Saburo Teshigawara + Rihoko Sato in The Idiot at Print Room at The Coronet

Posted: April 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Saburo Teshigawara + Rihoko Sato in The Idiot at Print Room at The Coronet

Saburo Teshigawara + Rihoko Sato, The Idiot, Print Room at the Coronet, March 27

Teshigawara
Rihoko Sato and Saburo Teshigawara in The Idiot

The filigree hands, the clarity of imagery, and the silence of the movement; the light flickering like an old film, the layers of Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Chopin and Schubert, the delirious dance and gesture: all these impressions remain vivid after seeing Saburo Teshigawara and Rihoko Sato in their adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. In many ways it is a perfect match for the intimate auditorium of Print Room at the Coronet, an eerie evocation of the past carefully reconstructed, superimposed and reduced to its essentials. 

In distilling Dostoevsky’s complex novel to its emotional essence, Teshigawara has articulated the elements of his choreography — the body, the lighting, the musical collage and the costumes — as a poet articulates language or a painter colour to form a complex unity of expression. In using his body Teshigawara seems to bypass it, concentrating on the breath inside him and the air around him to sculpt his images. His body seems to perform with its own gravitational field suspended slightly above the dark floor which is what creates the impression of silence while the thrust of his gestures — or their retraction — creates the sound. Sato is deeply attached to the earth — the waltz is her domain — creating a contrasting dynamic in the performance that is elusive and yet sharply focused. Perhaps this is what Teshigawara meant when he said, ‘I knew it would be impossible to create a choreography taken from such a novel, but this impossibility has been key to our approach in creating something completely new.’

The central character in the novel, Prince Myshkin, is, according to Dostoevsky’s biographer Avrahm Yarmolinsky, ‘a man caught in a tangle of mad passions, yet preserving a childlike purity and sweetness…’ and as the novelist himself wrote, his aim was to ‘to depict a completely beautiful human being’.It is evident when we see him that Teshigawara has taken on the humble radiance of the prince’s qualities as well as the darkness of his epilepsy and has made them manifest without the literary preoccupation with plot; they have become a dance. We see him at first alone, fashionably dressed, making polite introductions to a room full of people we cannot see; we know they are all there but Teshigawara’s focus is solely on the meekness and innocent purity of Myshkin’s gestures. When he comes into contact with the dark, willful passion of Sato’s Natasya Filippovna — a woman who has known degradation and carries those wounds within her — we see a flickering narrative in which it is clear he falls in love with her but the meeting sets off an emotional maelstrom within them both that becomes the choreographic material for its tragic resolution. 

Teshigawara’s choreography embraces Dostoevsky’s dilemma of placing a hero who is saintly to the point of being simple within a society that is awash in the corruption of values. Yarmolinsky suggests the novel is autobiographical, that the image of Myshkin is ‘a light in the darkness to Dostoevsky, a shield against the powers of evil in his own soul’. In Teshigawara’s hands, light and darkness become a powerful theatrical metaphor that unite the lighting, the musical score and the costumes — Sato is in a long black period dress while Teshigawara wears a dapper white summer outfit —to portray Dostoevsky’s existential struggle with Imperial Russian society. At the beginning we hear a tremulous violin concerto over a murky stage where shadows scurry ominously like rats until the darkness suddenly recedes to reveal the childlike figure of Myshkin in a bright downlight bowing gracefully and offering greetings to the invisible guests; the entire background of the novel has been painted in these two brief but consummately crafted scenes. The subsequent tale of compulsive infatuation pits Myshkin’s serenity against Filippovna’s stubborn inability to accept it and ends with Myshkin sitting on the floor, as in the novel, with the body of Filippovna in an adjoining room. The performances of Teshigawara and Sato are, like everything else in this production, meticulously conceived and delivered with a passion that hides their construction under a rich, seamless canvas of emotions. 

While scholars may disagree on the literary value of Dostoevsky’s novel, Teshigawara’s choreographic rendering is an utterly compelling poetic vision that is nothing short of a masterpiece in its own right. 



Mark Morris Dance Group in Pepperland

Posted: March 30th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mark Morris Dance Group in Pepperland

Mark Morris  Dance Group, Pepperland at Sadler’s Wells, March 21

Mark Morris Dance Group in Pepperland (photo: Mat Hayward)

In May 1967 The Beatles created a ground-breaking album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, produced by George Martin and engineered by Geoff Emerick. In his book White Heat, Dominic Sandbrook described it as a ‘continuous stream of sound, its studio banter, steam organs, sitars and even farmyard barking, and its combination of cartoonish psychedelia, circus vaudeville, driving rock music and gentle ballads’ that was immediately hailed as an ‘imperishable popular art of its time’. Fifty-two years later it is difficult to hear its freshness in the context of its first outing, and yet it clearly forms an integral whole — one of the first concept albums — introducing the alter-ego Edwardian brass band with wit, colour and a musical daring saturated in the contemporary zeitgeist. In 2003 the magazine Rolling Stone placed it at the top of its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. 

