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.


Resolution 2019: works by Vain, Minogue-Stone and Ben & Fred

Posted: February 13th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2019: works by Vain, Minogue-Stone and Ben & Fred

Resolution 2019: Works by Vendetta Vain, Elliot Minogue-Stone and Ben & Fred, January 29

Isabella Arboleda Tovar and Pauline Thuriot in Sighs, Cries and Lies (photo: Joon-Kim Young)

This year The Place has partnered with, among others, Jackson’s Lane, to cross-fertilize choreography with circus arts at Resolution. It’s a welcome initiative that hopefully develops the gene pool of both choreographic and circus expression rather than simply expanding the catchment area for Resolution’s artists. 

Vee Smith, who performs under the name of Vendetta Vain, trained at the National Centre for Circus Arts and Butterface is her first circus solo work. She is not the first to perform naked on a trapeze (though perhaps the first to do so at Resolution), but she approaches her performance with as little coyness and pudeur as apology. The title of her work is a derogatory noun for ‘an attractive woman with an undesirable face’, which is clearly understood to mean an attractive female body with an undesirable face. Vain makes this point quite evident by hiding her face, for most of the performance, under a muslin concoction tied loosely at the neck to which she attaches false eyelashes and a rude approximation of lips. But while our focus in Butterface is on the body and what Vain does with it, it is on our minds that Vain has focused her argument; the two don’t always acknowledge each other in the formation of her ‘message’.

There are two sets of projected texts, one that is designed to ease Vain into the performance as she enters behind two large feathers, and the other conveys the sexual animosity and stereotyping of the female circus artist as she performs on the trapeze. Because our eyes are watching her rather than the texts on the back wall, there is an argument that Butterface would benefit from Vain speaking the second set of texts while performing. It would give the taping together of her legs, for example, an edge of satirical wit over the comic absurdity of her actions. Vain’s choice of songs (FlawlessPaper Bag and She) show a natural sense of self-deprecatory humour and her subversive intelligence will not suffer fools. It’s a potent mixture.    

Elliot Minogue-Stone is a graduate of the incommensurable Orley Quick and the Hairy Heroines, inviting us in Sighs, Cries and Lies to ‘delve into platitudes, taboos, tangibility, big questions and odd sensations’ with the same lack of disambiguation he once brought to discussing big dogs and screwdriver heads. He takes an important step from performer to choreographer by creating Sighs, Cries and Lies on Isabella Arboleda Tovar and Pauline Thuriot who translate his sense of the absurd into another key. At first it’s a very low key, as the two bounce on to the stage in red shorts, white tops and trainers, arms enigmatically raised in front of their faces. But as Tovar begins to deck the stage in a wealth of props from a bright red shopping basket, the key begins to modulate. Sighs, Cries and Lies is not a work that can be defined by its external shape but by the paths that run through its apparent chaos, a physical grammar of associations and collisions that offer a fractured landscape of vulnerability. You make of it what you will; its meaning coalesces around a free association of props, popular songs, wit and repartee that Tovar and Thuriot weave into an emotional pattern that ultimately holds them — and us — together. 

Ben & Fred’s The Juggling of Science brings together two jugglers, Frederike Gerstner and Ben Nicholson, in a light-hearted introduction to quantum physics. The recorded voice of Professor Circumference introduces his two understudies with the tone of Listen with Mother but the principles in ‘possibly the most fun science lecture you could hope to see’ are staged rather than heard. Gerstner is a scientist in a white lab coat at her desk waiting for Dr. Dextrose (Nicholson), to arrive. With their wit and an ability to illustrate complex scientific notions like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the construction of an atom, dark matter and neutrinos through juggling, Gerstner and Nicholson have created a gem of crossover stimulation. The problem is that the crossover bypasses almost completely the choreographic nature of Resolution’s program. In his collaborations with Seeta Patel and Alexander Whitley, Sean Gandini has shown how the disciplines of juggling and dance can learn from and stimulate each other, but The Juggling of Science frames itself resolutely and unapologetically within science; it’s not a question of the excellence of the work but of the programming choices of this ‘festival of new choreography’.


