15th Cyprus Contemporary Dance Platform

Posted: March 28th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on 15th Cyprus Contemporary Dance Platform

15th Cyprus Contemporary Dance Platform, Limassol, Cyprus, March 6-8

The final scene in Harry Koushos' MAN-OEUVRES (photo: Arsham Rafiei)

The final scene in Harry Koushos’ MAN-OEUVRES (photo: Arsham Rafiei)

The Cyprus Contemporary Dance Platform takes place annually over three days, with fifteen main stage performances in the Rialto Theatre and four parallel events at Dance House Lemesos next door. The event is supported generously by the Ministry of Education and Culture to whom I am indebted for being able to attend.

Limassol is a city on the southern coast of Cyprus in which dance is flourishing thanks to the pioneering work over the last fifteen years of the Rialto’s former director, Georgia Doetzer and a stronghold of dedicated dance teachers. The platform is open to the public, the theatre seats 550 and is well attended.

The dance community in Cyprus is close, with choreographers sharing dancers as well as dancing for other choreographers. There is also a pool of dramaturgs, musicians and various designers of sound, lighting and costumes on hand to prepare new works for performance. There seems to be no hierarchy but rather a collective desire to develop the art form; for a relatively small community the variation in ideas and dance forms is diverse.

Two points of emotional contact on the second night set me free from any geographical limitation. One is the final tableau of Harry Koushos’ work, MAN-OEUVRES that brings to mind the laying to rest of five identical brothers-in-arms with their shiny metal shields on a field of smoke to a glorious anthem by Henry Purcell. The movement has finished, the brothers lie in a row and the smoke is dissipating, but the images keep rolling through my imagination as the trumpets ring out over the battlefield: Koushos has captured an essential element of theatre, that of making images of mythological proportions from the artifice of its components. When he can bring all the elements of a work to this level it will be stunning. The other is watching Julia Brendle in a work that begins from the audience and stays in the audience, appropriately titled within and between. It is a duet with Brendle on one side of the auditorium and Marios Konstantinou on the other; they never make it to the stage. It begins very naturally from the premise of self-consciousness at the moment the two performers identify and separate themselves from the audience in which they were sitting and make their way to their respective aisles. It is such a simple idea that takes self-consciousness on a journey from introspection and nervous apprehension to a joyous celebration of gesture that raises the audience to a moment of euphoria. The careful sound design by Panos Bartzis based on a MEW instrumental track supplies the musical structure on which the dance builds. Watching it is like watching a game of tennis, following the performers from one side of the auditorium to the other, but my eyes are focused on how Brendle’s movement spreads by degrees throughout her body and beyond without ever betraying the gestures from which it derives.

There is an interesting cross-fertilization between choreographers Fotis Nikolaou and Hamilton Monteiro. Nikolaou presents his work called Inland (in which both he and Monteiro dance) that derives its mystery and power from the decision to have each of the five performers wear the same masks (designed by Martha Foka). With the elimination of facial expression, it is the posture and gesture of the body that communicates and Nikolaou sets the tone with his initial appearance alone standing almost naked on a platform under top lighting. With the weightless articulation of a bird he steps off and back on to the platform to fetch one item of clothing at a time until he is fully attired. On the same program, Monteiro creates a solo for Nikolaou, Marika’s dress, in which he utilizes a similar quality of movement to depict a controversial society figure (I am relying on the notes) who reacts in solitude to his/her pariah status. Mariko’s dress is more delineated as a piece of dance theatre than Inland — for all its intricate details it is too much like a choreographic maze to be coherent to the end — but the quality of movement in both is distinctive.

Machi Dimitriadou-Lindahl’s Gate for three women and two men is a mature work that celebrates flowing dance movement with patterns of dynamic form and clear imagery linked to a powerful score (two works, by Dimitris Savva and Julia Kent). Dimitriadou-Lindahl heads one of only five dance companies in Cyprus, Asomates Dynameis (Incorporeal Forces/Angels) which she founded as a way of exploring through contemporary dance and martial arts the inner energy and presence of the body. Gate deals with states of consciousness and has the sensitivity of ebbing and flowing energy in the group that ranges from collapse to support, from alienation to spiritual consolation.

Three works share a predilection for stillness, even though their averred creative sources vary, respectively, from sound frequencies to Samuel Beckett to philosophy: Arianna Marcoulides’ solo, Stomach Rumblings, Elena Antoniou’s solo more and (most starkly) Roula Kleovoulou’s duet, Standstill. Each work raises questions about the treatment of silence and about its effect.