On the occasion of the album’s 50th anniversary, choreographer Mark Morris chose to celebrate it with his production of Pepperland that recently landed on the Sadler’s Wells stage as part of a Dance Consortium tour. Morris may well have felt that his own quintessentially post modern eclectic approach to dance — mixing pop cultural references with highbrow culture and merging genres, styles and dance vocabularies from classical ballet to contemporary dance, folk and music-hall — would prove a suitable match for the album’s own mix of genres; his past works like L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, All Fours and Crosswalk have an exhilarating, colourful dynamic and an intellectual vibrancy that has become his trademark.  

Pepperland opens on a spare stage marked by an electric blue backdrop that changes to lurid green, orange and pink for subsequent numbers. Designed by Johan Henckens and lit by Nick Kolin, the set also includes a low, static line of crushed silver foil mountains across the back of the stage that flicker in the changing light. The bright colours match and contrast with the stylishly sixties costumes (replete with sunglasses) by Elizabeth Kutzman. The dancers are initially introduced by taped announcement as some of the celebrities and historical figures like Shirley Temple, Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, and Floyd Patterson in Peter Blake’s Sgt. Pepper’s album cover collage. Morris’s approach to gender is fluid and his grasp of mimicry exquisitely camp as the dancers parade in the dazzling light of a Hollywood set before joining hands in a Morris folk circle that coils on itself and then unfurls. It is already clear that the Beatles have taken a back seat to Morris, just as Ethan Iverson’s arrangements of the music for a jazz septet have little in common with the original album apart from the tunes; he includes some but not all the tracks and intersperses them with his own compositions. 

Morris’s movement and imagery flow effortlessly from 1960s dance floor steps to classical ballet, from Hollywood films to Broadway musicals, but his propensity for quotation has a sense of déjàvu; the references do not come from the diverse canvas of allusions that made the Sgt. Pepper album so conspicuously original but from Morris’s own works. Pepperland barely extends beyond the self-referential — and perhaps even the self-reverential — dulling the pace and invention of the work to a curiously one-dimensional continuum in which the punch and pun, the brashness and edginess of his earlier works are gone.

Morris is lauded as a musical choreographer but his translation of the textual imagination of a song like A Day in the Life borders on a game of charades on a summer’s day and renders not only the imagery of Pepperland but its musicality literal to the point of banality. Like the reprisal of the opening theme of Sgt. Pepper at the end, Morris finishes as he begins with a folk circle but unfortunately we haven’t traveled very far in between. 

Paul McCartney had suggested the idea of an alter-ego band for the new album to allow the Beatles to detach their celebrity from the creative process and reduce the risk of imitation. Morris, it seems, has no such inclination; he invokes his own renown so freely in Pepperland that his creativity becomes a parody of itself. 


Ultima Vez, Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted: March 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ultima Vez, Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ultima VezMockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour, Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 1

Ultima Vez Mockumentary
Flavio d’Andrea, Anabel Lopez and the cast in Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour (photo © Danny Willems)

Since he started his Brussels-based company, Ultima Vez, in 1986 the prolific choreographer, filmmaker and director Wim Vandekeybus has sought innovative approaches to dance and theatre beginning with his first work, What the Body Does Not Remember. One might say that he has established choreography as a form of discourse on a wide variety of subjects that preoccupy him — myth, belief, faith, subconscious desires, dreams, life and death. (In May the Brighton Festival will be presenting his latest work, TrapTown, that questions conflict and freedom). As in modernist architecture’s mantra of ‘form follows function’, each production takes on a form that grows out of the subject but Vandekeybus nonetheless remains true to a physical movement vocabulary that embodies tension and conflict, risk and impulse, intuition and instinct, passion and endurance. In his recent work, Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour, presented at Queen Elizabeth Hall, he draws on the different cultural traditions of his seven performers — Anabel Lopez, Maria Kolegova, Jason Quarles, Wouter Bruneel, Yun Liu, Flavio d’Andrea and Saïd Gharbi — to create an ironic, perhaps even caustic documentary of salvation.

In an era of unprecedented migration with its underlying plurality of faiths, Vandekeybus broadens the scope of Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour to include any religious remit that promises the kind of salvation where utopia and dystopia are interwoven. The set with its circular centre conceived by Vandekeybus and Meryem Bayram describes a nondescript place reminiscent of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker in which three men and two women have been saved as the ‘chosen ones’ and as in Stalker, there is no way out. It is into the midst of this circle, dominated by a transparent halo-like ceiling, that Bruneel, a big-bellied, lusty western psychologist in orange safety overalls, suddenly appears: his ‘corpse’ drops through the halo and lands with a thud on the ground. His body is ‘still warm’ and the community, already conversant with the notion of a saviour and convinced he is a sign of divine intervention, revives him. Ironically Bruneel’s unexpected arrival sets off a cacophonous dispute about belief, death and preparations for the next life. Even if the location of the space is indeterminate, we learn from Bruneel that the world as we know it is in a state of disintegration, suggesting this is a purgatorial staging post; hence the importance of signs that might lead to a possible way out.  

