Ian Abbott’s final report from RISE 2019 in Findhorn

Posted: May 19th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott’s final report from RISE 2019 in Findhorn
Screensaver
Janine Harrington’s Screensaver Series (photo: Andrew Lang)

RISE Festival 2019, part III: McPherson, Rhéaume, and Harrington

As RISE 2019 progressed across the weekend works started to talk to, frame and relay into each other; threads of Practice, Memory and Labour emerged and now, with a little distance, they have settled into an epilogic Findhorn glow. The approach, care and experience of audience/people and artist/people is central to the experience of RISE and a priority for the Dance North Scotland team; their attention to detail (from arrival packages to all artists of Findhorn bakery bread, milk, oats, jam, coffee and a tick comb) and curational consideration ensures this boutique dance festival remains a highlight of the UK festival calendar. 

After the international offerings from Canada and Taiwan on the opening night from Mandoline Hybride and Chang Dance Theatre, Saturday expanded and drilled down into the works that had a longer-term relationship with Moray, Dance North Scotland and a depth of practice with each other. 

We were privileged to see live excerpts of the process that Harold Rhéaume and Katrina McPherson are currently undertaking for their new collaboration Dix Commandements; fresh from a residency at Dance Base earlier in the week we saw some early rushes of films shot amongst the densely trafficked Edinburgh cityscape. Rhéaume and McPherson’s collaboration was reignited after a near 20-year gap when Priscilla Guy (from Mandoline Hybride) invited McPherson to Quebec in 2015 for the Cinédanse festival; it was here they rediscovered each other and continued their collaboration which saw the premiere of the screen dance work Paysages Mixtes at RISE. It’s an urgent work with a sense of collapse at its centre, with both Rhéaume and McPherson taking turns behind and in front of the camera. We see through their framing and choices of shots — around Moray and Quebec — how they’re rediscovering each other; in their moments together on screen their physical and emotional landscapes pop and you can almost taste their mutual distance and proximity. In a conversation with Harold Rhéaume during the festival, he shared some of his history and experiences in Quebec as well as his connection and relationship with McPherson. I distilled his conversation into this response:

harold and i

the way of 
her movement aesthetic 
chimes off camera 
with decades apart
developing togetherness practices 
finding foundational methods 
l
e
t
t
i
n
go of a 
career, friend, relationship
our frame dissolves
contained intimacy eruptions
questing for humanity 
performing our selves
grappling with processes
still the search
unveils by doing
conditional heart commandments
nestles tearing other

Rhéaume and McPherson had spent time filming some of Paysages Mixtes at Findhorn beach and  we saw it again during the presentation of Julie Cleves and Robbie Synge’s Passing Through; Synge (like McPherson) has spent many years based in the Highlands and his and Cleves relationship has been reoccurring with Dance North Scotland over multiple visits. You can read an in-depth interview about their relationship to practice, memory and labour here but after seeing the work for a second time Passing Through achieves a profundity, comfort and emotional resonance rarely seen in dance theatre; over the course of 50 minutes we are witness to two pals sharing parts of themselves and their relationship alongside the obstacles and objectification encountered as they continue to practice their practice. It makes me think of:

People as Comfort
Repetition as Comfort
Systems of Comfort
Architectures of Comfort
Body as Comfort
Place as Comfort

In opposition to those artists who already have a relationship with RISE and Findhorn, Jay-Lewin invited Janine Harrington to present two of her works (Screensaver Series and The Human Clock) at the festival. As a maker, choreographer and artist Harrington deals in precision and her practice is an embodiment of systems thinking in action. Screensaver Series, a quintet for five female performers, is a delicious way to spend 40 minutes; it’s an attention-hogging work of profound concentration, precision and connection. With an invitation to change your viewing position throughout the performance this living choreographic kaleidoscope sees the five performers tightly packed together delivering an evolving suite of visual patterning across a two-dimensional plane. As a work concerned with its own delivery it leaves space for our own reading; there isn’t something to get, miss or understand. Without the busy-ness and narrative aspiration that a lot of other dance works attempt, the work has an extra liveness. Seen from the front it is a symmetrical pulsing Rorschach that triggers thoughts and memories a little like cloud gazing; we all see something different but the stimulus is the same. However, if you move to either side you see the practice and labour; bodies that appeared and disappeared before are meaningfully held, supported and moved in and through Harrington’s choreographic score. By altering your own position slightly the system and thinking are uncovered. 

The Human Clock is a durational work that deals in labour and repetition; on a bright yellow tubular frame a number of laminated A4 paper numbers representing all the permutations of the 24-hour clock are lightly hung and continuously turned by a performer, displaying something akin to that which is recognisable as time. There is a close proximity to accuracy which is important as the work, although appearing simple in how it meets its audience, leaves a political and social residue with the thoughts it conjures as you spend time with it. The act of someone being paid to represent time, this labour of time would be a red rag to a lot of the red tops/mainstream media, when in fact The Human Clock catches people unawares, it snares them in as Harrington continues the turning and you see people engaging in conversation with her, sharing their memories and thoughts about time or you watch the repetitive turn of the numbers in quiet comfort and suddenly realise that 10, 15 or 30 minutes have passed. The Human Clock spent time in Inverness Railway Station, Findhorn Village, Moray Art Centre and other places throughout the week preceding RISE; glance at it for a second and you understand the mechanics and what will continue to happen…the comfort of anticipation, the familiarity of numbers turning that are slightly inside/outside time creates a soothing headspace amongst the rush and attention deficits we are faced with in our life. As a final act of closure The Human Clock coincided with the official closing marker of the festival. For the handful of artists and audience, as 17:29:00 turned to 17:30:00 this quiet act framed the dispersal of RISE’s temporary community.

