Eva Recacha: Aftermath at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: December 2nd, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Eva Recacha: Aftermath at Lilian Baylis Studio

Eva Recacha: Aftermath at Lilian Baylis Studio, October 25

Eva Recacha

Eleanor Sikorski and Charlotte McLean in Aftermath (photo: Jackie Shemesh)

How do you choreograph ennui? Eva Recacha has tackled it in her latest work, Aftermath, which was commissioned by Sadler’s Wells as part of its 20th anniversary, and received its world première at Lilian Baylis Studio. As a state of mind, ennui is not about what ishappening but about what isn’t, which had become a central concern of Recacha after becoming a mother and experiencing the ‘social isolation that can accompany this new role.’ Dancers have to move in order to think and prolonged inaction is akin to a slowing down of creative brain activity. Recacha has called Aftermath an ‘ode to pointlessness’ but this is perhaps as much a self-deprecatory acknowledgement of her starved creativity as it is a challenge to define her subject. In a post-show talk she described her transition from choreographer to mother as one in which she had no time for creative work and no sense of when that time might become available; beyond the celebration and excitement of motherhood it was for her a period of tedium that caused a feeling of inadequacy. Aftermath derives its keen sense of the absurd from trying to put a finger on the malaise she felt.

The opening is set somewhere in the stillness of the mind, in the heart of tedium itself. Kaspersophie’s set design is clearly not a domestic scene; it’s more like a clinical laboratory for the study of tedium with white walls, a couple of chairs (one upturned), a pile of toilet rolls, and red arrows on the floor to stimulate some kind of direction. The two patients are Charlotte Mclean, who lies prone and lifeless like an accident victim and Eleanor Sikorski, who although alive and sitting on a chair staring at the audience, lacks evident motivation. Time passes in a series of blackouts (part of Jackie Shemesh’s clinical grammar of lighting) and the only sound is piped birdsong (part of Alberto Ruiz Soler’s musical motivation). Recacha must have been aware that as long as there is life there is still energy, however small. It comes from Sikorski’s voice and while the message is bland — a series of statistics about ambition — there is something in its sardonic delivery that wakes up Mclean. It’s as if Sikorski is the idling conscience and Mclean its flattened ego. Once a connection has been made, however, the level of energy ramps up with the conscience changing from ignition to vituperative encouragement (“Stick to it, for fuck’s sake!”) until Mclean breaks out in an unintelligible rant.

Having established this desolate territory of the mind, Recacha is ready to recognize its positive value and sets out to challenge its engulfing presence with a generous dose of humour; Aftermath is thus both an uplifting narrative of internal psychological combat and its end product. Her highlighting of the toilet roll as variously a sculpture, a projectile, and a banner is an apposite metaphor.

Sikorski’s conscience is a fickle figure at best, pulling back her encouragement when Mclean’s creative energy is beginning to flow again, disdainfully tapping her green nails on the white chair beneath her pink dress until Mclean calms down (we learn later from Sikorski that the colour pink makes people calmer). But to function she also needs Mclean; it’s a love-hate relationship that sees their mutual dependency assuaged and exacerbated in oscillating fashion. It’s perfect casting with Sikorski as the acerbic, calculating wit and Mclean as the mercurial creative force; their two trajectories start on a fragile thread and fuse together to the point of familiarity and mutual admiration.

With its cross between The Private Life Of The Brain and Monty Python, Aftermath is as much an exploration of ennui as a picture of the divergent elements of artistic endeavour. For a choreographer who has experienced motherhood, perhaps the two are conjoined.The press release for Aftermath explains that ‘during the making of the show, Recacha carried out an outreach program for mothers and their small children, immersing herself again in that period of early childcare and its impact on the mother’s sense of identity and agency.’ While it must have taken Recacha back to the sense of tedium that inspired Aftermath, the Sadler’s Wells commission has given her an opportunity to move forward into the studio and to find within her own experience material for a work that in its level of craft, its wit and absurdity, shows no sign of creative lethargy.


BalletBoyz: Young Men at Wilton’s Music Hall

Posted: November 18th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on BalletBoyz: Young Men at Wilton’s Music Hall

BalletBoyz, Young Men at Wilton’s Music Hall, November 14

BalletBoyz

Matthew Rees in a clip from the film of Young Men (photo: BalletBoyz)

BalletBoyz’ artistic directors, Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, decided early on that Young Men would be ‘a slightly abstracted version of soldiering and war’ rather than having a philosophical or political stance, and that it would avoid any identification of one side over another. The original 2014 stage production with choreography by Iván Pérez, music by Keaton Henson, costumes by Katherine Watt and lighting by Andrew Ellis was commissioned by 14-18 NOW and Sadler’s Wells before morphing into a film that premiered on BBC2 on Armistice Day 2017. Now, at Wilton’s Music Hall, the two productions have been combined to mark the centenary of Armistice. With the stages of development so closely following the timeline of the First World War the directors’ claims of abstraction are problematic.

