Cas Public and Kopergietery in 9 at the Linbury Theatre

Posted: June 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cas Public and Kopergietery in 9 at the Linbury Theatre

Cas Public, 9 at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, May 30

Cas Public 9
A publicity shot of Cas Public in 9 (photo: ©Damian Siqueiros)

With its recent refurbishment, the Linbury is now a theatre ideally suited for dance. The stage may be only slightly deeper than before but the visibility from the more sharply raked seating is what it should be, unobstructed; even when there’s action on the front of the stage it’s not obscured. This is the kind of theatrical environment needed for Cas Public’s new work, 9, because there is so much detail to take in at any one moment that only a full and uninterrupted view of the stage allows us to benefit from its full effect. 9 is a coproduction between Cas Public — its name derives from the company’s commitment to dealing with social issues and its conviction of the artist’s role in society — and Kopergietery, a performing arts space in Ghent. What links the two companies is their shared focus on creating works for young audiences; Kopergietery’s artistic director, Johan de Smet, is the dramaturg for 9

It’s not immediately obvious this is a performance for young audiences; such works tend to default to a language that underestimates youthful sophistication, but Cas Public’s founder and artistic director, Hélène Blackburn, rejects this approach. As she explains to Gerard Davis in a program interview: ‘I don’t think there’s that much difference between adults and children — the adult is a child who has grown up, while the child is an adult in the making. I don’t see why I can’t address my work to a multigenerational audience — lots of art forms like circus, music and the visual arts do it, so why not dance?’

Blackburn goes a step further in 9 by involving children in the performance. While the audience is entering the auditorium the five dancers (Alexander Ellison, Cai Glover, Robert Guy, Daphnée Laurendeau and Danny Morissette) engage the attention of children and invite them on to the stage (presumably there is a successful negotiation with the parents because everyone seems happy with the arrangement). The stage is covered in dozens of white liliputian chairs with a couple of tables around and through which stage technician Slim Dakhlaou guides a white, radio-controlled VW beetle. The dancers challenge the children in musical chairs and table chess until what looks like a preparatory intervention leads into the show itself when Glover takes off his hearing device — he has a cochlear implant — and puts it on a spotlit chair. The children remain on stage, implicated directly in the performance by the dancers or seated on the side.

Blackburn’s line of research for 9 starts with Glover’s hearing loss and his innate ability to dance — Blackburn thinks he dances better without his hearing aid — and continues through Beethoven’s deafness to an exploration of his Ninth symphony. The meaning of the work derives from a range of visual and auditory caesura that symbolise both the difficulty of hearing loss and the creative achievement in overcoming it. Martin Tétrault’s splicing of Beethoven’s Für Elise and his Ninth symphony brilliantly conveys the idea of music arriving in Beethoven’s head in halting, perfectly formed bars of sound that are sometimes distorted by low frequencies, and yet all the music’s power and joy are maintained. Emilie Boyer-Beaulieu’s quickly changing pools of light emphasize the fitful attempts at expression that Blackburn unites in her quicksilver gestural vocabulary derived from both classical ballet technique and sign language. Michael Slack’s stylishly casual black costumes keep all the attention on the action and, when shirts get loose, on the physical tension of the torso. The performance maintains a subversive sense of humour throughout — dancers on all fours barking at each other (and at the children) or Guy and Laurendeau snatching an embrace in the midst of a demanding unison sequence — that only enhances the tactile intricacy of the work. Kenneth Michiels’ film sequences of a young Belgian boy with hearing loss experimenting with his cochlear implant and his voice are full of humour and empathy in equal measure.

All these elements are seamlessly linked together with such clarity of form that they inspire through their cumulative emotional charge; it’s choreography that imagines what it’s like to hear again and the exhilaration in the audience is palpable.

The company’s secret ingredient is Marq Frerichs, assistant to Blackburn and in charge of the dancers’ training. ‘I’m a Cecchetti guy,’ he says smiling, and it’s evident in the clean, fast footwork, and the impressive ballon that all the dancers manifest. 

Cas Public will be performing 9 this August at Edinburgh International Festival.


