The Dan Daw Show at Battersea Arts Centre

Posted: May 24th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on The Dan Daw Show at Battersea Arts Centre

The Dan Daw Show, Battersea Arts Centre, April 28, 2022

The Dan Daw Show with Dan Daw and Christopher Owen
Dan Daw supported by Christopher Owen in his eponymous show (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

The content of The Dan Daw Show is just what it says on the can. It’s about the 38-year-old self-described crip artist Dan Daw, but not in the sense of what Daw does — as in his previous performances ever since his days in Candoco — but what is done to him. It is a show conceived to observe Daw through the lens of his disability: but whose lens? It is self-evidently autobiographical because Daw is the subject of a series of visceral interventions that hold very little back from what he calls the ‘knife edge’ of his sensory life. In his dead-pan preamble, he lets us know we’re in safe hands: ‘I’ve consented to all of this so you can see me in this way,’ and warns us we will be witnessing ‘suffocation, loud noises and sexy disabled people’. On a more sardonic note, he says this is a story ‘about me wanting to be fucked in a society that fucks the disabled.’ 

I imagine what it must be like to be a dancer with his condition, but this is to miss the obvious: Daw considers himself as a dancer like any other, basing his exploration of movement on his technical ability and his enjoyment of movement on his acute sensation — one of the memorable aspects of the show is seeing Daw’s evident relish in accomplishing everything he sets out to do. ‘This is exactly how I want you to see me; I’m such a messy bitch.’ In as much as what he does is his reaction to what is done to him, the show is choreographed in real time by Christopher Owen (onstage character name KrisX) whose care and empathy make sure Daw is comfortable with the situations in which his undaunted spirit can be challenged. The element of surprise is used throughout — at one point, Owen pulls down Daw’s pants as if in a schoolboy prank to reveal his ‘expensive underwear’. Not everything is easy; Daw suffers from vertigo, which we can see in his first attempt, with Owen’s help, to stand on a table. The tense psychological struggle to overcome his reluctance is palpable, as is his relief at aborting this attempt and acknowledging the scale of the challenge. He succeeds the second time. 

But if this is a show conceived through Daw’s lens, it is also refracted through a non-disabled perspective. It is Daw’s very willingness to adapt to our perspective that turns our notion of disability — and thus the entire show — on its head. I can’t help thinking how I would perform for an audience of disabled people. Would I be as natural as Daw and as unconcerned about difference? As keen to embrace the audience with his candour and to enrich them with his pride in who he is? Or perhaps The Dan Daw Show is only possible because, as he points out in the program, our ableist society is based on the default recognition of non-disabled people.

The performance, directed by Mark Maughan, allows Daw to take full control of the space where his disabled image may otherwise have languished. And it is on the stage that he evidently feels most comfortable. After Owen places his body, from the neck down, inside a black latex vacuum cube and removes the air, Daw says he ‘feels safe and relaxed in here, and for me that’s rare.’ His irreverent humour adds that ‘it feels like an expensive, tax-payer-funded hug.’

Emma Bailey’s stage area in the Council Chamber of Battersea Arts Centre fronts a showman’s booth behind a curtain with Nao Nagai’s vertical bank of lights on either side. The curtain hides stage props but is also a screen on which Owen projects a live scan of Daw’s dragon tattoos. Everything Daw speaks to the audience is projected above the curtain on the wall behind, leaving only his candid dialogue with Owen unheard over Guy Connelly’s sound design. It’s a deliberately low-tech production into which accessibility is carefully integrated as both subject and object.

The Dan Daw Show is a constant double-take between artifice and authenticity, between the construction of the show to display Daw and his uninhibited reaction to its devices. In the final apotheosis Daw emerges from the odyssey of his show as its rightful figurehead, strapped into an inflatable, multi-tentacled dragon form, standing as proudly and as enigmatically as his own tattoos. Connelly’s score gears up to an anthem and as the tentacles fill with air  and pop into place the pride in Daw’s face is a triumph. 


English National Ballet’s The Forsythe Evening

Posted: May 4th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet’s The Forsythe Evening

English National Ballet, The Forsythe Evening, Sadler’s Wells, March 31, 2022

English National Ballet, ENB
English National Ballet in William Forsythe’s Playlist (EP). Photo © Laurent Liotardo)

Last year during lockdown, over Zoom, William Forsythe choreographed The Barre Project (Blake Works II) on a quartet of dancers in New York: Tyler Peck, Lex Ishimoto, Brooklyn Mack and Roman Mejia. “Ballet is a great platform for compositional thinking,” he remarked at the time. “It’s a way of hearing, and so what you’re basically demonstrating is how you listen.” The Barre Project revealed a choreographer whose legendary familiarity with classical ballet technique allows him to take it in directions that ring true to its source while extrapolating its technical and spatial possibilities, just as Balanchine had done at New York City Ballet. In his way of working and in the choreography itself, Forsythe demonstrated the excitement of a precocious, hyper-active child at play: creating not to indulge an inherent aesthetic sensibility so much as to respond instinctually to James Blake’s music within given physical parameters. If anyone stood out it was Peck, but all four were clearly inspired by what Forsythe had brought out of them; in order to make sense of the choreography, they performed with the same excitement and impulsion that Forsythe brought to the work. 

