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.


Ian Abbott previews RISE 2019 at Findhorn

Posted: April 16th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott previews RISE 2019 at Findhorn

RISE 2019 – festival of contemporary dance, Findhorn May 3-5

Robbie Synge and Julie Cleves in Passing Through (photo: the artists)

With the upcoming edition of RISE, curated by Karl Jay-Lewin, a little under a month away, I want to draw attention to the artists who’ll be making the trip to the wild beauty of Findhorn and have a deep dive with one particular duo; there’s a strong international presence with works from Canada (Singeries by Mandoline Hybride) and Taiwan (Bon 4 Bon by Chang Dance Theatre) alongside independent, female lead works (Screensaver Series and The Human Clock by Janine Harrington, and These Hands and Ritual Echoes by Crystal Zillwood) from England. There’s a number of collaborative pairings from Scotland/Canada (Paysages Mixtes and Dix Commandments by Katrina McPherson and Harold Rheaume) and Scotland/England (Extremely Pedestrian Chorales by Karl Jay-Lewin and Matteo Fargion), yet none from mainland Europe. 

RISE is a festival of contemporary dance which this year centres upon themes of landscape, the everyday and relationships; the terms ‘festival’ and ‘contemporary dance’ have lost their vibrancy and currency in recent times as everything is a festival and everything is movement-based practice. There is a definite change in the use of language and the approach of how people are describing and curating festivals and showcases; we often hear talk of communities, activism and dance but they turn out to be little more than a hollow program of works slapped together over a period of time with little care for the audience/artist. 

RISE is different — and I say this from experience — as it gives space for communities to form; it offers time for morning walks along Findhorn beach, time for the whole community to eat together, to share stories and reflections on the work seen. There’s classes for professional dancers and for little people with their big people alongside a talk by Simone Kenyon’s work being with women who walk, work and live in the Cairngorms – a work being made in response to Nan Shephard’s seminal Into The Mountain.  

However there is one work which embodies all of the festival themes: Passing Through by Julie Cleves and Robbie Synge. Julie and Robbie have had a long relationship with Dance North Scotland, spending time in residence, making some of the films seen in the work and they’ll present the latest iteration of their partnership at the festival. I spent some time with them recently in Glasgow talking about the work and their relationship.  

IA: There’s something radical and political about the act of sitting. It’s been used throughout history as a marker of resistance; what are your thoughts on that and how sitting has manifested in your practice. 

JC: The thing about sitting is…sitting in the wheelchair the whole time, and people ignoring me, blanking me and asking whoever is with me questions; they don’t treat me like a human. Whereas when I’m on blocks I know that I’ve got power in that moment. I’m in control of how they’re noticing me. 

RS: I haven’t considered the dramaturgical connotations of sitting; but it’s always struck me when we’ve done it in places where the ownership of the land or the environment is a particular way. So for example Findhorn beach. Karl’s initial support was to go and make a film on the beach and talk about it. Sitting there on the sand for the first time…politically it’s a leisure and recreational space, but when we went to Tate Modern last year (the installation with the swings — One Two Three Swing! by SUPERFLEX — was so clever because you can sit together and have this conversation; it encourages social dialogue and inclusivity. Of course for us we can’t get on those swings. But we turn up with this massive bag on the back of Julie’s chair and the security guards don’t question it, because probably… 

JC: I’m not going to blow anything up!

RS: She’s a bit disabled. It’s a bit awkward to ask her. So I get my backpack searched and we rolled down the bank and decided to get down among the swings, and once you’re down there there’s no quick or easy way out. 

IA: It’s about 15-20 minutes to get back up? 

RS: Yeah. We were clocking out the corner of our eyes all these security guards going ‘Is this OK?’

JC: And we were literally right in the middle with the swings all around us. 

R: We also discreetly placed a camera on top, which is a big no-no there. That felt like an act of resistance, but it’s a bit like ‘Fuck you with your swings which are inaccessible and are bullshit around access and your inclusive joyful social experiment’. Similarly we did it on land near Tower Bridge which is owned by Kuwait Oil…in that area there are people with sunglasses from Men In Black watching you…

IA: You’re making a choice about where you make the films. 

R: There’s a kind of cinematography even if it’s quite amateur. It’s Tower Bridge. It’s a recognisable landmark to people. We tried to choose as many recognisable things as we can. We thought about going to Parliament Square. It’s amazing when you dig in to the access and find out what’s permitted. There are all these 10-metre squared sections where you’re allowed to protest. It’s owned by a certain estate. I thought about going into Westminster…going along to a protest and us getting down there and just dancing. I think you’d find that exciting.

IA: There’s activist possibilities to it?

JC: I think it’s pushing the boundaries really. Just to see what would happen. That’s what gives me the excitement really, to see how far we could go. It’s like Robbie’s saying, there’s the leisure spaces and then there’s the one where you say let’s see how many people we can piss off. Or how are they going to kick us out.

IA: In some of the films when you’re in the woods or the beach, you get the sense there’s nobody else around and that has a totally different feeling; we are being let in to your world. But then there’s the opposite. You being very visible in spaces like Tower Bridge or Calton Hill; you’re toying with that duality of look but don’t look. 

RS: I think we both respect that it might be interesting, amusing or provocative, this question of people’s responses and the strange responses it provokes. I don’t want to laugh at people for their responses because it’s an unusual thing to see…us with these boards taking two hours to go along a little loop. People do check in and I totally respect that. But when it’s in the middle of Tate Modern and they’re singing the praise of some accessible, social artwork…if you’ve got a problem with us sitting on the floor, come and make our film better by standing in the shot and talking to us about it. Going to the beach is different. It’s a personal conquest. 

JC: And it feels different; inside me it feels different. In Tate Modern I really didn’t like it there. We walked around for ages trying to look for a spot and we were like, are you sure this is OK? It really didn’t feel welcoming at all. But the beach or Calton Hill is a lot more welcoming and I can feel it inside; I’m a lot more relaxed. I like how it takes me from one to another.

IA: You use the words ‘solutions’ and ‘design’ and you’ve iterated from yoga blocks to wood blocks to gravel things. Can you talk about how your being together might be solving a problem? 

RS: I guess it started with a very biomechanical process in the studio…about how two bodies work together to move. We worked out very quickly that if there isn’t contact, weight and pressure between us then we are quite static. In order to set up the challenge of can we move from A to B across the studio floor — which is the challenge we give ourselves — we tried to find ways of doing that. After a while being in the studio we thought it would be nice to do something else like walking around the town together. By that stage we’d already got to the floor in the studio. That was the thing that got us going, embodied solutions to problems rather than the machine. Could we do it together? Save money, save time. And where could we sit? We don’t need to just sit in the studio, we could sit…

JC: …anywhere. It’s been quite a slow process but it started very simply…with us getting to know each other’s bodies. My skeleton is nothing like yours, and it’s nothing like anybody else’s in this room. So it’s finding out about that, finding out how best to empower and enable me. And also do the same with Robbie. It’s a two-way street. Then it’s taking that from there and that’s how we’ve got bigger and bigger; as we’ve got bigger we’ve thought we need advice, support and funding. 

IA: Have you engaged any designers? Or have you done it yourselves?

R: So far it’s only been us…just because it’s that thing of money and when you’re in this sector it’s a familiar thing touring a piece but it’s quite unfamiliar engaging with designers. We had a great residency at Siobhan Davies studios, and met a lot of people from architectural backgrounds and academic institutions. We had a follow up at Metal and now we need to contact these people and see where it’s going. I think it will be productive. But in terms of the next stage, there isn’t anything in the pipeline. We’re always thinking about how we might improve on the blocks. 

JC: You need to think small and then prioritise it. We had some great responses from people at Siobhan Davies; it was just an idea we had about these blocks and then you go in and you’ve got someone who is a really posh architect who is like ‘Actually that’s a bloody good idea, but if we make it like this it’ll be a lot better or a lot lighter’…or whatever. It’s really exciting to know it can develop into something else. 

RS: If it could all fold up into a little backpack or if it was made of carbon fibre or was a lot lighter and took up less space… It’s about avoiding motors, electronics and keeping it primitive. 

IA: Choreography as design. There was an article on how choreographers have impacted on city planning. Dancers are people who are using their bodies as their tools every day. 

RS: The idea of embodied solutions rather than an engineer thinking ‘I’ll put a motor in it’ which is a very disembodied experience…

JC: …Or a piece of equipment like the hoist. That’s the last thing I want. I want something I can move with…I want to move on my own rather than be being part of a piece of equipment. 

