Resolution 2020: WonderWoman Collective, Harry Parr & Autin Dance Theatre

Posted: March 27th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2020: WonderWoman Collective, Harry Parr & Autin Dance Theatre

Resolution 2020, WonderWoman Collective, Harry Parr, Autin Dance Theatre, February 20

Johnny Autin in Square One
Johnny Autin in Square One (photo: Nucis Designs)

WonderWoman Collective is a trio of dancers from the London Contemporary Dance School’s Developing Artistic Practice programme: choreographer Hannah Adams and her collaborators Greta Gauhe and Marta Stepien. Their work, Her Agency, explores ‘womanhood and female empowerment’. The program note is written in the style of an abstract, detailing what we can expect to see. ‘The performance will highlight the importance of mutual support in the time of social isolation’…and ‘(the three women) will find themselves in unexpected complex situations, easing into unforeseen connections that demand instant response.’ In the field of academic research papers, an abstract is intended to connect to the arguments elaborated in the text, but in a visual, image-based art like dance such a desired concision is lost between the performance and the onlooker. As Roland Barthes argued in the field of literary studies, once a book is published, its author has no authority in its interpretation. It’s not just a question of the program notes; Adams has interpreted the physical aspects of Her Agency quite literally while loosening their connection to the dimension of dance. On a bare stage with three hanging microphones, we can see the development of ideas like mutual support and precarious balance, as well as complex, unconventional interaction, but a section of guided contact improvisation with Adams at the microphone seems straight out of the school curriculum. What is missing is an enveloping choreographic and spatial dynamic that takes thinking-as-dance to the realm of dance-as-thinking. 

Harry Parr’s desire to ‘connect the space, the dancers and the audience with a rousing energy in a shared experience of flow’ is like an adrenalin shot that kicks the evening’s program into gear. PEAK is an unapologetic opportunity for Parr to exercise his ‘own idiosyncratic vocabulary’ in a work that does a lot more; it imprints itself on the imagination by the nature of its formal and spatial organisation. The responsibility lies both with the dancers — Parr, Adélie Lavail and Corrie McKenzie — and with Zak Macro’s lighting that treats light and shade as if it were pulling focus between sharpness and blur. Parr’s idiosyncratic, edgy vocabulary borrows from the gestural language of mime; the use of his body, hands and fingers has a dramatic intent that, although abstract, has a quality of language that gives structure to his choreography. He projects the persona of a puppet master or magician in relation to Lavail and McKenzie who in turn enter into this alchemy with finely attuned contributions that are like a wild, animalistic chorus. Far from simply an exercise in idiosyncratic vocabulary, PEAK has perhaps inadvertently stumbled on an expression of movement in space that is at the heart of drama. Macro’s play of light and Parr’s detached groupings — like the closeup focus on a dialogue of legs between Lavail and McKenzie while Parr’s torso coordinates in the shade behind — work together to create a unified emotional field. 

For the purposes of full disclosure, I rehearsed and performed with Johnny Autin in a production of Lindsey Butcher and Darshan Singh Bhuller’s Rites of War in 2014, so I am familiar with his vocabulary and way of moving. But nothing prepared me for the searing psychological evocation of mental health that permeates his solo, Square One, for Autin Dance Theatre, a work that would be impossible to achieve without him having personally driven through the landscape it explores. It is a landscape of black floor and walls in which a broad cylinder of white paper in various permutations is both the material of his preoccupation and his path to survival. Autin is already on stage as we enter the auditorium, obsessively tearing white paper into small squares and littering the floor around him while staring out absentmindedly at the audience as if through a window. The crossover between mimicry and the recollection of mental disturbance is unnerving but the visceral energy of Square One derives from this proximity of performer and subject and Autin has both the courage and necessary distance to combine the two. The effect is a carefully constructed diary of images that is both attractive through Autin’s sensual athleticism and chastening in its psychological fragility. Joe Henderson’s lighting enhances the idea of archetypical opposites, contrasting the white paper against the black walls to create opacity and translucence, shadow and substance. 

The program defines Square One as a work in progress, but the performance belies this; it is polished with experience, candour and Autin’s perverse delight in performing it.


Mark Bruce Company in Return to Heaven at Wilton’s Music Hall

Posted: March 10th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mark Bruce Company in Return to Heaven at Wilton’s Music Hall

Mark Bruce Company, Return to Heaven, Wilton’s Music Hall, March 3

Mark Bruce, Return to Heaven
Eleanor Duval, Carina Howard and Dane Hurst in Return to Heaven (photo: Nicole Guarino)