For English National Ballet (ENB)’s recent The Forsythe Evening at Sadler’s Wells, both works on the program — Blake Works I and Playlist (EP) — are conceived with a broader brush than The Barre Project (Blake Works II) — more orchestral than chamber — and neither was fully conceived and choreographed on the company. Blake Works I, to seven tracks from James Blake’s album The Colour in Anything, was first created on the Paris Opera Ballet in 2016 and has been staged for ENB by Stefanie Arndt and Ayman Harper, while Playlist (EP), to the beats of neo-soul and house music, and staged for ENB by Amy Raymond and Noah Gelber, is an enhanced version of Playlist (Track 1,2) that Forsythe had set on the male dancers of ENB in 2018 and subsequently extended for Boston Ballet a year later. There is always going to be an inherent challenge in passing on a choreographer’s initial motivation to dancers on whom the choreography was not conceived, especially to dancers who are not familiar with his way of working. In an interview in the program with Sarah Crompton, Forsythe describes these two abstract works as dancing for the pure pleasure of dancing, a ‘celebration’. 

But there’s a subtle disconnect between the celebratory feeling of the choreography and the performance of the choreography by the dancers: their celebration — with one or two exceptions — seems to get lost in the satisfaction of accomplishing the steps. If choreography is a way of hearing, ENB’s dancers are hearing something different not only from each other but from what the choreography is manifestly singing. At the final bows, Forsythe improvised a brief impromptu boogie by way of instigating the encore; there was so much celebration in his movement that it came across as pure spirit in a musical body, and it stood out from the rest of the evening because it revealed the very ingredient that had been lacking. 

This is one of the last programs, if not the last, ENB will be dancing before artistic director, Tamara Rojo, leaves for San Francisco Ballet along with some of her current dancers. Rojo has done so much for the company’s reputation in terms of getting works by choreographers like Pina Bausch, Jiri Kylian, Mats Ek and Forsythe, getting Akram Khan to choreograph a Giselle, pulling together a program by female choreographers and most recently reviving Raymonda. Not to mention attracting the sponsorship for and overseeing the move to their new home at the Mulryan Centre for Dance. This is the kind of artistic acuity that has reframed ENB’s image, and if there is a rivalry between ENB and Rojo’s former company, the Royal Ballet, it is not hard to see that the former has constantly outclassed the latter in its string of achievements. In all areas, perhaps, but one: the multiple publicity triumphs Rojo has accomplished seem to have overshadowed the company’s dancers. While technique is still at a high level — there is nothing wrong with the technical ability of the company under its swathe of ballet masters — there are traces of cloud hanging over the company. The news of Rojo’s departure may be recent, but the cloud — despite a counterpart of sunny spells — has been part of the climate for some time. 

Even after the performance of The Forsythe Evening has finished and the memory allowed to settle, there is not much left of the evening apart from the knowledge of having seen Forsythe’s work in the absence of its full realization.


Alleyne Dance, A Night’s Game

Posted: April 2nd, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alleyne Dance, A Night’s Game

Alleyne Dance, A Night’s Game, Rich Mix, February 18, 2022

Kristina and Sadé Alleyne in A Night’s Game (photo: @ Sarah Hickson)

A couple of weeks before seeing Alleyne Dance in A Night’s Game at Rich Mix I saw an exhibition of photographs at David Zwirner Gallery by the late Roy DeCarava, a New York-based African American artist whose monochrome prints recorded predominantly the lives of people and the neighbourhoods of his native Harlem in the 1940s and 50s. What struck me about the prints, quite apart from his empathy for his subjects, was that DeCarava appeared to calibrate his register of shades between black and white from the darker end of the scale, from the colour of the skin he was photographing. Being a master printer, he was able to bring out the colour of his subjects in relation to their socio-economic and physical environment. 

Seeing the Alleyne sisters so soon after was to rekindle DeCarava’s vision in performance; for a start, A Night’s Game is conceived in shades of black and white that reach towards the darker end of the scale, and it employs an additional register of sound —an eclectic array ranging from ambient sources to Ólafur Arnalds — that serves as the aural site in which the work is set. The work begins in total darkness intensified first by the sound of whispering and then by rhythmic body percussion; as Salvatore Scollo’s lighting levels gradually rise we see and hear a seated Sadé Alleyne beating out something between a syncopated slave rhythm and ritual self-flagellation. It is a tour de force she expresses in unsparing shades of fear: she lies back in pain, looks around in apprehension and thrusts her pelvis forward in a taught bow-like gesture of vulnerability that lasts just long enough to register before snapping back into a frenzied muscular argument. She stops to gain her breath then starts again with a doubling down of frustration until she seems to surrender to the weight of her hands and arms in despair. Like DeCarava’s vision, we experience not only the visual registers in A Night’s Game but feel their psychological counterpart. 

