Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: October 24th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Reckonings: works by Cunningham, Seva and Seutin at Sadler’s Wells

Reckonings: Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva & Alesandra Seutin at Sadler’s Wells, October 13

BLKDOG

The cast in Botis Seva’s BLKDOG (photo: Johan Persson)

Marking its refurbishment 20 years ago as a production house catering uniquely to dance, Sadler’s Wells has commissioned 20 new works, three of which form Reckonings, a celebration of the future featuring UK-based choreographers Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva and Alesandra Seutin. Sadler’s Wells has lavished its production capacity on each and the result is a richly textured triple bill unified by Tom Visser’s lighting that demarcates regions of the stage into which the dancers can withdraw from sight and from which they can emerge; there are no theatrical exits and entrances. This corresponds particularly with the fluid spatial staging of Cunningham’s m/y and with Nell Catchpole’s engulfing interior soundscape. The work is a translation into choreographic form of Monique Wittig’s attempt in her novel, The Lesbian Body, to ‘create a new language that can function outside the dominant structures of patriarchal power’. It is not the cast of six women — Cunningham, Eleanor Perry, Hannah Burfield, Seira Winning, Sara Ruddock and Stephanie McMann — that suggests a lesbian discourse but the subtle structures that link them together, a fine weaving of almost abstract strands with sapphic overtones that creates a space in which no muscular, patriarchal figure would ever feel comfortable; the performers, dressed in Alexa Pollman’s body suits with diaphanous outer layers, seem to relish this independence. It is a pleasure to watch the way Cunningham opens up the space with such intellectual rigour; it starts in muffled containment as if the cast is an operatic chorus in a prison cell and develops into a sense of lightness and emancipation that Catchpole’s score reaffirms in its trajectory from dark clouds of industrial effluence to the open air, from interior rumblings to serene silence.

After the first intermission the contrasting, dark masculine energy of Seva’s BLKDOG is immediately palpable. In combination with Visser’s lighting, Ryan Dawson Laight’s wrapped anonymous costumes and Torben Lars Sylvest’s visceral score, Seva has invented a haunting, powerful reflection on depression inspired by Sally Brampton’s Shoot The Damn Dog. It was Winston Churchill who termed his depressive condition ‘The Black Dog’ from which Seva derives the title of his work and on top of Sylvest’s score are recorded voices from an imagined therapy session: ‘Let’s start with how you’re feeling.’ Set in a hip hop vocabulary on six dancers — Joshua Nash, Jordan Douglas, Ezra Owen, Victoria Shulungu, Shangomola Edunjobi and Naima Souhair — BLKDOG seethes with an inner malaise that explodes in tight, controlled gestures and broods in hooded acquiescence. Seva has developed an intricate and eloquent language within an urban context that manages simultaneously to get inside the head and flow through the body, seamlessly bridging emotional abstraction and a harrowing social narrative — an effect that is more Crystal Pite than Hofesh Schechter. In a work that depends for its affect on precision in both individual gesture and unison articulation it is a tribute to the dancers and to the rehearsal director Ekin Bernay that Seva’s conception is so fully embodied.

Like the two previous works, Seutin’s Boy Breaking Glass has a literary inspiration, this time through Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem of the same name. Breaking glass becomes in Seutin’s conception a metaphor for breaking through what may seem transparent but proves impassable, otherwise known as inequality of opportunity. She writes that five other authors ‘were all invaluable in my research about inequality, the act of survival and self-love.’ The problem is that however clear Seutin may be in her intellectual research such clarity fails to coalesce on the stage. From the outset there is a contrast between the formal volumes of the set — a broad white platform at the back for her five-piece band with a white dance floor bordered in black for her seven dancers — and the informal, folk-inspired choreography ‘inspired by Senegalese and Southern African traditional and social dances’. Visser’s liminal lighting is again on display but he seems unsure how to unite these contrasts. The members of the band are visually dominant which gives an importance to their presence and their music over the narrative taking place on the stage below them, while Randolph Matthews as the central figure among the dancers — the victim of inequality — is a vocalist. Attention on the primary theme is thus dispersed among the performative elements and while they are independently rich in expression, Seutin and her dramaturg/co-director Maxwell Golden have not succeeded in synchronizing their full value.