The internal conflicts, cultural differences, and encounters between the characters are played out as physical and verbal commotions against a rumbling score by Charo Calvo in which Vandekeybus’s characteristic muscular idiom articulates their grief, desires, hopes and sense of resignation. Although a spoken text devised by Bart Meuleman and Ultima Vez predominates as the main expressive form in Mockumentary of a Contemporary Saviour, it is the heightened physicality of both voice and body that unleashes the full dynamics of the contradictory forces within the community. Lurking close to the surface of the bonds that tie the seven people in their precarious existence is a violence that threatens to destroy them. 

Vandekeybus’ timely reflection on the power of belief is based not so much on the presence but rather the absence of ‘the child’. We learn that Lopez is a mother whose son has died; early in the piece she is addressed as Martha. Gharbi, a blind seer who represents spiritual clarity, suggests she has to let go of her dead child if she wants him to forgive her. The deliberate conflation of her personal salvation with the biblical Martha’s acceptance of Christ’s resurrection is further corroborated when her son, once freed from her motherly love, is lowered down into the space like an effigy and immediately recognized by the community as proof of the saviour’s existence. Armed with this conviction they clamber enthusiastically over the audience to proselytize in their respective languages till they make their exit through the auditorium doors, leaving the blind Gharbi on stage communicating with the sound of his clicking fingers alone. Vandekeybus thus ends his provocative interrogation of faith with Gharbi’s quiet, meditative gesture that in its simplicity elicits a response from the audience without any misplaced belief or truth assigned to it.  

Mockumentary of A Contemporary Saviour is a reminder from continental Europe of the robust role choreography can play in philosophical debate. In this country we are not familiar with it being used in this way and it pushes hard, if uncomfortably, against a prevalence of aesthetic movement that risks limiting the art form’s full development. 


Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso double bill at The Place

Posted: March 5th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso double bill at The Place

Yukiko Masui and Léa Tirabasso double bill at The Place, March 2

Masui-Tirabasso
Publicity images for Léa Tirabasso and Yukiko Masui’s double bill

In a well-curated double bill of works by two choreographers each creates a context for the other. On the surface and in their treatment of their respective subjects Yukiko Masui’s Falling Family and Léa Tirabasso’s The Ephemeral Life of an Octopus are quite different, but each is based on a personal experience about the nature of life and death. The subsequent self-questioning creates a bridge between the works that allows us to confront mortality in ways that, as Masui writes, are ‘simply not expressible in speech.’ While Masui takes us into her Falling Family with a heightened sensibility that creates feelings of empathy, Tirabasso’s The Ephemeral Life Of An Octopus leads us through the confusion and corrosion of life’s breakdown with a confrontational performance that ends up counter-intuitively expressing an exhilarating sense of joy. 

Falling Family builds on the metaphor of dominoes; different arrangements of coloured tiles are used throughout the work while the four performers — Julie Ann Minaai, Annakanako Mohri, Daniel Phung and Yumino Seki — demonstrate within a loosely defined family structure their support for each other, their interdependence, and their disorientation and vulnerability when one of them is no longer there. As Masui writes, the work ‘taps into the dark, conflicted, emotional space that cracks open when we encounter a loved one’s illness, mental breakdown or even death.’ 

The subtlety of Masui’s conception reflects the passage of time in meticulously constructed moments that suggest rather than define until metaphor and narrative become so intimately entwined that they coalesce. She introduces us to the members of the family one by one in separate sections delineated by Ben Moon’s lighting and Ezra Axelrod’s spliced snippets of Japanese conversation. As the work unfolds, relationships begin to overlap and then build up in a choreographic layering in which the characters move with a resigned sense of self-control that their use of articulate gesture further refines; Mohri’s opening hand gestures of everyday life in Moon’s precise downlight sets the tone for the entire work. Seki’s quiet presence is the one that starts to retreat into itself; Axelrod’s score becomes plangent in its final evocation of drama, leaving Mohri — reflecting perhaps Masui’s own response — challenging fate in a final, uplifting solo of rage against the dying of the light. 