Since 2000, BalletBoyz has made a name for itself as a company of male dancers. While the age and physical qualities of these young men are close to those who set off from the platforms of Victoria Station with such eagerness to get across to France to fight for their country, they never quite separate the soldier from the Boyz with the exception of Matthew Rees who plays the role of a young sergeant with more than a hint of authenticity; had he not joined BalletBoyz he would have completed his first stage application to join The Royal Marines. Playing a sadistic parade-ground sergeant he anchors what narrative there is with his erratic and threatening behaviour that might now be ascribed to battle fatigue. Pérez, whose choreography for the original stage production was adapted for the film, uses Rees as the tension that holds the small company of seven young men together, but the effects of fatigue — from the highly physical routines on the parade ground and no man’s land to the scenes in the misty trenches — have an aesthetic rather than a psychological value. He takes military actions, whether it’s drill, shell shock or dying on the battlefield, and smoothes them into balletic exercises. It’s the choreographic equivalent of singing commemorative hymns, an attempt to bridge the gap between the unknowable experience of the trenches and peacetime civilian life.

One of the characters in Timothy Findley’s novel,The Wars, is a mother who has just seen her son leave on a troop ship. She walks out of the sermon in church the following day in a moment of acute incomprehension: “What does it mean – to kill your children? Kill them and then…go in there and sing about it! What does that mean?” One hundred years on it is a question that is still unanswered.

In another commission from 14-18 NOW, They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson’s film of the First World War offers a salient explanation. Footage of training, battle conditions and the Armistice from the archives of the Imperial War Museum has been digitally enhanced to bring the action hauntingly to full colour and speed. The commentary throughout is from soldiers who were involved in every aspect of the fighting. At the very end, as one soldier tries to re-find his place in society, he observes that nobody is interested in hearing about the war; nobody wants to know.

So if Young Men sets out commemorate the war, what aspect is it commemorating? Youth would be an obvious answer; the enthusiasm in the country to sign up for service galvanized a generation of young men from all backgrounds. For many survivors war was the crucible in which their maturity was rudely forged but for those who died or were maimed, it was the devastation of youth. The youthful culture alone of BalletBoyz, as conveyed in Young Men, is clearly incommensurate with the range of experiences in the trenches.

In the program, Nunn and Trevitt write of their wish to acknowledge ‘the tenacity and great courage of women’. Elizabeth McGorian and Jennifer White join the company for both the film and the stage performance as, respectively, mother and sweetheart of Bradley Waller’s character. Their presence broadens the emotional palette of Young Men, but the superficiality of the male material gives McGorian and White little scope for the development of tenacity and great courage beyond their token roles.

With a commemorative stance that values entertainment over substance, what is left of Young Men is an aesthetic approach to war that is little short of a romantic myth. The project is thus complicit not in remembering but in forgetting what happened to an entire generation of young men — not once but three times.


Rambert2 Triple Bill and Rambert’s Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: November 11th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rambert2 Triple Bill and Rambert’s Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells

Rambert2  Mixed Bill and Rambert’s Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells, November 6

Rambert2

Joshua Barwick and Salomé Pressac in publicity shot for Rambert2 (photo: Nicholas Guttridge and Benoit Swan Pouffer)

Rambert 2 is, according to the publicity surrounding its launch, the newly-formed junior company of Rambert, made up of 13 dancers (nine of whom were trained in the UK) from an audition of 800 international applicants. The name relates it to companies like NDT2 or Ailey II but its reality is different. The dancers’ contract is part of an MA in Professional Dance Performance accredited by Kent University which makes Rambert2 more like a conservatory company on the model of Laban’s Transitions or London Contemporary Dance School’s EDGE except that it has the advantage of being able to use the name of a prestigious company in its advertising and, with support from the Linbury Trust, is offering the students a tax-free bursary to cover tuition fees and the equivalent of a London Living Wage. The competitive stakes in the city’s postgraduate dance ecology have been raised. The MA lasts 15 months, and the Rambert School is already posting for auditions in early 2019 for the next cohort with a new lineup of choreographers; the ‘newly-formed junior company of Rambert’ is set to become an annual event.

The project was devised and planned by Rambert’s executive director, Helen Shute, its then artistic director Mark Baldwin and Rambert School principal, Amanda Britton. Three choreographers were chosen for the first Rambert2 cohort: Rafael Bonachela, Sharon Eyal and Benoit Swan Pouffer, a former dancer with Alvin Ailey and for ten years the artistic director of New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. With Baldwin’s departure around the time of the first auditions, Shute invited Pouffer to oversee them and subsequently appointed him as guest artistic director of the main company while ‘a thorough and rigorous process’ is in place to find Baldwin’s successor *. Since Bonachela and Eyal each provided a seminal work from their existing repertoire, Pouffer found himself in the fortunate position of being able to handpick 13 dancers from 800 on whom to create a new work.