The Bolshoi Ballet livestream of Carmen Suite and Petrushka

Posted: June 2nd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Livestream, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Bolshoi Ballet livestream of Carmen Suite and Petrushka

The Bolshoi Ballet livestream of Carmen Suite and Petrushka, May 19

Edward Clug's Petrushka
The principal characters in Edward Clug’s Petrushka (photo ©Bolshoi)

In London there is nothing quite like a live performance of classical ballet at the Royal Opera House, the Coliseum or at Sadler’s Wells, but when it comes to seeing the Bolshoi Ballet regularly there is nothing quite like dropping in to a local cinema to see a live-streamed performance. The final program of the Bolshoi’s current season is a double bill of Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite and a new version of Petrushka by Edward Clug. Even though the ballets were created in different political climates, both coalesce around a trio of characters in which one risks the ultimate price for freedom. Carmen is released from prison but becomes trapped in her torrid affair with both the corporal, Don José, and the torreador Escamillo; in Petrushka a manipulated doll declares his love for his Ballerina in an effort to establish his humanity.  

Alonso created Carmen Suite in 1967 for one of the Bolshoi’s greatest dramatic dancers, Maya Plisetskaya who, at 42, was looking for new expressive challenges; the public success of the ballet was so bound up with her performance of the role that, as compère Katya Novikova tells us, when she retired in 1987 Carmen Suite retired from the repertoire with her. It wasn’t until the appearance of Svetlana Zakharova in 2005 that the ballet was revived. Alonso’s choreographic style is minimal, requiring technical precision and dynamic shapes but the erotic effect of the narrative combined with the thrillingly percussive interpolation of Bizet’s score by Rodion Schedrin are embodied in the presence of the performers. The change in the principal role is more than a change in interpretation; classical technique has developed so far in the last fifty years that it has become a virtual proxy for dramatic intent. Plisetskaya’s performance of Carmen added dramatic expression to her technical prowess whereas Zakharova’s incorporates the drama of Carmen into the refinement of her technique. Applying Roland Barthes’ phrase ‘le grain de la voix’ to the body, Plisetskaya had a rough, almost feral quality that conveyed the character’s instinctive independence, whereas Zakharova has a smooth sensuality that is more individualistic than fiery. Denis Rodkin as Don José matches Zakharova in the elegant muscularity of his technique while Mikhail Lobukhin as Escamillo is more impetuous as if he has just returned from a bull fight. Vitaly Biktimirov as the Corregidor and Olga Marchenkova as Fate complete the main characters. Boris Messerer’s set under Alexander Rubtsov’s lighting is spectacular, a semi-circular performance area with tall-backed chairs on its raised rim that give it is a sense of a bull ring combined with a court chamber. An abstracted head of a bull is suspended over the action. The production, filmed by Isabelle Julien, lends itself beautifully to the cinema screen. 

In effect Clug has brought Petrushka back home. Although the scenario of the original version was worked out by Igor Stravinsky and Alexandre Benois in St. Petersburg, Michel Fokine created the choreography in Rome and Paris for Diaghilev in 1911. Under Martin Gebhardt’s lighting, Marko Japelj’s set for this production uses the double symbolism of large-scale coloured Matryoshka dolls to represent the tents at the Butter Week Fair Benois so fondly remembered. As Clug explains in a written interview, ‘I aimed to bring back to life the same story told in a different choreographic language and set in a new theatrical aesthetic…I could feel the importance of Petrushka in Russian culture and even more in the people’s hearts…All the elements involved — sets, costumes, choreography and not least the music — carefully depict elements arising from the Russian folklore and tradition.’ If Benois and Stravinsky conceived Petrushka as the immortal Russian spirit evading its confines, Clug sees him more in contemporary psychological terms where woodenness is an inability to connect; his Petrushka ‘wants to overcome his condition and be able to feel, give and receive real emotions. We humans take this option for granted and so often we throw it away.’ It’s a fresh reading that gives a prominent role to Vyacheslav Lopatin’s Magician, an oppressor who masterminds the relationship between his puppets through the use of magic sticks. Petrushka (Denis Savin) is the rebel because he wants to elevate himself while the beautiful Ballerina (Ekaterina Krysanova) and the boorish Moor (Anton Savichev) succumb to their master’s control. The costumes of Leo Kulaš evoke the principal characters as humans who are reduced to being puppets but at the very last moment Clug casts doubt on who is free and who is being manipulated. 


