Crystal Pite, Jonathon Young, Kidd Pivot in Revisor at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 18th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Crystal Pite, Jonathon Young, Kidd Pivot in Revisor at Sadler’s Wells

Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young with Kidd Pivot in Revisor at Sadler’s Wells, March 5

Crystal Pite, Jonathon Young, Kidd Pivot
Doug Letheren as Director of the Complex in Revisor (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Choreographer Crystal Pite and playwright Jonathan Young have collaborated previously on two productions, Betroffenheit for Pite’s company, Kidd Pivot, and The Statement for Nederlands Dance Theatre. Although each work is quite independent of the other in terms of emotional heft, they both use the technique of lip-synching to recorded voices as a choreographic tool. In The Statement, the relationship between language and choreography is the basis of the entire work, taking Young’s one-act play about corporate disinformation to expressive heights, while Betroffenheit combines choreography and text in a haunting expression of trauma. Their latest collaboration for Kidd Pivot, Revisor, presented recently at Sadler’s Wells, pushes the boundaries of text and its physical embodiment further than both The Statement and Betroffenheit, with mixed results. 

What Young has proposed is his adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector (Revizor in Russian), a farce written in 1836 on the theme of government corruption in a small provincial town. Young’s production uses the recorded voices of nine actors directed by Meg Roe with original music and sound design by Owen Belton and Alessandro Juliani. By making a pun on the Russian title, Young changes the function of the Revizor to a Revisor of government documents; it has no bearing on the outcome of the farce but the word play informs the adaptation. After the curtain rises to an ominous rumbling of thunder, we hear the voice of a narrator (Roe) revising her description of the scene a couple of times before she’s happy with it. We’re in the office of the Director of the Complex (Doug Letheren) who has called in his cronies to discuss the arrival of a revisor (Tiffany Tregarthen) who they mistakenly believe has been sent by head office to report on their incompetent practices. The clarity of Jay Gower Taylor’s minimal period set, Nancy Bryant’s lush costumes and Tom Visser’s lighting engage with that of Pite’s gestural response to the voices. The ensuing scene of heated discussion sets in motion a thrill of choreography-as-farce as we take in Pite’s transmutation of language into gesture and the imagery she extracts from every nuance of the script. The dancers embody their characters through total corporal articulation and lip synchronisation to a degree of verisimilitude where we see the voices and hear the gestures. Jermaine Spivey’s physical translation of Juliani’s speech-impaired Postmaster Wieland’s dialogue keeps the audience in gales of laughter and on the edge of their seats in anticipation of its continuation, while Ella Rothschild as Minister Desouza fleetingly combines imagery of the Russian orthodox church and classical ballet in a passing phrase about religion and culture. 

The sheer energy of creative investment in this opening scene, so intricately woven and detailed, is remarkable. In the subsequent dialogue with the revisor and his assistant (David Raymond), however, and in the further convolutions of the plot, Pite’s transmutation of language plays second fiddle to Young’s adaptation of the script, which now takes us on a digression through a conceptual landscape — what Young calls a deconstruction of a farce. The dancers are in rehearsal clothes, and the dialogue is replaced by the narrator’s ‘report’ on the action using stage directions, looped vocal phrases and fragments of recorded text. It is difficult to tell if this ‘report’ demands something less precise of Pite’s choreography, or if her choreographic ingenuity loses traction in the treatment of dialogue. What were the dancers’ individual textual-corporal characterisations gradually evolve into danced solos and duets — even sections of unison choreography — that change Pite’s focus away from the text into movement. Just when Young’s deconstruction seems in danger of completely losing the plot, the opening scene and its characters return for the play’s resolution. Once again the dancers are in their costumes and their dialogue becomes lip-synched action. But by now the effect has waned and a sense of déjà vu sets in. What Pite and Young had begun with such promise just an hour before appears to be already overused, or perhaps that long, conceptual, self-reflexive middle section has numbed our choreographic interest and drained the dramatic action of its momentum. In an intense collaboration like this, if one partner pulls too much in one direction the other’s contribution suffers. Betroffenheit and The Statement held the balance like a high-wire act between theatre and choreography, each on their own terms; Revisor is ultimately disappointing because that balance is not maintained throughout the work, and there is nothing the extraordinary cast can do to save it. 


Viviana Durante Company in Isadora Now at the Barbican

Posted: March 12th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Viviana Durante Company in Isadora Now at the Barbican

Viviana Durante Company, Isadora Now: A Triple Bill at the Barbican, February 27

Isadora Duncan
Viviana Durante in Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulu)

Viviana Durante Company’s triple bill, Isadora Now, sets out to explore the impact of Isadora Duncan on dance. The program by the all-female ensemble is part of the Barbican’s 2020 season Inside Out, which ‘will showcase the work of artists who have found pioneering ways to articulate their innermost thoughts, feelings and desires…’ As Durante writes in the program, ‘Isadora Duncan was a pioneer of modern dance, an outsider who spurned the conventions and gendered roles of classical ballet and insisted on a woman’s right to express herself physically on her own terms.’ When Duncan performed in St. Petersburg in 1904, her freedom of movement presented a revelatory contrast to the classical works of the Imperial Ballet’s principal ballet master and choreographer, Marius Petipa. After almost forty years in this position, Petipa was coming to the end of his career, and in this creative interregnum a young Mikhail Fokine was searching for a new choreographic form. In Duncan’s dancing he believed he had found the plasticity he sought, and set about adapting it for his early works, most noticeably in Chopiniana (later renamed Les Sylphides). A seventeen-year-old Frederick Ashton saw Duncan dance in 1921 and was similarly struck by her expressiveness, returning to see her night after night. Fifty-five years later he set down his memories in his Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, which he created on Lynn Seymour. Marie Rambert, who had also been overwhelmed by Duncan’s dancing, is said to have cried when she saw Seymour perform the work because the experience was so close to what she remembered. 