“And therein lies the whole of man’s plight. Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.” – Milan Kundera


English National Ballet Emerging Dancer Award 2019

Posted: May 14th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Competition, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet Emerging Dancer Award 2019

English National Ballet, Emerging Dancer Award 2019 at Sadler’s Wells, May 7

ENB Emerging Dancer 2019
Rentaro Nakaaki and Julia Conway in Flames of Paris (photo: Laurent Liotardo)

Appearances can be deceptive. On the cover of English National Ballet’s program for Emerging Dancer, the six contestants have been photographed by Laurent Liotardo (post production by Nik Pate) in various sharply delineated, sculptural poses. If the athleticism of these images were to represent the odds of winning, Shale Wagman and Rhys Antoni Yeomans would be in close competition for the prize. Even looking at them on stage as they enter with their respective partners for the pas de deux section, they embody the classical image of the male dancer; perhaps Yeomans has the edge in musculature. But shape is only one element of classical dance; moving between shapes in a rhythm that derives from music is another. Here both Wagman and Yeomans fail to follow up on the promise of their initial images. Wagman is lean and flexible — as he demonstrates abundantly in his contemporary solo — but since so much virtuoso male dance takes place in the air he needs to work on elevation. Yeomans has a better jump but while he can turn exquisitely on the ground he shares with Wagman a malfunctioning ‘spot’ in aerial tours. If ‘emerging dancer’ means the process of polishing rough potential into a physically expressive dancing body Wagman and Yeomans have applied the polish before the expression. Rentaro Nakaaki hasn’t yet arrived but his rough potential is exciting; there are times when his form shows through and he is not afraid to take risks. He has an arsenal of virtuoso steps that overflow with enthusiasm if not attention to line and shape and his character is refreshingly open. Even though he didn’t win he gained my vote for sheer ebullience in the process of emerging.

Liotardo’s photographs of the three women — Alice Bellini, Emilia Cadorin and Julia Conway — are less exciting and fail to distinguish the character of each; Cadorin’s and Conway’s are almost identical. Onstage, however, Conway emerges with the poise and control that deservedly earns her this year’s award. Interestingly she is paired with Nakaaki dancing a pas de deux from Vasily Vainonen’s Flames of Paris. It’s a size too big for Nakaaki at this point in his development but his youthful attack allows Conway to appear calm and assured in her own variations; he’s the storm and she’s its eye. Bellini is paired with Wagman in Victor Gzovsky’s Grand Pas Classique; he’s attending more to the audience than to her which unglues the partnership, but she has a lyrical quality that shines. Cadorin dances Coppélia with Yeomans who is a more boyishly attentive partner. On this occasion Cadorin’s spirit is strong but her upper back — and thus her port de bras — seems constricted so she cannot flow with the romantic sentiment in the music. 

The second stage of the competition requires each dancer to perform a contemporary solo of their own choice. Presumably the idea is for the judges and audience to see another aspect of each contestant in terms not only of physical ability but of individual expression. Unlike the classical variations, here the choreography for the most part draws attention to itself, leaving the dancers in the passenger seat; when they are driving there’s a touch of indulgence, as in Wagman’s solo by Sofie Vervaecke, Peculiar Mind. Bellini needs a far more theatrical vehicle for her talents than CLAN B, Sebastian Kloborg’s spoof on La Sylphide, and although Yeomans chooses a great solo by Forsythe, he is left somewhat deflated in the middle by not hitting those glorious accents in Thom Willems’ lush, percussive score. Fabian Reimair’s BAM! for Cadorin doesn’t achieve its title’s promise for her by not giving her enough traction, partly a problem with Reimar’s own score. Nuno Campos gives Nakaaki the one work of the evening that seems tailored for him, showing him in a lean, introspective light; it’s called, appropriately, Own. Similarly Miguel Altunaga’s Untitled Code gives Conway a vehicle for her clarity of expression and keen gestural sense that she carries over from Flames of Paris

On its tenth anniversary the Emerging Dancer Award celebrates after an intermission with a performance by Francesca Velicu and last year’s award winner, Daniel McCormick in the pas de deux from Act III of Don Quixote. McCormick is a fine dancer but my eyes are drawn to a quality in Velicu that has been missing over the course of the evening: the ability to make the music visible. All Gavin Sutherland’s efforts in the pit directing the English National Ballet Philharmonic have been rewarded. 


Rosas: Mitten wir im Leben sind at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: May 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rosas: Mitten wir im Leben sind at Sadler’s Wells

Rosas and Queyras in Mitten wir im Leben sind/Bach6Cellosuiten, Sadler’s Wells, April 24

Mitten wir im Leben sind
Marie Goudot and Jean-Guihen Queyras in Mitten wir im Leben sind (photo Anne Van Aerschot)

There are not many dancers or choreographers who understand music so well that they can make it visible and, through the body, visibly sensual. Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker is one of them. She has worked with many kinds of music, from ars subtilior to John Coltrane to Steve Reich but has been preoccupied recently with scores by Johann Sebastian Bach. Mitten wir im Leben sind is built around the performance by cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras of all six of Bach’s Cello Suites partnered by three male (Boštjan Antončič, Julien Monty and Michael Pomero) and two female dancers (Marie Goudot and De Keersmaeker herself). The partnership between choreographer, dancers and musician is intense and develops out of a desire to reach the heart of the music. As Queyras explains, “In the process of working Anne Teresa asked me tons of questions, everything I could give her in terms of analysis of the pieces, and once she had understood the root of the music, how it is constructed, that is when she planted the seed of her own choreography and then she created a new work…not something that matches but it’s like two works that you feel are very deeply interconnected.”