RS: What we’re doing isn’t a solution for everyone. It’s an art project and we really hold onto that. We’re not going to create a product that is going to sell millions and we’ll be retiring in the Bahamas. 

IA: You could create Julie and Robbie : Embodied Solutions with a bit of venture capital…You’ve done a lot of work and thinking on it. 

RS: I think it’s a very social thing. The benefits aren’t the result of the action of getting up stairs. It’s the interaction between people which is communicative and cooperative; in the way you would see in a kid’s playground…it might take two people to pull a rope and turn a thing…it’s that sort of potential you wonder about in the back of your mind. Is this a thing in our digital age? With everyone in their tunnels…is that a thing we could do?

JC: I think it’s important that the blocks are a great thing, but we shouldn’t just roll with it and forget the other stuff we’re doing. That’s what’s so good with us…it’s only a part of what we’re doing. 

IA: I was looking back and the first thing I could find of you two is a video from 2009. 

RS: Oh god! 

IA: It was of you two. 10 years ago. How has your relationship changed over time. A decade of collaboration is a great longitudinal study. That’s what’s at the heart of this. Julie and Robbie. 

RS: It’s open ended. So it probably won’t have an ending. It’ll keep going as long as we can put up with each other. We’ve discussed the quickness and pace of that early work…we both slow up a bit and our interests have evolved now. We’ve just hung out more and you get to know people better; I think as we’ve gone on we get more aware about other people’s perceptions and the broader discourse around disability and privilege. Our relationship hasn’t really shifted much, I think we were always good pals, but we’ve talked a lot more about ourselves in relation to other people and the obstacles that can throw up. Obstacles, funding and narratives other people want to hear.  

IA: Are you like Ant and Dec; is it Robbie on the right Julie on the left. 

JC: Oh my, that is scary! 

RS: I wonder if there is a consistency there…it would be funny if there was. 

IA: What’s your response, Julie? 

JC: I think at the beginning it’s like any kind of dance relationship or friendship. You want everything done tomorrow or yesterday. You know we had these great ideas of what we wanted to do in the studio. Ups and Downs and Whoopsie Daisies was great and it was about when you’re a teenager and ‘I’ve got to do everything.’ Then as we’ve gone on we’ve learned a lot about each other, we’ve relaxed with one another and I think that’s shown in our work. There’s a lot of shit stuff that Robbie’s seen — when we’ve been out travelling — the way people treat me. A lot of people don’t see that. That’s going to affect the work and how we talk to each other about it. I’ll come up with stories as well: yesterday so-and-so said this to me. I think as time has passed we’ve got a lot more honest with one another. Now I feel a lot more like a Grandma. I feel pleased with what we’re doing and I still want to challenge myself more. But I’m really happy where I am.

RS: Being a family guy now, and having a child, certain things aren’t quite as exotic and exciting any more. They’re just a bit tiring. But also being comfortable with what we’re doing and just letting it tick over…being conscious there’s opportunities out there and our work has become more about the story, the broader relationship and the implications rather than what you can do in 40 minutes. 

IA: It would be interesting to do a retrospective of the 10 years. This presentation feels like a concentration of that. How could you represent that 10-yearness? 

RS: One of our strands is having a website. A digital encounter. Partly because it’s difficult to travel and have those live encounters…but we want to get it out there and a timeline that we can add to every time we hang out and do one of these things. An accumulation that you could scroll through, stop at and look into it further. 

JC: As Robbie is saying about family, my body’s ten years older. It’s s not what it was and there’s times when I’m feeling weaker or whatever. We have to think around that and ask ‘Do we use film more?’ It’s getting your head around that because we’re both changing, our bodies are changing and we need to talk about that…how can we express what we’re expressing now in ten years time. 

IA: How would you define your relationship? Julie first this time. 

JC: No! 

RS: Yes!

[pause]

JC: I would say…he’s my brother. He’s annoying, frustrating…sometimes he thinks he’s right when he isn’t but I smile anyway. But he’s very very talented. Sometimes I think he doesn’t realise that. I think I’m lucky to have met him in a way. Now if you say anything horrible about me… 

RS: You know when you’ve got a scab on your…no…when we met it was quite an important time for me. I’d massively changed direction in what I was doing. I’d sort of studied biological sciences and worked in that and did all sorts of things. I was teaching English for a while, stuff happened, and I was sort of lost. I did Laban for a year — not even a year, 9 months — and I got an audition for Candoco somehow. I don’t really understand how and I remember my technique teacher at the time — I’m going on a bit of a roundabout way here — was quite condescending about my auditioning for Candoco. But then obviously I didn’t get in, but met Julie and it was quite an exciting adventure, to challenge dance and what we were doing. I was quite bored of what we were doing at college. This was the first creative project that I felt co-ownership of. It wasn’t that we were really good friends…it was a really good gift to have that way into a friendship, and a unique friendship that’s bound together in this investigation. Physically of course we’re very close, and I think that opens doors, if we have that kind of relationship then you’re able to share more. It’s just got stronger and stronger, and more and more exciting. When you have really good friends, that becomes apparent really soon, it doesn’t take long.

IA: Could you talk a bit about labour? The energy and the investment in the physical. 

RS:  For me that’s something society wants to reduce. They don’t want you going out to your woodpile, chopping it and carrying it to stay warm. But what else can that bring you? What can labour bring you in a physical, tactile experience and engagement in the world with its materials? I get a kick out of our adventures. In life in general I often do things the difficult way…which is a constant kind of cursing myself but it always feels great when you’ve done it. I love that it’s just the two of us, and Julie’s PA maybe with a camera ‘Karen. Karen can you push stop?’

JC: She’s gone off to Hollywood now, she has. 

RS: I suppose it’s a bit of a social statement that we clearly engage in an amount of labour that is maybe primitive to some people. It’s technology. These blocks are a primitive technology. But what can you get from encouraging labour rather than discouraging it, which is where my head first goes. 

JC: I don’t know what you mean by labour. Do you mean the energy I put into the work or…?

IA: So if Robbie is describing himself as a blue arsed fly in order to set up the shot, if it takes four hours to set it up, that is an investment of time. What is that time like for you? 

JC: It’s totally different for me. If we’re setting something up physically I’m unable to do anything. So I’m sat and he’s running around doing everything. Sometimes that can make me a bit upset because I see him running around and I want to get up and help him. But I think it’s to do with my energy and I have to prioritise it as well. For my sake and Robbie’s. I’ve learned that I need to listen to my body more and I’ve started doing that now. That’s a really good thing. I still like to take risks…you know that log over there, I want to get on it. I still want to. 

RS: It occurs to me that I’m quite often busy around Julie attending to things, orbiting in a sense in and out and there’s a couple of things to say about that. What is going on in Julie’s body, and the effort involved isn’t always as apparent because there’s a different type of effort involved. People might not want to see the narrative of this privileged young man being physical around a disabled older woman…well tough luck, because that’s the way it has to be if we’re going to do this. If that’s not the desired easy narrative in current times; take time to talk to us rather than assuming. There are questions of consent, initiation and decision making. 

IA: Is Robbie doing this to Julie…

RS: There are moments of initiation. Sometimes when we’re doing the movements Julie will initiate something and we’re very careful with that. But you can take it to such an extreme you drive yourself nuts trying to cater to what everyone thinks. In the performance we just did, when I made that comment, ‘Look at that man doing something to that disabled woman’, it got a laugh because I think some people would be thinking that and it’s important to acknowledge that. If we can demonstrate our awareness of these things, it’s nice to be a bit provocative as well. It’s really good to talk about it to a third person, to be interviewed; it’s a good creative tool. 

IA: What are the things people are curious about? 

JS: I always say to people ‘Ask anything. No I mean anything.’ But people won’t. 

IA: It’s like ‘Oh, is he touching your bum when he’s pulling you up…’

JC: Yeah, and ‘Is it OK that he does that to you?’ But they don’t. They still don’t…but I’d love it if they did.


Ian Abbott at Bristol International Digital Arts Festival

Posted: March 27th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Bristol International Digital Arts Festival

Bristol International Digital Arts Festival, Bristol, March 9

YAYAYA
Ultimate Dancer in YAYAYA AYAYAY (photo: Abigail Denniston)

Submerge, the producers of Bristol International Digital Arts Festival, have curated a timely programme that ‘questions what it means to belong, what happens when objects, people and communities fracture; and how you bring them back together.’ Taking place in multiple spaces around Bristol for the first ten days of March, I sample works from Duncan Speakman, Ultimate Dancer + Robbie Thomson and Guillaume Marmin with a commonality of how the body is centred when surrounded by digital anchors.

