Marikiscrycrycry’s He’s Dead as part of Now 20 at The Yard

Posted: February 17th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Marikiscrycrycry’s He’s Dead as part of Now 20 at The Yard

Marikiscrycrycry, He’s dead, The Yard, February 8

He's Dead. Photo Elise Rose
Blue Makwana, Eve Stainton, Malik Nashad Sharpe and Gareth Chambers (photo: Elise Rose)

The predominant sensation of Marikiscrycrycry’s He’s Dead, presented as part of Now 20 festival at The Yard, is a density created not only by Jon Cleveland’s thick, blue haze through which we see the choreographed images but by the difficulty in teasing out the motif from its ground. Malik Nashad Sharpe is a cult figure in black/queer theatre where the body signifies both the subject and object of performance; joining them at The Yard in this blend of performance art and dance theatre are Gareth Chambers, Blue Makwana and Eve Stainton, all in Mia Maxwell’s fantastical costumes. 

He’s Dead is nominally about the rapper Tupac Shakur, aka 2Pac, widely respected for his stand on fighting inequality and discrimination, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles at the age of 25. Sharpe looks at the narrative of Shakur’s life and asks if he might have been depressed. ‘I think he was, and that isn’t a large part of the narrative behind his aesthetics and his work’, Sharpe explains to Thomas Stichbury in a recent Attitude magazine interview, ‘and I am curious about what that means to someone like me. I want to tease out and materialize a black aesthetics of melancholia and experimentation that allows for the humanity of the things I might feel, and on terms that are not fatal or voyeuristic.’ Sharpe’s form of theatre draws oppression towards them so they can transform it into a complex aesthetic of racial and gender vulnerability that allows them to question their own state of mind as a ‘shy, ambivalent, black femme choreographer’. In one of the more symbolic moments of He’s Dead, a banner with Zeinab Saleh’s portrait of Shakur painted on it is unfurled with Sharpe and Makwana as flag waivers on either side; it is an act of funerary veneration and at the same time one of transference from activist to medium.

Violence is never far from the surface of He’s Dead; its course travels between racial and gender discrimination, united in Sharpe’s body and those of their colleagues. In a scene where Chambers lands several punches on Sharpe’s defenceless body stretched up against the back wall there’s a suggestion of masochistic pleasure, followed by a fight in which a victorious Sharpe deposits Chambers’ body on the front of the stage. At the same time, Sharpe looks beyond violence to its resolution. In one of the most moving scenes, we see them muffled in a cloak with a light inside their cowl searching slowly and silently among bodies on the stage, an illuminated face searching for guidance from the dead. It’s as if somewhere deep in the haunting shadows lurk the figures not only of Tupac but of Yukio Mishima and Jean Genet. Soon after Sharpe shares a ritual cleansing with Makwana that has the sense of religious atonement.

In their desire to confer humanity on their own identity as black and queer, Sharpe creates a rich, almost mystical imagery that corresponds with the sound design of JONI, Joanna Pope, and ¥ummy Online; within this conceptual audio-visual space a dialectic between violence and forbearance is played out in real time. In the initial mix of hard-hitting rap songs, it’s as if we are hearing the music in Sharpe’s head — and perhaps in Shakur’s too; the songs are both the context and the narrative of racial discrimination. But as the work progresses, and the body becomes the context and narrative of gender discrimination, the music subtly changes to give colour and texture to Sharpe’s emotional journey; when they begin to sing before the ritual cleansing, music and the physical body merge. Sharpe comments to Stichbury in the same interview that they use an alter-ego ‘to perfect the practice of crying in front of people, little wails and shouts for one alienated motherfucker — wanting to be seen as human and more and not knowing why.’ Crying is a sign of humanity, of our awareness of beauty and of fragility, but it is too often the abrupt effect of violence, which smothers both. Allowing themself to cry is Sharpe’s defence against the ever-present possibility of violence, but in the creation of He’s Dead they raise the act of crying to a polemical confrontation without its maudlin connotation. As the publicity material states, ‘He’s Dead sheds tears for the things that we cannot unearth.’ The long silence after the performers have left the stage is perhaps an unconscious acknowledgement of what still lies beyond our reach. 


Resolution 2020: Dylan Poirot Canton, SBB Dance, The Follow Through Collective

Posted: January 25th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution 2020: Dylan Poirot Canton, SBB Dance, The Follow Through Collective

Resolution 2020: Dylan Poirot Canton, SBB Dance, Follow Through Collective, January 21

Resolution 2020, 14.06.17, Grenfell Tower
Tyler Jones-Holbon, Beth Veitch, Ashleigh Kinchin and Sasha Vallis in 14.06.17 (photo: Dougie Evans)

The starting points for this evening’s trio of works are fundamental to the health of a society: family, housing and environment; they collectively throw out questions on life and death while leaving the answers to float. Dylan Poirot Canton’s Father’s Flower is a psychological portrait of ‘what it means to live up to a father’, SBB Dance’s 14.06.17 explores the stories around the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and Follow Through Collective’s 1 Click Away examines packaging waste in our online economy. All the works have a keen emotional sensibility towards the subjects they confront, but ironically choreography sometimes gets in the way.

