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.


Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal at Southbank Centre

Posted: September 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal at Southbank Centre

Scottish Dance Theatre, Velvet Petal, Southbank Centre, August 31

Alison Jaques in Scottish Dance Theatre’s Velvet Petal (photo: Jack Wrigley)

The way into Scottish Dance Theatre’s Velvet Petal is through a pair of portable coat racks carrying a rich assortment of chic clothing and fancy dress that the dancers put on, take off and exchange in an intimate exhibition of flamboyant identities. ‘Velvet petal’ is an apt description of this tactile, sensuous undersurface of the work that displays its flagrant sensuality with an impish grin. There’s also a central role for a well-used mattress, dragged around the stage to receive the next exhausted body or as a convenient space to make out; the entire cast, it seems, is open for erotic adventure.

The heady atmosphere choreographer Fleur Darkin wants to create in Velvet Petal is inspired by Patti Smith’s memories of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe at the Chelsea Hotel in New York that she describes in her book, Just Kids. Darkin releases her work from the biographical details and focuses instead on the record of innocence, of sexual fluidity and artistic experimentation in the couple’s search for individual identity and fulfilment. What struck Darkinwas ‘the love and commitment’ of Smith and Mapplethorpe that was revealed ‘in the values of the writing.’ Smith has that ability in her prose, poetry or lyrics to capture her impressions in imagery and conviction of equal intensity. The same can be said of Mapplethorpe’s provocative photographs of the male and female body that question the depiction of gender, stereotype and role-playing in New York as the AIDS crisis took hold; they underline a way of life that was vulnerable and perilous — he succumbed to AIDS in 1989 — but release from within that uncompromising vulnerability a ravishing beauty. In exploring these themes in Velvet Petal Darkin has set herself the challenge of expressing her own creativity in the values of her choreography.

A small selection of Mapplethorpe’s polaroids are projected against the mattress to underline the work’s provenance and to complement Emma Jones’ bedroom-studio lighting. The stage is engagingly fluid and awash in dancers and costumes but while Mapplethorpe exploited the performativity of the body to express androgynous, at times ambiguous, and ever beguiling individuals, Velvet Petal brings to mind the ambience of a fashion shoot where the fluidity of gender and role-playing is enacted as an enticing commodity. It is as if Darkin’s evocation of Mapplethorpe’s legacy has turned into one of display, a superficial show of sensuality within self-imposed conventions that are more entertaining than mordant. There’s a game of strip poker, for example, played with a couple and a skipping rope; the problem is it’s so utterly predictable that when the couple gets down to underwear the game stops.

In indulging individually and collectively what it might have felt like to be living in the creative heat of the Chelsea Hotel, the cast of Velvet Petal rarely embodies the experience. When Adrienne O’Leary becomes momentarily the bare-chested figure of Mapplethorpe’s model, the body builder Lisa Lyon, eroticism is watered down by a self-consciousness that is nowhere evident in the original photographs. All the performers in Scottish Dance Theatre are good at display; some seem to relish it and their visual allure is undeniable but Pauline Torzuoli stands out as finding in herself the quality of conviction that makes Darkin’s choreographic evocation begin to materialise.

In considering the sound track of Velvet Petal the glaring omission is the music of Patti Smith herself. It is eschewed for a saccharine selection of songs arranged by Torben Lars Sylvest that renders the intoxication of the Chelsea Hotel years rather too sober and mainstream. Perhaps it’s a musical rights issue, but the loss of an appropriate tone for the work — one that encompasses in the quality of the voice both the rasping poverty and delirious richness of bohemian life — points to a sense of compromise either in the creative process or in its manifestation.

The evening begins quite uniquely for a dance performance. In her musical research Darkin had discovered a little-known musician, Abul Mogard, and took the brave step of using her company’s appearance at the Purcell Room to introduce his music to a London audience. It’s a revelation, the kind of atonal electronic music to take you on a journey through closed eyes. But on the bare stage with Marja de Sanctis’ video projections the elongated figure of Harry Kane improvises a brief erotic trio with the mattress and the empty clothes rack that gets closer to the spirit of Mapplethorpe’s imagery than Velvet Petal ever quite allows.