The program note informs us that A Night’s Game is ‘inspired by real-life stories of imprisonment, escape and fighting for freedom. It reflects the turmoil and strife that comes with the prospect of incarceration.’ All art is political, and A Night’s Game is no exception, but its political message is presented as it were from within; rather than a statement of opinion it is one of vicarious experience that demands an end to entrapment and puts the audience on jury duty. It’s un uncomfortable position to be in, all the more so because Sadé draws you into her testimony with such conviction. Like a trial, all the evidence of A Night’s Game — gathered in verbal interviews and presented in physical form — is collected for the benefit of the audience on behalf of those who endure systemic social and racial injustice. What Sadé and her twin sister Kristina invoke in these untold histories is the implicit link between incarceration, racial discrimination and social inequality. As Eric Williams wrote in Capitalism and Slavery, ‘slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.’ A Night’s Game is putting history itself on trial. 

When Kristina first arrives on stage there is some reprieve but not much — or perhaps we are just hoping there would be — for she soon takes over where Sadé left off until the two join forces; in the language of bodies, their close communication both entangles and supports them to the point of exhaustion. They scuffle, throw chairs to each other and find kinship in a dreamlike duet that in its synchronicity and adversity indicates a form of bargaining, like writing on the ground with their bodies. This constant advocacy on behalf of those who face the loss of freedom or who have already lost it — the ‘bodies of evidence’ — rises to a climax of rage and indignation in the form of exhaustive solos that not even the final dimming of the lights can lessen. It is worth mentioning that Kristina is almost five months pregnant but there is never a sense that she is holding herself back; to do so would be to compromise the dual thrust from which A Night’s Game derives its singular integrity and force. 

A Night’s Game is one of four shows that comprise Shipbuilding, a performance festival from Certain Blacks that has been created in response to the UK’s societal climate. 


NDT2’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 27th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on NDT2’s Triple Bill at Sadler’s Wells

NDT2, Triple Bill, Sadler’s Wells, February 16, 2022

NDT2
Mikaela Kelly and Jesse Callaert in Marco Goecke’s The Big Crying (photo: Rahi Rezvani)

There is an art to presenting triple bills that can all too easily be taken for granted; anyone can put on three ballets in a program but if the triple character of the works doesn’t create a spectator experience of the whole, then the image of the company is affected. I was a little apprehensive about attending NDT2’s recent triple bill at Sadler’s Wells (in collaboration with Dance Consortium) in view of the legacy of the Sol León and Paul Lightfoot years; their existential, highly produced choreography seemed to turn inwards on itself, while younger choreographers from the same stable were influenced to the point of in-house plagiarism. However, Nederlands Dans Theater is under new management. Emily Molnar has been artistic director since August 2020, taking up her position in the middle of the lockdown era. A tough time to begin, but politicians in the Netherlands had a different understanding of the value of the arts than politicians in this country: dancers were considered essential workers, so Molnar was able to continue working with her dancers in the studio. Since performances and touring were cancelled, it became a time for exploration and experimentation at home, allowing for a singular unity and maturity to develop within the company. “This is not the season we planned for but it will be the season that defines us in new and unique ways,” says Molnar in an interview with Annette Embrechts. Seeing the current program of NDT2 is reminiscent of the triple bills in the mid-1970s — a heady spirit of freedom and creativity in miniature form that defines the artistic integrity of the company. 

In the first work, NDT’s resident choreographer Marco Goecke’s The Big Crying, the maturity of the youthful dancers meets the maturity of the choreographer. In reflecting on the death of his father, Goecke’s tightly wrought choreography is suffused with imagery of pain and suffering that, through the bodies of the dancers, is transformed into visual richness. In the intricacy of movement and facial grimaces images of Duchenne de Boulogne’snineteenth century physiological experiments on the expression of emotions vie with the sensation of violence that Francis Bacon poured into his framed settings. In contrast to Goecke’s powerful physical imagery the voice of Tori Amos — particularly in the R.E.M. song, Losing My Religion — pulls the words apart to reveal their fragility. It’s a beautiful partnering of motion and emotion in which the balance between the two is in constant tension. 

Hans Van Manen’s Simple Things begins and ends, as its title suggests, in the interplay between dance and music; one can sense Van Manen’s enjoyment in working with the four dancing bodies in 2001 to sculpt the space around them in relation to the upbeat rhythms of Alan Bern’s Scarlatti Fever and the Allegretto from Joseph Haydn’s piano trio No. 28 in E-Major. Although there are only four dancers, Van Manen fills the space of the stage with his flowing invention and wit. The quality and precision of the dancers — Barry Gans, Demi Bawon, Ivo Mateus and Sophie Whittome — embody the youthful elan and exuberance of the choreography that, for all its brevity, continues to resonate long after the curtain falls. 

Johan Inger’s IMPASSE begins with his own visually arresting set of a wooden shack lit by Tom Visser with a video outline by Annie Tådne that suggests a childlike dream in which Sophie Whittome is the child who dreams. She has the qualities of innocence, impulsiveness and questioning but with the arrival of an ebullient, extravagantly costumed crowd she adjusts to what Inger describes as ‘a seduction of unending streams of ‘newness’’. Unlike the previous works, the opening scene sets up a narrative intent that is then swallowed up in the visual settings, the costumes (by Bregje van Balen) and the riotous dancing to the groove of Ibrahim Maalouf’s jazz rhythms. It’s as if Inger has found valid questions to address without the dramaturgical means to embody them: ‘How do we bridge the gap that grows as we stagnate…Can we nurture the ability to seriously interrogate the world together, and find the capacity to reimagine it?’ Even if this quote from the program note is a post-rationalization of the work, it’s a question the choreography and the dramaturgical structure of IMPASSE struggle to engage with.

