NDT1 at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 6th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on NDT1 at Sadler’s Wells

Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT1) at Sadler’s Wells, April 20

Gabriela Carrizo / Jiří Kylián / Crystal Pite and Simon McBurney

NDT1 La Ruta
An image from Gabriela Carrizo’s La Ruta (photo@Rahi Rezvani)

Nederlands Dans Theater has a rich association with choreographer Jiří Kylián, whose 100th work* for the company, Gods and Dogs, is a welcome addition to the Sadler’s Wells program. Created in 2008 for NDT2, the choreography, with lighting by Kees Tjebbes, décor by Kylián, costumes by Joke Visser and brought to life by NDT’s superb dancers, shines like a polished hallmark of the company brand. For all the time Kylián has choreographed work for NDT, his prolific output has come to define that elusive (for some) crossover between classical technique and contemporary aesthetics. He matured as a dancer and choreographer in Stuttgart under the guidance of his mentor, John Cranko, who, as artistic director and choreographer, turned the Stuttgart Ballet from a provincial institution into an internationally renowned company. Kylián was thus a progeny of a fertile artistic turbulence that encouraged his own creative talents while he learned the craft of dancing (William Forsythe was another who benefitted from Cranko’s vision). For the 25 years Kylián was artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater (1975-1999) he created the company not in his own image but, like Cranko at Stuttgart, in the image of his choreography. Whether it’s the hundredth or the ninety-fourth work he created for the company, Gods and Dogs is as fresh and confident in its use of language as ever. Kylián has the ability to imbue his choreography with a sense of thought that is endlessly intriguing, like a communication from an unknown land. Perhaps this is why Kylián considers Gods and Dogs an unfinished work, a glimpse of a world far away yet tantalisingly close.

What makes for an intriguing introduction to the evening is Gabriela Carrizo’s La Ruta (The Road), a crossover genre of mime, theatre and dance (Carrizo is the co-founder of Peeping Tom) that has the visual appeal of an Edward Hopper painting come to hallucinatory life. There is a connection between Gods and Dogs and La Ruta in the rubber-legged virtuosity of the choreography — and the rubber-legged virtuosity of the dancers — but where Kylián incorporates it as an extension of his fluid style, Carrizo makes it into a theatrical image of spectacular unease and humour (sitting in on an audition for La Ruta would have been a long gasp of amazement). La Ruta is the stuff of dreams and nightmares, of murky associations and the inexplicable sequence of events. It is beautifully designed by Amber Vandenhoeck, lit by Tom Visser with a score of original music and musical fragments by Raphaëlle Latini.  

In another, perhaps subliminal link to Kylián, the choreographer’s own words — part of an apologia for creating his website — could have introduced Crystal Pite’s collaboration with Simon McBurney: ‘…And yes, I am also painfully aware of the fact that whatever we do or make is doomed to disappearance, and that our “Planet Earth” will be burnt to ashes and then frozen to death and finally it will become a totally insignificant dwarf within the universe…’ Yet Kylián’s pessimistic expression contrasts to the rather saccharine ‘journey into climate emergency’ that characterises Figures in Extinction [1.0]. McBurney provides as a structure a recorded list of extinct species and geological phenomena — with text excerpts from John Berger’s Why Look at Animals? read by himself with interpolations from his six-year-old daughter Marnie — which Pite illustrates with some beautifully crafted animal cameos costumed by Nancy Bryant with Jochen Lange’s puppets under Toby Sedgwick’s direction. But lists are more the domain of lecture demonstrations, not of choreography. Left to her own devices (with her close artistic associate Jay Gower Taylor, playwright Jonathon Young and lighting designer Tom Visser), Pite has created memorable choreography based on a play (Revisor), spoken text (The Statement) and a scenario of personal trauma (Betroffenheit); she has also transformed the atmosphere in the Royal Opera House with a full evening work (Light of Passage) on the subject of existence. But with Figures in Extinction [1.0] she seems constrained by McBurney’s didactic structure. There is a spark of her feisty spirit in the creation of the climate change denier (a verbatim dance to words recorded by Max Cassella), a delicious and caustic cameo that flails against the evidence of destruction. Pite is a choreographer who, like Kylián, delves deep into the human psyche to create her works; in Figures in Extinction [1.0] McBurney seems to have appropriated that power but, in so doing, diminished its value.

* On his own website, Kylián lists Gods and Dogs as his 94th work.

Alleyne Dance, Far From Home, Dance East

Posted: June 7th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alleyne Dance, Far From Home, Dance East

Alleyne Dance, Far From Home, Dance East, Ipswich, April 21

Alleyne Dance, Far From Home
A dramatic image from Alleyne Dance’s Far From Home (photo: © Foteini Christofilopoulou)

Alleyne Dance’s Far From Home, presented at Dance East in April, treats the question of immigration and assimilation with a warmth and empathy that is crucially missing from current political discourse. The work speaks on behalf of migrants by using their own voices not only to make them heard above the clamour of public opinion but to extrapolate a humanitarian resolution to their situation. Immigration, of course, has underpinned the UK’s cultural life since before the Romans landed, and the issue of who can reside in this country and under what conditions has exercised social and political discourse ever since. Only recently, unscrupulous politicians used the fear of a migrant ‘invasion’ to make the case for ‘taking back control’ of our borders in the run-up to the Brexit referendum.