Duncan Speakman’s It Must Have Been Dark by Then is one of the early works framed under the Ambient Literature banner, a two-year, AHRC-funded collaboration between UWE Bristol, Bath Spa University and the University of Birmingham that was established to investigate the locational and technological future of the book. Speakman’s work self-describes as ‘a book and audio experience that uses a mixture of evocative music, narration and field recording to bring you stories of changing environments, from the swamplands of Louisiana, to empty Latvian villages and the edge of the Tunisian Sahara.’ 

Moving my body through the city of Bristol, I encounter cartography as choreography bringing fresh perspectives and alternative awareness to architecture, obstacles and people as I navigate in and around them. All the constituent parts of dance are present; there is music, there is a body (or bodies), there are movement instructions and there is (lots of) space. By any other means this is a dance work. As I listen to the audio histories and read the accompanying book I am making decisions about where to go, what to see and placing my own markers across the city; it’s an embodied experience, it hangs around, it leaves its trace in and on you.

Following the three stories of the three maps in three parts of the world, I encounter physical boundaries, global narratives of change and porous edges. Where do we go? Why do we go? Ambient Literature could be a description of a type of score; it’s non-invasive, like an anti-sat nav. Rather than prescribing your route, it rewards you irrespective of your coordinates or navigational hunger. The idea of split attention is in play as you have an aural narrative consistently feeding your ears and a visual safety narrative that makes sure you do not to die by vehicle as you choreograph your way through the city. Although your body is engaging in an outward journey it also attempts to play an internal, introspective channel. It gives you 70 minutes to wander physically and intellectually in a terrain that might be familiar or unfamiliar. 

It Must Have Been Dark by Then could be the digital offspring of Wrights & Sites’ A Mis-Guide To Anywhere from 2006 and Rider Spoke by Blast Theory from 2007. You set beacons across the city (to which you will return afterwards), but it is slightly clumsy as you have a GPS device in one hand and an A5 book in the other to read chapter by chapter while you’re given instructions. You are never left alone quite long enough to get lost in another world; there’s a gentle interruption every three or four minutes and I’m left wondering what would happen if you were to take it and stretch it out to 140 minutes instead of 70, let yourself wander and get lost in the city and its narratives. But it’s an enjoyable time in the drizzle of Brizzle and how many dance works actively submerge the body whilst covering a political position and leaving an emotional residue?

Ultimate Dancer + Robbie Thomson’s YAYAYA AYAYAY self-describes as a way to  ‘Challenge your perceptions and immerse yourself in a sensory performance that teases your imagination. YAYAYA AYAYAY is an ultra-terrestrial temporary dance…In 2015, Ultimate Dancer went into a darkness retreat for five days — a purpose-built room isolated from all light and sound. Ceremonial darkness as a shamanic tool is a classical method for accessing vibrant unconscious and super-conscious states.’ 

After we make our glacially slow and fumbling way into the darkened theatre I still manage to scrape my shins even though there are white-gloved ushers to guide us. Not a speck of unnatural light permeates the stage or auditorium but luckily our seats are marked by tiny squares of white tape. Our entrance into the auditorium bleeds into the opening fifteen minutes of audio-only performance; it is a rare position to be left alone with our thoughts among a hundred strangers in the darkness (but aware of other audience members who are having conversations about Yaya Toure and Dining in the Dark). 

YAYAYA AYAYAY is a date with deprivation, an active heightening of senses with the removal of the audience body. It is so well constructed that when hundreds of tiny white stones erupt out of the air and land on the floor, I stare at them…and keep staring at them. They are the only data points for my eyes and they look like they’re moving, an army of micro maggots pulsing to white noise. Where am I? Am I gazing up or down at a constellation of stars from a galaxy? My orientation is skewed.

When we see the body and performative choreography of Ultimate Dancer it feels insignificant in comparison; seeing them twitch, swarm or grind across the floor doesn’t match the power of the previous effects. Other works by Ultimate Dancer (Louise Ahl) — For now we see through a mirror darkly and Holy Smoke — suggest there are few artists able to match her intensity and unswerving drive in the pursuit of such a radical practice. It may not always be enjoyable, likeable or even palatable but there is a rigour and commitment to the shamanic and eerie choreographic practice that marks the Ultimate Dancer as an original choreographic voice in the UK night sky.

Licht, Mehr Licht is an installation by Guillaume Marmin constructed as a dark corridor 4 metres wide by 12 metres long that is empty except for dozens of pin-thin paired lights. They create lines of light at floor, shin, waist, head and overhead levels within a mild haze in which the audience can walk, sit, stand still or wait. Imagine a roofless shipping container with ghostly lines of light flickering and pulsing to a pre-programmed light sequence across a 12-minute score. It’s an insta-friendly spectacle and with a limited capacity there’s a 20-minute queue to get into the gallery. With children dashing about trying to eat light beams this digital playground pulses with sound and reminds me of a glitch-riddled, Blade-Runner-stained version of Waltzing Waters but without the water.


National Dance Company Wales in Awakening at Riverfront Theatre

Posted: March 5th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on National Dance Company Wales in Awakening at Riverfront Theatre

National Dance Company Wales: Awakening, Riverfront Theatre, Newport, March 1

NCDWales
NDCWales in Afterimage (photo: Rhys Cozens)

Opening their Spring 2019 season, Awakening, in Newport, National Dance Company Wales offers ‘three unique dances to amuse and amaze’. With two premières — Fernando Melo’s Afterimage and resident choreographer Caroline Finn’s RevellersMass — alongside Marcos Morau’s Tundra from 2017 we are welcomed with a five-minute pre-show speech by the new artistic director, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, outlining his support for the ‘brilliant performers’ on stage alongside the plurality of what dance can be and the benefits it offers to our communities, stages and studios across Wales.

Tundra is a 30-minute work for eight dancers that ‘tears pages from the Russian history books on folk dance, mass parades and revolution, revitalising old ideas with renewed meaning. It’s as mesmerizingly beautiful as it is robotically precise.’ If you’re going to self-define to these high expectations then you have to have the skill, discipline and technique to execute; unfortunately the NDCWales dancers do not. 

With an air of religious menace in the opening scene we have eight bodies smoothly and footlessly hovering about the stage in competitive Japanese walking patterns, their bell skirts covering their feet as they glide across floor in formations of treacle. This is followed by an attempt at choreographic precision that sits somewhere between a multi-part canon, a pedestrian domino rally and a kaleidoscopic image but executed by more than a quarter of the company surprisingly poorly for a national organisation. If a work demands such a degree of precision and musicality then dancers cannot be one or two beats behind or five degrees out of alignment, especially when Joseff Fletcher’s back-lit lighting exposes and emphasises the exact site of legs, arms and torsos. The discrepancies draw our attention because only five bodies are adhering to the choreographic instruction. Choreographically it is a work full of illusion that succeeds in the front-to-back cluster as we see bodies slowly tipping off balance like pendulums and then reversing back to centre. It’s visually clever and would be more satisfying if it were better rehearsed.

Afterimage by Fernando Melo is a 20-minute work for six dancers that uses the effect of Pepper’s Ghost to make figures appear and disappear in this look at loss, memories and sliding door moments. It describes itself as ‘a journey of fleeting images; of appearance and disappearance. Mirrors are used on stage to form a unique theatrical experience where the past and the present collide with a poetic and creative style of dance.’ Sat at table with two chairs we see encounters between pairs of people who move on and off stage, in and out of light delivering letters from beyond the grave or from another time. Melo’s regular artistic team of Shumpei Nemoto, Yoko Seyama and Peter Lundin make the company look great. It’s a study of simple movement and a bundle of what-ifs that match the stillness, mood and reverence that the work demands. 

However if you’ve seen Melo’s work before, Afterimage is essentially a recycling/stitching together of three of his previous commissions for other companies: If walls could speakLes Enfants du paradis and Pepper’s Ghost. We have the same table, the same chairs, the same mirror, the same mood. As a choreographer for hire this is not unusual; with any commission what you’re getting is a time-limited licence for an existing product and a name that enhances your own brand and gets you into new touring territories.

Finn’s Revellers’ Mass ‘delves into a world of ritual as an unlikely group gathers for a dinner party, where etiquette is put to the test. Curious choreography and characters are inspired by historical paintings.’ Finn’s première for nine dancers is a presentation of Dionysian revelry. There is excess, but for a 30-minute portrayal of a rousing banquet it is just too clean and dainty; no one is letting go. I lack a belief in what is being presented because the dancers don’t appear to believe in what they’re doing: artifice leaks out their bodies and faces. Revelry has to be embodied, as Gareth Chambers showed in his Excess at Chapter last summer where he explored revelry’s sweaty and transgressive relationship to ecstasy and pleasure. Throwing together movement, a hotchpotch of soundtracks, multiple lighting designs and a water-filled trough on stage smacks of choreographic masking. And we need to talk about the ending which cheapens an already lightweight work.

