Ian Abbott at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Part 2

Posted: August 29th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Part 2

Ian Abbott at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Part 2

Chisato Minamimura in Scored In Silence, Hiroshima, Nagasaki
Chisato Minamimura in Scored In Silence (photo: Mark Pickthall)

As part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase at Emerald Theatre (Greenside at Nicolson Square), Chisato Minamimura’s Scored in Silence is a ‘solo digital artwork that unpacks the untold tales of deaf hibakusha — survivors of the A-Bombs that fell in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 — and their experiences at the time and thereafter’. Having visited the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum (NABM) last year, I spent some time thinking about how Japanese museums present information. In the city there are six numbers representing the total deaths from the initial impact of the “Fat Man” alongside the thermal blast winds that killed many more, for many decades after. NABM presented warped metal water towers, items of clothing, radiation shadows, melted rosary beads and much more from that day — August 9, 1945 — with a level of emotional neutrality that was massively affecting; there was no bombast, no histrionics, just a presentation of what happened. 

Framed by this history, Minamimura appears as a floating spectral presence behind the Holo-gauze screen, inhabiting the past and giving voice to the trauma and history of ‘people like her’ — those who have been silenced. Through her use of BSL (and British Pathé-like voiceover provided by Peter Abraham), Minamimura echoes this mode of presentation with an accomplished sign mime performance (supported by Tetzuya Izaki), aided by a suite of simple white-line animations of life in 1940s Hiroshima by Dave Packer, slithers of video from two hibakusha (Katsumi Takebu and Tomoe Kurogawa) who recount the impact and effects of the A-bomb in Hiroshima, and the pioneering inclusion of Woojer straps for the audience — immersive haptic belts (mainly used for gaming) worn around the waist with a big bass vibrating speaker that emphasise certain parts of Danny Bright’s score.

Throughout this 55-minute work, Minamimura’s ability to conjure deft emotional landscape is without peer; she is our sign mime medium holding these stories, passing them on to audiences and leaving us to reflect on the emotional enormity and human consequence of those fateful days in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Beautiful Game by Next Door Dance is ‘a laugh-out-loud look at Britain’s undying obsession with football, celebrating everything from weird match day rituals to ridiculous armchair punditry’ and has been selling out at the newly minted ZOO Playground; after a significant shift in the mainstream visibility and awareness of women’s football following this summer’s World Cup in France, The Beautiful Game — created by Jennifer Manderson in collaboration with Hayley Corah, Emily Thurston, Georgina Saunders and Laura Savage — is the perfect show at the perfect time to reinforce female-led football narratives and to continue the quest for gender equality in football.

Premiered in 2016, The Beautiful Game is a wholesome, 55-minute, whistlestop sketchbook of all the physical quirks, behaviours and customs associated with association football. From the faux semaphore of the ref’s assistants’ flags and stanning Beckham and Lineker to the mimetic accuracy of in-seat fans sit standing as their team ALMOST scores a goal. Next Door Dance has choreographically dissected and reassembled football into a theatrical work that is accessible and super family-friendly — although I would love to see an updated scene referencing VAR. It is heartening to see it tour to village halls, community centres and social clubs as the work has a disarming charm and Next Door Dance FC will continue to gather more fans over the coming months.

Working On My Night Moves by Julia Croft and Nishan Madhan — presented by Zanetti Productions — at the Old Lab (Summerhall) ‘breaks the rules, the patriarchy and the time/space continuum. It’s a search for multiple feminist futurisms, a gesture to the impossible and an ode to the search for utopia.’ It is presented as a live artwork but has an original choreographic sensibility, a clear movement score and enough things that look like dance (with Sarah Fister-Sproull as Movement Advisor) to warrant further inspection. 

Let us assume that the theatre is a patriarchal space; French feminist philosopher, Hélène Cixous, asks “How…can women go to the theatre without lending complicity to the sadism directed against [them], or being asked to assume, in the patriarchal family structure that the theatre reproduces ad infinitum, the position of victim?” Croft and Madhan take the bodies of their audience and herd them on stage behind a star cloth for the opening seven minutes in the first rebalancing of power. As the cloth is ripped from the rig, we are ushered into the seating bank which has piles of stacked chairs, ladders and lights which are taking up room in the positions that we thought were ours. 

Working On My Night Moves deals with the usurping of power and the anatomies of belonging; Croft and Madhan depatriarchalise the space and we look not at their bodies but at what their bodies achieve in the transformation of spaces and futures. With a consistent suite of retina burners they go about their business, exploding scenographic conventions by dangling seats (on a safety chain) above the audience, tailoring suits made of tinfoil, dropping parcans from the lighting rig dangling just above the floor and invoking some sort of poetic fever dream of Judy Garland’s Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz

There is something delicious in their idea and execution; each night under the cover of darkness (to the tune of Bob Seger’s Night Moves and Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better) Croft and Madhan could enter every theatre space in the country, reconstruct it and shift the perceptions of those who enter it. Their strategies for a new feminist futurism are like the durational dance live-action version of Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter but with a better soundtrack. 


