Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Posted: February 28th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL, Hackney Showroom, February 23


Sandra Klimek, Tania Dimbelolo, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Flora Grant in BEAUTiFUL (photo: Dominic Farlam)

While London’s Fashion Week plies the city with young, attractive women advertising clothes as expressions of sexuality and style, five attractive young women costumed by Cristiano Casimiro and lit by Andy Hamer dance their sexuality in style in Sally Marie’s new full-length work, BEAUTiFUL, at Hackney Showroom.

Described as ‘an exploration of love and sexuality from a female perspective’, it is immediately evident from Hollie Dorman’s opening cabaret number — five showgirls in shiny costumes exuding sensuality — that this is a young female perspective. Marie has chosen her five dancers (Tania Dimbelolo, Flora Grant, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Sandra Klimek) from a lengthy selection process in which she auditioned 775 young women and given her subject, she was evidently looking for young women capable not so much of exploring love and sexuality but of scrutinizing them closely on their own terms. It takes a certain uncompromising stance to present such a perspective that is not watered down by stereotypes. Marie bestowed this stance on the initial title, BEAUTiFUK, which proved unpalatable to the marketing departments of touring venues but which nevertheless endures in the conception of the work (evidently you can dance it but you can’t say it). In such a process, the dancers need courage and self-confidence to reveal what they are not used to revealing in front of an audience. We are not talking about nudity so much as states of mind in which there is no room to hide behind a ‘character’ because the character and the person are one and the same. And if some of Casimiro’s costumes cover the body in a voluptuous white confection that has its own sense of fantasy, others cover them in transparent net over stylish underwear that seems like a constant state of undress.

The voice of BEAUTiFUL is in the form of text but the heartbeat is the sensuality of the dancing, especially where each of the performers has a moment of unadulterated self-expression. The intensity of their respective appropriation of movement and the variety of its forms suggests they each contributed to the choreography. Diembolo reaches deep to marry seamlessly choreography and a sense of self; Raineri lets her body undulate in Andy Pink’s aural air currents like a siren in a state of exquisite pain; Grant is inhabited by laughter and caprice; Kierbel is drunk on desire, and Klimek is the wise and worldly one with Sapphic propensities. These moments, however, contrast with a more generalized, even clichéd approach to sexuality in the ensemble sections.

The texts, we are led to believe, originate with the cast and suggest with wry frankness how each of the five women relate to the subject. The standing microphone becomes a confidante to which the intimate details are entrusted but a microphone cannot keep a secret (on one or two occasions, however, the secrets do remain with the microphone because either the musical overlay is too pronounced or the delivery too unclear). At the beginning Klimek establishes a short tally of anecdotes about each of the performers: one of the women likes baking chocolate cakes, one finds it hard to come, one loves climbing mountains, one’s a virgin and one may be in love with her best friend. It’s true the texts become more explicit but this opening gambit is less like a plunge into their lives than a paddle and it’s hardly a devastating shot over the bows of current objectification.

If Marie’s avowed purpose in BEAUTiFUL is ‘slicing through the tissued layer of elusive truths and false assumptions by which many of us live’, there has to be a sharp instrument with which to detach what is false from what is true — the choreographic equivalents, for example, of satire or wit. There are glimpses of it in the choir of sweet voices and angelic poses that frame both graphic sexual imagery and lyrics, and in Grant’s chaste delivery of a scatological fragment about anal sex. However, without these kinds of deliberate juxtapositions of raw imagery and nonchalance that take the gaze of the audience into unfamiliar territory, the voice of BEAUTiFUL is engulfed in its heartbeat, the sensual pleasure of dance. And because dance is expressed through the body, Marie is perhaps closer to her stated purpose of generating ‘outrageous pleasure’ than she is of inspiring ‘insight’ and provoking ‘debate’. But without the latter, the stereotypes she wants to fracture remain intact.

Sweetshop Revolution: I loved you & I loved you

Posted: July 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sweetshop Revolution, I loved you & I loved you, The Place, July 30

Faith Prendergast, Daniel Whiley and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke in Sally Marie's I loved you & I loved you (photo: ©Danilo Moroni)

Faith Prendergast, Daniel Whiley and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke in I loved you & I loved you (photo: ©Danilo Moroni)

I had already fallen in love with the title, the story of Welsh composer Morfydd Owen and the publicity image by Danilo Moroni of Faith Prendergast, Karl Fargerlund-Brekke and Daniel Whiley that heralded the new work by Sally Marie but having had the opportunity last night to see its work-in-progress form as part of Fringe at The Place, I can say I loved you & I loved you goes beyond my expectations. Let me count the ways.

The way Prendergast anticipates the first note of music with a subtle turn of her head after which she inhabits the music and the music inhabits her as if she is the composer (which she is). The way she moves and the way her eyes make her movement an entire story with the emotional breadth of a tragic life. I loved you & I loved you is a dark work about a beautiful and gifted composer who at 26 died mysteriously on a kitchen table at the hands of her husband, Ernest Jones, but Prendergast brings out the simple joy and beauty embedded in the music (played by Brian Ellsbury) that keeps the light from dying.

