Protein Dance in Border Tales at Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

Posted: April 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Protein Dance in Border Tales at Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

Protein Dance, Border Tales, Ramallah Municipal Theatre, April 7

Border Tales
Yuyu Rau aloft with the cast of Border Tales (photo: © Sebastian Marcovici)

This is the first of a series of articles and reviews from the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival to which I was very kindly invited by its director, Khaled Elayyan and his team.

Following the appearance of Protein Dance in LOL at Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival in 2012, the company’s artistic director, Luca Silvestrini, returned to the region as part of his research for a new work on the subject of refugees and identity. As he writes in the program note, ‘I’ve travelled across England, Slovenia, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Palestine and India and learned that there’s a common, complex and unresolved space between people. This emotional, sometimes physical, sometimes socially awkward space is strongly influenced by a restless collision of cultures, traditions, religious views and political interests. I see this space in between as a border, the outer part of all of us; a fragile partition that defines who we are and perpetuates a yearning to belong.’ 

This notion of an ‘unresolved space between people’ has gained in relevance since Border Tales was first created in 2013; its implications have taken on a heightened relevance with the Brexit issue alone. Watching the performance recently in Ramallah adds a level of poignancy because of the continuing illegal expulsion of Palestinians from their former homes by ‘settlers’ of an occupying, predatory state, forcing them to live as refugees in their own country (what an odd irony that EU citizens seeking to remain in the UK are required by the Home Office to register for ‘settled’ status). Choosing to program such a work in Ramallah is evidence of the uncompromising view of the festival organizers that the dance body is not only personal but political.

Silvestrini’s cast — Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Eryck Brahmania, Andrew Gardiner, Anthar Kharana, Stephen Moynihan, Yuyu Rau and Kenny Wing Tao Ho — is a microcosm of society in the UK’s current post-colonial makeup. Andy (Gardner) throws a neighbourhood party to which they are all invited; his pivotal role in provoking their tales of social and cultural assimilation through his cheerfully blithe ignorance of their mores — and his willingness to ascribe to them stereotypical qualities — demonstrates the devastating vulnerability of multiculturalism (see also Lloyd Newson’s treatment of this topic in DV8’s Can We Talk About This?). There is, however, no calculated offence in Andy’s buffoonery; like the traditional clown, he holds up a mirror for us to check our own tendencies.

By using the cast’s self-deprecatory awareness within his satirical framework Silvestrini disabuses us of some of the more ingenuous barriers to mutual respect and understanding. Within this framework he allows his cast to clarify their own feelings and values in both text and dance and particularly in the latter — to Kharana’s uplifting musical accompaniment — we begin to see a communal self-expression emerge within a multi-cultural group. And while the perspective of Border Tales is distinctly British, the depiction of a ‘restless collision of cultures’ can be recognized in any society where immigration, whether forced or welcomed, is an acknowledged strand of government policy. One reason Silvestrini has revisited Border Tales is what he sees as today’s ‘more divisive and intolerant co-existence’ that underpins much of the current Brexit debate. Andy devises a simple skipping pattern for his guests to the refrain ‘in and out, in and out’ to which he adds with a gleeful laugh, ‘Leave, remain, leave, remain, open the gates, close the gates…’ His mood of benevolent gaiety is nevertheless tested when Wing asks for his advice on how to become ‘more English’. Andy has no advice to offer so Wing begins to copy him, at which point Andy pushes him back with the incensed injunction: ‘Don’t take my job away!’

When all the guests have left at the end of the party, a confused and overwhelmed Andy sits down next to the cheerfully buoyant ‘welcome’ balloon to ponder, like the audience, what has just happened. How you react to his pathos depends on where you stand on the causative history of British colonial policy. Border Tales can be seen as a damning critique of British mentality, a sympathetic appreciation of immigrant struggles and a superimposed series of finely honed, well-paced tales that attempts to resolve ‘the space between people’. But when, as a UK citizen, I read about how the British government set up the establishment of Israel under the terms of the Balfour declaration in 1917 only to turn away from the continuous dismantling of its spirit; how it left the Indian empire to its fate in 1947; how it has recently treated the Windrush generation of immigrants and how it is in the throes of trashing its relationship with Europe, Andy’s role offers a salutary reflection on what constitutes our ‘borders’. 


