Double bill of HARLEKING and The Passion of Andrea 2 at The Place

Posted: April 30th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Double bill of HARLEKING and The Passion of Andrea 2 at The Place

Double Bill: HARLEKING, and The Passion of Andrea 2, The Place, February 26

The Passion of Andrea 2, Simone Mousset
Luke Divall, Lewys Holt and Mathis Kleinschnittger in The Passion of Andrea 2 (photo: Lydia Sonderegger)

Both works on this program weave the power of laughter into contemporary forms of tragedy. In HARLEKING, Ginevra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi use silent laughter as a mimetic trait related to, but abstracted from, Italian Commedia dell’Arte; laughter is the physiological subject the two performers employ in a form disengaged from its underlying affect. With eloquence, intensity and riveting mimicry they present their manipulation of gesture knowingly, from states of innocence to underhanded treachery. The work does not set out to achieve historical context; as Panzetti and Ticconi explain, ‘it is reminiscent of the Grotesques, ancient wall decorations, in which monstrous figures emerge and blend in with elegant ornamental volutes’. It is this duality of monstrosity and elegance that suffuses their performance; in their black costumes against a white floor and backdrop under Annegret Schalke’s lighting, Panzetti and Ticconi accentuate gesture, creating the impression of two metamorphosed gargoyles on a night out from their cathedral perch, displaying a detached emotional behaviour derived from centuries of inanimate observation. Demetrio Castellucci’s sound interpolation further wraps the visual imagery in readings that alternate between teasing playfulness and psychotic malevolence. 

Constantly playing on the idiom of ‘falling about laughing’ or ‘dying of laughter’, Panzetti and Ticconi adjust the semiotic relationship of laughter to danger by subtle variations. In a central section of hypnotic gestural play, the appearance of a fascist salute appears as little more than a beguiling sign among others, while towards the end of the work, the transformation of a loving embrace into a murderous grip loses the emotional intent between the signifier and what is signified; in each case it is left to the audience to feel the chilling effect.

While HARLEKING is a spectacle in the traditional proscenium perspective, Simone Mousset’s The Passion of Andrea 2 defies any traditional mould. Mousset has suggested the work describes an inability to grasp the confusion of current events and the consequent suspension of belief in personal agency. Negative space is difficult to frame, and the first impression of The Passion of Andrea 2 is that it has no point of reference; its action is set in a timeless present that has no past (despite the indication of a sequel) and no future. Lydia Sonderegger’s large inflatable sculptures suspended above the stage lend credence to an imaginary dreamscape in which arbitrariness weighs heavily. The first indication of human agency is the improbable appearance of three hapless characters, costumed and bewigged in triplicate, wandering aimlessly as if afflicted with debilitating fatigue. It is immediately apparent from their gestures and mimicry, however, that the absurdist tragedy is being undermined by consummate humour. When they greet each other with an auspicious display of energy we learn they are each named Andrea and their past is now revealed in a favourite trio they attempt to remember.  

Mousset aligns the role of her three Andreas — Lewys Holt, Luke Divall and Mathis Kleinschnittger — with the Shakespearean jester whose artful clowning camouflages a disturbing reality. In their state of constant fluidity, the only anchor the Andreas have is their relationship to the audience, but even here its nature is ambiguous. They dissolve us in laughter with their absurdities and by involving us in their deadly competitive games, but there is a sense that Mousset is using them to hold up a mirror, that the work exists only in its ability to draw us into a state of reflection she wants us to share. Perhaps in our era of blatant political opportunism and misinformation absurdity is not so much a subversive antidote to the dis-ease of individual helplessness but a way of understanding it. 

From its initial manifestation in 2018 at Touch Wood, the enlargement of The Passion of Andrea 2 with a substantial musical element and Sonderegger’s set, costumes and wigs, has lost nothing of its original affect. In mixing theatrical genres, Mousset has enhanced the absurdity at the work’s core with a tonic of choreographic, musical and textual play that is disarmingly funny in inverse proportion to the darkness of its inspiration. 

