Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & TuTuMucky, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Posted: March 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers & TuTuMucky, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Scottish Dance Theatre, Dreamers and TuTuMucky, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, March 3

Scottish Dance Theatre in Botis Seva’s TuTuMucky (photo: Brian Hartley)

My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.” – Ta-nehisi Coates

Welcome to Groundhog Day, fellow dreamers. This is my fourth sitting with Dreamers since it premiered in February 2015; Anton Lachky’s choreography has shared the stage with Jo Strømgren, Sharon Eyal/Gai Behar and now Botis Seva. The choreography has switched back to the original 29-minute iteration after being tweaked and extended last year. The last few months have seen a significant amount of change for Scottish Dance Theatre that has brought a different energy to the company: 7 out of 10 dancers are new and there’s a newly appointed rehearsal director, Naomi Murray (who was in the original Dreamers cast). The new dancers are stepping into choreography that was created for and with dancers who are no longer there; they’re inhabiting ghosts and it is difficult for me to un-imagine those who forged and imprinted themselves in their work with Lachky. Although Dreamers has been shaved by 5 or 6 minutes, the essence of taking control and taking back control (though that phrase has been used and coloured since the EU referendum) is the same; narratively it is tighter, but the bullet sharpness and anatomical prowess from the majority of the new dancers isn’t there and consequently the difference between the vignettes isn’t as pronounced.

However, new bodies fitting into old shapes can breathe something revelatory into those carcasses and James Southward (last seen in Janis Claxton Dance’s Pop Up Duets) is a fine example. An excellent addition to the company bringing an energy, presence and attitude to the movement, Southward dances everything with his whole body, hits his lines, responds and reacts to others and he draws the eye as he moves around the stage. Such is his ease with the choreography and in his relationships with the other dancers it feels as if he’s been in the company for years. However, the time it takes for a choreography to really settle on a dancer is different every time and the majority of the company has had only two months to revive Dreamers and create and learn a new work, TuTuMucky; this is evidently too little and the gel and magic isn’t quite settled yet.

It’s not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that walks in us. It’s all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can’t get rid of them.” – Henrik Ibsen

TuTuMucky is an invitation for the company to move differently. Scottish Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Fleur Darkin, saw Botis Seva’s company Far From The Norm perform at British Dance Edition 2016 (I too was in that audience) and commissioned Seva to make a new work on SDT. Seva established Far From The Norm, aged 18, in 2010 and he and its members have developed and refined a shared physicality, training rhythms and performance vocabulary that is unfamiliar to many UK theatre audiences. What makes Seva and his company unique is the trust and commitment to what they want to do; he has kept close control over who is and who isn’t in the company and consequently has developed a trust and communication system that enables his dancers to deliver exceptionally distilled performances. Forged ‘outside’ the subsidised dance sector, Far From The Norm is creating an alternative choreographic language that is attracting attention from London’s dance critics’ cabal, commissioners, festivals and venues across Europe. Darkin was canny to be the first to commission him for SDT and she won’t be the last.

TuTuMucky offers the programme note: ‘Botis Seva defies traditional classification to offer a distinctly new form of dance that blurs the boundaries between ballet, contemporary and hip hop technique.’ Opening in dusky par-can haze we’re aware of writhing backs isolated in pools of light; with these slithery articulations Seva is attempting to get the company to move differently and unlike anything I’ve seen in the previous seven SDT productions. Shifting their energies and dropping their gravitational centres, he’s trying to school them in the hunger, urgency and articulacy of krump. Dressed in dark mesh tutus, the dancers combine a ballet-backed and first-position stiffness with the unnerving Wheelers from Return To Oz — rigid dolls hovering across the stage, mechanical in body and face.

