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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Crystal Pite, Jonathon Young, Kidd Pivot in Revisor at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: March 18th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Crystal Pite, Jonathon Young, Kidd Pivot in Revisor at Sadler’s Wells

Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young with Kidd Pivot in Revisor at Sadler’s Wells, March 5

Crystal Pite, Jonathon Young, Kidd Pivot
Doug Letheren as Director of the Complex in Revisor (photo: Michael Slobodian)

Choreographer Crystal Pite and playwright Jonathan Young have collaborated previously on two productions, Betroffenheit for Pite’s company, Kidd Pivot, and The Statement for Nederlands Dance Theatre. Although each work is quite independent of the other in terms of emotional heft, they both use the technique of lip-synching to recorded voices as a choreographic tool. In The Statement, the relationship between language and choreography is the basis of the entire work, taking Young’s one-act play about corporate disinformation to expressive heights, while Betroffenheit combines choreography and text in a haunting expression of trauma. Their latest collaboration for Kidd Pivot, Revisor, presented recently at Sadler’s Wells, pushes the boundaries of text and its physical embodiment further than both The Statement and Betroffenheit, with mixed results. 

What Young has proposed is his adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector (Revizor in Russian), a farce written in 1836 on the theme of government corruption in a small provincial town. Young’s production uses the recorded voices of nine actors directed by Meg Roe with original music and sound design by Owen Belton and Alessandro Juliani. By making a pun on the Russian title, Young changes the function of the Revizor to a Revisor of government documents; it has no bearing on the outcome of the farce but the word play informs the adaptation. After the curtain rises to an ominous rumbling of thunder, we hear the voice of a narrator (Roe) revising her description of the scene a couple of times before she’s happy with it. We’re in the office of the Director of the Complex (Doug Letheren) who has called in his cronies to discuss the arrival of a revisor (Tiffany Tregarthen) who they mistakenly believe has been sent by head office to report on their incompetent practices. The clarity of Jay Gower Taylor’s minimal period set, Nancy Bryant’s lush costumes and Tom Visser’s lighting engage with that of Pite’s gestural response to the voices. The ensuing scene of heated discussion sets in motion a thrill of choreography-as-farce as we take in Pite’s transmutation of language into gesture and the imagery she extracts from every nuance of the script. The dancers embody their characters through total corporal articulation and lip synchronisation to a degree of verisimilitude where we see the voices and hear the gestures. Jermaine Spivey’s physical translation of Juliani’s speech-impaired Postmaster Wieland’s dialogue keeps the audience in gales of laughter and on the edge of their seats in anticipation of its continuation, while Ella Rothschild as Minister Desouza fleetingly combines imagery of the Russian orthodox church and classical ballet in a passing phrase about religion and culture. 

The sheer energy of creative investment in this opening scene, so intricately woven and detailed, is remarkable. In the subsequent dialogue with the revisor and his assistant (David Raymond), however, and in the further convolutions of the plot, Pite’s transmutation of language plays second fiddle to Young’s adaptation of the script, which now takes us on a digression through a conceptual landscape — what Young calls a deconstruction of a farce. The dancers are in rehearsal clothes, and the dialogue is replaced by the narrator’s ‘report’ on the action using stage directions, looped vocal phrases and fragments of recorded text. It is difficult to tell if this ‘report’ demands something less precise of Pite’s choreography, or if her choreographic ingenuity loses traction in the treatment of dialogue. What were the dancers’ individual textual-corporal characterisations gradually evolve into danced solos and duets — even sections of unison choreography — that change Pite’s focus away from the text into movement. Just when Young’s deconstruction seems in danger of completely losing the plot, the opening scene and its characters return for the play’s resolution. Once again the dancers are in their costumes and their dialogue becomes lip-synched action. But by now the effect has waned and a sense of déjà vu sets in. What Pite and Young had begun with such promise just an hour before appears to be already overused, or perhaps that long, conceptual, self-reflexive middle section has numbed our choreographic interest and drained the dramatic action of its momentum. In an intense collaboration like this, if one partner pulls too much in one direction the other’s contribution suffers. Betroffenheit and The Statement held the balance like a high-wire act between theatre and choreography, each on their own terms; Revisor is ultimately disappointing because that balance is not maintained throughout the work, and there is nothing the extraordinary cast can do to save it. 