Like the publicity surrounding it, Rambert2’s program at Sadler’s Wells (who commissioned this inaugural season) blurs the distinction between a repertoire and a conservatory model; the former is based on the impact of the program while the latter aims to give all the dancers a chance to experience each choreographer’s work. Bonachela’s E2 7SD is a duet and Eyal’s Killer Pig is set on seven dancers; Pouffer obliges by making Grey Matter the only work that uses all 13 dancers, but it is the impact of the program that prevails on a durational, visual and aural level.

The program is a display and celebration of youthful energy that devours all in its thirst for experience. Grey Matter may be a lament for memory loss but the synapses around the brain malfunction — personified by Faye Stoeser — are still fully charged and sensual, and go about their cerebral tasks costumed by Cottweiller to the throbbing Ghettofuturism of GAIKA. E2 7SD is a love-hate duet — wrapped in Oswaldo Macia and Santiago Posada’s sound sculpture and lovingly re-staged by Antonia Grove — between a towering Conor Kerrigan and a feisty Aishwarya Raut that has the rawness and angst of teen spirit but ends up oddly sentimental, while Killer Pig, at a relentless 45 minutes, is a visceral paean to club culture and sensuality engulfed in a body-beating aural collage by Ori Lichtik. I saw it some years ago in a nightclub in Tel-Aviv and its sinuous, androgynous energy completely silenced the capacity clientele.

Killer Pig might have worked better if it had closed the evening after E2 7SD but instead it was preceded by Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances performed by the main company. A protest against the brutal Pinochet régime in Chile doesn’t fit between a Hackney Road postcode and a Tel Aviv nightclub, either in spirit or in choreography. For some undisclosed reason the classic work is being withdrawn from Rambert’s repertoire two years after reviving it and the company has chosen this inaugural season of Rambert2 to cast it off. There’s perhaps a coded message in the composite photograph by Pouffer and Nicholas Guttridge on the company poster and program cover. In the shadowed background stands Rambert’s Joshua Barwick as one of the dead in Ghost Dances. He has lost his skeletal mask that lies in the foreground by the statuesque pose of Rambert2’s Salomé Pressac wearing, we are told, Simon Albo. Her front leg has been photographically distorted and her thigh retouched to generate a muscular anomaly but her outstretched arm and upturned hand are aligned to give the mischievous impression of pushing Barwick defiantly off the stage.

*Pouffer was appointed Artistic Director of Rambert on December 12, 2018.


Tom Dale Company: I infinite at The Place

Posted: November 1st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Tom Dale Company: I infinite at The Place

Tom Dale Company, I infinite, The Place, October 17

I infinite

Barret Hodgson’s digital lighting effects in I infinite (photo: Barret Hodgson)

Although Tom Dale’s I infinite is performed on the stage at The Place, the immersive nature of its digital technology does not fit well with the model of a conventional theatre. To present it here requires the adaptation of the stage to a white box space and its public bar area to an antechamber in which we are asked to leave our bags, jackets and shoes and to don a loose grey kimono-like jacket; the traditional ritual of attending a theatre performance is subverted. Once inside the space there is no conventional seating but a limited number of white benches or low plinths, some of which, we are told, will be used by the dancer, Jemima Brown. Monitors are present to direct the audience flow when needed. There is no front, no fixed perspective from which to view the performance so those who don’t have a seat are encouraged to wander around the space, stand still, sit, crouch or lie down; leaning against the stretched fabric walls is not advised. Once the performance is under way, however, all the preparations make sense; the exquisite atmosphere video artist Barret Hodgson creates with light and projections around Brown can only work with these kinds of parameters. Dale and Hodgson seem to be spearheading a form of theatrical environment that requires something more like a gallery space to house it where audiences will be accustomed to the all-consuming aesthetic such an immersive experience demands. Until then, touring something like I infinite in conventional theatres will always appear to be the future adapting itself to an antediluvian present.

Dale and Hodgson have been involved in this kind of work for some time. Five years ago I saw Refugees of the Septic Heart that Dale choreographed and for which Hodgson designed the projections alongside a lighting designer, a set designer, six dancers, music and text. The complex overlapping of creative inputs proved less cumulative than distracting, but it might have been the effect of experimenting with digital technology in a conventional theatre setting. With I infinite the digital inputs have been set free of the proscenium stage and the performative elements have been reduced to the essentials of light, sound and movement.

Dales’s extended choreographic solo for Brown gives the performance the texture of a dance work but its true subject is the relationship between movement and digital technology, not as equal constituent elements but as a demonstration of the latter’s ‘efforts to perfect itself as it constantly tries to re-create or reproduce nature.’ Brown’s role thus appears subservient to the digital evocation of light and space in setting up a neat and vital distinction between the finite digital technology and infinite human expression. Paradoxically inside the white box space the visual effect of the digital light patterns, especially in conjunction with haze, conveys an uncanny sense of infinity whereas Brown’s body suggests a finite landscape within it. At one point she disappears below the horizontal plane of light/haze and we are looking out on the universe from the top of a mountain. Even if the audience all around is implicated figuratively in the action, Brown’s smooth and articulate dynamic is indispensable as a contrasting focus of our attention, but as a display of possibilities it is Hodgson’s digital sleight of hand that makes I infinite memorable. Dale and Hodgson have evolved their creative venture as a vivid demonstration of the possibilities such a carefully controlled scenographic environment can offer, but in terms of a theatrical experience there is still some progress to be made on a choreographic vision to match it.