Alleyne Dance — the twin sisters, Sadé and Kristina Alleyne — has developed a powerful choreographic presence through work based on the image of their twin selves: small scale embracing significant themes. In Far From Home, a co-commission by The Place London, Dance City Newcastle, Dance East and Dampfzentrale Bern, the Alleyne sisters again take on a significant theme but increase the scale of the work by employing a cast of six professional dancers — including themselves — and a multi-generational group of non-professionals recruited from the local community. Such a shift in scale may be a necessary step in the evolution of Alleyne Dance, but it comes with challenges. In their previous work as a duo, the physical and mental bond between Sadé and Kristina has been a syntax that is both compact and expressive; they can play off each other with the confidence of a unified language. With an enlarged cast, that strength of common language is dispersed and weakens the choreographic treatment. At the same time the excellent production values — Emanuele Salamanca’s  set, Giulia Scrimieri’s costumes, Salvatore Scollo’s lighting and Nicki Wells’ music — seem to conspire towards a rounded entertainment that, instead of highlighting the gravity of the subject, effectively masks it. The German playwright Bertolt Brecht experimented with this balance in the performance of his plays so as to free a critical approach to the story from the illusory effects of theatrical convention. The polemics of immigration in Far From Home are implicit in the voices it presents, but the voices merge too much into the production values for the polemics to register. One need look no further than their previous work, A Night’s Game, to see how the Alleyne sisters can find exactly the right balance when they put the subject of incarceration into powerful emotional focus.

It may be an unintended consequence of the commission of Far From Home that has compromised the Alleyne sisters’ critical approach to their subject. The decision to use local, non-professional movers in a production is a way for theatres to strengthen ties with their community but from the perspective of the production, the disparity in movement styles can compromise choreographic invention. Allocating the role of migrants to the professional dancers and those of a host community to the local cast only exacerbates this divide. On the other hand, transferring the Alleyne sisters’ own muscular choreography to the professional dancers can end up in gratuitous acrobatics, drawing attention to itself for the wrong reasons.

Where the Alleyne sisters reveal their sense of history most powerfully are in the images throughout the production that show, sometimes overtly and sometimes subliminally, the intimate relationship between immigration and slavery: the opening setting of long braids on the floor like the points of a compass, the pulling of ropes against an unseen force, and, for a fleeting moment on a crowded stage, the awful sense of bodies adrift in the water, reminiscent of JMW Turner’s painting Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On). Not all images work, however: At the end of Far From Home, updating history to the present, we are left to contemplate a pile of bodies washed up under a high shower head of dripping water. You know its significance, but it misses its mark by reducing the human loss and the absence of empathy that caused it to an image that is less disturbing than all too theatrically literal.

Far From Home is a stage of development for Alleyne Dance in response to an important commission, but it reveals some of the pitfalls in scaling up production. What is not in doubt is the hard-hitting intent at the core of their work.  

(Alleyne Dance has just been announced as the winner of the Best Independent Company Award at the 2023 National Dance Awards in London.)

SERAFINE1369, IV at The Yard

Posted: June 1st, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on SERAFINE1369, IV at The Yard

SERAFINE1369, IV, The Yard, April 27

Natifah White, SERAFINE1369 and Steph McMann in IV (photo: Camila Greenwell)

It comes as no surprise that Jamila Johnson-Small, aka SERAFINE1369, sees dance as a philosophical undertaking. Their program note is redolent of a manifesto and the quartet they have created, known simply as IV, adheres to the manifesto with the intimacy of a translation. Or perhaps it’s the other way round: IV is a choreographic manifesto that the program note translates into a succinct philosophical treatise. Either way there’s an alchemical process at play that transforms words into movement and movement into words.

‘I want to invite you’, the program note begins, ‘into the ethics of this work. This is about finding space and trying to be free, trying to move towards ourselves and one another. To co-exist without the feeling of taking or giving away too much.’ How often is the audience invited into a performance as opposed to being told — often in terms of some parallel universe — what the performance is? Invitation is indeed at the heart of IV and once the details and qualities of the work come to rest in the mind, it becomes clear how it fleshes out this introductory invitation in its structure and in its movement.

Presented at The Yard as part of its NOW 23 Festival, IV is a quartet of dancers comprising Johnson-Small, Steph McMann, Darcy Wallace and Natifah White. There are two frameworks: time, measured by the disembodied voice of a speaking clock — on the minute, every minute for an hour — and the space, which includes the audience. Josh Anio Grigg’s sound design and the lighting conceived by Grigg and SERAFINE1369 create an aural and visual environment within that space.