What is unquestionable, however, is that the quality of performance in all three works and the production values that are integral to them reveal the youthful ebullience and imagination of NDT2 and the enduring value of a well-designed triple bill. 


Léa Tirabasso’s Starving Dingoes at The Place

Posted: March 9th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Léa Tirabasso’s Starving Dingoes at The Place

Léa Tirabasso’s Starving Dingoes, The Place, February 12, 2022

Starving Dingoes
The five dancers in Starving Dingoes (photo: Bohumil Kostohryz)

Co-commissioned by The Place and presented there for a single night, Léa Tirabasso’s latest work, Starving Dingoes, follows thematically from her 2019 production, The Ephemeral Life Of An Octopus, but with a change of focus and a maturity of expression. Starving Dingoes is an unsparing meditation on the complex biological and physiological processes of life and death imagined through the cultural and emotional responses of the bodies in which they take place. The title comes from the choreographer’s memory of seeing a pack of dingoes on an Australian beach, here transposed to the feral aspect of existence called apoptosis or programmed cellular death — a natural phenomenon in which damaged cells are encouraged by internal processes to commit suicide to avoid impairing healthy cells. In merging cytology with the struggle for survival within the entire organism, Tirabasso has drawn on her collaboration with cancer researchers, Simone Niclou and Aleksandra Gentry-Maharaj. The issue Starving Dingoes raises is how, in an ongoing and cyclical process, the body deals with the presence of unhealthy ‘rogue’ cells that have lost their ability to die, leading to disease. While this meditation is highly personal, it is also timely to consider, by extension, how individuals within a given society co-operate or fight to ensure their own survival and that of the whole group. 

To engage with these questions, Tirabasso sets up a rich choreographic alchemy between the biological and the human, at times with pathos and at times with humour, without fully dissociating the two; it is the humbling humour of Starving Dingoes that makes its unexpected vision of life and death all the more accessible. The program describes the work as ‘a race for five dancers’ — Catarina Barbosa, Lauren Ellen Jenkins (substituting for Laura Patay), Karl Fagerlund Brekke, Alistair Goldsmith and Laura Lorenzi — ‘who explore the vital, albeit brutal, necessity to stay together’. This is the way we see them starting the work (under Nicolas Tremblay’s light) as five anthropomorphic cells inching forward very slowly like beached turtles (on Thomas Bernard’s fine cork-strewn shore) while singing a chorus from Giuseppe Verdi’s nineteenth century opera, La Traviata, in their own protoplasmic language. But it is not long before dis-ease sets in both metaphorically and choreographically; bodies clash, disperse and reform in a constant effort to heal until the rogue cell is identified and killed. It is like a diagnosis through the intrinsic wisdom of sensation rather than through rational observation. What is counterintuitive is that at the heart of this process is compassion: the image of Goldsmith succouring the other four is remarkable for its communal inter-dependency as part of this regenerative cycle. 

In Verdi’s time, a ‘traviata’ was a ‘woman who has gone astray’, so the association of this particular opera to rogue cells in the body is uncannily pertinent. The biological imperative of the science is imbued with the melodramatic impact of the opera in such a way that Tirabasso’s Starving Dingoes creates deep ties between the two and enriches both. Johanna Bramli’s and Ed Chivers’s all-embracing score, which splices into its rumbling bass drone and electrical short-circuits Verdi’s sampled arias and choruses — as if we are hearing the opera from inside the body — adds to the atavistic, emotional resonance of the work. Unlike in the opera, where actions are decided through the volatility of emotions, the performers of Starving Dingoes embody processes that are emotionally blind, but this is where the power of the work’s juxtaposed layers exists. As part of her choreographic path, Tirabasso sought the expertise of Gabrielle Moleta who gave the performers a one-day workshop in animal transformation to train the body beyond familiar habits and traditions (it could go further as there are still traces of self-consciousness in the performance), but the effect on the language of the action is transformative. Seeing the performers wrestle for their communal health against Brekke’s rogue pathology while each sings Violetta’s final aria is to take opera and dance to profoundly cathartic levels.

Tirabasso and her team have done something more than create a show that in our precarious cultural climate may be seen in a handful of venues; I hope it receives much more attention for its performative qualities and the themes it conveys. Having got this far with such conceptual vigour and emotional urgency, Starving Dingoes deserves to have access to a further line of funding so that its full potential can be realised. But even more, the concept appears ripe for large-scale operatic treatment, a production of La Traviata, perhaps, as seen under the microscope that draws down the emotional heights of melodrama into the depths of physical survival. It could even become, if it hasn’t already, an allegory of our time. 