Memory is at the heart of Isadora Now, with a difference: nobody involved in the project has ever seen Duncan dance. The first piece on the program — Dance of the Furies from Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice that Duncan had choreographed as a solo in 1911 — is a reconstruction by Barbara Kane for five dancers. Kane has devoted her life to studying Duncan’s style of dance which has been handed down through generations of Duncan dancers and teachers, though the genealogy of this staging is not explained in the program. As interesting as it is formally, what is missing is an understanding of how Duncan’s spirit might have informed the steps; it is in the nature of historical reconstruction that we shall never know. 

Durante is on firmer ground with Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes, in that both Seymour and Durante have been steeped in the Royal Ballet’s Ashton style and repertoire, and both have been recognised as the most gifted dramatic dancers of their respective generations. There are two grainy films of Seymour dancing the work that nevertheless offer an opportunity to see how she embodied what Ashton created on her. Durante was coached in the role by Camille Andriot rather than by Seymour but unless you saw her performance on the opening night you would have missed her interpretation on subsequent evenings due to injury. Her role is taken by Begoña Cao, a former principal dancer with English National Ballet, and although her extensive credits do not include works by Ashton, she gives an inspired interpretation of the work to the piano accompaniment of Anna Geniushene. 

Five Brahms Waltzes forms a bridge in the program between Duncan and the present. It’s a span of over a hundred years in which the emancipation of women has become a political reality in many, but not all parts of the world. Having written in 1903 that ‘she [the dancer of the future] shall dance the freedom of woman’, what kind of presence would Duncan have if she were alive today, and in the context of Isadora Now, what kind of dance would she embody? Durante leaves the answer to her co-producer, Farooq Chaudhry, who defers instead to his creative contacts. Chaudhry is the long-time producer and co-founder of Akram Khan Company and is also International Creative Producer for the Chinese choreographer, Yang Liping. Joy Alpuerto Ritter, his choice to choreograph the final work of the evening, has been a dancer and rehearsal director for Khan since 2013 and her composer/musician on this occasion is cellist, Lih Qun Wong, who has worked with Yang Liping. The Chaudhry network further co-opts the culmination of Isadora Now by employing a raft of creatives from both companies. Ritter’s work, Unda, fails to emerge ‘on its own terms’ from this chauvinistic influence, while her deference to Duncan’s style maintains a historical distance from a contemporary evaluation of Isadora now. 


Mette Edvardsen in Music for Lectures at Fest en Fest

Posted: March 4th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen in Music for Lectures at Fest en Fest

Mette Edvardsen, Music For Lectures/every word was once an animal, Fest en Fest, February 9

Mette Edvardsen in Music for Lectures
Music for Lectures…without musicians or lecturer (photo: Burrows & Fargion)

It’s a welcome opportunity to see Mette Edvardsen again at Fest en Fest after last year’s No Title. She brings not a solo work but a collaboration with Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Francesca Fargion: Music for Lectures/every word was once an animal. The setting is not a stage but one end of the Fuel Tank bar, against a door with a no entry sign on the outside. It’s a wet, stormy day and some people enter through it anyway to avoid an extra walk around the building. Seats are improvised, cushions are laid on the floor and Edvardsen is seated facing them cross-legged on a mat with microphone in hand. She is backed (or sided) by what is called a rock band consisting of Burrows on drums, Fargion senior on bass and Fargion junior on keyboard, but the musical style is more affected minimalist than rock. 

Once she begins her text in her deadpan Norwegian lilt, it is clear that Edvardsen’s discursive lecture, both in its rigorous construction and in the patterns of her thinking, is in fact a choreography of words and ideas that move with the fluidity of an enchaînement. That she remains seated is inconsequential; we can see the movement behind our eyes. She begins with a characteristic digression by saying she had once thought her title, ‘every word was once an animal’, was a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, but her memorisation of the misquote — its repetition in her memory — had value since it led her to read all Emerson’s works and what others had written about him. The way Edvardsen’s words contain meanings that spread out into other meanings like an endless stream of associations is perhaps something she has learned from Emerson. In fact, it wasn’t a digression at all, but a repetition of something that Edvardsen had prepared, rehearsed and was now performing.  