Ian Abbott on Impermanence Presents…

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

Impermanence Presents…at Bristol Old Vic, January 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Resolution 2019: works by Cisarikova, Green and Harris-Walters, January 25

Posted: February 3rd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2019: works by Cisarikova, Green and Harris-Walters, January 25

Resolution 2019: works by Cisarikova, Green and Harris-Walters, January 25

All the works on this evening’s Resolution program begin with cogent ideas that have strong emotional integrity. Michaela Cisarikova’s I Love Myself, Do You? examines the duality of identity and self-worth, Sara Green transforms her own experiences of major spinal surgery in Burnt Out and Dani Harris-Walters traces a journey in search of fatherhood in Happy Father’s Day. Both Cisarikova and Green use striking imagery at the start of their respective works while Harris-Walters uses his presence alone to reveal his biologically-inspired choreographic exploration. While each beginning holds promise, in a Darwinian sense Harris-Walters is the only one to keep that promise throughout, ensuring its survival somewhere in our choreographic imagination.

What happens to a work that begins well but trails off in interest? Where does the interest go and why? Ideas in choreographic terms are argued primarily through the body and visual imagery, working with music as an emotional and rhythmic support. Each of this evening’s works places the body in a central role; Cisarikova suggests ‘the old Cherokee fable of two wolves fighting within you’ by the initial entangled embrace between herself and Jenn Vogtle; Green divides her persona into four performers each shaking off their oversized jackets as a metaphor of disintegration, while Harris-Walters takes us through his own body’s encounter with the process of procreation. It could be argued that Harris-Walters has an advantage by using text; without it the physical component would not add up to much of an argument, but it is the way he gleefully pairs text with gestures and unassuming hip hop sequences that engages the imagination of the audience. Borrowing from his own material, this process of engagement is like a mating ritual that depends on the maintenance of stimulus for its successful outcome. 

I Love Myself, Do You? opens on a billowing swathe of greenish gold parachute silk suspended diagonally from an upper corner covering much of the stage. In the middle of the silk is a hole through which Vogtle is supposed to rise in the dark on the shoulders of someone hidden underneath but a premature lighting cue finds her on her way up a little unsteadily and the magic is lost; it is on such small details that the fate of visual imagery depends. More importantly, for its overpowering spatial influence, the silk seems to have a relatively small impact on the work’s concept; Cisarikova joins Vogtle in the centre opening for a duet, seen from the waist up, that has a sculptural quality of both a physical and a psychological battle, but when the silk is later withdrawn its significance is called into question. Simeon Miller’s lighting makes clever use of silhouette projections inside the silk that present alternative identities, but when Anna Guzak slides out from under the silk, her role in the duality of good and evil seems superfluous. Ross Allchurch’s score accompanies the work but is not sufficiently anchored to keep it together. 

In Burnt Out Sara Green, with assistant choreographer Sara Kaspersen, sets out to translate experiences and memories of surgery through the filters of illustration (Simon Gardner) and music (Burnt Outby Jamie Jay and Carlos Posada of Low Island). The opening sequence, with costumes (and perhaps makeup) by Auriol Williamson and strong (unattributed) lighting, holds the space together in a tight theatrical form that has emotional clout, but as the four performers (Olly Bell, Steff D’Arcy, Orion Hart and Murielle Werthauer) disperse the space dissolves into a long improvised freeform section like a series of filmic takes all joined together and superimposed. Perhaps Gardner’s creative input may have helped us decode this section, but watching performers in various permutations trying to scale the back wall on the open stage has limited allure. Green has already worked with Low Island on their music videos but their relationship is quite different here, more complex and less well defined. 

The beginning of Happy Father’s Day is almost accidental, rather like the meeting of a sperm and an egg around which the work revolves. But Harris-Walters hooks us unerringly into his monologue with allusions and an imaginative acronym of Seven-Up while identifying himself not only with the gang leader, Tess Tyrone, but as the biological hero of the story. Once the penny has dropped, he is fully in charge of the stage, and whatever he does uncannily insinuates or illustrates his path. The image that remains is the final one, where after a caterpillar-like spiral trajectory towards the centre of the stage his head slides into the spotlight of conception. Mission accomplished.


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. 