Yorke Dance Project in Twenty at Clore Studio

Posted: May 27th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Yorke Dance Project in Twenty at Clore Studio

Yorke Dance Project, Twenty, Clore Studio at the Royal Opera House, May 16

Yorke Dance Project in Playground
Yorke Dance Project in Kenneth MacMillan’s Playground (photo: Pari Naderi)

Yorke Dance is celebrating its twentieth anniversary with a choreographic landscape that ranges from a revival of a work by Sir Kenneth MacMillan to new works by Robert Cohan, Sophia Stoller and company founder, Yolande Yorke-Edgell. This landscape contains within it other landscapes, for Cohan, as an early Martha Graham dancer, sees his ever-present mentor in the distance and quotes from an earlier work of his own, while Yorke-Edgell revisits some of the choreographers who have influenced and inspired her, notably Richard Alston, Bella Lewitsky and Cohan himself. 

MacMillan’s Playground from 1979 is very much in the foreground for its visual imagery, its rhythmic cohesion with the music of Gordon Crosse and the spatial richness of its groupings. From Gordon Anthony’s photographs in the program of the original set, Yolanda Sonnabend had created a sense of oppression through the suggestion of a wire mesh cage; for Yorke Dance in the Clore Studio, Charlotte MacMillan has reimagined a more portable industrial fencing that might surround a building site. Seeing Playground is to be reminded how uncompromising MacMillan was in portraying the seamy side of social and ethical questions that classical ballet rarely if ever treats. And although he uses the visual stimulus of costumes and set, he tells his story principally through a masterful handling of classical technique in the tortured image of a twentieth-century zeitgeist. The playground of the title comes from Crosse’s score, Play Ground, but it also refers to an enclosed, isolated world in which adults dressed as school children play out their noxious games of rivalry and jealousy under the watchful eye of two clinicians in white. The issues of madness, sanity and debilitating neurological disease — the principal girl, like MacMillan’s mother, has epilepsy — are close to the surface and unresolved, giving the work its unsettling character. There are two principal characters — The Girl with Makeup and The Youth — and a large supporting cast for which Yorke Dance invited a number of guests. Oxana Panchenko alternates with Romany Pajdak as the Girl while Jordi Calpe Serrats alternates with Jonathan Goddard as the Youth. The production is given added credibility by the assistance of Susie Crow and Stephen Wicks from the original cast and Jane Elliott as notator; the power of the choreography comes through even if the images of distress at its centre are not always fully realized. 

Coming at the beginning of the program, Playground overshadows the remaining works for different reasons. Stoller’s Between and Within is created on two couples (Edd Mitton, Freya Jeffs, Dane Hurst and Abigail Attard Montalto) whose all too familiar choreographic vocabulary fails to explore with any clarity the relationship between them while Justin Scheid’s composition accompanies the dancers without becoming involved in the choreography. It’s a well-crafted work but lacks the visual and emotional signals that give dance meaning. 

At the age of 94, it is perhaps not surprising that Robert Cohan’s new work, Communion, looks into the past for inspiration, but it’s a little too far for the current cast to fully comprehend. Communion’s aesthetic is a minimalist ritual celebration that Cohan’s old friend and lighting designer John B. Reid has lit superbly. Both the choreography and the lighting seem to take their inspiration from the heavenward aspirations of a gothic cathedral and could indeed be performed in one; there is a pull in the choreography between heaven and earth — as in Martha Graham’s work — in which the dancers are held back from ascending only by the force of their gravity. In the secular scale of the Clore Studio, however, the muscular presence of the dancers in shorts and sleeveless tops leads aspiration into a rather lackadaisical disenchantment, especially in the formal patterns of walking. The music was intended to be shared between MuOM, Barcelona Overtone Singing Choir and Nils Frahm, which might have provided a more spiritual aural space than the unexplained substitute of MuOM by an additional selection of Frahm’s rather saccharine piano mixes. 

