Resolution 2017: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré & Stephen Quildan

Posted: February 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2017: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré & Stephen Quildan

Resolution 2017, January 28: Bridget Lappin, Mathieu Geffré, Stephen Quildan

Marie Astrid Mence in a publicity photo for Not Hard (photo: Jack Thomson)

Bridget Lappin last year toyed with dual notions of exposure and concealment in The Art of Exposure and for this year’s Resolution she explores the dual notions of femininity and animality in Who’s Afraid of a Pussy Cat? Lappin is clearly drawn to paradoxes and she moves between them with her natural gifts of sensuality and strength. Here she takes her fascination with paradox to a sexually provocative level, conflating animality and femininity in a seamless line from forest to go-go bar, from faun to lap dancer. But there is a difference between embodiment and posture; Lappin indicates her inner paradoxes without fully expressing them and because of the sensual nature of dance in general and her performance in particular, she is partially successful. She seems to be aware of this paradox within a paradox for at one point she deliberately invokes Nijinsky’s portrayal of a faun in which, by all accounts, the separation between performer and animal was scandalously fine. Despite her best efforts (but not helped by her utilitarian costume of flowered bra and pants), Lappin’s own femininity maintains a distance from her animality, leaving a regret that the two are not more fully and selflessly integrated.

A recording of Nina Simone’s 1976 performance of Feelings at the Montreux Jazz Festival is the starting point for Mathieu Geffré’s What Songs May Do. The idea is that his two dancers, Angela Boix Duran and Joseba Yerro Izaguirre, are attending the concert in real time and their duet is the affect of Simone’s performance on their relationship. The beginning works beautifully as Duran and Izaguirre seem to arise out of the audience and walk languidly on to the stage to Simone singing Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas. This looks like a preview to a romantic duet but Simone’s Feelings brings out both tenderness and irritation, expectation and rejection in the couple: the feelings start to run amok. While Geffré’s title prepares us for this altercation between the musical and the physical, the latter starts to take on a separate existence; there is a section of locked bodies on the floor and another with dramatic runs and lifts that are effective in themselves (both dancers are totally immersed in what they do), but lose their choreographic relation to the music. Simone’s concert continues, applause and all, while Duran and Izaguirre become embroiled in a Bauschian tangle too reminiscent of Café Mueller. Our attention has been drawn away from what songs may do to the couple to what the couple is doing to the songs.

The final work comes wrapped in Rambert livery with Rambert support. The opening gambit of Stephen Quildan’s Not Hard is a well-constructed conceit that takes the entire piece to unravel. At the opening we watch two immobile, macho figures in bulky leather jackets, baggy pants and hats pulled well down on their heads changing positions and poses in a series of closely controlled, hazy blackouts (great lighting by Joshua Harriette). The first intimation of movement is an entrance by one of them on a BMX bike. The arrival of a ripped Lucy Balfour in red swimsuit and fashion backpack clears the haze but leaves us none the wiser as to where this is all going. The slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony may be a clue but it sits incongruously next to a hilarious lip-synched version of Lethal Bizzle’s Pow (Forward) by the trio of Balfour, Vanessa Kang and Kym Sojourna dressed by Quildan himself (who also wrote some of the music). The glossy production values with which Quildan juggles seem inspired by fashion photography — Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin spring to mind — and slick music videos, and he wraps them in the format of a social media event in which the scrolling visual content carries the message. Not Hard finishes with Balfour standing very close to the front row of seats holding a two-litre bottle of water in each outstretched arm until her toned muscle strength fails and one bottle falls after the other. It becomes a metaphor for a work that relies so heavily on its visual strength.


Resolution! 2016, performances on January 15

Posted: January 20th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution! 2016, performances on January 15

Resolution! 2016, January 15: Animal Radio, ISH by moi, Neus Gil Cortés

Publicity image for Neus Gil Cortés' Here Body (photo: Patricio Forrester)

Publicity image for Neus Gil Cortés’ Here Body (photo: Patricio Forrester)

Some subjects just don’t seem to share common ground with the choreographic side of dance and social media is one of them. Animal Radio’s Book My Face begins with a powerful visual image on a screen of two large-scale faces (of the two dancers, Maga Radlowska and Aneta Zwierzynska) undergoing cartoon-like transformations (photography by Agnieszka Dolata and filmed by Neil Emmanuel). The faces endlessly morph from one tic to another, one expression to the next, but the idea gets carried away; it becomes a show in itself, lasting the entire length of the work without playing more than a peripheral role in it. The drive behind Book My Face is an exploration of how ‘virtual identity affects the inner instinctive animal in us’ and ‘the extent to which the identities we inhabit impact on our movement patterns.’ Do they? It seems to be a case of a choreographic fusion of Animal Radio’s contemporary dance, capoeira and contact backing itself into a concept. The only connection is between the dancers and the live rhythmic input of musician Alex Judd. It might be worthwhile to put the concept and the visuals aside and start again with the dancers and the music to see where that might lead.