The narrative pace and emotional zoning doesn’t begin to emerge till over halfway through the 30-minute work; it feels like the dancers need to start dancing 15 minutes before they come on stage so the adrenalin is running and we are immediately dunked into their world. Until that point I saw classically-trained dancers attempting to recreate an alien, krump-inspired language. Harry Clark (trained at Rambert and previously dancing with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures) is particularly exposed in Seva’s choreography, needing to soften his spine and to give himself over to what is being asked. I think it would benefit the dancers if they were to experience and participate in a krump battle, to drink in and taste the emotional shower that spurts from those who krump when they are entirely in that other zone.

The duet between Amy Hollinshead and Southward pivots the energy of the entire work and we see Hollinshead take to krump like a cat giving birth to a fur ball, hissing and verbally banishing her ballet training to birth a new movement language on her body. The transformation of form is the root of the work: seeing bodies begin in one state, transformed to another and then resort back to their default setting. Southward revels in the intensity required and his face channels that intensity whilst his body matches the demands for articulation from his neck to his wrist. From here TuTuMucky begins to build and the electro, glitch noise soundtrack by Torben Lars Sylvest swirls the energy around the dancers and the audience; we begin to be pulled towards the rhythms, potency and urgency of the movement and I get a sense that the dancers finally start to believe; they’ve found Seva’s groove and in taking on his language transform themselves.

When some dancers are able to transform and execute a new language and some really can’t, the effect is a visual unevenness that leaves me unsettled; in a company like SDT I’m left with the question of where the responsibility lies for such unevenness? Is it with Seva who has not communicated or built the necessary trust with the dancers to convince them to give themselves over to his world? Is it the rehearsal director who isn’t noticing the stark differences in the stiffness and supple spines and taking steps to resolve them? Is it the dancers who are unable to execute what is being demanded of them or do not understand what they’re being asked to do? Or is it with Darkin in her choice of bringing a choreographer who is without doubt carving a name for himself but whose language creates an incompatibility with the current company of dancers?

When a choreographer like Seva is invited to make a work on full-time, salaried dancers who exist in a place of comfort and privilege it is impossible for him to recreate the conditions and terrain which he and his company have encountered and which make them so rare. The reality and experience gap is too large and consequently I feel like the two worlds haven’t come together; trust hasn’t been established and they’re still eyeing each other across the choreographic divide. If those who encounter TuTuMucky love what they see, they should seek out the work of Seva’s own company that is offering a choreographic palette, emotional intensity and insight as to where the next wave of British choreography could be going.

I think certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform—or perhaps distort—yourself through that persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality.” – Haruki Murakami


Scottish Dance Theatre: Miann

Posted: April 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: Miann

Scottish Dance Theatre, Miann, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, April 9

Amy Hollinshead in Fleur Darkin's Miann (photo: Brian Hartley)

Amy Hollinshead in Fleur Darkin’s Miann (photo: Brian Hartley)

The word ‘miann’ is Gaelic for ‘the ardent desire to know God.’ Ardent is the operative word in Fleur Darkin’s new work for Scottish Dance Theatre not only in terms of the choreography but in the music of The One Ensemble who play live on stage. Miann is also a spiritual work that battles with death and separation not in philosophical terms but in a visceral, personal confrontation that commemorates Darkin’s stepfather. Darkin’s description of the work is every bit as passionate as her choreography: ‘I wanted to create a space that we could share. I wanted the music of The One Ensemble to ring out like a thunderstorm shaking our bodies. I wanted the dancers to remind us that life is felt before it is thought about. I wanted us to taste the fresh water, breathe in forest air and feel the willow under our bare feet. I wanted to prove that feelings are real. I wanted a space where the invisible might be felt. I wanted a space to honour my parent…I wanted to create a gift out of dance.’ Seeing Miann is to embrace these words in physical form.

