Es Morgan, Mum, I’m in the fourth dimension, see! at the Marlborough Theatre

Posted: July 21st, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Es Morgan, Mum, I’m in the fourth dimension, see! at the Marlborough Theatre

Es Morgan, Mum, I’m in the fourth dimension, see!, Marlborough Theatre, Brighton, July 11

Es Morgan, Mum, I'm in the fourth dimension, see! at the Marlborough Theatre
Es Morgan in Mum, I’m in the fourth dimension, see! (photo: Jemima Yong)

There is no space for wings on the tiny stage of the Marlborough Theatre so the entrance is from the audience up the steps at the front. Es Morgan is tall but when they step up on to the stage they dominate it like Leonardo’s renaissance man staked out inside a circle. Created by Morgan with dramaturgy by Charlie Ashwell, Mum, I’m in the fourth dimension, see! is part dance performance, part spoken word and part installation. It is also part of the Trans Pride season at the Marlborough Theatre which frames it more specifically within the trans/non-binary/intersex/gender genre. While this confines the performance to a familiar context, as an existential rant on current society Mum, I’m in the fourth dimension, see! has a relevance that goes beyond it. In this sense the reference of costumes and makeup to drag are less important than the broader societal issues of transgender Morgan proposes in each element of the performance.

After a brief spoken word introduction, they close their eyes and perform an exquisite long-limbed, existential dance that takes up the entire stage (without much difficulty) as if the space is a cage that their body constantly explores in a hesitant dialogue of boundaries. In its eloquently mute articulation Morgan’s body establishes an inner world of gender fluidity while speaking volumes about their sense of alienation and disquiet. At this point Mum! looks like a contemporary dance performance and four of the audience, possibly feeling short-changed by the lack of drag, walk out just as Morgan’s eyes open and the dance comes to a close. Slipping off their shoes and tracksuit pants to reveal a long silky dress, Morgan reclines in the red inflatable armchair with a bottle of water and a microphone. ‘Gender is a construction site; so many slow men…I’m just a slab of meat looking for something real,’ they quip as they begin a carefully constructed, sinuous monologue delivered in a languorous tone that hides its cynical bite. It’s like words passing through a hall of mirrors, reflecting distortions of desires and fears in a lurid, panopticon society, somewhere between ‘Nietzsche and nurture’ in ‘a post-capitalist wet dream’. At the end of the monologue they leave us with an image of a supine Saint Sebastian pierced by plastic straws before abandoning us to what sounds like musical water while they apply a demon/angel face makeup in front of their pop-up mirror.

We’re half way through the show and this is the moment we are asked to close our eyes and surrender to Morgan’s suggestive tones, part guru, part new wave hypnotist with mischievous overtones. ‘Relax, get comfortable…you might want to lean into the person next to you.’ They guide us through an out-of-body visualization down corridors with closed doors, carpeted rooms and cartoon characters on screens until we open our eyes and we’re back in the Marlborough with Morgan the ‘marmite me’ in a black unitard stretched over their torso with red crosses over their nipples, standing bare legged at the microphone atop platform heels. The existential takes on the sensual in Morgan’s breathless catalogue of social and political chaos (‘Fascism has such a strong smell…’) in which the world’s oceans overflow and the last white male rhino disappears; death is never far away. It comes in the form of a roll of pungent Speedman Paper Fill that Morgan pulls out of a box — all 450 metres of it — and lets fall around them like a crinoline that continues to rise until they are embalmed in loose packaging. After death come the reminiscences, a fond recap from the safety of another dimension — the fourth? the fifth? — of all that Morgan espouses in the mess of the present. ‘Do you remember when gender became obsolete?’, they ask. We are not there yet, even if we knew what the destination might look like, but in broaching the possibility with a mixture of introspection, irreverent humour and sharp social commentary, Mum, I’m in the fourth dimension, see! makes us feel we’re on the journey together. 