Do I believe in the dancers? Do I believe in what they’re being asked to do and are they able to deliver it? In Afterimage yes, in Revellers’ Mess and Tundra, no. If the financially safest and largest dance company in Wales is presenting apolitical, light, under-rehearsed entertainment at the opening of their Spring season, what message does that send to the rest of the ecology? NDCWales receives a similar amount of public subsidy and operates at a similar scale to Scottish Dance Theatre but the difference in the quality of dancers and choreographic choices is marked; when you’re in receipt of the highest public subsidy the critical lens should be at its sharpest. This triple bill has been inherited by Ó Conchúir (he came into post late last year) and it will be interesting to see how the company moves forward under his artistic leadership. 


Ian Abbott on Impermanence Presents…

Posted: February 6th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Impermanence Presents…

Impermanence Presents…at Bristol Old Vic, January 2019

Jane Mason in Night Flying (photo: Benjamin J Borley)

Impermanence Presents… is the result of a meeting between Tom Morris and Impermanence Dance; a season of curated works (five in a row from the 15-19 January followed by one each in February, March and April) presented in the newly refurbished Weston Studio by Impermanence Dance. The season is completed (on April 25) with Impermanence’s latest iteration of BAAL on the main stage; Bristol may have a new addition for small scale and experimental dance presentation adding value to the programming at Wardrobe Theatre and Trinity Arts.

Consider for a moment Pink Suits, Figs in Wigs, Jane Mason, Laila Diallo, Crystal Zillwood, and Tom Thom: what they have in common is quiet, intimate technique combined with virtuosic movements laced with shocking, live art pop and big cabaret bombast. If you whisk these artists, their voices and sensibilities in a performance cauldron you would come out with something very close to an Impermanence show; the presentation of these artists demonstrates both a dissection and curation of Impermanence’s own DNA. I will focus on the two full-length works I saw in the first week; Night Flying by Jane Mason with David Williams and Solo For Two by Jean Abreu.

Jane Mason and The Choreography of Things™ is an anchor to which Mason returns after employing this performance mode in her previous works Singer(string, tape, stage weights, sewing machine), Life Forces (slides, cardboard tubes, projectors) and now Night Flying. Jane Mason and The Choreography of Things™ is one of two operating modes: Jane doing and Jane dancing. It is a rare skill to be able to sustain attention while demonstrating an alternative function of everyday objects, but she succeeds in unfolding a mirrored Jacob’s Ladder, scattering galaxies of fine-grained sand or revealing a reflective blanket/satellite. She imbues these objects with a sense of importance and handles them with a care and delicacy that reflects her as a choreographer and performer.

As we enter the studio we see all the composite parts (wigs, fan, guitar) laid out on the floor, to be revealed over the succeeding 70 minutes. We know what is coming but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying as the objects slowly make their way onto the stage through the bodies of the two performers. Night Flying self-defines as: ‘Drawing on ideas related to deep time, the night sky and landscapes of being, Jane Mason and her long-time collaborator David Williams explore a constellation of associations related to memory, change, wonder, scale and materiality’s imagination.’ It’s a choreography for the small hours, a choreography for the darkest part of the night, for the 4:07am in you when the streets and cities and landscapes are stilling, when the world has evacuated the day, when you are yet to meet the sunrise. 

The idea of choreography as a constellation or way of mapping the work is in play; there are clearly defined episodes when Mason and Williams orate themselves and their own histories, amplify their physicality when bedecked in cheap wigs, playing guitar or revelling in imitated bodies. While the ‘glue’ between these episodes isn’t always immediately clear, they exist together rather like planets in a bigger galaxy. 

The presence of Williams as performer and as co-creator alters the tone in comparison to Mason’s previous works but he slips into her orbit and complements the intensity and energy. Williams is a chameleon with significant solo moments as an end of the pier comedian/local radio DJ/bingo caller with exquisite rapid-fire, deadpan, witty wordplay; a gentle, sand-blowing floor sculptor or as lead dancer in his accurate skewering of the false curtain call modesty of European modern dance theatre with repeated bows, thumbs up and the humble chest touch. Together they fit.

As Mason describes the tale of her grandfather as author of an aviation manual on how to fly in low visibility, there is a neat parallel in how people may respond to the work. There are times when some may be unclear on what is going on and why certain things are happening but Mason and Williams are our deep space guides, inviting us and acknowledging us with a rich and considered visual terrain matched with an elegant deployment of language. Night Flying offers us a portal into significance and insignificance; it’s crafted with intimacy and delivered with poise. It’s everything and nothing. We are together and we are alone.

Jean Abreu’s Solo For Two is a 60-minute trio featuring Abreu (as choreographer and performer), Rita Carpinteiro and a robot: ‘Two dancers, two sides of the same coin, caught in a struggle to find their place in the world. A little robot called Macheba both interacts and observes the dancers, mirroring and absorbing our human identities.’ Guy Cools is on dramaturg duty and Michele Panegrossi is the creative technologist behind Macheba, which seems to be less a robot than a remote-controlled vehicle with a few basic modifications: a pivoting birdie that could turn on/off and nod, a palm sized projector intermittently casting green/grey visual noise and a sizeable bluetooth speaker giving directional sound capabilities. While recognizing that the creation of sophisticated robotics is an expensive process, Macheba is nevertheless distinctly underwhelming as a device and in the way it is used choreographically.

Abreu and Carpinteiro are admirable performers executing their movements with fine levels of punch and nuance, but what they are delivering is a choreographic vocabulary and narrative that is familiar, unnecessary and stale; how the work self describes and its translation into my audience reality is poles apart. Broken into around eight sections there are duets (where Carpinteiro displays fine physical execution by climbing all over, in and around Abreu whilst not touching the floor (echoing James Cousins’ There We Have Been seven years ago), solos (full of stuttering beginnings) and a particular passage that left me in a minor rage:

Contemporary Dance enters (stage left). Contemporary Dance continues to role, slap and sweat itself on the floor moving earnestly to an inconsequential soundtrack. Eight minutes pass. Contemporary Dance is enjoying the solo. The ceiling of the newly refurbished Weston Studio has some architectural merit but having attended three nights this week I can confirm the angle and lack of lower back support in row B leaves a considerable ache and discomfort in my body each night (I shall not be returning to the Weston Studio to see any more dance whilst this seating is in place). Contemporary Dance continues. We are still in a haze-filled semi-darkness. The robot has not moved. 

Both Night Flying and Solo For Two are made by artists who have been choreographing their own work for more than 10 years and performing for nearly double that; I’m left asking questions around the currency of ideas, audience connectivity and how artists continue to develop and exercise their practice. 

I recognise there is some comfort in familiarity (this is how the majority of film franchises, ballet and Company Wayne McGregor work) by following the tried and tested methods, ideas and executions, but Solo For Two left me with a conceptual hollowness, smelling the funding bid tick boxes (hello robot) and a weary emotional dissatisfaction. It is littered with the tired clichés that some artists/venues/curators working across dance are attempting to dismantle, ensuring audiences are not frustrated but embraced. 

A triple bill started the week featuring a solo from Bristol-based Laila Diallo — who choreographically christened the studio — recycling material from two previous works in a 25-minute short offering, a mix of pedestrian movement, a marking of the time/space with lx tape and a delicious recurring choreographic balancing astride a chair revealing mixed with a broken ballet technique; as a keeper of time and movement Diallo is a study of concentrated movement. 

I won’t mention the indulgent waste that was Ways of the Blue by Bandi Meszerics; the only redeeming feature being a knitted cyan balaclava tentacle beard that he wore for six minutes, but I do want to mention Tom Thom. Bookending the night in their double block colour boiler suits, slow-ankle-tapping and totem-pole-shuffling in the foyer on our arrival, Tom Thom continue at the interval until their stage time as the final part of the night. With their super worn soft leather footwear (even the soles had been worn away through the 1000s of repetitions) we are treated to a 15-minute remix of slow dance approaches to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax that never quite lets us get to crescendo. They are a classic performance art-pop cabaret duo with an act that makes audiences visibly recoil and cover their eyes in reaction to the way in which their shuffle/hug/dance manifests. An act of physical virtuosity.