Towards the end, following the Shakespearean demise of all three Andreas, Mousset introduces an epilogue in which sound designer Alberto Ruiz Soler is spirited on to the stage to explain, through a commentary by the resurrected Holt, that what we have just seen is in fact The Passion of Andrea 1 and that its sequel is about to begin. Soler dies, and the united Andreas climb into the audience singing a medieval round. 


Ian Abbott on aspects of masculinity in Hip Hop dance theatre

Posted: April 13th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Coverage, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on aspects of masculinity in Hip Hop dance theatre

On portrayals, examples and manifestations of masculinity in Hip Hop dance theatre, Spring 2020

Hip Hop Theatre. Botis Seva's BLKDOG
Shangomola Edunjobi in Botis Seva’s BLKDOG (photo: Camilla Greenwell)

This early 2020 reflection on portrayals, examples and manifestations of masculinity in Hip Hop dance theatre presented across England was originally going to be longer; I had planned to feature eight works presented in different part of the country — in itself an indication of the community’s rude health — that could inspire a wider conversation around similar themes. But with coronavirus taking hold of and effectively shutting down the social fabric, my plan has been reduced to four pre-coronavirus works: Caravan Social Night 7 – The Soulquariains Tribute Edition by Caravan/Chris Reyes at Richmix on January 25; Far From the Norm/Botis Seva’s BLKDOG at Warwick Arts Centre on February 11; Company Nil/Daniel Phung’s Blowin’ in the Wind at Richmix on February 14, and Let’s Shine Mentorship Programme presented by Just Us Dance Theatre at The Vaults on March 14. Those I was unable to include are Artists 4 Artists showcase in Gloucester presented by Strike A Light featuring Happy Father’s Day by Dani Harris-Walters; Fig Leaf by Joshua ‘Vendetta’ Nash, and Man Up by Kloe Dean on March 17, and Born To Manifest by Just Us Dance Theatre at The Courtyard, Hereford on March 26. 

There are a number of journal articles and books looking at masculinity, Hip Hop culture and dance; some of those that have informed my thinking are: Toby S. Jenkins A Beautiful Mind: Black Male Intellectual Identity and Hip-Hop Culture from 2011’s Journal of Black Studies; Sara LaBoskey’s Getting Off: Portrayals of Masculinity in Hip Hop Dance in Film from 2001’s Dance Research Journal; Mina Yang’s Yellow Skin, White Masks from 2013’s Daedalus, and Jessica Nydia Pabón-Colón’s Graffiti Grrlz published by New York University Press in 2018.

Sat amongst this, the Producer/Writer Tobi Kyeremateng (@bobimono) published a three-tweet thread on March 1 which feels more reflective of the dialogue, complexity and intersectionality currently in play at the edges of masculinity and race and although she wasn’t explicitly citing Hip Hop dance theatre it could be read in that way: 

“i’m more and more certain that i’m really not interested in creating or producing work on “the Black experience” that isn’t specific in its focus, pushes Blackness into a monolith or isn’t saying anything new or different or interesting. 
“afros, growing up in ends, road life, knife crime, Black girl magic, masculinity – all incredibly nuanced, but it doesn’t feel like artists are being challenged to push themselves to think about different and creative ways we can talk about these topics”
“also don’t care for respectability work either lol like two ends of the same spectrum”   

In early 2019 Botis Seva talked about the influence — on the early incarnations of his BLKDOG — of Sally Brampton’s compelling and graphic Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression; in it she charts reflectively a depiction of her own isolation, incarceration, addiction and patterns of repeated abusive behaviour (which feels even more resonant in our current situation). This book influenced some of the original thinking and continues to inform the choreographic axis of the now-70-minute version of BLKDOG, co-produced by Sadler’s Wells.