Dance Umbrella 2018: Colin Dunne’s Concert at The Pit

Posted: October 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2018: Colin Dunne’s Concert at The Pit

Colin Dunne, Concert, The Pit, Barbican, October 17

Colin Dunne

Colin Dunne and Tommie Potts in Concert (photo: Maurice Gunning)

Colin Dunne is a virtuoso traditional Irish dancer whose latest work, Concert, presented in the intimacy of The Barbican’s Pit as part of Dance Umbrella, is a homage to the virtuoso traditional Irish fiddler Tommie Potts. Potts was, according to the program note, a ‘singular and complex figure in the history of Irish traditional music’ who died in 1988 and whose sole album recorded in his lifetime, The Liffey Banks, is the basis for Dunne’s work. The album ‘reflects the complex contradictions in Potts’ musical career: his deep appreciation of traditional music alongside a desire to break it apart.’ The same two artistic poles might describe the arc of Dunne’s carefully constructed dance homage.

Dunne first heard the music in 2001 while studying for a Masters in Contemporary Dance at the University of Limerick, so Concert is a project he has been considering over many years, collecting and refining his ideas. With the help of director Sinéad Rushe, sound designer Mel Mercier and lighting designer Colin Grenfell, he has organized his research as a sophisticated experiment in what appears to be a converted shed strewn with musical and dance materials — three plywood sheets of flooring, a turntable with the vinyl copy of The Liffey Banks, a piano, a fiddle, shoes, floor microphones, a cassette recorder and various speakers.

At the start he lays down his terms of engagement with a brief demonstration close to the front of the stage to give an idea for those in the audience like me who hadn’t seen him in Riverdance of the basic rhythmic patterns of traditional Irish step dance. Unfortunately I am in the third row and if I can see the rhythms of the dance distributed throughout his upper body his footwork is obscured by the two rows in front. As it progresses, however, it is clear Concert is conceptually and intellectually post-Riverdance; Dunne places himself in relation to traditional Irish dance in the way Potts did in relation to traditional Irish fiddle music. He describes Potts’ music as ‘slippery’ and his homage is in part to render its rhythmic irregularity in choreographic and theatrical form.

With the help of Mercier’s sound design Dunne brings to the stage the voice of Potts himself talking about his music; there is a synchronicity between the two. With adept editing they strike up a conversation that places them in the same aural universe. When Dunne later balances a sheet of plywood on its edge and has a video of Potts playing projected on to it, the two also share parallel physical universes. Mercier also plays with the autonomy of the various audio sources; in constructing his concert Dunne has to will his turntable to present Potts’ album as if the two are sharing their respective knowledge and experience, jamming together and exacting the same standards of reverence and relevance for their respective arts. He is in effect conversing with whatever drove Potts’ musicality, his rhythmic structure and notes, and he digs into his own dance as if interrogating Potts with an enthusiasm and drive that motivates his interpretations.

Concert is not simply about a meeting of minds, however; Dunne is reflecting on his own understanding of Irish dance and where he might take it. In bare feet on a piece of plywood with the use of floor microphones he explores the rhythm of steps and sound patterns as if to share with Potts what he is working on. He experiments with sampling the sound of his footfall along with his whistling and musical phrases on the piano and fiddle, creating an intriguing soundscape that accompanies his steps. Through Mercier’s adept editing, Potts offers his own characteristically terse critique.

But if Dunne’s communion with Potts has its personal, almost esoteric aspect, Concert is also an occasion for him to defy the accepted belief that the jigs and reels Potts recorded on The Liffey Banks are undanceable. It’s a challenge Dunne takes on with passion and humility. When he dances we see him entering into the music as if called by a siren into slippery, dangerous waters; he demonstrates his skill by resisting any possibility of being pulled down by the current. The effect is a buoyancy of footwork and mental agility that merges the idiosyncrasies of musician and dancer into a riveting performance within a performance.