Ian Abbott’s Reflections on Dance in 2018

Posted: January 6th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Annual Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott’s Reflections on Dance in 2018

Ian Abbott’s Reflections on Dance in 2018, December 31

Mele Broomes in VOID
Mele Broomes in VOID (photo: Jack Wrigley)

Wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.”- Gabriel García Márquez

Here lies a reflection of some moments, performances and choreography that have settled in my 2018 memory bank. Shining brightest this year was the wealth of solo, female performance/ choreography/direction taking place outside London. 

Sitting in Edinburgh’s Summerhall to see VOID (a V/DA & MHz Production directed by Bex Anson and performed/choreographed by Mele Broomes) I was blasted for the first fifteen minutes by the ferocity of Broomes’ performance; VOID takes JG Ballard’s words, transfers them to a distressed body and leaves us in a visual glitchfield unable to settle. A deserved winner of the Total Theatre Award for Dance, VOID punctures the eyes and leaves us snagged in a net of inbetweenness. 

Unkindest Cut by Sadhana Dance made the windswept trip to Sidmouth Science Festival entirely worthwhile, spending 30 minutes in a pair of AV-filled shipping containers with Subathra Subramaniam looking at deliberate self-harm and mental health amongst young people. With Subramaniam’s intimate bharatanatyam solo I was gifted an intensity of subject and focus by the claustrophobia of the environment, the skilled AV collaborators (Kathy Hinde, Matthew Olden and Aideen Malone) and the repetition of gesture. 

I’ve previously acknowledged two works I saw in 2018: one at Spring Forward 2018 in Sofia, Première Stratagème’s Forecasting performed by Barbara Mattijevic (which is coming to The Place, London on February 26 and Flatpack Film Festival, Birmingham on May 1 2019) and the other at Tanzmesse, Oona Doherty’s HOPE HUNT & The Ascension into Lazarus. Both bear repeating as they’re exceptional works performed by two highly skilled and captivating women.

Parade by Tomoyo Okada was the standout solo performance at TPAM 2018 in Japan, delivered with lashings of integrity and wit; Okada spent her childhood walking along the Yokohama seafront and this walking-centred work is inspired by her memory of the Yokohama Port Centennial Parade over 50 years ago. Parade is a performative memorial delivered with a gentle fizz and confidence by a distinguished performer whom I could have watched all night.

Nestled alongside these solo works there are a suite of exquisite performances including Hannah Sampson (aided and abetted by Dave Toole) who delivered an emotionally devastating first half performance at Circomedia, Bristol during Stopgap’s recent tour of The Enormous Room. Restrained and nuanced Sampson brought her vulnerability to the fore connecting with audiences and delivering Lucy Bennet’s choreography with aplomb. Ladd, Light and Emberton’s Owain Glyndŵr Silent Disco descended on Abergavenny Castle to tell the story of Owain Glyndŵr — the last native Welshman to hold the title of Prince of Wales who instigated a fierce and long-running war of independence with the aim of ending English rule in Wales — with a crate full of disco classics. With dozens of giddy families shepherded around Welsh heritage sites and headphoned, this family-friendly performance successfully demonstrated that rare combination of dance, heritage and audience interaction. It is also worth noting that The Hiccup Project’s Lovely Girls at Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol was an utter delight and landed a number of skewering blows to the patriarchy and reflects the reality and expectations on women in the 21st century. Although it was advertised as a work-in-progress,  its full 60 minutes had more material, comedy and charm than a lot of works that claim to be finished. Their Spring 2019 tour begins at Bath Spa Live on March 8 (International Women’s Day) and heads to Liverpool, Bridport, Exeter and Hereford with more dates to be announced.

There have been personal stinkers, too (which have garnered otherwise positive critical and audience response) including Lost Dog’s Juliet and RomeoAkademi’s The Troth directed and choreographed by Gary Clark and Barely Methodical Troupe’s SHIFT. I also saw a preview performance of Clark’s Wasteland— a sequel to his multi-award-winning Coal — at Cast, Doncaster; it is a carbon copy of his previous work fast forwarded a few years and transplanted to the 1990’s rave scene.

I have to admit to a small personal itch forming at the gap between how we look at, write about and respond to the work an artist has created, and the influence on that work of the institutions/organisations/venues that fund, support and champion it; they have a powerful steer and consume considerably more resource than the artists. The White Pube is a fine example of such cross-referential critical reporting/writing and it corresponds to my own feeling about a work with which I had a particular problem last year, Stillhouse’s SESSION at Bernie Grant Arts Centre as part of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT). 

SESSION is 45 minutes of live music from Empire Sounds (on keyboards, vocal, drums, guitars and laptop) driving the ears, feet and eyes of the assembled crowds with luscious afrobeats shaking the courtyard and concrete frontages of the venue accompanying 25 dancers drawn from two crews of Tottenham’s Steppaz Performing Arts Academy. Diamond Elite and Diamond Bratz deliver a suite of short commercial hip hop and afrobeat routines with a fine musicality. With the audience set up on three sides as cypher, members of Diamond Elite blur the edges of performance and stage by stepping in and out of the audience feeding their energy into the performance arena with the consistent hip hop cry ‘let’s go’ driving on their peers as the remainder of audience remains silent. 

Stillhouse choreographer Dan Canham has a history of guesting and spending extended periods of time in and with other communities to make his performance work; so SESSION isn’t out of context in the way he creates: 30 Cecil Street is a haunting solo made from the memories of ghosted pub goers in Limerick and Ours Was The Fen Country saw the last generation of East Anglian eel catchers share their memories through an impressive and evocative verbatim dance theatre quartet. This response is approached from a position of critical closeness. 

Judging by the marketing copy, this would appear to be the same for SESSION: ‘Made in collaboration with an extraordinary group of young performers SESSION is a battle cry and a love song, celebrating community, youth and belonging. Still House join forces with Steppaz and North London’s afrobeats powerhouse Empire Sounds to create an exhilarating night of dance and live music where everyone is welcome. Dance performance, gig, social, and rave, SESSION moves across hip-hop, contemporary folk and afrobeats vocabularies to create a new movement that is all and none of these parts.’ The language frames SESSION along (in)side the Hip Hop community with the likes of Boy Blue Entertainment and Avant Garde Dance who bring young people to the heart of their shows because their training, position in the community and knowledge distribution is central to their ethos. 

But the very language of how things are described and who offers the invitation reveal an inherent system of power and privilege; the copy frames SESSION in what might be called an elite European Performance Makers League — companies like Campo, Gobsquad, Lies Pauwel, and Forced Entertainment who make work with teenagers/children as the central performers for the left-leaning, middle-class arts audiences. A more critical reading of the work might be, ‘SESSION is a concept of a transplanted white male choreographer invited and commissioned by LIFT to spend time in an unfamiliar (to him) North London borough with two partner organisations at multiple intervals over a three-year period. Out of these working sessions choreographer Canham has created a project that has a clear lineage from his previous work but treads a dangerous line around the edges of appropriation.’

The reality is that LIFT wouldn’t have commissioned or presented the work of Steppaz and/or Empire Sounds as companies in their own right or on their own terms; they needed the external frame and validation of someone like Canham to make it ‘marketable’. There can be no doubt that with all its LIFT scaffolding SESSION is a slick production. However, in every town there are hundreds of private dance schools and youth groups that exist outside the subsidised arts world creating ambitious productions and training opportunities. This is where the majority of young people first experience and consistently engage with dance over many years; however, the festivals and theatres that claim to be integral parts of their respective communities repeatedly ignore them. SESSION is in this sense a manufactured community, complete with a mandatory audience invitation to get up at the end to lean, bop and ankle shuffle with the performers until the music dims and the energy dissipates leaving a lukewarm fuzzy in your feet and head. After leaving the venue I noticed in the town hall next door an Afro-Caribbean wedding with guests and music spilling out onto the street; here was an example of joy, dancing, music and community that SESSION had attempted to recreate but would never be able to emulate.

A final thought on the most unusual performance of the year, at TPAM’s Steep Slope ShowcaseDogman’s Life by Office Mountain (directed and choreographed by Taichi Yamagata) featured a cast of eight performers who played out (entirely deadpan) a day in the life of dog/humans at work in an office. Presented in a polystyrene-tiled room with simultaneous English captions, the choreography offered stiff canine simulations mixed with low-key energy reflections on the culture of overworking and emotional repression in society. There are some images that once seen you cannot unsee and Dogman’s Life  had an absolute bucketful of them


Ian Abbott on Duwane Taylor’s Conform to Rebel at Redbridge Drama Centre

Posted: November 14th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Duwane Taylor’s Conform to Rebel at Redbridge Drama Centre

Duwane Taylor: Conform to Rebel, Redbridge Drama Centre, October 26

Duwane Taylor

Duwane Taylor in Conform to Rebel (photo: Simon Adrians – Tangle Photography)

There are no norms. All people are exceptions to a rule that doesn’t exist.” – Fernando Pessoa

Conform to Rebel is Duwane Taylor’s first mixed-bill performance at Redbridge Drama Centre, commissioned by Artists 4 Artists, the increasingly valuable collective of Lee Griffiths, Joseph Toonga and Emily Crouch that works as a vehicle for change in the hip hop dance community; it’s achieving a lot more than 99 per cent of other dance development/venues who are paid to do a similar job.