After winning the April 2019 Olivier award for the 20-minute version, the task facing Seva was to build, flesh out and construct this first of seven performance dates across England in Spring 2020; it is framed as ‘Botis Seva’s BLKDOG’ and not as authored collectively by his company, Far From the Norm. This foregrounding of founder and prominence of the auteur/creator/name is a growing London trend (hello Tony Adigun’s Avant Garde Dance and Luca Silvestrini’s Protein Dance) which in some way feeds a masculine ego — I don’t see Kloe Dean’s Myself UK Dance Company or Vicki Igbokwe’s Uchenna Dance — whilst backgrounding all the other people in the company who have fed into the process.

BLKDOG self describes as: ‘A genre-defying blend of hip hop dance and free-form anticsexploring the inner battlefield of an ageing artist trying to retain his youth. Performed by Seva’s powerhouse company, Far From The Norm, BLKDOG searches for coping mechanisms in the ultimate hunt for acceptance. Vital and gripping, BLKDOG is Botis Seva’s haunting commentary on surviving adulthood as a childlike artist.’ 

There are two tracts that BLKDOG explores; isolation as violence and, leading off from that, dance as violence on the self. A body placed in isolation deteriorates physically and emotionally; it fractures and is unable to heal. Shoot the Damn Dog offers an account of personal proximity to trauma, whereas BLKDOG offers an account of personal proximity to isolation. As an accompanying text — although Seva doesn’t foreground it in the programme notes or marketing copy — Shoot the Damn Dog is an illuminating portal for his thinking. With six dancers on stage (Jordan Douglas, Joshua Nash, Victoria Shulungu, Shangomola Edunjobi, Naima Souhair and understudy Hayleigh Sellors, who replaced the injured Ezra Owen with 24 hours’ notice), BLKDOG is a work of two states and two halves that is clearly still in progress; with a second half dressed in dinosaur onesies and crowns (courtesy of Ryan Dawson Laight) straight out of Where The Wild Things Are, the first half is visually reminiscent of fresh 1970s asylum threads with bespoke quilted hoods. 

Seva has honed and expanded some of the choreographic palette and visual devices (gun toting/pointing and the duckwalkesque ‘nibbles’ that scuttle) from Madhead, his commission for the National Youth Dance Company in Summer 2019. The first half is the foundation of the original Olivier award-winning work demonstrating some of Seva’s core strengths: building rich and interesting choreographic movements that challenge the preconceptions of the dancing body. I like this focus on the half space. If level 1 is work/bodies on the floor, and level 2 is full verticality, there are oodles of sequences where the dancers are existing at level 1.5, demonstrating a gluteal strength and a bodily duality that is neither one thing nor the other —  ready to spring or ready to collapse. It is this space that Seva likes to inhabit as he deflects choreographic boxes and boundaries into which his ‘free form antics’ do not neatly fit.

Long-term music collaborator Torben Lars Sylvester (Seva’s whole creative team is male apart from producer Lee Griffiths) spoke in the post-show conversation of the process of one-upping each other, finding patterns, inflexions and musicalities that the dancers could ride and that would in turn cause him to build extra tracks and layers into the score to create an additional mood for the dancers. Thinking back on the work three days later (when I wrote this and now six weeks later in revisions) I cannot recall the score or any of the emotional drivers behind it.

The proximity of choreographic isolation in both time and relationship for each dancer ensures they do not infect those around them; like a virus they remain immune to each other. There is no being influenced or influencing, and apart from the last 10 minutes when Jordan Douglas really shines brighter, hits harder and erupts, the cast of six are diminished and muted; either in their cumulative number or choreographic difference. We have six ones, rather than one six. 

If this is the first time you’ve seen Far From the Norm in a theatre — and for those non-London audiences it is quite possible — what you will encounter is a band of dancers who are fiercely committed and deliver a slippery blend of choreographic putty under the guidance of the good ship Seva. The first time you see a Norm it is refreshing; you’re in the presence of a set of dancers that don’t look like Hip Hop, don’t look like contemporary dance and don’t look familiar — they are defined by what they are not. Seva is isolating himself from easy choreographic definition and at the same time making a choreographic lineage hard to attribute or to see where the seeds of his influence(s) will fall next. 