The way Daniel Whiley (as Ernest Jones) matches Prendergast in sensitivity. Whiley has a powerful physique matched by an intelligence and humility that remind me of Paul White. Like Prendergast he illustrates his story through his eyes and head while his body shapes the emotions. Initially he shares Prendergast cheerfully enough with his rival for her affections, Fargerlund-Brekke, but gradually reveals a streak of menace. His solo of bare-chested, breathy exertions shows a contorted, analytical soul who is soon consumed by the sexual theories (as a psychoanalyst Jones was a close associate of Freud) that he demonstrates in a self-absorbed, rhythmical anal dance.

The way Fargerlund-Brekke (as Elliot Crawshay-Williams, ‘the man she longed to love’) plays a half-hearted game of tennis with Whiley in the garden as he smiles his way through his coy, self-deprecatory story that he delivers with more conviction than his serve and pisses off his opponent no end. He is a gentle romantic unaware of his rival’s morbid preoccupation with theories of control. His role in the work’s story is cursory at this point, but in the three weeks before Edinburgh Marie promises to bring it to the significance it holds in the title.

The way soprano Ellen Williams colours the music and the way Ellsbury plays Owen’s works on the upright piano (he is the first pianist to record Owen’s solo piano works). And the way Owen herself phrases her music with both strength and gentleness.

And finally the way Marie has entered into this story with her entire creative being and has not only drawn the elements together in a poignant dance theatre production but has filled it with a love of and admiration for her subject. That’s why the photograph, the title, the story and the performance have a creative unity that doesn’t lie. This is a gem.

I loved you & I loved you is co-produced with Coreo Cymru and Chapter in association with Galeri, Caernarfon and National Theatre Wales and supported by both Arts Council England and Wales

Sally Marie and John Ross: Questions and Dancers

Posted: February 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Sally Marie and John Ross: Questions and Dancers

Sally Marie and John Ross: Questions and Dancers, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, February 7

All seven dancers in Sally Marie's I am 8 (photo: Chantal Guevara)

All seven dancers in Sally Marie’s I am 8 (photo: Chantal Guevara)

It was the witty title of the show that I first noticed but I was also interested in seeing new work by choreographers Sally Marie (whose work I didn’t know) and John Ross, but I didn’t read any more about Questions and Dancers until I arrived at the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre and saw all these children taking their seats. Clearly I had missed something. As there was no program available until after the performance I checked the Sadler’s Wells site: ‘Questions and Dancers is a double bill of new works for young people…Both works are commissioned thanks to the Choreography for Children Award 2014 produced by Sadler’s Wells, Company of Angels, The Place and London Contemporary Dance School in partnership with MOKO Dance.’

It is Peter Laycock as a bright-eyed compère who explains the running of the show: we will see the first performance, Sally Marie’s I am 8, and then there will be a period for the audience to give impressions of what we had just seen and to ask questions of the dancers. Afterwards we will see Ross’s work There, There, Stranger and have the same period of reflection and questioning.

Still not entering into the uncomplicated, non-psychological spirit of the evening, I was expecting eight dancers in I am 8 but there were only seven. In fact I spent the entire performance waiting for the revelation of the surprise eighth dancer. As any child will tell you, what her title refers to is seven dancers aged 21 acting out the stories of eight-year-olds. To do this Marie collected stories from school children, their experiences and dreams, and wove them into a dance for big children.

I am 8 enters into childhood with a music box playing a nursery rhyme. There’s a girl in a tutu who has decided it is time (being 8) to put her Teddy in a box, a magician (Deepraj Singh) on an imaginary motorcycle and a girl who must have been mischievous in her childhood, so well does she portray a rebellious sense of fun here. Another girl says she finds it difficult talking in front of a group of more than five and two lively springs bounce in with buoyant jumps. All the girls gang up on Singh keeping him out of their circle. He finds a friend in the girl in green with whom he starts a duet that attracts everyone else (the story of Tubby the Tuba comes to mind). Remember these are real stories of the experiences of young children; all Marie has done is to change the perspective, elongate the lines, enlarge the voice by turning second year students at the London Contemporary Dance School into big kids as if they are reaching out across the age divide to provide assurance that life will remain fun at 21. And the children in the audience got it completely (“I loved it because it was really happy!”).

Ellis Saul in John Ross's There, There Stranger (photo: Chantal Guevara)

Ellis Saul in John Ross’s There, There Stranger (photo: Chantal Guevara)

If Marie’s work takes the children’s perspective and grows it, Ross takes a more mature theme and scales it down, not unlike Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland except that Ellis Saul enters her imaginary world through a front loading washing machine. She meets a variety of bodies (or anti-bodies) wearing tight black body suits (Jordan Ajadi is still recognizable) including one (Antonin Chediny) wearing flippers, a diving mask and speaking French (a frogman?). I thought they were all specks of dirt loosened by the wash cycle but Ross’s conception was a labyrinth through which Saul navigates in an expedition of the mind that lasts as long as the wash cycle, a dream or nightmare if you like. At the end Saul reappears at the washing machine door, takes a look out but decides to remain inside, not forgetting to take her shoes. There is a surreal aspect, suspense (when the laundry basket comes alive), humour (when the penguin/frogman sneezes), and tension that set up fluid interpretations. Once you got Marie’s concept (unlike me) you could follow the dance easily; with Ross it was more complex and solicited more concentration and more questions from the audience. I like this approach because it stretches the imagination in a way the so-called fairy tales from the brother’s Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson or Charles Perrault did: they are sophisticated life lessons with dark shades of psychological drama raised to an other-worldly level that can be read on many different levels. Children can evidently take a lot more on board in their imaginations than we might be willing to admit.