Ema, a film by Pablo Larrain with reggaeton and flamethrowing

Posted: May 12th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Film | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ema, a film by Pablo Larrain with reggaeton and flamethrowing

Ema, directed by Pablo Larrain

Ema, reggaeton
A scene from Ema, with Mariana Di Girolamo

Film director Pablo Larrain was born in Chile and has evidently immersed himself in the history and politics of the country through cinema. He made a trilogy of films that cover the Pinochet years (Tony Manero, 2008; Post Mortem, 2010; and No, 2012), through which he must have gained an insight into the roots of contemporary Chilean society. In his most recent film, Ema, with a soundtrack by Nicolas Jaar, Larrain and his director of photography, Sergio Armstrong, paint a portrait of youthful life in the city of Valparaiso that is beautiful in an anarchic, hedonistic way but underneath the skin is an intimation of flesh made evil. The Spanish word for evil is ‘el mal’, which when spoken softly and elided sounds like Ema. 

The film can be read at face value as the story of a young reggaeton dancer and teacher, Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo), who is married to an older, avant-garde choreographer/director, Gastón (Gael Garcia Bernal). When the film opens, we learn that since Gastón is infertile (‘a human condom’) the couple had adopted a Colombian child, Polo (Christián Suárez). Things did not work out — Polo set fire to the house, badly burning Ema’s sister — so they returned him to the care of the State. It appears from the social worker (Catalina Saavedra) that the adoption and un-adoption required a certain amount of illicit rule bending on her part for which she was paid under the table. The repercussions play out in a series of revelations that put a strain not only on the marriage but on the group of dancers on whom Gastón choreographs, some of whom are members of Ema’s reggaeton group. Out of this turmoil of mutual recrimination, guilt, corruption and violence, Ema forms her resolve to find Polo at whatever the cost. 

This is where Larrain upgrades his story to a meta-narrative on the lines of Greek tragedy in which Ema’s inner determination merges with an inexorable external force. While her character is grounded in the reggaeton counterculture of Valparaiso, her slicked, platinum appearance is cast as both trendy feminine prototype and mythical vampire. She is handy with a flamethrower — a causal link to Polo’s actions — but her capricious predilection for destroying urban infrastructure goes entirely without civic challenge; for a thriving port city, Valparaiso under Armstrong’s eye becomes a denuded, dystopian backdrop to Ema’s exploits that lends the film an eerie sense of improbability. Such is the nature of dreams, but the dream overlaps strategically with the story. The only time the fire brigade arrives to extinguish a car she has torched is a narrative device to introduce her to one of the firemen, Anibal (Santiago Cabrera), who happens to be Polo’s new adoptive father. Even if Ema admits at the end of the film to having paid a social service psychologist to reveal the names and address of Polo’s new adoptive parents (and presumably their respective professions), she can hardly have anticipated Anibal’s arrival as part of the fire crew. Not content with seducing Anibal and becoming pregnant by him, Ema extends her rapacious scheme to get close to Polo’s new family by hiring Anibal’s wife Raquel (Paola Giannini), a divorce lawyer, to whom she offers seduction as payment for instigating divorce proceedings against Gastón. The folder is closed and the relationship begins. 

Ema’s wanton seduction in pursuit of her goal involves a level of detachment that differentiates her from both her fellow dancers — Gianinna Fruttero as Sonia provides a fine earthy counterbalance — and her victims; the response of the seduced is more alluring than the posing of the seducer. Not even the charismatic presence of Bernal can compete with Di Girolamo’s forensic ambition; but if the meta-narrative of the film is that the politics of charm, seduction and serial determination can only succeed in a corrupt society, Ema’s role is as a psychologically one-dimensional femme fatale. 

By choosing adoption as a theme, Larrain is perhaps alluding to the Pinochet years when babies from poor families were forcibly removed from their mothers to be sent abroad for adoption, and in using the dance form of reggaeton he places the context firmly with a rebellious younger generation that favours sensation over artifice, hedonism over order. Bringing together dance, flamethrowing and adoption as seductive metaphors for confronting the past offers emotional release but no stable solution. Larrain finishes his story with a superficially harmonious reunion of the two disaffected couples and their shared children, but immediately returns in the final scene to the violence of his meta-narrative, where dream and daily life converge once again. At a petrol station Ema is waiting while an attendant fills her portable tank. 