Ian Abbott on Candoco double bill at Bristol Old Vic

Posted: March 13th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Candoco double bill at Bristol Old Vic

Candoco Dance Company’s Double Bill: Face In and Hot Mess, Bristol Old Vic, February 25

Candoco Dance Company in Yasmeen Godder's Face In with Clinkard's Hot Mess
Face In by Yasmeen Godder (photo: Hugo Glendinning)

In a deliciously niche piece of UK choreographic history, Candoco commissioned the works on the current double bill from Yasmeen Godder in 2017 and Theo Clinkard in 2019; back in 2008 when Clinkard was one half of the brilliant PROBE alongside Antonia Grove, it was PROBE who commissioned a short work from Yasmeen Godder in which Clinkard danced as part of their Magpie evening and it was the first time I encountered both these artists. 

Face In by Godder self describes as: ‘a sensual and disturbing ode to intimacy and imagination, expressed through striking images and daring uninhibited dance, set to an urban indie score.’ Set amongst Gareth Greens’ design of prisms of fruit-salad lighting projected on to white cycs on either side of the stage over 30 minutes, we’re introduced to solos, duets and trio islands of abstract partner work, contact and some lifts mixed in with plenty of Godder’s visual signatures of ripped/embellished costume (designed by Adam Kalderon) and big leary tongue pulling. 

Whilst Laura Patay is highly charismatic (having also been the standout performer in Hetain Patel’s Let’s Talk About Dis) and Mickaella Dantas has a spiky energy, the rest of the company feel really lacklustre in their performance with Toke Broni Strandby struggling in particular. The uninhabited and sensual dance that we are meant to be witnessing and feeling is nothing but a false and fabricated physical frenzy and one that I simply do not believe; they attempt to build and sustain an energy on stage, attempt to create friction or disturbance but none of this transfers to me in the audience — if it ever really leaves their bodies. 

The all-White company are dialling it in and in some sense I can understand it; middle-class choreographic abstraction is dead, it’s dull, it says nothing, there’s no point to it and it’s an exercise only in ego. If this is the material you as a dancer have to work with, then you’ll deliver a certain level of professionalism, but I think you can tell if they really subscribe to either the choreographer or the intention behind the work. 

Clinkard’s Hot Mess self describes as ‘an unpredictable and anarchic performance set to an eclectic score by the award-winning Joe Newman of alt-J. Art installation meets dance piece in this explosive new work by the company that continues to expand perceptions of what dance can be.’ 

On his own website and social media channels, Clinkard offers lots of other contextual information around the work which is worth adding to the slim programme notes from the evening. He says: ‘It’s a piece full of doubt and actively unknowing and I’m genuinely filled with doubt and unknowing when witnessing it. We created an oddly exciting place of collapse and potential and watching these dancers navigate its demands is pretty thrilling. I hope it’s a dance that reflects the times were living in.’ Alongside this he also created:

Hot Mess. a Manifesto

Rejecting:                   Celebrating:
the stable                   the unformed
the fixed                     the unknown
the polished               the potential
the repeatable           the collaborative
the product                the unplanned
the heroic                   the process
the known                  the unexpected
the formal                  the failure
the ordered                the queer
the absolute               the precarious
the resilient               the disobedient
the known                  the messy

In 2019 Clinkard made nine new works for different companies; with Hot Mess I feel like the reservoir of his ideas and concepts have dried up. What we’re left with is the dregs of an alt-J b-side pushed through three effects modulators with seven pieces of dangling material in which the dancers thrash about in the opening scenes followed by half-finished Meyerholdian biomechanical gestures that are neither satisfying, explosive, nor instrumental in expanding perceptions of what dance can be. If I feel a sense of reluctance from the performers in Face In, in Hot Mess it is multiplied to infinity; they are certainly carrying out the manifesto and reject it all, but they also reject the majority of the audience who come to see the company; it is almost uncomfortable to sense the amounts of sighing and fidgeting in the audience. 

Candoco is not a company that is touring small-scale and indie black box studios; it’s touring mid-to-large scale theatres around the world and need work that is befitting those spaces and audiences. Hot Mess does not rise to the occasion. Although Clinkard undoubtedly achieves his manifesto (with a considerably heavy nod to Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto from 1965), it is at a cost to the company, and I cannot see Hot Mess staying in their repertoire for as long as works by Godder, Patel or Thomas Hauert. Titles can be revealing: in informal American usage, a ‘hot mess’ is ‘a person or thing that is spectacularly unsuccessful or disordered, especially one that is a source of peculiar fascination’.