ISH by moi’s Sirens is another kind of animal altogether. Ishimwa Muhimanyi uses a zoological analogy to establish his premise: ‘Visibility exposes an animal to the risk of attack from its enemies, and no animal is without enemies. Being visible is therefore a basic biological risk; being invisible is a basic biological defence. We all employ some sort of camouflage.’ The opening film of the striking Muhimanyi in a long black wig, bright red pants and matching trainers drinking a milky white substance from a bowl on a white floor is a defiant statement of visibility. If he is being provocative it is with a siren’s beguiling sense of humour. In the same outfit he backs on to the stage in a narrow rectangle of light, rippling and undulating with unabashed showmanship before dropping his disguise to start a cabaret-like monologue on coming to grips with and overcoming fear (in the form of a black latex mask on a stand whose potential for camouflage he rejects). His text is candid and amusing (an irresistible combination) and his gestures seem to derive from the same impish source. By the end Muhimanyi has established his sense of self without imposing it; instead, he draws us into his world, our camouflage in disarray.

I have seen three pieces by Neus Gil Cortés (most recently at Emerge Festival) and while each has been quite different there is a core that is consistent. She has that ability to evoke emotion through a minimum of means. In Here Body she puts together traces of memories and expresses each of them in her movement, one after the other, sometimes overlapping, creating a collage of gestures, acts, and stillness that together form the reality she is remembering. As in memories, there is space and time in her work and she allows us the space and time to engage our imagination to draw us in to her remembering without giving us a narrative map. At the very beginning we see an empty wooden rocking chair in the spotlight and just clear of it, in the half-light, we see Gil Cortés lying on the floor, her head, long languid arms and legs in a state of suspension, floating. In her program notes, she writes that Here Body ‘explores feelings and fears around death and decay.’ These feelings, so I learned later, are the result of two concurrent events in Gil Cortés’ life: a loss of faith and the death of her beloved grandmother. I mention it not because they provide context vital to an understanding of the work, but because I am fascinated by Gil Cortés’ process of transforming memory into choreography, finding the emotion in motion and fusing the two in their shared meaning. This is what she does so well. Here she improvises to texts read by Jane Thorne that comprise random funerary memorials found on the Internet. However, at the end of Here Body Gil Cortés unravels part of the mystery by introducing a figure in the form of Durgesh Srivastava who represents her late grandmother. As a choreographic device it is risky, making visible what the invisible presence in the rocking chair had evoked. It is a concession to materialism, but Srivastava provides one of the crowning moments of the work. On the accent of ‘ok’ in a song (Darling Deer by BRIXIA) about the acceptance of death and decay, her arms trace a circle over Gil Cortés’ head like a prayer and continue upwards. It is such moments that have the power to heal.


Rambert New Choreography

Posted: January 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rambert New Choreography

Rambert New Choreographers, The Place, December 16

Dane Hurst in O'dabo (photo: John Ross)

Dane Hurst in O’dabo (photo: John Ross)

A student handed in a paper to his professor. The next time the professor saw the student he asked him if he considered the paper the best he could have done. Nonplussed, the student reflected, re-read his text, made some changes and re-submitted the paper the following day. When the professor saw him again he asked the same question. The student thought he must have missed something and decided to rework the paper one final time. On submitting it again, and faced with the same question, he replied with conviction, “Yes, sir.” “Then I will read it,” responded the professor.

A ticket-paying member of an audience, like the professor, has a similar expectation of the work he or she is about to see. Even if the performance comprises new choreography from dancers within a company trying their hand at the form, one wants to see works that have found their final form. Works that are still in a process of evolution should remain in the studio or be shown in an open rehearsal. As the evening in question involves Rambert, what excuse could possibly be wanting to open the doors of their new home for such a purpose?

Of five works on the program at The Place, only one has found its form, and that is Dane Hurst’s paean to Nelson Mandela, O’dabo. The other four, for all their crafting, are closer to sketches: interesting only in the context of the final form but as the final form they lose their cogency. Artistic Director of Rambert, Mark Baldwin, explains at the beginning of the evening that this annual platform is a necessary step for aspiring choreographers within the company towards making work for the main stage. Patricia Okenwa, who is working towards her first commission for the company in 2016, admits in her program notes that No. 1 Convergence is a process, but this is not her first attempt at choreography; she is experienced in this program and should, with a commission in the offing, be closer to bringing the parts of No. 1 Convergence into a formal unity. Choreographed on six dancers, the convergence of patterns is evident but the convergence of overall form is not.

Luke Ahmet’s duet Unspoken Dialect starts from an interesting premise of making internal dialogue visible, but it is a premise that lends itself more to a solo than to a duet. Adam Blyde and Carolyn Bolton in effect perform two solos that happen to intersect on the same stage at the same time. They are both striking dancers but the reason for them dancing together is missing and this detracts from the ideas Ahmet sets out to develop.

Some ideas for choreography seem destined not to translate and Simone Damberg Würtz’s RIFT, based on an old ad from her native Denmark illustrating the fatal consequences of not wearing a seatbelt whilst driving is a case in point. It might have helped to create the aural impact of a crash to set a clear, dramatic context, but instead Damberg Würtz takes an existential idea of ‘the unshakeable sense of guilt a death can have on the conscience’ on which to base her physical exploration. Such cerebral concerns reduce dance space and time in RIFT to a stillness unrelieved by an accompanying Danish text that, if it has significance for Damberg Würtz, is not shared with those of us in the audience who don’t understand Danish.