The meaning of the English words ‘repetition’ and ‘rehearsal’ is joined in the French ‘répétition’, and Edvardsen takes us through aspects of the word’s signification, teasing its many cultural connections and spatio-temporal ramifications, from the micro-cosmos of performances, rituals, and daily routines to quantum explanations of space-time. She integrates a story about the filming of the burning house in Tarkovsky’s Offret (The Sacrifice), examples of the Spanish artist Dora Garcia, the Beatles’ song Number 9 and considers the proposal of an alternative universal rhythm with a Big Bang followed by a Big Crunch followed again by a Big Bang. 

Repetition acts both as an affirmation and a procrastination, a looking back but also a distillation of possibilities in the future. Quoting the Danish philosopher Søren Kirkegaard, Edvardsen reminds us that repetition and recollection are the same movements but in opposite directions, because in recollecting what has been, one also repeats it. Such an economy suspends the repetition of the past in the future, giving rise to the entropy of what Edvardsen refers to as a ‘non-concept’. Through her diverse references Edvardsen is not merely illustrating repetitive patterns but turning them into a choreographic lecture as a way of knowing.

Throughout, Edvardsen never loses the thread of associations; she does, however, find a red thread stuck on her sock but this, she reminds us, is a repetitive digression at the core of any performance and of the performing arts: the rehearsal of a pattern that is never the same and yet not so different as to be unrecognizable. 

In a previous project called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, Edvardsen associated the memorisation of a book with the way a dancer learns choreography in rehearsal, and a live reading with performance. A copy of one of the books in the project was Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but the memoriser’s copy was beginning to fall apart from wear (it can happen to a dancer, too). When she replaced it with a new one she was horrified to find the opening line was a different translation. By repeating the same line in a number of English translations, Edvardsen demonstrates how each iteration of a gesture, a word, a phrase or a verse can create a different image or association. As Emerson actually wrote, ‘Every word was once a poem.’ 

Fest en Fest offers its audiences examples of what it calls ‘expanded choreography’. The symbiotic link between language and dance that Edvardsen develops through the medium of the voice — with or without an accompanying band — is a perfect example. 


Alina Cojocaru in Alina at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 29th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alina Cojocaru in Alina at Sadler’s Wells

Alina Cojocaru, Alina, at Sadler’s Wells, February 21

Alina Cojocaru
Alina Cojocaru (photo: Moran Norman)

Alina Cojocaru, currently a principal dancer at English National Ballet, is the kind of performer who can efface her personality to fuse her creative self with the character she is playing. A program that celebrates her, such as the recent Sadler’s Wells evening, Alina, is thus faced with a challenge as to who is being presented. Cojocaru initially sidesteps the issue by stressing the musical heart of dance in a performance by cellist Margarita Balanas and violinist Charlie Siem of Handel’s Passacaglia for Violin and Cello.

We first see Cojocaru as performer in Tim Rushton’s Reminiscence, a duet for her and Johann Kobborg that Rushton began ten years ago and finished only recently. It is set to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel — played live on stage by Balanas and pianist Sasha Grynyuk — the clarity of which is matched by the lightness of Rushton’s lines and gestures. Cojocaru inhabits these with ludic innocence, willingly accepting and returning the playful advances of an attentive and admiring Kobborg. As the first chapter in an expressive biography it reads as a coming-of-age ceremony in which the image of a butterfly opening its wings merges with the development of a mature relationship. Kobborg has a moment of casual virtuosity that he passes off with a smile, and they walk off together with a quiet sense of fulfilment.

There are two short films by Kim Brandstrup that act as introductions to the person from whom the performer develops, as well as serving the practical function of giving Cojocaru time to breathe and change between works. The first is Faces, to music by François Couperin, in which the camera focuses on Cojocaru’s face in front of a painted crimson backdrop; the proximity derives from Brandstrup’s pleasure in watching dancers ‘marking’ in the studio — ‘going through a choreography in their head while listening to the music’. Brandstrup abstracts from Cojocaru’s face the function of marking, leaving uncanny traces of an internal dialogue between person and performer. 

Her next outing is in Juliano Nuñes’ Journey, a trio for herself, Nuñes, and Dominic Harrison to the music of Australian composer, Luke Howard. Nuñes’ choreographic profile has been rising over the last year; he is much in demand, and he evidently still enjoys dancing in his own creations. In an evening devoted to the art of Cojocaru, however, Nuñes manages to lose her by placing too much attention on her easy acquiescence and pliancy in being partnered.  

Brandstrup’s second film, Kiev, is a homage to Cojocaru’s ballet teachers at the Kiev State Ballet School: Denisenko Vladimir Andreevich, Rubina Alla Davidovna, Obovskaya Larisa Nikolaevna and Lagoda Alla Vecheslavovna. She had not been there in 25 years and the video shot in the school by David McCormick captures this passage of time. Brandstrup treats the architectural space as a museum in which Cojocaru’s youthful flow of movement contrasts with the stark stillness and the gnarled hands of her teachers. The film evokes the power of communication through touch and the evident reverence of Cojocaru for her teachers and of her teachers for their student’s achievements. It is set, appropriately, to Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina, in a recording by Alexander Malter. 

