Dam Van Huynh, In Realness, Rich Mix

Posted: August 2nd, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dam Van Huynh, In Realness, Rich Mix

Dam Van Huynh, In Realness, Rich Mix, May 14

Dam Van Huynh, In Realness, Tomasso Petrolo
Tomasso Petrolo performs in Realness by Dam Van Huynh (photo: Rocio Chacon)

Picture Tommaso Petrolo standing in a white leotard on the bare stage in Rich Mix nonchalantly holding a black rubber tyre on one side. And as we are watching him in the silence, he is watching us, intently, one by one, switching focus in small degrees like a bird. He keeps his gaze on one or two — friends, perhaps — with a faint smile of complicity. We are also watching with growing intrigue how choreographer Dam Van Huynh is handling the beginning of his new work, In Realness. The image of Petrolo is stark yet alluring, brash yet modestly restrained. It’s an anomaly of muscular energy and macho posture in balletic guise, masculine yet feminine at the same time without being camp. To instruct such an image to move would be to disavow its carefully conceived ambivalence. Van Huynh resolves the issue by choreographing for Petrolo’s voice rather than for his body, and once his voice is set in virtuosic motion, the body becomes its natural corporal partner. 

That Van Huynh gives the voice such preference in a choreographic work is because In Realness is his attempt to make the body an instrument of rhetoric, the classical study of the persuasive and expressive forms of language. Here, the ‘logos’ is provided through a script; Van Huynh’s authorship is shared through the creative team of Ian Tang (composition), Patricia Roldán Polo (lighting) and Emma Lyth (costume), and the emotional charge is derived through the medium of Petrolo’s performance. 

Van Huynh’s script, made available to the audience, is a wide-ranging collection of citations from poets and activists who have inspired him, from Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau to Audre Lorde, Alok Vaid-Menon (ALOK) and Pussy Riot. In an interview Van Huynh conducted with Grace Nicol about the genesis of In Realness, he says he wanted ‘to create a body of resistance against oppressive norms and behaviours and to amplify our resilience. As a queer Vietnamese artist, I began the research commenting on gender politics and sexuality but as the work developed it became a larger symbol for inequality experience by many groups.’ 

The directness of the selected citations is already a powerful argument. Words may sit immobile on a page but they can excite movement in the brain. Walt Whitman’s appeal from Leaves of Grass to ‘Resist much, obey little’ contains a world of anti-establishment sentiment, while Audre Lorde’s admonition from Learning from the 60s is an irrefutable statement to the disenfranchised: ‘We share a common interest, survival, and it cannot be pursued in isolation from others simply because their differences make us uncomfortable.’ Pussy Riot loads the satire of its lyrics to Organs with punk aggression: ‘…bodies, bodies, bodies, My pressey replaced his dick with an ICBM. Freedom and bondage is the same shit now…’ ALOK’s advocacy of ‘an interconnectivity of not having to formulate your body as a pre-existing algorithm or equation’ is a key argument of Van Huynh’s questioning about sexuality and gender that initiated his research. And in terms of an overall call to freedom from any form of oppression, Thoreau’s famous quote is added to the script: ‘The best form of government is no government at all and that is what we’ll have when we are ready for it.’ 

The voice is a physical organ that sits somewhere between mind and body; Van Huynh choreographs for both with such force that Petrolo’s performance is exhausting and uplifting at the same time; his verbal acrobatics and the sheer energy with which he delivers his texts in various states of balance is prodigious. He manifests strength, power, and engagement as qualities that are shared with the qualities of the text. But it is the force of Petrolo’s exposition that we remember, its repetitions and intonations, rather than the clarity and continuity of what he says. Hence the importance of the script as a reminder of the work’s genesis. In Realness is the manifestation and release of Van Huynh’s built-up resistance but the vital path of its process is subsumed in the sound and fury of its performance. In Realness has all the essential elements of rhetoric — its argument, its authorial credibility and its emotional appeal — but the co-mingling of the three is not fully realised or focused. It chases its own tail in spectacular fashion while fragments of its cohesion tend to fly off at a tangent. But later, in the silence, when we put all the pieces back together, we find there is nothing missing. 


