio El Agua (what the water tells me) is choreographed by Sonia Uribe as a tribute to the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and is inspired by her painting Las dos Fridas (The Two Fridas). Both Uribe and Carmen Aros perform with a passion and pride commensurate with their inspiration, but the ritual stylization of the work sets it apart from the predominantly European aesthetic in which it is presented.

The evening finishes with another duet, Memory, from Ek and Laguna that reminds us yet again of the huge gap that exists in current dance repertoire where youthful athleticism trumps the art of age. Ek and Laguna dispel this myth with a poignant refusal to take leave, a gentle kicking against the dying of the light that is candid, playful and yes, timeless.