DANSOX Summer School, St. Hilda’s College, Oxford

Posted: July 17th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Conference | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on DANSOX Summer School, St. Hilda’s College, Oxford

Dansox Inaugural Summer School, St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, July 6-8

Dansox Summer School
Nicolas Lancret’s Mlle. Camargue dancing

The inaugural DANSOX Summer School, curated by Professor Sue Jones over a three-day weekend at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, brought together scholars, authors, critics and practitioners to share their knowledge of dance as a language on a multitude of levels. Alastair Macaulay, former chief dance critic of the New York Times, anchored each daily session with a talk about a major influence on our dance heritage — Marius Petipa, George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham respectively — illustrated with extensive video footage. As a dance critic of long standing, Macaulay approached each body of work with a perspective that was rich in historical detail and, in the case of Cunningham, personal association. His interpretations were the fruit of repeated viewings and reflection, while he filled out the lives of their creators and interpreters with a propensity for vibrant and often amusing anecdotes. The broad canvas he painted each morning set the tone for the sessions that followed. 

After Macaulay’s lecture on Petipa, historian Moira Goff gave a talk on and a demonstration of baroque dance. While classical ballet steps (and their terms) derive from the French court, Goff displayed the form and dynamics of those steps from Feuillet’s notation, and how they developed from France to the English Restoration stage. She not only gave clues to the form of a performance from this era but showed how these origins of classical ballet technique lead us inexorably to Petipa’s vocabulary in the late nineteenth century. 

Researcher and author Julia Bührle provided more historical detail in her talk on two important dancing masters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, John Weaver in England and Jean-Georges Noverre in France. Each wrote a treatise that legitimized ballet d’action in terms of literary sources and Bührle cites Weaver’s 1717 spectacle, The Loves of Mars and Venus, and Noverre’s 1763 Medée et Jason as the forerunners of narrative ballet. 

Bringing us into the twentieth century, filmmaker Lynne Wake introduced her documentary, Queen and Béjart: Ballet For Life. Béjart took his choreographic inspiration from the music of Queen to celebrate the lives of those like Jorge Donn and Freddie Mercury who had died young as a result of AIDS. The documentary combines rehearsals by Béjart Ballet Lausanne (an outstanding cast directed by Gil Roman) with outtakes from 1997 footage by David Mallett of the first performance of Ballet For Life in Paris. Wake’s documentary is moving in both its filming and its editing (by Christopher Bird), and shows how the lineage of classical ballet has evolved from the confines of a royal court to a vast public arena.

Each day followed a similar pattern of synaptic sparks tying all the talks and demonstrations together. After Macaulay’s lecture on Balanchine, musicologist and dance researcher Renata Bräuninger gave an incisive talk on Balanchine’s musicality followed by Gabriela Minden’s exploration of Tamara Karsarvina’s experiment in gestural choreography (harking back to Weaver and Noverre) for J.M. Barrie’s 1920 play The Truth about the Russian Dancers, and by Maggie Watson’s paper on aspects of the pastoral in Sir Frederick Ashton’s Daphnis and Chloe

While each talk revealed how much historical and theoretical research on dance is still waiting in the wings, Susie Crow offered a practical approach to the history and theory of the ballet class with the help of pianist Jonathan Still and dancers Ben Warbis and Ellie Ferguson of Yorke Dance Project. This vital focus on balletic training is linked to current teaching practice, which in turn drives the future direction of classical ballet. Keeping on the subject of practice, Jennifer Jackson and composer Tom Armstrong organised a workshop with dancers Courtney Reading and Gabrielle Orr on Sleeping Beauty, showing how their contemporary approach to both classical choreography and its musical score can generate a fresh interest in such iconic works. 

Following two talks by Fiona Macintosh and Tom Sapsford that linked dance and the classics, the final day continued with Macaulay’s lecture on Cunningham, and Sir Richard Alston’s demonstration, with dancer Elly Braund, of his relationship to Cunningham’s choreography throughout his dance career and in subsequent dances he created on his own company. The notion of classicism in dance was a theme throughout the DANSOX summer school and it concluded where it began with that most ‘classical’ of choreographers, Petipa. On hand was author and former dance critic, Nadine Meisner, to celebrate the launch of her Marius Petipa, The Emperor’s Ballet Master, ‘the first biography in English of this monumental figure of ballet history’, published appropriately by Oxford University Press. 