Ian Abbott at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Part 1

Posted: August 23rd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Part 1

Ian Abbott at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Part 1  

The Desk, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Reetta Honkakoski’s The Desk (photo: Noomi Ljungdell)

Snipping at the fringes of the Fringe this year have been some discussions about price, privilege and the voices that are not present. On one side are those who directly benefit from Edinburgh Fringe espousing the historical foundation and ideology on which it was built; they treat it like a cult, swearing unswerving devotion to it and proudly wearing their badge of service reflecting the years they have put into their community. On the other side are those who see the reality of the Fringe as a paid marketplace, a neoliberal capitalist playground that has long since lost the values on which it was founded. One of the works on From Start To Finnish, the showcase of work from Finland at the Old Lab (Summerhall), speaks to some of these macro discussions. It is Reetta Honkakoski’s The Desk that ‘mines her personal lived experience of a cult in this meticulous ensemble piece about the seductive power of discipline, hierarchy and mind control.’ 

With five ‘students’ and one whistle-happy ‘leader’ we see 60 minutes of tightly choreographed, softly punctuated and highly repetitive wheely-desk manipulation with students jostling for prime position right under the nose of their glorious leader. The duration of the scenes is always almost too long, but Honkakoski pulls it back before we lose interest and in some ways it has a predictability these structures like the army, enforced education, and cults often manifest: the erasure of the self, physical automation and the absence of constructive thinking. They just do. However, the final 10 minutes deliver two scenes that lift The Desk to another level. There is a well-worn trope of the puppet/master/invisible strings that has been done to death; however in this context it works conceptually. The detail, weight and anatomical cause and effect of the pulling activated parts of the body in each of the five dancers is delivered with such finesse and believability this section alone is a fringe highlight. It is followed by an absolute skewering of a lot of the former (and current) communist statues that are built in victorious poses, questing forward into battle or displaying benevolence to the poor; echoing the pulling down of statues by the people, we see the leader in rigor mortis slowly decaying, ready to timber, be caught and repositioned by the students. The Desk is like an absurd, fascist epilogue to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie with an immaculate execution.

111 by Joel Brown and Eve Mutso — part of the Made in Scotland showcase at Emerald Theatre (Greenside at Nicolson Square) — is named after the number of vertebrae Brown (Candoco Dance Company) and Mutso (former Principal at Scottish Ballet) share ‘as his spine has fused, meaning he has only 11, and she moves like she has a 100.’ As our genial host Brown welcomes us, he offers some context about how the two met in 2015 on a project initiated by Karen Andersen of Indepen-dance and choreographed by Marc Brew (who gets a name check for his witticism of “getting his strap on” as he secures himself in his wheelchair). 

Brown and Mutso have developed an unsettling intimacy; during their floor sections and on the exoskeleton cube of ballet scaffold barres (which creates a miniature Krypton Factor), we see them meet, mirror, linger, brush, carry and display their physical prowess on stage but are left after 55 minutes without a defined relationship. There’s a lack of coherence to the work or of a sole choreographic voice with something to say; this may have something to do with the number of ‘outside eyes’ in the creation of the work — Tim Nunn, David Street, Risto Oja and Susan Hay. The work feels less like a piece of theatre than a display of what Brown and Mutso can do (they are both excellent dancers) alone and together on a stage, but this isn’t enough. Having worked with the aerial coach Mark Gibson, the 20 or so minutes they are engaged in hanging, climbing, and conquering heights with the cube, there seems to be the potential for an interesting outdoor work, where technical virtuosity and feats of strength are familiar and welcome. 111 feels like it wants to get out. 

Back for its sixth year, the Taiwan Season features the return of Chang Dance Theatre with the first iteration of their new work Bout at the Old Lab (Summerhall) and an Edinburgh debut, Monster, by Dua Shin Te Production at Dance Base. 

Bout claims to be ‘inspired by observations of live boxing shows on TV, investigating how spatial configuration and role setting evolve nuanced conversations between moving bodies.’ This sounds way more academic than is necessary; the reality is it’s much closer to a sometimes playful, sometimes sombre physical portrait of the brothers Chang and how their relation, friendship and conflictships manifest in distances between them over the years. There are some inventive moments of how their bodies come together and echo each other; an opening scene sees one body pacing the edge of the stage and is eventually joined in step and in time (with little more than a bead of sweat between them) by a second and a third and we’re now watching a multi/single being with six arms and six legs with perfect gait and rhythm. Another scene is where one brother is the other’s 3D shadow; as one strolls across the stage inhabiting verticality, the other is at home in his horizontality glide-sliding and mirroring him detail by detail. However, choreographer Chien-Hao Chang burns through scenes and ideas at a rate of knots meaning that not every scene is successful and the ones that are are quickly discarded and not extended to their dénouement. At 40 minutes Bout hasn’t quite settled into its final shape and would benefit from some judicious editing; it needs to not leave the audience feeling like we’re fighting to like them as we know they have buckets of charm after the success of Bon 4 Bon.

Monster is an Entirely. Different. Kettle. Of. Fish. Choreographed, and performed by Yen-Cheng Liu (who also created the sound design), the programme note states, ‘Everyone alone carries a different monster in his/her own mind, a monster gradually bred, grown and shaped by various influences in life. If the master of one’s mind is the soul that dwells in the body, it must be a complicated compound, expandable, shrinkable and distortable at different stages of life. A distinct monster.’ 