Ema is available to stream on Mubi


Double bill of HARLEKING and The Passion of Andrea 2 at The Place

Posted: April 30th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Double bill of HARLEKING and The Passion of Andrea 2 at The Place

Double Bill: HARLEKING, and The Passion of Andrea 2, The Place, February 26

The Passion of Andrea 2, Simone Mousset
Luke Divall, Lewys Holt and Mathis Kleinschnittger in The Passion of Andrea 2 (photo: Lydia Sonderegger)

Both works on this program weave the power of laughter into contemporary forms of tragedy. In HARLEKING, Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi use silent laughter as a mimetic trait related to, but abstracted from, Italian Commedia dell’Arte; laughter is the physiological subject the two performers employ in a form disengaged from its underlying affect. With eloquence, intensity and riveting mimicry they present their manipulation of gesture knowingly, from states of innocence to underhanded treachery. The work does not set out to achieve historical context; as Panzetti and Ticconi explain, ‘it is reminiscent of the Grotesques, ancient wall decorations, in which monstrous figures emerge and blend in with elegant ornamental volutes’. It is this duality of monstrosity and elegance that suffuses their performance; in their black costumes against a white floor and backdrop under Annegret Schalke’s lighting, Panzetti and Ticconi accentuate gesture, creating the impression of two metamorphosed gargoyles on a night out from their cathedral perch, displaying a detached emotional behaviour derived from centuries of inanimate observation. Demetrio Castellucci’s sound interpolation further wraps the visual imagery in readings that alternate between teasing playfulness and psychotic malevolence. 

Constantly playing on the idiom of ‘falling about laughing’ or ‘dying of laughter’, Panzetti and Ticconi adjust the semiotic relationship of laughter to danger by subtle variations. In a central section of hypnotic gestural play, the appearance of a fascist salute appears as little more than a beguiling sign among others, while towards the end of the work, the transformation of a loving embrace into a murderous grip loses the emotional intent between the signifier and what is signified; in each case it is left to the audience to feel the chilling effect.

While HARLEKING is a spectacle in the traditional proscenium perspective, Simone Mousset’s The Passion of Andrea 2 defies any traditional mould. Mousset has suggested the work describes an inability to grasp the confusion of current events and the consequent suspension of belief in personal agency. Negative space is difficult to frame, and the first impression of The Passion of Andrea 2 is that it has no point of reference; its action is set in a timeless present that has no past (despite the indication of a sequel) and no future. Lydia Sonderegger’s large inflatable sculptures suspended above the stage lend credence to an imaginary dreamscape in which arbitrariness weighs heavily. The first indication of human agency is the improbable appearance of three hapless characters, costumed and bewigged in triplicate, wandering aimlessly as if afflicted with debilitating fatigue. It is immediately apparent from their gestures and mimicry, however, that the absurdist tragedy is being undermined by consummate humour. When they greet each other with an auspicious display of energy we learn they are each named Andrea and their past is now revealed in a favourite trio they attempt to remember.  

Mousset aligns the role of her three Andreas — Lewys Holt, Luke Divall and Mathis Kleinschnittger — with the Shakespearean jester whose artful clowning camouflages a disturbing reality. In their state of constant fluidity, the only anchor the Andreas have is their relationship to the audience, but even here its nature is ambiguous. They dissolve us in laughter with their absurdities and by involving us in their deadly competitive games, but there is a sense that Mousset is using them to hold up a mirror, that the work exists only in its ability to draw us into a state of reflection she wants us to share. Perhaps in our era of blatant political opportunism and misinformation absurdity is not so much a subversive antidote to the dis-ease of individual helplessness but a way of understanding it. 

From its initial manifestation in 2018 at Touch Wood, the enlargement of The Passion of Andrea 2 with a substantial musical element and Sonderegger’s set, costumes and wigs, has lost nothing of its original affect. In mixing theatrical genres, Mousset has enhanced the absurdity at the work’s core with a tonic of choreographic, musical and textual play that is disarmingly funny in inverse proportion to the darkness of its inspiration. 

Towards the end, following the Shakespearean demise of all three Andreas, Mousset introduces an epilogue in which sound designer Alberto Ruiz Soler is spirited on to the stage to explain, through a commentary by the resurrected Holt, that what we have just seen is in fact The Passion of Andrea 1 and that its sequel is about to begin. Soler dies, and the united Andreas climb into the audience singing a medieval round. 


Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: April 4th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition at Sadler’s Wells

Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition, Sadler’s Wells, March 7 & 8

Richard Alston Dance Company Voices and Light Footsteps
Jennifer Hayes, Niall Egan, Alejandra Gissler, and Ellen Yilma in Voices and Light Footsteps (photo: Chris Nash)

It is perhaps too soon and too delicate to unpick the accumulation of political and economic decisions that have led to the premature closing of such a renowned cultural entity as Richard Alston Dance Company. Alston has known for the past two years that ‘my Company simply could not continue beyond this Spring’, and for someone who admits to have been ‘entirely lacking in any sort of strategic plan’ over his fifty-year choreographic career, he has managed to end with remarkable prescience. The latest run of performances has finished just one week before Sadler’s Wells closure for (at least) the next three months to comply with the government’s guidance on containing the coronavirus pandemic. In the current climate, Alston’s company may well feel relieved that its calendar of adieux has been able to run its course and finish in style; if there is such a thing as a good death, this is it. For Alston, however, there is no intimation of mortality; on the contrary, in the last two years he has created some of his best work and has built his company to technical and expressive heights. 

This Final Edition is the last of several national and international performances by the company; the choice of program is as much a retrospective as a statement of current form. The earliest work is Isthmus from 2012 to the music of Jo Condo, followed by Mazur from 2015 to Chopin mazurkas played on stage by long-time collaborator, Jason Ridgway. Two younger recruits to the company, Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis, get inside the music and its relationship to the choreography to create an emotional portrait of elegance and close friendship. Three works on the program date from the past tumultuous year: Bari for the graduating students of Alston’s alma mater, London Contemporary Dance School, Voices and Light Footsteps and Shine On. First performed by the students at the Alston At Home program at The Place, Bari is inspired by the pizzica music of the Puglia region in southern Italy. Alston’s mastery of form and pattern partners the liveliness of the musical rhythms to create a gem of choreographic construction — not so much a translation of the traditional pizzica dance as a transposition of the earthiness in the music. Music has always been the motivation for Alston’s choreography, the source from which both the rhythm and the style of his movement arise. In Shine On, he returns to one of his favourite composers, Benjamin Britten, for the collection of songs On This Island set to five of WH Auden’s poems; they are sung by Katherine McIndoe accompanied by Ridgway. Alston enters the work through Britten’s joyous opening fanfare, but Auden’s pessimism casts a long shadow that Alston — as well as lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli — alternately rejects and absorbs, most poignantly in the central Nocturne where Niall Egan and Harriette express the pain of a love that must remain in the shadows. After this vein of darkness, Martin Lawrance steps in with his own contribution, A Far Cry, set to the elegiac Introduction and Allegro for Strings by Sir Edward Elgar. It is in effect a paean to Alston from the opening fanfare to its triumphant coda, embracing elements of his style within Lawrance’s own characteristic rush of energy. In the ecstatic entrances and exits there is a sense of a continuation well beyond the stage, embracing all that has gone before and all that is yet to come. 

In the final work, Voices and Light Footsteps, Alston transcends any sense of darkness by returning to another of his favourite composers, Claudio Monteverdi, and through the music to the early seventeenth century period in which he lived. Not only are there traces of courtly Renaissance dance in the work (it is dedicated to the memory of Alston’s historical dance teacher, Belinda Quirey), but emotions and virtues that have supported him through difficult times appear to be subtly embedded in the choreography. Each member of the company has their own light and colour but their individuality is sublimated to the harmony of the whole. Voices and Light Footsteps is spiritually uplifting and visually stunning, with costumes by Peter Todd under lighting by Lawrance; its central duet, danced on alternate nights by Monique Jonas and Elly Braund with Shikkis, is its crowning achievement. The work ends, significantly, with Monteverdi’s Damigella Tutta Bella, which Alston notes ‘is the earliest music I can remember hopping around to as a small boy.’ TS Eliot could have written the epitaph with the last line of East Coker: ‘In my end is my beginning.’

Dancers in Richard Alston Dance Company for this Final Edition: Elly Braund, Niall Egan, Alejandra Gissler, Joshua Harriette, Jennifer Hayes, Monique Jonas, Nahum McLean, Nicholas Shikkis, Jason Tucker and Ellen Yilma.


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.