Some choreographers like Mark Morris ‘match’ their movement phrases to the music, but this is not the kind of musicality De Keersmaeker articulates; she finds her own way through a score with rhythmic intuition, mathematics and geometry. She devises movement from pedestrian, everyday motifs — my walking is my dancing is one of her mantras — and she infuses her choreography with ideas drawn from natural, social, ecological and political phenomena that are implicit in the work without attracting attention. Her settings are excavated rather than built up; the bare stage at Sadler’s Wells — a witness to countless performances as the body is an unlimited reservoir of memory — is reduced to what is needed: space and light. Yet through this pared-down, minimalist aesthetic — enhanced by the lighting of Luc Schaltin and costumes by An D’Huys — the rich significance of her work fills the space with the same amplitude as the music. The title of the work comes from a Latin hymn that Bach and his father, a Lutheran minister, would have known. The complete phrase is ‘Mitten wir im Leben sind, Mit dem Tod umfangen’, which means ‘In the midst of life we are in death’. This axis of life and death, of vertical and horizontal, is palpable in De Keersmaeker’s choreography within a distinctively architectonic site of invisible yet perceptible volumes that spiral around the stage.

The first three suites are vehicles for the embodied responses of, respectively, Pomero, Monty and Goudot to the abstractions of the baroque dances Bach included; following the opening prelude, De Keersmaeker joins in the allemande and leaves again for the soloists to develop the upbeat gigues, bourrées or minuets. The format of the fourth suite begins to change. The prelude features Antončič but Queyras interrupts the subsequent allemande and only returns to the music for the last few bars. For the sarabande he leaves Antončič alone on stage to dance the remaining two movements in silence; it’s an awkward juncture as we are suddenly aware of the body’s response to gravity without the buoyancy of the music. For the fifth Queyras returns and Antončič overlaps into the prelude but it is now the dancers who retreat, leaving Queyras alone in time and space. He plays the intimate sarabande while Schaltin projects his shadow on to a panel at the side, just in front of the proscenium. You hear the music and you see flattened on a plane the musician’s arms, fingers and torso moving in perfect harmony with the music. The image is not so much a goal as an extension of De Keersmaeker’s choreographic logic. It also underlies her rigour in developing our understanding of dance in relation to music, in stimulating through her own discoveries and realisations what she understands to be essential. In the final suite Queyras returns with all the dancers on stage; we are no longer aware of gravity but are free to fly in our spatial imagination to the sound of the cello and the sensuality of the dance. The edges of the stage space begin to dissolve as the dancers find their bearings around the six movements, resolving finally into a walking flock and ending with one foot slightly raised in an exultant suspension on the final reverberating chord.


Ian Abbott’s second report from RISE 2019 in Findhorn

Posted: May 5th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott’s second report from RISE 2019 in Findhorn

Ian Abbott’s second report from RISE 2019, Findhorn, May 3

Mandoline Hybride in Singeries (photo: Svetla Atanasova)

As an afternoon prologue to RISE, the Federation of Scottish Theatre held one of their bi-annual Dance Forums (for the third time in Findhorn) bringing together independent artists, venue managers, producers and festival programmers from across Scotland to share information, updates and engage in a discussion on a particular theme. This year discussion turned around The Role, Potential and Impact of Festivals with provocations from Janine Harrington and Karl Jay-Lewin. Harrington spoke of her experience of performing at and experiencing a range of festival contexts and left an interesting residue as she spoke of artist-as-leader, referencing H2Dance’s Fest en Fest, making herself less tidy and more complicated whilst acting as a hernia inside an organisational structure to rupture and burst it. Jay-Lewin spoke of his tri-role as artist, creative director of Dance North Scotland and the curator of RISE, saying that the people — rather than the work he programmes — have to have a desire for more than just the gig; there has to be an urge for something beyond, maybe related to the ecological/spiritual nature of Findhorn alongside a desire for community. 

Jay-Lewin has been building a long-term creative relationship with Canada (and in particular Québec) and this year’s RISE presents Singeries (2016) by Mandoline Hybride alongside the world premiere of Paysages Mixtes / Dix Commandments by Scotland’s Katrina McPherson and Québec choreographer, Harold Rhéaume. 

Singeries self-describes as: ‘Two women try to stay true to themselves. Trapped in the middle of a videographic fresco in which their image is multiplied and shattered, they ape and compulsively replay their own image so that they don’t completely dissolve.’ As a 60-minute festival opener it is riddled with intrigue and a lo-fi menace. Catherine Lavoie-Marcus and Priscilla Guy, who are responsible for the artistic direction, choreography and performance, are almost static downstage left as we enter the Universal Hall to an exploded Schrodinger’s box with toys, clothes, screens, blinds strewn across the stage. Guy and Lavoie-Marcus are reminiscent of a pair of analogue troubadours cornered in a world not of their choosing. As diffuse light appears and disappears no shadows are cast by Guy and Lavoie-Marcus in their whiteout, reducing our understanding and visibility as they merge with the white televisual snow surfaces. Singeries is technologically tight, narratively precise and flits our attention between screen and human worlds; the visual detail and attention is bountiful with projections splitting across venetian blinds, bodies and alternate screens. 