Curated by Carlos, Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: December 4th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Curated by Carlos, Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

Curated by Carlos, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, November 4

Birmingham Royal Ballet Curated by Carlos
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in City of a Thousand Trades (photo: Johan Persson)

The Birmingham Royal Ballet program at Sadler’s Wells is titled Curated by Carlos, a branding that links the identity of the company to the personality and reputation of its new artistic director, Carlos Acosta. One of the selling points of the program is a ‘new duet’ with Acosta and Alessandra Ferri, but the solipsistic branding and the promotional focus on Ferri hardly constitute Acosta’s unqualified confidence in the image of the company he now leads. Uncannily, the effect of the three works he has curated, by Spanish and Latino choreographers, also serves to downplay the individuality of his dancers and promotes instead a uniformity that effaces them. 

The company metamorphosed from the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet, settling in Birmingham in 1990, a city with a burgeoning cultural life that already counted Simon Rattle and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra as one of its calling cards. The term ‘levelling up’ had not been invented at the time but BRB’s change of home was part of a politically favoured redistribution of cultural assets. As an art form, ballet is independent of its home city, but the company’s presence and achievements bring the city reflected pride and prestige in the way the late Pina Bausch gave the industrial city of Wuppertal an international reputation. Acosta has brokered a more direct relationship with Birmingham by offering a dutiful gesture of appreciation to the city in the first work on his triple bill, City of a Thousand Trades co-directed by choreographer Miguel Altunaga and dramaturg Madeleine Kludje, currently the associate director of Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Its title is taken from a nineteenth century description of the city at a time when immigration and industry spurred its enormous growth. The multinational cast of BRB already acts as a proxy for immigration, but Giulia Scrimieri’s set focuses uniquely on construction as the representative industry; scaffolding poles and wheeled wooden forms become the city’s leitmotif, handled throughout with balletic grace. The co-direction effectively divides the work’s focus: Kludje celebrates the value of the city’s individuals shaped by oral histories and recorded poetry by Birmingham Poet Laureate, Casey Bailey, while Altunaga celebrates the city’s homogeneity through the value of a corps de ballet. Mathias Coppens’ score serves both approaches but cannot unite them. City of a Thousand Trades is studious in its reverence but fails to deliver the kind of spontaneous reward for which the city might be remembered.

Birmingham Royal Ballet Curated by Carlos
Eilis Small with artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Imminent (photo: Johan Persson)

Daniela Cardim’s Imminent, to a lush but emotionally predictable score by Paul Englishby, starts from an existential questioning about the role of the individual in a society affected by calamitous environmental and political issues. With help from dramaturg Lou Cope, Cardim has extruded these questions into an abstract balletic form with Eilis Small as the individual in a flock of classically trained dancers in tunics for whom the answer to everything is either an arabesque or a pirouette. Only April Dalton’s set — a backdrop of white papier-mâché cliffs inset with an incongruous hinged door — gives any kind of direction to the work: a choice for the dancers of either passing through the open door into the mysterious light of the unknown or remaining in the comfort of unknowing. Some do, some don’t. It’s all a bit banal and underwhelming, questioning less the role of the individual conscience in society than the relationship between choreographer and dramaturg. 

Birmingham Royal Ballet Curated by Carlos
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Chacona (photo: Johan Persson)

Goyo Montero’s Chacona is evidently designed to be the ballast that will anchor the entire program. Choreographed to a full-blooded transcription by Ferruccio Busoni of Bach’s Chorale Prelude No. 3 and to three instrumental interpretations of the chaconne from Bach’s Partita No.2 in D Minor, Montero’s opening geometric corridor of dark-clad bodies sculpted in light has the brooding suggestion of a clandestine obsession. Imposed on the rectangular geometry of the dancers is a triangle with musicians at each apex: pianist Jonathan Higgins and a Steinway grand at the back with Robert Gibbs on violin and Tom Ellis on classical guitar on either side. Into this muscular environment Montero introduces the lithe Alessandra Ferri for a brief appearance with Acosta as her partner but they have no influence on the complex choreographic monolith that engulfs them; Ferri’s appearance and artistry are subsumed into the shadowy darkness of the stage. No sooner do they appear than we start to wonder where she and Acosta have gone; this is the reality of the much-hyped duet, a short interpolation that Montero has deftly concealed within his original construction. While it leaves the choreography intact the company recedes into its oppressive, sometimes brutal embrace. 


Dance Umbrella 2021: Dimitris Papaioannou’s Transverse Orientation

Posted: October 30th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2021: Dimitris Papaioannou’s Transverse Orientation

Dimitris Papaioannou, Transverse Orientation, Sadler’s Wells, October 21

Dimitris Papaioannou_Transverse Orientation
The opening scene from Dimitris Papaioannou’s Transverse Orientation (photo: Julian Mommert)

Dimitris Papaioannou, whose new production, Transverse Orientation, was presented at Sadler’s Wells as part of Dance Umbrella 2021, might well agree with the late photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo who noted that, “Down here everything is symbol and mystery.” Papaioannou, who trained in the visual arts, has made his reputation by presenting symbols and mysteries for the three-dimensional stage. In addition to his 8 performers, he has an extraordinary team to help him, with set designers Tina Tzoka and Loukas Bakas, lighting designer Stephanos Droussiotis, costume designer Aggelos Mendis, props constructor Nectarios Dionysatos, and mechanical inventor Dimitris Korres. Dance Umbrella presented The Great Tamer in 2018, in which Papaioannou introduced a complex array of theatrical images that referenced a trajectory from Greece’s ancient heritage to NASA’s landing on the moon, harnessing his powerful graphical theatre to an overriding theme of cultural archaeology. Transverse Orientation anticipates a future archaeology by mapping the effect of human intervention on natural environments. The irony of the title, which refers to the nocturnal moth’s evolutionary method of travel, is that moths are notnaturally attracted to a bright light; they are deceived by it. Their evolved nocturnal navigation system is short-circuited by anything brighter than moonlight to the point of paralysis and potential death by predators.