Of the three works, Canton’s is the most intimately geared to the body, through which he experiences and explores the complex relationship with his father; he merges choreography with film, timing his entrance to a grainy moving image of a distant memory. He also uses his voice, but the clarity of words is at times sublimated to the colour and texture of emotion; it’s both frustrating (not understanding what he is saying) and moving (in the way his emotional utterances merge with his movement). Nevertheless, there are a couple of audible maxims — ‘A winner never quits and a quitter never wins’, and ‘Don’t hit a man when he’s down’ — that serve as a gauge of tough love. Father’s Flower is improvised, and the intent of Canton’s portrayal is vivid enough to imbue his movement with a search for form rather than for resolution. 

In 14.06.17, Shaquille Brathwaite-Blaggrove quickly and effortlessly enters into the horror of the Grenfell Tower tragedy through haunting, in situ recordings of witnesses to the conflagration; his focus is on the absence of bodies, and any choreographic image is up against the unequivocal horror of this stark reality. One that succeeds is Sasha Vallis repeatedly miming the opening of a door; it’s a simple, everyday gesture, but superimposed on the sound of the Grenfell Tower flames it is an eloquent portent of disaster: inhabitants on the upper floors were told by the fire department to remain in their flats, and to keep the doors shut. Brathwaite-Blaggrove also delves into a caricature of then prime minister Theresa May’s reaction to the tragedy; it is crude but it works because there is an element of truth to its twisted satire and because dramatically it removes us from the scene to concentrate a justifiably angry focus on the government’s calculated inaction. Where Brathwaite-Blaggrove weakens his otherwise inspired treatment of the disaster is in the choreography for his quartet of dancers; it seems to come directly from the studio with little bearing on, or relation to, the depiction of tragedy.  

Last year at Resolution, Greta Gauhe presented Drowning, an imaginative polemic on marine pollution; this year she is back with another environmental rant, albeit light-hearted, on cardboard waste: 1 Click Away. The approach is to let the boxes do the talking, and Gauhe’s choreography for her four dancers is focused on enhancing their eloquence. But in making the inanimate boxes the principal characters, 1 Click Away inevitably implicates not only their warehouse sorters, packagers and dispatchers, but also the shoppers whose collective proclivity for online purchases has clicked up a proliferation of cardboard waste. 1 Click Away is not self-righteously didactic but Gauhe gently eases the audience into participation and self-awareness at the beginning of the work by asking them to pass boxes from the back of the auditorium down to the stage, where Marta Stepien unpacks them and discards the containers. The other three performers rush to organize the boxes into a giant wall of cardboard. All that Stepien retrieves from the boxes are four t-shirts printed with work-ethic mottos that the dancers put on; they are now Make History, Work Hard, and Have Fun. Gauhe’s t-shirt is imprinted with the Amazon smiley. All four disappear behind the carboard wall and burst through it, redistributing, rearranging and rebuilding the boxes, which is the active choreographic task of the entire work. An inspired piece of theatrical anarchy is to pile up a line of boxes to block the view of the front row of the audience.  

In its absurd and whimsical treatment of an environmental hazard, it is a shame 1 Click Away could not have been paired with Alka Nauman’s Be Fruitful & Multiply at Chisenhale in December; both works give the audience room to reflect on a topic that, thanks to the other Greta, is continually challenging us to rethink our environmental choices.


Neus Gil Cortés’ reworking of Quimera at Jacksons Lane

Posted: January 11th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Neus Gil Cortés’ reworking of Quimera at Jacksons Lane

Neus Gil Cortés, Quimera, Jacksons Lane, October 19

Quimera, Neus Gil Cortés
The cast in Quimera (photo: Dan Welldon)

Choreographer Neus Gil Cortés is adept at creating works of rich imagination that rely on a heightened visual quality; this performance of her Quimera at Jacksons Lane is a re-working of an earlier version. In its first iteration, Quimera was a new departure in that Cortés took on aspects of theatre and circus to tell a story, based loosely on Miguel Cervantes satirical novel, Don Quixote. Using an actor — Sarah Dowling — in the central role supported by circus artists (Delia Ceruti and Nich Galzin) as well as dancers (Cortés and Daniel Phung), the production suffered from the physical integration of circus paraphernalia like the German Wheel which appeared awkwardly out of scale. In this reworking, Cortés has not altogether disentangled herself from the initial framework, but she has managed to integrate it into a surreal landscape, drawing her ideas together into a dream-like narrative reminiscent of Cervantes’ novel. The achievement is as much cinematic as choreographic; she has extended her visual sense with superimposed images that, by colouring the narrative, provide not only motion but emotion. Within this dynamic scheme, even the imposing presence of the German Wheel has found its place with multiple significations. 