It’s really worth repeating for those in the back: middle-class choreographic abstraction is dead.


Viviana Durante Company in Isadora Now at the Barbican

Posted: March 12th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Viviana Durante Company in Isadora Now at the Barbican

Viviana Durante Company, Isadora Now: A Triple Bill at the Barbican, February 27

Isadora Duncan
Viviana Durante in Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulu)

Viviana Durante Company’s triple bill, Isadora Now, sets out to explore the impact of Isadora Duncan on dance. The program by the all-female ensemble is part of the Barbican’s 2020 season Inside Out, which ‘will showcase the work of artists who have found pioneering ways to articulate their innermost thoughts, feelings and desires…’ As Durante writes in the program, ‘Isadora Duncan was a pioneer of modern dance, an outsider who spurned the conventions and gendered roles of classical ballet and insisted on a woman’s right to express herself physically on her own terms.’ When Duncan performed in St. Petersburg in 1904, her freedom of movement presented a revelatory contrast to the classical works of the Imperial Ballet’s principal ballet master and choreographer, Marius Petipa. After almost forty years in this position, Petipa was coming to the end of his career, and in this creative interregnum a young Mikhail Fokine was searching for a new choreographic form. In Duncan’s dancing he believed he had found the plasticity he sought, and set about adapting it for his early works, most noticeably in Chopiniana (later renamed Les Sylphides). A seventeen-year-old Frederick Ashton saw Duncan dance in 1921 and was similarly struck by her expressiveness, returning to see her night after night. Fifty-five years later he set down his memories in his Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, which he created on Lynn Seymour. Marie Rambert, who had also been overwhelmed by Duncan’s dancing, is said to have cried when she saw Seymour perform the work because the experience was so close to what she remembered. 

Memory is at the heart of Isadora Now, with a difference: nobody involved in the project has ever seen Duncan dance. The first piece on the program — Dance of the Furies from Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice that Duncan had choreographed as a solo in 1911 — is a reconstruction by Barbara Kane for five dancers. Kane has devoted her life to studying Duncan’s style of dance which has been handed down through generations of Duncan dancers and teachers, though the genealogy of this staging is not explained in the program. As interesting as it is formally, what is missing is an understanding of how Duncan’s spirit might have informed the steps; it is in the nature of historical reconstruction that we shall never know. 

Durante is on firmer ground with Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes, in that both Seymour and Durante have been steeped in the Royal Ballet’s Ashton style and repertoire, and both have been recognised as the most gifted dramatic dancers of their respective generations. There are two grainy films of Seymour dancing the work that nevertheless offer an opportunity to see how she embodied what Ashton created on her. Durante was coached in the role by Camille Andriot rather than by Seymour but unless you saw her performance on the opening night you would have missed her interpretation on subsequent evenings due to injury. Her role is taken by Begoña Cao, a former principal dancer with English National Ballet, and although her extensive credits do not include works by Ashton, she gives an inspired interpretation of the work to the piano accompaniment of Anna Geniushene. 

Five Brahms Waltzes forms a bridge in the program between Duncan and the present. It’s a span of over a hundred years in which the emancipation of women has become a political reality in many, but not all parts of the world. Having written in 1903 that ‘she [the dancer of the future] shall dance the freedom of woman’, what kind of presence would Duncan have if she were alive today, and in the context of Isadora Now, what kind of dance would she embody? Durante leaves the answer to her co-producer, Farooq Chaudhry, who defers instead to his creative contacts. Chaudhry is the long-time producer and co-founder of Akram Khan Company and is also International Creative Producer for the Chinese choreographer, Yang Liping. Joy Alpuerto Ritter, his choice to choreograph the final work of the evening, has been a dancer and rehearsal director for Khan since 2013 and her composer/musician on this occasion is cellist, Lih Qun Wong, who has worked with Yang Liping. The Chaudhry network further co-opts the culmination of Isadora Now by employing a raft of creatives from both companies. Ritter’s work, Unda, fails to emerge ‘on its own terms’ from this chauvinistic influence, while her deference to Duncan’s style maintains a historical distance from a contemporary evaluation of Isadora now. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mette Edvardsen in Music for Lectures at Fest en Fest