Kobborg’s Les Lutins, created in 2009 for Cojocaru, Steven McRae and Sergei Polunin, opens with displays of male virtuosity to an equally virtuosic Études-Caprices in A minor of Henryk Wieniawski played by Grynyuk and Siem. Marcelino Sambé sets the tone with a flamboyant but technically precise variation that flirts impishly with the musical accents in a delightful interplay with Siem. Takahiro Tamagawa enters with his own arsenal of male wizardry that escalates competitive bragging rights until Cojocaru steps into the fray in male attire and a mischievous smile. Her sassy brand of one-upmanship turns male bravado into competitive flirtation until she deflates both by her awed admiration for the violinist. As the two dancers kneel entreatingly at her feet, she pushes them over and offers her heart to Siem. 

The second part of the evening is a performance of Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand with Francesco Gabriele Frola as Armand, Kobborg as his father, and Alastair Marriott as a quintessential duke. Kobborg is able to translate his close relationship with Cojocaru into a touching and utterly credible father-in-law to Marguerite, and while Frola’s impetuous passion fuels his duets with Cojocaru, his natural elegance is too well-mannered for Armand’s more brazen behaviour. Cojocaru remains in the eye of the buffeting storm, inhabiting Marguerite’s tragic story so unconditionally that in her disguise she fully reveals herself. 


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Bluebeard at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 22nd, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Bluebeard at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Bluebeard, Sadler’s Wells, February 14.

Bluebeard
A scene from the current production of Bluebeard (photo: Maarten Vanden Abeele)

Because of the Béla Bartók estate’s withdrawal of the rights to the music, it has been a long time since Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch has been able to perform the 1977 creation, Bluebeard — While Listening to a Tape Recording of Béla Bartók’s Opera ‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle’. But if you had never seen it before and, wanting to complete your review of Pina Bausch’s work, had spent an hour and fifty minutes watching it at Sadler’s Wells, you still would not have seen it. Bausch died in 2009 and, despite the company’s constant efforts to the contrary — now under the general and artistic direction of Bettina Wagner-Bergelt — it is ingenuous to expect anybody else to have the authority to restage her works, especially ones like Bluebeard that have been out of the repertoire for so long. Dancers whom Bausch rehearsed may remember the choreography and be able to transfer their individual insights and understanding to a younger generation — as in this reconstruction directed by two of the original cast, Jan Minarik and Beatrice Libonati — but Bausch’s precise, idiosyncratic process of moulding the individual dancers to her imagination and her imagination to the work can never be reproduced. It can be experienced, however, in film; there is an early, grainy VHS recording in which Minarik and Libonati embody Bausch’s conception of Bluebeard and Judith with such ferocious energy — as does the entire cast — it is far more immediate than the current reconstruction. Notwithstanding the physical signifiers, one major casualty of the Bluebeard at Sadler’s Wells is the sense of dark menace; gestures are repeated without the tics of feral obsession, while the sardonic humour of the men preening themselves at the front of the stage turns into gratuitous display. In addition to directing the reconstruction, Minarik and Libonati have to contend with the worldview of a young company in a very different era. Perhaps we have become so inured to psychosis and sexual violence that we find it amusing — as some in the audience expressed on Friday night — or perhaps the production simply lacks a sufficient sense of alienation to disturb our complacency. 

Bausch’s creative life is so intimately integrated in her work that any presentation of her repertoire inevitably reflects on her legacy. For those who see this Bluebeard for the first time the legacy is affected, unintentionally on the part of the company and perhaps unknowingly on the part of the audience, by the absence of her approval. And yet while it may not be the real thing, seeing this example of Bausch’s early creative canon is enough to remind us of her genius for transforming the stage into choreographic drama and of those original dancers who embodied her vision so devotedly.  

One might be tempted to ascribe a Jungian interpretation of the Bluebeard tale to Bausch’s interest in staging the work at that early point in her career. Having taken over the Wuppertal Opera in 1973 and choreographed two operas, as well as the Rite of Spring, and The Seven Deadly Sins, she had come to a creative door that threatened to close. The key to the forbidden room in the tale symbolizes consciousness; Judith can choose not to open the door or by unlocking it find the truth. For Bausch, working away from the theatre in Jan Minarik’s studio with a tape recorder and a small group of dancers who believed in her methods, the production of Bluebeard released her inspiration and launched the development of Tanztheater. 

Based on an early recording of Bartók’s opera, Bausch’s rendering invokes classical ballet, expressionist dance, everyday gestures and dramatic theatre. Rolf Borzik’s set suggests the inside of the room Bausch had unlocked: clinically bare, with high white walls in a nineteenth century mansion or institution with inset windows and doors that mark the perimeter of the stage. The white floor is covered in armfuls of dry autumn leaves that record the passage of dancers passing over it. It is an imposing space and at the same time an intimate setting in which a tape recorder on a portable base takes on the role of fateful agent. Throughout the performance the character of Bluebeard (Oleg Stepanov) plays, stops, and rewinds the tape so as to provoke, arrest or replay his obsessive passion for his wife, Judith (Ophelia Young) that is magnified and enhanced by the entire cast. It is in the negotiation of such precise, repetitive details that the pervasive menace of the work is either contained or seeps away.