The essence of the work is a ‘relational practice, one that does not presume, where we work to disentangle from and unsettle our assumptions, and also yours. Here, we encounter one another and ourselves.’ As part of the space in which IV is staged, we in the audience are an element, like the lighting and the sound, that informs the relational effect of the performance. As a result, over the four nights at The Yard there will be effectively four different performances: ‘We are re-imagining and creating this work anew each time.’  This is of course hypothetical from the perspective of observing only one of those performances, but it’s a proposition that informs the nature of the relation and it’s entirely tenable from the evidence of what we can see and feel.

What may be confrontational in viewing the work is that IV is presented in all the trappings of a conventional theatre setting, where performers are on one side of the fourth wall and the audience on the other expecting to see a show. It doesn’t need to be like that, and there is an intimation in IV of a much larger space that is not a theatre, where we are not seated and not watching, and yet somehow still involved. IV hollows out the expectation of a show, drawing the audience into its mystery, inviting us to share ‘just what it is, what we all come with, what we want to keep and what we choose to shed.’

The idea of breaking down duration into one-minute segments announced by a speaking clock immediately releases time of any extraneous trappings and allows it to fill with the interior space of the dancers which is, of course, as vast as the universe. Their breath, whether in movement or stillness, keeps expanding and as we watch these sixty minimal tableaux we can begin to let time expand within our own lives. The duration of the performance seems to shrink in proportion to this expansion. There is never too much movement to fill the time, nor too little; the dancers use their bodies to wrap time around them, which affects the space in which they perform. It is a vindication of IV’s integrity in breaking down the tension that exists between the nature of the performance and the convention of the theatre that there is only minimal applause at the end; there is no need as we have all by then become performers within IV’s framework. This is not a fortuitous conclusion; SERAFINE1369 works consciously ‘with/in the context of the hostile architectures of the metropolis towards moments and states of transcendence.’ They conceive of dance as an antidote to the ‘hostile environment’ ‘by dissolving and unfixing our internal replication of [it], and attuning to our embodied experience in relationship.’

SERAFINE1369’s IV is a celebration of movement within stillness, of stillness within movement, and a choreographic breath of fresh air.

Duda Paiva, Blind, The Coronet Theatre

Posted: April 18th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Duda Paiva, Blind, The Coronet Theatre

Duda Paiva, Blind, The Coronet Theatre, March 8, 2023

Duda Paiva, Blind
Duda Paiva and Madam (photo: Patrick Argirakis)

Next up on The Coronet Theatre’s Spring season after Titans is Duda Paiva’s Blind, a theatrical framework conceived by Paiva and Nancy Black that charts Paiva’s life from a childhood disease that left him temporarily blind in his native Brazil to an inspired maker and manipulator of puppets in the Netherlands. Blind links these two autobiographical events to trace the journey of his ‘surreal path to healing’, but implicit in his performance are some unspecified details in between: having trained as a dancer and actor in Brazil, India and Japan, Paiva settled in The Netherlands where he was invited by choreographer Itzik Galili to be part of a co-production with an Israeli puppet company. The production never happened but Paiva was so intrigued by the puppets that he asked the members of the company to train him in their craft. He didn’t understand why he was so drawn to this form of theatre until one day, holding one of his puppets by its neck, he was immediately reminded of how he had held his brother’s neck to be guided through the streets of his hometown when he was suffering from his eye infections. This haptic experience informs the emotional core of Blind — of finding one’s creative path through adversity — that puts it in the same category as Christiano Bortone’s 2006 film, Rosso come Il Cielo, which follows the story of a young Italian boy, Mirco Mencacci, from the accident that blinds him as a boy to his becoming a prominent sound engineer. Both Blind and Rosso come Il Cielo translate the resilience of the human spirit into an artistic form that embodies and heightens it.

Another effect of Paiva’s disease was a severe blistering of his body. In addition to wearing a large pair of goggles, he arrives on stage in a onesie of conspicuously misshapen bulges on his chest, back and legs, and takes his place next to one of several audience members seated on either side of the stage. Striking up casual conversations as he moves from one to another, he draws each person into his story, telling them how this setting reminds him of the waiting room of a local curandera, or faith healer (known as Madam) to whom his mother first took him to find a cure. Paiva recreates the waiting room, like a theatre within a theatre, by asking his audience what brings them there, or asking for their indulgence in giving his blistered body a scratch.

Wilco Alkema’s music and sound design bring emotional colours to Blind, while Mark Verhoef’s lighting gives it visual intensity. Daniel Patijn’s set is both decorative and enigmatic, having no immediate connection to Paiva’s opening discourse: three upturned bell-jar frames covered in white embroidered material like elaborate crinolines are supported by ropes and pulleys at three corners of the stage. The fourth item is an empty pedestal. Paiva hoists the crinolines into the air one by one, continuing to engage his audience by asking them to hold the ropes until the stage is set and they can let go. In this engaging preamble not only does he gain our full attention and curiosity, but Patijn’s set comes into its own and Paiva has prepared the stage for the appearance of Madam.