In a conversation with Katrina McPherson in advance of the festival, she shared some of her history and experiences in screendance as well as her connection and relationship with Rhéaume. I distilled her conversation into this response: 

katrina and i
in the shadows of QuebecTaitFerness
the agency of dualauthoredimages
without end weeattheeastcoast
revealing invisiblepresences 
ourselvesrecorded

katrina and i
a m e l a n c h o l i c exuberance
crumbling legs 
c
o
l
l
a
p
s
e
shooting m y s e l f as a montage 
of female gaze
an e m b o d i e d layered e m p a t h y camera
older artists with big lives
a g a i n and a g a i n and a g a i n
pulling and cutting ourselves up 

katrina and i
an e p i c e n t r e built on margins
built on buster keaton
built on banff 
built on peter 
built on doug
built on simon
built on anna
built on moray
built on fred astaire 
an o f f c e n t r e built on commandments 

I will be in conversation with Rhéaume during the festival and will offer a response to him in my next piece.

Closing out the first night was the delicious hug that is Chang Dance Theatre’s Bon 4 Bon (2017) — one of the critical successes from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe — choreographed by Eyal Dadon that frames childhood and brotherhood through collective memories of mango. Having trained together at Taipei National University of the Arts, Bon 4 Bon is the first time the four brothers (Chien-hao, Chien-chih, Chien-kuei and Ho-chien) have performed on the same stage and there is a bodily ease that can only come from decades of sibling play, fighting and familiarity. Set to Blackbird by The Beatles and 666 by Bon Iver, these 30 minutes are laced with charm as we listen to each brother replay memories of their father, mango and Taiwan. There’s a lightness to Dadon’s construction and choreography which sits well on their bodies and transmits easily to our eyes whilst nestling in the squishy feels area of the audience — leaving me not only with Blackbird as an ear worm but thinking of childhood. 

We can immerse ourselves in Chang Dance Theatre performing and retracing memories, but with thoughts of childhood come thoughts of older age and I’d be interested to see how Bon 4 Bon looks in a decade or 25 years, when their bodies have changed, their lives altered and their emotional connections have deepened; there would be a richness and nuance that is unachievable in youth. Speaking with some of the artists and visitors at the festival this year the word comfort has been used a lot: RISE as comfort, Findhorn as comfort and now we can add Bon 4 Bon as comfort too.

Ian Abbott’s preview of RISE 2019 is here.


Nora invites Deborah Hay – Where Home Is

Posted: May 2nd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Nora invites Deborah Hay – Where Home Is

Nora invites Deborah Hay – Where Home Is, Lilian Baylis Theatre, April 25 

Nora Invites
Flora Wellesley Wesley, Stephanie McMann and Eleanor as Nora in Where Home Is (photo: Camilla Greenwell)

One never reaches home,’ she said. ‘But where paths that have an affinity for each other intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.” – Herman Hesse

Nora is dancers Eleanor Sikorski, Flora Wellesley Wesley and Stephanie McMann. Sikorski and Wellesley Wesley were previously a duo who in 2015 invited Liz Aggiss, Simon Tanguy, Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion to make an evening of duets for them. With the addition of McMann their performance, staging and presence has shifted entirely. McMann has worked with a number of choreographers including Roberta Jean and Theo Clinkard; she has a beguiling and luminous presence that draws attention. The two bodies of Sikorski and Wellesley Wesley have a clear relationship with their previous invitees; with the trio on stage the reading becomes a little trickier. They define themselves as a dancer-led company; I get a sense they are collectors of a certain type of choreographer whose work has a conceptual pedigree but that is not averse to niche mass appeal. In November 2018 Nora worked with Deborah Hay to create a performance entitled Where Home Is which forms the first part of the evening followed by Playing Audience, a short conversational invitation to the audience to reconsider how we experience dance.

Hay is a scrambler, an unsettler, a not-dancer, a re-framer and Nora revel in her environment. In the thirty-five minutes of Where Home Is there is acres of attentional space for an audience to approach the work, be with it, ignore it, drift elsewhere or come back; it will give you what you give to it, but you have to give first. Located closer to choreographic performance art, Hay doesn’t often treat Nora as a trio but more like three ones with the odd two plus one; the interconnectedness and relational quality of the three isn’t present. Our visual grid is populated by solo components; we have buckets of almost still poses, Sikorski’s presentational arches, McMann’s faux cockney encouragement and Wellesley Wesley’s scenographic inspections. There are moments that face outward with Sikorski and McMann almost goading Wellesley Wesley with false hyperbole and exaggerated encouragement as she attempts to execute a series of stuttering classical moves and travelling sequences. This three-minute interjection offers an alternative emotional palette and a chance for the audience to laugh, release and enjoy.

The notion of home is an interesting one; these three dancing bodies are now a temporary home for Hay’s score. They are respectful and practiced guardians of the work, keeping it inside and between them. Nora is home and Nora is together thanks in part to a three-week period prior to the premiere working with rehearsal support from Rachel Krische who was herself a receiver of a Deborah Hay solo, The Swimmer, over 10 years ago. 

