Jaivant Patel, YAATRA at Blue Elephant Theatre

Posted: August 20th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jaivant Patel, YAATRA at Blue Elephant Theatre

Jaivant Patel, YAATRA, Blue Elephant Theatre, July 16

Jaivant Patel in YAATRA
Jaivant Patel in YAATRA (photo: Matthew Cawrey and Joe Armitage)

One of the beauties of watching dance is that the nature of time spent in the theatre expands infinitely when the performance is good (but by the same token, when the performance is not so good, time can simply stretch unsparingly between two points — entry into the theatre and departure from it — with little additional value). Jaivant Patel’s YAATRA, a meditation in two parts that offers ‘a fresh perspective on South Asian LGBTQ+ narratives, faith and spirituality’ is one of those works that expands time as it fluidly crosses national and gender boundaries, and on the tiny stage of Blue Elephant Theatre it defies space as well. 

Patel is a striking figure in whom aspects of male and female flow with assured ease and elegance; he also exudes a childlike joy and intensity in all he does that conflicts with the idea of ‘performance’. These qualities make his work unselfconsciously ‘in the moment’ and give his performance, despite the presence of an active creative team behind the work, a sense of inspired improvisation. If the rallying cry of LGBTQ+ is to challenge the notion of binary, Patel is its natural advocate.

There are two works on the program, the first, Awakening, a Kathak piece on which Patel collaborated with choreographer Nahid Siddiqui, and the second, Yaatra, for which Ben Wright, Shane Shambhu and Urja Thakore worked as mentors. The pairing displays two sides of Patel’s art but his ability to blur the distinctions between Kathak and contemporary dance suggests a unity rather than a diversity of form. It’s not that the technical details are lacking; Patel’s gestural and postural Kathak vocabulary is convincing while his musicality, even if he is dancing to recorded music by Hassan Mohyeddin, communicates the vibrant, rhythmic precision of the form. The unity derives rather from Patel’s presence as a traditionalist who questions tradition and a contemporary who invokes it. 

In Awakenings Patel subtly subverts Kathak by challenging the traditional notion that gods in Indian mythology can be non-binary, while their human interlocutors cannot. In Yaatra, he explores his contemporary practice in relation to traditional values, both mischievously — “Boys don’t wear scarves”, says a recorded motherly voice as he adjusts one around his shoulders — and sincerely as an LGBTQ+ man of faith living in a culture that has difficulty accepting the combination. Awakenings and Yaatra thus form a seamless narrative line that shuttles between past and present in which Patel is the constant — and consistent — narrator of his search for validation. 

The theatre is evidently where Patel feels at home and can let go; in the relationship between himself and his audience he can — and does — hold court with evident delight and without fear of censure, even if he suggests — especially in Yaatra — that thespian freedom is no match for society’s prejudices. The stage is conceived as a spiritual locus, subtly lit by Joanne E L Marshall, with its overhead grid of small hanging bells that Patel can strike at arm’s length or set in motion, and Ryan Laight’s rich red tunic and complementary scarves establish Patel within a dual framework of traditional costume — replete with ankle bells — and gender fluidity. Patel is in his element, and it shows. At the end of Awakenings he lets down his long, black hair as if signalling the relaxation of one identity and preparing us for the next; it is still Patel, of course, but in Yaatra he takes on a more secular idiom while maintaining the signification of his cultural heritage.

He returns in his red tunic and ankle bells but with a bag over his shoulder that he sets down as if for a picnic. Out comes a banana that he will later eat with relish. Immersing us in his personal iconography, Patel luxuriates in the sense of time and space it provides, but throughout there is a sense of internal dialogue marked by Ali Harwood’s concise fragments of spoken word that act like signposts. Patel’s choreographic journey is one of coming to terms with himself and with choices he has made; one of Harwood’s ‘signs’ states, ‘So how we act becomes our skin.’ If Awakenings sees Patel supported by his cultural heritage, Yaatra sees him setting out on his own symbolic journey. The final upbeat rhythms and swinging bells read like an anthem of hope and Patel’s final gesture of emptying a scarf full of ankle bells on the floor one of relinquishing the confines of tradition. 


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. 