In Cervantes’ novel, the bandit Roque explains to Don Quixote his way of life, which is not unlike that of a reconstructive choreographic process: ‘Now I am in, I must go through; one sin draws on another in spite of my better designs; and I am now in such a chain of wrongs, factions, abetters and engagements, that no less than the divine power of providence can free me from this maze of confusion. Nevertheless I despair not still of a successful end of my misfortunes.’         

It may well have been the divine power of providence that helped Cortés rearrange Quimera, but there is perhaps a more pragmatic reason: because she was pregnant with her first child, she took herself out of the original cast (she is replaced by Chiara Corbetta) and assumed a more directorial role; instead of being in the film, she has placed herself both behind the camera where she can reimagine her material, and in the cutting room where she can edit it.

The arc of Quimera moves from the rhetorical to the mythical, beginning in the audience where Dowling sits before getting up to wonder out loud what being a hero means, what it is like to be someone who believes they can change the world. Stepping on to the stage she enters the world of illusion in which her own heroic journey is to play out. The program note describes her as ‘a retiree named Quimera’ whose working life is reflected in the opening mechanical routine of office workers sitting in a row of imaginary desks. It is staged at the speed of a time lapse with accelerated entrances and exits without pause for reflection. In a blackout we hear a door closing and silence; it is only in her tiny room that Quimera counters the ticking clock with her own expanding sense of time. She tidies her clothes, places a bucket under a leak, and looks at herself in the mirror. She picks up a book, puts it down, and is on the point of leaving when we see a man with a backpack passing by; Cortés is beginning to choreograph the inside of Quimera’s head which becomes a phantasmagoria costumed brilliantly by Clara Pinto and her assistant Isabelle Innocenzi. A performer crawls on stage with a baguette in her hand, and an interlocked couple attempts to kiss; there’s a conga line and a religious procession with a statuesque Madonna that clears the way for the entry of Galzin and his German Wheel as a windmill. Quimera fights it with her baguette and ends up trapped inside as it lies on the ground. Tempted by sirens on ropes, and carried off by bandits, she bravely fights back only to watch recent events rewind like a film until she finds herself once again in her room.

Just as Dowling began in the audience, so now members of the audience walk on to the stage, bringing time back to the present and dispelling the illusion. Quimera/Dowling as antihero laments this world is not easy for an idealist, but Cortés — along with set designer Francesc Serra Vila, lighting designer Jordi Pérez, composer Nick Murray, and the two costume designers — has fought for her choreographic ideals and won the battle of Quimera. Now she is free to begin a new adventure.  


English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire at London Coliseum

Posted: January 11th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire at London Coliseum

English National Ballet, Le Corsaire, London Coliseum, January 9

Le Corsiare, ENB
Francesco Gabriele Frola and Erina Takahashi in Le Corsaire (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Handsome pirates and beautiful slave girls are the stuff of classic Hollywood films, where sensual aesthetics and genteel bravado were the prime movers of the plot and the prime interest in seeing them. Byron’s poem of 1814, The Corsair is a forerunner of this kind of blockbuster myth making, while Byron’s life might serve as its primary source. Anna-Marie Holmes’ production of Le Corsaire for English National Ballet, recreated from the ballet of Marius Petipa as notated by Stepanov in the collection of Konstantin Sergeyev, could well be a portrait of the passionate life, loves and political causes of Byron himself: a flamboyant adventure story, a stage full of virile men and exotic women, a deferential slave and a satirical portrait of a licentious Pasha. That the plot of the ballet and that of the poem diverge on so many details except the geography and names is the fault of the libretto for the 1856 Paris Opéra production of Le Corsaire by Julies-Henri de Saint-Georges and Joseph Mazilier. Subsequent productions in Russia by Jules Perrot and Petipa maintained the outline of the plot while revising the choreography, but as Jane Pritchard points out in the program, the provenance of this production gets more complicated. The well-known Le Corsaire pas de deux is neither Perrot nor Petipa but is based on a 1915 pas d’action by the St. Petersburg dancer (and teacher of the young George Balanchine), Samuil Andrianov. Like the life of Byron, this ENB production of Le Corsaire is a rich synthesis of influences. 

Bob Ringwood’s sets and costumes effortlessly bridge the poles of Hollywood cinema and Byron’s Ottoman exploits with dreamy textures, colours and vistas — including a wonderfully romantic vignette of a front curtain and a smokingly erotic opium apparition in the Dream section — while the composite score, tirelessly excavated from the work of ten composers by ENB Philharmonic’s music librarian and cellist, Lars Payne, and seamlessly reconstructed by conductor Gavin Sutherland, embraces the range of emotions that unfold on stage. Nothing would be seen without Neil Austin’s lighting which not only enhances the textures of Ringwood’s stage but highlights the narrative with its own arsenal of dramatic effects. 