Resolution 2020: Kindred & Judd, Parbati Chaudhury, Grand Gesture

Posted: February 20th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2020: Kindred & Judd, Parbati Chaudhury, Grand Gesture

Resolution 2020, Kindred & Judd Collective, Parbati Chaudhury, Grand Gesture, January 29

aGender, Resolution 2020
Maga Judd and Helen Kindred in aGender (photo: Cheniece Warner)

A theme of this Resolution triple bill of the Kindred & Judd Collective, Parbati Chaudhury and Grand Gesture is the linking of the individual’s everyday struggle with, respectively, identity, pain and old age. 

In aGender, Helen Kindred and Maga Judd confront their quest for identity in the continuous juggling of roles, expectations, and norms. Garments scattered around the stage are metaphors for the way in which identities are constructed, adapted and articulated. As the audience walks in, Kindred is wandering from pile to pile, selecting, putting on and taking off items of clothing with the timeless nonchalance of one accustomed to improvising; Judd is already exhausted by the process and is resting, camouflaged, on a pile of clothes. But not for long; soon dresses are pulled over their heads like playful tokens of subversion and liberation as they both drop on all fours and scamper around to Judd’s mix of Polish and English endearments until she screams and time comes to a deafening stop. As much a performance of rebellion as it is an affirmation of dogged persistence, aGender continues with the repeated rhythmical motif of falling and getting up, in which an endearing sense of mutual help and friendship develops between the two women that borders on the euphoric. The dancers pile layers on layers to the point they impede their movement; Kindred succumbs to the load, but Judd cannot help her: ‘I have to go,’ she says, ‘I have no time.’ Judd’s score, which acts like a ground from which the colours and textures emerge, now goes into reverse with a joint refrain from the two performers prefixing a familiar list of tasks for which they have no time, a refrain of the perpetual attempt to keep up with professional, domestic and social roles to the point of exasperation. While such a search for identity resonates with the history of feminism and established constructions of womanhood, the ambiguity of the final gestures — both achievement and exhaustion — suggests the struggle continues.  

Sigmund Freud’s formulation of the concept of trauma emerged from his observation of the belated psychological pain suffered by patients who had been involved in railway accidents that had caused them only minor concussions or injuries. In Fader, choreographer Parbati Chaudhury links questions around the persistence of pain with two emblems of modernity that are deeply implicated with colonialism — the system of railways and the discipline of psychoanalysis — and reinterprets them through kathak dance movement. In the opening, Meera Patel’s kneeling body sways forward and back as if on a journey; her hands move continually to a source of pain in her side until it resolves. The work is episodic, divided both into different states of pain by choreographic gesture and into different spatial areas by judicious lighting and haze. While there are some unresolved tensions between dynamic representation and static illustration, Fader is an evocative expression of trauma that Patel’s lyrical qualities, poise and acute musicality help to convey. She is helped by Jesse Bannister’s score, composed for sarod, guitar, and bass, on which she dances like an additional instrument, creating together a choreographic and musical journey of richly rewarding cross-cultural fertilization. 

Grand Gesture’s That Old Feeling introduces four ‘geri-anarchists’ — a new identity designation — who explore attitudes to ageing. The work examines the ambiguity of age between subjective sensation and societal expectation, throwing down the gauntlet in a riotous affirmation of the former. Depositing themselves centre stage in plastic bags at the beginning of the work, Mary Cox, Bruce Currie, Gilly Hanna and Andy Newman collectively embody the recorded litany of derisive epithets used to describe older people, from ‘old git’ and ‘duffer’ to ‘coffin dodger’. It’s a dark, hard-hitting image that quickly loses its satirical bite to self-mockery; the four geri-anarchists climb out of their bags in long white coats and subvert the lyrics of Guy Lombardo’s That Old Feeling by acting out the physical attributes of ailing. In the subsequent series of solos and ensemble numbers, however, subverting lyrics turns into subverting assumptions, no more so than in Currie’s enthusiastic belly dance number. The danger of using assumptions about age in order to flaunt them is that the manner of flaunting becomes a new meme that perpetuates the original assumptions. Cox breaks the mould by creating choreographic impressions of her memories, but within the piecemeal construction of the work, her subtle contribution is overpowered by the irrepressible desire of Grand Gesture to forcibly ‘shake off the cloak of elder invisibility’. 


Marikiscrycrycry’s He’s Dead as part of Now 20 at The Yard

Posted: February 17th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marikiscrycrycry’s He’s Dead as part of Now 20 at The Yard

Marikiscrycrycry, He’s dead, The Yard, February 8

He's Dead. Photo Elise Rose
Blue Makwana, Eve Stainton, Malik Nashad Sharpe and Gareth Chambers (photo: Elise Rose)

The predominant sensation of Marikiscrycrycry’s He’s Dead, presented as part of Now 20 festival at The Yard, is a density created not only by Jon Cleveland’s thick, blue haze through which we see the choreographed images but by the difficulty in teasing out the motif from its ground. Malik Nashad Sharpe is a cult figure in black/queer theatre where the body signifies both the subject and object of performance; joining them at The Yard in this blend of performance art and dance theatre are Gareth Chambers, Blue Makwana and Eve Stainton, all in Mia Maxwell’s fantastical costumes. 