English National Ballet Emerging Dancer Award 2019

Posted: May 14th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Competition, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet Emerging Dancer Award 2019

English National Ballet, Emerging Dancer Award 2019, Sadler’s Wells, May 7

English National Ballet, Emerging Dancer Award 2019
Rentaro Nakaaki and Julia Conway in Flames of Paris (photo: Laurent Liotardo)

Appearances can be deceptive. On the cover of English National Ballet’s program for Emerging Dancer, the six contestants have been photographed by Laurent Liotardo (post production by Nik Pate) in various sharply delineated, sculptural poses. If the athleticism of these images were to represent the odds of winning, Shale Wagman and Rhys Antoni Yeomans would be in close competition for the prize. Even looking at them on stage as they enter with their respective partners for the pas de deux section, they embody the classical image of the male dancer; perhaps Yeomans has the edge in musculature. But shape is only one element of classical dance; moving between shapes in a rhythm that derives from music is another. Here both Wagman and Yeomans fail to follow up on the promise of their initial images. Wagman is lean and flexible — as he demonstrates abundantly in his contemporary solo — but since so much virtuoso male dance takes place in the air he needs to work on elevation. Yeomans has a better jump but while he can turn exquisitely on the ground he shares with Wagman a malfunctioning ‘spot’ in aerial tours. If ‘emerging dancer’ means the process of polishing rough potential into a physically expressive dancing body Wagman and Yeomans have applied the polish before the expression. Rentaro Nakaaki hasn’t yet arrived but his rough potential is exciting; there are times when his form shows through and he is not afraid to take risks. He has an arsenal of virtuoso steps that overflow with enthusiasm if not attention to line and shape and his character is refreshingly open. Even though he didn’t win he gained my vote for sheer ebullience in the process of emerging.

Liotardo’s photographs of the three women — Alice Bellini, Emilia Cadorin and Julia Conway — are less exciting and fail to distinguish the character of each; Cadorin’s and Conway’s are almost identical. Onstage, however, Conway emerges with the poise and control that deservedly earns her this year’s award. Interestingly she is paired with Nakaaki dancing a pas de deux from Vasily Vainonen’s Flames of Paris. It’s a size too big for Nakaaki at this point in his development but his youthful attack allows Conway to appear calm and assured in her own variations; he’s the storm and she’s its eye. Bellini is paired with Wagman in Victor Gzovsky’s Grand Pas Classique; he’s attending more to the audience than to her which unglues the partnership, but she has a lyrical quality that shines. Cadorin dances Coppélia with Yeomans who is a more boyishly attentive partner. On this occasion Cadorin’s spirit is strong but her upper back — and thus her port de bras — seems constricted so she cannot flow with the romantic sentiment in the music. 

The second stage of the competition requires each dancer to perform a contemporary solo of their own choice. Presumably the idea is for the judges and audience to see another aspect of each contestant in terms not only of physical ability but of individual expression. Unlike the classical variations, here the choreography for the most part draws attention to itself, leaving the dancers in the passenger seat; when they are driving there’s a touch of indulgence, as in Wagman’s solo by Sofie Vervaecke, Peculiar Mind. Bellini needs a far more theatrical vehicle for her talents than CLAN B, Sebastian Kloborg’s spoof on La Sylphide, and although Yeomans chooses a great solo by Forsythe, he is left somewhat deflated in the middle by not hitting those glorious accents in Thom Willems’ lush, percussive score. Fabian Reimair’s BAM! for Cadorin doesn’t achieve its title’s promise for her by not giving her enough traction, partly a problem with Reimar’s own score. Nuno Campos gives Nakaaki the one work of the evening that seems tailored for him, showing him in a lean, introspective light; it’s called, appropriately, Own. Similarly Miguel Altunaga’s Untitled Code gives Conway a vehicle for her clarity of expression and keen gestural sense that she carries over from Flames of Paris

On its tenth anniversary the Emerging Dancer Award celebrates after an intermission with a performance by Francesca Velicu and last year’s award winner, Daniel McCormick in the pas de deux from Act III of Don Quixote. McCormick is a fine dancer but my eyes are drawn to a quality in Velicu that has been missing over the course of the evening: the ability to make the music visible. All Gavin Sutherland’s efforts in the pit directing the English National Ballet Philharmonic have been rewarded. 