This rich tapestry, however, is not unproblematic. In fact, how are we to approach Le Corsaire? Its orientalism is evident because the ballet is riddled with cultural tropes and stereotypes; we cannot change the attitude of a historical work, but it can certainly illuminate our current references. One might take issue with Holmes’ decision to turn the character of the Pasha from Byron’s villain (as portrayed in Russian productions) to Michael Coleman’s portrayal of a ‘doddery old, fat fool’ to balance the drama with some lightness; the balancing works, but the characterisation is gratuitous. Wherever the Pasha is involved, the ballet turns into a pantomime, but Coleman plays up his role so well that our enjoyment makes us oblivious of our own attitudes towards ‘the other’. 

Slavery is also an issue that looms large in a contemporary viewing of Le Corsaire; although it continues to play an insidious part in our society, its treatment in Le Corsaire masquerades as the objectification of women. While the male characters are involved in adventurous exploits, the female roles are featured choreographically as forced auditions for the Pasha’s harem or as apparitions in his opium dreams; while the women are on show, the men are showing off. 

What remains beyond the cultural and ethical considerations of the ballet is the impressive quality of ENB’s dancing. Due to illness, this evening’s principals Erina Takahashi as Medora and Francesco Gabriele Frola as Conrad had been called on to replace Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernandez on the opening night. Having also danced the dress rehearsal, the additional strain of a second consecutive night shows through at times, but Takahashi’s exquisite refinement and Frola’s expansive enthusiasm create a convincing rapport. Daniel McCormick, in serene and impeccable form as Conrad’s loyal slave, Ali, brings the house down in the second act pas d’action and Junor Souza’s effusive energy as the slave trader Lankendem extends to his spontaneous mime; the other men could learn from his clarity. The lyrical Emma Hawes is a melancholy Gulnare for whom the impetuous Henry Dowden as Birbantio takes a shine, and the steely self-confidence of Katja Khaniukova shines in her odalisque variation. Continuing its run until January 14, there are still plenty of opportunities to appreciate the myriad details of the production and the diverse qualities of subsequent casts.


Unbaptised Infants: TRACKS at SET Bermondsey

Posted: January 3rd, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Concept, Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Unbaptised Infants: TRACKS at SET Bermondsey

Unbaptised Infants, TRACKS at Bermondsey’s SET, December 14

Tracks with Lorea Burge and Hannah Parsons
Lorea Burge and Hannah Parsons in TRACKS (photo: Montserrat Ventura)

Every now and then a performance comes along that stands out for its originality and integrity; the choreographic and musical material formed into TRACKS by Lorea Burge and Hannah Parsons of Unbaptised Infants, is one. It takes place at SET Bermondsey, site of a former paint factory, that has the air of a counter-culture space; an assortment of chairs, cushions and wooden benches define a concrete performance area with a speaker in each corner, and a couple of microphones with a loop station at the front. Behind the audience are a couple of tables, one displaying explanatory material for the performance — from handwritten poems in notebooks to copied pages from a book on the poet Emmett Williams — and the other a bar: tea before the performance and mulled wine after. 

Since February Burge and Parsons have been preparing material for their ‘album’, which is the kind of gestation period a band might have; because of funding constraints, small-scale dance works are often completed in two weeks, but Unbaptised Infants is entirely self-funded. Without suggesting this route to creative endeavour is sustainable, it bravely and resolutely affirms the artist’s need for time in order to explore new ideas and to bring them to fruition rather than being boxed in by a funding schedule. The venue’s guardianship scheme also helps. ‘SET is a multifaceted arts and community initiative based in numerous centres across London, curating an eclectic and experimental arts programme alongside affordable artist workspace…in otherwise vacant property, some temporary and some long term.’ Burge and Parsons plan to tour TRACKS to similar alternative spaces for which their growing archive of material can be adapted.

Both artists have worked with Joe Garbett, another choreographer with a wealth of non-conformist ideas and an ability to translate them into sophisticated, pared-back, idiosyncratic work. The qualities that unite them all are intelligence and wit, and a knack of digging down into the infinite potential of human creativity and coming up with something that makes you scratch your head in admiration. Their work is an antidote to choreographic complacency, and in an era where grants are hard to come by, they take nothing for granted. 

The birth of TRACKS began in creative limbo in 2015, when Burge and Parsons began to write poems under the spell of the poet Emmett Williams. This led to experiments in movement and sound, using the rhythms and intonations of poetry to influence movement and the substitution of notes for words to make songs. In addition to being ‘passionate about rhythm and in complicating things’, Burge and Parsons then appropriated rituals and laments in their research with the aim of evoking ‘catharses of joy, of celebration, and commonly, just rituals of getting on with things, finding ways to create momentum.’ As Burge notes grimly at the beginning, the element of lament has taken on a new significance following the recent election; TRACKS is a concept album that has arrived at the very moment for which its creative inspiration and resilience are most needed.    