As a performer Taylor has a fine hip hop pedigree as one the UK’s leading exponents of krump. As well as creating work for his own krump crew, Buckness Personified, he has performed with ZooNation, Boy Blue Entertainment and a suite of others. As a choreographer he has made a number of shorter works including the seven-minute Candle in the Dark presented at British Dance Edition in 2014, Speak presented as part of Resolution 2018 at The Place and he was one of four choreographers to work with LIFT 2018 and East London Dance’s East Wall under the overall direction of Hofesh Shechter.

Advertised as a mixed bill, the evening consisted of three works but with a first half of two works with a total duration of less than 20 minutes Conform to Rebel offers more of a choreographic tasting of Taylor’s range rather than fully developed works. With Taylor presenting the mixed bill under his own name rather than that of his crew, he follows a trend of some artists like Tony Adigun (Avant Garde Dance) and Kate Prince (ZooNation) stepping out of their company to profile themselves first and their company second.

Project producer Emily Labhart offered an overview of Taylor’s choreographic offerings as an introduction. The first work, Anchored to The Beat, (6 minutes) had been made with three emerging dance artists and one member of Buckness Personified in little over a day. It is unfair to offer any critical judgment on their performance or on a work that has had so little time in the studio; while it is noble to offer a platform to the emerging artists, putting them in front of an audience with so little rehearsal time feels a little exposing.

True rebels, after all, are as rare as true lovers, and in both cases, to mistake a fever for passion can destroy one’s life.” – James Baldwin

Letter to My… is a 10-minute solo that ‘explores the concept of absent fathers, which is often perceived as a recurrent reality within black communities’ with a score remixed by Jean-Pierre Nyamangunda and Taylor featuring Jay-Z and Will Smith’s spoken word. Taylor emerges with his face masked under an oversized rubbery hoodie which absorbs his arms and offers an interesting possibility of masking and swallowing his movement so that it becomes undefined and abstracted. Sitting facing an empty seat, Taylor plays the dual role of absent father and present son with a range of unsubtle reactions; he bursts out of his seat and hoodie to demonstrate the intensity of feeling while lip-syncing to some of the lyrics. It is well executed and technically proficient, but offers little choreographic, emotional or performative development from some of Taylor’s earlier works.

Seeing Conform To Rebel a week after Ffion Cambell-Davies’ evolving 20-minute solo Womb Paves Way offers an alternative perspective on how krump can be used in a hip hop dance theatre context. Womb Paves Way looks at gender violence and colonialism whilst using a number of theatrical techniques and styles of dance, including a short use of krump. Although it feels like the work is still evolving and not yet settled, Campbell-Davies uses that brief window of krump in such an intelligent, restrained and nuanced way that demonstrates an exceptional choreographic awareness and ability to shift the emotional plane of her audience.

Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul.” – Virginia Woolf

With a voodoo and ritualistic frame, the third work, Conform To Rebel, Rebel To Conform, gives Taylor and Buckness Personified the space and time (twenty-five minutes) to demonstrate their krump technique alongside a wider hip hop dance theatre vocabulary. Claire Hough skulks with menace and krump erupts from her limbs and face with a controlled power and threat which is mesmerising to watch. Her eyes and facial delivery have an almost abinhaya-like quality amplifying what her body is conveying as she corrals the other dancers into conformity with her choreographic line.

There is a consistent debate and schism within hip hop between those who wish to preserve the foundation and codified movement vocabulary and those who wish to experiment, evolve and re-present those original forms in a choreographic and theatrical setting. Taylor clearly wants to evolve, and there are riveting moments when he brings Viviana Rocha on to his shoulder in an expression of double-decker krump and mixes the jab into a wider choreography. There is also a series of floor-based sequences with the performers on their backs; seeing krump on different planes, where the movement comes from within the body and projects into space is something I’ve not seen before.

There’s a definite Shechter influence in some of the travelling sequences and if the work is on a conformity-to-rebellion scale, it would sit in the light rebellion spectrum. However, there is something interesting in Taylor’s choreographic voice; Conform To Rebel, Rebel To Conform demonstrates that Taylor can create and integrate the use of krump and other hip hop dance forms into a powerful and resonant work.


Ian Abbott at FiraTàrrega in Catalonia

Posted: September 25th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at FiraTàrrega in Catalonia

Ian Abbott at FiraTàrrega, Tàrrega, Catalonia

Colectivo Lamajara in Labranza (photo: Tristan Perez Martin)

Tàrrega is a Catalan town ninety minutes west of Barcelona, one of a number in the region that hosts an annual Fira (fair) presenting a selection of Catalan, Spanish and international work. Tàrrega has a reputation for presenting a spectrum of outdoor circus, dance and theatre work in the baking September heat and this is the final program of current artistic director, Jordi Duran Roldós.

Most venues at FiraTàrrega are at most a fifteen-minute stroll from the centre, but Colectivo Lamajara invite us to meet at a bus stop on the edge of town and drive us about two kilometres through a flat, arable landscape with the heat haze warping the horizon. Upon disembarkation a silent guide carrying a staff greets us and leads us further through this vast acreage; parallel to us, about 300 metres away, we notice another body, walking with poise and precision balancing a set of sticks on her head. Our perspective and odometer are being set for Labranza. We carry on until we are gathered on semi-circular hay bales in the dusky light with outbuilding shadows beginning to munch their way across the sun-drenched fields. The next 30 minutes sees our guide, the woman we had seen earlier and an additional dancer toil the land and their bodies, playing with bamboo poles and casting up red soil dust clouds as they slap, caress and roll in the late summer light. With a slower pace and the ability to shift focus from our foreground workers to the acres of land behind them Labranzainvites us to slow down, consider land and landscapes with a trio of sweat-drenched performers. The only distraction is the grating faux Middle-Eastern soundtrack for the middle third which sounds like the Arabia World of any generic smartphone puzzle game. I’m left thinking about how agricultural bodies tend land repeatedly over the seasons and the comparison with the sweat and toil of dancers as they tend their bodies for audiences; suddenly I have an urge for the participatory aspect of Is This A Wasteland? by Charlotte Spencer Projects. The lack of my bodily investment in Labranza sees it fade from my memory as soon I get back on the bus into town and I begin to yearn for the derelict wasteland of Glasgow Southside.

With an even more limited presence of hip hop work than at Tanzmesse, Akira Yoshida’s Home tries to reconcile the gap between his dual choreographic identities as a b-boy and a contemporary dancer. At a sliver over 25 minutes Yoshida has the balance and control of both vocabularies and has success as a performer in blending the power and effortless fluid verticality of b-boying with the floor-based travelling patterns needed to move around space. However, Home is conceptually thin, narratively stretched and is more suited to the Breakin Convention 10-minute cage to which so many hip hop artists are restricted. There are a lot of tiny choreographic details in the hands and the face that would have benefitted from a quiet studio theatre and it clearly reads from a frontal perspective rather than from the four sides of the audience, suggesting a creation process or an adaptation that did not consider an audience in the round. Yoshida is an engaging performer with a number of interesting uses of low centrifugal wrist spins that would sit well as a signature move in a battle context but as a choreographer he still needs to grow.

Block by Motionhouse and NoFit State Circus featuring 9 performers scaling, building and destroying an oversized Jenga tower for over 40 minutes is an outdoor dance/circus juggernaut that has been consistently presented in its home UK and internationally. With a new cast that has slotted seamlessly into the original mould, it’s a technically impressive feat in terms of Ali Williams’ original idea, design and production enabling just the right proportion of stability under foot and hand and wobble for a heightened audience experience. The tower rises fifteen metres which enables more than 4000 Tàrregans to see it from all angles in both the afternoon and evening version. Block is a model of collaboration, simplicity and marketing, and while it eats crowds for breakfast I’m left with firework emptiness after watching it. There are consistently dated and gendered choices from director Kevin Finnan and circus director Paul Evans in terms of lifts, power and control; we wait for 35 minutes before a female performer lifts a male performer over her head. This is a deliberate artistic choice to present female bodies as weaker and to consistently promote the strength of male bodies. In the rest of the show female bodies are treated like dolls — thrown, flipped, caught, saved (like the flyer in a cheerleading squad) and dragged around the structure — whilst an inexplicable series of fake acting arguments appear midway through that are badly executed and add little to the work. While FiraTàrrega’s artistic choices about power are highlighted against a backdrop of dozens of Catalan flags flying from balconies and thousands of yellow ribbons supporting the jailed pro-independence leaders, the gender politics and power choices of Block are woeful, dated and should be collapsed immediately.