Artists 4 Artists double bill of Chris Reyes and Kloe Dean

Posted: August 8th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Artists 4 Artists double bill of Chris Reyes and Kloe Dean

Artists 4 Artists Double Bill of Chris Reyes and Kloe Dean, July 30, Laban

Hip Hop, Artists 4 Artists
Kloe Dean in Man Up (photo: Camilla Greenwell)

Choreographically the space between the torso and the head is rarely a focus; it’s often used to draw attention elsewhere, a passing place, an in-between place towards more important sites. The emotionally affecting Hip Hop theatre double bill of Sean by Chris Reyes and Man Up by Kloe Dean uses the neck — as a site of power, as a radar of threat, as an antenna of pleasure — from which to explore two autobiographical experiences. 

Sean is a 35-minute work that Reyes frames as ‘a journey of displacement, family and migration. Sean (British-born Filipino) shares his stories and the memories of early immigrant, Rosemary (Sean’s mum). What does it mean to be British born?’ The opening twenty minutes see Reyes and Jonadette Carpio creating and establishing a danceless narrative of a complex mother/son relationship; Carpio’s character has left the Philippines and heads to Britain to give her son a better life where she takes up a cleaning job to support him, but Reyes’s character does not achieve enough for his mother, turning him subsequently to drink (manifested by a black morph-suited cameo from Mikiel Donovan). 

Emotional contagion and inherited familial trauma is complex territory to explore but Reyes  — with support from Maxwell Golden’s dramaturgy — uses a suite of theatrical techniques to hook the audience: “I’ve been sober five years today” or “I saved all my lunch money to buy my mum a small fish.” It’s an efficient twenty minutes although it felt a little obvious that the bait lines we’ve swallowed will be reused later in the show.

Sean suffers slightly from the intensely autographical work it is paired with; we are left unsure of its emotional construction. How removed is Sean from Reyes’ own experience? How much is autobiographical and how much is fiction? Reyes is entirely credible in the role of Sean (and it feels like a deeper dive into a character than he created for a previous work, Caravan) but the artifice of a younger Carpio playing his mother isn’t convincing and distances us emotionally again. However, the intensity of their final fifteen-minute duet, with its focus on the power of the neck, speaks of emotional violence and restrictions. We feel the tension through the choke holds that bleed into lift hugs, and in focusing entirely on to their inability to shed/embrace their identity they own the large stage. It’s electric. The earlier use of language and the emotional spoon-feeding isn’t necessary; their physical communication is strong enough to convey what they want without recourse to words.

There is something about the notion of ‘enough’ that links the work and its author; was Sean good enough for his mother? As someone who is British-born, is Sean’s character British enough? Is he Filipino enough? Is there enough dance in Sean? Is Sean Hip Hop enough? These are the kinds of questions that bubbled up while watching the work. There are many parallels in different media that are currently exploring the notions of ‘enough’ and how individuals sit between worlds; one of the most effective is Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch; it’s a non-fiction work of memoir/reportage about her time in Senegal and the UK,  finding she is considered too British to be Senegalese and too Senegalese to be British. It’s an eloquent reflection on where we (don’t) belong.

Dean’s Man Up is a 35-minute work that has developed substantially from an earlier and shorter iteration presented first at Ignition Dance Festival in June 2018 and four months later at the Startin’ Point Commission Platform at The Place. Man Up is an autobiographical story, adding a comedic twist to the profound and surreal circumstances surrounding her father’s suicide. It explores the stark realities of male suicide and the parallel emotional journeys of those left behind.

There is an audible intake of breath from the audience as Dean emerges out of the tangle of sky-blue ropes on the stage after crouching invisibly under it as still as an iceberg for nearly ten minutes as the audience filtered in for the second half. It’s a stunning opening.

Dean delivers an emotionally devasting movement monologue that zooms in and out of the tiny details that stick with you when you lose a parent. The rasping kiss of the nylon rope on skin as it brushes her radio mic is eerie; we see her carving it across her neck, wrapping it around her wrists and marking out territory on stage.

One of the significant improvements from the previous iteration is the inclusion of composer Teresa Origone, who performs her synth-laden score down stage left in a sonic call-and-response that increases the intensity and depth of feeling on display. Origone weaves layers of lightness amongst the chord progressions which helps to ballast the work.