Reminiscent of Antony Gormley’s 2007 work Blind Light at the Hayward Gallery (aka Fog in a Box), the audience enters a white-out. We see no monster. We have a 3-metre visibility range as the studio is suffocated with dry ice; as our eyes begin to settle on the scenographic detail — somewhat like The Generation Game — we’re presented with a white, stationary masked figure holding an elongated and home-made version of a boom mic. Along with Liu, a number of noiseless technicians move a rotary telephone, a spherical object wrapped in white paper, a small white wireless, a white 3m x 0.5m LED scrolling screen, two white prison-like loudhailer speakers on extendable stands and a pair of floodlights into a line from stage left to stage right. Enter dry ice smoke blast part 2. As the LED screen delivers philosophical platitudes on time, self and chasing unknown futures, some of the things are moved, delicious silhouettes are created, Liu gets nude and crawls off stage in an act of self-loathing. Slowly the things are moved, re-presented, dismantled and taken down. 

It is the perfect fringe companion to Ultimate Dancer’s For Now We Through The Mirror, Darkly as it offers us a mirror to what we are and what preconceptions we bring to the studio. In effect, Liu has created an alternative, 35-minute performance art version of Frankenstein that places us with him in this simple/complex/indulgent/terrifying/laughable space.


Shaun Parker & Company’s Little Big Man in Ramallah

Posted: August 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Shaun Parker & Company’s Little Big Man in Ramallah

Shaun Parker & Company, Little Big Man, Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, April 5

Shaun Parker & Company, Ivo Dimchev
Shaun Parker & Company with Ivo Dimchev in Little Big Man (photo: Prudence Upton)

What you see first in Shaun Parker’s Little Big Man at the Municipality Theatre in Ramallah City Hall is a fresh-faced, platinum blonde boy in baggy shorts and a maroon velvet jacket buttoned across his bare chest sitting casually with his legs dangling over the edge of the stage playing a small keyboard while humming and singing in a rich falsetto voice. The singer is in full control of his material and can improvise his words to include an invitation to latecomers to fill in the front rows; this is the inimitable singer/songwriter Ivo Dimchev. Finishing the song, he begins a new rhythmic introduction that the audience immediately accompanies with a hand beat. Dimchev stops, looks at the audience with a mixture of sternness and cheek and pulls one hand across his throat. The audience laughs and Dimchev resumes in silence. From that moment on he holds the entire audience within his grasp and the audience willingly accedes. 

Parker, the artistic director and choreographer of Shaun Parker & Company, changed the name of his work from King to Little Big Man for the company’s tour of the Middle East where it was felt judicious to avoid any disrespect or misunderstanding in the Kingdom of Jordan. Little Big Man (as it shall be known here) references the Y chromosome that is present only in the male of the species and determines the sex of offspring. The all-male cast — Josh Mu, Toby Derrick, Libby Montilla, Imanuel Dabo, Joel Fenton, Samuel Beazley, Harrison Hall, Robert Tinning, Damian Meredith and Alex Warren — finds itself inexorably trapped inside its masculinity as if Parker has put his men on a glass plate under a microscope and is allowing us to watch the biological process unfold. Crystalline choreographic patterns and intricate timing suggest the workings of sentient organisms but the presence of ten men in dinner jackets performing under an ornate chandelier against Penny Hunstead’s lush backdrop of potted palm trees transports the organic to the social and, with the emergence of male aggression, from the social to the political; Little Big Man is a gently satirical but resolute reminder of the inherent violence in masculinity and by extension in our current system of patriarchy. 

Parker is not the first choreographer to dissect male aggression, but in collaborating with Dimchev as composer and performer he presents an alternative running dialogue to masculinity that undermines it with the sensuality and beauty of androgyny. Dimchev is the catalyst for change; although he is on stage throughout the performance and remains aloof from the macho machinations around him, his presence weaves a spell on the ten men that by the end reduces them — and the audience — to emotional putty. Dimchev’s alchemy aside, Parker is careful not to caricature maleness too narrowly; the cast is sophisticated, charming, debonair and athletically accomplished, qualities we can easily admire. They lift, ride and leapfrog each other with childlike innocence, can scrum down with gentlemanly vigour and they explore homoerotic relations with candour. Parker strips them down to reveal their naked traits, and in the case of Derrick, his naked form as a focus of quintessential gender (for this tour full nudity has been scaled back to partial nudity). It is at this point that a spark of jealousy turns survival of the fittest into a self-fulfilling contest in which the biggest of the group picks on the smallest and smothers him. Violence erupts in the bonded cocks with head-butting and aggressive combat, all meticulously crafted, while Dimchev accompanies their antics with a beatific smile and lines like, ‘We’re living together’ and ‘Why do I love you?’ After a brief interlude in which the men disappear through the undergrowth where we can see them playing ritually, they return with more composure, collaboration and cooperation in an intricate choreographic layering of strength and softness until re-emerging traits of sadistic boot-camp behaviour result in a revolt, leaving two bodies on the stage. As the remaining men retreat around the ‘guardian angel’ of Dimchev, the victim gets up and lays his head on the body of his assailant: aggression turns to vulnerability in a monument to ambiguity. 

Like any work of integrity, Little Big Man raises as many questions as it answers; it has taken Parker five years, working with sporadic grants, to achieve this level of integration between genetic and psychological material and a dance theatre form that alternately thrills and soothes; it indicates a rare form of inspired collaboration. 