It is in Pierre Tappon’s Related that a clear choreographic idea begins to develop between the trio of Liam Francis, Antonia Hewitt and Stephen Wright. Tappon calls it a short story and sets up a stage of symbolic sculptural elements — a rock-like doorway and pedestal — on which and around which the characters dance. In the story, Hewitt appears to be a siren whose initial allure fails to win over the two men, perhaps because it is Francis who demonstrates a palpable allure in the fluidity of his dancing and the movement he is given to explore.

Hurst explains O’dabo (a Yoruba expression meaning ‘until I return’ or ‘goodbye’) as ‘a physical reaction to my reflections on the many faces of Nelson Mandela.’ Hurst, who was brought up in South Africa, has made the country his focus once before (The Window) in a Rambert choreographic evening, and his connection with his subject is visceral; his inspiration flows not only into his movement but through all the elements of the work — the first movement of Paul Gladstone Reid’s Symphony of Dust and Air, the richly coloured carpets laid out so carefully, Lucy Hansom’s lighting and Hurst’s costume of cloth and powder. He expresses in his body what he imagines it is like to build hope, to have a vision, to counter frailty, face defeat and emerge victorious and he has the courage to keep his choreographic language close to the ground, transforming his internal conviction into the physical symbolism of Mandela’s journey. This transformation breaks down only when Hurst defaults to classical technique in the form of turns and barrel rolls that appear more about the dancer than the master. If he can develop the early imagery and follow it through to its apotheosis rather than borrowing from a foreign idiom, O’dabo will gain in cohesion, something Mandela himself championed.

 


Resolution! 2014: Waldeinsamkeit, Stewart and Cox, Kuniskis

Posted: March 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution! 2014: Waldeinsamkeit, Stewart and Cox, Kuniskis

Resolution! 2014: Waldeinsamkeit Theatre, Heather Stewart and Helen Cox, Ieva Kuniskis, The Place, February 6

Rachel Burn in Women's Tales (photo: Judita Kuniskyte)

Rachel Burn in Women’s Tales (photo: Judita Kuniskyte)

One of the pleasures of attending Resolution! is that you never quite know what you are going to see. This evening’s program ranges from theatre with very little dance to dance with very little theatre to a fertile mix of the two.

The three creative minds behind Waldeinsamkeit Theatre all trained in theatre rather than in dance, which perhaps explains the heavy dependence on text in You must be the one to bury me. The title comes from the translation of the first part of an Arabic phrase that crops up in a language game a couple, Richard (Joseph Lynch) and Sophie (Stephanie Bain), plays. The second part reads, ‘for I cannot bear the thought of living without you.’ The arc of the narrative falls rather short of the title’s expectation; as Richard and Sophie’s relationship falls apart the conclusion reads more ‘I can’t bear the thought of living with you’. The contraction of a relationship into twenty minutes — from its online introduction to courtship to holiday to descent into routine to misunderstanding, jealousy and a final attempt at saving it — creates problems in the telling, though the opening scenes are refreshing in the fast-forward/playback mode in which they are played. But by the time a third party (Rea Mole) enters the picture late in the game like a fortune teller behind a screen, the humour dwindles away in an attempt to draw the increasingly drawn-out ends to a close: it needs to fast forward but there’s nowhere to go. Bain understandably wants to prolong the work but the problem is not so much the theatrical treatment as the narrative itself: ‘bury’ becomes less a metaphor for the strength of desire as for the weakness of the plot.

Heather Stewart and Helen Cox’s Lapse is intriguing. There is an integrity to the work that makes me want to see it again, but the subject is so cerebral that it puts me off. Shaped by Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget (an intense observation of each and every body movement Goldsmith made on June 16, 1997), Lapse has a similarly compulsive approach to movement while sparing us the details. To a reading of sections of the text by Robin Toller, Stewart and Cox perform movement phrases that repeat and syncopate in a matrix as astringent as it is precise. There is even a clock ticking to remind us of how relentless time can be when acutely observed. The reading by Toller gives lightness to the work while Stewart and Cox’s patterns lend it the complexity of a chess game or mathematical puzzle in which their neat technique and clean lines make their phrases almost hypnotic: the body as unemotional instrument. Toller accelerates his reading and Stewart and Cox move faster but not on his rhythm, playing a game of catch-up before they slow down to half-time. Toller eventually runs out of voice and the exhaustive catalog of movements grows silent, but he rallies with a commentary on, among other things, Lapse‘s ‘perverse inability to convey body language except through language.’ Thank goodness for Stewart and Cox. 

The opening haze of Ieva Kuniskis’ Women’s Tales draws its inspiration (so I learned later) from a scene in Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Nostalgia. Such a timeless sense of space — notwithstanding The Place’s initially over-enthusiastic haze machine — is a perfect setting (thanks to lighting designer Maria Klochkova) for this intricate weaving of four separate women’s stories.