Posted: March 4th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen in Music for Lectures at Fest en Fest

Mette Edvardsen, Music For Lectures/every word was once an animal, Fest en Fest, February 9

Mette Edvardsen in Music for Lectures
Music for Lectures…without musicians or lecturer (photo: Burrows & Fargion)

It’s a welcome opportunity to see Mette Edvardsen again at Fest en Fest after last year’s No Title. She brings not a solo work but a collaboration with Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Francesca Fargion: Music for Lectures/every word was once an animal. The setting is not a stage but one end of the Fuel Tank bar, against a door with a no entry sign on the outside. It’s a wet, stormy day and some people enter through it anyway to avoid an extra walk around the building. Seats are improvised, cushions are laid on the floor and Edvardsen is seated facing them cross-legged on a mat with microphone in hand. She is backed (or sided) by what is called a rock band consisting of Burrows on drums, Fargion senior on bass and Fargion junior on keyboard, but the musical style is more affected minimalist than rock. 

Once she begins her text in her deadpan Norwegian lilt, it is clear that Edvardsen’s discursive lecture, both in its rigorous construction and in the patterns of her thinking, is in fact a choreography of words and ideas that move with the fluidity of an enchaînement. That she remains seated is inconsequential; we can see the movement behind our eyes. She begins with a characteristic digression by saying she had once thought her title, ‘every word was once an animal’, was a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, but her memorisation of the misquote — its repetition in her memory — had value since it led her to read all Emerson’s works and what others had written about him. The way Edvardsen’s words contain meanings that spread out into other meanings like an endless stream of associations is perhaps something she has learned from Emerson. In fact, it wasn’t a digression at all, but a repetition of something that Edvardsen had prepared, rehearsed and was now performing.  

The meaning of the English words ‘repetition’ and ‘rehearsal’ is joined in the French ‘répétition’, and Edvardsen takes us through aspects of the word’s signification, teasing its many cultural connections and spatio-temporal ramifications, from the micro-cosmos of performances, rituals, and daily routines to quantum explanations of space-time. She integrates a story about the filming of the burning house in Tarkovsky’s Offret (The Sacrifice), examples of the Spanish artist Dora Garcia, the Beatles’ song Number 9 and considers the proposal of an alternative universal rhythm with a Big Bang followed by a Big Crunch followed again by a Big Bang. 

Repetition acts both as an affirmation and a procrastination, a looking back but also a distillation of possibilities in the future. Quoting the Danish philosopher Søren Kirkegaard, Edvardsen reminds us that repetition and recollection are the same movements but in opposite directions, because in recollecting what has been, one also repeats it. Such an economy suspends the repetition of the past in the future, giving rise to the entropy of what Edvardsen refers to as a ‘non-concept’. Through her diverse references Edvardsen is not merely illustrating repetitive patterns but turning them into a choreographic lecture as a way of knowing.

Throughout, Edvardsen never loses the thread of associations; she does, however, find a red thread stuck on her sock but this, she reminds us, is a repetitive digression at the core of any performance and of the performing arts: the rehearsal of a pattern that is never the same and yet not so different as to be unrecognizable. 

In a previous project called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, Edvardsen associated the memorisation of a book with the way a dancer learns choreography in rehearsal, and a live reading with performance. A copy of one of the books in the project was Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but the memoriser’s copy was beginning to fall apart from wear (it can happen to a dancer, too). When she replaced it with a new one she was horrified to find the opening line was a different translation. By repeating the same line in a number of English translations, Edvardsen demonstrates how each iteration of a gesture, a word, a phrase or a verse can create a different image or association. As Emerson actually wrote, ‘Every word was once a poem.’ 

Fest en Fest offers its audiences examples of what it calls ‘expanded choreography’. The symbiotic link between language and dance that Edvardsen develops through the medium of the voice — with or without an accompanying band — is a perfect example. 


Alina Cojocaru in Alina at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 29th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alina Cojocaru in Alina at Sadler’s Wells

Alina Cojocaru, Alina, at Sadler’s Wells, February 21

Alina Cojocaru
Alina Cojocaru (photo: Moran Norman)

Alina Cojocaru, currently a principal dancer at English National Ballet, is the kind of performer who can efface her personality to fuse her creative self with the character she is playing. A program that celebrates her, such as the recent Sadler’s Wells evening, Alina, is thus faced with a challenge as to who is being presented. Cojocaru initially sidesteps the issue by stressing the musical heart of dance in a performance by cellist Margarita Balanas and violinist Charlie Siem of Handel’s Passacaglia for Violin and Cello.