Employing an economy of means consistent with the times, there is no musical accompaniment that is not created in situ by the voices of the two performers, either spoken, sung a capella or processed through a loop station; costumes are also minimal: fuschia tracksuit tops under matching dungarees. The ten tracks cover various permutations of poetry, song and movement presented with a sense of lightness that belies not only the increasing complexity of formal interactions but the precarious political underpinnings of the venture. Burge and Parsons present the first half of the album as a selection of short tracks on the theme of community and creative resistance. In Nearness, they roll together from opposite corners of the stage to form an interconnected, interdependent sculptural entity from which emerge vocal harmonies that join and collide, merge and diverge in shades of light and dark before they roll back to where they started. Melody Free has an austere, almost monastic a capella quality, while the third track is a poem, Request, that is as bright as it is surreal; Chance Dance is a unison duet that is both earthy and uplifting.  The second half of the album develops the same themes with increasing poetic, musical and choreographic complexity; we are drawn into this odd universe and find ourselves marvelling at its craft. It doesn’t take much to unite us at the end, circled around the stage, to sing the refrain of an earlier song, Why Oh Why? 


Dance Umbrella 2019: Out of the System Mixed Bill at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Posted: December 27th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2019: Out of the System Mixed Bill at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Dance Umbrella 2019: Out of the System – Mixed Bill at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, October 22

Out of the System, Jonzi-D, Aeroplane Man
Jonzi-D in Aeroplane Man (photo: Chris Nash)

Out of the System is a guest-programmed section of Dance Umbrella; for the past three years it has been curated with characteristic flair by Freddie Opoku-Addaie who described it in 2017 as ‘the presence of diverse dance cultures within vocational and non-vocational structures outside the regular framework of dance presentation’. Two years later Out of the System has worked its way into the system with the Big Pink Vogue Ball at Shoreditch Town Hall and a mixed bill at, and presented in partnership with, Bernie Grant Arts Centre. With five artists over four works, the mixed bill consists of small-scale works with large-scale themes of identity and racial politics that Opoku-Addaie characterises in public transport terms (influenced by his commute on a No. 26 Routemaster bus between Waterloo Station and Hackney Wick) as telling ‘complex journeys that are routed in the shared struggle, continuous stop/start but dealt with a crafted overview of human fortitude.’

Theo TJ Lowe (THÉO INART) has worked with Hofesh Schechter and Akram Khan, among others, and this shows in his compelling presence on stage in his solo, Fragility in Man – Part 1. He makes his entrance through the doors of the theatre on to the stage that resembles a bare waiting room with three chairs; ill at ease, he takes a seat like a patient waiting to be examined or, more ominously, a suspect about to be interrogated. There is something simmering or explosive in his succession of halting gestures and periods of stillness that respond to human commands, the barking of dogs or the cocking of a gun. The trauma of past violence extends out from behind his eyes to land somewhere on a vertical plane between us, like a two-way mirror; he shines a light on the audience but sees only his own reflection. Even behind a superhero mask he cannot hide his vulnerability because he is turned inside out; when he exits through the same doors he entered, he leaves behind him the fragile landscape of his being. 

Like Lowe, Becky Namgauds turns herself into an exhibit, Exhibit F, tracing figures back and forth across the stage with her swirling, naked torso and long hair like a brush gradually filling in the paper with lines and colour. She is not so much building up a figure — the space is not like paper and releases the image as soon as it has passed — so much as laying down her emotional ground in repetitive patterns. What is exhibited and what is not is the constant issue in Exhibit F in which costume, movement and Michael Mannion’s lighting are fluid factors. Namgaud’s work, according to the program, deals with ‘recurring themes of feminism, femicide and the environment.’ There is no object in Exhibit F; it is its own constantly transforming subject. 

Breaking the solo format, Ffion Campbell-Davies enters at the start of Beyond Words, vocalising high on the shoulders of Tyrone Isaac-Stuart while he blows a cool saxophone below. Beyond Words questions the framework of a colonial approach to black dance through ‘a journey between two people communicating matters of the heart’. Beginning as a procession, it disintegrates to the sound of machinery into images of physical oppression and struggle that lead to questions of self-worth and respect. Campbell-Davies and Isaac-Stuart confront a broad canvas of history and social significance, from ancestry and tribal affinity to the idea of home, with a sense of residual frustration. At the end, perched once again on Isaac-Stuart’s shoulders, Campbell-Davies asks the audience, ‘Who are you standing on?’ It’s a question, ironically, that Opoku-Addaie’s curation over the last three years has set out to answer. 