Rachel Burn kneels on a bench with her legs tucked under her and Victoria Winter stands facing her. Andreea Padurariu brings in a flowerpot and defiantly tips both flowers and earth on to the floor, looking behind her with sly contempt to see if she is being observed before running off. She returns with a stash of letters and sits on a chair reading them, crumpling each one as she finishes it and dropping it on the floor. Helen Aschauer enters with a bowl of water that she places close to Burn, then paces up and down ranting at nobody in particular — sotto voce at first but the volume rises — interjecting at critical moments with a passionate prodding of her thigh and backside or a wild gesticulation of her arms: a physical and verbal monologue in a voluble language that has the flavour of a hot climate. Kuniskis builds her choreography from these carefully observed details, revealing her characters through their actions, developing their tics and idiosyncrasies into rich and imaginative dance that gives her work a sense of being grounded in the psychology of the earth (mirrored by the autumnal colours of Maiko Sakurai Karner’s costumes and a delicious Tupelo Blues by John Lee Hooker). Each woman’s quite independent tale is carefully superimposed on the others like a collage through which relationships are revealed by a sudden coincidence of gesture or by an act of sympathy.

After her rant, Aschauer returns to her bowl of water and washes Burn’s long hair.Winter’s pensive self-questioning leads her to comfort the disconsolate Padurariu. Aschauer takes off Burn’s cardigan to dry her hair before braiding it. Burn, who has been serenely meditative up to now suddenly erupts and clambers up Aschauer like a tree to perch briefly at the top, then knocks her down in her rush to the corner where Winter stood, but Winter has by now exchanged places and sits next to Aschauer, hand on her shoulder. There is a cinematic quality to Women’s Tales, with our focus shifting from one gesture or act to another like joining the dots of a broad canvas suffused with a dreamlike melancholy. Aschauer takes a sip of water from the bowl and removes her shoes. Burn returns to her bench, aided by Winter who then helps Aschauer put on Burn’s cardigan. Aschauer scribbles something on her knee and sets off at a delirious pace around the broken flower pot, tripping, falling, getting up, furiously writing in the air in one long flowing intensity. Meanwhile Winter is carefully piling up Padurariu’s crumpled letters on her lap, balancing them carefully in a paper pyramid. Just as the pile is complete, Padurariu stands up: it is her turn to tell her story, and she, unlike the others, comes forward into an imaginary spotlight as if to speak…but she cannot get a word out. She turns upstage and moonwalks to the music as if she is somehow elevated and continues to dance her story through her back, private and sensuous. Towards the end of her dance Aschauer begins to clean up the mess of the broken pot, Burn turns round quietly on her bench to face away and Winter sits in Padurariu’s chair: all four are ineluctably trapped in the web of their tales. It is only when Burn begins to sing a Lithuanian lullaby in a beautifully clear voice that the spell begins to break; Aschauer adds her voice as she sweeps and Winter joins in to form a trio as she picks up the crumpled letters. Padurariu ends her story and helps Aschauer with the cleaning. As each woman finishes her task she leaves, still singing; our ears strain to hear the final notes as our eyes accustom to the darkening light, somewhere between the end of the dream and waking.

 

 


Resolution! 2014: Vais, Burn, Clark

Posted: February 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution! 2014: Vais, Burn, Clark

Resolution! 2014, The Place, January 29

Rachel Burn, Threshold (photo: Ben Hopper)

Rachel Burn, Threshold (photo: Ben Hopper)

Culture Device Dance Project: I can’t explain and I won’t even try

An arm extends from the wings, a waking arm stretching out in the morning light, followed by the rest of John Livingston. He seems to be in close and intimate conversation with the light around him (provided by Maria Klochkova), his gestures close and passionate, catching the air in his fist and pulling it down, unrolling his arm and slowly revealing his face in his ‘circle of public solitude’. He revels in being upside down, his head as anchor and his leg pointing up in the air like an exclamation mark. As he gets up, Sarah Gordy enters with an altogether more dynamic phrase, gyrating like a gentle hoola-hoop. Livingston searches, pushes back, grasps at questions and twists his body as if squeezing out the answers. Gordy is already grounded, her legs bent deeply to the floor and her body freely laid out above, her arms circling as if to test the limits of her senses, making a wide sweep around Livingston. He expresses each gesture with timeless concentration, acting and reacting in a moving dialogue. When something doesn’t quite succeed, one can sense his determination to follow it through to its logical conclusion, like one straining to express his words and meaning clearly. At the end of this first section he falls and rises again while Gordy continues to orbit like a planet circling the internal combustion of its star.

The dreamlike drone of Stars of the Lid changes to a slow-drilling techno pulse by Emptyset. Both Livingston and Gordy are rooted to the ground, their gestures becoming more forceful. Livingston throws off his t-shirt while Gordy pushes and pulls at an imaginary boundary. The drama in Livingston’s dialogue notches up in intensity as if he’s turning the screw tighter; Gordy watches him with concern as she continues to orbit, picking up on the repetitive, mechanical nature of the music. There are magical moments when their two independent worlds unite for an instant in a complementary movement that jumps out of the soundscape like a spark but finally the symbiosis fails, their energy is depleted and they both collapse to the ground — only, one imagines, for the time it takes to gather up the resources to start again.

Culture Device Dance Project is a professional company for dancers with Down’s Syndrome using improvisation techniques and experimental electronic sounds to push boundaries. I can’t explain and I won’t even try was developed by artistic director Daniel Vais in collaboration with the dancers.