We first see Cojocaru as performer in Tim Rushton’s Reminiscence, a duet for her and Johann Kobborg that Rushton began ten years ago and finished only recently. It is set to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel — played live on stage by Balanas and pianist Sasha Grynyuk — the clarity of which is matched by the lightness of Rushton’s lines and gestures. Cojocaru inhabits these with ludic innocence, willingly accepting and returning the playful advances of an attentive and admiring Kobborg. As the first chapter in an expressive biography it reads as a coming-of-age ceremony in which the image of a butterfly opening its wings merges with the development of a mature relationship. Kobborg has a moment of casual virtuosity that he passes off with a smile, and they walk off together with a quiet sense of fulfilment.

There are two short films by Kim Brandstrup that act as introductions to the person from whom the performer develops, as well as serving the practical function of giving Cojocaru time to breathe and change between works. The first is Faces, to music by François Couperin, in which the camera focuses on Cojocaru’s face in front of a painted crimson backdrop; the proximity derives from Brandstrup’s pleasure in watching dancers ‘marking’ in the studio — ‘going through a choreography in their head while listening to the music’. Brandstrup abstracts from Cojocaru’s face the function of marking, leaving uncanny traces of an internal dialogue between person and performer. 

Her next outing is in Juliano Nuñes’ Journey, a trio for herself, Nuñes, and Dominic Harrison to the music of Australian composer, Luke Howard. Nuñes’ choreographic profile has been rising over the last year; he is much in demand, and he evidently still enjoys dancing in his own creations. In an evening devoted to the art of Cojocaru, however, Nuñes manages to lose her by placing too much attention on her easy acquiescence and pliancy in being partnered.  

Brandstrup’s second film, Kiev, is a homage to Cojocaru’s ballet teachers at the Kiev State Ballet School: Denisenko Vladimir Andreevich, Rubina Alla Davidovna, Obovskaya Larisa Nikolaevna and Lagoda Alla Vecheslavovna. She had not been there in 25 years and the video shot in the school by David McCormick captures this passage of time. Brandstrup treats the architectural space as a museum in which Cojocaru’s youthful flow of movement contrasts with the stark stillness and the gnarled hands of her teachers. The film evokes the power of communication through touch and the evident reverence of Cojocaru for her teachers and of her teachers for their student’s achievements. It is set, appropriately, to Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina, in a recording by Alexander Malter. 

Kobborg’s Les Lutins, created in 2009 for Cojocaru, Steven McRae and Sergei Polunin, opens with displays of male virtuosity to an equally virtuosic Études-Caprices in A minor of Henryk Wieniawski played by Grynyuk and Siem. Marcelino Sambé sets the tone with a flamboyant but technically precise variation that flirts impishly with the musical accents in a delightful interplay with Siem. Takahiro Tamagawa enters with his own arsenal of male wizardry that escalates competitive bragging rights until Cojocaru steps into the fray in male attire and a mischievous smile. Her sassy brand of one-upmanship turns male bravado into competitive flirtation until she deflates both by her awed admiration for the violinist. As the two dancers kneel entreatingly at her feet, she pushes them over and offers her heart to Siem. 

The second part of the evening is a performance of Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand with Francesco Gabriele Frola as Armand, Kobborg as his father, and Alastair Marriott as a quintessential duke. Kobborg is able to translate his close relationship with Cojocaru into a touching and utterly credible father-in-law to Marguerite, and while Frola’s impetuous passion fuels his duets with Cojocaru, his natural elegance is too well-mannered for Armand’s more brazen behaviour. Cojocaru remains in the eye of the buffeting storm, inhabiting Marguerite’s tragic story so unconditionally that in her disguise she fully reveals herself. 


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Bluebeard at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: February 22nd, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Bluebeard at Sadler’s Wells

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Bluebeard, Sadler’s Wells, February 14.