Heavy is the Head is the last track before the show begins and Ultralight Beam is the first track after the no-bow; we have BLKDOG as the filling in a Kanye and Stormzy masculinity sandwich. However, having seen six of his works since 2015/16, including his break-out work Reck, it feels like Seva’s choreographic language is intact; he still has a knack of creating unusual moments, motifs and visual food, but (I may be incarcerated by my/his own expectations) five years down the road his ability to sustain interest, to shift a mood or shake a mono dynamic, to think of an audience as a complex layered entity able to receive multiple signals and modes of address, needs further development. He’s in his own suburbs. 

It’s worth reiterating that this was the first show of the tour that should (coronavirus permitting) continue touring into Autumn 2020, and as a work tours and beds in with new audiences it will shift and be modified. I look forward to meeting BLKDOG again at a later junction.

Presented and commissioned by Chinese Arts Now, Daniel Phung/Company Nil’s work Blowin in the Wind self describes as: ‘…a powerful and dynamic dance theatre piece addressing the complexity of the current patriarchal society, it challenges our perspective on ‘power’. Four characters who are forced to place their ‘power’ within patriarchy, use mind blowing Contemporary and Hip Hop dance (emphasis is mine) to take you through multiple episodes of masculinity: Sensitivity, emotion, conflict, aggression and adolescence. It is an emotional response to these following questions: What is masculinity? Does masculinity exist? What is cultural masculinity? Does cultural masculinity exist?’

This is the first full-length work Phung has created, and these are some large claims and questions he attempts to answer with four performers in several episodes over 50 minutes. Either the questions are so grandiose that they are impossible to answer or are so simplistic that we’ve heard them before. There are a few nice sketches and motifs — mainly featuring Fern Grimbley who has a physical elasticity and watchabilty that warrants a deeper choreographic challenge — but a tender wrestling duet in which two people try to wear the same jacket is indicative of Blowin’ in the Wind’s facile representation. It offers a 2D stereotypical masculinity that belongs in the Daily Mail with little thread or authorial commentary. Despite a couple of nice lift sections and a solo for Grimbley that showcases what a fine dancer she is, the visibility of a Hip Hop choreographic language is hard to find and the throwing of paper aeroplanes into the audience and inviting their return is a fine but shallow attempt at audience engagement. I find myself leaning back to what Tobi said earlier around a need for nuance: masculinity is a big word, with a set of expectations alongside it; it isn’t a monolith. A smaller, tighter focus is needed if Blowin’ in the Wind is going to add to any future dialogue around masculinity and Hip Hop.

The possibilities offered by the choreographic, masculine Hip Hop dance theatre body are numerous; it can be expanded, reduced, presented in binary or opposition, it can be fragile, in mourning and in so many other different states. Yet I find it hard to recollect a Hip Hop dance theatre work made recently that offers either a new narrative or an alternate angle on masculinity without relying on what Yang calls: “…overt displays of masculine swagger and power, and built on a value system derived from the streets of corporeal risk-taking, competitiveness, and improvisation.” I am left yearning for the complexity, prowess, emotional strength and honesty of Kloe Dean’s Man Up which I wrote about last year and now consider a yardstick for other Hip Hop dance theatre works. So far nothing has come close. 

Caravan Social Night 7: The Soulquarians Tribute Edition was an evening presented by Caravan — a project founded by Chris Reyes — which celebrated the legacy of artists J Dilla, ?uestlove, D’Angelo, James Poyser (all who shared the Aquarius starsign) and the wider 90s Neosoul movement. Although definitely not a Hip Hop dance theatre work in itself, Caravan Social Nights are primarily events and fundraisers for Reyes’ other Hip Hop dance theatre work; they are a place for some of the community to gather, to showcase and see peers exercise different creative muscles, inviting and encouraging acts to bridge music, art, dance and improvisation with all the rich pollination that comes from them.