Compagnie Niya, Gueules Noires, Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells

Posted: July 23rd, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Compagnie Niya, Gueules Noires, Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells

Compagnie Niya, Gueules Noires, Breakin’ Convention, Sadler’s Wells, April 29, 2022

Cie Niya, Gueules Noires
Valentin Loval in Gueules Noires (photo: Belinda Lawley)

Opening the Sadler’s Wells Breakin’ Convention program, Compagnie Niya presented Geules Noires choreographed by the company’s founder Rachid Hedli. ‘Gueules noires’ is a French slang term for miners, but it has a double meaning: coal soot as a physical characteristic is conflated with the slang term ‘Pieds Noirs’ designating the North African origin of many of the miners. Hedli knows what he is describing because he grew up within a mining community: his late father — to whom this work is dedicated — worked in the declining years of the Nord-Pas de Calais mining basin. 

Founded in 2011, Compagnie Niya comprises four dancers of North African heritage — Abderrahim Ouabou, Jérémy Orville, Valentin Loval and Hedli. Gueules Noires is Hedli’s first work for the company, constructed as a lyrical valedictory to his father as well as a choreographic treatment of the physical and social conditions of the mining environment. Lurking in the background is the broader issue of France’s post-colonial immigration policy, of which his father and Hedli have first-hand experience. While the politics are implicit in the subject, the emotional charge of the work derives principally from the love and respect Hedli feels for his father. His more objective view of underground working life, the camaraderie between the miners, and the relationships between them and their bosses, appears in the details. 

Hip hop is not an intrinsically narrative form of dance; it began outside in the street as a competitive display of virtuosity among and between individuals. Its origins are also closely related to rap music. Contemporary forms of hip hop retain both these elements —rap music and virtuosity — in varying degrees, but Compagnie Niya here eschews rap and uses hip hop as just one element in its narrative structure. Hedli’s choreographic language identifies strength, precision and rhythm — vital elements in working a coal face — while his theatrical elements — set, lighting and sound — suggest the underground environment. It is indicative of this experiment in fusing hip hop with narrative that the two strands remain parallel throughout, never quite merging; if you were to take away the contextual imagery from the hip hop sequences in Gueules Noires they would be a display of virtuosity, closer to their street origins.

The imagery of Gueules Noires is articulated in Sébastien Pouilly’s sound design and Matthieu Maniez’ lighting of the (unattributed) set. Pouilly uses a rumbling, subterranean soundscape while Maniez uses shafts of light to isolate characters and to delineate space. The set can be divided by light into an antechamber where the miners change into their working jackets, the mining face itself or a narrow precinct in which a violent confrontation takes place. For more intimate gatherings, Romuald Houziaux plays his own compositions on an accordion. 

But even if Hedli’s hip hop sequences don’t merge choreographically with the narrative elements, they function in a cinematic sense, like sound on a film reel: Hedli has the theatrical maturity to be able to layer all the elements of the performance to form a highly integrated whole. At times the dancers’ actions come into vivid focus, as in the dramatic dance of the miners’ head lamps, or in the scene of violent, stone-throwing resistance to the management. At others the choreography, sound and light act together in unison to create the images we see. Whether highlighted or integrated into the narrative, the dancers display a sincerity in how they perform — not outwardly to the audience but focused inwardly on the content of their work, linking their movement with elements of the aural and visual environment. One senses that all we see and hear, with its beginning and end, has been going on and will continue to go on whether we are watching it or not; this is the illusion of a continuum that Hedli effectively creates. 

The one overt reference to migration is in the ritual building of a small hearth at the end of Gueules Noires which is both poignant and ambiguous: does it represent the making of a home in a new country (assimilation) or a longing for the original home (national identity)? Compagnie Niya, as well as its language of hip hop, is similarly in the process of integrating itself into the French — and increasingly global — cultural environment. Hedli and his colleagues are very much in the present, using theatre as a powerful means of both remembering the past and imagining the future. 


Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas, Mystery Sonatas/For Rosa at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: June 16th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas, Mystery Sonatas/For Rosa at Sadler’s Wells

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker/Rosas, Mystery Sonatas/ for Rosa, Sadler’s Wells, April 12, 2022

‘…If ever any beauty I did see, Which I desir’d, and got, t’was but a dreame of thee.’ John Donne, from The Good-Morrow

De Keersmaeker, Mystery Sonatas
Mariana Miranda in Mystery Sonatas/For Rose (photo © Anne Van Aerschot)

It takes someone of the sensibility and maturity of choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker to make a suite of dances from the Rosary Sonatas of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. I had never heard them before seeing De Keersmaeker’s Mystery Sonatas/For Rosa at Sadler’s Wells, but they have since become essential listening. It is as if dance, in making music visible, allows it to enter the brain at double strength. 

The Rosary Sonatas are a rigorous series of 15 short sonatas for violin and continuo Biber composed around 1676 to accompany the devotional rosary procession. Their performative structure is divided into three groups: five joyful, five sorrowful and five glorious sonatas, and they are crowned with a final passacaglia for solo violin, played in this performance in a recording by De Keersmaeker’s long-time collaborator, Amandine Beyer and Gli Incogniti. The sonatas’ spiritual purpose is co-mingled by Biber with bravura scordatura playing for the solo violin — Biber was a virtuoso of the instrument — that gives them an equally powerful physical and emotional dimension. By entering Biber’s sonatas through choreographic pathways, De Keersmaeker updates and refreshes his devotional music with subtle layers of cultural references that through the dancing body place it firmly within a humanistic tradition: a meditation on the strength and frailty of our senses, of our environment, of our being. 

What makes theses sonatas a natural fit for choreographic treatment is that Biber wrote into them such popular dance forms as the gigue, allemande and courante. De Keersmaeker evidently finds in the fluent mathematical and musical elaboration of Baroque music the space in which to weave her own dance phrases; by the same token, Biber’s music possesses an inherent choreographic promise, which De Keersmaeker allows us to sense by playing one of the sonatas in full while the dancers lie still on stage. She is also confident enough to play a musical joke on Biber by interpolating a recording of Lynn Anderson singing, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden in an explosion of rose light, a bold yet subtle resonance that shocks while keeping on message. 

At the very beginning, two dancers stand at the front of the stage, one whispering to the other a secret whose significance is marked by Minna Tiikainen’s flash of lightning. What follows is their secret that we view through the frame of the stage and through the bodies of the dancers: the essential nature of resistance along the spiritual path of exaltation, suffering and sublimation. As the brief program note states, ‘The dancing body, as an individual or a community, becomes an act of resistance, while Biber’s music, rich in virtuosity and narrative, opens a door to it.’ De Keersmaeker underlines the theme by dedicating the work ‘to women of resistance — Rosa Bonheur, Rosa Luxemburg, Rosa Parks, Rosa Vergaelen and Rosa, the 15-year-old climate activist who died in the Belgian floodings of 2021.’ As a corollary, one of the sonatas is a solo for Rafa Galdino costumed in the colours of Ukraine. 

Tiikainen’s lighting dreams up a space that removes the theatre’s frame. Before the performance starts we can discern a strip of metal hanging in the darkness like the silver cowling of a jet engine. When light is reflected against this subtly turning or twisting Möbius-like strip, it creates a universe of light and shade that evokes, along with its atmospheric haze, the ethereal mysteries of a religious ritual. Fauve Ryckebusch’s costumes merge into Tiikainen’s light, softening the edges of the dancers with transparent material, and add to it by picking out colour highlights that give the stage the appearance of a borderless, pastel moving image. 

The dancing is not virtuosic in technical terms, but it is superbly musical; this is the element that unites the performance. Instead of us watching the dancers moving, De Keersmaeker allows the music and the choreography to move us through the dancers. In a reverential gesture of reciprocity, De Keersmaeker in Mystery Sonatas/For Rosa opens a door to Biber’s music but turns it into the tide of her parallel conception of resistance. Throughout this extended meditation lies a reality beyond what we can see; a discursive dance traced in rose petal patterns that is at the same time a reminder of those mysteries that inform our humanity in the midst of a global existential crisis. Mystery Sonatas/For Rose is profoundly attuned to our time. 


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 William Forsythe Evening

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

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

English National Ballet, ENB, William Forsythe
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.