Claire Cunningham, Thank You Very Much at the Manchester International Festival

Posted: July 30th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Claire Cunningham, Thank You Very Much at the Manchester International Festival

Claire Cunningham, Thank You Very Much, Ukrainian Cultural Centre, July 20

Claire Cunningham in Thank You Very Much at Manchester International Festival
Dan Daw, Vicky Malin, Tanja Erhart and Claire Cunningham in Thank You Very Much (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It’s very hard to live up to an image.” – Elvis Presley

The Ukrainian Cultural Centre, tucked away in the residential side streets of Cheetham Hill and a tram ride from the slick glossy centre of Manchester International Festival, is the venue for a new work from Claire Cunningham, Thank You Very Much, commissioned by MIF; the social club cum bar cum community centre is the perfect location to explore impersonation, identity and acceptance through the lens of Elvis tribute artists.

The idea of using a tribute artist as a vehicle to pose questions on the authenticity of self already has a delightful irony, but to extend the idea to embrace questions on disabled and non-disabled bodies in a society that requires an almost mythic quest for the perfect normative body is a touch of genius. The four-performer ensemble (Daniel Daw, Tanja Erhart, Vicky Malin and Claire Cunningham) pull back their personal curtains on the glittering world of the professional tribute artist; they share intimate solo moments and delightful interactions with the audience alongside the experiences and authentic movement tips from the tribute acts like Black Elvis and Elvis Desley they spent time with during the creation process. 

Presley made the jump from local Mississippi heart-throb to national icon after his TV appearance on The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956; the intense pelvis shaking and broken choreographic lines alongside his appropriation of gospel/rhythm-and-blues/country sounds beamed a new and exotic culture into small screen America. Just as Elvis danced passionately with his microphone stand bent towards him, Cunningham introduces the evening in a gentle Glaswegian burr with an exquisite triped solo of weighted microphone stand and crutches; delicate balances mixed with 45-degree crutch leans while she serenades us with a flawless Elvis opener. 

Thank You Very Much is a love letter to those that exist on the edges. Cunningham is using the considerable privilege of an MIF frame to show what is possible when you invest in disabled artists by bringing to the fore an exquisite team. Dan ‘Hounddog’ Daw belongs on the catwalk, from blending the heel-to-toe walking assessments for motor control to strutting the stage wearing little more than a gold spangled jacket and tight boxers. Tanja ‘Wooden’ Erhart is totally compelling, drawing our eyes through the quality of movement and charismatic presence. Shanti Creed (costume designer) is a rhinestone monster and had an absolute ball with the jump suits, capes and belts, but it was the attention to detail in Erhart’s red diamante crutches and deep red satin kneepads that was most satisfying, even if they only made a couple of appearances. 

BSL interpreter Amy Cheskin was also on stage with all four performers; she is an electric stage presence in her own right adding value for those who are BSL users and those who aren’t. As an interpreter she has an incredible transparency in how quickly she is able to communicate; there’s no latency in the signs. Whether we’re hearing from Black Elvis on voiceover or Hounddog Daw conducting a live/fake interview on stage with an unsuspecting audience member she quietly appears next to the performer and delivers an embodied BSL that matches the emotive tone and delivery of the performers; we even learn the sign for Elvis which looks like you’re pulling a quiff with your right hand. 
There are enough nods to and affection for the King, tribute artists and the Porthcawl Elvis Festival that ensures the work isn’t taking from or using the culture for cheap laughs; there is care in buckets on how the performers are with each other and how they interact with the audience. Cunningham is an artist with a rich enough vein of works (Guide Gods, Give Me A Reason to Live and The Way You Look (At Me) Tonight) that could spawn their own tribute artists; I would love to see “Care Clunningham” mining the best bits of these existing works into a new evening.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Elixir Extracts Festival at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 9th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Elixir Extracts Festival at Sadler’s Wells

Elixir Extracts Festival, Lilian Baylis Theatre, June 14-16

Elixir Extracts Festival
Company of Elders in Alesandra Seutin’s Dare I Speak (photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Billed five years ago as a lifelong celebration of creativity, Elixir Festival focused on mature dancers, both professional and amateur, to counter the notion of ageism in a predominantly youthful dance culture. The format consisted of a mainstage mixed bill with professional and ex-professional dancers like Mats Ek, Ana Laguna, Dominic Mercy, as well as members of the original London Contemporary Dance Company, while the smaller Lilian Baylis theatre hosted two days of performances by amateur groups. The mix was inspiring if uneven — professionals who have danced for over 40 years at the summit of their field have a mastery of dance language that amateurs, however dedicated, rarely can. Two years later the next incarnation of Elixir followed the original format but the balance had changed; the mainstage show failed to duplicate the excellence of the first iteration while some of the ‘extracts’ next door were markedly more interesting choreographically and expressively. Despite Sadler’s Wells being a signatory to a European co-operation project that addresses ageism in dance (Dance On, Pass On, Dream On, or DOPODO), this year’s Elixir Extracts Festival — even the name suggests something is missing — retreats so far from its original idea that the distinction between professional and amateur has disappeared altogether and ageism in the dance profession has dropped off the radar; Elixir has become a yellow pages of over-sixties community dance in the UK. 

The quality of works on the program tends to suffer not so much from any low ability among the dancers but of choreography that fails to challenge their age. The one exception on Saturday was Dance Six-O’s performance of Liz Agiss’s Head In My Bag which, in Agiss’s inimitable language, ‘dumps age centre stage and kicks preconceptions into the long grass.’ Because Agiss is herself a performer of a certain age (though she has not been invited to previous Elixir festivals) she knows how to lift performance to a level that goes well beyond the demonstration of community and health benefits; she has an artistic vision that has no truck with the limitations of age. Her performers, with handbags on their heads, become a radical army of spirited individuals calling for the overturn of institutional myopia. 