Tzoka and Bakas present a bleak, almost two-dimensional stage with a long back wall, a fluorescent light fixture high on one side and a door flush with the wall on the other. The stillness is charged with dramatic possibility until the light crackles into action and the door opens to a small swarm of anonymous, two-legged arthropod figures in black carrying a ladder. Seen in silhouette, this ballet of frenzied walks and gestures is a masterpiece of comic exaggeration and surreal invention (one of the moths — Breanna O’Mara — returns later to do a rousing tap routine). 

When Emma Gladstone asked Papaioannou in the post-show talk about his creative process he narrowed his response to describing the constraints of a deadline on both the period of creation and on the shaping and editing of the material into an integrated performance. But for someone like Papaioannou who delights in creating work as a palimpsest of imagery derived equally from ancient mythologies, renaissance art, and surrealism, the choice of what images to gather and how to place them in his theatrical universe must correspond at times to the attraction of moths to a bright light. 

This is an essentially existential metaphor that could relate both to the creative process and to the ideas around which the images are circling. In the opening section of Transverse Orientation, Papaioannou illustrates this metaphor with sardonic wit, making us laugh with him as his moths teeter precariously around a light source that is subject to electrical and mechanical failure. But then he subjects us (literally) to a powerful, roving search light that temporarily blinds us, a theatrical sleight of hand introducing us to more familiar territory: a colossal bull tamed and nurtured by a naked man and giving birth to a woman who is then carried away naked on the bull’s back. While Papaioannou is not averse to reusing visual imagery from his creative storehouse, he uses it here under a different light. The young woman (O’Mara) may reference Europa whom Zeus, disguised as a bull, abducted to Crete, and the young woman in her dotage (Tina Papanikolaiou) returns movingly to see what has become of her namesake. While Europe may be at a critical juncture in its history, its political situation pales into insignificance in the face of the current climate emergency. Two further images link the allegory of the moths to Papaioannou’s depiction, in drawn-out theatrical time and space, of the current environmental crisis. The door in the back wall opens on to a solid wall of granite blocks. They begin to force their way through the door seemingly of their own volition, an interminable stream of earthquake debris along with the odd surviving body. The bodies then pile up the rubble on the side of the stage and leave it there, a mere inspiration for acrobatic games. In the final image the goddess of abundance tips her bucket of water on to the stage while slowly descending beneath it. More water is poured on to the stage while the performers rip up the floor sections and scatter them on either side. Standing in the water is a man with a bucket and mop, acutely aware of his own inadequacy. 

What started off as parody has turned by degrees and digressions to darkest satire.


Normal Conditions/Nicola Conibere in Carareretetatakakers

Posted: October 16th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Normal Conditions/Nicola Conibere in Carareretetatakakers

Normal Conditions, Nicola Conibere, Carareretetatakakers, Lilian Baylis Studio, October 14

Annie Hanauer, Helka Kaski and Adrienne Ming in Carareretetatakakers (photo: Christa Holka)

When a word is repeated faster and faster or fed through an electronic sampler, its sound can become dissociated from its original meaning through a process known as semantic satiation. It certainly happened to the title of Nicola Conibere’s new work, Carareretetatakakers, presented in her debut at the Lilian Baylis Studio on October 14. In a recorded section where the word ‘caretaker’ is repeated and sampled, the audible stretch covers a relatively anodyne ‘characters’ to what sounded like ‘kerry terriers’ and even ‘hairy dentist’. Just as the sampled sound of the word makes us wonder what we are hearing, the linear progression of Carareretetatakakers questions what we are seeing and, by extension, how we can understand the very notion of ‘taking care’. 

As we enter the triangular space with seating on its three sides, three performers — Helka Kaski, Annie Hanauer and Adrienne Ming — are already communing in a casual physical groove with Duncan MacLeod’s score of electronic bleeps. Lucille Acevedo-Jones’s costumes with large ruffled collars in shades of green, blue and lilac with matching smudges of lipstick have connotations of reptilian beings, where the calculated insouciance and concentrated immersion of the trio in their movement make our attendance feel superfluous. This technique of task-based choreography can have the effect of alienating an audience from the notion of performance, which may be its purpose; to place it at the beginning of a work is both a bold statement and a risky proposition. In the freesheet offered as we exit the theatre there is an example of a task called Multipoints that may well have been used to generate the opening sequence: ‘Find 3 points in your body, say one in your shoulder, one in your hip, and one in your knee. Let’s call them 1,2 & 3. Find 3 metronomes…set each to a contrasting rhythm, called a, b & c. Try to get point 1 to pulse to rhythm a. And point 2 to rhythm b. And point 3 to rhythm c. Try to do them all at the same time.’ 