Mark Bruce’s latest work, Return to Heaven, presented at Wilton’s Music Hall, bridges a vast arc of cultural references from the Egyptian pyramids to space exploration within a framework of a macabre sci-fi expedition. Journeys into darkness have been the subject of previous works by Bruce like Macbeth, The Odyssey and Dracula, but in Return to Heaven he seems to be working towards a resolution, a transmutation of dance theatre into a psychology of personal development, where losing yourself in the forest and fighting your way out against dark forces is a way to slay your own demons. All the program note reveals is a story ‘of an obscure expedition into the darkness of a jungle led by two explorers seemingly pursuing only a feeling that something awaits them, something they need to uncover.’ It might be called an existential fable with ghostly visions, ruthless mercenaries and vampire clinicians that uses its theatrical effects to illustrate the hazardous road to inner resolution. The fable is further construed through the optic of a delirious mind that cuts up and reassembles its narrative elements through the cinematic techniques of flashback, fast forward and recall as a non-linear phantasmagoria of associations. The advantage of such a path is to turn a time-traveling fable into a dense, multi-layered myth; the danger is that the signification of the myth may be lost in the complex shuffling of layers. 

The visual aspect of Return to Heaven relies heavily on the collaboration between Phil Eddolls’ stage design, Guy Hoare’s lighting, Dorothee Brodrück’s costumes and Jyn San Tsang’s makeup, while Dean Sudron as stage manager has the unenviable task of coordinating all the complexities of the production in real time. As we enter the auditorium of Wilton’s Music Hall — itself a theatre whose atmosphere is redolent with mystery — the stage is engulfed in haze and tropical bird song. Within a sultry forest clearing against a backdrop of hanging creepers is the vague outline of a tent and a lectern in front of it that suggest the encampment of an archaeological expedition. Through the light we see Dane Hurst at the lectern writing in his journal, with a rifle at hand; Eleanor Duval as his expedition partner is lying on the ground suffering from a fever whose effects will manifest later. From this still point we enter into a fluid succession of images and visual explanations that Hoare’s lighting alternately reveals and hides, transforming time into a thick haze that holds within it the references that drive the fractured narrative. 

In trying not to tell a linear story, Bruce subverts his aim by using a number of narrative devices and theatrical effects; each scene is emphasised like a chapter in a book even if the order of the chapters is jumbled, and Eddolls’ props — a tent, a Triumph TR6, a sarcophagus and a crashed spaceship — identify the specific details of the story even if we cannot immediately grasp their significance. At the same time, the artifice of theatrical effects — a rocket ship crash, a bloody severed head, a man-eating insect, a beached shark, and gory entrails — transports our belief into comic strip territory. There’s a fine line between chilling horror and lurid sensation that Return to Heaven negotiates only with difficulty. 

Bruce enjoys an eclectic playlist, and he doesn’t disappoint; there are some 22 tracks in Return to Heaven collated from Krzysztof Penderecki, Akira Nishimura, Arvo Pärt, Irving Burgie, Mark Lanegan Band, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Harry Belafonte, and Bruce himself. He uses the tracks either as source music for choreography or incidental music for creating moods and emotions, but the diversity and frequency of different tracks nevertheless constitutes the aural equivalent of an additional narrative device. 

With such a strong focus on theatrical and aural effect, the dancing appears almost incidental. Carina Howard’s first solo, which is repeated later in the work, is full of upright, upbeat neoclassical steps that appear at odds with the prevailing mood, while Hurst’s range of virtuosic classical steps performed with characteristic intensity is so out of context in the battle scene that it is close to parody. Duval plays her ailments and obstacles to the edge of sanity and back, while Jordi Calpe Serrats, Christopher Thomas and Sharol Mackenzie all remain more attuned to the work’s expressive parameters. 

In a production that professes to ‘transcend narrative’, Return to Heaven is too heavily weighted by its narrative devices. Transcendence is an experience, and it’s the experience that is missing. 


Ballet Icons Gala at London Coliseum

Posted: February 5th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Gala | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet Icons Gala at London Coliseum

Ballet Icons Gala, London Coliseum, January 26

Ballet Icons Gala
Lucía Lacarra and Matthew Golding in Finding Light (photo © Anne-Sophie Bonnet)

The Ballet Icons Gala, presented by Ensemble Productions at the London Coliseum, is celebrating its fifteenth year; for lovers of dance, it is an annual feast for the senses with thirteen works and twenty-six dancers to savour. The gala is founded on the symbiotic nature of ballet icons; choreography, whether classical or contemporary, becomes iconic through performance, and dancers become iconic through their interpretation. When La Scala Ballet’s Principal, Nicoletta Manni, displays her innate musicality by matching the technical perfection of her fouettés in the coda of the Don Quixote pas de deux with the galloping rhythm provided by the ENB Philharmonic under Valery Ovsyanikov, it is memorable; the marriage of choreography and music is at the heart of classical ballet, and the pure sensation of Manni’s artistry is worth the ticket. The surprise is that this doesn’t happen more often; despite the company pedigree on display, the interpreters of the classical ballet extracts tend to be underwhelming. Timur Askerov and Ekaterina Kondaurova are both principals of the Mariinsky Theatre, but their star quality is missing in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique. The Royal Ballet field Yasmine Naghdi and Marcelino Sambé in the second act pas de deux from Giselle but from the moment Naghdi enters the game is lost. Against a gaudy backdrop that removes any sense of the uncanny, Giselle’s appearance is more macabre than ethereal. Naghdi’s steps are accented into the ground and when Sambé bounces on for his solo he has seemingly forgotten his repentance and is determined to thrill the audience. In Don Quixote, Manni is partnered by the youthfully gallant Julian MacKay, but the gallantry is not present in the way he attacks his steps; when virtuosity conveys visible effort over refinement, ballet loses its classicism. And when the refinement is more a stylistic trait than the culmination of technique, as in the performance of the final act pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty by Bolshoi principals Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko, emotion is effectively excised from the motion. It is only in the final pas de deux from Le Corsaire by Iana Salenko and Daniil Simkin — both currently principals of Staatsballett Berlin — that the sparks worthy of a gala begin to fly. Simkin flirts with excess — perhaps it is this flirtation that makes his presence so fascinating — but his seemingly effortless virtuosity leaves traces of perfection. Salenko is well matched in energy and technical ease — her fouettés are so centred she finds it hard to stop — and the pair bring the performance to a climactic end. 