Sunday’s program kicks back with a little more force, particularly from the Merseyside Dance Initiative’s Men! Dancing! performing Shoulder to Shoulder choreographed by MDI’s Jennifer Hale, and the PC*DC’s infectious finale, Your Invisible Balls Please. In the former, six men distil tension, aggression and resistance into a convincing choreographic form of mutual support, while the latter is a riotous refusal to go quietly led by the irrepressible Donald Hutera. It’s an apt message on which to close Elixir Extracts: in opting for the social value of older amateur dance over the artistic significance of mature dance, Sadler’s Wells is not so much challenging ageism in dance as avoiding the issue altogether.

In contrast to the two programs of extracts that are limited to around ten minutes each, Sadler’s Wells’ own flagship elderly amateur group, Company of Elders, celebrates 30 years of activity with a full-length evening of dance. With ages ranging from 60 to 90, the company can hardly be accused of ageism, but while its longevity supports the argument for older amateur dance, the range of its members’ abilities requires an approach to choreography that resolves the inherent limitations of its repertoire.

Alesandra Seutin’s Dare I Speak bypasses this opportunity by proposing the final speech and subsequent disappearance of the Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, as subject. In wrapping the company in a narrative that is beyond the embodied experience of its performers, Seutin turns gestures of menace and violence into expressions of half-hearted complicity. The context of African dances emphasizes the ability of Monica Tuck but while this is a benefit for the audience it does little to carry the momentous events Seutin proposes; it’s a fine subject on the wrong company.

Clara Andermatt’s Natural 2019 approaches the company from within. It’s a reconstruction of a work Andermatt created on Company of Elders in 2005; fourteen years later seven members are still involved. It is ‘natural’ in the way it presents each person and transforms their experiences into dance theatre but while its confessional nature suits the company, the disparate abilities of its members limit the development of its choreographic form. If the artistic potential of the company is to develop in line with its flagship, repertoire status, ageism may prove to have a time limit. 


Art Project Bora’s Double Bill at The Place

Posted: June 21st, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Art Project Bora’s Double Bill at The Place

Art Project Bora, Double Bill, The Place, June 4

Art Project Bora
Art Project Bora in Somoo (photo: Kunu Kim)

Bora Kim, the artistic director of Art Project Bora and an accomplished performer in her own right, presents a double bill at the second edition of A Festival of Korean Dance at The Place. The two works are a solo for herself, A Long Talk To Oneself, and an ensemble for six female dancers, Somoo. To experience these two works is to be immersed in an unfamiliar world that Kim evokes by weaving together visual elements from her Korean heritage that reference and inform each other to create densely layered landscapes of cultural associations.

A Long Talk To Oneself is a spare, carefully nuanced work about the need to speak out on a subject on which society prefers to keep silent. What hovers in the unspoken background is the death of a grandmother in an unspecified conflagration. We don’t know why Kim can’t speak openly about it but we can feel in her tense, silent physical language the painful foreboding of a family secret. A shiny, transparent halter top adds to the horror by suggesting the high-temperature moulding of clothes to skin. Kim’s finely articulated vocabulary is perhaps the only way for her to mourn adequately and at the same time it reveals inner emotions that make her mourning eloquently tangible. The inability to speak out is suggested in a prologue to the work when dancer Jun-Whan Her takes his time to place a microphone on a stand at the front of the stage; the stand is carefully extended above his head and the microphone, once installed, faces down at an angle. He checks it with a heavy breath and walks off. Kim emerges from the darkness to a similar heavy breath, passing in stages through horizontal lines of side light that mark her painful journey; when she arrives at the microphone, she can only look up at it but her words come through her expressive face and hands with their doll-like detachment. It is as if in her mute recounting Kim has merged with the spirit of her grandmother. There is a recorded voice in Korean that links Kim’s stage presence with a film of herself projected on a screen behind her, adding images and strands of conversation on top of her gestural language. We can glean from the subtitles on Jae-Hyung Joo’s film the story of Kim’s grandmother but, according to the program notes, there are other stories ‘from her own experiences’ that are less evident. Nevertheless, A Long Talk To Oneself is an eerily beautiful evocation of dream-like states that come to an abrupt end when Her re-enters to bundle Kim under his arm and walk her off. 

Somoo is a quite different work, not only because Kim has choreographed on six women but also because the work is less autobiographical than auto-descriptive. ‘Named after a classical Korean mask, Somoo uses traditional Asian gestures to convey imagery of the female body through a feminist lens.’ There is no doubt that the female body as treated here is more specifically the female genitalia that are fantasized into living masks ‘through the collective memory of all the individual dancers with the twist of the choreographer’s own interpretation’. On her website Kim has two video extracts of Somoo in quite different settings. One of them is as we see it at The Place; the other (see above image) is on a stage covered in a shallow pool of water that acts as a partner in the imagery, both for its splashing and reflective qualities and its erotic association. The water in effect makes the choreography and the shapes flow with an abandon that is missing on a dry stage. 

Somoo sees Kim subverting traditional gestures and masks into her contemporary feminist perspective on the female body, but while her visual fantasies are evident, there is a difficulty in grasping the details of her interpretation. This is perhaps where a western audience is at a disadvantage; Kim’s use of indigenous cultural signifiers falls short of releasing their full signification and thus obscures the rich intent of her work.