Because Kaski, Hanauer and Ming are seasoned, charismatic artists, the effect of these shared circadian rhythms is hypnotic; there is neither self-consciousness nor pretension in their performance. Developing additional tasks that bring into play their musicality, idiosyncratic ways of moving and sense of humour, they lead us on through choreographic notions of support and care towards an expected apotheosis that will validate both the work and our presence. But Conibere has other ideas, ones that pull the theatrical mat from under our feet without ever letting on that this is her aim. As we can read in another section of the freesheet mystifyingly entitled “Meat/Yam juices on foil”, ‘How can we discover an inefficient movement vocabulary? How can we work with inefficient and wasteful choreographic structure? What would they mean, look like and do?’ And in response, ‘We discovered: multiple ways to deliberately disrupt, to frustrate to refuse flow. (We then noted how many very different forms of dance are nonetheless defined by flow). That expressions of stuttering and awkwardness and stalling offer forms for imagining relation differently.’

This last observation is significant, because it supports a gestural approach to communication that, while designed to be used performatively in a theatrical setting, is close to social life outside the theatre. The destabilization of Carareretetatakakers is that it undermines the notion of going to the theatre for entertainment (one audience member evidently realised this early on and walked out) and yet fulfils the notion of theatre as a mirror of the society in which we live. ‘Stuttering, awkwardness and stalling’ could be considered all the more relevant during the speculative opening up of society in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Confidence and flow are in short supply. 

What the three performers nevertheless achieve — and offer as an effective antidote — is the cohesion of their relation; theirs is a conspiracy of collusion that leads them to encourage and support each other, the essence of taking care as performative ethics. The dance training of each — Hauer in ballet, Ming in jazz and Kaski in contemporary dance — is a metaphor for difference, but the inspiration they express through these forms, however deconstructed, becomes the way the three interact with, overlap and sustain each other.  

The structure of Carareretetatakakers, from its use of triangular space to MacLeod’s musical collage of classical and jazz quotes over a metronomic beat, to its choreographic stuttering, awkwardness and stalling, all indicate that Conibere has set out not to indulge the audience. And yet, in her choice of cast, she has harnessed her structure to human values that transcend it.  


Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, TooMortal, Saint Pancras Church, September 24

Posted: October 10th, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, TooMortal, Saint Pancras Church, September 24

Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, TooMortal, Saint Pancras Church, September 24

Shobana Jeyasingh, TooMortal
Shobana Jeyasingh Dance in Too Mortal (photo: Yaron Abulafia)

For a site-specific choreographic work like Shobana Jeyasingh’s TooMortal, conceived as a dance work for historic churches, the site itself is as much the subject as the choreography. Commissioned by the Venice Biennale, London’s Dance Umbrella, Stockhom’s Dansens Hus and Belgrade’s BITEF Festival within the European Network of Performing Arts (ENPARTS), TooMortal was first performed in St. George’s Anglican Church in Venice in 2012. Jeyasingh was attracted to a feature common to the churches in which TooMortal played: the box pew, designed for 17th and 18th century protestant services as an enclosed place in which family groups could listen to the sermon. In England, the Victorian proclivity for updating churches very often led to box pews being ripped out in favour of the open variety. London’s Saint Pancras Church, designed in 1819 in the Greek Revival style by William Inwood and his son, Henry William, was one of the last London churches to have box pews and one of the few to retain them. It was in this glorious interior that the 20-minute TooMortal was presented on September 24th. 

The sound of a single bell leads us into the church and into Cassiel’s sound installation, while the symbolism of Yaron Abulafia’s lighting, with its triangulation of the interior space made sculptural through a dense haze, imposes itself on our sensibility as we stand in the chancel looking down the nave at the rows of box pews that have become effectively a sectioned, three-dimensional stage. The choreographed space nevertheless remains close to its religious function, mediating between the tangible aspect of social life — more notable after the pandemic’s long period of enforced isolation — and the contemplation of mortality.  

At first the 12 dancers remain hidden inside their respective pews until the music summons them to emerge as if rising from the grave of their circumscribed fate. With each dancer in matching red dresses by Ursula Bombshell in each of six symmetrical pews arranged equally on either side of the nave of the church, TooMortal weaves together its constituent elements to map a contrapuntal journey of heavenly aspirations driven by a remix of James MacMillan’s Tenebrae Responsories that Cassiel has incorporated into his soundscape. The religious nature of the musical subject further enriches the sense of ecclesiastical space while giving the choreography the rhythmic pulse of steam turbines that gradually fragment into heavenly voices. 

Jeyasingh delves into the rich emotional states of her dancers to fuel this philosophical exploration of containment, both in social and religious terms. The pews are deep, so the focus of the choreography often appears to be from the waist up, a locus of emotional and intellectual processes. Integrated into this broad range of physical expression — from unbridled rage to concentrated meditation — are fleeting visual elements of Christian iconography like the horizontal pose of a crucifixion that reinforce the nature of the site while eliciting in the observer a metaphysical response of introspection and solace.