Nederlands Dans Theater 1 at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Nederlands Dans Theater 1 at Sadler’s Wells

Nederlands Dans Theatre 1, León & Lightfoot, Pite and Goecke, Sadler’s Wells, June 26

Nederlands Dans Theater

Jon Bond, Roger Van der Poel, Aram Hasler and Rena Narumi in The Statement (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulu)

The first work on Nederlands Dans Theatre 1’s season at Sadler’s Wells plays uncomfortably between entertainment and oppression. It’s as if house choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot have abruptly interrupted the five dancers — Myrthe van Opstal, Chloé Albaret, Marne van Opstal, Roger Van der Poel and Jorge Nazal — in Shoot The Moon and leave us to observe the intensity of their unstable relationships on a revolving set of three rooms from which the only exit is through a door or window into the next one. The program note suggests each room contains its own love story, but the febrile gestural vocabulary, clinical partnering and the open mouths of despair suggest each individual is going through hell and has no psychological space for anyone else, while the pervasive trope of effortless high extensions suggest a compulsive narcissism. It is as if Ibsen’s dramas of domestic claustrophobia have met Virginia Woolf’s fragmented narratives without the nuanced psychology of the former and the acute formal tension of the latter. One might almost conclude that set, costumes and live, voyeuristic video of the dancers projected on the clerestory-level screen are all part of a hermetically sealed aesthetic of neurosis. León and Lightfoot choose Philip Glass’s Movement II from his Tirol Concerto for piano and orchestra to lend the work emotions that are absent from the choreography; it is not music on which the dancers rely for their musicality but rather a score to appease the audience.

If the elements of Shoot the Moon were limited to conjuring up the images it portrays it would make an interesting study in the power of the unconscious to affect a choreographic outcome, but seeing the company’s assistant choreographer Marco Goecke’s Woke up Blind suggests an NDT 1 house aesthetic. Again the subject is love, as expressed in two songs Jeff Buckley recorded, his own You and I and Van Morrison’s The Way Young Lovers Do. The first person we see from a cast of seven is Nozal who hasn’t yet recovered from the tension of Shoot the Moon, but Buckley’s voice is also in a register of despair. At least Goecke is trying to match the fevered pitch of his choreography to Buckley’s overwrought state of delivery, but given its gestural similarity to Shoot the Moon and its translation onto technically precise dancing bodies, the effect barely shifts NDT 1’s tormented aesthetic.

It only takes a pause to rectify this. In The Statement, Crystal Pite uses four dancers — Aram Hasler, Rena Narumi, Jon Bond and Roger Van der Poel — to recreate a boardroom scene in an international investment office that has just fomented an international conflict in order to profit financially. On an otherwise dark stage, Jay Gower Taylor places a long, shiny oval table that Tom Visser lights from a similarly dimensioned hood above it; the concentration of light on the figures assembled around the perimeter dressed neatly and expensively by Pite and Joke Visser is intense. Their preoccupation is how to make a statement that exonerates their superiors without taking the blame themselves. Using a recorded one-act play by Jonathon Young with the voices of Young, Meg Roe, Colleen Wheeler and Andrew Wheeler, Pite choreographs to the accents and inflections of its tightly woven and increasingly confrontational argument. In extending choreography into mime and mime into choreography, Pite puts the polished virtuosity of the dancers at the service of gesture; nothing is gratuitous. In its message and expressive power, The Statement can be seen as a contemporary successor to Kurt Joos’s The Green Table.

It’s hard to return to the house style of León and Lightfoot in the final work, Stop-Motion, where love is replaced by ‘a process of farewell and transformation’, the revolving rooms by an empty space and Philip Glass by a mournful Max Richter. The set by León and Lightfoot with its chalk dust is visually arresting under Tom Bevoort’s lighting and its effect is evocative of the ephemeral nature of life. The large-scale, close-up video work, directed by Rahi Rezvani, conceived by León and Lightfoot and featuring their daughter Saura, is reminiscent of choreographer Édouard Lock’s interest in and integration of film and performance for La La La Human Steps. However the visual gratification of Stop-Motion is no substitute for psychological insight and emotional strength and while the choreographic use of space has changed from Shoot the Moon, the vocabulary remains within a narrow band of imagination that fails to release the full potential of these dancers beyond their shapes and extensions.