Kim also plays with a false ending, an apparent closure to the performance with a line-up of bows and the expected applause, after which it continues. Whatever reasons there were for doing it, as a theatrical presentation it doesn’t work, leaving a sense of unease at the end of what is a welcome opportunity to reflect on cultural perspectives. 


Ian Abbott at Dublin Dance Festival 2019

Posted: May 25th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott at Dublin Dance Festival 2019

Dublin Dance Festival 2019, May 15-17

Dublin Dance Festival, Oona Doherty
Oona Doherty and Valda Setterfield in Inventions (photo: Ewa Figaszewska)

Dublin Dance Festival 2019 is the penultimate edition under the curational control of Benjamin Perchet. Now in its 15th year, DDF is Ireland’s premiere contemporary dance festival, something akin to London’s Dance Umbrella: a city-wide festival with multiple partners and scales of work and a mixture of local and international guests. Sitting alongside Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Rosas danst Rosas, Colin Dunne & Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Session, and Liz Roche’s I/Thou is a trio of works on consecutive nights that ask questions around gender and age. 

La Natura Delle Cose (LNDC) by Virgilio Sieni is a problematic work. Created in 2008, LNDC features four male dancers (Nicola Cisternino, Jari Boldrini, Maurizio Giunti, and Andrea Palumbo) and one female dancer (Ramona Caia). According to the program ‘Sieni draws inspiration from the great poem De rerum natura by Roman philosopher Lucretius to explore “The Nature of Things”, portraying a character moving through the entire cycle of life in one hour. In a performance of overwhelming beauty, five dancers offer a counterpoint to what Lucretius believed to be the chief cause of unhappiness: the fear of death. Moving as a single body, they create a rich visual poem that presents the masked character of Venus at three stages of life. First as an eleven-year-old girl, she moves with graceful fluidity, borne aloft by the four male dancers. Later she explores the world as a two-year-old baby and finally she is an eighty-year-old woman, her descent complete.’  

The reality is you have four men controlling, manipulating, positioning and restricting a female performer, pulling her legs apart, marking their hands on her body, and pawing her in three 20-minute scenes as she wears the masks of a teenage girl, a toddler and an 80-year-old woman. Caia is a gifted mimic, embodying the physical traits and stereotypical movements at all three stages of life; we see the toddler tantrum through rigid legs and resistance alongside the grace and subtle flow of the older body. There might be an alternative way to view this work as there was a little skill in not allowing Caia to touch the floor as the men caught, lifted and carried her around the stage in the opening scene. However, female bodies on stage are always political; what you do with them and how you frame them is a choice. When you choose to cover the female performer’s face for the entire performance while the men remain unmasked and give men total control, you are adopting a position of male power. The lack of awareness from both the choreographer and the festival that the work can be read in this way is startling; my response was not in isolation as conversations with other audience members across the festival identified levels of discomfort with and questions about the work presented. 

Inventions by John Scott/Irish Modern Dance Theatre was considerably less problematic in its portrayal of women as it gave space for and a gift to Valda Setterfield and Oona Doherty; supported by Mufutau Yusuf, Ashley Chen and Kevin Coquelard, Inventions is ‘a new Bach-inspired dance work’ that ‘weaves new stories into an old ballroom setting, echoing the memory of dances past. In a series of duets Inventions focuses on two contrasting couples, one falling in love, the other falling into an abyss.’ Scott’s work is made in response to a tricky period in his life and the text and physicality has an urgency and clarity to it that come from a place of truth.

As a 60-minute suite of duets/solos with the occasional group moments we can smell the abyss, the rage and despair alongside the possibilities of redemption and hope. Scott has assembled five performers who are magnetic, engaging and infinitely watchable creating an environment in his studio that has unlocked something; to see exceptional dancers perform well is a moment of rare joy. 

At the age of 85 Setterfield is the anchor, orchestrating a sense of calm amongst the emotional debris left by the others; Doherty is an exceptional presence on stage, part wolf, part shark, part hawk and there is an internal menace and trauma that is married to an exquisite technical control. In her duet with Chen towards the end of the work, they slam, run, fly, hold and compete with each other; even though Chen is taller and heavier there is no doubt that the power lies with Doherty. 

Ensemble by Lucy Boyes and Robbie Synge is the result of a practice seven years in the making after Boyes challenged the status quo of the type of bodies people expect to see doing dance; with a startling bias towards bodies that are ‘professional’ and under 30 there is a dearth of middle-aged and older people on stage and in the mainstream media. Opening with a tightly choreographed 15-minute section we see Synge, Judy Adams, Angus Balbernie, Hannah Venet and Christine Thynne deliver an intricate set of floor work and knotted walking patterns to a driving score mixed by Matthew Collings. The remaining forty minutes comprises a series of duets between Synge/Venet and Adams/Thynne/Balbernie which foreground the ability and personality of the dancers. 

Ensemble is refreshing for its lack of artifice; we see the dancers on the side of the stage, wiping down, taking on water and waiting for their stage time. This isn’t an engagement or outreach project for older people, but a quietly radical space where bodies come together to transmit joy, lightness and an authenticity that is infectious and demonstrates how different bodies can tell a different story. It immediately subverts societal expectations of what bodies in their 60s and 70s can achieve with a demonstration of strength, intimacy and togetherness.