While all the dancers in the Ballet Icons Gala are classically trained, some of the works are either neo-classical or contemporary. In Balanchine’s Diamonds pas de deux from Jewels, Alyona Kovalyova and Xander Parish pay elegant homage to the Russian tradition in which they — and Balanchine — were trained, while the extract from Alberto Alonso’s Carmen sees Maria Alexandrova replace fire with guile, leaving her fiery partner Vladislav Lantratov as José without a flame. One of the great exponents of classical ballet, Natalia Osipova, finds herself in an ambivalent dynamic with Jason Kittelberger in the world première of his Once with. Set to piano studies by Jean Sibelius, the duet sees them in a ‘physical conversation devoid of language miscommunication’. Kittelberger is clearly at home with the movement he creates on himself, but Osipova is still adapting to a physical communication that seems to hold her back from fully expressing herself. La Scala’s Vittoria Valerio and Claudio Coviello do not hold back from Angelin Preljocaj’s intoxicating language in the brief duet from Le Parc that makes the adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 even more achingly beautiful, but the world première of Giuseppe Picone’s Elegie that he dances with Luisa Ieluzzi, shows how seductive language can so easily become self-indulgent. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s duet from Frida, performed by Dutch National Ballet’s Maia Makhateli and James Stout, struggles for context in this gala setting, all the more so because the relationship between Frida and Diego Rivera seems undercooked, while the duet from Akram Khan’s Dust is danced with such passion and conviction by English National Ballet’s Erina Takahashi and James Streeter that its wartime context, signified in Jocelyn Pook’s haunting score, is entirely subsumed. But it’s the audience’s lavish applause for Edwaard Liang’s Finding Light that suggests the interpretation by Lucía Lacarra and Matthew Golding of the dynamic shapes and intimate undulations of Liang’s choreographic relationship is so complete that we are witness to how an icon is created.


Resolution 2020: Dylan Poirot Canton, SBB Dance, The Follow Through Collective

Posted: January 25th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2020: Dylan Poirot Canton, SBB Dance, The Follow Through Collective

Resolution 2020: Dylan Poirot Canton, SBB Dance, Follow Through Collective, January 21

Resolution 2020, 14.06.17, Grenfell Tower
Tyler Jones-Holbon, Beth Veitch, Ashleigh Kinchin and Sasha Vallis in 14.06.17 (photo: Dougie Evans)

The starting points for this evening’s trio of works are fundamental to the health of a society: family, housing and environment; they collectively throw out questions on life and death while leaving the answers to float. Dylan Poirot Canton’s Father’s Flower is a psychological portrait of ‘what it means to live up to a father’, SBB Dance’s 14.06.17 explores the stories around the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and Follow Through Collective’s 1 Click Away examines packaging waste in our online economy. All the works have a keen emotional sensibility towards the subjects they confront, but ironically choreography sometimes gets in the way.

Of the three works, Canton’s is the most intimately geared to the body, through which he experiences and explores the complex relationship with his father; he merges choreography with film, timing his entrance to a grainy moving image of a distant memory. He also uses his voice, but the clarity of words is at times sublimated to the colour and texture of emotion; it’s both frustrating (not understanding what he is saying) and moving (in the way his emotional utterances merge with his movement). Nevertheless, there are a couple of audible maxims — ‘A winner never quits and a quitter never wins’, and ‘Don’t hit a man when he’s down’ — that serve as a gauge of tough love. Father’s Flower is improvised, and the intent of Canton’s portrayal is vivid enough to imbue his movement with a search for form rather than for resolution. 