Bluebeard
A scene from the current production of Bluebeard (photo: Maarten Vanden Abeele)

Because of the Béla Bartók estate’s withdrawal of the rights to the music, it has been a long time since Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch has been able to perform the 1977 creation, Bluebeard — While Listening to a Tape Recording of Béla Bartók’s Opera ‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle’. But if you had never seen it before and, wanting to complete your review of Pina Bausch’s work, had spent an hour and fifty minutes watching it at Sadler’s Wells, you still would not have seen it. Bausch died in 2009 and, despite the company’s constant efforts to the contrary — now under the general and artistic direction of Bettina Wagner-Bergelt — it is ingenuous to expect anybody else to have the authority to restage her works, especially ones like Bluebeard that have been out of the repertoire for so long. Dancers whom Bausch rehearsed may remember the choreography and be able to transfer their individual insights and understanding to a younger generation — as in this reconstruction directed by two of the original cast, Jan Minarik and Beatrice Libonati — but Bausch’s precise, idiosyncratic process of moulding the individual dancers to her imagination and her imagination to the work can never be reproduced. It can be experienced, however, in film; there is an early, grainy VHS recording in which Minarik and Libonati embody Bausch’s conception of Bluebeard and Judith with such ferocious energy — as does the entire cast — it is far more immediate than the current reconstruction. Notwithstanding the physical signifiers, one major casualty of the Bluebeard at Sadler’s Wells is the sense of dark menace; gestures are repeated without the tics of feral obsession, while the sardonic humour of the men preening themselves at the front of the stage turns into gratuitous display. In addition to directing the reconstruction, Minarik and Libonati have to contend with the worldview of a young company in a very different era. Perhaps we have become so inured to psychosis and sexual violence that we find it amusing — as some in the audience expressed on Friday night — or perhaps the production simply lacks a sufficient sense of alienation to disturb our complacency. 

Bausch’s creative life is so intimately integrated in her work that any presentation of her repertoire inevitably reflects on her legacy. For those who see this Bluebeard for the first time the legacy is affected, unintentionally on the part of the company and perhaps unknowingly on the part of the audience, by the absence of her approval. And yet while it may not be the real thing, seeing this example of Bausch’s early creative canon is enough to remind us of her genius for transforming the stage into choreographic drama and of those original dancers who embodied her vision so devotedly.  

One might be tempted to ascribe a Jungian interpretation of the Bluebeard tale to Bausch’s interest in staging the work at that early point in her career. Having taken over the Wuppertal Opera in 1973 and choreographed two operas, as well as the Rite of Spring, and The Seven Deadly Sins, she had come to a creative door that threatened to close. The key to the forbidden room in the tale symbolizes consciousness; Judith can choose not to open the door or by unlocking it find the truth. For Bausch, working away from the theatre in Jan Minarik’s studio with a tape recorder and a small group of dancers who believed in her methods, the production of Bluebeard released her inspiration and launched the development of Tanztheater. 

Based on an early recording of Bartók’s opera, Bausch’s rendering invokes classical ballet, expressionist dance, everyday gestures and dramatic theatre. Rolf Borzik’s set suggests the inside of the room Bausch had unlocked: clinically bare, with high white walls in a nineteenth century mansion or institution with inset windows and doors that mark the perimeter of the stage. The white floor is covered in armfuls of dry autumn leaves that record the passage of dancers passing over it. It is an imposing space and at the same time an intimate setting in which a tape recorder on a portable base takes on the role of fateful agent. Throughout the performance the character of Bluebeard (Oleg Stepanov) plays, stops, and rewinds the tape so as to provoke, arrest or replay his obsessive passion for his wife, Judith (Ophelia Young) that is magnified and enhanced by the entire cast. It is in the negotiation of such precise, repetitive details that the pervasive menace of the work is either contained or seeps away.


Ian Abbott on H2Dance’s Fest en Fest at Laban

Posted: February 22nd, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on H2Dance’s Fest en Fest at Laban

Fest en Fest 2020 by H2Dance, Laban, 8 and 9 February

Fest en Fest Cry Me a River
Karen Røise Kielland and Katja Dreyer in Cry Me a River (photo: Knut Bry)

Fest en Fest is an international festival of UK/Nordic artists looking at notions of expanded choreography initiated and curated by H2Dance. Fest en Fest ‘makes space for artists and audiences to come together and present live works and ideas, to discuss, provoke, influence and be a force for change.’ This is the second edition and took place over a week in Colchester, Cambridge and London. I saw a number of works and attended a discursive lunch and round table with Janine Harrington and Grace Nicol in Deptford. Due to the storms that weekend, the performance of Phantasmagoric by Helgebostad/Berstad/Brun was unfortunately cancelled. 