Ian Abbott’s final report from RISE 2019 in Findhorn

Posted: May 19th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott’s final report from RISE 2019 in Findhorn
RISE 2019
Janine Harrington’s Screensaver Series (photo: Andrew Lang)

RISE Festival 2019, part III: McPherson, Rhéaume, and Harrington

As RISE 2019 progressed across the weekend works started to talk to, frame and relay into each other; threads of Practice, Memory and Labour emerged and now, with a little distance, they have settled into an epilogic Findhorn glow. The approach, care and experience of audience/people and artist/people is central to the experience of RISE and a priority for the Dance North Scotland team; their attention to detail (from arrival packages to all artists of Findhorn bakery bread, milk, oats, jam, coffee and a tick comb) and curational consideration ensures this boutique dance festival remains a highlight of the UK festival calendar. 

After the international offerings from Canada and Taiwan on the opening night from Mandoline Hybride and Chang Dance Theatre, Saturday expanded and drilled down into the works that had a longer-term relationship with Moray, Dance North Scotland and a depth of practice with each other. 

We were privileged to see live excerpts of the process that Harold Rhéaume and Katrina McPherson are currently undertaking for their new collaboration Dix Commandements; fresh from a residency at Dance Base earlier in the week we saw some early rushes of films shot amongst the densely trafficked Edinburgh cityscape. Rhéaume and McPherson’s collaboration was reignited after a near 20-year gap when Priscilla Guy (from Mandoline Hybride) invited McPherson to Quebec in 2015 for the Cinédanse festival; it was here they rediscovered each other and continued their collaboration which saw the premiere of the screen dance work Paysages Mixtes at RISE. It’s an urgent work with a sense of collapse at its centre, with both Rhéaume and McPherson taking turns behind and in front of the camera. We see through their framing and choices of shots — around Moray and Quebec — how they’re rediscovering each other; in their moments together on screen their physical and emotional landscapes pop and you can almost taste their mutual distance and proximity. In a conversation with Harold Rhéaume during the festival, he shared some of his history and experiences in Quebec as well as his connection and relationship with McPherson. I distilled his conversation into this response:

harold and i

the way of 
her movement aesthetic 
chimes off camera 
with decades apart
developing togetherness practices 
finding foundational methods 
l
e
t
t
i
n
go of a 
career, friend, relationship
our frame dissolves
contained intimacy eruptions
questing for humanity 
performing our selves
grappling with processes
still the search
unveils by doing
conditional heart commandments
nestles tearing other

Rhéaume and McPherson had spent time filming some of Paysages Mixtes at Findhorn beach and  we saw it again during the presentation of Julie Cleves and Robbie Synge’s Passing Through; Synge (like McPherson) has spent many years based in the Highlands and his and Cleves relationship has been reoccurring with Dance North Scotland over multiple visits. You can read an in-depth interview about their relationship to practice, memory and labour here but after seeing the work for a second time Passing Through achieves a profundity, comfort and emotional resonance rarely seen in dance theatre; over the course of 50 minutes we are witness to two pals sharing parts of themselves and their relationship alongside the obstacles and objectification encountered as they continue to practice their practice. It makes me think of:

People as Comfort
Repetition as Comfort
Systems of Comfort
Architectures of Comfort
Body as Comfort
Place as Comfort

In opposition to those artists who already have a relationship with RISE and Findhorn, Jay-Lewin invited Janine Harrington to present two of her works (Screensaver Series and The Human Clock) at the festival. As a maker, choreographer and artist Harrington deals in precision and her practice is an embodiment of systems thinking in action. Screensaver Series, a quintet for five female performers, is a delicious way to spend 40 minutes; it’s an attention-hogging work of profound concentration, precision and connection. With an invitation to change your viewing position throughout the performance this living choreographic kaleidoscope sees the five performers tightly packed together delivering an evolving suite of visual patterning across a two-dimensional plane. As a work concerned with its own delivery it leaves space for our own reading; there isn’t something to get, miss or understand. Without the busy-ness and narrative aspiration that a lot of other dance works attempt, the work has an extra liveness. Seen from the front it is a symmetrical pulsing Rorschach that triggers thoughts and memories a little like cloud gazing; we all see something different but the stimulus is the same. However, if you move to either side you see the practice and labour; bodies that appeared and disappeared before are meaningfully held, supported and moved in and through Harrington’s choreographic score. By altering your own position slightly the system and thinking are uncovered. 

The Human Clock is a durational work that deals in labour and repetition; on a bright yellow tubular frame a number of laminated A4 paper numbers representing all the permutations of the 24-hour clock are lightly hung and continuously turned by a performer, displaying something akin to that which is recognisable as time. There is a close proximity to accuracy which is important as the work, although appearing simple in how it meets its audience, leaves a political and social residue with the thoughts it conjures as you spend time with it. The act of someone being paid to represent time, this labour of time would be a red rag to a lot of the red tops/mainstream media, when in fact The Human Clock catches people unawares, it snares them in as Harrington continues the turning and you see people engaging in conversation with her, sharing their memories and thoughts about time or you watch the repetitive turn of the numbers in quiet comfort and suddenly realise that 10, 15 or 30 minutes have passed. The Human Clock spent time in Inverness Railway Station, Findhorn Village, Moray Art Centre and other places throughout the week preceding RISE; glance at it for a second and you understand the mechanics and what will continue to happen…the comfort of anticipation, the familiarity of numbers turning that are slightly inside/outside time creates a soothing headspace amongst the rush and attention deficits we are faced with in our life. As a final act of closure The Human Clock coincided with the official closing marker of the festival. For the handful of artists and audience, as 17:29:00 turned to 17:30:00 this quiet act framed the dispersal of RISE’s temporary community.

