Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Posted: July 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement

Mithkal Alzghair, Displacement, Shubbak Festival, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Mithkal Alzghair, Rami Farah and Samil Taskin in Trio

A pair of black boots alone on the stage before the start of Mithkal Alzghair’s Solo is a bleak image of displacement that has many connotations. When Alzghair enters the stage bearing a neatly folded white sheet in his outstretched arms, places it carefully on the floor before putting on the boots, the images and gestures are stark but full of meaning. Although Alzghair’s references may not be immediately evident to a western audience, he transfers to the spectator his raw experience through the emotional conviction with which he invests each and every movement.

Alzghair grew up in Syria and currently lives in exile in Europe; what he brings to the stage is what his body remembers from its heritage without any overt narrative or political propaganda. In exploring how steps and everyday gestures are transformed by external forms of coercion, Alzghair uses dance as a metaphor for freedom and culture that can be diminished but never erased. His hands behind his back suggest forced restraint, his arms raised above his head denote surrender and his stripping down to his underwear with his jeans around his ankles forewarns of a violence that can only be imagined; as he pivots and falls repeatedly in an attempt to maintain his footing his unbuckled belt thrashes on the floor like a whip. But however repressed and subjugated he may be, he maintains the essential rhythms of the dance throughout. Alzghair connects us to Syria through traces of traditional music and fragments of rhythmic dance steps he and his friends once performed at weddings and other festivities. There are deep, angular steps that surge into the ground to rise up out of it in joy and ecstasy, and small rhythmical foot shuffling like a recitative he maintains throughout Solo; these steps become in themselves an expression of displacement through exile and his unflinching gaze serves to remind us of the pain such upheaval entails. Suddenly Alzghair includes a high military kick that jars our frame of reference; he kneels, bends over with his hands crossed behind him and tries to continue the rhythms on his knees and then in very low, knotted steps until he collapses in a cross-legged heap. He endures and he survives but the past leaves a diminishing trace on the present; now that he is outside his Syrian cultural context, he has to explore the act of physical recollection of what has been left behind. Despite its air of fragility, Solo is a muscular protest against cultural oppression and its concomitant displacement and serves notice that it is culture that defines people before any notion of politics.

The eloquently somber lighting (by Séverine Rième) and everyday clothing are in the same register for Trio, which follows without a pause, resuming the notions of Solo with dancers Rami Farah and Samil Taskin. Alzghair introduces into the reality of displacement the mutual support among a group of friends. The Syrian conflict again becomes the invisible backdrop to the fragility of human life, to notions of home, comradeship and memory that fulminate quietly throughout the work and question our sense of comfort. Yet at the same time the three men embody a profound yet humble humanity that is uplifting. The shuffling foot rhythms of Solo are repeated here but are intimately felt like a bond between the three men rather than performed. To simple dance patterns and solos are added sequences of sotto voce clapping and the linking of arms. The cloth Alzghair brought in for Solo is unfolded by Farah and Taskin and gripped in their fists above their heads, a sacred memory of home, perhaps, against which we see only the men’s shadows. They continue to shuffle in subtly changing patterns creating a sense of uncertainty and trepidation as they weave in and out of the light as if avoiding attention. Alzghair breaks into a folk step that the other two follow and then the trio reforms until the invisible force of coercion makes itself felt once again in ominous gestures of kneeling and collapsing, while the stripping of their shirts gives the men a heightened sense of vulnerability. But the feet keep up the folk rhythms whenever possible as a metaphor for keeping alive in a seemingly hopeless situation. The way Farah makes a ritual of folding up the t-shirts and the white cloth speaks longingly of absence and loss as Alzghair and Taskin whirl around the stage and spin off, a momentary sense of elation and freedom before the three join together on another arduous journey. In terms of gesture there is little to differentiate between movement transformed by external coercion and that transformed by one’s own arduous exertion. The men drop like ripe fruit but help each other up and continue, now dispersing slowly to the edges of the diaspora of the stage as the light dies with a sense of interminably drawn-out time and ineffable space engulfed in crushing silence.

This UK première of Displacement was produced by Sadler’s Wells as part of the Shubbak Festival of contemporary Arab Culture.