Jonzi-D’s Aeroplane Man, created in 1999 ‘but sadly still resonating today’, is founded on a similar frustration but ends in a more measured affirmation. His finely-honed parable of identity and cultural politics pulls no punches and makes its point in keen satire and brilliant mimicry. Born and bred in the East End of London, he is both pilot and passenger traveling in his Adidas trainers to search for his ‘own country’ at the unceremonious urging of one of his white colleagues. His air miles take him from Grenada (‘my mother’s land, not my motherland’), to Jamaica, the Bronx and Zululand, but wherever he lands he finds he is not quite genuine enough. With the running refrain of ‘Call up Mr. Aeroplane Man, Yeah Man, Yeah Man’, he returns to London to discover ‘this brown frame has found his name.’ 


Helen Cox, Bodies in Space at the Bloomsbury Festival

Posted: December 25th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Helen Cox, Bodies in Space at the Bloomsbury Festival

Helen Cox, Bodies in Space, Bloomsbury Festival, Goodenough College, October 13

Bodies in Space
Natasha Arcoleo, Jordan Ajadi and Andrew Oliver in Bodies in Space (photo: Liz Gorman)

Dancers are often urged to ‘explore space’ in class, but choreographer Helen Cox has taken this encouragement far outside the walls of a studio in her new work, Bodies in Space, at the Bloomsbury Festival. Teaming up with composer Dougie Brown, she has choreographed a trio to the sounds of the stars. Actually, as Professor Fabio Iocco clarified in a post-show talk, we can’t hear the stars because there are no molecules in space through which sound can vibrate, but there are recordings of light emitted from stars far beyond our solar system captured by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. What Brown has done is to take two available sources of this data, mapped their topographical qualities and then processed the results with reverb and granular synthesis to produce what to the layman’s ears is the sound of the stars. It’s not quite as catchy as Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive, but all the more affecting for being close to the real thing. Adding movement to this sonic sense of mystery, three dancers — Natasha Arcoleo, Jordan Ajadi and Andrew Oliver — move with planetary suspension through a subtly darkened space in a hall of London House (part of Goodenough College in Bloomsbury), displaying in equal measure both a resistance to, and a celebration of gravity. Having seen Cox dance previously, this is the way she moves, but while Bodies in Space is the first time she has remained on the outside of a creation, the transposition clearly has not affected her choreographic intuition.

The audience is seated on four sides of the open floor, delineating the physical perimeter of the hall but not limiting the kind of spatial universe the dancers imagine as they ease slowly around and in between each other maintaining contact through slender wooden batons stretched between their index fingers with just enough pressure to keep them in place. It’s like linking stars with lines to make a classical astrological figure, but the stars are constantly moving; a dancer may drop a baton but the elastic geometry of the trio is simply suspended until the baton is retrieved and replaced. 

It’s the first of a series of choreographic ideas Cox created during an intense two-week period in the studio, in which she plays with the central axis of body movement that arises from stillness and silence. Against Brown’s otherworldly soundscape there is a stealth in the dancers’ articulation, a feline quality that is a mark of muscular control and articulation. Exploring this further in a series of duets, trios and inter-related solos, Cox is clearly inspired by the subject and its intimate relationship to dance; her imagery weaves celestial figures with choreographic form. Arcoleo’s solo starts with swirling circular patterns within the body that expand out into the curvature of the trunk and limbs, while Ajadi seems to flow through the ether, measuring space with his hands in a fluid articulation that knows no boundaries. After a trio in which the dancers move in orbits around each other, Oliver’s solo conjures up the smooth working of an exploratory space arm extending from the fulcrum of his shoulder. They are all visual ideas that have a natural coherence, and in combination with Brown’s soundscape and the sombre lighting of the hall, Bodies in Space gives a corresponding impression of suspended time.

With such a short period of gestation — all too frequent in the socio-political context where space and time equal money — it is such a pleasure to see the distance travelled from Cox’s initial movement ideas in a studio to the outer reaches of the universe and back to this Bloomsbury Festival venue in the heart of London. 


MuzArts Triple Bill of Clug, Cherkaoui and McGregor at The London Coliseum

Posted: December 23rd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on MuzArts Triple Bill of Clug, Cherkaoui and McGregor at The London Coliseum

MuzArts Triple Bill of Edward Clug, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Wayne McGregor, The London Coliseum, December 7

MuzArts McGregor Mugler Clug Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Edward Watson and Olga Smirnova in McGregor + Mugler (photo: Sasha Gusov)

The second London program from MuzArts is a triple bill comprising the choreographic work of Edward Clug, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Wayne McGregor. In terms of dancers it’s a mix and match program with principals of the Bolshoi and Mariinsky working alongside first soloist Katja Khaniukova from English National Ballet, principal Edward Watson of the Royal Ballet and five dancers from SNG Maribor Ballet. 