The visual contrast between Fallen Families and Tirabasso’s The Ephemeral Life Of An Octopus is marked. Nicolas Tremblay’s high-voltage lighting keeps the levels high on a white stage littered with black microphone cables while the subtle hues of Giulia Scrimieri’s costumes are replaced by bright splashes of coloured swimwear for the four extrovert performers: Caterina Barbosa in Prussian blue, Alistair Goldsmith in pink, Joachim Maudet in green and Rosie Terry Toogood in bright orange. Stark juxtapositions abound, perhaps none more so than that of the romantic third movement of Brahms’ second piano concerto with the flagrantly staccato, animalistic contortions of the performers (Gabrielle Moleta is listed as Animal Transformation Coach). But given the work is informed by Tirabasso’s own experience with ovarian cancer, such contrasts are not as virulent as might appear; the romantic notion of life that Brahms lays before us has no place in it for the contemplation of disease. 

Tirabasso’s metaphors derive from philosopher Thomas Stern’s essay, The Human and the Octopus, in which he takes his own illness as a starting point for discussing the relationship of mind and body, quoting on the one hand from Proust who sees the mind with which we identify as trapped inside the body of an alien — an octopus — and on the other from JM Coetze for whom the flesh of the body and its susceptibility to pain is an incontrovertible reminder of our humanity. In The Ephemeral Life of an Octopus, Tirabasso uses the dance body as a thick brush with which to paint these conflicting notions. 

Corrosive metaphors of physical breakdown are not unfamiliar in art but there is an undercurrent of wit in Tirabasso’s choreography, in her choice of music (including an original composition by Martin Durov), in the colour and light of the production and in the relentless play of healthy bodies in a compulsive setting of dis-ease that negotiates a path between spirit and flesh, between intellect and play that taken as a whole borders on an unequivocal celebration of life. 


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Bon Voyage, Bob… at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 24th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Bon Voyage, Bob… at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Bon Voyage, Bob…, Sadler’s Wells, February 22

Au Revoir, Bob...
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Au Revoir, Bob… (photo: Mats Bäcker)

The two full-length works created last year on Pina Bausch’s company by choreographers Dimitris Papaioannou and Alan Lucien Øyen and presented recently at Sadler’s Wells mark a watershed in the company’s post-Bausch existence. Bausch died in June 2009 and while both the current works deal with her death they do so in inverse ways. In Since She Papaioannou creates a memorial to Bausch in which his half of the company (each choreographer has a cast of sixteen dancers) is working with him from the outside looking in. By contrast in Bon Voyage, Bob… Øyen has created a memorial in which his half of the company is still very much on the inside looking out. There is a clear sense that ten years after her sudden disappearance Papaioannou and Øyen have each allowed the company to publicly commemorate Bausch in works she has not authored, but their respective creative approach suggests that closure for the entire company has not yet been realised.

Øyen accepted without hesitation the invitation to choreograph a new piece for the company as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He knew Bausch’s work mostly through videos, and had only seen the company perform seven years after the choreographer’s death but, as Sarah Crompton observes in the program, his creative approach turned out to be close to Bausch’s own method of gathering material from the dancers and slowly weaving their different narratives into a work. Bon Voyage, Bob… is thus uncannily Bauschian in its shape and vocabulary, with her characteristic intersection of theatre and dance — so much so that Øyen’s cast gives the appearance of having choreographed much of the work themselves. Its form resembles a long psychoanalytical session in which the dancers replay the past in the present with an overwhelming sense of resignation; dreams fail to realize because ‘they have already been dreamt’. 

Alex Eales’ set is designed as the backstage area of an unseen work (presumably by Bausch) whose scenes revolve to be used as the backdrop to the company’s own existential drama; it is as if Bon Voyage, Bob… comes together whenever the dancers happen to be off stage. Andrey Berezin is the psychoanalyst in the first scene firing questions at Héléna Pikon sitting across from him at a table recounting the death of her brother. Throughout there is a feeling of guilt, helplessness, and disquiet as memories of dead brothers, dead fathers, and stories of loss become the displaced tropes of Bausch’s own death. Øyen structures the work as a linked ritual of obsequies that allows each of the sixteen dancers to express their feelings in solos of either verbal narrative or movement. It is especially poignant to see the older members of the company speaking Bausch’s gestures naturally through their bodies while the younger dancers who never knew her, such as Çaǧdaş Ermis and Stephanie Troyak, absorb them with stunning eloquence. 

However the ‘work’ of mourning that Bon Voyage, Bob… represents does not seem to have enabled what, in psychoanalytic terms, would be a ‘working through’ the suffering that can lead to new levels of freedom and expression. When Rainer Behr angrily assembles a pile of chairs shouting, ‘This is all our shit!’, the depth of pain ten years after the event is heartbreakingly palpable, but it is also clear how far Øyen has retreated from this deeply personal outpouring. And as if three hours of saying goodbye is not enough to make the point, he allows an empty chair to remain in the spotlight as the curtain falls around which the company reassembles for the bows.