Madam is hidden upside down inside a crinoline, and Paiva, with a magician’s deftness, first reveals her shadow with a torch and then upends the crinoline to reveal her charismatic torso which he places on the empty pedestal. The expressivity Paiva imbues in her soft foam body is remarkable, deriving as much from the dancer as from the puppeteer/ventriloquist. He has Madam wrench a soft, amorphous lump from his chest which he unfurls into another figure that gives his disease a disarmingly humanoid form. Paiva vents his frustration and anger against this being but when he later wrenches the remaining lumps from his body, they too form humanoid figures towards which Paiva expresses as much tenderness as frustration. Blind centres on this ambivalence towards disease, aware that, in Paiva’s case, it is as much an affliction as it is the catalyst of his development.

We all have our physical ailments — visible or invisible, latent or manifest — and our vision may not be as acute as we would like. But if we understand disease as something outside ourselves that somehow interferes with our development, the humility and generosity of Paiva’s artistry in this beautifully constructed and inspired performance leads us to readjust our thinking about adversity. Blind may well be a consummate allegory of healing.

Euripides Laskaridis, Titans, The Coronet Theatre

Posted: March 25th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Euripides Laskaridis, Titans, The Coronet Theatre

Euripides Laskaridis, Titans, The Coronet Theatre, March 3, 2023

Laskaridis, Titans
Dimitris Matsoukas and Euripides Laskaridis in Titans (photo: Julian Mommert)

With the announcement of their Spring season 2023, The Coronet Theatre has added to its reputation as a venue with some of the most eclectic and interesting dance and movement works in London. First up is Euripides Laskaridis’s Titans, a ‘bold and absurd fable blending dance and performance art…’ Laskaridis has worked previously with Dimitris Papaioannou and Robert Wilson from whom he has picked up not only ideas about craft but a love of Greek mythology. He has also learned from Papaioannou to use props in a surreal way to help unfold a free-flowing narrative, but he has taken it a step further in Titans in that he uses props as the narrative and as instruments of their own mythmaking.

There was a palpable anticipation in the first night audience who packed into the auditorium at the last minute in front of a dimly visible stage area littered with sundry props and scenic elements that seemed to relish a silent chaos of its own. The program note sets the action ‘before the world’s beginning’ — a time where all mythology belongs — and goes on to describe a place where ‘two solitary beings live between darkness and light, playing an endless game with no apparent purpose.’ This is a reduction of the original twelve Titans who in Greek mythology were the children of Uranus and Gaia, a parricidal offspring whose infighting led to a ten-year war with the Olympians. Laskaridis’ interest in the myth seems less in its detail than in searching for its contemporary resonances. Of the two solitary beings, one (Dimitris Matsoukas) is a hooded, dark-clad figure who merges into the dark surroundings or is seen in silhouette manipulating props, and the other is a grotesque vision inhabited by Laskaridis himself as a ludic provocateur, teasing us with technology that affects everything from the lights to his own amplified, high-pitched voice. 

Laskaridis has spoken in an interview about his need to distance himself from his theatrical alter-ego by using masks, and in Titans his mask is his entire body: a pink-skinned being with a large forehead, a long up-turned nose and a pot belly. His legs and feet, often in heels, complete the aspect of a cross-dressing agent of a mythical world in a constant process of revolution, a revolution inspired by whimsy, caprice and volatility and fuelled by a magic white dust. In this kind of world, extrapolated through a vivid imagination, any purpose in the endless games and ruses these two characters play — or even in the relationship between them — is hard to discern except for the palpable sense of enjoyment in their theatrical effect, a relish in the possibilities they unleash. But like the mythical language Laskaridis employs as an extension of his physical gestures, the focus of Titans is essentially inwards, an existential whirlpool that draws the action in on itself in a never-ending spiral of self-absorption. Is this perhaps Titans’ reflection on our current zeitgeist?

One can sense the end approaching as Laskaridis ratchets up the turbulence by setting all the suspended props in motion — how he avoids them as he dances around the stage is a brave piece of choreography in itself — accompanied by a faux Hollywood film score that in turn ratchets up the emotional effect. It’s a magical moment where everything implausibly seems to coalesce, where the possibilities of a conclusion (and Titans is nothing if not a medium of possibilities) remain in mid-flight. The ending, by contrast, feels oddly contrived as Laskaridis, collapsed in the corner with the artificial flowers and the pedal bin sprinkler, takes Matsoukas into his arms like the image of an instant Pietà. It’s as if Laskaridis has lost control of the forces he has unleashed in Titans and has imposed, with mischievous humour, a recognisable image of spiritual acquiescence like a white flag of surrender. 