Resolution 2019: Works by Lizzie Klotz, Katie Boag and Anthony Matsena

Posted: January 26th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2019: Works by Lizzie Klotz, Katie Boag and Anthony Matsena

Resolution19: Lizzie Klotz, E14 Dance Company and Matsena Performance Theatre, The Place, January 19

From left to right, Lizzie Klotz, E14 Dance Company and Anthony Matsena

The quality and effectiveness of the evening’s Resolution 2019 program at The Place, like many such evenings at this annual event, are defined by each choreographer’s response to the imposed time limit of (roughly) 20 minutes. It’s a notional limit that can be interpreted as a full work (the choreographic equivalent of a short story), an extract of a longer work that may or may not have been created or an essay in choreographic ideas that has the potential for elaboration. There seems to be one of each this evening. 

Lizzie Klotz’s Fawn is a carefully structured work that fits neatly into its 20 minutes; it’s an exploration of fawning ‘as an instinctive response to fear, threat and failure.’ By nature fawning has meaning only in relation to a person who is the object of the fawning, but Klotz paradoxically explores the emotional phenomenon in a solo for herself; Fawn thus draws a parallel between the act of pleasing oneself on stage and the performer’s desire to please the audience. The catalyst for Fawn is a ribald catcall in the street directed at Klotz’s ass that she recalls in high-pitched excitement at the beginning of the show and in an initial repeated sequence across the back of the stage she appears to relish featuring her admired physical aspect prominently. Fawn is structured in musical form, with an introduction of muscle-tone preening on a red carpet, the opening sequence facing away from the audience followed by a playful central theme, with feather headdress, stick-it note pad and microphone, of parsing the word fawn into its many meanings. Klotz then compliments individual members of the audience on how amazing they are and recapitulates her initial sequence. This time she faces front, whereby the gestures of self-satisfaction become a form of reverence. It is not exactly fawning, but the desire to please is evident and the applause at the end is a mark of its affect. As with To Suit at Resolution exactly three years ago, Klotz has created a miniature that is both succinct and subtle with a generous element of sass that sheds light on the vagaries of our emotional dependency.

It’s perhaps just as well we are directed to the bar before E14’s Danube for the contrast between the first two works is extreme; Danube is on a trajectory from somewhere bleak towards somewhere unimaginably dark. Choreographer Katie Boag has devised individual variations for six dancers (Nora Fancsalszky, Gintare Geltyte, Ashley Goosey, Agata Olszewska, Rikkai Scott and Loren Whyte) around a central theme of vicious separation and segregation, but instead of moving out from the theme the variations are drawn inexorably into it like a black hole, intensifying the visceral sense of suffocation. By fusing her work with Oskus Urug by the Tuvan composer and throat singer Radik Tyulyush, we are taken a few tones lower into an ever-descending underworld. While Tylyush’s sound is traditional, Ashley Goosey’s and Jack Hobbs’ original score is hauntingly contemporary to the point of synthesized gunshots that recall the event to which the work’s title refers: ‘The Shoes on Danube Bank’, a chilling memorial to the Jewish community of Budapest during World War II. The heart of Boag’s work, however, spreads from this specific horror to the very heart of darkness in a concentration of brutal imagery that lasts much longer than its 23 minutes. 

Matsena Performance Theatre’s duet, Lies To Be Truth, with choreographer Anthony Matsena and Cher Nicolette Ho, is a theatrical form of esoteric ritual in which the intense physical relationship between the man and woman is strikingly unfamiliar. If there is a degree on entrapment, Ho proves more than a match to the web Matsena appears to weave around her; in terms of sheer physical power, she gives as much as she gets. Matsena’s idiosyncratic gestural vocabulary is inwardly focused, his voluble, expressive hands performing an almost spiritual narrative to his body’s arcane machinations, but the tension builds between the two people until the need for a resolution becomes as urgent as the desire for water when parched. When it comes, however, it is disappointing in its saccharine romanticism as if all that had gone before was a fiction. It certainly didn’t feel that way; both the material and the committed spirit of performance require a less artificial ending — or indeed a further development of ideas — than that imposed by the notional time limit. 