The works of Papaioannou and Øyen leave us inevitably with questions about the current state of the company and how it will proceed. Papaioannou suggests a way forward with the creative adoption of Bausch’s incredible legacy of dancers in alternative forms, while Øyen offers a solution that too easily resembles the former company in a new theatrical image. While it is impossible to know what Bausch would have wanted for her company after her death, it is doubtful she would have wished for it to be trapped in forever looking back; and yet her legacy is so intimately related to her works that finding a way forward without her is still fraught with challenges.


Resolution 2019: works by Lam, Rouzet and Martinez, and Vivas

Posted: February 21st, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2019: works by Lam, Rouzet and Martinez, and Vivas

Resolution 2019: works by Heather Lam, Rouzet and Martinez, and Mara Vivas, February 12

Resolution 2019_Vivas
Publicity images from Heather Lam, Rouzet and Martinez, and Mara Vivas

One can almost sense the curatorial hand putting these three works together on an apparent theme of insubstantiality. Hazel Lam ‘aims to highlight the power in gentleness’; Laura Rouzet and Alejandro Martinez set out to explore ‘genderless movement’ and Mara Vivas translates time into space. This is not so much a program of action but one of reflection where dance evolves from the physical to the metaphysical. In reality it is only Vivas who follows through by refusing to compromise.

It’s the set of Heather Lam’s Lighthouse that initiates us to the nature of the evening, a suspended forest of translucent soft pvc tubes arranged like the tentacles of underwater sculptures. Just upstage the seated figure of Lam sways in the tide to the chatter of the arriving audience until the lighting of Bert Van Dijck and Margot Jensens submerges us in this marine environment. Lam indulges in some innocent foreplay discovering the translucent tubes in which — a little disingenuously — she sets up some doubt as to the strength and reliability of the material. Only then does she give it her full weight and confidence as she climbs up, rolls down, and uses its pliability to create aerial shapes that offer a quiet meditation on the ability of the suspended body to express its equilibrium. Max Morris sets his score to the same register, creating with Lam what she sets out to achieve. And yet there is an underlying irony in the work that flaws its conception: Lam’s dependence for her ‘power of gentleness’ on a material that in the form of waste is suffocating our oceans and the balance of its ecosystem; there is a clash of ideas that are too mutually opposed to be overlooked. 

While the premise of Rouzet and Martinez swirls around its title, Ondule, only the opening matches its physicality. The couple is seen in a genderless mass eerily joined at the head in a costumed fringe so the two bodies behave as one. But the desire to extrapolate the idea into separate solos of popping, voguing and dancehall immediately exposes the gender patterns inherent in their respective movement; keeping their heads wrapped in material can’t hide what’s going on below. Rouzet’s costumes, set and projections are elaborate and Martinez is responsible for the lighting: they’re working hard and meticulously but the idea of genderless movement has escaped their scrutiny.  

Mara Vivas’ time/less is a courageous meditation on loss that carves absence out of the stage volume by translating time into space. The opening is sublime, with two women (Lynn Dichon and Tara Silverthorn) in Matthias Strahm’s burnt ochre dresses like classical sculptures in an asymmetrical relationship to one another, unable to move under the weight of grief. Where does movement come from, how does it manifest in the body and why? These are questions the two women seem to ponder for some time in silence; there are no shortcuts and Vivas is not interested in choreographic platitudes. The miracle is that we can’t decode a point of departure any more than we can see a fever passing; there is no intention, only an emotion that uncannily becomes motion. Silverthorn follows an invisible sinuous path in silent steps and as the dance develops the two women invoke each other and perhaps comfort each other in the sharing of the grief that has become the space between them. Silence becomes physical too, and just where we need some air Vivas introduces Filipe Sousa’s soundscape like a breath of light. If there is a weakness in time/less it’s that the solemnity that underpins its formality is sometimes undermined by the process of improvisation that helped create the work. The materials are all there and the landscape is carefully delineated but the fine line between the freedom to act out of inspiration and the constraints of formal expression are demanding — but not implacable — partners.


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Since She at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 19th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Since She at Sadler’s Wells
Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch crossing to the other side in Since She (photo: Julian Mommert)

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Since She, Sadler’s Wells, February 16

Over two weeks Sadler’s Wells is presenting two full-length works that have been created on Pina Bausch’s company by choreographers Dimitris Papaioannou and Alan Lucien Øyen; each of the choreographers has worked with half of the dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal developing specific responses to their respective commissions. It is a major shift for the company that, since Bausch died in 2009, has been performing her repertoire as a kind of continuous wake around the world. 