In some moments it feels like we are unintended witnesses to a series of deeply private moments that weigh heavily; when she sings “I want to do what my daddy does…” because she’s a daddy’s girl or when she happens to be at home on the day her aunt calls at the front door to tell her the news because she’s tired and had uncharacteristically called in sick. These are heart-wrenching moments that feel very, very close.

Dean is captivating in performance, from her original rhymes (sung and spat) that sound a little like Kate Tempest, to all sorts of bgirl flavour, style and power she throws down. Because of the repetitive placement of a noose around her neck, I’m left thinking about Hip Hop as an architecture of air and Hip Hop as suffocation; as she moves the adapted wave tightly around her torso — a taut set of waacks up to and around her face and oodles of other close Hip Hop vocabularies — her body finds it difficult to take up space, to push the air away and move through the emotional weight of the space around her. 

It is heartening to see two artists exploring the social/political weight of events through Hip Hop (and kudos to Artists 4 Artists for supporting them); for a culture that has such a history of resistance, oppression and community we too often see it mis-used to make slick, glib routines that bear little relationship to the culture they exploit. However, Dean has delivered an emotionally resonant Hip Hop work that not only highlights the fact that suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, but delivers it with craft, intelligence and no shortage of integrity.


Bongsu Park’s Dream Ritual at The Coronet Theatre

Posted: August 4th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance, Visual Art | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Bongsu Park’s Dream Ritual at The Coronet Theatre

Bongsu Park and Jinyeob Cha, Dream Ritual, The Coronet Theatre, July 3

Dream Ritual, Bongsu Park
Jinyeob Cha in Dream Ritual (photo: Quan Van Truong)

The idea of buying and selling dreams is part of Korean culture that goes back to the Samguk Sagi, Korea’s oldest surviving chronicle of its history. Derived from the notion of a dream as a conscious manifestation of a universal unconscious, one person’s auspicious dream can become a transferable asset to another, and thus subject to a ritual form of barter. Dream Ritual, a solo dance piece conceived and directed by Bongsu Park and choreographed and performed by Jinyeob Cha, is both an illustration of this process and, through Park’s Dream Project, a prelude to an upcoming auction of dreams with the profits going to charity. 

Park is a London-based Korean visual artist, while Cha is the artistic director of the Korean interdisciplinary dance performance group, Collective A. Together with electronic musician and producer haihm, Park and Cha have conceived Dream Ritual as  a kind of shamanistic ritual in contemporary dance form ‘in which omens of shared dreams are enhanced and elevated to the world of good spirits before ownership of the dream is transferred.’ 

The Coronet stage is hung with vertical strips of semi-transparent material that are burnished silver and red in Connor Sullivan’s lighting and, with a black reflective floor, suggest both different planes of reality and ritualistic levels of sublimation. Cha enters drawing with her a transparent curtain across the front of the stage behind which she begins to perform. Park uses the curtain as a screen on which she projects digitally magnified and multiplied projections of Cha’s face and body that intersect and interact with her figure behind it, creating Rorschach-like images and an array of diffractive silhouettes in a visual counterpoint to Cha’s choreography. While haihm’s spectral sound, and Cha’s soft, wave-like articulation and closed eyes allude to the dream state, the overlaying of Park’s imagery initially suggests the distillation of mythology as the currency of a symbolic transaction. Cha dances to a Korean account from the myth of Samguk Yusa of the first dream bargain, with projected English text, and then to contemporary dreams furnished by the public who had been invited to contribute through the project’s website. 

This airing of dreams, while consistent with the proposed aims of the project, weights the performance with an extensive use of narrative that is at odds with the condensed associative language and rarified psychic quality of both rituals and dreams. What begins as a ‘journey through the stages of sleep, and deep into the subconscious’, becomes engulfed in the prosaic intelligibility of dream-like stories and the digital virtuosity of the projected words and images. Dreams have the urgent reality of a symbolic message — which is why we attach such importance to them — and they impress themselves on our memory as photographic images. Dreams and rituals also have an incongruous, if not dark, quick-silver power; what Park has done is to portray this complexity too simplistically by overlapping floating letters, kaleidoscopic imagery and sound on Cha’s physical body. The effect dilutes the enhancement and elevation of dreams the creators had initially intended and thus weakens the relationship between audience and performance that is in itself a form of ritual transaction. 