English National Ballet’s Manon at London Coliseum

Posted: January 22nd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet’s Manon at London Coliseum

English National Ballet, Manon, London Coliseum, January 19

ENB Manon
The Second Act of ENB’s Manon in Mia Stensgaard’s design (photo: Laurent Liotardo)

In 2013, the first full year of Tamara Rojo’s artistic direction, I saw English National Ballet’s Alison McWhinney and Ken Saruhashi in the Emerging Dancer Award. Almost six years later to see McWhinney take on the title role of Manon in ENB’s revival of Kenneth MacMillan’s work with Saruhashi as her brother Lescaut is one of the many privileges of seeing and writing about dance over a number of years. Although it was Nancy Osbaldeston who won the award that year, I wrote at the time that ‘My heart went out to Alison McWhinney, whose ethereal tenderness in Giselle — she will save many a young man from an early death and will make them all eternally repentant — and her lovely line and poise in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique are a joy to watch.’ The arc of McWhinney’s artistic sensitivity arguably extends to the final act of Manon where having played all her demi-monde cards Manon finds herself in a redemptive endgame with the ever-faithful Des Grieux (Francesco Gabriele Frola). McWhinney casts aside all risks in this demanding duet and receives from Frola the unbridled passion and devotion of an equally liberated partner. It is utterly thrilling and deservedly brings the house down.

For Frola this final act of Manon follows a fine thread of characterization — and its technical counterpart — throughout the ballet. He takes the elegance of MacMillan’s choreography and makes his character and reasoning grow naturally out of it; the coherence of his interpretation remains as lucid as the line of his arabesque. It is McWhinney who in those first two acts does not entirely enter into the complexities of Manon’s character, which in turn hampers the freedom with which she approaches her interpretation of the choreography. The final act shows what she can do when the emotional line is clear, but she has not yet embodied the mercurial changes in circumstance Manon faces — and their inherent contradictions — between the prospect of a nunnery, Des Grieux’s love and Monsieur GM’s cloying wealth. 

At the same Emerging Dancer Award in 2013, I noted that ‘Saruhashi has prodigious technical ability but wears his emotions close to the skin, giving an impeccable if somewhat inscrutable rendering of Don Quixote and unwinding only slightly in the all-too-brief Patrice Bart solo, Verdiana.’ It is interesting to see these qualities persist in his interpretation of Lescaut. Dressed in black he stands out as someone already deeply inured in the demi-monde and cynical enough to pimp his own sister. He is sharp and calculating, drawing in his power like a sword but when it comes to his drunken cavorting solo he can’t unwind enough to blur the edges of his technique; he approaches it with too much…calculation. It may be invidious to suggest a comparison but Irek Mukhamedov’s interpretation of this solo — seen online in rehearsal — illustrates just how a prodigious technique with fine comic and musical timing can be married to drunken intent.

Among some fine character roles like Michael Coleman as the Old Man and Fabien Reimair as the Gaoler, there is another interpretation that illustrates Stanislavsky’s maxim that there are no small parts. Francesca Velicu (a finalist in the 2018 Emerging Dancer Award) is one of the courtesans at Madame’s house of ill repute in the second act. It is a stage awhirl in pastel colour and racy activity, but Velicu’s inspired antics among her peers attract attention throughout the melée like light on a filigree pattern, drawing us away momentarily from the main characters before we focus once again on their primary narrative. This is exactly how anyone in the room at the time (and we are all there) would experience the breadth of the moment.

While the choreography in this revival of Manon is all MacMillan (rehearsed by some of the luminaries with whom he worked), the sets and costumes belong to the Royal Danish Ballet’s production designed by Mia Stensgaard. While one had the sense that Nicholas Georgiadis’ original sets were performing alongside the cast, Stensgaard has a more subtle approach, abstracting the scenes with gently moving panels that furnish just the right amount of period suggestion to go with her elegant wigs and finely tailored, colourful costumes. It’s a stylishly minimal production that frames the dancing beautifully while Mikki Kunttu’s cinematic lighting makes the space of each successive scene almost palpable.

The English National Ballet Philharmonic under the baton of Orlando Jopling make listening to Martin Yates’ arrangements of Jules Massenet’s music as much a pleasure as watching the ballet.