“And therein lies the whole of man’s plight. Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition.” – Milan Kundera


Ian Abbott’s second report from RISE 2019 in Findhorn

Posted: May 5th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott’s second report from RISE 2019 in Findhorn

Ian Abbott’s second report from RISE 2019, Findhorn, May 3

Mandoline Hybride in Singeries (photo: Svetla Atanasova)

As an afternoon prologue to RISE, the Federation of Scottish Theatre held one of their bi-annual Dance Forums (for the third time in Findhorn) bringing together independent artists, venue managers, producers and festival programmers from across Scotland to share information, updates and engage in a discussion on a particular theme. This year discussion turned around The Role, Potential and Impact of Festivals with provocations from Janine Harrington and Karl Jay-Lewin. Harrington spoke of her experience of performing at and experiencing a range of festival contexts and left an interesting residue as she spoke of artist-as-leader, referencing H2Dance’s Fest en Fest, making herself less tidy and more complicated whilst acting as a hernia inside an organisational structure to rupture and burst it. Jay-Lewin spoke of his tri-role as artist, creative director of Dance North Scotland and the curator of RISE, saying that the people — rather than the work he programmes — have to have a desire for more than just the gig; there has to be an urge for something beyond, maybe related to the ecological/spiritual nature of Findhorn alongside a desire for community. 

Jay-Lewin has been building a long-term creative relationship with Canada (and in particular Québec) and this year’s RISE presents Singeries (2016) by Mandoline Hybride alongside the world premiere of Paysages Mixtes / Dix Commandments by Scotland’s Katrina McPherson and Québec choreographer, Harold Rhéaume. 

Singeries self-describes as: ‘Two women try to stay true to themselves. Trapped in the middle of a videographic fresco in which their image is multiplied and shattered, they ape and compulsively replay their own image so that they don’t completely dissolve.’ As a 60-minute festival opener it is riddled with intrigue and a lo-fi menace. Catherine Lavoie-Marcus and Priscilla Guy, who are responsible for the artistic direction, choreography and performance, are almost static downstage left as we enter the Universal Hall to an exploded Schrodinger’s box with toys, clothes, screens, blinds strewn across the stage. Guy and Lavoie-Marcus are reminiscent of a pair of analogue troubadours cornered in a world not of their choosing. As diffuse light appears and disappears no shadows are cast by Guy and Lavoie-Marcus in their whiteout, reducing our understanding and visibility as they merge with the white televisual snow surfaces. Singeries is technologically tight, narratively precise and flits our attention between screen and human worlds; the visual detail and attention is bountiful with projections splitting across venetian blinds, bodies and alternate screens. 

In a conversation with Katrina McPherson in advance of the festival, she shared some of her history and experiences in screendance as well as her connection and relationship with Rhéaume. I distilled her conversation into this response: 

katrina and i
in the shadows of QuebecTaitFerness
the agency of dualauthoredimages
without end weeattheeastcoast
revealing invisiblepresences 
ourselvesrecorded

katrina and i
a m e l a n c h o l i c exuberance
crumbling legs 
c
o
l
l
a
p
s
e
shooting m y s e l f as a montage 
of female gaze
an e m b o d i e d layered e m p a t h y camera
older artists with big lives
a g a i n and a g a i n and a g a i n
pulling and cutting ourselves up 

katrina and i
an e p i c e n t r e built on margins
built on buster keaton
built on banff 
built on peter 
built on doug
built on simon
built on anna
built on moray
built on fred astaire 
an o f f c e n t r e built on commandments 

I will be in conversation with Rhéaume during the festival and will offer a response to him in my next piece.

Closing out the first night was the delicious hug that is Chang Dance Theatre’s Bon 4 Bon (2017) — one of the critical successes from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe — choreographed by Eyal Dadon that frames childhood and brotherhood through collective memories of mango. Having trained together at Taipei National University of the Arts, Bon 4 Bon is the first time the four brothers (Chien-hao, Chien-chih, Chien-kuei and Ho-chien) have performed on the same stage and there is a bodily ease that can only come from decades of sibling play, fighting and familiarity. Set to Blackbird by The Beatles and 666 by Bon Iver, these 30 minutes are laced with charm as we listen to each brother replay memories of their father, mango and Taiwan. There’s a lightness to Dadon’s construction and choreography which sits well on their bodies and transmits easily to our eyes whilst nestling in the squishy feels area of the audience — leaving me not only with Blackbird as an ear worm but thinking of childhood. 

We can immerse ourselves in Chang Dance Theatre performing and retracing memories, but with thoughts of childhood come thoughts of older age and I’d be interested to see how Bon 4 Bon looks in a decade or 25 years, when their bodies have changed, their lives altered and their emotional connections have deepened; there would be a richness and nuance that is unachievable in youth. Speaking with some of the artists and visitors at the festival this year the word comfort has been used a lot: RISE as comfort, Findhorn as comfort and now we can add Bon 4 Bon as comfort too.

Ian Abbott’s preview of RISE 2019 is here.


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.