Rachel Burn, Threshold

I first saw Rachel Burn’s work at a Cloud Dance Sunday. It was Pull Through, Flick, which had a monastic, spiritual underpinning that is still present in Threshold but here Burn is inspired by Walt Whitman’s free-ranging lines in Leaves of Grass — particularly Song of Myself. When you travel from Pull Through, Flick to Threshold you realise how much the ‘self’ that Whitman writes about has imbued Burn’s ‘self’ to create a more confident and poetic universe as if she had developed his ‘loosen’d tongue’. Given that she created the work on the same three dancers — Lauren Bridle, Laura Erwin and Anna Pearce — the work also reflects their emotional and physical stretching. (Only three days before the Resolution! performance, Erwin broke three bones in her foot during rehearsal and was unable to perform, so we saw a stunningly composed — and sleepless — Burn herself as both muse and interpreter. Whitman’s line of the poem that is chalked on the floor could have been dedicated to Erwin: ‘Be of good cheer, we will not desert you’).

The work is episodic in the same way Whitman weaves one image or story into another, each linked to the others by his understanding of the essential unity of person and environment. Renu Hossain’s lovely score seems to be inspired by the same humanist spirituality, supporting the key elements of the sea, the earth and the air. In each of her performers, Burn brings out individual strengths to match: Pearce turns herself inside out in her solo, arriving at a oneness with her material that is timeless and it is lovely once again to watch Bridle whose ability to transcend form is ever present; she is like water to Pearce’s earth. As for Burn herself, when not joining in the trios she seems quite at home as the statuesque, white-robed goddess with the delicately supplicating arms.

There is so much to enjoy in this sculptural work that it deserves a more sensitive treatment in terms of light and shade. Verse is read while choreography is essentially a visual art and paintings may be an appropriate inspiration for this further refinement. Perhaps by the time Erwin’s foot is healed there will be time (and funding) to explore.

Rag Days: Scratch

Choreographer Timothy Clark and designer Emma Robinson close the evening with Scratch, a burlesque loosely fashioned on the antics of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their companion April O’Neil.  In the opening scene, the four comrades (Ben Jones, Hannah Rotchell, Henry Curtis and João Cidade) are drilled by O’Neil (Patricia Zafra) as overbearing, over-the-top martial arts instructor. They have names that sound like The Whip, Morphine, Blue Mix and Red Lance and together they form the intrepid band of Dance Rangers battling evil — in the form of a manic, radio-controlled model car in satanic colours that races around the stage causing havoc — for the good of humanity. Off duty, they tend to talk all at once, or riff a cappella on their names. Clark is never at a loss for comic invention and keeps the audience entertained (i.e. laughing) throughout. According to Rag Days’ facebook page, Clark formed his company with the noble purpose of ‘making accessible dance works for the purpose of entertainment’, so Scratch certainly succeeds even if there is very little dance — accessible or otherwise — in it. Dramatic confrontation with Evil is finally averted by an enterprising Dance Ranger switching off the car to a rousing round of congratulations and a lot of energetic posing and fists in the air. The audience can’t help but respond in kind.

 

 

 

 

 


Touch Wood 1 at The Place

Posted: September 19th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Touch Wood 1 at The Place

Touch Wood, The Place, September 3

Three women relax, stretch and gaze out at the audience as we come into the studio. On stage there is a wooden platform with two tiny, coloured beach chairs on it and a long wire hanging above it with a light fitting at one end but no bulb. This is Touch Wood, in which ‘four choreographers straight out of the studio seek out the audiences’ reaction as they try out fragments of their latest work.’ Or as the director of theatre and artist development, Eddie Nixon, points out in his introduction, ‘What unites all these works is that nothing is yet finished.’

Dog Kennel Hill has been working on Etudes in Tension and Cries, which Rachel Lopez de la Nieta introduces. It is the outcome of five days of work ‘appropriating scenes of high drama and conflict to see how we find ourselves in relation to them.’ ‘Appropriating’ is the operative word here; despite the gravity of the material the result is ambivalent, coming across as almost parodic. The melodramatic title could be a clue. There are four tableaux in which aggressor and victim change roles. In the first Lopez de la Nieta is a parade ground sergeant barking at a choreographer (Heni Hale) who is gently punching out a movement motif and answering back in army parlance about the duality of mind and body. The second frames a face-off between Lopez de la Nieta as a domineering director and Hale as her terrified, speechless assistant. The director wants her to talk about the work. Lopez de la Nieta’s languorous gyrations betray her pleasure at inflicting discomfort, while Hale is petrified and withers under the scrutiny. Finally, she stammers, ‘I think we should show it to some people and get some feedback.’ In the third tableau, Hale is the bullying aggressor pushing Lopez de la Nieta to her physical limits in a comic book treatment of boot camp with American accents, and the fourth portrays a sexual aggressor (a gyrating Hale this time) whose victim places a length of rope on her own lap, tapes her own mouth and puts her hands behind her chair. Neither Lopez de la Nieta nor Hale hold back in their performance but the treatment of violence remains enigmatic. Annie Loc is on stage to manage the lights — Guy Hoare’s lightprint is in the work already — but has no role in the action.