There are echoes of early Probe where two exceptional dancers — Antonia Grove and Theo Clinkard — invited choreographers including Lea Anderson, Rafael Bonachela, Yasmeen Godder and Trisha Brown to make work on them in Have We Met Somewhere Before (2005) and Magpie (2008). Over three years Probe collected 11 choreographers who made them look exquisite, squeezing the juice out of their technique and their relationship as a duo. They allowed space for themselves, their choreographic collective as well as for the audience. 

Playing Dance lasted for 20 minutes with each performer asking a question which might reframe how the audience receives the work: “What if, as audience, I remember to recognise time is passing? Time is not fixed.” Playing Dance became part of the evening because when Hay was making the work with Nora in Nottingham she would spend the mornings with the trio and each afternoon rehearsing her own solo work, leaving Nora to look at, reframe and process the choreographic questioning of Hay’s What ifs.

Where Home Is is a score that is practiced and it would be the same with or without our presence; this was reiterated after the pause during Playing Dance where the audience is told “This is not feedback for us, we don’t care, this is a space for a you.” An audience is already the guest of the presenting artist; individuals come to the theatre having purchased tickets and give their attention in exchange. Nora’s exchange ratio of performer to audience this evening is around 1 to 55, so we received 1/55 of a transmitted Deborah Hay and I left wanting more. Nora invites Deborah Hay but Nora does not invite the audience. 


English National Ballet’s My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty

Posted: April 29th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet’s My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty

English National Ballet, My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty, Peacock, April 17

Illustration of My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty by Mark Ruffle

I attended the matinée of English National Ballet’s My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty at the Peacock Theatre with the daughter of a friend, Eva, who is studying ballet in Sussex; at 13 she appeared quite mature amongst the audience of little girls in tutus. When Sir Frederick Ashton first saw Anna Pavlova at the Teatro Municipal in Lima he was also 13. The experience of seeing Pavlova at that stage in his life, as he reminisced to John Selwyn Gilbert in 1971, ‘was the end of me. She injected me with her poison and from the end of that evening I wanted to dance.’ Pavlova did not distinguish between the ages of her audience; her indefatigable touring around the world gave anyone who wished the opportunity to experience the full extent of her artistry. 

In 1964 the Royal Ballet founded a touring group, Ballet For All, that was run by Peter Brinson as a means of introducing new audiences to ballet through a combination of history, analysis and performance. Developed from his lecture demonstrations, Brinson described the format as ‘presenting special programmes, called ballet-plays, which combine words with ballets, actors with dancers and musicians, to inform as well as entertain.’ The cast was made up of two actors, a pianist and six dancers from both the Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet companies. This group toured widely in small-scale venues, giving around 150 performances a year until the company closed in 1979. According to Jane Nicholas, a former Arts Council director, Ballet For All ‘became the most important proselytizing activity in the country in classical ballet.’

In devising the series of My First Ballet — to date there have been four productions based on Cinderella, Coppelia, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty — ENB is pitching classical ballet as an entertainment conceived for very young audiences. The series is a collaboration between the company and its school so it’s a pre-professional community outreach program by a major ballet company in this country. The format raises questions, however, on what is considered ‘entertainment’ and ‘educational’ at this target age. For example, although there is no artistic reason for doing so, the story has been adapted for easy viewing; the fairies Carabosse and Lilac are introduced as sisters casting spells on their dolls; Catalabutte is a court painter; the knitting needle becomes a rose, and Desiré and Bluebird are best friends. Ironing out the richness and imaginative scope of both the characters and the story — Lilac’s magical power turns her dolls into ballerinas while Carabosse’s can only create Dark Companions — is ironic given that Charles Perreault wrote his fairy tale with children (of all ages) in mind. And even in its simplified version this production overlooks why Lilac is not aware that her sister Carabosse has not been invited to Aurora’s christening. 

The production is hosted engagingly by Sebastian Charles, a master of ceremonies in contemporary dress who does a little bit of magic, narrates the story and translates the balletic mime into words, all of which are traditionally implicit in a full theatrical presentation. While the recorded extracts of Tchaikovsky’s score retain their customary importance, Charles’s intervention reduces the choreography and its interpretation by the dancers to a secondary role. In Ballet For All, even though the classics were abridged and danced to piano accompaniment, Brinson maintained the choreography of the full productions and his dancers were quite capable of performing it. ENB has eschewed both options; Antonio Castilla has arranged the choreography and the dancers are still in training. While this gives them a wonderful opportunity to gain stage experience and to hone their technique (though there were, as Eva remarked, some mistakes), they have not had time to acquire the faculty of taking an audience with them on their journey. Classical ballet is clearly so much more than the ability to execute steps and enchainements to music; the poison Ashton spoke of derived from the artistry of Pavlova herself and not from the works she danced that evening. 

So while the enthusiastic attendance confirms the quantitative success of My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty in fulfilling ENB’s goal to ‘bring classical ballet to a young audience’, the quality of the presentation suggests the imagination of a young audience is not ready for the sophistication of a mature production and the intoxication it may arouse. Nothing could be further from the truth. 


Ian Abbott reviews 3 Rounds of Amp by Artists 4 Artists

Posted: April 23rd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott reviews 3 Rounds of Amp by Artists 4 Artists

3 Rounds of Amp by Artists 4 Artists at The Place, April 13

Joshua Nash’s Blacklist (photo:Camilla Greenwell)

We’re in the eye of the storm of the third wave of UK Hip Hop theatre makers, artists who have access to two generations of successes and failures alongside their respective knowledge and egos. Over the past 18 months Artists 4 Artists has been instrumental in supporting London-based makers in presenting new 20- to 30-minute works across London venues; they are nudging the community forward, evolving the forms and ensuring people sit up and take notice of London Hip Hop theatre. 3 Rounds of Amp is their third production of krump work in eight months featuring the choreography of Amanda Pefkou, Jordan ‘JFunk’ Franklin aka AIM, and Joshua Nash.