St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake at The Coliseum

Posted: August 28th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake at The Coliseum

St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, Swan Lake, The Coliseum, London, August 23

Irena Kolesnikova in St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake (photo: Vladimir Zenzinov)

George Balanchine was a great admirer of the music of Tchaikovsky; both were Petersburgers and Balanchine felt that to understand Tchaikovsky’s music you had to know St. Petersburg. In introducing the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre to its London audience, founding director Konstantin Tachkin has included in its program not only information on Tchaikovsky and the company but on the city from which the music arose, its Imperial history, its architecture and its rich ballet heritage. It is the home of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, once known as the Imperial Ballet School, that has trained some of the great Russian dancers of the last century (including Balanchine) and where St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s principal Irena Kolesnikova graduated in 1998. By association with the history of St. Petersburg Tachkin lays out the expectation that what we are about to see has all the marks of authenticity but Swan Lake is built up of layers of cultural refinement gathered from many countries and traditions and its lasting appeal is based not only on its score but on its inspired choreographic language and stirring mythology. Classical ballet is essentially ephemeral; a production of Swan Lake relies each time on live performance for its inspiration and genius to be embodied and appreciated. If this doesn’t happen the ballet becomes a product, an approximation that resembles the original in its structure but fails to ignite an emotional response to its essential character. For all the expectation of authenticity, St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s touring production of Swan Lake fails to convince in performance.

The essence of Swan Lake — redemption through love — is released in the music but it must also materialize on stage. In a narrative ballet the story is linked through mime whose meaning arises from the relationship between an established theatrical lexicon and the intention of the person using it. If the lexicon is clear but the intention is lacking, the meaning is lost. One example is when the Princess (Inna Svechnikova) arrives in Act 1; she is supposed to indicate to her son, Prince Siegfried (Bolshoi Ballet’s Denis Rodkin) that as he’s about to reach the age of 21 it’s time to think of getting married. In fact she’s arranged a ball at the palace the next day to invite a few eligible princesses for Siegfried to choose from. But by the time the Princess has left, we are none the wiser as to what she might have expressed as her mime is delivered in an inarticulate display of ornamented gesture; only a knowledge of the plot fills the narrative gap. Another example is the divorce of Rodkin’s mimed gestures toward Odette and Odile from any indication of his feelings for her. This uncertainty of any manifest intention renders St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s production a cardboard cutout of the original ballet. One gesture that has no trouble in communicating its intent is Odile’s contemptuous grimace as she throws her bouquet of flowers over the remorseful Siegfried.

Although Kolesnikova triumphs in this moment, she is not averse elsewhere to another form of obfuscation in her mime, that of hyperbole. Her swan-like gestures err on the side of melodrama to the extent that her interpretation of the duplicitous Odile seeps prematurely into the earlier appearances of the lyrical Odette.

When so much depends in a company of 44 dancers on the presence of its principal ballerina and her Bolshoi and Mariinsky guests, the focus of our attention is inevitably drawn to them and away from the story; as the ballet becomes a vehicle for the quality of stardom so the significance of the story is diminished. In Kolesnikova’s 32 fouettés — taken at a tempestuous tempo by conductor Vadim Nikitin — we are watching not the rapturous culmination of her deception over Siegfried but a resolute display of her technical achievement. The one figure in the production who matches his extrovert behaviour with commensurate physical prowess and gesture is Sergei Fedorkov’s court jester.

As Alexei Ratmansky’s recent reconstructions of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake reveal, there is a subtle balance between music, mime and choreography that makes the story comes to life through the integration of all its elements. Of course there are principal roles in the original narrative but they support the story through mime and dance that are intimately related. What Ratmansky has also unwittingly revealed is the misunderstanding in current productions of the classics where an over-reliance on technical display and self-expression removes from the narrative the logic — and the magic — of its creators.


André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre

Posted: August 4th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre

André Kamienski: An Evening, A Beginning at Blue Elephant Theatre, July 20

Kamienski

Karianne Andreassen and Harriet Waghorn in Bed (photo: Michelle Rose)

As a title, An Evening, A Beginning is in turn factual and hopeful. It is an evening of two new 30-minute choreographic works by André Kamienski but it is also their offering to the public in the hope they will have a future. Blue Elephant Theatre is a good place to start; there is no artist hierarchy in place and its ethos welcomes the unknown while its stage offers a charismatic incubator for experimentation. Kamienski, whose background is in ballroom dance, shows his natural understanding of space and movement in both works but it is his sense of theatre that makes this beginning promising. 

The first work is called X is M00N, a count-down scenario that borrows from science fiction in its focus on ‘the connections between physics, outer space and conspiracy theories.’ Choreographed on four dancers from London Studio Centre (Gabriella Bantick, Amy Cross, Abigail Attard Montalto and Tuva Svendsen), X is M00N is a vehicle for anxiety that finds its initial expression in the choice of music. To begin a work with six minutes of white noise is to engulf the action in an aural approximation of what Einstein described as a gravitational field; it creates a dense, viscous space in which the dancers slither into a series of freeze-frame poses as if trapped in space-time. Subsequent pieces by Christina Vantzou, Niels Frahm and Emptyset do little to allay the sense of running towards an impending disaster as Pixie Tan’s projected clock flicks ominously from M10N to M00N. Set designer Afra Zamara, in conjunction with Tan, has devised an angular neon tube installation at the rear of the stage that has the casual air of instability while Sherry Coenen’s lighting is darkly oppressive. It’s not the kind of environment you would expect to find classically-trained dancers, though there is at one point a reference to an exhausted, if not dying swan. Dressed in black with luminous chokers, the four women never quite enter into the harshness and peril suggested in their surroundings. Perhaps it is not in Kamienski’s heart to pursue such abstract anxiety, although in the section with Montalto’s choking voice and helpless, stifling gestures he finds not only a strikingly human expression of angst but an emotional form with which, as the next work reveals, his talent begins to find its voice.