I had misread the title of William Collins’ work, Untied States, as United States, thinking he was an American in London. As soon as he begins to talk in a broad Scottish accent, I realize my mistake. In his introduction, Collins compares a dance in which the act disappears as soon as it is performed to the written word that can be left and picked up again at any time. I don’t remember what else he said, but his performance remains indelibly imprinted on my memory. Collins shares Untied States with Airen Koopmans and Eleanor Sikorski, but his quirky, angular choreographic style is so idiosyncratic that they wear it rather than inhabit it. As soon as Collins takes the stage, not unlike an Egon Schiele drawing in motion, it is clear he is totally committed to what he is doing; it’s in the eyes which are as engaged as the rest of his body. Collins is someone (he explains later) who can read a book in no particular order, and his choreography borrows from this propensity, though remaining (and this is what dance has over the written word) rivetingly in the moment. When we see emerge from his gestures the image of a long-haired girl throwing her hair around (he has no hair), and fanning herself before taking a refreshing shower, we are not sure if it’s the end of the story or the beginning, but he has fixed it in our minds with his wry sense of humour and inimitable mime, giving meaning to what has gone before. While he is rinsing his hair, Nixon calls ‘time out’ and the work steps out of its frame. In a revealing session of questions and answers with the choreographer afterwards (part of the Touch Wood format), Collins speaks about the beginning of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves in which she describes in minute detail all the elements of a sunrise before the reader can put all the micro elements together to see the bigger picture. Collins seems to have pulled off a similar accomplishment in his choreography.

Valentina Golfieri walks on clutching her Mac, sets up a screen on the side, beams some images on to it and introduces her work, Strange and Unproductive Thinking to David Lynch’s track of the same name. Golfieri says she is not working towards making a product as much as she wants to create a means to an end. The images on the screen are a record of her influences. Standing centre stage, without moving her feet, her arms pull her neck and back down to her feet, again and again, faster, like peeling off a jumper or taking off layers to see what is left. What is left? Golfieri is not sure; her dark and lively eyes wear an expression of uncertainty as the unpeeling gets out of control. She pulls it back from chaos and her face relaxes; she is enjoying the process, circling her body now with raised arm gestures, until a sense of worry and despair returns. As the music stops she is left holding her head. In the silence she repeats a phrase ‘What if I speak now’ quietly, somewhere between a prayer and an incantation. Golfieri’s bold process reminds me of Paul Taylor’s early choreographic experiments in which he deliberately used everyday gestures (walking, queuing, standing) in an effort to rid himself of the influences of his past on any present or future choreography. To some it was strange and unproductive, but it gave him a platform (and the confidence) on which to build. Golfieri’s process is also one of divestment but we shall have to wait to see if it is the stimulus she wants.

Joseph Mercier lugs on his Mac connected to a keyboard. Tess Letham rolls on a suitcase and Leila McMillan and Jordan Lennie drag on large crash pad. Mercier and his Panic Lab colleagues introduce the concept of Toxic as a comic strip: how we might be superheroes, using a movement vocabulary of characterization with little bits of a story. Letham takes her suitcase with her to the microphone to set the story’s context; she has just the right intonation and delivery. The show begins with city sounds; Joseph is a man reading the Daily Mail (with the headline Pupils packed in like sardines) waiting for a bus with two others. Letham herself is, we are to imagine, dressed in a yellow leather biker suit, ‘like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.’ Mercier picks a fight with her in which the other two join, but Letham makes quick work of his attack and defends herself convincingly in slow motion combat circling the stage, beating them all. She is the only one left standing. ‘It was not my intention to do that in front of you’ she demurs heroically into the microphone.

In the second clip, Lennie is locked up in jail. Mercier the interrogator asks him his name. ‘T-Cell’. We hear the sound of a whip (thanks to sound designer Dinah Mullen). What’s your real name? asks Mercier, trying hard to look menacing. Whip. What do you know about the one they call Canary? McMillan walks down the stage provocatively, arms rising, looking at each of us, a femme fatale. Letham provokes her by saying, ‘I’m the Iron Lady, the world’s most powerful.’ McMillan tells us that the girl wearing the yellow suit is a whole world of trouble. They strut around each other. McMillan zaps her with her fingers: round one to the femme fatale. Mercier moves the crash pad to meet Letham’s next knockout. Meanwhile Lennie wakes up and tangles with her but McMillan steps in to destroy them both while Mercier looks on wide-eyed.

He warns us that the next scene is a little violent. He and Lennie are walking around in another slow motion fight scene, punctuated by violent contact blows or lifts that send Lennie flying while the two girls look on. Letham concludes in a bubble of speech that she knows exactly what she needs to do. They all do. To be continued.

 

 


Still House / Dan Canham: Ours Was The Fen Country

Posted: June 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Still House / Dan Canham: Ours Was The Fen Country

Still House / Dan Canham:  Ours Was the Fen Country, The Place, June 7

Ours Was The Fen Country. Photo © Still House

Ours Was The Fen Country. Photo © Still House

‘The relationship between human beings and the earth is very complex, but it is not something remote from our daily lives. Rather, the people/earth relationship is involved in everything we do, and it affects every aspect of our experience….’ So wrote Tsunesaburo Makiguchi in his 1903 treatise A Geography of Human Life, and Dan Canham would agree. He takes the relationship between the flat land of the Fens and the people who have lived there for generations, farming, fishing, trapping and surviving the windswept, desolate, sinking countryside as the starting point for his choreographic exploration, Ours Was The Fen Country. The Fens are where Canham grew up, so the piece is both a revisiting of familiar geography and an autobiographical ode to the landscape and culture that formed him, distilling the people and places into an essence with which we can feel an emotional connection with an indelible sense of respect and humility.