In 14.06.17, Shaquille Brathwaite-Blaggrove quickly and effortlessly enters into the horror of the Grenfell Tower tragedy through haunting, in situ recordings of witnesses to the conflagration; his focus is on the absence of bodies, and any choreographic image is up against the unequivocal horror of this stark reality. One that succeeds is Sasha Vallis repeatedly miming the opening of a door; it’s a simple, everyday gesture, but superimposed on the sound of the Grenfell Tower flames it is an eloquent portent of disaster: inhabitants on the upper floors were told by the fire department to remain in their flats, and to keep the doors shut. Brathwaite-Blaggrove also delves into a caricature of then prime minister Theresa May’s reaction to the tragedy; it is crude but it works because there is an element of truth to its twisted satire and because dramatically it removes us from the scene to concentrate a justifiably angry focus on the government’s calculated inaction. Where Brathwaite-Blaggrove weakens his otherwise inspired treatment of the disaster is in the choreography for his quartet of dancers; it seems to come directly from the studio with little bearing on, or relation to, the depiction of tragedy.  

Last year at Resolution, Greta Gauhe presented Drowning, an imaginative polemic on marine pollution; this year she is back with another environmental rant, albeit light-hearted, on cardboard waste: 1 Click Away. The approach is to let the boxes do the talking, and Gauhe’s choreography for her four dancers is focused on enhancing their eloquence. But in making the inanimate boxes the principal characters, 1 Click Away inevitably implicates not only their warehouse sorters, packagers and dispatchers, but also the shoppers whose collective proclivity for online purchases has clicked up a proliferation of cardboard waste. 1 Click Away is not self-righteously didactic but Gauhe gently eases the audience into participation and self-awareness at the beginning of the work by asking them to pass boxes from the back of the auditorium down to the stage, where Marta Stepien unpacks them and discards the containers. The other three performers rush to organize the boxes into a giant wall of cardboard. All that Stepien retrieves from the boxes are four t-shirts printed with work-ethic mottos that the dancers put on; they are now Make History, Work Hard, and Have Fun. Gauhe’s t-shirt is imprinted with the Amazon smiley. All four disappear behind the carboard wall and burst through it, redistributing, rearranging and rebuilding the boxes, which is the active choreographic task of the entire work. An inspired piece of theatrical anarchy is to pile up a line of boxes to block the view of the front row of the audience.  

In its absurd and whimsical treatment of an environmental hazard, it is a shame 1 Click Away could not have been paired with Alka Nauman’s Be Fruitful & Multiply at Chisenhale in December; both works give the audience room to reflect on a topic that, thanks to the other Greta, is continually challenging us to rethink our environmental choices.


A preview of Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act at The Playground Theatre

Posted: January 21st, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Preview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A preview of Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act at The Playground Theatre

A preview of Christian Holder’s Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act, January 17

Naomi Sorkin
Naomi Sorkin (photo: Gail Hadani)

Unfortunately, due to Naomi Sorkin tripping over her cat and breaking her wrist two days before the opening, the run of Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act has been postponed until September.

The creative path to Christian Holder’s Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act, which opens at The Playground Theatre on January 23 and runs until February 15, is a reflection of the forces that shaped the life of its eponymous central figure. Rubinstein was born in Russia of wealthy Jewish parents who died when she was young, so she was brought up by an aunt in St. Petersburg. Determined to make a career on the stage, she created a scandal by appearing as Salomé in the play of Oscar Wilde, but her powerful stage presence and erotically charged mime attracted the attention of Serge Diaghilev. Invited to join his Ballets Russes, Rubinstein worked with choreographer Mikhail Fokine and costume designer Léon Bakst to create the roles of Cléopâtre, and later Zobeide in Scheherezade for the first two Diaghilev seasons in Paris. She fell out with Diaghilev soon after, but she remained in Paris, using her wealth to start and maintain her own company. She continued her association with Fokine and Bakst in commissioning Le Martyre de saint Sébastien from Claude Debussy (with text by Gabriele D’Annunzio) and Boléro from Maurice Ravel. Later she produced Ravel’s La Valse, which Diaghilev had commissioned but rejected. In World War I she served the Red Cross in France (wearing an outfit designed by Bakst!) and on the advice of her lover, Lord Moyne, she moved to London in 1939 where she worked for the British Legion. After the war, she returned to Paris and retired to Vence where she lived as a recluse until she died in 1960.

Three years later, a young Christian Holder won a scholarship to study with Martha Graham in New York. Born in Trinidad and raised in England, Holder was supposed to return to London after his studies but his talent was spotted by Robert Joffrey who invited him to join his company, where he was to become one of its iconic dancers. Soon after Holder joined Joffrey Ballet, Naomi Sorkin, born of Russian Jewish parents in Chicago, joined American Ballet Theatre where she ascended through the ranks to become a principal dancer known for her lyricism and dramatic expression. The founder and editor of Dance Magazine, the late Bill Como, once suggested to her that she would be perfect in the role of Ida Rubinstein. In the 80s Sorkin left New York for London after Lynne Seymour encouraged her to join Lindsay Kemp’s company; she created the ballerina in his Nijinsky and played Hermia in his Midsummer Night’s Dream. She has lived in London ever since. 