Papaioannou, who has been deeply influenced by Bausch’s work since he first saw Café Mueller and Sacre du Printemps over thirty years ago, has essentially marked the end of this period with what appears to be a memorial in which he has superimposed the visual grid and cultural allusions of his own work (and his own creative team) on the heart of Bausch’s company. Tina Tzoka’s stage is dominated by a stack of charcoal grey foam blocks piled at the back of the stage that form interlocking plates not dissimilar to the tectonic configuration in The Great Tamer. Here it gives the set, under the lighting of Fernando Jacon and Stephanos Droussiotis, an archaeological aura as if we are below the rim of the living world, in an excavated underworld teeming with workers in Thanos Papastergiou’s costumes uncovering each other and revisiting the relics from their past. Since She is a dark, intricately layered procession of images that moves in all directions and hinges on precarious balance, cruel wounds and uprooted history bound in a common grief. And yet, despite quotations from Bausch — the chairs from Café Mueller, for example, form here a complicated bridge across the stage and act as a tangible leitmotiv to Papaioannou’s imagination  — the work doesn’t look back with regret or sorrow but marks a solemn occasion where the future might well begin. It is the company that is in the process of being excavated in a post-Bausch world, revealing itself in a new light; the dancers carry Papaioannou’s imagery superbly. 

Ruth Amarante repeatedly mounts to the top of the pile of foam blocks, makes her treacherous way down and disappears into a crack; a naked, swathed Breanna O’Mara slides down slowly head first, limbs interlaced in the unfolding motion of life toward death. To the sound of sawing emerges a head of John the Baptist that Papaioannou’s sleight-of-hand then turns into that of Medusa between the legs of Scott Jennings. Oleg Stepanov is a Hyeronimus Bosch-like figure stumbling across the stage on two poles stuffed through his trousers, Franko Schmidt a cymbal-carrying musical compère, and a chorus of high-heeled feet teasingly dances upstage behind a cardboard dress. Two upturned tables become boats on a sea of cardboard rollers: it’s a calm outing on the river until all the performers crowd onto one of them to evoke the classical crossing of the Styx by the souls of the deceased. Throughout Julie Anne Stanzak in an elegant black/gold evening gown presides goddess-like over the unravelling incidents and tableaux. 

The work ends with Michael Strecker collecting and piling on his back the bridge of chairs one by one until he collapses under their weight, while Amarante delicately surfs on the cardboard rolls under her bare feet, a ghostly figure wafting in the evening light along the seashore. The other dancers gather around her for a group photograph against a golden tombstone; as it gently lowers and the performers disperse into the dark on either side, stars shine through it to Tom Waits’ song Green Grass: ‘Don’t say goodbye to me, describe the sky to me’. Since She is, as Papaioannou admits, a love letter to Bausch that shows not only his debt to her imaginative world but his response to its rich, dark, impenetrable roots.


The Bolshoi Ballet 2019 Livestream of La Bayadère

Posted: January 28th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Bolshoi Ballet 2019 Livestream of La Bayadère
Bolshoi Ballet La Bayadère
The Bolshoi corps de ballet in the Kingdom of the Shades

The Bolshoi Ballet’s Livestream of La Bayadère, The Gate, January 20

Having seen the livestream of the Bolshoi’s Nutcracker and enjoyed the experience of seeing the production not only in the way it was choreographed but also in the way it was presented so clearly on film, the subsequent livestream of the Bolshoi’s La Bayadère is disappointing.

Considered the final masterpiece of choreographer Marius Petipa, the ballet was first presented at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1877 and comprised four acts. The first three detailed a complex story of love, betrayal, power and jealousy in an exotic Indian Raj context; the third act, known as the Kingdom of the Shades, is a white, ethereal composition of extraordinary beauty that imagines the meeting of the two lovers, Nikya and Solor, in the afterworld, free from the intrigues of the Rajah’s court. It is this act that is often presented alone as La Bayadère but whenever the complete ballet is produced the original four acts are often condensed to three — as in Yuri Grigorovich’s current Bolshoi production — based on Vakhtang Chabukiani’s 1941 version for the Kirov/Maryinsky Ballet: the first act is the introduction of the principal characters and the exposition of the story with lots of mime; the second is the death of Nikiya by poisoning prior to the wedding of Solor and the Rajah’s daughter Gamzatti with all its divertissements, and the final act is the Kingdom of the Shades

There have been many versions and reconstructions since 1877, each of which appears further and further away not so much from Petipa’s choreography, but from the circumstances of La Bayadère’s creation for what was then the Imperial Russian Ballet. That its Tsarist association survived the 1917 Revolution is a story of tenacity and political sleight-of-hand described in Christina Ezrahi’s fascinating book, Swans of the Kremlin, but even as it has become one of today’s most recognizable classical ballets, it is hard to engage in the story. Presenter Katya Novikova suggested the subject of La Bayadère was inspired by Tsarevich Alexander’s recent visit to India; certainly the Indian iconography and music is presented entirely through a western sensibility. The interest in the ballet, beyond the Kingdom of the Shades, lies more with the interpretation of the roles and the quality of the dancing.