Yorke-Edgell’s Imprint is a new work for her company’s anniversary celebration, created ‘from the imprint of a purely physical memory’ of the work of different choreographers over the course of her dance career. She uses the form of pastiche in choreography, music and recorded text to honour her mentors but channelling five composers and three choreographers through the bodies of fifteen dancers can only be sustained in a spirit of celebration. The imprint of her solo for Freya Jeffs, however, carries an element of truth that endures.


Natalia Osipova in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet at Covent Garden

Posted: May 26th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Natalia Osipova in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet at Covent Garden

The Royal Ballet, Romeo and Juliet, Royal Opera House, May 22

Osipova and Hallberg in Romeo and Juliet
David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova in Romeo and Juliet (©ROH, 2019. Photographed by Helen Maybanks)

Where are the great ballet partnerships of our time? Natalia Osipova is in need of one and the Royal Ballet doesn’t seem able to oblige; it’s as if her name alone is enough to fill the house, which on the evidence of this evening it is. But a ballet like Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is not about one name but two, ideally in a partnership we can believe in. Never once in three acts does guest artist David Hallberg’s Romeo convince us he is in love with Osipova’s Juliet, let alone that he is willing to die for her. That leaves Osipova in the position of emotional orphan; she has to make it up herself and is only half successful. MacMillan choreographed steps as expressions of emotion; Hallberg dances his steps in a fury of effort but nothing transpires emotionally while his gait and demeanour have not sloughed off the tropes of a romantic prince. Once he flees Verona in Act III, however, Osipova owns the entire stage because she is not constrained by anything but her wilfulness and a sleeping potion. Her frenetic indecision echoes the childlike effusion of her first entrance with Helen Crawford’s (rather too youthful) nurse and the intransigence of her refusal to accept Tomas Mock’s Paris. As with all her classical roles, you can read her from the back of the house, but when it comes to MacMillan’s central love duets on which the entire emotional force of the ballet rests she is muted by the lack of chemistry with her partner. If nothing exceptional is created by the improbable union of these two lovers, what can possibly unite the Montagues and the Capulets? Although MacMillan ends his ballet in the tomb, he leaves the aftershock with his audience. In a sense we take on the role of Shakepeare’s two warring families to ‘Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things’. Without that catalyst the star-cross’d lovers are uncross’d and we are cheated of the cathartic experience of the love story; it’s just an evening at the Royal Opera House watching names doing steps to lovely music. 

Romeo’s two mates, the mischievous Mercutio (James Hay) and the more level-headed Benvolio (Tristan Dyer) find themselves in a similar dilemma to Juliet’s. Without Romeo’s full-blooded participation they become a polite trio of gatecrashers to the ball that is only distinguishable from the assembled nobles by their masks and their choreographic exploits. Hay in particular shines in his variations but his role is not sufficiently defined with endearing impudence for us to feel his loss — and to understand Romeo’s — when he is killed at the hand of Ryoichi Hirano’s Tybalt (who could do with a little road rage).

When the causal relationships between the major figures and events in the ballet break down like this the tragedy loses its traction and the story just continues on autopilot until all the protagonists are dead and the curtain falls. It is the responsibility of the staging to take back control but Julie Lincoln and Christopher Saunders seem not to have had much success this evening. At least MacMillan’s crowd scenes keep the production going: the bustle of the townspeople, the tradesmen, the conspicuous harlots (Itziar Mendizabal, Claire Calvert and Mayara Magri) and mandolin dancers led by Valentino Zucchetti are all very much alive. But for all the financial resources available to the company — including the dozen or so sponsors and supporters listed in the program for the run of Romeo and Juliet — this is a production that lacks the care and attention to detail that the Royal Ballet should be devoting to the maintenance of its classical repertoire.