The benefit of Laskaridis’ approach to theatre is the constant sensory provocation of an imagination let loose on effect, although theatrical overload is never far from the surface of Titans; one episode of prop manipulation follows another, searching for a meaning that constantly eludes us. But it’s a brilliantly achieved stage performance, both by the performers and the entire stage and production team. Hard-hitting may be a publicity term for emotionally provocative work, but with Titans it takes on another, more literal meaning: the raw physical aspect of material excess. 

Turn It Out with Tiler Peck & Friends at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 18th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Turn It Out with Tiler Peck & Friends at Sadler’s Wells

Tiler Peck, Turn It Out with Tiler Peck & Friends, Sadler’s Wells, March 9, 2023

Tiler Peck and Michelle Dorrance in Time Spell (photo: Christopher Duggan)

In William Forsythe’s The Barre Project, Blake Works II, which concludes Turn It Out with Tiler Peck & Friends, Peck works out the choreographic problems with such elegance and clarity that inherent in her response is the quality of the challenge that provoked it. Forsythe is a brilliant innovator of the use of classical technique in the way George Balanchine was; it is perhaps not surprising that Forsythe found in Peck, who trained at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet and rose to principal in the New York City Ballet, a dancer who knows instinctively how to absorb such innovation into her own technical repertoire and deliver a scintillating interpretation. Peck is joined in The Barre Project by fellow NYCB dancers, Lex Ishimoto and Roman Mejia, while Brooklyn Mack completes the quartet. Created during lockdown, entirely over Zoom — like some kind of haptic online surgery — The Barre Project, to the music of James Blake, took three months to conceive and a matter of days of studio work at CLI Studios to bring the four dancers together for its initial digital performance on March 25, 2021. Forsythe wrote at the time that, ‘Irrespective of genre, a dancer’s irrepressible capacity to summon fierce joy through their work gives testament to the resilience of the human spirit.’ He could have been talking not only about The Barre Project but of the entire evening Peck has devised and delivered to Sadler’s Wells audiences. 

Turn It Out with Tiler Peck & Friends highlights Peck’s love of producing, of finding works from other choreographers that challenge her own way of dancing and at the same time that accord with her vision of a show. And this is very much a ‘show’ in the Broadway sense: a unity of vision formed of diverse numbers. Peck, who according to Michelle Dorrance, ‘lives at the intersection of so many dance forms’, is clearly the source for this unity. The different numbers include, in running order, her own choreography in contemporary classical style; a philosophical duet by Alonzo King; an exuberant collaboration in tap and ballet for the full ensemble by Dorrance, Peck and Jillian Meyers, and Forsythe’s blindingly lyrical paean to classical ballet. What flows through the entire program is a palpable sense of consummate musicality. 

The only reason Peck does not dance in the first piece, Thousandth Orange, is that she expressly choreographed it on six colleagues while recovering from a herniated disc. Used to choreographing on her own body, the work reflects a certain reticence in dynamics while focusing on the fluid continuation of form and, one can’t help feeling, a desire for healing. The dynamic that permeates the movement, derived from Caroline Shaw’s exquisite quartet of the same name, played live on stage, is one of precise, sensual form reacting to the rippling of the wind.

Peck was drawn to the philosophical approach of choreographer Alonzo King by his belief that ‘dance is thought made visible, just as music is thought made audible.’ Inspired by his reading of the Upanishads, King created Swift Arrow for Peck and Mejia to the piano solo of the same name by Jason Moran (played on stage by Shu-Wei Tseng). The swift arrow of the title is ‘the disciplined mind’ fixed on its objective of oneness, and Peck translates this lucidly in her opening solo of sinuous lines and forms while the bare-chested Mejia looks on. Peck’s dynamic strength, however, is in marked contrast to the unseemly force Mejia employs when he comes to string his own bow: the disciplined mind of classical technique has been deflected in the gym, leaving King’s goal of uniting the two spheres tantalisingly unfulfilled. 

Time Spell, with choreography by Dorrance, Meyers and Peck ‘in collaboration with and improvisation by the dancers’ (not to mention assistant choreographer Byron Tittle) has a subtitle that captures its spirit and the post-pandemic environment in which it was created: ‘subdivisions of time and space, and intersections of isolation and community, longing and joy.’ Layered around the superb a cappella voices of Aaron Marcellus Sanders and Penelope Wendtlandt, Time Spell builds up an intense sense of community and brings the house down. On the way home on the bus I asked a lady clutching her program if she liked the show. ‘Oh yes’, she replied, ‘but I thought the third piece should have closed the evening.’ She has a point, from a purely theatrical perspective, but The Barre Project also sends out a consummate signal that the benchmark of ballet has been irrevocably raised. 