Bed is nominally inspired by Tracey Emin’s installation My Bed in which an unmade bed holds within its display of personal effects an autobiography of intimate details. Kamienski focuses instead on the intimate relationship between two women (Karianne Andreassen and Harriet Waghorn) with only a suggestion of a bedroom, appropriating George Bernard Shaw’s definition of dancing as ‘a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.’ Even if the desire in question is conflicted, the fluency with which Kamienski treats it shows his affinity with questions of the heart and in Andreassen and Waghorn he has found two interpreters who understand what he wants. 

There is an asterisked note in the program that the piece ‘involves partial nudity’,  but apart from bare arms and legs the only nudity is in the voyeuristic suggestion of a steamy relationship. The program note invites us to ‘take a peek’ into ‘the partnership, connection and intimacy between two people’ but the engagement between Andreassen and Waghorn is such that they draw us inexorably into the room. We first see Andreassen preening herself langorously, eyes half closed, propped against the back wall that is draped in silk; there is an unmade bed but we don’t see it. Having already got up some time before we arrived and thrown on a t-shirt Waghorn reappears; we don’t know when the argument happened but there is tension in the air. Kamienski plots the affect of disenchantment as an intimate dialogue between the two women that channels both pleasure and pain in the ambiguity of their physical expressions and frames it in a partnering language that is both tender and forceful. His playlist of light piano, breathy vocal, strings and choral excerpts washes over the room, too, as the aural accompaniment to emotional upheaval. Just as expressions of pleasure and pain can be uncannily interchangeable, so earthly and spiritual paths overlap: Waghorn’s attempt to wash away Andreassen’s touch takes on a ritualistic cleansing and purification. The struggle finishes in silence, with only the heavy breathing of force and resistance filling the air, but for Kamienski, hopefully, it’s an auspicious beginning. 


Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Posted: July 16th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios

Karen Røise Kielland, A Slow Escape, Laurie Grove Studios, June 23

Kielland

Karen Røise Kielland in A Slow Escape (photo: Rino Pucci)

Karen Røise Kielland’s A Slow Escape is one of seven works presented as part of a new dance festival in London, Fest en Fest, organized and curated by Hanna Gillgren and Heidi Rustgaard of H2Dance. The festival aims to question ‘choreographic practice, the context for art production, current programming and aesthetic power structures’ through a series of talks, discussions and performances. In this first outing of the festival Gillgren, who is Swedish, and Rustgaard, who is Norwegian, have chosen works that arise from a predominantly Nordic geography and sensibility, none more so than A Slow Escape. It is based on two walks from Norway to Italy, one by Catherine H. Kølle in 1841 and the second by Kielland in 2011 following as closely as possible in Kølle’s footsteps. The evidence of Kølle’s trip — and the primary source for Kielland’s own — is contained in her diary of meticulous details like the colour of roofs, the topography or the number of paintings in a museum. The evidence for Kielland’s walk is contained in her edited field recordings, her spoken travelogue and an exhibition of mnemonic artifacts on the stage in front of her. Kølle also painted a series of watercolours of her travels in a shorthand style that predates painting by numbers, a visual corroboration Kielland references by inviting artist Tom Mason to join her on stage with an overhead projector and a pile of acetates on which he illustrates her travels in the manner of a graphic novel.

Kielland remains quite still throughout, poised as if chatting to the camera by the roadside with one foot resting on a stile, wearing a hazard jacket, holding a revolver in one hand and an umbrella in the other. We travel her entire journey in our imagination, fed by her pace of delivery, her walking guide to the history of Europe, her ongoing investigation into Kølle’s diaries — a historical riddle in itself — and by Mason’s imaginative fluency of line. It’s a brilliant collaborative adventure with dramaturgy by Marit Grimstad Egggen, advice from Christina Hauge, lighting by Ingeborg Staxrud Olerud, set and costume advice from Jennie Bringsaker and sound editing assistance from Erlend Hogstad.