The Bolshoi Ballet 2018 Livestream of The Nutcracker

Posted: January 2nd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Bolshoi Ballet 2018 Livestream of The Nutcracker

The Bolshoi Ballet, The Nutcracker, Livestream, Brighton, December 27

Margarita Shrainer and Semyon Chudin in a scene from The Nutcracker

For the nine years I danced in Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens I performed The Nutcracker so many times — from mid-December to early January every year — that the ballet has become synonymous with Christmas. Even thirty years later the association is so specific that it’s enough for me to hear a few notes of Tchaikovsky’s score to be immersed once again not so much in seasonal celebrations but in the sensory atmosphere of the theatre at that time of year. Les Grands Ballets Canadiens’ production by Fernand Nault was a colourful retelling of the E.T.A. Hoffman story with lots of children in the first act playing themselves at the Stahlbaum Christmas party and even more playing mice in the ensuing battle with the toy soldiers. The company dancers played elegant, but far too young parents in Act I before the women rushed off to change for the Snow scene while the men fought on against the mice; we were all back for the divertissements in Act II. The memory of that particular production is so engraved on my mind that it has been difficult to watch another Nutcracker with any objectivity. 

Many productions present The Nutcracker as a ‘fun-for-all-the-family’ entertainment, an association that has given Tchaikovsky’s score, despite itself, a false superficiality. The invitation to see the live streaming of Yuri Grigorovich’s 1966 version for the Bolshoi Ballet has broken that spell. The performance was broadcast live on December 23, with a reprise the following week. Directed by Isabelle Julien for Pathé Live, it gives you in effect ‘the best seat in the house’ while also offering glimpses of the dancers warming up on stage before the curtain. In the intermission Katia Novikova interviews the great ballerina Ludmila Semenyaka about Grigorovich’s vision for The Nutcracker and the role of Marie she once danced; she talks with her eyes and hands as if the wonder of discovery is forever embodied. 

Grigorovich’s staging interprets the narrative as Marie’s journey from childhood to adulthood. As explained in Novikova’s introduction, Tchaikovsky’s music for The Nutcracker was influenced by the death of his beloved sister Sasha; it has been suggested that the character of Marie came to embody his feelings towards his sister. Grigorovich’s treatment restores the score, played here by the Bolshoi orchestra under the baton of Pavel Klinichev, to a sense of self-worth without betraying the spirit of Marius Petipa’s exacting storyline. The principal characters — Margarita Shrainer as Marie, Semyon Chudin as the Nutcracker and Denis Savin as Drosselmeyer — weave in and out of the two acts as characters whose paths are integral to the entire story rather than as observers or instigators of their own entertainment. At the same time Shrainer’s identity as Marie in both acts lends a sophisticated choreographic continuity between them in which her sense of youthful anticipation and fulfillment is entirely believable. Chudin has a younger alter-ego as the Nutcracker — unfortunately unattributed in the program — whose diminutive, articulate body is played with, fought over, damaged and repaired before giving his life for Marie in the battle against the Mouse King (Alexander Vodopetov) and his army of mice. It is only after seeing the guests depart ‘outside’ the house that we return inside to see the limp body of the Nutcracker under the tree slowly awaken as the Prince. The simplicity and gravitas of this transformation both in the music and the choreography matches the sublime yet deceptively simple opening of the grand pas de deux in the second act; both are moments that indicate clearly this is no longer a children’s ballet but a sophisticated paean to youthful metamorphosis. The national dances Petipa had sketched as divertissements become in Grigorovich’s scheme a metaphor for the richness of cross-cultural exchange. 

Grigorovich’s collaborator, the late Simon Virsaladze, was responsible for the original designs of both set and costumes. He plays with the sense of scale, using the grand Stahlbaum home as a visual reference from which the environment in subsequent scenes grows ever larger as part of a psychological framework rather than a purely visual one; his sense of colour and period costume creates a unity with Grigorovich’s choreography and Tchaikovsky’s score. 

The abundant energy of the performance and one or two suggestions of nervous effort may have been because Grigorovich was reportedly in the audience that night. For the 610th performance of a work he created 52 years ago, it retains its freshness and appeal but more importantly recalibrates the drama of Tchaikovsky’s score in relation to Petipa’s synopsis. 