The set is a reworking by Nicholas Georgiadis of his original designs for the 1965 production in which MacMillan had wanted a realistic Verona. Georgiadis, who died soon after completing this makeover in 2001, did not have MacMillan on hand to guide him; his revised Verona is an abstracted framework, with the famous balcony looking more like the upper floor of a building site than the quattrocento palace it once was. It’s perhaps a disadvantage to remember the original design as the ballet’s spatial qualities were contained within it; the volumes here are less well defined.

Definition is also a problem in certain passages for the orchestra under the baton of Pavel Sorokin. It is possibly just an off evening all round, but with Osipova as Juliet this should have been an event to celebrate.


Deborah Colker Dance Company in Dog Without Feathers at Southbank Centre

Posted: May 24th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Deborah Colker Dance Company in Dog Without Feathers at Southbank Centre

Deborah Colker Dance Company, Dog Without Feathers, Queen Elizabeth Hall, May 8

Dog Without Feathers
Deborah Colker Dance Company in Dog Without Feathers (photo: Cafi)

Attending Deborah Colker Dance Company’s performance of Dog Without Feathers at Southbank Centre is to be surrounded in more senses than one by the landscape and culture of Brazil, or more specifically by the landscape and culture of the state of Pernambuco on the north-east coast. The title comes from the poem, Cão Sem Plumas, written in 1950 by João Cabral de Melo Neto, a poet and diplomat born in Recife, where the Capibaribe River opens into the sea. 

‘The river 
was like a dog without feathers.’ *

As Southbank Centre’s Senior Programmer for Performance and Dance, Rupert Thompson, writes on the program sheet, ‘One of the key words in the poem by João Cabral…is “espesso”. Although there is no direct translation, it approximately means ‘thickness’, ‘heaviness’ and ‘viscosity’, and is central to the rich conjuring of life João Cabral achieves in the poem.’ The visceral effect on Colker when she read Cão Sem Plumas was immediate and she decided it would form the basis of her next creation. She visited the area with cinematographer Claudio Assis to place herself within the perspective of Melo Neto but through the filter of her own senses as she set out to recreate in another medium what Melo Neto had committed to paper. She subsequently developed a choreographic response using the film, folk music and fourteen dancers to build up a poetic language to explore ‘espesso’ in choreographic form, using the relationship of film to choreography as an eloquent proxy for the poetry; the vertical plane of the screen constantly informs the horizontal plane of the stage and vice versa. 

Dog Without Feathers opens with a filmed sequence of a landscape of dried mud with a little boy walking along a river bed towards the camera. Mud is everywhere in Melo Neto’s poem as both description and metaphor:

‘Through the landscape 
(it flowed)
of men planted in mud;
of houses of mud
planted on islands
congealed in mud;
a landscape of mud
and mud amphibians.’

Colker takes on the metaphor by caking her dancers in mud, transforming them both on the stage and in the film into the elements of river and mangroves — like the crabs and the herons — that emerge from Melo Neto’s words. Under Jorginho de Carvalho’s lighting, the dancers’ muddy bodies in Claudia Kopke’s muddy costumes create a unified aesthetic that keeps us involved in the landscape and in the culture as if we were there. Gringo Cardia’s wooden structures on either side of the stage become ‘the warehouses on the wharf’ and crowded favelas, with the dancers creating a sense of teeming life within overcrowded spaces by climbing on them and wriggling through them while the structures are moved and stacked up against each other. 

There is one difference, however. These male and female dance bodies are not ‘the men without feathers who wither even beyond their deepest rubble;’ they are powerful bodies that jump and turn and somersault with abundant strength and grace. Melo Neto’s poetry describes the tenuous quality of life and the abject poverty along the banks of the river as an effect of the vicissitudes of the environment and the politics of the city’s ‘cultured families’: 

Like the river
those men 
are like dogs without feathers.
(A dog without feathers
is more
than a dog that’s been stripped, 
is more
than a dog that’s been killed.