He’s Dead is nominally about the rapper Tupac Shakur, aka 2Pac, widely respected for his stand on fighting inequality and discrimination, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles at the age of 25. Sharpe looks at the narrative of Shakur’s life and asks if he might have been depressed. ‘I think he was, and that isn’t a large part of the narrative behind his aesthetics and his work’, Sharpe explains to Thomas Stichbury in a recent Attitude magazine interview, ‘and I am curious about what that means to someone like me. I want to tease out and materialize a black aesthetics of melancholia and experimentation that allows for the humanity of the things I might feel, and on terms that are not fatal or voyeuristic.’ Sharpe’s form of theatre draws oppression towards them so they can transform it into a complex aesthetic of racial and gender vulnerability that allows them to question their own state of mind as a ‘shy, ambivalent, black femme choreographer’. In one of the more symbolic moments of He’s Dead, a banner with Zeinab Saleh’s portrait of Shakur painted on it is unfurled with Sharpe and Makwana as flag waivers on either side; it is an act of funerary veneration and at the same time one of transference from activist to medium.

Violence is never far from the surface of He’s Dead; its course travels between racial and gender discrimination, united in Sharpe’s body and those of their colleagues. In a scene where Chambers lands several punches on Sharpe’s defenceless body stretched up against the back wall there’s a suggestion of masochistic pleasure, followed by a fight in which a victorious Sharpe deposits Chambers’ body on the front of the stage. At the same time, Sharpe looks beyond violence to its resolution. In one of the most moving scenes, we see them muffled in a cloak with a light inside their cowl searching slowly and silently among bodies on the stage, an illuminated face searching for guidance from the dead. It’s as if somewhere deep in the haunting shadows lurk the figures not only of Tupac but of Yukio Mishima and Jean Genet. Soon after Sharpe shares a ritual cleansing with Makwana that has the sense of religious atonement.

In their desire to confer humanity on their own identity as black and queer, Sharpe creates a rich, almost mystical imagery that corresponds with the sound design of JONI, Joanna Pope, and ¥ummy Online; within this conceptual audio-visual space a dialectic between violence and forbearance is played out in real time. In the initial mix of hard-hitting rap songs, it’s as if we are hearing the music in Sharpe’s head — and perhaps in Shakur’s too; the songs are both the context and the narrative of racial discrimination. But as the work progresses, and the body becomes the context and narrative of gender discrimination, the music subtly changes to give colour and texture to Sharpe’s emotional journey; when they begin to sing before the ritual cleansing, music and the physical body merge. Sharpe comments to Stichbury in the same interview that they use an alter-ego ‘to perfect the practice of crying in front of people, little wails and shouts for one alienated motherfucker — wanting to be seen as human and more and not knowing why.’ Crying is a sign of humanity, of our awareness of beauty and of fragility, but it is too often the abrupt effect of violence, which smothers both. Allowing themself to cry is Sharpe’s defence against the ever-present possibility of violence, but in the creation of He’s Dead they raise the act of crying to a polemical confrontation without its maudlin connotation. As the publicity material states, ‘He’s Dead sheds tears for the things that we cannot unearth.’ The long silence after the performers have left the stage is perhaps an unconscious acknowledgement of what still lies beyond our reach. 


Neus Gil Cortés’ reworking of Quimera at Jacksons Lane

Posted: January 11th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Neus Gil Cortés’ reworking of Quimera at Jacksons Lane

Neus Gil Cortés, Quimera, Jacksons Lane, October 19

Quimera, Neus Gil Cortés
The cast in Quimera (photo: Dan Welldon)

Choreographer Neus Gil Cortés is adept at creating works of rich imagination that rely on a heightened visual quality; this performance of her Quimera at Jacksons Lane is a re-working of an earlier version. In its first iteration, Quimera was a new departure in that Cortés took on aspects of theatre and circus to tell a story, based loosely on Miguel Cervantes satirical novel, Don Quixote. Using an actor — Sarah Dowling — in the central role supported by circus artists (Delia Ceruti and Nich Galzin) as well as dancers (Cortés and Daniel Phung), the production suffered from the physical integration of circus paraphernalia like the German Wheel which appeared awkwardly out of scale. In this reworking, Cortés has not altogether disentangled herself from the initial framework, but she has managed to integrate it into a surreal landscape, drawing her ideas together into a dream-like narrative reminiscent of Cervantes’ novel. The achievement is as much cinematic as choreographic; she has extended her visual sense with superimposed images that, by colouring the narrative, provide not only motion but emotion. Within this dynamic scheme, even the imposing presence of the German Wheel has found its place with multiple significations. 

In Cervantes’ novel, the bandit Roque explains to Don Quixote his way of life, which is not unlike that of a reconstructive choreographic process: ‘Now I am in, I must go through; one sin draws on another in spite of my better designs; and I am now in such a chain of wrongs, factions, abetters and engagements, that no less than the divine power of providence can free me from this maze of confusion. Nevertheless I despair not still of a successful end of my misfortunes.’         