With no curtain at the Queen Elizabeth Hall we have plenty of time to contemplate the set. Designed by Alexander Ruth and lit by Emma Jones, it looks as if it was conceived for in-the-round performance: a circle of white floor in the middle of which is what looks like a sundial or a sail on its mast. All around the white circle are bundles of dry branches and beyond them towards the back are the spaces for the four musicians and their instruments. On either side at the front of the stage are two urns of flowers that Audrey Rogero and Naomi Murray pick up and hold like living statues at the entrance to a cemetery. The smoke that issues from the urns is probably dry ice that looks like incense for there is no fragrance. I suspect Darkin’s original idea of immersing our olfactory senses in the production has been compromised by health and safety (another administrative incursion into the production is that after Rogero and Murray circulate with their urns through the audience and return backstage the QEH reminds us to turn off our mobile phones).

In her program note, Darkin references the Callanish stone circle on Lewis, a landscape in which she ‘wanted us all to get lost…with no story, no orientation points, only beckoning paths.’ When Amy Hollinshead first appears on stage she has muddied limbs and hands as if she has been running and slipping among the stones on a wet day; she carries with her the evidence of the wild countryside but it is not embodied in Ruth’s clean and dry construction. I keep wishing for a simple stage of turf or peat (I didn’t have long to see one in Peter Pabst’s set for Tanztheater Wuppertal’s Auf dem Gebirge). Hollinshead sets the physical tone of the choreography in jumping frenziedly, repeatedly, exhaustively to the sound of her exertion. It is a motif that will return poignantly at the end suffused with uncontrolled grief and anger. On this occasion it is the anticipation of Francesco Ferrari’s arrival — the loved one — who wraps her, after some trepidation on her part and some coaxing on his, in his long cloak (Ruth’s costumes, as one might expect from a fashion designer, excel here). The other dancers enter as different manifestations of filial grief: a stoic Quang Kien Van in a dance with ritual overtones, a tentative or agnostic Matthew Robinson and a maternal Aya Steigman carrying her child (Murray) clasped to her front. The ensuing mêlée of dancers running, rolling and hurling themselves to the floor is like a wild mating game of sensual, brutal proportions. But this is not narrative; this is raw, primal emotion expressed in familiar human patterns; the message is in the rawness not the patterns. Steigman and Murray work like demons to rip up part of the floor to reveal turf: a funeral plot before the grave is dug. Artur Grabarczyk dances a powerful, erotically charged duet with Murray while Steigman remains motionless on the grave and the other dancers make their reptilian way around the branches like the circular path of life. When Ferrari has completed his circle, Murray brings in a crown of flowers with which she finally crowns him like a chosen one. He watches Hollinshead don a black mourning shroud and the sundial/sail element becomes a metaphor for the river Styx that the Greeks represented as the division between life and death. As Ferrari passes through to the other side, Hollinshead tries to follow. Her final outburst and the communal response is an apotheosis in dance and music of heroic proportions.

The depth of Darkin’s emotion is clearly a powerful creative force. Her physical movement phrases have the authenticity of grief and anger and she has harnessed the force of the music to amplify them. She seems to drag her dancers into the ring and they give themselves fully to this production, a quality in Scottish Dance Theatre that is impressive. When I first saw them it was at the very beginning of Darkin’s appointment in a double bill of Jo Strømgren’s Winter, Again and Victor Quijada’s Second Coming; it was a wonderful cast but one of the difficulties with a change in artistic direction is a possible (some may say inevitable) shakeup in dancers. I hope Darkin can keep the present dancers together; they are well worth watching. In a performance like Miann there are enormous benefits when the dancers are used to each other, open to each other and familiar with the way they each move.

If only the setting could descend to the earthy intensity of the music, costumes and the choreography…

 


Scottish Dance Theatre: YAMA

Posted: February 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: YAMA

I have invited my friend Ian Abbott to contribute to these musings on dance. As some of you will already know, Ian was until recently Head of Creative Programs at Pavilion Dance Southwest in Bournemouth and I was always grateful for his encouragement through invitations to review various shows or summits he had planned there. We would also cross paths at performances elsewhere. If there was something I really enjoyed I would say to him, Ian you should program this. ‘I already have’ was the inevitable reply. Ian has now moved to Scotland and I am very happy to welcome his thoughts on performances he is seeing there. 