Colker’s film shows the harsh reality of the landscape she sees, but in choreographic terms the images from the stage are healthy, virile and sensual; we are easily transported into the dancers’ physical world without realising the paradox of the life they are portraying. Perhaps Colker is unwittingly evoking Melo Neto’s verbal agility but the choreographic conundrum remains. She writes, ‘I did not intend Cão Sem Plumas to be political, but it ended up being so, because of the content of the poem and the images on film’. There is no doubt that the eye of the poet and the eye of the camera converge in articulating the political stance, but the enjoyment of watching the performance mitigates the ‘challenge to human ignorance’ that Assis captures and Melo Neto so savagely decries. 

Notwithstanding, Dog Without Feathers is a striking cultural evocation of Brazil that clearly struck a chord with the audience. It’s been six years since Colker’s company was last in London and on the occasion of the current visit, Southbank Centre has made the welcome announcement of Colker as artist in residence. 

*From Richard Zenith’s translations of the poetry of João Cabral de Melo Neto, Education by Stone, Archipelago Books (2005)


Seeta Patel’s re-imagining of The Rite of Spring

Posted: May 20th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Seeta Patel’s re-imagining of The Rite of Spring

Seeta Patel’s re-imagining of The Rite of Spring, The Place, May 17

Seeta Patel Rite of Spring
Sooraj Subramaniam in Seeta Patel’s Rite of Spring (photo: Joe Armitage)

In 1913, when Vaslav Nijinsky was starting to choreograph a new work by the young composer Igor Stravinsky, Serge Diaghilev hired a eurythmics student, Marie Rambert, to assist his protégé with counting the score. The new ballet was The Rite of Spring which famously premiered in Paris in May of that year. After a mere eight performances, Nijinsky’s choreography was lost for almost 70 years until Millicent Hodson painstakingly reconstructed it for the Joffrey Ballet in 1987, but since the latter half of the twentieth century Stravinsky’s celebrated score has become a rite of passage for choreographers eager to challenge the rich complexity of its musical structure. Seeta Patel is the latest to tackle the score but she is perhaps one of the first to formulate her response through the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam. It’s a revelation. 

Patel is known for her exquisite solo work but she has also devoted her considerable artistic intelligence to dealing with issues of identity that affect her as an artist and Bharatanatyam as a traditional dance form, from her film with Kamala Devam, The Art of Defining Me, to her dark cultural fable created with Lina Limosani, Not Today’s Yesterday. While her work remains firmly anchored in the Bharatanatyam technique, she has also begun to explore collaborations with complementary art forms, notably in Sigma with Gandini Juggling where her mastery of both rhythm and gesture complement the mathematical precision of the jugglers. In the process she is subtly moving Bharatanatyam away from its original context to reinvent it in a contemporary idiom. This process has reached a new level of maturity in her re-imagining of The Rite of Spring; everything she has struggled to achieve has come to fruition.  

Patel approached what she calls ‘this beast of a score’ by studying Stravinsky’s rhythms with pianist Julien Kottukapilly which she then translated into a carnatic vocabulary with which her dancers could identify. This attention to a score until it becomes embodied — similar to the way Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker approaches her work — is to enter into the music by the same door as the composer; only then is it possible to deliver a response that is true to its structure. To see Patel’s choreography is to hear The Rite of Spring in a new cross-cultural perspective.

The original score is subtitled ‘Pictures of Pagan Russia in Two Parts’, a scenario devised by Nicholas Roerich who also designed the original costumes and scenery. Patel initially follows Roerich’s outline; in the first part, she writes, ‘the excitement is palpable, the dancers still youthful and full of hope, being pushed and pulled by the energy around them.’ The energy is in the music and Patel opens up a dynamic spatial world within it by defining geometric pathways for her dancers. From the opening languorous poses that pay homage to Nijinsky’s faun she builds up the suggestion of a community waking up and setting out into the fields in a spirit of worship. Using Bharatanatyam’s vocabulary of complex rhythmical coordination punctuated by eloquent hand gestures, facial expressions and precise percussive footwork her six dancers — Ash Mukherjee, Indu Panday, Kamala Devam, Moritz Zavan, Sarah Gasser and Sooraj Subramaniam — make the intricacy of the musical textures and rhythms visible while maintaining their ritual allusions. 