In an attempt to improve the very visible lack of artists with a disability at FiraTàrrega, the organizers co-commissioned Hunting For The Unicorn by Becki Parker (England) and Vero Cendoya (Catalonia) with Stockton International Riverside Festival and Tin Arts. It’s a 30-minute end-on performance on the subject of autism, presented in an intimate 175-capacity converted set of steps. With Parker’s balletic lightness and Cendoya’s earthy rootedness — along with the guest unicorn — the performance consists of two 10-minute solos (made in their respective countries and via Skype) and a playful 10-minute object manipulation section with an oversized sequined picture frame, a laptop and a suit jacket, that clearly connects and resonates with its audience. Tin Arts, who support Parker as a solo artist (she is also a member of the newly formed Talent Hub), believe in presenting work that is authored by and is representative of our society. I agree; if we are looking at representation at our theatres and festivals, then of the 900 performances at Sadler’s Wells (for example) in their 2016/17 season, there should have been at least 9 from choreographers on the autistic spectrum. Since data is not collected, I suspect the reality is very different but Hunting For The Unicorn shows how such representation matters. After each of the three performances there is a post-show discussion that has members of the audience in tears thanking Parker and Cendoya for presenting a work that offers a choreographic and emotional insight into autism and how the world feels to them even though they do not identify as being on the autistic spectrum. A number of the audience share how they have a family member with autism and how the empathetic voice of the performance burrowed its way into their subconscious and triggered something previously unrevealed.

FiraTàrrega is like a better, warmer and more useful Edinburgh Fringe for those making and presenting outdoor work; there is easy access to international presenters/artists who are happy to talk alongside the most generous, largest and consistent crowds for outdoor arts I’ve encountered (2,500 people watching Company Chameleon’s Witness This). People are here to do business (Block secured four new bookings from this festival alone) and there are multiple chances to present work in the main Fira or on its fringe and you can see the works of peers from around the world. If there are towns/cities in the UK looking at how a festival connects to and is welcomed by its community in addition to attracting an international community of artists and presenters, the next FiraTàrrega is 5-8 September 2019.


Ian Abbott at Tanzmesse 2018

Posted: September 10th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Coverage, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Tanzmesse 2018

Ian Abbott at Tanzmesse, Dusseldorf, Aug 29 – Sep 1 2018


Oona Doherty

Oona Doherty in HOPE HUNT & The Ascension into Lazarus (photo: Simon Harrison)

Tanzmesse 2018 is the first under the new directorship of Dieter Jaenicke. In his introduction he talks of this edition as one of change, a stepping stone towards something different in 2020: “Tanzmesse is going to change in the direction of an ideas fair where the most important topics (which are moving the international dance world) will be discussed and performed: topics like migration, democracy, on how to deal with the post colonial division of the world and its resources…from now on contemporary dance, contemporary ballet and urban dance will be presented on an equal level.”
Solos by Hodworks (Hungary) is a joyful, carefully crafted hour by Adrienn Hod with three exquisite performers (Emese Cuhorka, Csaba Molnar and Imre Vass). Hod has created a Generation Game prize belt of ever changing 4-6 minute solo choreographic scenes for an audience in the round. With each scene chained together by the end/start level of emotional intensity it’s an interesting way to view the range and versatility of the performers alongside the dozen or more miniature ideas that Hod wants to explore wrapped in a faux-fur creature singing big numbers from Cats and Disney classics, a gentle lingering hug for a single audience member, a hyper-inflated word stream outlining the trouble of the choreographic process or a sweet pepper eating trial. Solossits well in the late night cabaret slot of Tanzmesse and adds to the reputation of both Hod and Hodworks.
Crépuscule des Océans by Daniel Leveillé Danse (Canada) self describes as ‘a human tide, animated by opposing currents: busy, but at the same time on guard — concentrated to make no mistakes — resistant, ambitious and obsessive.’ The reality is a woeful 55 minutes in the 1200-seater Capitol Theatre of seven dancers, naked for 70% of the time, pairing up in small areas of the stage to repeat the same 8 minutes of out-of-time tippytoe-tensing, 80s-lungeing-with-pointy-fingers choreography to piano music by Jean-Sébastien Durocher. Heralded in the 1990s as the Canadian pioneer of presenting the unclothed body on stage, Leveillé’s concept or choreography appears not to have changed since; how ironic to be presenting this 11-year-old work on Jaenicke’s first program of ‘change’. As Crépuscule des Océans lurches on, one dancer makes three clear mistakes, forgetting the choreography and freezing in one group section and making two large stumbles elsewhere; as the audience leaves after a smattering of slow claps, there is angry talk of wasted time, the mistakes and the possibility of what could have been experienced on stage instead.
There is a suite of talks each day with one entitled The Future of Performing Arts Market featuring Sophie Travers (APAM), Jaenicke (Tanzmesse), Asa Richardsdottir (Ice Hot) and Alain Paré (Cinars): four current performing arts markets talking about their future? Unsurprisingly there is no real sense of what the future might look like because the speakers have no desire to erase their own presence and with no input from anyone outside a performing arts market there is no alternative perspective; the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. If the purpose of these events (the majority of which are still replicating near 30-year-old models) is to act as a meeting point, to stimulate new relationships and to ‘offer more space for communication, exchange and contact’ then we need voices from outside (in both programming and construction) to widen possibilities and ensure representation and intersectionality are considered at the centre of future editions.
In the Women’s Voices in Choreography talk, chair Andrea Snyder from American Dance Abroad highlighted the percentage of women represented in each part of the programme; it’s around a third. For every two performances or pitches by a male in the biggest dance trade fair in the world there is one by a female. This is unacceptable. Insightful contributions from the floor by Emma-Jayne Park (Scotland) and Annabelle Guérédrat (Martinique) as well as by Christine Bonansea (USA) on the panel are counterbalanced with some eyebrow-raising talk from other women in the room on how ‘women lack ambition and lack the ability to be strategic.’ There is a call for a consistent sisterhood that does not keep cutting each other down and a clear call for action in the Tanzmesse evaluation where we should demand an equal number of performances and programming slots for women as a minimum in future editions.
Alongside the talks programme there are some fifty 20-minute open studio/pitching slots over the two days where artists can offer a flavour of something new that is coming down the pipeline to generate interest in future international touring or building co-production partnerships. Seeta Patel presents a polished 8-minute excerpt of her bharatanatyam reimagining of The Rite of Spring that will tour the UK with 6 dancers from May 2019 and scale up to the Sadler’s Wells main stage with 12 dancers in 2021. Group bharatanatyam is a rarity and it is refreshing to see the intricate patterns multiplied and echoed across many bodies as the power and collective sound of the jattis leave me wanting to see and hear more.
HOPE HUNT & The Ascension into Lazarus (HHATAIL) by Oona Doherty blasts the dusty roof off Tanzmesse 2018 and if the rarely-heard decibel level of applause and the length of standing ovation are anything to go by, then the Belfast-based performer/choreographer is about to collect some serious air miles. With the audience starting out on the street, sardined on the narrow paths outside the FFT Kammerspiele, an ageing Volkswagen blaring 90s UK dance music screeches to a halt, the driver pops the boot and out onto the concrete night floor lands Doherty. As she discovers her Bambi legs and staggers into and out of the crowd, up and down the road, the audience begins to absorb her, spits her out and takes her back, in an exchange of energy that stays charged till the end. Dressed in three stripes, Shockwaves hair and gold-chained neck, Doherty screams at us to get inside into the black as we are about to witness ‘a man who is many men telling his story, a hunt for hope as we are twisted and contorted with ideas of masculinity, morality and nostaligia.’ With HHATAIL we are in the arc of an eruption; Doherty coughs and conjures up words, memories and choreographies that bite and nestle under the skin offering us a glimpse of an underclass, of Belfast and of a resistance. As we continue to see the repeated crunch of her body biting the floor it is her energy and performance that stains the mind. Injecting a fire and spirit into the audience against the relentless Tanzmesse schedule and the wearisome neoliberal politics of the West HHATAIL is testament to the quality of Doherty’s dramaturgy and performance.
There is a growing presence of work made for non-theatrical spaces at Tanzmesse and a highlight of that programme is DISCOFOOT by CCN Ballet de Lorraine (Petter Jacobsson and Thomas Caley). Two teams of 11 classically-trained dancers in short short gold lamé shorts, play/perform football with a mirrored disco football to a bass-heavy disco soundtrack played over two 10-minute halves on a marked out 5-a-side pitch outside Forum with a referee, live DJ and a set of ice-dance judges marking their performance alongside goals scored. It’s an absolute hoot and demonstrates a rarely seen lighter side of large-scale ballet companies. Tackling via the splits, twerk grinding whilst holding the ball up and with elaborate simulation when a foul has been committed, all demonstrate a clear knowledge of football with a wry sense of the growing theatricalisation and entertainment arena in which football and dance sits. As a model it could be exported to other events; imagine at the UK Dance Showcase having a 5-a-side beach version of DISCOFOOT with Avant Garde Dance vs Ladd Light and Emberton or Russell Maliphant vs Barrowland Ballet.
On the final day there is an addition of an ‘Urban Dance Art Day’ with a programme curated by Takao Baba at Welkunstzimmer presenting a conversation, Urban Dance Goes Theatre, and two 90-minute showcase blocks of works (in progress, excerpted, improvised) by the likes of The Ruggeds, Gladness, House as well as two 15-minute excerpts of longer works, Between Tiny Cities រវាងទីក្រុងតូច by Nick Power and Tangle by Kinetic Art. Presented on the classic taped b-boy cardboard floor we’re offered a series of quarter-baked ideas and a poor sound system so we’re unable to hear the names of performers and what the works are about. The only work to come out with any sense of quality, presentation or theatricality is Power’s: the audience is placed in a cypher, providing energy for the two b-boys (Erak Mith and Aaron Lim) as they skirt the edges, playfully mock the tropes of the genre and each other and fake and play like boxers in the ring sussing out their opponent before attempting to land the knockout blow/move. Nevertheless, presenting ‘Urban Dance Art Day’ in this context shortchanges the audience but more pertinently reveals an uneasy, ongoing attempt by presenters to box/shoehorn hip hop culture into existing theatrical conventions.
With advisors Malco Oliveros, Christian Watty and Carolelinda Dickey, Jaenicke’s first Tanzmesse displays not only an embarrassing lack of female choreographers and performers across the performance and pitching programme, but a geographical exclusion of dance from vast tracts of the world like Africa, the Middle East and South/Central America. I have only written about a very small percentage of the programme and one of hundreds of possible routes through the event but until the gender and geographical bias is acknowledged and altered then Tanzmesse will continue to feel like a central meeting place in Europe where the elite wield their power, position and privilege and deepen the chasm between those who are here and those who are not.