A Slow Escape is also a commentary on how Europe has evolved since Kølle set out on her journey. While headlines in the daily Morgenbladet paper on the morning of Kølle’s departure of April 4, 1841 cited an economic crisis in Greece, and again on June 19, 2011 when Kielland left on her trip, the social and geographic aspects had changedforever; routes that Kølle described were no longer available to Kielland because of the expansion of transport infrastructure and some villages Kølle had passed through had since been drowned by hydroelectric projects. She also encounters sites that Kølle had never even imagined like the abandoned airport of Templehof near Berlin. Kølle’s dispassionate numerical annotations are ever present next to and contrasted with Kielland’s own commentary. Her diary was written in German Gothic script that no researcher, it seems, had ever bothered to read. Kølle was known as Norway’s first hiker and her walk to and from Venice was considered a matter of irrefutable fact, even according to her biographer. Over the course of her journey, however, Kielland’s reading of the script becomes more fluent and as she matches her own experience with Kølle’s she realizes that the diary includes passages about riding in coaches for some of the way. Her entire adventure, it seems, is based on a false premise. Her sense of deception on her arrival in Venice is aggravated by confounding the end of her project with the end of Europe as she had imagined it.

Kielland conjures up a walking map of Europe at a time when people barely walk any distance at all; she says at one point in her travelogue that she hasn’t met a soul all day and imagines Kølle having more people from whom to ask the way: ‘there is company in a voice,’ she observes. The act of talking mediates between mind and body and although she remains static for most of the performance — a remarkable endurance test in itself — Kielland’s words succeed in connecting us to the journey of the walking body she describes. A Slow Escape is thus the record of an ambulatory dance on the geographical scale of Europe that Kielland has compressed in all its richness to a small stage in Deptford at a time when the British government is in the very process of redrawing the map yet again.


Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, at Battersea Arts Centre

Posted: July 9th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, at Battersea Arts Centre

Ahilan Ratnamohan, Mercenary, Battersea Arts Centre, June 22

Mercenary

The cast of Ahilan Ratnamohan’s Mercenary (photo: Koen Broos)

Presented as part of this year’s LIFT, Ahilan Ratnamohan’s Mercenary is the result of his research into western stories about the exploitation of migrant workers contracted to build the 2022 FIFA World Championship stadium in Qatar. Ratnamohan is a choreographer and social-political theatre maker who had previously tried to break into a career as professional footballer; the context of his research is thus closely related to his current and past preoccupations. It’s apt LIFT is presenting Mercenary during the current World Cup and there is also an irony in the appearance of Ratnamohan’s construction workers in the Council Chamber of Battersea Arts Centre where evidence of continuing restoration after last year’s fire is still visible.

The stage is set out like a miniature football pitch with the audience seated close around the edges; in the middle of one side DJ Giulia Loli, dressed in overalls with a luminous yellow safety jacket, has set up her turntables. From one corner Ratnamohan walks diagonally across the pitch in silence and poses in the far corner. He is also dressed in overalls and safety vest but his face is wrapped in a scarf over a respiratory mask. In effect we see very little of him except his eyes, so his catwalk pose looking to left and to right before returning to the dressing room — followed in turn by each player — is an amusing conceit to display Anne-Catherine Kunz’s costumes as a prelude to the story.

For a theatre festival Mercenary tells its story predominantly in movement. Thollebook Nhipat recites a list of exorbitant expenses that were docked from his wages for such things as his work visa and legal services while Rabina Miya, the one female worker, speaks briefly about home, but speech is not the medium of this work. Ratnamohan’s vocabulary is instead steeped in football; it is as if the ‘beautiful game’ has taken on choreographic life as he moulds its nimble training exercises and its postural lexicon into a choreographic medium. In the course of interviews collected across Qatar, Nepal and Sri Lanka Ratnamohan uncovered the passions and preoccupations of the migrant workers; he does not deny their exploitation, to which Nhipat’s experience alludes, but choses instead to focus on their resilience in the face of adversity.

He also recognizes that sport is a means of bonding and camaraderie when language is a barrier. Nhipat speaks with enough English to make his points, but when it comes to playing games with the others there is no obstacle to understanding; he is as skilled and knowledgeable as anyone. In Mercenary football becomes an allegory of life on the construction site played to Loli’s Asian club beat mixes that underscore Ratnamohan’s choreography, but it’s a game with neither a ball nor any visible opposition; the goal is survival. There is plenty of excitement as the players run at full tilt down the pitch to stop inches from us or challenge each other with rapid-fire mathematical puzzles to determine the outcome of a particular contest. As the games proceed, they shout useful English words they have learned like ‘toilet’, ‘home’, ‘water’ and ‘airport’ as commonly understood indications of the next choreographic sequence, and in the stifling heat they peel off layers of heavy clothes and leave them on the pitch; as one of the team, Loli does likewise while mixing the vinyls with her dancing fingers.

Suddenly it’s a party and everyone is laughing, moving around and over the clothes, vying with each other in this moment of relaxation to dance with the one woman but Miya instead shows us some football moves she has learned while the men show off to each other, pulling off shirts and sparring in increasingly combative ways. Ratnamohan chooses this moment for Loli to mix the overture to Wagner’s Tannhauser, that rousing music of redemption. To an overdubbed hammer beat Nhipat poses his colleagues forcefully like martyrs of coercion and endurance before taking his own submissive posture. Never letting Mercenary shy away from the harsh reality of its story, Ratnamohan with the help of dramaturg Sodja Lotker uses the body — and specifically the Asian body — to portray the emotional turmoil of these workers under duress.