English National Ballet’s My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty

Posted: April 29th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet’s My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty

English National Ballet, My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty, Peacock, April 17

Illustration of My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty by Mark Ruffle

I attended the matinée of English National Ballet’s My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty at the Peacock Theatre with the daughter of a friend, Eva, who is studying ballet in Sussex; at 13 she appeared quite mature amongst the audience of little girls in tutus. When Sir Frederick Ashton first saw Anna Pavlova at the Teatro Municipal in Lima he was also 13. The experience of seeing Pavlova at that stage in his life, as he reminisced to John Selwyn Gilbert in 1971, ‘was the end of me. She injected me with her poison and from the end of that evening I wanted to dance.’ Pavlova did not distinguish between the ages of her audience; her indefatigable touring around the world gave anyone who wished the opportunity to experience the full extent of her artistry. 

In 1964 the Royal Ballet founded a touring group, Ballet For All, that was run by Peter Brinson as a means of introducing new audiences to ballet through a combination of history, analysis and performance. Developed from his lecture demonstrations, Brinson described the format as ‘presenting special programmes, called ballet-plays, which combine words with ballets, actors with dancers and musicians, to inform as well as entertain.’ The cast was made up of two actors, a pianist and six dancers from both the Royal Ballet and Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet companies. This group toured widely in small-scale venues, giving around 150 performances a year until the company closed in 1979. According to Jane Nicholas, a former Arts Council director, Ballet For All ‘became the most important proselytizing activity in the country in classical ballet.’

In devising the series of My First Ballet — to date there have been four productions based on Cinderella, Coppelia, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty — ENB is pitching classical ballet as an entertainment conceived for very young audiences. The series is a collaboration between the company and its school so it’s a pre-professional community outreach program by a major ballet company in this country. The format raises questions, however, on what is considered ‘entertainment’ and ‘educational’ at this target age. For example, although there is no artistic reason for doing so, the story has been adapted for easy viewing; the fairies Carabosse and Lilac are introduced as sisters casting spells on their dolls; Catalabutte is a court painter; the knitting needle becomes a rose, and Desiré and Bluebird are best friends. Ironing out the richness and imaginative scope of both the characters and the story — Lilac’s magical power turns her dolls into ballerinas while Carabosse’s can only create Dark Companions — is ironic given that Charles Perreault wrote his fairy tale with children (of all ages) in mind. And even in its simplified version this production overlooks why Lilac is not aware that her sister Carabosse has not been invited to Aurora’s christening. 

The production is hosted engagingly by Sebastian Charles, a master of ceremonies in contemporary dress who does a little bit of magic, narrates the story and translates the balletic mime into words, all of which are traditionally implicit in a full theatrical presentation. While the recorded extracts of Tchaikovsky’s score retain their customary importance, Charles’s intervention reduces the choreography and its interpretation by the dancers to a secondary role. In Ballet For All, even though the classics were abridged and danced to piano accompaniment, Brinson maintained the choreography of the full productions and his dancers were quite capable of performing it. ENB has eschewed both options; Antonio Castilla has arranged the choreography and the dancers are still in training. While this gives them a wonderful opportunity to gain stage experience and to hone their technique (though there were, as Eva remarked, some mistakes), they have not had time to acquire the faculty of taking an audience with them on their journey. Classical ballet is clearly so much more than the ability to execute steps and enchainements to music; the poison Ashton spoke of derived from the artistry of Pavlova herself and not from the works she danced that evening. 

So while the enthusiastic attendance confirms the quantitative success of My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty in fulfilling ENB’s goal to ‘bring classical ballet to a young audience’, the quality of the presentation suggests the imagination of a young audience is not ready for the sophistication of a mature production and the intoxication it may arouse. Nothing could be further from the truth. 


Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

Posted: April 18th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, Ramallah, April 2019

An image derived from the work of Khalid Bengharib

The idea of attending the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival was inspired by a British Council callout to bloggers. I applied to write about a dance festival of which I had never heard that took place in what I thought to be a conflict zone in Palestine. What kind of dance might emerge under such circumstances, and what kind of spirit was behind the organization of such a festival were two questions I was keen to explore. As a precaution before applying I contacted the director, Khaled Elayyan, and learned this international festival is now in its 14th edition and is steadily building its reputation with performances from Australia, Estonia, France, Greece, Norway, Switzerland, Tunisia and the UK as well as hosting a roster of international dance producers, festival directors, and curators as speakers and guests. I was also happy to see Luca Silvestrini’s Border Tales was on the program; the idea of a festival in Palestine programming a work about borders when its own borders are controlled and being constantly eroded by an occupying state intrigued me. Art, as Gilles Deleuze breathlessly intoned, is inherently a form of resistance. 

Although my British Council application to attend the festival was not successful, two weeks later Elayyan very kindly invited me to attend as a guest for the first week that would include the inaugural Palestinian Dance Forum connecting artists and guests, a symposium on the subject of the The Body in the Arab World as well as several workshops, indoor and outdoor performances. The experience proved every bit as rewarding as I had hoped. 

You can only arrive in Palestine with the permission of the state of Israel, either through passport control on the Israeli side or at checkpoint on the bridge from Jordan. If you happen to be a curator of Arab dance living outside Palestine and your passport betrays an interest in countries like Syria, Lebanon or Iran such permission may be difficult to come by and if any dancer happens to be have been born in these countries and is now living in Europe, the chances of participating in the festival are nil. Nidal Abdo, a dancer and choreographer who was born in a refugee camp in Syria was only able to enter Palestine because he travels on a Ukrainian passport, but his company of dancers, Collectif Nafass — all Syrian refugees living in Europe — was denied permission to participate in the festival. Abdo had to make his ensemble work, What If Tomorrow…a solo instead.

Despite or perhaps because of the obstacles in its path, Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival’s slogan this year, ‘Where To?’, is a question the brochure defines as  addressing ‘our national, social, economic, cultural and educational fate and future…in light of a harsh and difficult socio-political and economic reality.’ There is no immediate answer to the question; it will transpire only through the collective endeavours of those organizing, supporting and attending the festival. 

Rooted in Sareyyet Ramallah, an NGO that has a lineage from its early days in scouting, the festival is a flowering of the indigenous development of sport and dabkeh, the traditional form of folk dance. Sareyyet Ramallah today comprises three dance companies, a dance school, rehearsal studios, a swimming pool, a basketball court and a restaurant on a discreet but thriving campus just south of the city centre. The introduction of a contemporary dance workshop into the curriculum came about in 1998 through the suggestion of Australian dancer Nicholas Rowe who spent some years in the region and subsequently wrote a book about the history of dance in Palestine, Raising Dust. Rowe’s initiative led in 2005 — right after the end of the second Intifada — to a performance of At The Checkpoint by the Sareyyet Contemporary Dance Company, which toured throughout Palestine and in France, and then to setting up the first contemporary dance festival in 2006 in the same month Hamas won the national elections. It was not a propitious time for dance — Hamas felt the festival was too western and wanted to stop it — but that year there were five companies from Belgium, France, Benin, Spain, and Ireland as well as the Sareyyet company performing At The Checkpoint. It proved a great success and after 14 years, as Elayyan grins, the public is getting used to contemporary dance, enjoying a range of works over the years by the likes of William Forsythe, Akram Khan, Sasha Waltz, Maguy Marin, Russell Maliphant, Candoco, Stopgap and Protein Dance. It’s a remarkable achievement that continues to expand with a network in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Contemporary dance is presenting Palestine and the Arab world in terms of international cultural exchange that eloquently counters the region’s noxious political climate. 


Protein Dance in Border Tales at Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


English National Ballet’s Manon at London Coliseum

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

English National Ballet, Manon, London Coliseum, January 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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