After leaving Joffrey Ballet, Holder remained in New York as dancer, choreographer and costume designer before returning to London ten years ago where he renewed his friendship with Sorkin. Finally, sixty years after Rubinstein’s death, they are able to combine their talents and experience to vindicate Como’s intuition; Holder has written the book and Sorkin embodies the legendary diva.

The theatrical device of Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act is deceptively simple. A reporter, Edward Clément, (Adam Clayton-Smith) interviews Rubinstein in the last year of her life despite the efforts of her personal assistant Soretto (Kathryn Worth) to protect her privacy. Clément’s research mixed with his natural charm evokes in Rubinstein a flood of memories and reflections that transform her spirits and allow us to enter vicariously her historical and artistic milieu. Woven into these memories are the figures of Gabriele D’Annunzio (Marco Gambino), her lover Romaine Brooks (Kathryn Worth), and the composer Maurice Ravel (pianist Darren Berry). Diaghilev’s disembodied voice-over can be heard with one of Matthew Ferguson’s video projections and we hear Lord Moyne through his love letters to Rubinstein. 

As the interview becomes more intimate, Rubinstein asks Clément: “Do you believe in destiny?” It’s a question that threads as surely through Rubinstein’s life as through the peripatetic process of the production; it also provides the catalyst of the play’s dramatic dénouement.  

I saw a run-through in a studio at the end of a heavy week of rehearsals but Sorkin’s interpretation of Rubinstein, abetted by her cast, shines through. What Holder has done is to allow dance and theatre to release a dynamic sense of Rubinstein’s life from the historical facts of her biography. All that remain to be completed are the colours and textures that David Roger’s sets and costumes, Charles and Patricia Lester’s textiles and Charles Morgan Jones’ lighting will provide when the production at The Playground Theatre opens on Thursday. 


Helen Cox, Bodies in Space at the Bloomsbury Festival

Posted: December 25th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Helen Cox, Bodies in Space at the Bloomsbury Festival

Helen Cox, Bodies in Space, Bloomsbury Festival, Goodenough College, October 13

Bodies in Space
Natasha Arcoleo, Jordan Ajadi and Andrew Oliver in Bodies in Space (photo: Liz Gorman)

Dancers are often urged to ‘explore space’ in class, but choreographer Helen Cox has taken this encouragement far outside the walls of a studio in her new work, Bodies in Space, at the Bloomsbury Festival. Teaming up with composer Dougie Brown, she has choreographed a trio to the sounds of the stars. Actually, as Professor Fabio Iocco clarified in a post-show talk, we can’t hear the stars because there are no molecules in space through which sound can vibrate, but there are recordings of light emitted from stars far beyond our solar system captured by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. What Brown has done is to take two available sources of this data, mapped their topographical qualities and then processed the results with reverb and granular synthesis to produce what to the layman’s ears is the sound of the stars. It’s not quite as catchy as Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive, but all the more affecting for being close to the real thing. Adding movement to this sonic sense of mystery, three dancers — Natasha Arcoleo, Jordan Ajadi and Andrew Oliver — move with planetary suspension through a subtly darkened space in a hall of London House (part of Goodenough College in Bloomsbury), displaying in equal measure both a resistance to, and a celebration of gravity. Having seen Cox dance previously, this is the way she moves, but while Bodies in Space is the first time she has remained on the outside of a creation, the transposition clearly has not affected her choreographic intuition.

The audience is seated on four sides of the open floor, delineating the physical perimeter of the hall but not limiting the kind of spatial universe the dancers imagine as they ease slowly around and in between each other maintaining contact through slender wooden batons stretched between their index fingers with just enough pressure to keep them in place. It’s like linking stars with lines to make a classical astrological figure, but the stars are constantly moving; a dancer may drop a baton but the elastic geometry of the trio is simply suspended until the baton is retrieved and replaced. 

It’s the first of a series of choreographic ideas Cox created during an intense two-week period in the studio, in which she plays with the central axis of body movement that arises from stillness and silence. Against Brown’s otherworldly soundscape there is a stealth in the dancers’ articulation, a feline quality that is a mark of muscular control and articulation. Exploring this further in a series of duets, trios and inter-related solos, Cox is clearly inspired by the subject and its intimate relationship to dance; her imagery weaves celestial figures with choreographic form. Arcoleo’s solo starts with swirling circular patterns within the body that expand out into the curvature of the trunk and limbs, while Ajadi seems to flow through the ether, measuring space with his hands in a fluid articulation that knows no boundaries. After a trio in which the dancers move in orbits around each other, Oliver’s solo conjures up the smooth working of an exploratory space arm extending from the fulcrum of his shoulder. They are all visual ideas that have a natural coherence, and in combination with Brown’s soundscape and the sombre lighting of the hall, Bodies in Space gives a corresponding impression of suspended time.

With such a short period of gestation — all too frequent in the socio-political context where space and time equal money — it is such a pleasure to see the distance travelled from Cox’s initial movement ideas in a studio to the outer reaches of the universe and back to this Bloomsbury Festival venue in the heart of London. 