The game is over; Ratnamohan takes time to introduce his team, to give his players an individual, personal identity until the celebratory party continues with football morphing into wrestling and men again jostling to dance with Miya until Loli suddenly pulls the plug and plunges us all into silence and darkness.


Images Ballet Company 2018 at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: July 6th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Images Ballet Company 2018 at Lilian Baylis Studio

Images Ballet Company, Year-End Performance, Lilian Baylis Studio, June 17

Images Ballet

Eleonora Gatti, Demi Aldred, Anna Heery, Shannon Higgins, Hannah Orton (photo: Johan Persson)

It’s that time of year when dance institutions like London Studio Centre present end-of-year performances to showcase the hard work of both staff and students over the year and particularly over the last three months of preparation. Ultimately it’s the students who take off on the stage while teachers and staff remain on the ground to prepare for the next flight. In the case of London Studio Centre, whose intake of dance students over 3 years of training in multiple disciplines is around 360, there are just five this year specializing in classical ballet. With the quality of training and opportunities artistic director Jennifer Jackson brings to these third-year students and considering classical ballet technique is the underpinning of so many contemporary dance companies, this number is surprisingly and disproportionally small. To make up the numbers for these performances Jackson has recruited three second-year students (Daisy Bishop, Maria Bruguet and Esme Calcutt) to join the graduate year of Demi Aldred, Eleonora Gatti, Anna Heery, Shannon Higgins and Hannah Orton.

Images Ballet Company was originally founded in 1991 under the artistic directorship of former Royal Ballet principal Margaret Barbieri. That lineage of the Royal Ballet continues through Jackson and, in these performances, through choreographers Érico Montes and Hubert Essakow who were both dancers in the company (Montes also trained at London Studio Centre). Bim Malcomson’s witty, fresh approach and Morgann Runacre-Temple’s blend of dance and theatre balances the classical work with a variety of styles these dancers can expect as they pursue professional careers.

It is not so much the works produced in these year-end performances as the effect they produce on the dancers; they are the ones being assessed for their potential even if the choreographers benefit from the opportunity to create new works. Inevitably each dancer will bring to the stage a quality or characteristic that will define her in some way from the others; ideally over the four works something unique will emerge in each dancer. The responsibility for its achievement is on the shoulders not only of Jackson and her choreographers but of the dancers themselves.

I admire Jackson’s insistence on live music where possible; if she doesn’t have an orchestra she has at least Elliott Perks and Tom Ellis. They arranged Robert Schumann’s Märchenbilder for viola and guitar which they play on stage for Essakow’s Cut Out and they perform for the audience in between works. It’s a shame they cannot be used more as the sound and texture of live music brings out the quality of dance steps while the dynamics of music and choreography can have a living conversation. Indeed, Essakow intended the four movements of Schumann’s music to form a series of choreographic conversations and in Aldred he has an artist who is eloquent. She has a strong technique, steely but soft pointe work and above all eyes and gesture that communicate not only with the music but with the audience. It is as if she is at a gathering with four friends; they chat together but the music draws her away to converse with her inspiration, the unseen Schumann. Essakow creates a sense of intimate space and Louie Whitemore’s black brocade bodices suggest a nineteenth century period style.

If Aldred takes her place in the room, Heery is noticeable by her natural reticence; she has the lyricism of a dreamer. In Montes’ Sonata in Colour to the music of Florence Price, Heery is like a lost girl remembering; Montes invests his choreography with an ethereal sense that reaches back to classical ballet but finds in Heery an interpreter whose quality of gesture is very much in the present.

Malcomson takes an idiosyncratic, somewhat irreverent approach to classical dance that brings out the idiosyncracies and irreverence of the entire cast. Her Red Queen Brouhaha references Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland and uses some of Joby Talbot’s score for Christopher Wheeldon’s ballet of the same name. There are lots of jam tarts, a croquet waltz, outraged screams and Orton coming into her own as Alice looking through both ends of an imaginary looking glass. Gatti and Higgins both find their comic form here as Malcomson proves her value as a catalyst in bringing diverse personalities together in a riotous whole.

Runacre-Temple’s Mozart’s Women: The Kingdom of Back uses extracts of Mozart’s music and recorded readings of his letters to his sister Nanneral (Aldred), his muse Aloysia Weber (Heery) and her sister, Constanze (Gatti), who became Mozart’s wife. It’s a piece that cries out for powdered wigs and voluminous dresses to evoke the texture of these women and to connect their play of gesture to the music but in its current form, under Andrew Ellis’s islands of light, it is a refined miniature that pays equal tribute to the women portrayed and to those who portray them.

The evening ends as it began with the music of Schumann, the two final movements of Essakow’s Cut Out, one for the ensemble and one that provides a parting solo for Heery.