Soon after seeing TooMortal, I came across a dissertation by Lisa Marie Bowler on Theatre Architecture as Embodied Space, in which she writes, ‘The purpose of site-specific or immersive theatre work is often to destabilise any notion of a fixed social reality even further, by negotiating and reconfiguring how these spaces are used.’ Uncannily, such destabilization is evident in TooMortal through its many inversions: between the vertical aspiration of faith and the horizontal aspect of the performance; between the predominant patriarchy of the Church and the all-female cast; between the placement of the congregation and the altar, and between the sombre weight of the architecture and the lightness and fury of the dance. And given the nature of the site, which inherently invokes the historical past, the quality of the live performance is very much in the present as we watch the dancers in their finite space manifesting an all-consuming desire to transcend their physical boundaries. Sometimes confrontational, sometimes lost in their own suffering, they nevertheless seem moved by an intractable but invisible hand. Only towards the end do they make physical contact with each other, tentative at first but then interlocking over the pews, gestures of solidarity and love. The dancers never confront the audience; they are embroiled with each other in their own existential preoccupations as if we were not present. At the end, they stand with their gaze fixed on the infinite as if their identities had departed, and as the light and music fade, we see these corporeal Wilis slowly descend into the oblivion of their wooden tombs. 


Thomas Page Dances, A Moment

Posted: September 21st, 2021 | Author: | Filed under: Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Thomas Page Dances, A Moment

Thomas Page Dances, A Moment, Filmed at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, July 3

A Moment, Thomas Page Dances
Thomas Page and Llewelyn Lewis in A Moment (photo: Monika)

In writing the play, Moment of Grace, in 2018, Bren Gosling distilled the stories of three characters whose lives were irrevocably linked through the AIDS pandemic in the UK of the 1980s. Because Gosling was close to people affected — he dedicated the play to the memory of Shane Snape — he was able to incorporate his insights into the psychological stance of each character that allows us to better understand the socio-political environment in which they experienced the disease. The play deals with fear, loss, disgrace, shame and friendship as the scourge of AIDS began to impact the gay community through misinformation and rank prejudice and is based on a historic occasion, the opening in April 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales, of Britain’s first dedicated AIDS unit at London Middlesex Hospital. In the version I saw, filmed in the first lockdown, Gosling mixes his script with archive video of Diana’s much mediatised visit in which she openly shook hands with nurses, doctors and one of the patients, which did much to counter the misinformation and prejudice around the spread of AIDS. The title’s ‘moment of grace’ links the defiance of Diana’s handshake with the courage of one of the consultants to admit, in conversation with the princess on live television, that he too had AIDS. 

When Gosling suggested to choreographer Thomas Page that he respond to Moment of Grace, the idea was to present both his play and the choreographic response as a double bill. “I am very interested as a writer in collaboration with other creative forms. Also, I wanted to open a dialogue between older and younger generations of LGBTQ people about the English AIDS pandemic. Art is always great for opening up dialogue.” 

Even though Page describes the work on his website as “two performers explor[ing| what it was to be gay in the 80s when the UK was full of fear and ignorance”, is it possible — borrowing from R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience — to know the experience of another, let alone the experience of another forty years ago? Art, it seems, can only make marks on a surface or in space that point to that experience while the audience is left to reconstruct those marks and pointers in their own mind, to distil an emotion of what that original experience might have been. In this sense, A Moment is very much an exploration in movement by the two performers, Page and Llewelyn Lewis, of what it is to be gay today, at a time and in a society where homosexuality is more accepted, and, thanks to antiretroviral drugs, AIDS is no longer a death threat.

The setting of a bare stage under Rachel Luff’s moody lighting and Robert Singer’s evocative score gives A Momenta sense of existing on a raised dais floating in time. An arresting image draws us down to a domestic scene in which Lewis stands centre stage, fully clothed, in an overhead cone of light, repeating the close, enveloping gestures of one taking a shower. Repetition — a choreographic motif favoured by Page — etches the image in our memory while suggesting the languor and routine of the everyday. It is only interrupted by rising side lights signalling Page’s entrance into the space, coming to rest with one foot on one of the many items of clothing scattered around. The presence of clothes responds to a line in Gosling’s play spoken by Andrew as he looks back at his life: “I used to be interested in clothes, clubs, buying records. And men. Now my life…what life?” For Andrew and others in his position the desire for gratification must have seemed so insignificant in the face of death, but for Page and Lewis the clothes seem by contrast to be casual attachments, choices to wear or abandon. Page describes the ensuing duet as ‘moving through themes of paranoia, intimacy and oppression’, but his seismic palette has few ups and downs, few moments in which transitions from one emotion to another are clearly established. To adapt daily movement to the stage as a communicative structure to relay ideas and emotions requires a choreographic vocabulary that has the clarity of language in visual form. Page’s response to Gosling’s play is more an open-ended reverie between two men that softens the contrast between the themes it purports to address, as if Gosling’s social concerns have been replaced by Page’s existential ones. It will be interesting to see the live pairing of the two, as was intended, as an indication, perhaps, of how far the present LGBTQ+ community has developed from the initial AIDS crisis and how much it owes to those who endured it. 

(The two works premiered together at the 2018 Bloomsbury Festival but were transferred during lockdown to the screen, the format in which I saw them).