Protein: xoxo

Posted: April 5th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Protein: xoxo, Pavilion Dance, March 22

Sarah aloft in xoxo rehearsal

Sarah aloft in xoxo rehearsal

XOXO is the written equivalent of kisses and hugs but there isn’t much time for the relationship to develop: Luca Silvestrini and his three dancers from Protein have just three weeks to create a work with specially picked students from The Quay School in Poole and Hamworthy. It is part of Protein’s Real Life Real Dance participatory program, supported by The Monument Trust, Pavilion Dance South West, wave arts education agency and The Quay School. The students, Jamie, Rhys, Jordan, Holly and Sarah are the second group this year, after a partnership between Protein and artsdepot in London in January.

Silvestrini has derived xoxo from LOL (Lots of Love), his company’s very successful work about love and communications in the online social media age. He adapts parts of it to the students, but keeps the thread of LOL going with his own dancers, Valentina Golfieri, Jon Beney and Parsifal James Hurst (PJ).

I arrive for the second week of rehearsals. The first week apparently went really well but week two begins slightly differently. The Quay School supports young people who are at risk of exclusion from mainstream schools. Some disruptive behavior manifests in the studio, so that at any one time there is a charge of both creativity and negativity among the students; when the latter cancels out the former, the two accompanying teachers take time out to encourage the students back in to the studio. This takes its toll, as one person’s outburst affects everyone else, and in the meantime choreography has to be learned. The atmosphere can be fragile on both sides, but the goal of performance remains, which is why the project is so important. Silvestrini and his dancers manage to keep the project on track with pep talks, encouragement, and vast amounts of patience and respect.

The second day I attend, the atmosphere has improved dramatically; the studio is full of energy and drive, although one of the students wasn’t able to come in on that day due to illness. One of the Protein dancers takes his place and new sections are learned. As well as choreography, the students are asked to talk about their online experiences, to offer their brand of chatter to be recorded and used in the performance. By the end of the day a lot has been accomplished and all seems well.

I return the following week to see the show, but am sad to learn that one of the students who had shown so much promise couldn’t be involved with the performance at the last minute. She cannot be replaced at short notice so Silvestrini adapts the piece again. I can’t imagine too many choreographers who can deal with this kind of instability and uncertainty, but he does, brilliantly, as do his dancers and the remaining students.

The theatre is full of family, friends and school staff. There is lots of chatter and laughter. PJ wanders on to the stage from the audience with a tangle of red and yellow computer cables over his shoulder. There is a loud short-circuit, a flash of light and all goes black. Out of the darkness each student appears on a screen at the back of the stage; they are each at a keyboard looking into the camera so it looks as if we are watching them from the screen. Rhys, Sarah, Jamie and Jordan gather in a group at the front of the stage as we hear Valentina’s voice reading their online messages, chats and status updates. They then watch PJ and Valentina’s keyboard duet from LOL. It is movement that communicates immediately, and with the score of computer and keyboard sounds (it’s clearly not a Mac), it’s witty and accessible. Online dating goes livid with Valentina having a fit in computer time when Jon intervenes between the two. Gradually the students shed their nerves and take their places with the company members in movement and text. There is a sofa at the back where Jamie takes a rest. A couple of teachers appear on the screen with anecdotes from a day in the life at school. Rhys and Sarah dance a duet, PJ runs fast around the stage with Valentina and Jon to form two teams with the students on either side of the stage. Jumping over each other (with PJ’s extraordinary elevation he could jump easily over two people at a time), the performers circle Jamie in the centre, while Jordan takes a moment to smile at his Mum. PJ brings more cables into the centre on which Jordan rests. His mother, who we see talking on screen, says she’s still on his friends list while Jordan mimes gaming on stage. Xoxo is all about communicating in the internet age, but is also about social values: the students agree they don’t want a friend that judges a book by its cover.