Cry Me a River – the Quest for the Source by Karen Røise Kielland/Katja Dreyer is a buoyant choreographic postcard offering an autofictional account of a joint expedition to the source of the River Styx via the side quests of multiple Greek mythological hero(ine)s. Kielland and Dreyer are a pair of affable performers busying themselves with their stage-based tasks related to casting effigies of multiple body parts in plaster whilst retelling their real life stories of meeting Odysseus, Cerberus and Echo on a 1500-mile adventure. 

With their direct address and small audience interaction (one member got a cast of their hand) it’s a work that raises a few chuckles at the word play and storytelling as Kielland and Dreyer relay their encounters; it feels that there’s enough presented for us to believe it is real…or real enough. It dabbles with the venn diagram of truth and non-truth whilst keeping their onstage labour legitimate. Sat alongside all of this is a long set-up for what is a delicious final set of images (no spoilers) and feminist commentary on the patriarchal histories, stories and collections that are so heralded in Western heritage institutions. The act of casting bodies and the residue of patriarchal statues that are littered throughout history tell a particular story of a particular body type from a particular stratum of society; Kielland and Dreyer’s gentle lampooning is a fine start to my Fest en Fest.

If audiences were trying to find traditional examples of ‘dancing’ and ‘choreography’ in Cry Me a River – the Quest for the Source they would struggle, but Fest en Fest is clear in what it is and what it will present. ‘Expanded Choreography’ as a notion could be an alternative moniker for performance, live art or theatre. An ‘Expanded Theatre’ festival like Fest en Fest includes dance, music, and visual art in a widening boundary that encompasses other things. Fest en Fest is a festival. A festival of work from the UK and Nordic countries. It doesn’t need to indulge in a dance-will-eat-itself debate – let the work speak and get your ears ready for what it has to say.

Music For Lectures is a series of works by Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion where they invite a speaker (this time Mette Edvardsen) to give a talk on a subject of their choice which is backed by the Burrows/Fargion ‘rock band.’ At 35 minutes Music For Lectures/every word was once an animal saw Edvardsen sat cross legged with microphone and script in hand, Burrows on drums, Fargion (Matteo) on bass guitar and egg shakers and Fargion (Francesca) conducting from a keyboard. 

Edvardsen’s text is a dry and stretched desert traipse through the pop science section of Waterstones picking up some sugary and shallow philosophy on repetition on the way; the rock band play simple chords and beats whilst Edvardsen speaks. For 35 minutes. With the audience sat at the end of Gaff@FuelTank bar, 40 people were subjected to the theory of the eternal return, to Flashdance and to Kierkegaard. It was thin, self-satisfying and could have been presented as a radio programme/podcast such were the levels of performativity or audience engagement; if I wanted a performed bibliography in the shadow of John Cage I would have gone elsewhere.

I do not subscribe to the cult of Jonathan Burrows. Having seen four of his works I cannot understand why a performance of quaint Englishness — a peacocking simplicity masked by pseudo intellectual academia — appears to be so well received by the cult which surrounds his work. His performance persona is like an English Poundland version of Matthew Goulish and Tim Etchell’s lovechild but has inherited neither their performance charisma nor their intellectual heft. 

With Edvardsen the second, White, female frontperson (previously Katye Coe) in Burrows and Fargion’s collection, I don’t understand why or how her presentation is of interest in the live realm. Expanded choreography this is not. Expanded intellectuality this is definitely not. Burrows and Fargion expanded ego, 100%.

What H2Dance have done for this second edition of the festival is to extend it outside London, bringing a number of UK premieres to Cambridge and Colchester as well as attracting a set of artists and students from Laban for whom some of the work resonates/challenges assumed thinking. Fest en Fest has — in just two years — found a tribe of audiences, artists and programmers to attend this micro-festival that is artist run/curated and led. It is rich, full and divergent and although I had a strong response to Music For Lectures, I appreciate a work that makes me feel such a strong set of emotions. 

Leaving Laban I went back to thinking about Cry Me a River – the Quest for the Source and how Kielland and Dreyer could expand their own repertoire and offer their take on other histories choreographically, from the Greeks to the Romans to the plague or the sealing of the Magna Carter in a series of alternative edutainment shorts looking at dance/history through a feminist autofictional lens.