Scottish Dance Theatre, YAMA, Dundee Rep Theatre, February 12

Scottish Dance Theatre in Damien Jalet's YAMA (photo: Brian Hartley)

Scottish Dance Theatre in Damien Jalet’s YAMA (photo: Brian Hartley)

“Entering a novel is like going on a climb in the mountains: You have to learn the rhythms of respiration – acquire the pace. Otherwise you stop right away.” Umberto Eco

Mountains invite a challenge.

Scottish Dance Theatre, under the artistic direction of Fleur Darkin, at first commissioned Damien Jalet to create YAMA (Japanese for mountain) as half of a double bill, a munro if you like, in February 2014. Originally inspired by his trip to Japan and the Yamabushi’s (a practising group of ascetic monks) pagan and animalistic rituals, Jalet was invited back to re-build and re-birth a new mountain in the shadow of Dundee’s extinct volcano, The Law.

With a low, rumbling electronic soundscape provided by Winter Family, the opening frames of YAMA created a set of the most striking and original experiences I’ve come across in a theatre. As an opening and immovable central focus, the revelation and consistency of Jim Hodges’ ‘abstract geometric form’ sink hole provided the only channel through which the Scottish Dance critters could arrive or depart. Legs began to slither and ooze from the surface leaving me unsure of the number of bodies present. A giant amorphous flesh ball – with each individual covered by Jean-Paul Lespagnard’s nude shorts and torso-brushing horse-hair facial stockings – started to divide into smaller iterations, writhing and mesmerising me for over 20 minutes: I realised I was already on the journey with them, halfway up the mountain. Through a careful handling and guiding of my attention, I realised I’d been sucked in by the physical concatenation and snap and flow of bodies; the way they’d scurry and come together like a hairy chorus drawn from the brush of Busby Berkeley’s undulating worship of geometric forms and patterns was verging on sorcery. I didn’t want to leave this brave and unusual world.

“Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top.” Dag Hammarskjold

YAMA is the total theatrical realisation of a mountain; the dizzying and breathless ascent, the embrace of the summit and a dawning that the journey home will never contain a place so high again. Ritualistically the performers removed their hair and revealed their faces for the first time. The sonic and visual world was broken. An evolution had taken place and the final 25 minutes consisted of what others would recognise as contemporary dance. The intensity of the choreography – the dancers matched what Jalet painted on their bodies – increased until the striking finale of the channel reclaiming the bodies which had birthed them 55 minutes ago. I left with an increasing sense of regret of what might have been. Had that strong and pioneering world that was so well crafted in the first half been continued I believe YAMA would have been an incredibly courageous and special work.

YAMA invites a challenge and it’s a work that deserves to be encountered and conquered. Scottish Dance Theatre is a rare company in the UK – they house a set of dancers equal to any choreographic challenge – and are traversing a daring choreographic path with confidence and without fear.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”      William Blake

 


Scottish Dance Theatre: Second Coming & Winter, Again

Posted: March 25th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: Second Coming & Winter, Again

Scottish Dance Theatre, Double Bill, The Place, March 8.

Lewis Wilkins and Eve Ganneau in Second Coming. Photo Maria Falconer

Lewis Wilkins and Eve Ganneau in Second Coming. Photo Maria Falconer

Joan Clevillé draws me so convincingly into his subterfuge that I can forgive Victor Quijada for the beginning of his Second Coming; I had checked the running time of the show and had booked a train that would give me just enough time between the end of the performance and the departure from Victoria station. When Clevillé, who is rehearsal director of the company as well as a dancer, announces that there will be a delay to the start of the show — he has an excellent command of English but his searching for a word and his roving accentuation underlines the hesitation and insecurity of his explanations — I feel my comfort zone shrink rapidly. Luckily I am sitting next to Chantal Guevara who surreptitiously checks online and reassured me that this is in fact the beginning of the show (but don’t tell anyone). It’s a forewarning that we will be kept in a constant state of unpreparedness throughout the evening as there is no clear demarcation between true and false, belief and non-belief. Even the score by Jasper Gahunia erases boundaries, seamlessly interpolating turntable riffs into classical music and vice versa. Quijada and Gahunia are clearly on the same wavelength.