In the first two acts, which depend heavily on mime, the performances of Olga Smirnova as Nikiya, Olga Marchenkova as Gamzatti and Artemy Belyakov as Solor never seem to gel, either within themselves, with each other or with the story; the love, jealousy and betrayal are indicated but not fully embodied. In a narrative that is essentially a western orientalist concoction, the portrayal of human values with which we can empathise is vital. The closest Smirnova comes to this — and the closest Petipa came to an oriental inspiration — is in her sensual confession of love for Solor at the feet of Gamzatti in the second act. 

Throughout La Bayadère we are, of course, only present through the subjectivity of the camera lens directed by Isabelle Julien for Pathé Live, and what the camera can see is not necessarily what the audience can see; the intimacy of the closeup is intrusive in a way that a regular view from the audience can never achieve. Classical ballet has prescribed ways of moving and telling stories that belong within the proscenium setting; when select cinematic processes translate these narrative elements to the big screen, they can affect our perception of the art form. Although we will watch intently every move and gesture of a principal dancer during a solo, it is always within the context of the stage setting. Julien’s focus during La Bayadère tends to replace the ‘best seat in the house’ for a contrived point of view; from a purely balletic perspective, it is false. This is particularly noticeable in the famous entrance of the 32 dancers in the Kingdom of the Shades. The choreography forms a slow, painterly procession of arabesque poses that can only be fully appreciated on the scale of the proscenium stage. Julien instead makes a cinematic choice to show only a part of the composition, one that focuses on a narrowly defined vertical angle that removes the magic of the horizontal effect. It is an instance of the live stream inserting its own visual interpretation of the ballet rather than respecting the conventions of balletic perspective; instead of enhancing that perspective through the camera, Julien removes us further from what Petipa had imagined. 


Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Knot at The Place

Posted: November 29th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Knot at The Place

 Didy Veldman’s Umanoove: The Knot at The Place, November 20

Umanoove

Mai Lisa Guindo, the arm of Angela Venturini, Dane Hurst, Mathieu Geffré, Oliver Chapman, Sara Harton and Sam Costello in The Knot (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Choreographer Didy Veldman describes The Knot as an enquiry into contemporary marriage. She writes, ‘Together with my collaborators and dancers, we have explored different aspects of marriage, our fears, expectations, the meaning of “forever” and the wedding party.’ This is not the first time Veldman has translated the results of an enquiry into choreographic form. In The Happiness Project — her first work for her company, Umanoove, in 2017 — she interrogated the idea of happiness and built a response in the theatricality of the performance. She also built the musical framework around a single composer and musician, Alexander Balanescu.

In The Knot Veldman calls on much larger musical forces: Igor Stravinsky’s iconic score, Les Noces, an intricately rhythmic work inspired by a traditional Russian peasant wedding. For a contemporary exploration of marriage this is challenging for while it might anchor Veldman’s purview ‘over the last 100 years’, its ritual aspect contrasts with a contemporary view of marriage that, as Veldman writes in the program note, ‘could even be seen as part of our throw-away culture.’

To have more freedom and space for her choreographic ideas Veldman invited composer Ben Foskett to provide additional sections that would ‘weave in and out of Stravinsky’s dense sound world’. The dreamy opening of The Knot is one of these as the seven dancers (Oliver Chapman, Sam Costello, Sara Harton, Dane Hurst, Mathieu Geffré, Mai Lisa Guindo and Angela Venturini) enter in a procession wearing only their undergarments with their wedding attire draped neatly over their arms. The men form a line on one side of the stage and the women on the other and all attend to their respective sartorial and cosmetic preparations. In a concession to choreographic style the performers do not include shoes over the socks — they mime them into place — which diminishes the sense of nuptial formality but the introduction is nevertheless elegant in its simplicity and its choreographic ritual is close to Stravinsky’s conception. Paradoxically, when Scene 1 of Les Noces follows Foskett’s opening, Veldman’s choreography abandons ritual for long-limbed, exuberant sliding steps that suggest the party has started before the nuptials.

Conventionally, the start of the enquiry into contemporary marriage is the traditional couple at the altar — Harton is the bride and Hurst her groom — even if Costello has to coax a dazed Hurst into kneeling and Geffré has to place a bouquet in his rigid hand. It’s not an auspicious beginning but Veldman seems to relish the humour as she piles up other ideas like snapshots in a wedding album: Geffré makes a predatory move on Chapman, who is not interested; a disconsolate Harton then sits down beside Geffré who offers her an imaginary ring in a box that she refuses. Costello takes her place and again Geffré finds his advances rebuffed so he takes out a torch and looks for someone in the audience while the other three couples are dancing up a storm to Foskett’s jazz rhythms. There’s a same sex ceremony for Geffré and Chapman, a brief discussion about what is desirable in a partner, a scene with the women taking off their dresses to catch the eyes of the men, Costello tossing the bouquet and an invitation to some of the audience to be part of the wedding party on stage.