Comprising roughly five 20-minute stage sets (with a drinks interval between each), live painting by Isaac Bonan and Gatien Engo and hosted by the triple threat Ashley Joseph, the luxurious opener saw L’atisse Rhoden slow jam to Marli Artiste’s vocals and Vicky ‘Skytilz’ Mantey on drums; next up was Ben Ajose-Cutting (aka Mr Ben of The Locksmiths) with a playful set where he would control the various instruments/band members (including Turbo on drums) by lightly stamping an imaginary start/stop button in front of each musician as he layered/stripped away levels of funk and lyrics to lock to. There were other sets featuring T-Boy and Inga Be with a New-Style Hustle partner duet leading into an improvisation with Dani Harris-Walters, a work from Reyes himself, and Boy Blue’s Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy topping off the night spitting J Dilla’s Pause with a trio of male dancers.

Caravan is without doubt a valuable space for some of the Hip Hop community; the event was slick, full of original content and one of the few places to see artists trying something different without the pressure of their own brand. There was a consistent acknowledgement of Reyes as the driving force and focus of the night, shouted out by Joseph as the man who got the funding and who made it happen (not the producer of the event, Emily Crouch). 

However, what I found strange was that Reyes had a ft. in all of the stage works as well as his own set, whether that was taking over as conductor in Mr Ben’s locking stamp band, dancing in Ken’s work or improvving during L’atisse’s opener. While there’s respect for Reyes having made the evening happen and for bringing people together, when is that line crossed? When does the consistent presence of masculine ego draw focus away from the other acts? What signals does the continued attempt to assert a veneer of alpha status send to the audience and participants? 

Do people in Hip Hop dance theatre really want to talk about masculinity? Do they see how some may be perpetuating problematic behaviours of masculinity? Are they able to engage in the complexity that surrounds the question? Or is it a shallow and facile fundraising hook on which to hang a set of technically adequate routines whilst looking winsome and drawing attention to themselves?

In 2013, Just Us Dance Theatre (JUDT) set up Let’s Shine, a mentoring project to empower young Hip Hop performers and provide them with tools and opportunities to develop as artists and individuals. In the latest edition of the programme (which runs weekly) ten young men aged from 16 to 23 have worked with Joseph Toonga and Ricardo Da Silva to create and perform a response — entitled Let’s Shine, like the project — to Toonga’s work Born To Manifest. Part of the problem of not having seen Born To Manifest is that I’m unable to gauge the success of this 40-minute response by the seven Let’s Shine dancers, but since the original was inspired by first person accounts of young Black men from across London, there are multiple things that need acknowledging in such a political and socially resonant work. The lived experience and racial profiling that young Black men in London face is radically different from any other cultural or racial group; in 2018 43% of the Metropolitan Police’s Stop and Search targets were Black people who make up just 15.6% of the London population. In the same report it said that the likelihood of Black people being stopped is 4.3 times higher than White people. In 2018, 76% of homicide victims were male, with 62% being of African-Caribbean heritage aged under 25, and in relation to victims of knife injuries under the age of 25, 455 were White and 1,370 were ‘BAME’. 

Sat alongside these statistics and lived realities, this 2017 study — Racial Bias in Judgements of Physical Size and Formidability — published by the American Psychological Association says: “Black men tend to be stereotyped as threatening and, as a result, may be disproportionately targeted by police even when unarmed. Here, we found evidence that biased perceptions of young Black men’s physical size may play a role in this process. The results of seven studies showed that people have a bias to perceive young Black men as bigger (taller, heavier, more muscular) and more physically threatening (stronger, more capable of harm) than young White men.” Toonga has himself received some highly problematic language in previous reviews of Born To Manifest, like “Toonga, an imposing presence who wouldn’t look out of place at the Rugby World Cup”, which again plays into the inflammatory stereotype that is perpetuated by the majority of the UK media. This is only some of the societal context within which this work operates.

Let’s Shine attempts to provoke, make us answer questions on our own biases and pose deeper questions about masculinity and power. We are presented with examples of choreographic contagion as one dancer emerges from the bunch, delivers a dance popularised by the video game Fortnite in a swift Tik Tok burst and suddenly all seven are mimicking, summoning up a collective energy. Then it disappears as quickly as it manifested, only to be replaced by another authored by someone else and repeated. This cycle is a fine demonstration of the difference in the behaviour and psychology of a man on his own — what he would/could do and what he can/can’t do in comparison to the behaviour of a group of men when they’re together.