A politically correct Nutcracker for the end of 2019?

Posted: December 17th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Concept, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A politically correct Nutcracker for the end of 2019?

A Politically Correct Nutcracker for the end of 2019?

Nutcracker backdrop
Nature’s backdrop for the first act Snow scene from Nutcracker (photo: Glenn Jacobson)

With the waves of the debate on political correctness in ballet whipped up in a storm of indignation, perhaps it’s time to change the scenario of one of the more controversial productions. For example, the national characteristics Marius Petipa chose to portray in Nutcracker, which no doubt had their special significance in the Imperial Russia of 1892, correspond remarkably well to the current political landscape for which Tchaikovsky’s score might once again be appropriated. 

Petipa did not choose to portray the English in Nutcracker, possibly because the country at the time did not have a tradition of classical ballet. That, of course has changed, as has the recent political climate in the country. The first act of the ballet is set at a merry Christmas party in a wealthy family home. Given the Christmas present we have received in the election, it is tempting to see Boris Johnson in the patriarchal role with his latest paramour entertaining his Conservative friends while Etonian schoolboys run around creating mischief with their toy trumpets and miniature JCB diggers. Jeremy Corbin is in the avuncular role of Drosselmeyer who gives Clara the magic gift of speaking truth to power. Armed with this incalculable gift, Clara, who grows up to be Greta Thunberg, defeats the forces of Machiavellian duplicity and in the transformation scene the Christmas tree grows and multiplies as a symbol of reforestation. However, the melting ice caps of Lev Ivanov’s snow scene at the end of Act 1 are a stark reminder of the current state of our natural environment. 

Traveling into the second act on board her tiny carbon footprint, Clara visits first Spain for the climate conference and then some of the more flagrant polluters: Russia, China and (Saudi) Arabia. Three of the divertissements from the original second act are thus accounted for — along with possible lead roles and narratives — without the need for cultural exaggeration. The European community is the network of 28 (at this time of writing) countries under the skirts of Mother Ginger Brussels while the Mirlitons as the LGBTQ+ community continue campaigning for human rights. Clara has one last dream of saving the planet in a Waltz of the Flowers seen through the eyes of Extinction Rebellion before the Grand Pas de Deux features the President and First Lady of the United States against a backdrop of Thunberg as Person of the Year on the cover of Time Magazine. 


Svetlana Zakharova in Modanse at the Coliseum

Posted: December 11th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Svetlana Zakharova in Modanse at the Coliseum

Svetlana Zakharova in Modanse at the Coliseum, December 3

Svetlana Zakharova as Chanel in Bolshoi Modanse
Svetlana Zakharova as Gabrielle Chanel (photo: Jack Devant)

Svetlana Zakharova is the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet and the artistic director of MuzArts, the producer of this double bill, Modanse. The program includes two works — Mauro Bigonzetti’s Come Un Respiro (‘Like a Breath’) and Yuri Possokhov’s Gabrielle Chanel — in which Zakharova is the star accompanied by two male principals, two male leading soloists and fourteen artists of the Bolshoi Ballet. 

For Zakharova to present herself in a context that focuses the spotlight uniquely on her talents is in keeping with a culture of celebrity. When the Bolshoi first came to London in 1956 its undisputed star was Galina Ulanova but her artistry was subsumed in the ballets in which she appeared — Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, The Fountain of Bakhchisarai and Giselle; by all accounts her identity was not separate from the roles she played. The current double bill turns this notion of the star inside out; in both works Zakharova appears as herself. Bigonzetti’s Come Un Respiro eschews character for an abstract study of articulate lines and shapes — both of which suit Zakharova’s outstanding plastic ability — and while Possokhov offers Zakharova the opportunity to inhabit the life of the iconic Chanel, she fails, by her own admission, to take it. 

Come Un Respiro takes the breathless beauty of well-trained dancer’s bodies as the starting point of a physical puzzle that manipulates the classical lexicon into unconventional shapes and demonstrates, with a knowing sense of wit and playful eroticism, how such manipulations of the body affect its emotional expression. The program describes the work as ‘a modern reflection of the aesthetics of the Baroque period’; it rides on a recording of Handel’s Suites for Keyboard and is enhanced by the costumes of Helena de Medeiros. The men are bare chested in tights, and the women have stylish bodices with a baroque curlicue confection around their waists. Their arms and legs are laid bare like steely tendrils of an exotic plant with beautifully curved tips that can extend endlessly into languid shapes, hinge, cantilever or wrap themselves enticingly around their partners. Bigonzetti seems to love this show of sex more than he loves the pure pleasure of movement; his choreography too often manipulates shapes in place (with the exception of variations for Zakharova and Jacopo Tissi who refreshingly expand their shapes in space) that runs counter to the current of the keyboard suites. The effect of Come Un Respiro is overwhelmingly visual to the detriment of choreographic flow.  