San Francisco Ballet: Programme B

Posted: September 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on San Francisco Ballet: Programme B

San Francisco Ballet, Programme B, Sadler’s Wells, September 15

By the second evening, the company is already more at ease. The programme starts with Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s Trio, to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, a wonderfully evocative minor key sextet that is reminiscent of the same composer’s Serenade for Strings, the score Balanchine used for his milestone 1934 work, Serenade. This circular relationship is completed by Tomasson’s fifteen years as a principal dancer with Balanchine’s company, and he is clearly drawn, consciously or unconsciously, into the powerful orbit of Serenade, especially in the appearance of the figure of Death in Trio’s second movement.

Christopher Dennis lights the stage and Alexander V. Nichols provides a backdrop of a silk-screened, close-up image of ancient buildings (Florence, perhaps) that picks up on the sentimental tone of the music and places the emotions somewhere in the past.

Against this backdrop, five couples waltz on to the stage in spirited form, like the music: straight out of the blocks. Tomasson brings us very much into the present moment, celebrating dance and the individual dancers, focusing especially on Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada, who work beautifully together in their duet and in their respective solos. Zahorian has the ability to wind up space and leave it swirling and Boada is like the torso to her limbs.

In the second, lyrical movement, we see a couple wound up in each other’s arms and a tall, slender male figure three steps behind, carving out an ominous, foreboding space: it is clear what is going to happen. Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets are the two lovers caught up in an increasingly hopeless struggle to avoid the inevitable separation. Tomasson celebrates their love in a duet that is more complex than the first, but more flesh-and-blood, with a purity that suggests the couple’s bond. Vito Mazzeo as the dark figure of Death intervenes with calculated persistence, waiting his turn patiently, mercilessly, until he steals Van Patten away, his hand shading her eyes from her beloved, who is left alone with his loss.

The third and fourth movements leave Florence and its memories behind. Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin evidently relish every moment of the lively, earthy Russian folk rhythms and all the classical technique that Tomasson throws at them. The ensemble also gets a well-grounded workout and as the spirited fourth movement spins its shapes and rhythms, the entire cast is caught up until its fast, final, turning patterns come to a sudden end. The dancers appear to be still reeling in their bows.

The opening bars of C.F. Kip Winger’s score for Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts are quietly ethereal, and the sense from the figures in their Pierrot-like costumes is one of a gathering of celestial clowns at play. Wheeldon’s caterpillar forms and subtle groupings takes us unawares at first, but as in Number Nine, he finds a path through the music for his particular movement images that by the end makes you feel the path was always there. Despite the title (which is the title of Winger’s score), this is not a poltergeist ballet, but a mixing of dream and circus, fantasy and mime that envelops what Wheeldon conceived as ‘a mass gathering of souls’. Wheeldon is a master of classical form, not only in his development of classical ballet language, but in his use of space. It is more Parthenon than Seagram Building, counterbalancing groups and shapes in a natural, asymmetrical way, aided and abetted here by Mark Zappone on costumes and Mary Louise Geiger (again) on lighting. It is a creative team that forms a total harmony. Let’s not forget the contribution of the dancers, who enter into the spirit of the work beautifully. What I like about the San Francisco Ballet is that the dancers are all distinct, yet form a unity in each work without compromising that individuality. In the middle of Ghosts, on a stage lit with leaves, Wheeldon creates a beautifully expressive duet for Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith that adds a sense of reverence to the gathering of souls and the finale adds a joyous sense of fun. Makes you want to be there.

Ashley Page’s Guide to Strange Places takes its name from John Adams’ score. John Morrel’s opening image of a double yellow line down the middle of a road makes me want to overtake the head in front of me that is obscuring the view, but more importantly the road is more in character with the fast-moving opening music than with the choreography which moves fast but on foot. Paige has certainly picked up on the energy of Adams’ score, in which a broad range of percussion pounds and drives like a freight car going over a level crossing, but this leaves the dancers looking quite small in their body-tight costumes (also by Morrel), moving in different patterns that don’t quite satisfy the eye as the different instrumentation satisfies the ear. Not only that, but as the ballet goes on, I feel Paige takes a slight left turn in the road while Adams powers straight on, which is perhaps just as well, for there is a point where the percussion sounds like the theatre roof is being struck by a blunt instrument, but the classical duets continue as if nothing is amiss. According to the program notes (by Cheryl A. Ossola), Paige conceived the work as ‘an ensemble piece peppered with duets. For each one, he matched the movements, textures and tones to the dancers’ personalities and physiques.’ This translates into some great individual dancing from the four leading, colour-coded couples but it tends to keep the scale of the work intimate and inward-looking as it continues its detour to a strange place. The music has already arrived.