Canham has already explored the notion of place as common denominator between dance and geography in his idiosyncratic history of a derelict theatre in Limerick, 30 Cecil Street, in which a building is a proxy for the town; in Ours Was The Fen Country, it is the Holme Fen Post that is a proxy for the entire countryside. The original cast-iron column, represented on stage by a wooden post, was sunk into the fen in 1852 till its top was flush with the peat surface. It now rises some four metres above ground level, a metaphor for a disappearing way of life.

Canham shares this project with three other performers, all attuned to its physical and spiritual nature: Neil Paris, Tilly Webber and Ian Morgan. Canham and assistant director, Laura Dannequin, conducted the interviews that form the raw material of the work over a period of two years, cycling or taking trains to seek out the colourful characters who people Ours Was The Fen Country and who reveal as much about themselves as the land on which they live: an indication of the trust they invested in their two interviewers, a trust that will be returned later this month when Canham and company perform Ours Was The Fen Country in some of the communities where these people live (see www.stillhouse.co.uk for dates). There’s the man who makes and lays willow traps for eels, the cattle farmer concerned about the viability of his farm, the stress counselor who gives her son the heebie-jeebies, the stableman who has shaken hands with seven members of the Royal Family, and the daughter who feels she is seeing the end of the traditional way of life. Canham holds up a mirror to their lives, like a painter who sees and develops the identifying characteristics of his subject on canvas, but he also honours them.

The recorded conversations are disembodied voices, but Canham pulls the disembodiment out of the ether and on to the stage by the way the performers inhabit the characters. We hear the words on different layers: the original interview, the same words spoken by one of the performers or lip synced; sections of conversation may alternate all three techniques, and at other times they will overlap to provide different emotional reactions. Canham, who has done the brilliant work of editing the interviews, has mined the conversations for their nuggets of wisdom and insight, and sets them in a textual framework like gemstones on a ring. At the beginning it is Webber who personifies a woman who wonders why anyone would want to learn more about the Fens, then Paris speaks about the village he lives in, Canham about Sutton Market and Morgan about the closeness of the rural communities. This is the neutral documentary style, the vanilla flavor, on top of which Canham layers additional techniques as the work progresses. There are projections of the countryside overlaid with verbal descriptions (‘flat’ is a word that comes up frequently) and a little history of the transformation of the marshland into agricultural land, and even into political land: Paris reminds us this is Cromwell country, with a portrait of the independent, cussed and awkward parliamentarian on the screen looking remarkably similar to Paris (without the warts).

Each performer is synchronized with the other three — and with the recordings — through individual iPods with earphones. For those who have seen 30 Cecil Street, the setup will be familiar, with a computer and speakers on a table at the side (updated technology from the reel-to-reel machine), timber to demarcate the performing space, chairs to sit on and some 4×4 fence posts to build a frame for the makeshift projection screen: all redolent of a summer fair on the green, a small-scale countryside laid out before us under Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting and beautifully costumed by Dannequin. But it is in the dance that I feel Canham has taken the documentary to new levels of power and poetry. There are no steps that could be characterized as ballet or modern, contemporary, hip hop or jazz; the movement finds its form from the sometimes percussive and sometimes lyrical rhythms of the recorded speech, from the hesitancies of expression as much as from the sly humour. It is dancing to the voice as an instrument, incorporating body-at-the-pub gestures and personality ticks extrapolated into rhythmic steps and forms. There is a sense that the steps emerge only when needed as an additional layer of emphasis or colour, and always echo in their groundedness the ties to the earth. When Webber’s character speaks, she looks and thinks with her, head back, arched back, tensed shoulders and turned-in feet, her stress evident before she starts to move. All the men look at her until they stand up swaying as if the world is turning too fast. Canham is aware of the fissures in this rural way of life (his title is in the past for good reason) and places himself both inside it and outside, inhabitant and commentator. The four characters look at each other, exchanging positions, keeping eye contact. Two fall to the ground then get up, before they all lurch backwards, balanced on the edge, on the brink. Canham begins a simple gesture of slowly creaking back on his chair, until all four performers seem to be riding in place. Moving off their chairs, advancing slowly, they keep the rhythm while Webber articulates her arms and head so expressively within their minimalist range. The music takes on a unifying role as its rhythms urge the characters to find new ways of moving forward together. Keeping their focus on each other, they circle the stage, their steps getting bigger, anchored in the music, now turning, now jumping in place, an optimistic, joyous expression of ‘yes’ in the obdurate shadow of the Holme Fen Post.

 


Resolution! 2013: PanicLab, Ji-Eun Lee, B-Hybrid Dance

Posted: January 31st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Resolution! 2013: The Place, January 11

PanicLab: Throb: A Cardiovascular Romance

A curtained cubicle in hospital green with a single pillow and a basin of water is not the kind of setting that immediately comes to mind for a work with the provocative title, Throb: A Cardiovascular Romance, but choreographer Joseph Mercier juxtaposes sexual and clinical connotations in this meditation on the proximity of love and care, life and death, light and darkness.