Ballet British Columbia’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet British Columbia’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Ballet British Columbia, Triple Bill, Sadler’s Wells, March 6

Ballet British Columbia

Scott Fowler and artists of Ballet British Columbia in Bill (photo: Chris Randle)

The UK tour of Ballet British Columbia that Dance Consortium has organized coincides with a change of government in Canada where the current liberal party under Justin Trudeau has filled up the cultural sector coffers the previous conservative party had spent years diminishing. Thus a medium-sized company from the West coast of Canada has been able to add to the country’s cultural profile in the UK and from the program Ballet BC offered at Sadler’s Wells it looks decidedly healthy. Artistic Director Emily Molnar’s opening choreography for this triple bill, 16+ a room, reminds us of the connection she has had with William Forsythe at Ballett Frankfurt although she has made the work very much in the image of her company. Only two of the current dancers remain from before Molnar became artistic director in 2009, so this is a group she has developed through exposing them to a rich gamut of commissioned works, choreographic methods and styles. It is a finely honed company that puts technical strength at the service of an engaging and generous choreographic language.

From the beginning of 16+ a room (2013) there is a sense of an intellectual approach to the physical language, as if the dancers are working out amongst themselves the problem Molnar has set them. At the same time the problem she has set — what would happen if you put 16 people in a room and started tipping it — creates its own dynamic of sliding, balancing, suspending and tilting that she wraps in a vocabulary of muscular classicism. Jordan Tuinman’s lighting provides a sense of both luminous intensity and architectural shift while Kate Burrows’ costumes give freedom to the contained force and articulate extension of the dancers. The energy that tips the room comes from the declamatory electronic score of Dirk Haubrich, providing a high-voltage current through its three sections to bind together the choreography, visual form and aural environment of 16+ a room into a single organic entity.

From Haubrich to Brahms is more of a musical step than it is to move from the style of Molnar to that of Crystal Pite. Each choreographer acknowledges a debt to Forsythe, and in Solo Echo (2012) Pite interpolates her vocabulary in the calm of Brahms’ chamber music (the Allegro non troppo from his Cello sonata in E minor and the Adagio affetusoso from his Cello sonata in F major). She quotes a poem by Mark Strand, Lines for Winter, in the program note, but Solo Echo is a poem in itself written on the bodies of the seven dancers and suggested in Jay Gower Taylor’s setting of falling snow. Between the exquisite opening solo of Brandon Alley and the ineffable sigh of his slumped body abandoned in the snow at the end is ‘a human journey from adolescence to adulthood’ that breathes with the emotional intricacy of the music. This is pre-Polaris Pite where the hive mentality has not yet coalesced; the sense of community is suggested rather through a constant tide of individual comings and goings, one motion inspiring another, not unlike the way the cello and piano weave their respective melodies yet maintain their respective voices. The unity of this intensely musical work is further enhanced by Pite and Joke Visser’s spare costumes of dark, pinstriped waistcoats and trousers while Tom Visser’s evocative lighting subtly indicates the shifting focus of our attention. If 16+ a room is extrovert and energetic, Solo Echo turns the dancers on themselves in a state of poignant reflection.

After the second intermission, Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Bill (2010), originally created for Batsheva Dance Company with a score by Ori Lichtik, promises to further extend the scope of Ballet BC’s achievement. Unitards concentrate our attention on the structure of the body, its lines, shapes and gestures in four male solos that are respectively sensually outrageous, energetically comic, fluidly articulate, and stoically introspective. But the fifth, female solo begins to de-emphasise the individual to pave the way for the communal — a duality that pervades Israeli choreography. Expanding our focus to take in the entire stage at once, the nature of the visual game is searching the shifting unity of the 18 undulating, gesticulating dancers for subtle changes in rhythm and shape that Omer Sheizaf’s tonal lighting both emulates and encourages. Eyal and Behar extract sufficient differentiation within the group, but after the assertive individuality of the first two works Bill feels in its latter construction disconcertingly insubstantial. It is perhaps a case of the work’s formal integration into the company’s West coast ethos lacking the vital context of its social and cultural origins.

(Ian Abbott was the first to see this program at the Birmingham Hippodrome in 2016)