Simone Mousset, Empire of a Faun Imaginary

Posted: March 11th, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Simone Mousset, Empire of a Faun Imaginary

Simone Mousset, Empire of a Faun Imaginary, The Place, February 28, 2023

Simone Mousset, Empire of a Faun Imaginary
Hannah Parsons, Eevi Kinnunen, Lewys Holt and Tasha Hess-Neustadt in Empire of a Faun Imaginary (photo: Sven Becker)

If you take each word of the title and consider what it represents — its lines of influence and significance — and then multiply each by the other two and then by time and space, you get a surreal blend of history, myth, and evolution that forms the mere starting point of Simone Mousset’s latest work, Empire of a Faun Imaginary. Clearly no linear framework can accommodate such a vast canvas, so Mousset has created with her performers and collaborators a three-dimensional fable with no beginning and no end, revealed within the theatrical convention of the rising and the extinguishing of the lights. 

Four lascivious fauns (Tasha Hess-Neustadt, Lewys Holt, Eevi Kinnunen and Hannah Parsons) with bold eye makeup and costumed (for the women) in Birte Meier’s almost invisible hirsuit tights, appear displaced but poised in a neat diagonal in Lydia Sonderegger’s parched landscape with faded terra-cotta-coloured sculptural rocks. Under Seth Rook Williams’ lighting we see an almost flat plane like a painting, with the accented colours of Sonderegger’s costumes bringing the dancers into relief. There is a clear reference to the flat perspective and turned-in shape of Nijinsky’s faun but no sooner are we allowed to take this in than the dancers dissolve it into animalistic expressions of feral solitude in which their vocal agility conveys the uncanny disparity between human and animal. Jamie McCarthy is credited with the ‘voice work and vocal composition’ whose effect develops from the initially comic — especially with an almost camp interpretation of faunic movement — to the disturbingly visceral as Alberto Ruiz Soler’s soundscape blows in over the action like a weather front. 

The action is slow enough that we can follow where Mousset takes us but she never goes where we expect; she is constantly destabilising us with her wry yet compassionate humour that helps us to grasp the enormity of her proposal. As the program note states, ‘Yearning for transformation and new futures, Empire of a Faun Imaginary is a melancholic world in search of the miraculous, that asks: How can we go on, and how can we dream again?’. The scale of time she employs is so vast that it diffuses any direction to the action; it is as if Mousset is giving theatrical life to a consciousness that is bubbling up from deep within her life and searching to make sense of the world and its many mysteries, especially death. The four fauns, who are oblivious to any time span but the present, at first follow their instincts as they map out their proscribed space with casual and sometimes hilarious abandon — until one of them dies. Fear and grief transform the atmosphere. The voices of the survivors become the physical and psychological extensions of their bodies; Parsons, in particular, extends the range of emotion to startling levels in her vocal pyrotechnics. And then Mousset changes tack with delicious irony to a parental bedtime conversation projected on to two mute rocks (whose immutability is later challenged), followed by the entrance of a mangey mammoth (created by Sophie Ruth Donaldson and Emilie Mathieu) whose longevity signals life’s overarching continuity and the expedience of reincarnation. Once again, Mousset steers a course through hazardous spiritual terrain, but even if we can’t ignore the ineffable sense of existential dis-ease that pervades Empire of a Faun Imaginary, its pessimism is mitigated by Mousset’s surreal humour and her unfettered embrace of life’s complexities that suggests a way through. 

Crafting a compact theatrical work from such profound material requires a team in whom the artist can collaborate with complete trust. Apart from those already been mentioned above — and there is welcome continuity in that some have worked with Mousset on previous projects — Neil Callaghan is credited as ‘artistic companion’, Macon Holt as cultural theory consultant, Vasanthi Argouin as producer and in Lou Cope as dramaturg Mousset has evidently found a sympathetic spirit capable of disentangling threads and allowing them to find their place and significance in the finished schema.  

Mousset is currently a Work Place Artist at The Place, which helps to sustain a current group of eleven artists and to ‘provide conditions for their work to grow and flourish over a five-year period.’ She has written on the Work Place site that ‘making things up and dancing and moving is a way for me to try and save myself, and potentially others, from a sense of general hopelessness.’ With this welcome first UK performance of Empire of a Faun Imaginary, she has also raised dance to a level of discourse that not only saves but enriches. 

Dickson Mbi, Enowate, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: January 1st, 2023 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Dickson Mbi, Enowate, Sadler’s Wells

Dickson Mbi, Enowate, Sadler’s Wells, October 14, 2022

Enowate, Dickson Mbi
Dickson Mbi in Enowate (photo: Nick Thornton Jones and Warren Du Perez)

Dickson Mbi’s solo performance, Enowate, is an intense autobiographical exploration, beginning with his carefree soccer dreams and cockiness before diving into his genealogy — Enowate is his Cameroonian name. This is not the kind of material one might expect of such an outgoing, well-known and much respected hip hop performer; the dark body of Enowate sees Mbi toying with his ancestral roots, the animism of his culture of origin, and what they reveal about his dual identity. He is like an artist laying down thick paint on a canvas without quite knowing what the finished effect will be. As a dancer Mbi naturally uses his body to mark his brush strokes, painting time slowly; his muscular form of choreographic transmutation is in no hurry to evolve. In one hour of performance he takes us through a lifetime of exploration. 