When she was researching the subject of Possokhov’s new ballet, Zakharova visited Chanel’s apartment at 30, rue de Cambon in Paris. She writes that it was not what she expected to find; the Byzantine luxury of the furnishings confused her. In looking for Chanel, ‘at some point I started to lose her’, she continues. ‘I tried to find at least some similarity, but the more I sank into her image, the clearer I realized that there was nothing in common between us. And that thought freed me, unchained me, and gave me the freedom to invent my own Chanel…’ For Zakharova and Possokhov it is apparently immaterial in the creation of Gabrielle Chanel that the central character is irredeemably conflated with the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet. There is no further need for biographical depth; Alexey Frandetti as librettist and director guides us through a timeline of events in Chanel’s early life that Possokhov uses as choreographic set pieces for his trio of principal characters: Chanel and two of her early, wealthy lovers, Étienne Balsan and the elegant Englishman, Arthur (Boy) Capel. While the Chanel-designed costumes are beautifully styled period reproductions, and Maria Tregubova’s sets and Ilya Starilov’s video projections make creative reference to contemporary taste, Ilya Demutsky’s score seems less concerned with finding flavours of French period music than in painting a contemporary portrait of the central character. Choreographically, Zhakarova’s two duets with Tissi as Boy Capel are the highlights but Possokhov tends to default to a traditional treatment of overwrought emotions. Boy Capel’s death in a car accident is perhaps the nadir of imagination, combining a grainy video projection of a car driving at speed along a narrow coastal road, stage lights momentarily blinding the driver (and audience) and a climax of Tissi performing a double tour to the ground not unlike Albrecht in Giselle. We do not learn very much in this sumptuous work about Chanel, but that is not its purpose; it’s about the legend, and as Chanel famously said, ‘Legend is the consecration of celebrity.’


Rambert2: Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: November 19th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rambert2: Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Rambert2, Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells, November 5

Rambert2, Vivian Pakkanen, Sama, Andrea Miller
Vivian Pakkanen in Sama (photo: Stephen Wright)

This second year’s program of Rambert2 at Sadler’s Wells shows a sophistication and artistry, both in terms of choreography and interpretation, that one would expect of the main company, so it is worth remembering that Rambert2 is the practice component of an MA in Professional Performance Studies that Rambert School offers students through the auspices of the University of Kent. The quality of dancers is high because the Rambert brand can attract a large number of applicants to the course. One of last year’s students, Salomé Pessac, is now in the main company which gives an idea of the level of proficiency on offer. There is also an interesting transatlantic connection — four of the thirteen dancers and two of the three choreographers this year are American — through Rambert’s artistic director, Benoit Swan Pouffer.

Choreographer Jermaine Maurice Spivey has spent time in Crystal Pite’s company, Kidd Pivot, which is an indication of both his quality as a dancer and his good fortune in witnessing a bourgeoning choreographic talent at work; furthermore, he has deconstructed and reconstructed Pite’s works in order to set them on other companies. In Terms and Conditions, Spivey is experimenting with ideas of his own; he develops the work in sections, choreographically and musically, that are structurally connected but not yet coherent. It starts with words that are manipulated verbally and choreographically with an initial cue from Emily Gunn. A seated Nathan Chipps repeats the word with a variety of inflections and intonations while opposite him in another chair Minouche Van de Ven improvises movement to them. Costume designer Noemi Daboczi’s idea to embed flexible mirrors in the back of her white overalls initiates another section; the dancers later remove them and place them over their faces. It’s a visually arresting idea but doesn’t seem to lead anywhere and is quite impracticable in a section of Spivey’s head-tossing choreography. A final section relies on the repetition of a circular pattern with the dancers taking it in turns to lie like a victim at the centre while the others walk or run around. Terms and Conditions is an articulate study for a promising, but as yet unfulfilled contract. 

Sin is a duet taken from the 2010 Babel by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet. Based on the struggle between Eros and Thanatos, it is a narrative with a straightforward formal structure that gradually inverts its opening position over its sinuous course. The connection between Prince Lyons as the male figure and Van de Ven as the female is intense and dramatically coherent; they could be complementary elements of each other in an internal battle for survival or separated as incompatible egos within a couple. From its title, Sin could also be understood as the story of Adam and Eve and the choreography uses snake-like imagery throughout. Whatever the interpretation, the two performers manifest a fateful attraction to each other that oscillates in a riveting yin-yang altercation between power and subversion. Adam Carrée’s lighting plays its own dramatic role that includes a large reflective surface descending obliquely from which the performers cannot hide. 