As a visual artist, Park’s interest in ritual imagery extends beyond the performance into a photographic display and three video works. In the bar is a striking series of eight of her photographic prints with titles Ritual no. 1 through no. 8 whose mirrored forms of a manufactured dream aesthetic work better here as two-dimensional prints than as digital projections on stage. The video works — Lethe (2015), Internal Library (2017) and Cube (2011) — see Park experimenting with the layering of visual and choreographic art that foreshadows Dream Ritual but which suffer from a similar over-simplification of the unconscious by a reliance on the treatment of literal, narrative elements. 


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 potential 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. 


Angela Woodhouse and Caroline Broadhead: Surface Tension & (de)figured

Posted: July 1st, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Exhibition, Installation, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Angela Woodhouse and Caroline Broadhead: Surface Tension & (de)figured

Caroline Broadhead and Angela Woodhouse, Surface Tension & (de)figured, June 28

Angela Woodhouse (de)figured
(de)figured (photo: Nathaniel Rackowe)

By evincing the intelligence underpinning the process of formal and conceptual exploration, two recent projects by choreographer Angela Woodhouse fit into and exceed the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of ‘collaboration’ as ‘the action of working together with someone to produce something’. Thermal Duets is a series of five choreographic videos shot with a thermal camera and developed with Nic Sandiland and artist Caroline Broadhead as part of the latter’s exhibition Surface Tension at Mardsen Woo Gallery, while (de)figured is ‘a series of live action drawings by dancers’ created with sculptor Nathaniel Rackowe and dancers Martina Conti and Alice Labant presented in and around Dora House, home of the Royal Society of Sculptors in South Kensington. 

Broadhead’s practice brings together fine and applied arts through her expertise in jewellery design. In Surface Tension she rearticulates the relation between material and form by re-creating domestic objects and furniture. An antique picture frame is carefully pulled apart and remounted as a soft, almost articulated necklace that has lost its capacity to hold; a chair is encrusted in a fine silvery chain mail and another has its seat replaced with a geometric pattern of threads; a stool stands precariously on pointed feet while its finely beaded cast lies beside it like the divested skin of an eighteenth-century écorché. In stripping furniture of its functionality, Broadhead draws attention to its intimate relation to the body alluded to in the naming of its constituent parts — head, neck, back, arm, leg, and foot — and in the signs of wear that bear the shape of the bodies that have used them (what nineteenth century dressmakers used to call ‘memories’). Woodhouses’s series Thermal Duets resonates with this investigation of form, material and functionality. The technology of thermal photography was developed for military and surveillance purposes but is here transposed in an intimate context of choreographic stillness and minute movement. The videos are displayed on I-phones in black frames that draw the visitor close as if to a miniature watercolour or embroidery. We see the diaphanous blue and yellow silhouettes of two dancers in each frame while the body heat is revealed in shades of red. A description by John Berger comes to mind: ‘The bodies of dancers with their kind of devotion are dual…A kind of Uncertainty Principle determines them; instead of being alternately particle and wave, their bodies are ultimately giver and gift.’ The intensity and overlaying of colours makes the proximity and interaction of the bodies tangible: the lingering warmth of a hand caressing a back, an arm delicately moving away, or the intense vibration of breath as two heads folds towards each and then separate. Affect is here a residue of presence, a memory of touch. Woodhouse and Broadhead’s use of the thermal camera has transposed Berger’s view into luminous traces of orange-red dance.

The live action drawings of (de)figured are no less an exploration of surfaces, materials and physicality but on a three-dimensional scale. Rackowe’s choice of portable construction-site materials — breeze blocks, yellow scaffolding nets and ropes — relates the impermanent nature of the work and its re-configuration for different sites to the perceived permanence and solidity of buildings, teasing the porous relations between interior and exterior, rigid and pliant. The performance starts on the pavement of Onslow Gardens across the road from Dora House. Slowly unrolling a carefully measured yellow rope Conti walks backwards towards the Old Brompton Road with a serene calculation that contrasts with the bustle of passersby and the congested traffic. Across the road, Labant wraps herself enigmatically inside a scaffolding net hanging down over the entrance portico. The affect of the perceptive and emotional interchange between bodies and environment is central to (de)figured, though here plasticity and weight gain prominence. The yellow rope on the pavement remains as a trace of the initial action that, after Conti’s negotiated hiatus crossing the road, quietly moves indoors with Labant unrolling a black rope from the pavement up the broad entrance steps into the reception area, threading it around breezeblocks in the hall and two adjacent rooms into what was once the studio of court photographers, Elliot and Fry. The meditative pace of Woodhouse’s choreographic movement, like a silent line-drawing, figuratively conflates durability and transience, contrasting the solidity of walls and interior surfaces with the pliability of bodies and soft materials. (de)figured dematerializes in the shadows of the dancers’ bodies projected by industrial lamps on to a wall of the studio. Between them hangs Barbara Hepworth’s Construction 1 (part of the gallery’s current exhibition), taking the notion of collaboration to another level. 