Based on Mercier’s personal experience, Throb: A Cardiovascular Romance is a celebration of a significant event in a commonplace, clinical environment: a carer guides his terminally ill patient through the final stage of his life. It is ‘dedicated to Erin Mercier and many others.’ Throb refers both to the relationship that develops between the carer (Mercier) and his patient (Tim CJ Chew), and to Chew’s heart which is suspended in a jar with a breathing red light that he keeps close to him at all times. As the supine Chew restlessly changes position, Mercier swiftly places the pillow under his head, the two tracing Escher-like patterns on the floor. As Chew’s movements are driven by discomfort, Mercier’s are always tender and solicitous, feeling Chew’s forehead and stroking his temple. As their intimacy grows, Mercier rests Chew’s head on his lap instead of on the pillow and they exchange looks, smiles and sotto voce conversation. The fragile cardiovascular meter glows intermittently, beats and fades, mirrored in the growing pliancy and languor of Chew’s body. We hear the sound of a dog barking but there is no danger in this quiet room. Chew takes off his clothes and Mercier bathes him with a flannel and (one hopes) warm water in the basin. There is a sense of a Pietà in the attitude of the two bodies, the one supporting and the other pliant in decline, though the powerful physical bond is contrasted with the banal sound of the weather forecast on the hospital TV (sound design by Dinah Mullen). Mercier helps Chew on with his clothes and lays down next to him. Their intimacy is highlighted with a kiss before Chew gets weaker and needs to be supported in his efforts to move around. The sounds of a game of billiards and teeth cleaning impinge on the quiet and then a music box plays. As Mercier moves Chew to a new position, Chew no longer has the strength to move his jar; it is now Mercier who holds his friend’s life in his hands. Chew motions to Mercier for his jar, which Mercier places in front of him. It is still faintly alight and beating, but not for long.

Ji-Eun Lee: Play. Back. Again. Then.

From a hospital cubicle we move into an abstract space delineated at its four corners by two dilapidated metal-framed, plastic-seated chairs stacked on top of one another, and a couple of roles of packing tape stuck or looped on to the upturned legs. It is an unsettling image of decay or abandon, yet when Ji-Eun Lee appears on stage as if by accident it is transformed into one of strange beauty and mystery. Lee is tall and thin with a serene, commanding expression that imbues every movement she makes with stillness and purpose. She is aware of her audience, confides in them and draws them inexorably into her intent.

She walks in cradling what appear to be three large oranges; one falls to the ground and she picks it up apologetically, only to drop another and so it goes on until she scoops them up into her skirt and sways across the stage like an exaggeratedly pregnant woman. The oranges are made of soft clay and she places each one carefully on the floor in a diagonal to one of the chairs, stepping back with exaggerated precision, one foot length at a time, crouching lower with each step, like a lioness about to pounce. She returns to her clay oranges and shapes one into a primitive human figure. She takes her time, time that is constantly slowing down to a ritual stillness. She concentrates on modeling each one in turn, working her fine fingers into the flesh of each, three incarnate forms. She steps back from her work and stretches her blouse over her head, looking at us as if through a shaman’s mask. She then marks out an arena by using each chair as a corner and pulling the clear tape from one corner to the next and on round three times. She climbs into her ring and places one clay figure on a chair at the back, and one on each of the front chairs. She now adds another level of meaning by marking out on the stage three small taped squares with an opening on one side with their openings facing each other. She hurries a little with the finishing of the third (the only inkling of an external constraint — the musical line — impinging on her ritual). She places each clay figure in its respective taped enclosure and surveys her work, regarding them each in turn. She responds to each with semaphoric arm signals, increasing the intricacy until she breaks into a beautiful whirlwind phrase of dance that seems to come out of nowhere, a rising storm that breaks and then reverts to stillness as suddenly as it starts. She collapses in front of one of her creations and looks at it with a private intensity, spreading her fingers, investing life into the figure. She frees it, placing it just outside its taped enclosure, and considers carefully. She looks at us to signal her desire to place herself in the enclosure. Having done so, she changes her mind: unlike her clay figures, she has the power to decide her own destiny. She looks at the figures, looks at us and makes her final move: out of the enclosure, out of the taped ring and off the stage. Play. Back. Again. Then is a breath of fresh air in which Lee has created a work of haunting beauty even as she questions her role as creator.

B-Hybrid Dance: Independently Dependent

An element of minimalism has pervaded the first two pieces. Mercier builds up his simple tale in broad pale green strokes with skin tones, while Lee’s work is more akin to calligraphy. Both are quiet and focused, but the final offering on the program, Brian Gillespie’s Independently Dependent, is neither one nor — more importantly — the other. There is no lack of movement among the six dancers but a serious lack of intent. Perhaps the program note threw me: ‘Independently Dependent…explores a girl’s transition as she is swooped from the comfort of childhood and engulfed by a system where independence and dependency go hand in hand. The pressures placed on this youth permits few things to pass into growth.’ The description on The Place’s website does nothing to alleviate the confusion: ‘A bitter-sweet performance in response to a following where innocence is stripped, imagination restrained, and simple play is modernised and materialised. Place in our code-ridden society conflicts with blissful childhood.’ With two such convoluted briefs it is no surprise the resulting choreography passes by without any apparent grasp of its own scenario. What is left is movement that is energetically inarticulate.