Ian Abbot at Edinburgh Fringe, Part I, August 2018

Posted: August 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbot at Edinburgh Fringe, Part I, August 2018

The Troth (Usne Kaha Tha), Army at The Fringe, August 16

Edinburgh Fringe

Daniel Hay-Gordon with members of the cast in The Troth (photo: Simon Richardson)

When Akademi chose Gary Clarke to direct and choreograph The Troth (a short story written in 1915 by the scholar Chandradhar Sharma Guleri) there was much consternation within the South Asian dance community. The organisation that receives Arts Council England investment to support and develop South Asian dance artists had actively chosen to employ a white, male contemporary dance choreographer for their signature WWI project.

Clarke is someone who has little connection to the South Asian community, the history of the Sikh Rifles in WWI or a familiarity with the myriad South Asian dance forms. The Troth features six dancers (Dom Coffey, Daniel Hay-Gordon, Vidya Patel, Deepraj Singh, Songhay Toldon and Subhash Viman Gorania) who gamely deliver what Clarke asks of them in a frothy piece of hollow melodramatic entertainment that serves only to reinforce the reputation of Akademi and Clarke.

Recycling a significant number of minutes and tropes from Clarke’s previous work COAL (1915 Belgium looks choreographically very similar to a Yorkshire 1980s coal mine) we see a yearning Patel mourn and repetitively deploy the Kathak spin as the dizzying emotional losses pile up (husband, son and first love). With the men thrashing, flopping, crawling and nearly dying for 25 minutes the only visual and/or historical point of interest is the archival footage/photography drawn from the Imperial War Museum and the Council of National Army Museum showing how colonial Britain captured on celluloid these choreographed moments of formation marching, trench digging and hospitalisation.

With an inexplicably homoerotic British/German soldier cameo from Hay-Gordon (also Assistant Director) there’s a black-leather-glove-biting sequence that has so little dramaturgical relevance and is so artistically and culturally out context and that it smacks of a signature self-indulgent move; I wonder how this section didn’t trigger Lou Cope’s dramaturgical alarm.

After seeing The Troth it is clear why Mira Kaushik (its Executive Producer and Director of Akademi) chose Clarke for this commission; riding off the back of Clarke’s commercial success of COAL across the UK, Akademi wanted a piece of that relevance. However, in their desire to build audiences in new territories, by employing a white male choreographer they have committed a bizarre act of reverse colonial exoticisation and by doing so continue the erasure of South Asian dance choreographers in the UK. The empire strikes back.

For another opinion on The Troth see the review by Nicholas Minns and Caterina Albano

UniverSoul Circus and SHIFT, Underbelly Circus Hub, August 15

Billed as “Hip Hop Under The Big Top”, this was the European debut of UniverSoul Circus after touring the US for 25 years. Our hosts Cheyenne Rose-Dailey and Lucky Malatsi introduced a dozen acts drawn from Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, Cuba, USA, Guinea, Mongolia — and more — for a riotous 55 minutes of sugar joy and technical circus wizardry climaxing in a flawlessly smooth 12-piece Mongolian teeterboard act with four people balanced atop each other. Alongside the rainbow-wigged and whistle-mouthed Fresh the Clownsss charged with keeping the disappointingly small crowd entertained in between the acts there are nice touches of audience participation with lip syncing to paint rollers and the ever-present oversized inflatable balls slapped around the venue as each succeeding act is readied.

Unfortunately when I attended, the bone breakers contortionists were, “due to unforeseen circumstances” unavailable and although there were a couple of hip hop call and responses from our hosts alongside the odd east coast track, it would be hard to call this ‘hip hop under the big top’. Nevertheless in the increasingly white, able-bodied and middle-class fringe landscape, UniverSoul Circus should be celebrated for the exquisite technical execution, charismatic audience engagement and attention to detail in every act. In an active choice from founder Cedric Walker every member of the cast (and safety crew dressed in exquisitely tailored suits and bow ties) is a person of colour.

Seeing UniverSoul Circus after the recent gal-dem women and non-binary people takeover of the Guardian’s Weekend some of the thoughts of gal-dem’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Liv Little came to mind: “As a black person I feel very undervalued as a consumer. If mainstream media and TV and film valued people of colour, you would see a lot more of us behind the screen and on the screen. So one of the most important things is who is getting to tell the story.”

I had seen SHIFT by Barely Methodical Troupe (BMT) immediately before UniverSoul Circus, a scheduling that emphasised the gulf in class, finish and care between the two companies’ works, yet SHIFT was in the smaller Circus Hub venue and still had at least double the audience. After their breakout hit Bromance in 2014 and having made and toured their previous work Kin (directed by Ben Duke) at last year’s fringe BMT appear to be a company ploughing a barren field. They need to take some time out to recharge, find inspiration from other places and come back with a quality product. Choreographed and co-directed by Ella Guildfoyle, the premise of SHIFT is loosely tied to a set of tricks, experimentation and testing the boundaries of multiple-sized blue industrial resistance bands alongside some appalling attempts at comedy/acting in between the predictable set pieces. Perhaps in their original run at Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May SHIFT was tighter, the performers less tired and the rush of a première had elevated safety endorphins, but in the middle of a body-and-energy-sapping run at the fringe SHIFT was lacking in care and the choreographic details were fraying. There were at least four tricks that resulted in stumbles and almost fail/falls demonstrating a weary set of limbs that were clearly not intentional; it’s close to this point that circus can become dangerous if those who are catching and responsible for each other on stage aren’t able to ensure standards of safety.

With a cast of four (Louis Gift, Esmeralda Nikolajeff, Elihu Vazquez and Charlie Wheeller) the only person to emerge with any distinction is Vazquez with a set of fresh b-boy skills, freezes and combinations that flickered temporarily but he is sorely underutilised throughout the rest of the show; his demonstrable control and ability to hold an audience’s attention is a pleasure to watch.