Pefkou’s opening of her Stranger at Home is exquisite; a single bare bulb upstage left, a tight focus of light inviting us to study her face, neck and torso in a simmering krump reduction. We’re here for six or seven minutes and it’s theatrically brave, taking our eyes, keeping them there and drawing us into her emotional states. Pefkou has delivered a number of leading krump performances in the past 18 months with roles in Becky Namgaud’s Like Honey and Theo ‘Godson’ Oloyade’s K.R.U.M.P Macbeth – here she is only able to take us so far with her own choreography as a loose and flabby middle section undoes all the opening work. There’s some diagonal crawl towards a downstage right light that is located firmly in the forest of obvious. Towards the end she expels an I Belong Here – a cry-scream harnessing the power that has been building, erupting and passing through her (here as a woman? here as a woman in Hip Hop? here as a woman in Hip Hop at The Place?). This pared down, stripped, minimalist krump, whilst retaining the emotional heft, intensifies the feelings and is a marker of interesting things to come.

A number of Hip Hop dance forms when performed in battle or on stage have a narrow physical radius; in drawing attention to a single spot and bringing verticality, intricacy and detail to the fore popping, krump and breaking sacrifice any ability to travel, to move across a stage, to shift our attention and keep within the choreographic or conceptual worlds that have been created. All three works this evening suffer from this; as we see them move, exit or enter the stage between sections, tracks and scenes the dancers erase any concentration or magic. This also creates the trap of raw emotional fireworks into which krump theatre sometimes falls. Franklin’s AIMagination was the prime culprit in creating isolated visual bursts of energy that exist purely in silos. Displays of bravura technique only satisfy a certain portion of the head and heart; Franklin has used the theatrical context as mere ornamental decoration to amp up solo activity without the responsibility and dramaturgical consideration that is needed to craft, glue and take an audience with him. Although his 30-minute work garnered the most vocal reaction it was theatrically the weakest. AIMagination is a choreographic treatment for an EP dressed in Antony Hateley’s succulent lighting design. 

Blacklist by Joshua Nash is the most theatrically complete (and there’s an acknowledgement in the programme notes for Kwesi Johnson ‘for the mentoring and artistry in the studio’) and the middle 15 minutes brought krump into a conceptually and choreographically interesting sci-fi plane. Complimented by Torben Lars Sylvest’s emotionally rich score (which feels fresh out of the video game series Mass Effect) and Giacomo Bevanati’s wearable wire head piece, the collaborators succeed in changing the physicality, the emotional spectrum and the choreographic possibilities. If this section was built, exploded and dived into further there is real theatrical promise here. Nash offers a mission statement in his programme notes that he ‘aims to change perceptions of krump being nothing more than an aggressive dance style.’ With Blacklist he achieves this and much, much more.

Artists 4 Artists should be congratulated for presenting work to different communities and venues like Richmix, Redbridge Drama Centre, Laban and The Place; that the houses are sold out is a testament to their success. However, from August 2018 to July 2019 the ratio of male to female performers they are presenting (Duwane Taylor, Theo Godson Oloyade, Joshua Nash, Jordan Franklin and Amanda Pefkou) is 4 to 1 and their upcoming double bill of Chris Reyes and Kloé Dean will bring the ratio to 5 to 2. People who programme and produce work always have a choice of who they work with.

Krump audiences have an almost audio descriptive quality to them, with the live reactions of ‘naughty’, ‘mad’ and ‘let’s go’ peppering the air when they see things they appreciate or recognise. A night at the krump theatre is a rich, rewarding experience unlike any other and in 3 Rounds of Amp all the constituent parts of the krump vocabulary are present in abundance – we could play krump bingo with the chest pops, illusions and fake outs – but Stranger at Home and Blacklist have moved the form forward. Pefkou and Nash have pared it down, reached into sci-fi planes and almost Beckettian territory which, although not immediately obvious krump bedfellows, offer a future theatrical promise.


English National Ballet, She Persisted

Posted: April 22nd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet, She Persisted

English National Ballet, She Persisted, Sadler’s Wells, April 12

She Persisted
Katja Khaniukova and her feminine spirits in Broken Wings (photo: Laurent Liotardo)

The title of English National Ballet’s second program celebrating female choreographers, ‘She Persisted’, may have derived, as Sarah Crompton writes in the program, from a 2017 statement by US Senator Mitch McConnell, but it also neatly references the company’s first program from two years ago, She Said. One of those works reappears here — Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings — alongside Pina Bausch’s Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) that ENB acquired in 2016. Although the program only partially addresses the persistently unanswered question of why there are not more new female choreographers in classical ballet, the one new work by company dancer Stina Quagebeur, Nora (after the character in Henrik Ibsen’s The Doll House on which it is based), marks the arrival of a distinctive, independent voice. 