Twenty minutes into the show, Clevillé admits to the dramatic subterfuge, and starts another, but we are now attuned: the choreographer has been fired. It is a harmless, self-deprecating put-down of choreographers as macho control freaks with anger management issues, but, as Clevillé states modestly, there is still some amazing dancing to come and he saves the best for last: his own solo. What follows is much more, for although it starts (after a false start) with his slow, deliberate, finger-tracing solo to a phrase of a Bach prelude, it develops with Mozartian richness into a confrontational duet with Jori Kerremans on a spirited phrase of Paganini, and then into a trio with Nicole Guarino on a phrase from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 13 (Emma Jones’ must have been dancing along to get the cues so perfectly). It is as if Quijada has arranged an epic breaking battle for these three composers who then join forces to play variations on their respective themes and by the end we are all laughing and cheering so loudly because Quijada, Gahunia, the three dancers and Jones have it all down so perfectly.

Matthew Robinson cuts through the applause (he has to wait a while) to deliver his critique of this ‘performance-non-performance thing’ as ‘overworked pseudo-intellectual rubbish’, but he has to continue his defiant monologue in defense of dancers while being dragged slowly by his collar around the stage.

Quijada has reached the summit but there is no lessening of quality as the ensemble descends the mountainside climbing through and under each other in a grouping that leaves behind the opening images of birds and street gangs, flocks and individuals, suspicion and tension as it slips freely to the point of dispersal. Only Eve Ganneau and Lewis Wilkins are left to deliver a duet that is as magical as it is off balance, as heartfelt as it is artfully constructed and which ends on a mysterious note of inversion.

It is rare to find a company with such a diverse range of qualities and a delight to see choreography that brings out those qualities to perfection. We are doubly fortunate this evening for it happens twice.

SDT in Jo Stromgren's Winter, Again.

Lewis Wilkins, Giulia Montalbano, Julian Juárez, Jori Kerremans, Joan Clevillé, Nicole Guarino and Eve Ganneau in Jo Stromgren’s Winter, Again.

Jo Strømgren is as much a theatre director as a choreographer; in his Winter, Again he brings together both drama and dance in a fluent form that integrates visual imagery and choreography so well that the dancers could well be speaking. Strømgren’s text is the cold and bitter emotion of a selection of songs from Schubert’s Winterreise (played by fellow Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes and sung by Ian Bostridge) though he can never take quite seriously the high romanticism of Wilhelm Müller’s verse. Instead he mischievously juxtaposes Schubert’s music with the bloodthirsty, churlish actions of an isolated hunting community dressed in shades of ghostly white (by Bregje van Balen) that lives its daily fight for survival with as little emotion as the winter itself. Echoes of Ibsen and Chekhov abound in the chilling screams, pistol shots, dead birds and other furry carcasses but Strømgren has us laughing helplessly from the beginning with his brand of dark, irreverent humour. Not even the fate of a young girl (Natalie Trewinnard) who spends the entire performance searching for her eyeballs that the pigtailed beauty Maria Hayday finds in a tin and mindlessly drops in the snow can prompt a sense of sympathy. Trewinnard finally finds her eyes and pops them back in, but her focal adjustment is so masterfully funny — and Strømgren’s dramatic sense so seasoned — that her subsequent suicide by pistol shot that brings the performance to an end is less of an emotional charge than a dramatic full stop.

This program is the parting gift of former artistic director Janet Smith. Fleur Darkin is in the seat now. In the evening’s program she writes that ‘contemporary dance is a form that lives by destroying its past’ and yet both of this evening’s remarkable works make creative use of the past to find new forms rather than destroying it. Scottish Dance Theatre is, in its present form, a gifted company and while it has such a rich repertoire may the only kind of destruction under discussion be creative destruction. And long may it last.