In her programme note for Sama, choreographer Andrea Miller, who is the artistic director of New York-based Gallim Dance, writes: ‘There are essential, ambiguous and complex elements of our humanity that can only be accessed through our physical experience.’ With its inherent capacity for physical embodiment, dance is fertile ground for elaborating the importance of our bodies in social discourse. For Sama, Miller and her creative team — lighting designer Paul Keogan, costume designer Hogan McLaughlin and composers Vladimir Zaldwich and Frédéric Despierre — delve deep into the realms of imagery and imagination to conjure up a paeon to physical expression, a sensuous and tangible whirl of theatrical and circus arts that the dancers elaborate with infectious abandon. At the heart of Sama is a lament for what Miller fears to be ‘the beginning of an apocalypse of the body’; at the beginning is an enactment of an Eastern parable and at the end a lullaby that follows an exultant jump into darkness by the dancers. Within this framework, perhaps the most significant role is for a young woman whose clearly articulated detachment could well be ‘the still point of the turning world’ from which all energy arises. Miller created it for Vivian Pakkanen but due to a last-minute illness she was replaced by an undaunted Artemis Stamouli from the previous cohort of Rambert2. That kind of coolness under pressure is what Sama celebrates.


Richard Alston Dance Company in Final Edition at Snape Maltings

Posted: November 8th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston Dance Company in Final Edition at Snape Maltings

Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition, Snape Maltings, November 1

Richard Alston, Final Edition
Joshua Harriette and Monique Jonas in Brahms Hungarian (photo: Chris Nash)

There is a natural link between Richard Alston and Snape Maltings through his long association with the music of Benjamin Britten, while his particular style of dance relishes the space afforded by the extraordinary stage area with its brick walls as precipitous as a cathedral nave and as expansive as a concert hall. Alston’s aesthetic seems to value the sanctity of choreography and music without wanting to divert too much attention from it, presenting his company like an orchestra on a concert platform — which is why Snape Maltings works so well for him. For the theatrical element, lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli washes the brick walls with colour while she enhances the clarity of the dancers against the grand scale of the space. But as soon as she inserts her own individuality, as in the rectangle of light she creates for Ellen Yilma and Jennifer Hayes at the end of their duet in Shine On, the image of a tomb seems too overtly representational for Alston’s choreographic imagery. Costumes for the men tend towards a puritan ethic, casual and utilitarian without embellishments, elegant variations on tracksuit pants and sleeveless tops, where bare arms show off Alston’s love of drawing and carving figures in space. The women are more colourful, especially in Brahms Hungarian where Fotini Dimou’s floral patterned dresses move around the body with a joie de vivre inherent in Brahms’ folk-inspired music. In Voices and Light Footsteps, Peter Todd’s costumes and associate choreographer Martin Lawrance’s lighting work together like a painting, where Alejandra Gissler’s red dress is the dynamic equivalent of one of JMW Turner’s painterly red marks. 

Alston’s choreographic style, derived from his two major influences of Sir Frederick Ashton and Merce Cunningham, combines a sparse but reverent classical technique with a romantic, flowing use of the upper body; his vocabulary is not broad but the interest and integrity of what we see is supported by his impeccable musicality that in turn demands the same of his dancers. Personality makes up for a lot in the present company, but musicality is not what it was when the likes of Liam Riddick and Oihana Vesga Bujan were performing, though Elly Braund is still there as a valuable guide. In watching the dancers there’s a suggestion of too much tension in the arms that at speed does not support Alston’s flow of the upper body, and a tendency, especially among the men, to land too heavily. There is something sensuous about soft, pliant landings that goes a long way towards bringing the choreography and the music seamlessly together.  

Over several years Alston’s company has had its portion of Arts Council funding to The Place — where it has been resident for the past quarter of a century — successively reduced to the point he feels he cannot run the company to the standards he needs; the present tour is called Final Edition. On the program is a relatively new repertoire, with two works from this year (Voices and Light Footsteps, and Shine On) and two from 2018 (Detour, and Brahms Hungarian). Voices and Light Footsteps, to a selection of Monteverdi madrigals, balli and sinfonia, sees Alston’s choreographic invention soaring with the music, creating a series of courtly dances that sweep up the voices into the air; there is a joy about the work that belies the tumultuous year in which it was created. Lawrance’s Detour, played out to a percussive score by Akira Miyoshi for solo marimba, is a contrast both in its dynamic pace and in the predominance of masculine energy; it features whipping arms and legs in a fast and furious choreography with brute overtones of anger and frustration.

Shine On, to Britten’s early song cycle On This Island for piano and voice (performed respectively by Jason Ridgeway and Katherine McIndoe), is clearly dark in tone, drawing its choreographic line from WH Auden’s poetry that begins with a fanfare (Let the florid music praise!) and turns through the haunting Nocturne to irrevocable loss (As it is, plenty). The symbolism is evident, and yet Alston returns in the finale to the opening musical fanfare with the dancers finishing in a reverence towards the public. Alston dedicates the work to Lizzie Fargher ‘whose enthusiasm for dance (and music) has sustained and encouraged me every time I have been to Snape and to Dance East.’

In closing the program with Brahms Hungarian Alston shows his undefeated spirit with a suite of dances to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances for solo piano that Ridgeway plays with gusto. As Alston remarked stoically after the final applause, “I love this place and I’m not going to say goodbye!”