It may well have been the divine power of providence that helped Cortés rearrange Quimera, but there is perhaps a more pragmatic reason: because she was pregnant with her first child, she took herself out of the original cast (she is replaced by Chiara Corbetta) and assumed a more directorial role; instead of being in the film, she has placed herself both behind the camera where she can reimagine her material, and in the cutting room where she can edit it.

The arc of Quimera moves from the rhetorical to the mythical, beginning in the audience where Dowling sits before getting up to wonder out loud what being a hero means, what it is like to be someone who believes they can change the world. Stepping on to the stage she enters the world of illusion in which her own heroic journey is to play out. The program note describes her as ‘a retiree named Quimera’ whose working life is reflected in the opening mechanical routine of office workers sitting in a row of imaginary desks. It is staged at the speed of a time lapse with accelerated entrances and exits without pause for reflection. In a blackout we hear a door closing and silence; it is only in her tiny room that Quimera counters the ticking clock with her own expanding sense of time. She tidies her clothes, places a bucket under a leak, and looks at herself in the mirror. She picks up a book, puts it down, and is on the point of leaving when we see a man with a backpack passing by; Cortés is beginning to choreograph the inside of Quimera’s head which becomes a phantasmagoria costumed brilliantly by Clara Pinto and her assistant Isabelle Innocenzi. A performer crawls on stage with a baguette in her hand, and an interlocked couple attempts to kiss; there’s a conga line and a religious procession with a statuesque Madonna that clears the way for the entry of Galzin and his German Wheel as a windmill. Quimera fights it with her baguette and ends up trapped inside as it lies on the ground. Tempted by sirens on ropes, and carried off by bandits, she bravely fights back only to watch recent events rewind like a film until she finds herself once again in her room.

Just as Dowling began in the audience, so now members of the audience walk on to the stage, bringing time back to the present and dispelling the illusion. Quimera/Dowling as antihero laments this world is not easy for an idealist, but Cortés — along with set designer Francesc Serra Vila, lighting designer Jordi Pérez, composer Nick Murray, and the two costume designers — has fought for her choreographic ideals and won the battle of Quimera. Now she is free to begin a new adventure.  


English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire at London Coliseum

Posted: January 11th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire at London Coliseum

English National Ballet, Le Corsaire, London Coliseum, January 9

Le Corsiare, ENB
Francesco Gabriele Frola and Erina Takahashi in Le Corsaire (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Handsome pirates and beautiful slave girls are the stuff of classic Hollywood films, where sensual aesthetics and genteel bravado were the prime movers of the plot and the prime interest in seeing them. Byron’s poem of 1814, The Corsair is a forerunner of this kind of blockbuster myth making, while Byron’s life might serve as its primary source. Anna-Marie Holmes’ production of Le Corsaire for English National Ballet, recreated from the ballet of Marius Petipa as notated by Stepanov in the collection of Konstantin Sergeyev, could well be a portrait of the passionate life, loves and political causes of Byron himself: a flamboyant adventure story, a stage full of virile men and exotic women, a deferential slave and a satirical portrait of a licentious Pasha. That the plot of the ballet and that of the poem diverge on so many details except the geography and names is the fault of the libretto for the 1856 Paris Opéra production of Le Corsaire by Julies-Henri de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier. Subsequent productions in Russia by Jules Perrot and Petipa maintained the outline of the plot while revising the choreography, but as Jane Pritchard points out in the program, the provenance of this production gets more complicated. The well-known Le Corsaire pas de deux is neither Perrot nor Petipa but is based on a 1915 pas d’action by the St. Petersburg dancer (and teacher of the young George Balanchine), Samuil Andrianov. Like the life of Byron, this ENB production of Le Corsaire is a rich synthesis of influences. 

Bob Ringwood’s sets and costumes effortlessly bridge the poles of Hollywood cinema and Byron’s Ottoman exploits with dreamy textures, colours and vistas — including a wonderfully romantic vignette of a front curtain and a smokingly erotic opium apparition in the Dream section — while the composite score, tirelessly excavated from the work of ten composers by ENB Philharmonic’s music librarian and cellist, Lars Payne, and seamlessly reconstructed by conductor Gavin Sutherland, embraces the range of emotions that unfold on stage. Nothing would be seen without Neil Austin’s lighting which not only enhances the textures of Ringwood’s stage but highlights the narrative with its own arsenal of dramatic effects. 

This rich tapestry, however, is not unproblematic. In fact, how are we to approach Le Corsaire? Its orientalism is evident because the ballet is riddled with cultural tropes and stereotypes; we cannot change the attitude of a historical work, but it can certainly illuminate our current references. One might take issue with Holmes’ decision to turn the character of the Pasha from Byron’s villain (as portrayed in Russian productions) to Michael Coleman’s portrayal of a ‘doddery old, fat fool’ to balance the drama with some lightness; the balancing works, but the characterisation is gratuitous. Wherever the Pasha is involved, the ballet turns into a pantomime, but Coleman plays up his role so well that our enjoyment makes us oblivious of our own attitudes towards ‘the other’. 

Slavery is also an issue that looms large in a contemporary viewing of Le Corsaire; although it continues to play an insidious part in our society, its treatment in Le Corsaire masquerades as the objectification of women. While the male characters are involved in adventurous exploits, the female roles are featured choreographically as forced auditions for the Pasha’s harem or as apparitions in his opium dreams; while the women are on show, the men are showing off. 