Very soon it is all over. Cheers and applause from a proud and appreciative audience. Jamie whistles his relief. PJ and Jon bring the sofa to the front of the stage on which the students relax as if they own it. Valentina brings flowers for each, and Luca a present. Sarah and Rhys look so confident: trust and confidence are the rewards of this project.  Jordan has learned teamwork and more capabilities. Jamie puts what he has learned into one word: skillage.

At the backstage reception afterwards the sense of pride, achievement and relief is palpable. Sarah and Rhys want to continue dance classes. But more than that: in an age of online chatter, non-verbal dance has found a way to bring out the characters and personalities of these students. It has not always been easy, but Silvestrini and his dancers have showed what is possible with patience, persistence and the right kind of moves. xoxo


HeadSpaceDance: Three & Four Quarters

Posted: September 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on HeadSpaceDance: Three & Four Quarters

HeadSpaceDance, Three and Four Quarters, Linbury Studio Theatre, September 11

There is a story of JMW Turner on varnishing day at the Royal Academy. In 1832, when Constable exhibited his painting, Opening of Waterloo Bridge, it was placed next to a seascape of Turner’s – a grey picture, beautiful in its own watery way, but with no positive color in any part of it. Constable’s Waterloo, by contrast, seemed as if painted with liquid gold and silver, and Turner came several times into the room while Constable was heightening with vermillion and lake the decorations of flags of the city barges. Turner stood beside him, looking from the Waterloo to his own picture, and at last brought his palette from another room. Putting a round daub of red lead, somewhat bigger than a shilling, on his grey sea, he then went away without saying a word. The intensity of the red lead, made more vivid by the coolness of his picture, caused even the vermilion and lake of Constable to look weak. ‘He has been here,’ said Constable to his colleagues after Turner had left ‘and fired a gun.’

I will come back to this.

HeadSpaceDance’s debut evening of premières, Three & Four Quarters, at the Linbury Studio Theatre, opens with Javier de Frutos’ Studies in M, with what appears to be three of the four cygnets from Swan Lake danced to the first movement of Bach’s concerto for oboe and violin which is repeated three times as the dancers regroup and embellish their disintegrating links. Christopher Akrill, Charlotte Broom and Clemmie Sveaas appear to know each other well; their performing history suggests it and there is a harmony and ease in their styles, a complicity rather than a familiarity. There is even a similarity in appearance, though this is possibly the softening effect of Fabrice Serafino’s androgynous nightdresses with tendril-like tassels and grey socks they each wear. The choreography also seems at ease, but this is the illusion of a performance that is timed and spaced to perfection; to repair the delicately absentminded breaching of their choreographic patterns is only an artful step away, a slight realignment of an errant arm or head. The structure of the trio follows Bach’s musical precision, though De Frutos takes advantage of the trio’s subtle, subversive humour and their quiet dramatic presence to keep them at times on the music’s lyrical path and at others insouciantly off it. At the end only Sveaas is left on stage, focusing intently on her movement phrases until Bach stops and she is left somewhere between the silence and the ticking of a clock. She walks half-way off, hesitates, then creeps quietly through the door at the back. There is applause, but no bows; the evening is programed as one work in several acts.

Akrill and Sveaas reappear from that same door carrying a roll of white, padded material that they unroll on the floor like a giant duvet. This is the bedroom setting of Didy Veldman’s insomniac In the skin I’m in 1, the first of his triptych of autobiographical portraits of each of the dancers. Veldman writes in his notes that in working with the dancers, he had set them a task of writing down their thoughts for five minutes. ‘This text was so interesting that it became the basis for what we’ve created together.’ Broom is recapping her to do list: teabags, phone Carole, tap: thoughts that punctuate this delightful watercolour sketch. The music, Alexander Balanescu’s Aria, is a perfect choice for Broom’s sleepless solo in which she uses the duvet as her stage, rolling in it, jumping on it, hiding her head under it, shuffling across it and pulling at a corner with her teeth. The advantage of watching from the balcony is that you can see the beautiful patterns she makes with the duvet. Broom has a childlike, playful quality that is infectious. Towards the end, as she throws herself again and again on the piled up duvet, she is laughing, and so are we. She suddenly remembers something she has to do, gathers up the duvet and drags it off.