The problem is that Veldman’s tightly conceived snapshot observations lose intensity in their staged context. Unlike in The Happiness Project, the role of the dancing is here one of independent display that suits the abilities and predilections of the dancers rather than connecting the theatrical ideas into any kind of choreographic enquiry, while Ben Ormerod’s lighting and Joana Dias’ set of numerous chairs and hanging lights, while serving as a metaphor for ritual, only emphasizes the bland volume of the stage.

When Bronislava Nijinska first choreographed Les Noces in 1923, she embodied in her conception her convictions and ideas about the role of women in marriage and sculpted those convictions and ideas in a choreographic form that matched the rhythms of the score precisely. Veldman understandably steers clear of Nijinska’s enormous influence on the score, yet without finding her own form for her choreographic enquiry that is anchored in her chosen scores, she risks allowing the images she has created to float free of both her intellectual framework and her personal convictions. What does she really think of marriage? The Knot is just too loose to be an effective answer.


Julie Cunningham: To Be Me at Laban Theatre

Posted: November 22nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Julie Cunningham: To Be Me at Laban Theatre

Julie Cunningham: To Be Me, Laban Theatre, November 9

Julie Cunningham

Julie Cunningham by Rick Guest

Julie Cunningham’s program, To Be Me, presented at Laban Theatre, follows less than a month after her performance of m/y that was part of Reckonings at Sadler’s Wells. Both performances are a celebration of self, in part inspired by Monique Wittig’s 1973 novel, The Lesbian Body, in which the author articulates ‘feminine desire’ through her experimental use of language. In the 1990s Judith Butler questioned the idea that gender is biologically innate suggesting that it complies instead with the individual’s adherence to social norms, that it is in other words performative. Whilst we all to various degrees articulate our own identities around existing cultural narratives, Butler argues for the freedom to express one’s own gendered life.

This is the choreographic challenge Cunningham takes up in the first half of the program: a solo created on herself, m/e, that borrows from Wittig’s experimentation in language and Butler’s intellectual argument to confer on her dancing body a confidence and freedom that surpass the physical. Wittig’s novel seems to have set Cunningham free to unravel the multifaceted performative possibilities of her body as if she has emptied herself of the outward trappings of any previous dance form she has known — Merce Cunningham and Michael Clark are strong influences — and kept only what is necessary for her own ‘writing’.

m/e opens with Cunningham facing back; dressed casually in a t-shirt, track suit top and pants, she tries out steps to the nimble rhythms of Fever Ray’s To the moon and back, demonstrating the fluid possibilities of free choice through her ability to move in whatever direction at whatever moment and speed. Her style is sparse but with an understated eloquence that derives from her singular choreographic instrument: not only a body that is articulate and beautifully extended but a gaze that remains within the confines of the stage rather than projecting itself beyond it; when she looks in our direction it is as if she is in a studio and we are behind the mirror. It is this duality of extension and containment, of exterior and interior, that makes the section she dances to the Andante of Shostakovich’s piano concerto No. 2 such a revelation. She does not allow the emotion of the music to move her but imposes her own quiet will on it; it is her spatial relation to the musical phrasing that attunes her sense of identity. After this meditative interlude Cunningham interrogates the first of two pieces, Triangles, by composer Nell Catchpole in which she experiments with vocabulary as Wittig may have experimented with language; she plays a conceptual game with a blue ball that makes a re-appearance from m/y before returning to her upbeat exploration of space to Catchpole’s second piece, Skipping, where you can almost sense her changing her mind, dodging and darting like a sprite with dizzying self-confidence. Having exhausted her experimentation she walks forward as if to say, ‘I still haven’t really showed you who I am’ and walks calmly into the wings. True to the spirit of containment, she does not return for a bow.

To Be Me is also the title of the second work, set to Kate Tempest’s spoken word, in which Cunningham is joined by Hannah Burfield, Eleanor Perry and Seira Winning. They are all costumed (by Stevie Stewart and Cunningham with a hint of Clark) as mirrored pairs, one pair in red tops and black tights, the other in black tops and red tights. At the beginning the lights stay up in the auditorium as Cunningham arrives on stage with her cast to exchange knowing glances with every one of us as we listen to Antony and the Johnsons song, For Today I am a Boy; she lets the song and its message play over us on its own terms. The inspiration of To Be Me is the ancient myth of Tiresias, the blind clairvoyant who was turned from male into female and back into male, in which Cunningham continues from m/e to further recite the fluid embodiment of both male and female narratives in a choreographic pairing, mirroring, crossing and rupturing between the four performers. She doesn’t have quite the same freedom of self-expression as in her solo, but her musicality enables her to harvest the images, narrative threads and the rhythms of Tempest’s language and to translate them for the quartet into a counterpoint of movements whose precision and abstraction embody the sheer potential of gender performativity. And she does so with wit and joy, the occasional half smile testifying to the pleasure and confidence of self-discovery.