It is immediately clear at the opening of Nora that Quagebeur has a choreographic imagination and the lighting of Trui Malten enhances it. Between them they introduce Nora (Erina Takahashi) engulfed in black walking though a door of light followed by five ‘voices’ (Alice Bellini, Angela Wood, James Forbat, Francisco Bosch and Rentaro Nakaaki) whose turbulent gestures form a constant expressionist chorus of Nora’s state of mind. Louie Whitemore’s isometric set with its tubular frame and suspended beams provides just enough volume to contain the storm of emotions the choreography unleashes. Quagebeur, however, hasn’t yet evolved a vocabulary that fully matches her imagination; the narrative tends to pull her in one direction and the pressure to devise steps in another. When Henry Dowden as the banker, Krogstad, first appears it’s easy to mistake him for Nora’s husband, Torvald, and she gives Joseph Caley as Torvald too much convoluted movement to arrive at a single expressive gesture. The subtlety and eloquence with which Antony Tudor pared back his choreography to transform narrative into gesture may serve as a useful guide for her next (much anticipated) work. 

Broken Wings has not been repaired since its first outing three years ago. It has vivid colour and a rich score but it seems — in contrast to the lives portrayed — choreographically quite thin. Ideas like the gender-fluid array of men and the dancing skeletons are brilliantly conceived but outshine their narrative importance; Broken Wings is all about Frida Kahlo and yet she barely manages to emerge from her own story. The stage is dominated by Dieuweke van Reij’s mobile cube that serves as Kahlo’s home, hospital and tomb and its manipulation by the skeletons from one manifestation to the next interrupts rather than informs the narrative. Lopez-Ochoa has clearly built her choreography on the relationship between Khalo and Diego Rivera and although their intense love and fiery intellectual bond appears too much as the stereotype of boy meets girl, the impassioned performances of Katja Khaniukova and Irek Mukhamedov give the broken wings an opportunity to fly. 

When it was announced that English National Ballet had obtained the rights to perform Pina Bausch’s Sacre du printemps it was a major coup, adding another level of prestige to the company’s profile under Tamara Rojo’s leadership. The challenges of performing the work at ENB, however, differ from those in Tanztheater Wuppertal; there the dancers are attuned to Bausch’s way of working whereas ENB’s broad repertory demands of its dancers a constant readjustment to its rigours. Bausch’s Sacre du printemps never was, nor can it ever be a trophy work. It marries savagery with lyricism to an extent the two qualities live within each other; there is no respite as one emerges from the other. Josephine Ann Endicott, who staged it for ENB, was one of the work’s original dancers. She describes the movements to Crompton as feeling ‘masculine and not pretty, but at other moments they are extremely soft, sensual and feminine. You run with your heart and forget all you have learnt before and just come out and be yourself. It has to be real. If you are not exhausted at the end, you haven’t danced it properly.’ This evening there are moments among the men — noticeably in the transitions to partnering the women — when this kind of commitment is missing, when the mechanics of performing a phrase get in the way of expressing it. The energy and focus of the women, however, continues to feed each other until Emily Suzuki takes on the mantle of the chosen one and pushes the limits of her endurance to a level of artistry the work demands. 


Merce Cunningham Centennial: Night of 100 Solos

Posted: April 21st, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Merce Cunningham Centennial: Night of 100 Solos

The Merce Cunningham Centennial, Night of 100 Solos, Barbican, April 16

Merce Cunningham
Merce Cunningham (photo by Annie Leibovitz)

To celebrate the centenary of Merce Cunningham’s birth on April 16, the Merce Cunningham Trust live-streamed three shows in three cities (Los Angeles, New York and London) that each presented 25 dancers performing 100 solos from the Cunningham repertoire. In London’s Barbican, where the Merce Cunningham company had performed regularly for the last 20 years of its life, Daniel Squire (with help from Ashley Chen and Cheryl Therrien) arranged extracts from 54 works, the earliest being Dime a Dance (1953) and the latest Nearly Ninety (2009), to fit within a 90-minute format. The idea of presenting solos as a collage without the context of their parent works follows one that Cunningham had devised whenever the company performed in a non-theatrical venue like an art gallery or a gymnasium. Despite the paradox of creating this event in a proscenium theatre it nonetheless offers an opportunity to savour the extraordinary richness of Cunningham’s choreographic thinking over a fifty-year period. As dance critic Edwin Denby wrote in 1968, ‘Seeing Merce is always a very great pleasure.’

Denby had attended Cunningham’s very first program of solo dances in New York in April 1944, describing their effect as ‘one of an excessively elegant sensuality’ that contrasted with ‘one of remoteness and isolation’. These two qualities, both alone and in combination, could well define the range of solos chosen for the Barbican along with an all-embracing sense of playfulness and wit that point to one of the basic tenets of Cunningham’s work. In his last recorded interview with Nancy Dalva Cunningham responds with the nonchalance of accumulated wisdom to a question about what dance means to him: ‘We look out at life and that’s dance.’ 

The Cunningham company was famously disbanded as part of its founder’s legacy plan following his death in 2009, so although there are seasoned performers like Squire and Julie Cunningham on hand, this centennial celebration is staged with dancers who have never been part of Cunningham’s company even if some of them have studied his technique. The Merce Cunningham Trust explains that ‘in each city, a former dancer experienced in creating Cunningham Events will work with an associate stager and other Merce Cunningham Dance Company alumni to impart the choreography to a new generation of dancers.’ There is more public relations than clarity in this statement as such luminaries as Siobhan Davies, Michael Nunn, William Trevitt, Catherine Legrand and Asha Thomas, while absorbing to watch, are hardly a new generation of dancers. Apart from sharing the centennial with a global audience (those who missed it can watch the live stream from all three cities online until July 19) Night of 100 Solos is also advance publicity as well as a preview for a raft of Cunningham performances later this year that the Merce Cunningham Trust has generously offered to companies and festivals free of licensing fees. In the UK these include Dance Umbrella, Rambert and the Royal Ballet; London, at least, will be spoiled for choice.  