Kamala Devam Company: Ankusha and Other Mysteries at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Posted: December 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Kamala Devam Company: Ankusha and Other Mysteries at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Kamala Devam Company, Ankusha and Other Mysteries, Bernie Grant Arts Centre, December 1

Franco Conquista, Kamala Devam and Tamzen Moulding in Ankusha (photo: Vipul Sangoi)

Kamala Devam has a lot going for her and she is making the most of it. Ankusha and Other Mysteries, presented at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, is an ambitious program of five works, four of which she has choreographed on herself or on her company, and the fifth is the 2013 film, The Art of Defining Me, which confounds the political box-ticking of cultural assimilation in which she is inevitably caught up. As she quips in the film, she’s the ‘white pinup girl for Indian dance in England’. As a child of California Hippies she began learning bharatanatyam at the age of five and has reached a level where she can command the stage in a classical solo. She also studied western contemporary dance so inevitably her style blurs the edges of both techniques; this is what makes her fascinating to watch. The energy and motivation of a contemporary arm movement will suddenly make an appearance in the course of a bharatanatyam solo, and in contemporary work her clarity of gesture derives from her classical training. 

The opening work of Ankusha and Other Mysteriesis a case in point. Less of Meis a solo Devam created in 2014 in which she ‘reflects on the space she has inside her’ following surgery to remove a cyst. Sitting on the floor facing away from us, she seems to tell the story through her expressive back while using text to provide her thought processes. It’s a gem of a work that explores her disbelief in losing an internal growth only to find the body is still miraculously fully functional without it. It is reminiscent of Laura Dannequin’s Hardy Animal; both works are concerned with deepening the psychological and somatic understanding of the body as an expressive medium while using the body as the means of investigation. 

Seeing the short film, The Art Of Defining Me, directed by Devam and Seeta Patel, in the interval between Less of Meand Devam’s bharatanatyam solo, Jati-Swara-Leela, is to watch the very fluid question of identity first in satirical theory and then in practice. It says a lot about the pioneering work of Patel and Devam that five years after the film’s launch its influence can be felt in the programing of such works as Patel’s Not Today’s Yesterdayand Devam’s Ankusha and Other Mysteries.

In the great Indian tradition of the intimate, often improvised connection between dancer and accompaniment, Jati-Swara-Leelais graced with three accomplished musicians on stage playing a composition by Prathap Ramachandra: Danny Keane on cello, the versatile Pirashanna Thevarajah on percussion and Swati Seshadri as nattuvana. Choreographing on herself and costumed by Martina Trottman, Devam naturally inhabits the traditional style and at the same time suffuses it with contemporary sensibility; for all her refinement of bharatanatyam gesture and pose, she employs a spatial awareness and attack that redefines the form in her own image. 

The title of the next work, Babushka vs. Renaissance Man, points to another amalgam of cultural identity but despite the geographical allusions Devam describes it as ‘a choreographic investigation into the meeting points between the movement cultures of popping and kalaripayattu, a South Indian martial art’. The solo, set on popper Kamila Lewandowska, extends Devam’s choreographic evolution by negotiating a dialogue between two separate dance forms on a body that is not her own but it’s a more artificial composite than Jati-Swari-Leela where her intrinsic ability to channel two forms is entirely organic. It also raises the question of what you do once the two dance forms have met; Devam has made the introduction and Lewandowska’s body engages in the conversation but the choreographic form of Babushka vs. Renaissance Man remains too self-consciously contained to fully develop the relationship. 

The final work, Ankusha, moves in another direction in which Devam develops the action through three performers: herself, Tamzen Moulding and Franco Conquista. An ankusha is an elephant goad but Devam suggests it’s symbolic connotation as the Hindu god Lord Ganesha directing souls toward their destiny and keeping them on track. Ankusha keeps the vast theme of fate intimate in the way the paths of the three performers wrap tightly around and over each other, but while the philosophical idea is clear the acrobatic authority of Moulding and Conquista, who are both circus performers, too easily governs the narrative elements. Nevertheless Devam is clearly taking the lessons of Ankusha to push — and pull — the boundaries of her work in a direction that arises from her own unique identity. 


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.