From the cockiness and cheek of the opening sequences we lose sight of the Mbi we know; Lee Curran’s stage is bathed in darkness with beams of vertical light like a striated curtain through which we can make out the animalistic forms Mbi creates, fantastic beings that inhabit his imagination. Roger Goula’s swirling, growling score, featuring heartbeat and Mbi’s voice and breath, adds an aural density to Mbi’s imagination, as if emanating directly from inside his searching mind. Mbi does not hold our hand on this deeply personal journey but we follow him because we trust he will emerge out of these existential ruminations to reveal a new sense of self. 

But it is at the very moment of his emergence into the light that Mbi defers to theatrical effect rather than to the integrity of a choreographic resolution. Having articulated his journey up to now in sinuously expressive forms that cling to the earth, he suddenly appears behind a scrim in a flourish of animation that merges his being with a firmament of stars. Caught in a sophisticated web of projections that merely point to what he had experienced, our attention is drawn away from him; he has found the light but has left us in the dark. When just as suddenly he is released from the stellar projections and we see him standing on the stage in his finely chiselled but wearied form, we are at once relieved but ignorant of how he got there. 

In the post-show discussion with Alastair Spalding, Mbi revealed he had been dissatisfied with a previous ending of the show and had sought the advice of his producer and artistic consultant, Farooq Choudry, which goes some way to explaining why this graphical display at the end of Enowate appears to have travelled directly from an Akram Khan production. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Yeast Culture’s (Nick HIllel and Adam Smith) graphics: they are well designed and beautifully projected. They just don’t belong here. Mbi is too genuine an artist to need such a second-hand resolution to his personal choreographic journey; its resolution can only be found somewhere deep within himself amongst the wealth of material he has gathered along the way. In talking with Spalding, Mbi revealed the confluence of events that produced his latest show: at the same time he was pulling together its final elements he experienced fatherhood for the first time. It was just the kind of protean state he might have channelled in choreographic form at the end of Enowate

Dam Van Huynh, In Realness, Rich Mix

Posted: August 2nd, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dam Van Huynh, In Realness, Rich Mix

Dam Van Huynh, In Realness, Rich Mix, May 14

Dam Van Huynh, In Realness, Tomasso Petrolo
Tomasso Petrolo performs in Realness by Dam Van Huynh (photo: Rocio Chacon)

Picture Tommaso Petrolo standing in a white leotard on the bare stage in Rich Mix nonchalantly holding a black rubber tyre on one side. And as we are watching him in the silence, he is watching us, intently, one by one, switching focus in small degrees like a bird. He keeps his gaze on one or two — friends, perhaps — with a faint smile of complicity. We are also watching with growing intrigue how choreographer Dam Van Huynh is handling the beginning of his new work, In Realness. The image of Petrolo is stark yet alluring, brash yet modestly restrained. It’s an anomaly of muscular energy and macho posture in balletic guise, masculine yet feminine at the same time without being camp. To instruct such an image to move would be to disavow its carefully conceived ambivalence. Van Huynh resolves the issue by choreographing for Petrolo’s voice rather than for his body, and once his voice is set in virtuosic motion, the body becomes its natural corporal partner. 

That Van Huynh gives the voice such preference in a choreographic work is because In Realness is his attempt to make the body an instrument of rhetoric, the classical study of the persuasive and expressive forms of language. Here, the ‘logos’ is provided through a script; Van Huynh’s authorship is shared through the creative team of Ian Tang (composition), Patricia Roldán Polo (lighting) and Emma Lyth (costume), and the emotional charge is derived through the medium of Petrolo’s performance. 

Van Huynh’s script, made available to the audience, is a wide-ranging collection of citations from poets and activists who have inspired him, from Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau to Audre Lorde, Alok Vaid-Menon (ALOK) and Pussy Riot. In an interview Van Huynh conducted with Grace Nicol about the genesis of In Realness, he says he wanted ‘to create a body of resistance against oppressive norms and behaviours and to amplify our resilience. As a queer Vietnamese artist, I began the research commenting on gender politics and sexuality but as the work developed it became a larger symbol for inequality experience by many groups.’ 

The directness of the selected citations is already a powerful argument. Words may sit immobile on a page but they can excite movement in the brain. Walt Whitman’s appeal from Leaves of Grass to ‘Resist much, obey little’ contains a world of anti-establishment sentiment, while Audre Lorde’s admonition from Learning from the 60s is an irrefutable statement to the disenfranchised: ‘We share a common interest, survival, and it cannot be pursued in isolation from others simply because their differences make us uncomfortable.’ Pussy Riot loads the satire of its lyrics to Organs with punk aggression: ‘…bodies, bodies, bodies, My pressey replaced his dick with an ICBM. Freedom and bondage is the same shit now…’ ALOK’s advocacy of ‘an interconnectivity of not having to formulate your body as a pre-existing algorithm or equation’ is a key argument of Van Huynh’s questioning about sexuality and gender that initiated his research. And in terms of an overall call to freedom from any form of oppression, Thoreau’s famous quote is added to the script: ‘The best form of government is no government at all and that is what we’ll have when we are ready for it.’ 