Radio & Juliet is Clug’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s tale in choreography and film to a selection of early songs from Radiohead; the play on words in the title points to the emotional core of the work and indicates its primary perspective. In this version, Juliet has not taken her own life but is slowly piecing together the emotional turmoil of the recent tragic events. Using three sections of film to contextualise and weave the narrative together, Clug begins with a hand-held sequence — accompanied appropriately by Radiohead’s Motion Picture Soundtrack — that enters a palatial apartment to find Juliet in a black bodice lying alone in a rumpled bed. There’s a flashback of an angry argument, perhaps with her father, before she sits in front of the window to contemplate. Her thoughts find form in Clug’s fast-paced and clinically precise stage choreography. A procession of six men dressed in dark suits with jackets open over bare chests introduces the cast of characters without identifying them, though Mariinsky principal Denis Matvienko’s muscular presence and technical proficiency signal him out as Romeo while the identities of the others are suggested through their subsequent actions. Khaniukova takes her place in this macho environment as Juliet herself might have done, her stage character portrayed in controlled, physical sensuality and in her headstrong determination to follow her heart. This is where Radiohead’s playlist gets under the skin of the entire production; Clug’s choreography, Tomaž Premzl’s lighting and Leo Kulaš’ costumes all combine to visualise the visceral forces of jealousy and hatred that tear relationships apart, while the music provides an emotional anchor inside Juliet’s head that holds them together. Towards the end the camera revisits Juliet’s apartment; still in her black corset she is lying in her bath with eyes closed, remembering Romeo’s final moments that she plays out briefly on stage. The camera remains for a last wistful look around the empty rooms before leaving by the way it had entered. 

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun features Bolshoi Ballet principals Anastasia Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin in this tale of sexual arousal that Vaslav Nijinsky first choreographed in 1912 to Claude Debussy’s score, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, after the poem by Stéphane Mallarmé. Cherkaoui uses the same score with additional musical inserts by Nitin Sawhney. As Lopatin’s appearance in the Zakharova program showed, he has a fine classical technique but in Faun he undresses the classicism for a more pliable, plastic form, providing a poignant reminder of Nijinsky’s own chameleon propensity. In the opening solo Lopatin’s body exudes the lecherous and lascivious passions of the faun in the narcissistic, introverted enjoyment of movement and space. When Stashkevich arrives on stage, as imagined in Hussein Chalayan’s pastoral tunic, she looks more chaste but the subsequent rapture of the choreographic language blends both bodies in a shared jouissance.

Wayne McGregor claims responsibility for choreography and direction in the world première of McGregor + Mugler, while Manfred Thierry Mugler takes on the art direction and costume design. It is the latter that predominantly occupies our eyes while McGregor’s choreography — never strong in classical content or partnering — succeeds in making Edward Watson and the Bolshoi’s prima ballerina Olga Smirnova look as if they are performing a pastiche of an under-rehearsed pas de deux to tracks by Holly Herndon and Nils Frahm. While Watson is clearly not at his best, Smirnova is at the height of her career but she has trouble emerging from McGregor and Mugler’s framework. Mugler’s design of the flesh-like bodysuits, face masks, top knots and various reflective helmets, breast pieces, cod pieces, shin pads and amulets, effectively hides the dancers, and by making the masks so indistinguishable from their faces — certainly from a viewpoint halfway back in the stalls — we see no difference when they ritually exchange them. Perhaps that’s the point. The sophistication of Lucy Carter’s lighting is caught up in the pretension of its context, contributing to a spectacle in which the dancers are unwitting appendages to the hubris of its creators. 


A politically correct Nutcracker for the end of 2019?

Posted: December 17th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Concept, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A politically correct Nutcracker for the end of 2019?

A Politically Correct Nutcracker for the end of 2019?

Nutcracker backdrop
Nature’s backdrop for the first act Snow scene from Nutcracker (photo: Glenn Jacobson)

With the waves of the debate on political correctness in ballet whipped up in a storm of indignation, perhaps it’s time to change the scenario of one of the more controversial productions. For example, the national characteristics Marius Petipa chose to portray in Nutcracker, which no doubt had their special significance in the Imperial Russia of 1892, correspond remarkably well to the current political landscape for which Tchaikovsky’s score might once again be appropriated. 

Petipa did not choose to portray the English in Nutcracker, possibly because the country at the time did not have a tradition of classical ballet. That, of course has changed, as has the recent political climate in the country. The first act of the ballet is set at a merry Christmas party in a wealthy family home. Given the Christmas present we have received in the election, it is tempting to see Boris Johnson in the patriarchal role with his latest paramour entertaining his Conservative friends while Etonian schoolboys run around creating mischief with their toy trumpets and miniature JCB diggers. Jeremy Corbin is in the avuncular role of Drosselmeyer who gives Clara the magic gift of speaking truth to power. Armed with this incalculable gift, Clara, who grows up to be Greta Thunberg, defeats the forces of Machiavellian duplicity and in the transformation scene the Christmas tree grows and multiplies as a symbol of reforestation. However, the melting ice caps of Lev Ivanov’s snow scene at the end of Act 1 are a stark reminder of the current state of our natural environment. 