Arnold Tshibangu is an absolute stand out fizzing with a performance magnetism, focus and an ability to draw and hold our attention when he is on stage, like an echo of a young Ivan Blackstock; previously he was Tin Man in the 2017 version of ZooNation’s Groove On Down The Road. The other performer that had a cleanness in execution and a barrelfull of energy was Musa Mohamed aka Moose; knowing that Born To Manifest is a duet, I’d be interested to see if the pairing of Mohamed and Tshibangu could step up to the full work at a later date.

Choreographically Let’s Shine cycles through Hip Hop and funk styles; the stage is peppered with krump jabs and oodles of pops and muscular contractions. Though technically it’s not the cleanest in execution, the musicality, the energy passed between them, the sweat and believability masks any technical deficiency in the wider cast. With some animal noises on the soundtrack mixed with gorilla vocal imitation by some of the cast, we see a relationship between the krump jab and the gorilla chest pound — but which do we see, Gorilla or krump? Violence or expression? Again, Toonga and Da Silva are playing on the edges of our assumptions/stereotypes to intelligent effect. Some of the chorus and crowd scenes were a little wafty, filling air, and were too much of a distraction to the solo/duet focus, but this is a minor quibble. 

In creating Let’s Shine — both the work and the wider programme — JUDT have created an interesting model that is asking socially relevant questions about masculinity using Hip Hop dance theatre. It is a soothing antidote to the growing number of over-produced Hip Hop dance theatre works that feeds us empty calories or fail to adopt a political position. I’m not saying that all work needs to be about something or answering a societal need, but if you’re making a work that is autobiographical, it does not automatically make it about masculinity or femininity. If you’re making something lighter, for entertainment purposes, ensure your intention is clear and let audience know.

It feels somewhat ironic that seven out of the eight works on my list were authored by men; is this an (un)conscious positioning, creation and affirmation of their Hip Hop masculinity in light of #MeToo and #TimesUp? Is it a bias and set of active decision making in programming by venues to present men over women? We know this is a consistent problem across the wider dance industry, including the work Sadler’s Wells and Breakin’ Convention choose to present and tour.

I see few attempts, inquiries or acknowledgements from the England-based Hip Hop Dance Theatre scene to engage with different types of masculinities that intersect with communities of disabled, trans, gay or femme artists. There are conversations happening elsewhere around Hip Hop and masculinity including the two Minnesotan rappers Kyle ‘Guante’ Tran Myhre and Tony The Scribe and their nine-episode debut podcast season of What’s Good, Man? which self describes as ‘a podcast on men, masculinity, and culture. Featuring two hosts who sharpened their analyses in the worlds of Hip Hop, cultural organizing, and movement-building, it’s also a response to a specific call: men need to speak up more about issues like consent, gender violence, and sexism, especially with other men.’  What England-based artists are currently dealing with is a very narrow masculinity; if they’d seen each other’s work they could have had an active dialogue or hosted a wider discussion around their thoughts on masculinity and its relationship to Hip Hop.


Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition at Sadler’s Wells

Posted: April 4th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition at Sadler’s Wells

Richard Alston Dance Company, Final Edition, Sadler’s Wells, March 7 & 8

Richard Alston Dance Company Voices and Light Footsteps
Jennifer Hayes, Niall Egan, Alejandra Gissler, and Ellen Yilma in Voices and Light Footsteps (photo: Chris Nash)

It is perhaps too soon and too delicate to unpick the accumulation of political and economic decisions that have led to the premature closing of such a renowned cultural entity as Richard Alston Dance Company. Alston has known for the past two years that ‘my Company simply could not continue beyond this Spring’, and for someone who admits to have been ‘entirely lacking in any sort of strategic plan’ over his fifty-year choreographic career, he has managed to end with remarkable prescience. The latest run of performances has finished just one week before Sadler’s Wells closure for (at least) the next three months to comply with the government’s guidance on containing the coronavirus pandemic. In the current climate, Alston’s company may well feel relieved that its calendar of adieux has been able to run its course and finish in style; if there is such a thing as a good death, this is it. For Alston, however, there is no intimation of mortality; on the contrary, in the last two years he has created some of his best work and has built his company to technical and expressive heights. 