Lola Maury, BROUHAHA, The Place

Posted: June 24th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Lola Maury, BROUHAHA, The Place

Lola Maury, BROUHAHA, The Place, May 29

Lola Maury BROUHAHA
An image from BROUHAHA (photo: Alberto Ruiz Soler)

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a brouhaha is ‘a noisy and overexcited reaction or response to something’, but the opening of Lola Maury’s BROUHAHA prompts an opposite reaction; as we sit on three sides of the stage at The Place waiting in the dark for what we think might be the beginning of the performance, nothing happens. Has something gone wrong? Then as we accustom our eyes to the darkness and our ears to the silence, we hear a prolonged whistled note from somewhere in the auditorium, and then another with eerie harmonics and the sound of Big Ben chiming in the fog. A sense of relief ensues as the notion of a beginning takes formal shape; the whistled harmonics are like reeds blowing in the night and from a single corner light we can ascribe their source to a trio of performers (Juan Corres Benito, Laureline Richard and Alexander Standard) arriving slowly on the still-overcast stage with rasping intakes of breath. What sounds come from the performers and what are embedded in Alberto Ruiz Soler’s ruminative, diaphanous score is difficult to tell, but Maury and her team seem to be setting up a theme of acclimatization that tests not only our senses but our expectations of what a performance might be. What we hear evolves into what we see: three evanescent figures flecked in silver slowly evolving under a brooding light. The trio naturally draws our focus but it is the scenic interplay of form, sound and light that vies constantly for attention. Ben Moon’s lighting corroborates Ruiz Soler’s growling collage of sounds while the layered forms of Cesca Dvorak’s gender-neutral costumes shroud the body in mystery. 

Maury’s description of the work as ‘a multi-layered experience; a sometimes chaotic, sometimes harmonious mess of sonics mashed, spliced and woven which chimeric sequences of movement’ seems almost too defined. The smooth articulation of the performers is independent of any known narrative and defies any recognisable relationships; whether it suggests amoebas expanding their reach in a protoplasmic effort to survive or simply an imaginative deconstruction of formality, the very ambiguity of the spectacle spawns inevitable attempts at interpretation that are never allowed to coalesce into a cogent frame. At one moment one could imagine three children playing in a field at night or be reminded of the tidal interaction of waves; on a more comprehensive scale, we might think of the work as relating to space and time in an era before our definitions of such notions began to measure, control, change and transform them. Or is Maury channelling a response to the Anthropocene by layering corporal landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes on to one another in a brouhaha of vertebrate chaos? 

While it is usual for dance movement to guide or be guided by the rhythm and melody of a score, Maury enlists Ruiz Soler’s soundscape to influence the dynamic shape and volume of her choreography. Integral to his rumbling leitmotif is the muscularity and vitality of extrinsic sounds — be it a music box, traces of ritual chanting or spoken word — entering the space as swirling matter that the performers imbue with their own articulation. But the relationship between performers and sound is porous; voices within the score imperceptibly manifest in the voices on stage and vice versa so that aural stimuli never appear long enough or clearly enough to generate a specific picture or image. It’s as if Maury and her creative team are keeping their own interpretive involvement as neutral as possible to allow the audience to see through the sound and to hear through the movement. BROUHAHA is clearly the fruit of a rich, organic collaboration and in bringing together its diverse threads, meanings and significations its performance is an acutely meditative experience.

Having taken us on this journey, it is the performers who assume the responsibility for resolving the brouhaha by vocalising, as it were, their own demise until the stage empties and falls silent. The audience’s applause is an abrupt reminder of space and time. 


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.