Traveling into the second act on board her tiny carbon footprint, Clara visits first Spain for the climate conference and then some of the more flagrant polluters: Russia, China and (Saudi) Arabia. Three of the divertissements from the original second act are thus accounted for — along with possible lead roles and narratives — without the need for cultural exaggeration. The European community is the network of 28 (at this time of writing) countries under the skirts of Mother Ginger Brussels while the Mirlitons as the LGBTQ+ community continue campaigning for human rights. Clara has one last dream of saving the planet in a Waltz of the Flowers seen through the eyes of Extinction Rebellion before the Grand Pas de Deux features the President and First Lady of the United States against a backdrop of Thunberg as Person of the Year on the cover of Time Magazine. 


Greta Gauhe and Alka Nauman at Chisenhale Dance Space

Posted: December 17th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Greta Gauhe and Alka Nauman at Chisenhale Dance Space

NOWhere & Be Fruitful and multiply at Chisenhale Dance Space, November 30

Alka Nauman, Be fruitful and multiply
Leilah Simone Williams, Keity Pook, Lucie Palazot and Shum Pui Yung in Alka Nauman’s Be fruitful and multiply (photo: Anna Jockymek)

As the first of two works on this evening’s program of new choreography by Greta Gauhe and Alka Nauman at Chisenhale Dance Space, Gauhe’s NOWhere is a timely examination of ‘issues of racial and sexual discrimination and harassment.’ Gauhe has taken an autobiographical approach to structure the personal narratives of her dancers from four different countries on two continents, who express their stories through spoken word and dance. Dance theatre is the performative equivalent of mixed media or collage in the visual arts where one medium is juxtaposed with another so as to bring out a new meaning or metaphor in the whole. What Lloyd Newson’s verbatim theatre or Luca Silvestrini’s confessional theatre — not to mention Pina Bausch’s tanztheater — have all shown is how spoken word and dance can strengthen each other to create dramatic, sometimes surreal scenarios that express ideas physically, visually, intellectually and emotionally. In NOWhere, however, the notion of juxtaposition is replaced by a convergence between dance and spoken word that unfortunately blunts the impact of both; the stories don’t stand out as much as they should, and the dance is lost in trying to frame them. Through this subtle transfer of focus, even the sinister signification of the naked light bulbs at the beginning becomes an artful approach to lighting by the end. Between the ‘hostile environment’ of the current government and the #MeToo campaign, stories of racial or sexual discrimination and harassment need to be called out with a force that arouses our sense of outrage and empathy; resistance to the established order is one of art’s primary functions. In its urgent call for action in the present time and place, NOWhere needs a stronger emphasis on the stories at its heart; they are too often inaudible through a problem either of acoustics, of weak diction, or of voices having to compete with Andy Trewren’s electronic keyboard accompaniment. 

It is difficult to know if Alka Nauman’s Be Fruitful and multiply is a polemic or a paean. Lying somewhere between the two, ‘the piece focuses on the ambiguous nature of plastic bags, on their elegance and ugliness…to reveal the absurdity of our attitude towards the environment.’ Nauman’s adoption of the absurd as a creative tool (it comes as no surprise that she cites the support of Eva Recacha) reveals its purpose in destabilising our response to the work, but the integrity of conception is such that this disruption is what makes it so effective. The stage is set with a tableau of four languidly posed women — Lucie Palazot, Keity Pook, Shum Pui Yung and Leilah Simone Williams — on one side in pastel t-shirts and pants and a pile of blue plastic bags on the other. Staring out over each other into the infinite distance, the four women inch their way in silence towards the pile with calculated reserve and control, creating bemused tension by maintaining the direction of movement while eliminating any sense of motive. When they reach the bags and start to explore their buoyant, pliant qualities in slow motion caress, the previous action is resolved but the future course of the work is once again in question. In Nauman’s absurdist construction, the negative environmental connotation of plastic bags loses its signification to one of aesthetics; the four women pose, balance and swing the bags like weightless jewellery on their arms and heads. They continue their reverie — with ever serene nonchalance — in padding their t-shirts with the bags, distorting their bodies to a bloated caricature, and later drawing them out as if by surgical procedure. By confounding reverence for the environment with devotion to one of its principal pollutants, Nauman satirizes our blindness to ecological destruction. The silence finally breaks with a recording of Antonio Vivaldi’s Sileant Zephyri that is itself a musical fragment mourning the death of Christ and its effect on nature. The four women, with their heads covered in plastic bags, are poised individually in a final tableau. As they each lip-synch the recitative (sung by counter tenor Philippe Jaroussky accompanied by Ensemble Artaserse), a sense of calm descends, with only Yung’s hands and fingers showing any vestige of life. 

‘Let the winds be hushed, 
let the fields freeze,
the flowers and leaves will not
be drenched with the water they love. 
With the river dead
even the moon and the sun 
will be deprived of their own light.’

(Translation from the Latin by Pietro Lignola)