What remains beyond the cultural and ethical considerations of the ballet is the impressive quality of ENB’s dancing. Due to illness, this evening’s principals Erina Takahashi as Medora and Francesco Gabriele Frola as Conrad had been called on to replace Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernandez on the opening night. Having also danced the dress rehearsal, the additional strain of a second consecutive night shows through at times, but Takahashi’s exquisite refinement and Frola’s expansive enthusiasm create a convincing rapport. Daniel McCormick, in serene and impeccable form as Conrad’s loyal slave, Ali, brings the house down in the second act pas d’action and Junor Souza’s effusive energy as the slave trader Lankendem extends to his spontaneous mime; the other men could learn from his clarity. The lyrical Emma Hawes is a melancholy Gulnare for whom the impetuous Henry Dowden as Birbantio takes a shine, and the steely self-confidence of Katja Khaniukova shines in her odalisque variation. Continuing its run until January 14, there are still plenty of opportunities to appreciate the myriad details of the production and the diverse qualities of subsequent casts.


Unbaptised Infants: TRACKS at SET Bermondsey

Posted: January 3rd, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Concept, Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Unbaptised Infants: TRACKS at SET Bermondsey

Unbaptised Infants, TRACKS at Bermondsey’s SET, December 14

Tracks with Lorea Burge and Hannah Parsons
Lorea Burge and Hannah Parsons in TRACKS (photo: Montserrat Ventura)

Every now and then a performance comes along that stands out for its originality and integrity; the choreographic and musical material formed into TRACKS by Lorea Burge and Hannah Parsons of Unbaptised Infants, is one. It takes place at SET Bermondsey, site of a former paint factory, that has the air of a counter-culture space; an assortment of chairs, cushions and wooden benches define a concrete performance area with a speaker in each corner, and a couple of microphones with a loop station at the front. Behind the audience are a couple of tables, one displaying explanatory material for the performance — from handwritten poems in notebooks to copied pages from a book on the poet Emmett Williams — and the other a bar: tea before the performance and mulled wine after. 

Since February Burge and Parsons have been preparing material for their ‘album’, which is the kind of gestation period a band might have; because of funding constraints, small-scale dance works are often completed in two weeks, but Unbaptised Infants is entirely self-funded. Without suggesting this route to creative endeavour is sustainable, it bravely and resolutely affirms the artist’s need for time in order to explore new ideas and to bring them to fruition rather than being boxed in by a funding schedule. The venue’s guardianship scheme also helps. ‘SET is a multifaceted arts and community initiative based in numerous centres across London, curating an eclectic and experimental arts programme alongside affordable artist workspace…in otherwise vacant property, some temporary and some long term.’ Burge and Parsons plan to tour TRACKS to similar alternative spaces for which their growing archive of material can be adapted.

Both artists have worked with Joe Garbett, another choreographer with a wealth of non-conformist ideas and an ability to translate them into sophisticated, pared-back, idiosyncratic work. The qualities that unite them all are intelligence and wit, and a knack of digging down into the infinite potential of human creativity and coming up with something that makes you scratch your head in admiration. Their work is an antidote to choreographic complacency, and in an era where grants are hard to come by, they take nothing for granted. 

The birth of TRACKS began in creative limbo in 2015, when Burge and Parsons began to write poems under the spell of the poet Emmett Williams. This led to experiments in movement and sound, using the rhythms and intonations of poetry to influence movement and the substitution of notes for words to make songs. In addition to being ‘passionate about rhythm and in complicating things’, Burge and Parsons then appropriated rituals and laments in their research with the aim of evoking ‘catharses of joy, of celebration, and commonly, just rituals of getting on with things, finding ways to create momentum.’ As Burge notes grimly at the beginning, the element of lament has taken on a new significance following the recent election; TRACKS is a concept album that has arrived at the very moment for which its creative inspiration and resilience are most needed.    

Employing an economy of means consistent with the times, there is no musical accompaniment that is not created in situ by the voices of the two performers, either spoken, sung a capella or processed through a loop station; costumes are also minimal: fuschia tracksuit tops under matching dungarees. The ten tracks cover various permutations of poetry, song and movement presented with a sense of lightness that belies not only the increasing complexity of formal interactions but the precarious political underpinnings of the venture. Burge and Parsons present the first half of the album as a selection of short tracks on the theme of community and creative resistance. In Nearness, they roll together from opposite corners of the stage to form an interconnected, interdependent sculptural entity from which emerge vocal harmonies that join and collide, merge and diverge in shades of light and dark before they roll back to where they started. Melody Free has an austere, almost monastic a capella quality, while the third track is a poem, Request, that is as bright as it is surreal; Chance Dance is a unison duet that is both earthy and uplifting.  The second half of the album develops the same themes with increasing poetic, musical and choreographic complexity; we are drawn into this odd universe and find ourselves marvelling at its craft. It doesn’t take much to unite us at the end, circled around the stage, to sing the refrain of an earlier song, Why Oh Why?