Set to Satie’s Gymnopedies No. 3, Akrill’s portrait, In the skin I’m in 2, starts with watery images in a more outdoor, autumnal setting. Veldman accentuates Akrill’s long legs and arms, suggesting insecurity in his uncertain equilibrium. He has a secret that he wants to let out but can’t; he makes mistakes, but shrugs his shoulders or hides his head under his top. Like Broom’s portrait, it is dreamlike, punctuated not by verbal reminders but by some beautifully lyrical acrobatics, and at the end it is the element of air that prevails: inflating a plastic bag of nuts he has just finished, Akrill carefully ties it up. I think he is going to burst it, but instead he lies down next to it on the floor and blows it gently towards the wings.

For those who have not shuffled out to the bar, the interval is a continuation of the relaxed relationship the dancers have created with the audience and gives a sense of their ownership of the stage. Sveaas warms up while Broom brings in a chair and sweeps the stage; they chat, Sveaas puts down a centre mark and checks it with Akrill who has just arrived as if he is about to leave, in smart shirt and trousers with a backpack over his shoulder. There is some lighting focus, a consultation about a bump in the floor, and the three rehearse some moves. All is made clear after the interval with Luca Silvestrina’s After the Interval, ‘a piece about dance and dancers’ that makes a performance out of the dancers’ preparations. It starts ironically at the end with a parody of bows and works backwards, shining a light on rehearsals, the process of marking, the difficulty of talking through moves, the frustrations and contradictions of too many corrections, snatches of biography from an imaginary question-and-answer session and a run-through in the studio of a Brahms Intermezzo that is beautiful and beautifully danced (in relaxed studio mode, we are led to believe, without anybody watching). It is fun, it is light, it is cleverly put together but it is essentially introspective and as self-referencing as the previous works. We are getting to over three quarters of the way through the evening, and the introduction to the company has barely changed gear. Sveaas is still to come with her Veldman portrait, In the skin I’m in 3, set to another piece by Alexander Balanescu, Empty House Space. The pace increases, as this is more energetic than the other two portraits, more intense and serious, a balancing act between sunshine and shadow in the form of long horizontal bars of light across the stage. It is a fighting solo, with agitated arms and elbows and frenetic hands and fingers, Sveaas’ body falling and recovering, with both weight and a sense of being lost in space. The lighting (by Simon Bennison throughout the program) works closely with the choreography, removing one bar of light at a time until Sveaas (happily) walks off along the one remaining.

Broom then opens the door at the back of the stage and steps in, holding the door for Akrill to follow; light pours in and the colours of Broom’s skirt and blouse blast the stage with energy, light and emotion at the beginning of this extract from Light Beings, by Mats Ek. The music is the Andante Festivo by Jean Sibelius, a festive piece to which Ek adds an acutely colourful variety of gestures and steps that seem to overpower it to the point of mockery. There is a moment in this short piece when the dancers leave the stage for Sibelius to regain his composure, but when they return with shaking heads and hands and Akrill’s drunken, swaggering gait, the dancing once again puts an arm around Sibelius and leads him to the bar. Akrill’s extraordinary jeté with his supporting foot suspended in Broom’s hands is a climax of Ek’s daring and outrageously imaginative choreography.

Introductions finally over, this was the keynote moment, like Turner’s daub of red lead, that illuminates everything that has gone before, as if we have been watching the slow growth of a pale stem that suddenly opens in a glorious, pleated apricot and turquoise bloom and the vein of humour coursing through the evening finally bursts out in Ek’s broad, uplifting, joyous laugh. It is brilliant programming, and if the triumph of the evening’s dancing belongs to the company’s founders, Akrill and Broom, it could not have happened without the supporting role of Sveaas. All three (finally) take a (proper) bow and receive a well-deserved ovation.