The PR nature of Night of 100 Solos clarifies the choice of performers; we can expect to see them again later this year in a Cunningham work on one of three continents — hopefully with a contingent of company alumni too. It will be interesting to see how the Royal Ballet will deal with Cunningham’s work. While his choreography borrows from many sources that include the classical ballet canon his technique can prove challenging to classically trained dancers. In teaching the body to ‘move in any direction at any speed, without hesitation, without stammering’ (to quote Denby again), his technique is more akin to the requirements of Astaire than to those of Petipa. Watching Francesca Hayward, Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Joseph Sissens in their solos is to see a concentration on form struggling with the dynamics of freedom; Cunningham makes the body dance to its own rhythm and allows us to watch whereas classical ballet both relies on a musical score for its expression and demands our attention. Toke Broni Strandby in his solo with the chair and Jonathan Goddard in his soft shoe shuffle demonstrate how deliciously translatable Cunningham can be.

The influence on Cunningham of his creative and life partner John Cage, who died in 1992, was abundantly present in the sophisticated playfulness of the five musicians in the pit: Mira Benjamin (violin), John Lely (objects and electronics), Anton Lukoszevies (cello), Christian Marclay (turntables and objects) and coordinator Christian Wolff (piano, melodica, objects). To paraphrase Cunningham, what you’re hearing is what it is.


Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

Posted: April 18th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, Ramallah, April 2019

An image derived from the work of Khalid Bengharib

The idea of attending the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival was inspired by a British Council callout to bloggers. I applied to write about a dance festival of which I had never heard that took place in what I thought to be a conflict zone in Palestine. What kind of dance might emerge under such circumstances, and what kind of spirit was behind the organization of such a festival were two questions I was keen to explore. As a precaution before applying I contacted the director, Khaled Elayyan, and learned this international festival is now in its 14th edition and is steadily building its reputation with performances from Australia, Estonia, France, Greece, Norway, Switzerland, Tunisia and the UK as well as hosting a roster of international dance producers, festival directors, and curators as speakers and guests. I was also happy to see Luca Silvestrini’s Border Tales was on the program; the idea of a festival in Palestine programming a work about borders when its own borders are controlled and being constantly eroded by an occupying state intrigued me. Art, as Gilles Deleuze breathlessly intoned, is inherently a form of resistance. 

Although my British Council application to attend the festival was not successful, two weeks later Elayyan very kindly invited me to attend as a guest for the first week that would include the inaugural Palestinian Dance Forum connecting artists and guests, a symposium on the subject of the The Body in the Arab World as well as several workshops, indoor and outdoor performances. The experience proved every bit as rewarding as I had hoped. 

You can only arrive in Palestine with the permission of the state of Israel, either through passport control on the Israeli side or at checkpoint on the bridge from Jordan. If you happen to be a curator of Arab dance living outside Palestine and your passport betrays an interest in countries like Syria, Lebanon or Iran such permission may be difficult to come by and if any dancer happens to be have been born in these countries and is now living in Europe, the chances of participating in the festival are nil. Nidal Abdo, a dancer and choreographer who was born in a refugee camp in Syria was only able to enter Palestine because he travels on a Ukrainian passport, but his company of dancers, Collectif Nafass — all Syrian refugees living in Europe — was denied permission to participate in the festival. Abdo had to make his ensemble work, What If Tomorrow…a solo instead.

Despite or perhaps because of the obstacles in its path, Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival’s slogan this year, ‘Where To?’, is a question the brochure defines as  addressing ‘our national, social, economic, cultural and educational fate and future…in light of a harsh and difficult socio-political and economic reality.’ There is no immediate answer to the question; it will transpire only through the collective endeavours of those organizing, supporting and attending the festival. 

Rooted in Sareyyet Ramallah, an NGO that has a lineage from its early days in scouting, the festival is a flowering of the indigenous development of sport and dabkeh, the traditional form of folk dance. Sareyyet Ramallah today comprises three dance companies, a dance school, rehearsal studios, a swimming pool, a basketball court and a restaurant on a discreet but thriving campus just south of the city centre. The introduction of a contemporary dance workshop into the curriculum came about in 1998 through the suggestion of Australian dancer Nicholas Rowe who spent some years in the region and subsequently wrote a book about the history of dance in Palestine, Raising Dust. Rowe’s initiative led in 2005 — right after the end of the second Intifada — to a performance of At The Checkpoint by the Sareyyet Contemporary Dance Company, which toured throughout Palestine and in France, and then to setting up the first contemporary dance festival in 2006 in the same month Hamas won the national elections. It was not a propitious time for dance — Hamas felt the festival was too western and wanted to stop it — but that year there were five companies from Belgium, France, Benin, Spain, and Ireland as well as the Sareyyet company performing At The Checkpoint. It proved a great success and after 14 years, as Elayyan grins, the public is getting used to contemporary dance, enjoying a range of works over the years by the likes of William Forsythe, Akram Khan, Sasha Waltz, Maguy Marin, Russell Maliphant, Candoco, Stopgap and Protein Dance. It’s a remarkable achievement that continues to expand with a network in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Contemporary dance is presenting Palestine and the Arab world in terms of international cultural exchange that eloquently counters the region’s noxious political climate.