Separating the two parts of the score with a brief vocalised interlude, Patel then inverts Roerich’s idea of the Chosen One as sacrificial victim; it is the community who chooses a leader to whom they cede their autonomous power. The tall, imposing Subramaniam is deified, wrapped in blood-red trappings and at the score’s final chord of sacrificial exhaustion he is the one remaining upright spiralling slowly into his trailing adornments as the community crouches behind him in his shadow. 

The setting for this re-imagining is a bare white stage with a white backdrop; the element of scenery is subsumed in Warren Letton ’s subtle washes of colour and in the luminous silk costumes and elaborate makeup of Jason Cheriyan and Anshu Arora. So closely do all the elements of this creation align with the music that it appears effortless; whatever orchestral forces Stravinsky throws at her, Patel transforms them into a field of light. 

The evening begins with Patel’s Dance Dialogues, a short choreographic conversation between six young performers trained in either Bharatanatyam or contemporary dance. The music is by Talvin Singh with live accompaniment by cellist Celine Lepicard who bridges the two choreographic works with a recital of Bach’s first cello suite. 


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.


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.


Diaghilev Exhibition at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum

Posted: April 11th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Exhibition | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Diaghilev Exhibition at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum

Diaghilev Exhibition, Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, March 29

Diaghilev program
A Ballets Russes program with a costume design by Picasso

Since his death in 1929 a great deal has been written about the influence of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes on the subsequent history of ballet, and major exhibitions like the one presented at London’s V&A in 2010 made available its vast collection of photographs, costumes and programs from the Diaghilev era. Just recently a private collector (who wishes to remain anonymous) in Wiltshire contacted the Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum to see if it would be interested in displaying his personal collection of Ballets Russes ephemera accrued over more than half a century. The resulting exhibition — the first time it has been seen in public — is like entering the inner sanctum of a devoted collector, a personal and idiosyncratic ambience that curator Philippa Tinsley has thoughtfully reproduced. If there are few recognizable thematic threads running through the collection, Tinsley has not tried to impose them in the exhibition; the fascination for dance enthusiasts is in the unexpected treasures that the collection’s apparent randomness reveals. At the same time, the display offers those with a more superficial knowledge of the Ballets Russes an opportunity to deepen their understanding vicariously through the passionate eye of an erudite balletomane. 

The collection provides a vivid understanding of the passions Diaghilev’s company aroused and continues to arouse while at the same time giving a tantalizing glimpse of what items might still remain of that glorious era of ballet in private hands. Some of the objects on display, such as photographs and costumes, reveal their value at first sight; others, such as programs illustrated by the likes of Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, and albums of photographs like the rare Studies from the Russian Ballet by E.O. Hoppé and Auguste Bert (London: Fine Art Society, 1913), are treasures whose value is hidden under the cover: one wants to be able to leaf through them page by page, but understandably the preservation of the material overrides the ability to handle it (perhaps a next stage might be to digitize the collection and to make it available online). 

With careful timing and within the same space the Worcester City Art Gallery is also hosting a Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition, Matisse: Drawing With Scissors that features 35 lithographic prints of cutouts from the latter part of the artist’s life. Henri Matisse was one of many artists who worked for Diaghilev; a photograph of him fitting Alicia Markova’s body suit with cutout shapes for Massine’s ballet Rouge et Noir beautifully synthesizes the seamless connections between the two shows. The adjacent rooms and their complementary exhibits reveal an approach to curating that is both unassuming and welcoming, giving visitors a chance to take in the displays at their leisure as if they, too, were in the shoes of the collector appraising his collection. Tinsley has also provided a context to the exhibition in the form of the 2005 film, Ballets Russes, directed and produced by Danya Goldfine and Dan Geller, played on a screen of domestic proportions in the corner of the room with three cinema seats from which to watch it. 

This Diaghilev exhibition is a wonderful achievement that highlights the importance of an art institution like the Worcester City Art Gallery at a time when funding is ever more scarce and the likelihood of cuts ever more daunting. But well-crafted and distinctive exhibitions like this, no matter how intimate, are what give value to the ideal of making a public display of a private obsession.

The exhibition Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and Matisse: Drawing With Scissors runs at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum until April 27.