Resolution 2020: Kindred & Judd, Parbati Chaudhury, Grand Gesture

Posted: February 20th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2020: Kindred & Judd, Parbati Chaudhury, Grand Gesture

Resolution 2020, Kindred & Judd Collective, Parbati Chaudhury, Grand Gesture, January 29

aGender, Resolution 2020
Maga Judd and Helen Kindred in aGender (photo: Cheniece Warner)

A theme of this Resolution triple bill of the Kindred & Judd Collective, Parbati Chaudhury and Grand Gesture is the linking of the individual’s everyday struggle with, respectively, identity, pain and old age. 

In aGender, Helen Kindred and Maga Judd confront their quest for identity in the continuous juggling of roles, expectations, and norms. Garments scattered around the stage are metaphors for the way in which identities are constructed, adapted and articulated. As the audience walks in, Kindred is wandering from pile to pile, selecting, putting on and taking off items of clothing with the timeless nonchalance of one accustomed to improvising; Judd is already exhausted by the process and is resting, camouflaged, on a pile of clothes. But not for long; soon dresses are pulled over their heads like playful tokens of subversion and liberation as they both drop on all fours and scamper around to Judd’s mix of Polish and English endearments until she screams and time comes to a deafening stop. As much a performance of rebellion as it is an affirmation of dogged persistence, aGender continues with the repeated rhythmical motif of falling and getting up, in which an endearing sense of mutual help and friendship develops between the two women that borders on the euphoric. The dancers pile layers on layers to the point they impede their movement; Kindred succumbs to the load, but Judd cannot help her: ‘I have to go,’ she says, ‘I have no time.’ Judd’s score, which acts like a ground from which the colours and textures emerge, now goes into reverse with a joint refrain from the two performers prefixing a familiar list of tasks for which they have no time, a refrain of the perpetual attempt to keep up with professional, domestic and social roles to the point of exasperation. While such a search for identity resonates with the history of feminism and established constructions of womanhood, the ambiguity of the final gestures — both achievement and exhaustion — suggests the struggle continues.  

Sigmund Freud’s formulation of the concept of trauma emerged from his observation of the belated psychological pain suffered by patients who had been involved in railway accidents that had caused them only minor concussions or injuries. In Fader, choreographer Parbati Chaudhury links questions around the persistence of pain with two emblems of modernity that are deeply implicated with colonialism — the system of railways and the discipline of psychoanalysis — and reinterprets them through kathak dance movement. In the opening, Meera Patel’s kneeling body sways forward and back as if on a journey; her hands move continually to a source of pain in her side until it resolves. The work is episodic, divided both into different states of pain by choreographic gesture and into different spatial areas by judicious lighting and haze. While there are some unresolved tensions between dynamic representation and static illustration, Fader is an evocative expression of trauma that Patel’s lyrical qualities, poise and acute musicality help to convey. She is helped by Jesse Bannister’s score, composed for sarod, guitar, and bass, on which she dances like an additional instrument, creating together a choreographic and musical journey of richly rewarding cross-cultural fertilization. 

Grand Gesture’s That Old Feeling introduces four ‘geri-anarchists’ — a new identity designation — who explore attitudes to ageing. The work examines the ambiguity of age between subjective sensation and societal expectation, throwing down the gauntlet in a riotous affirmation of the former. Depositing themselves centre stage in plastic bags at the beginning of the work, Mary Cox, Bruce Currie, Gilly Hanna and Andy Newman collectively embody the recorded litany of derisive epithets used to describe older people, from ‘old git’ and ‘duffer’ to ‘coffin dodger’. It’s a dark, hard-hitting image that quickly loses its satirical bite to self-mockery; the four geri-anarchists climb out of their bags in long white coats and subvert the lyrics of Guy Lombardo’s That Old Feeling by acting out the physical attributes of ailing. In the subsequent series of solos and ensemble numbers, however, subverting lyrics turns into subverting assumptions, no more so than in Currie’s enthusiastic belly dance number. The danger of using assumptions about age in order to flaunt them is that the manner of flaunting becomes a new meme that perpetuates the original assumptions. Cox breaks the mould by creating choreographic impressions of her memories, but within the piecemeal construction of the work, her subtle contribution is overpowered by the irrepressible desire of Grand Gesture to forcibly ‘shake off the cloak of elder invisibility’.