The voice is a physical organ that sits somewhere between mind and body; Van Huynh choreographs for both with such force that Petrolo’s performance is exhausting and uplifting at the same time; his verbal acrobatics and the sheer energy with which he delivers his texts in various states of balance is prodigious. He manifests strength, power, and engagement as qualities that are shared with the qualities of the text. But it is the force of Petrolo’s exposition that we remember, its repetitions and intonations, rather than the clarity and continuity of what he says. Hence the importance of the script as a reminder of the work’s genesis. In Realness is the manifestation and release of Van Huynh’s built-up resistance but the vital path of its process is subsumed in the sound and fury of its performance. In Realness has all the essential elements of rhetoric — its argument, its authorial credibility and its emotional appeal — but the co-mingling of the three is not fully realised or focused. It chases its own tail in spectacular fashion while fragments of its cohesion tend to fly off at a tangent. But later, in the silence, when we put all the pieces back together, we find there is nothing missing. 

Compagnie Niya, Gueules Noires, Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 23rd, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Compagnie Niya, Gueules Noires, Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells

Compagnie Niya, Gueules Noires, Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells, April 29, 2022

Cie Niya, Gueules Noires
Valentin Loval in Gueules Noires (photo: Belinda Lawley)

Opening the Sadler’s Wells Breakin’ Convention program, Compagnie Niya presented Geules Noires choreographed by the company’s founder Rachid Hedli. ‘Gueules noires’ is a French slang term for miners, but it has a double meaning: coal soot as a physical characteristic is conflated with the slang term ‘Pieds Noirs’ designating the North African origin of many of the miners. Hedli knows what he is describing because he grew up within a mining community: his late father — to whom this work is dedicated — worked in the declining years of the Nord-Pas de Calais mining basin. 

Founded in 2011, Compagnie Niya comprises four dancers of North African heritage — Abderrahim Ouabou, Jérémy Orville, Valentin Loval and Hedli. Gueules Noires is Hedli’s first work for the company, constructed as a lyrical valedictory to his father as well as a choreographic treatment of the physical and social conditions of the mining environment. Lurking in the background is the broader issue of France’s post-colonial immigration policy, of which his father and Hedli have first-hand experience. While the politics are implicit in the subject, the emotional charge of the work derives principally from the love and respect Hedli feels for his father. His more objective view of underground working life, the camaraderie between the miners, and the relationships between them and their bosses, appears in the details. 

Hip hop is not an intrinsically narrative form of dance; it began outside in the street as a competitive display of virtuosity among and between individuals. Its origins are also closely related to rap music. Contemporary forms of hip hop retain both these elements —rap music and virtuosity — in varying degrees, but Compagnie Niya here eschews rap and uses hip hop as just one element in its narrative structure. Hedli’s choreographic language identifies strength, precision and rhythm — vital elements in working a coal face — while his theatrical elements — set, lighting and sound — suggest the underground environment. It is indicative of this experiment in fusing hip hop with narrative that the two strands remain parallel throughout, never quite merging; if you were to take away the contextual imagery from the hip hop sequences in Gueules Noires they would be a display of virtuosity, closer to their street origins.

The imagery of Gueules Noires is articulated in Sébastien Pouilly’s sound design and Matthieu Maniez’ lighting of the (unattributed) set. Pouilly uses a rumbling, subterranean soundscape while Maniez uses shafts of light to isolate characters and to delineate space. The set can be divided by light into an antechamber where the miners change into their working jackets, the mining face itself or a narrow precinct in which a violent confrontation takes place. For more intimate gatherings, Romuald Houziaux plays his own compositions on an accordion. 

But even if Hedli’s hip hop sequences don’t merge choreographically with the narrative elements, they function in a cinematic sense, like sound on a film reel: Hedli has the theatrical maturity to be able to layer all the elements of the performance to form a highly integrated whole. At times the dancers’ actions come into vivid focus, as in the dramatic dance of the miners’ head lamps, or in the scene of violent, stone-throwing resistance to the management. At others the choreography, sound and light act together in unison to create the images we see. Whether highlighted or integrated into the narrative, the dancers display a sincerity in how they perform — not outwardly to the audience but focused inwardly on the content of their work, linking their movement with elements of the aural and visual environment. One senses that all we see and hear, with its beginning and end, has been going on and will continue to go on whether we are watching it or not; this is the illusion of a continuum that Hedli effectively creates. 

The one overt reference to migration is in the ritual building of a small hearth at the end of Gueules Noires which is both poignant and ambiguous: does it represent the making of a home in a new country (assimilation) or a longing for the original home (national identity)? Compagnie Niya, as well as its language of hip hop, is similarly in the process of integrating itself into the French — and increasingly global — cultural environment. Hedli and his colleagues are very much in the present, using theatre as a powerful means of both remembering the past and imagining the future.