This Final Edition is the last of several national and international performances by the company; the choice of program is as much a retrospective as a statement of current form. The earliest work is Isthmus from 2012 to the music of Jo Condo, followed by Mazur from 2015 to Chopin mazurkas played on stage by long-time collaborator, Jason Ridgway. Two younger recruits to the company, Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis, get inside the music and its relationship to the choreography to create an emotional portrait of elegance and close friendship. Three works on the program date from the past tumultuous year: Bari for the graduating students of Alston’s alma mater, London Contemporary Dance School, Voices and Light Footsteps and Shine On. First performed by the students at the Alston At Home program at The Place, Bari is inspired by the pizzica music of the Puglia region in southern Italy. Alston’s mastery of form and pattern partners the liveliness of the musical rhythms to create a gem of choreographic construction — not so much a translation of the traditional pizzica dance as a transposition of the earthiness in the music. Music has always been the motivation for Alston’s choreography, the source from which both the rhythm and the style of his movement arise. In Shine On, he returns to one of his favourite composers, Benjamin Britten, for the collection of songs On This Island set to five of WH Auden’s poems; they are sung by Katherine McIndoe accompanied by Ridgway. Alston enters the work through Britten’s joyous opening fanfare, but Auden’s pessimism casts a long shadow that Alston — as well as lighting designer Zeynep Kepekli — alternately rejects and absorbs, most poignantly in the central Nocturne where Niall Egan and Harriette express the pain of a love that must remain in the shadows. After this vein of darkness, Martin Lawrance steps in with his own contribution, A Far Cry, set to the elegiac Introduction and Allegro for Strings by Sir Edward Elgar. It is in effect a paean to Alston from the opening fanfare to its triumphant coda, embracing elements of his style within Lawrance’s own characteristic rush of energy. In the ecstatic entrances and exits there is a sense of a continuation well beyond the stage, embracing all that has gone before and all that is yet to come. 

In the final work, Voices and Light Footsteps, Alston transcends any sense of darkness by returning to another of his favourite composers, Claudio Monteverdi, and through the music to the early seventeenth century period in which he lived. Not only are there traces of courtly Renaissance dance in the work (it is dedicated to the memory of Alston’s historical dance teacher, Belinda Quirey), but emotions and virtues that have supported him through difficult times appear to be subtly embedded in the choreography. Each member of the company has their own light and colour but their individuality is sublimated to the harmony of the whole. Voices and Light Footsteps is spiritually uplifting and visually stunning, with costumes by Peter Todd under lighting by Lawrance; its central duet, danced on alternate nights by Monique Jonas and Elly Braund with Shikkis, is its crowning achievement. The work ends, significantly, with Monteverdi’s Damigella Tutta Bella, which Alston notes ‘is the earliest music I can remember hopping around to as a small boy.’ TS Eliot could have written the epitaph with the last line of East Coker: ‘In my end is my beginning.’

Dancers in Richard Alston Dance Company for this Final Edition: Elly Braund, Niall Egan, Alejandra Gissler, Joshua Harriette, Jennifer Hayes, Monique Jonas, Nahum McLean, Nicholas Shikkis, Jason Tucker and Ellen Yilma.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ian Abbott on Candoco double bill at Bristol Old Vic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Mess. a Manifesto

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

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

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

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


Viviana Durante Company in Isadora Now at the Barbican

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mette Edvardsen in Music for Lectures at Fest en Fest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Alina Cojocaru in Alina at Sadler’s Wells

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

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

Alina Cojocaru
Alina Cojocaru (photo: Moran Norman)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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