Marcoulides lies motionless on what appears to be a thin catafalque as if she is awaiting burial. The lighting by Rialto’s resident designer Aleksandar Jotovic is deliberately somber so we can see the transmission of a crackling green light over her body to which she reacts by slowly raising her chest and feet before shuddering faintly and returning to the supine position. From a visual perspective this happens three times with minor variations but the concept, developed by Marcoulides and sound designer Panis Bartzis, is to relate sonic frequencies to their physiological effect on the human body. This discrepancy between visual and conception means either the science is simply more accessible in the reading than in the images Mercoulides chooses to give us, or the science is a shield for something more mysterious and unspoken to which she is not yet ready to give form.

Antoniou’s more is also divided into three distinct phases: as we enter the auditorium she is standing statuesquely on stage in a black leotard, kneepads and socks. She doesn’t move except for the infinitesimal impulses in the body that manifest in her torso down to her fingers. The kneepads give away Antoniou’s intention to descend to her knees which is a contradiction; the beauty of stillness is in not knowing what, if anything, will succeed it. The light fades very slowly to blackout and when it returns suddenly in full force Antoniou is on her way down to the floor. Interestingly she uses a sketch drawing of a figure by Francis Bacon as her program image; it is this fluid transition to an animalistic posture on her hands and knees that she captures though she doesn’t go for the tortured image of Bacon’s figure in which there appears to be a naked light bulb suspended above it, as in a squalid chamber. Antoniou’s floor movement eschews animality, deriving its form from the stomach or solar plexus with her head restlessly thrashing from side to side, but this doesn’t have sufficient force to justify the descent. She drags herself forward on a diagonal path but stops to stand, quite still, as before. This pattern is repeated with variations twice more until she takes off her socks and steps out of it, as if out of Bacon’s frame.

When the curtain opens on Kleovoulou’s twenty-minute duet, Standstill, there are two standing figures (Arianna Marcoulides and Milena Ugren Koulas) in close proximity and they don’t move for what seems the longest time; my first concern is that the music cue has failed. Ugren Koulas is looking out beyond the audience and Marcoulides is drilling her eyes into the side of her head expecting her to respond; she doesn’t. Panayiotis Manousis limits his lighting to the two faces thus concentrating the intimacy of this standoff but when Marcoulides inclines towards her partner/adversary the lighting opens up to the full stage and the tension starts to dissipate. An offstage fan ruffles the costumes and then stops. Marcoulides fixes her eyes on her partner as she sways like a heavily weighted pendulum, building up a tension that is oppressive, but it is not she who releases it: it is Ugren Koulas who begins to laugh. Suddenly the standoff that has kept the two women and the entire work together becomes meltdown as Marcoulides is reduced by slow, calculated degrees to a wounded, hysterical figure shaking uncontrollably. As soon as she stops the lights drop to black.

On the first night Zoe Georgallis presents For your entertainment only… in which she dances with Konstantina Skalionta and Typhaine Delaup. The work romps through the question of an artist’s identity without really addressing its serious, sometimes tragic nature, so the humour lacks depth (which is what gives it its bite). There is lots of movement referencing flappers and cabaret, but like the humour it lacks context. It is no wonder the disembodied voice of the choreographer as God is not sympathetic.

A trenchant and altogether darker treatment of the dual nature of existence is Alexia Nicolaou’s I will dark you down. I love the quote from Nikos Kazantzakis that headlines her program note: “What is light? Staring with a fearless eye into the darkness.” Nicolaou writes in a highly physical, visceral language that takes I will dark you down to the edge of madness but the distinction between light and dark is not always apparent even though she separates them by using Roza Maria Pantzis as her demonic alter ego. The dark side is well expressed but I am not sure by the end if Nicolaou has developed that ‘fearless eye’ or if her alter ego has got the better of her. One great asset of I will dark you down is the live soundscape by Dimitris Spyrou who transforms an array of found objects into a spooled orchestra of sound.

Vicky Kalla presents Big laugh for ever on which she collaborated with co-dancer Yoav Greenberg. Despite its title, this is more of a playful young love ritual than a big laugh and it is tinged with a sadness, or loss of innocence (symbolized by the pile of hats Greenberg loses one by one to Kalla) that saves it from being cute. There is a third character who sits from beginning to end on the top of a ladder with his back to us. We never see his face but we can see he is writing on a laptop. If he is the author, and Big laugh forever is his story, I don’t know what he adds to the performance; if the dance is his stream of consciousness, it is implicit in the dance. Now if he could cross out a phrase or sentence and rework it, his participation would warrant his inclusion in the work.

Alexandra Waierstall’s Lightless is, according to the program, part of a choreographic study that will lead to a full evening performance to premier in Dusseldorf in the fall, which makes it perhaps two stages away from completion. Nevertheless its otherworldliness is covered by Waierstall’s description of it as ‘minimal science-fiction with humans, plants, objects and feelings.’ The setting appears to be the stage itself after the audience and stagehands have left, a murky lifeless scene but for the spectral presence of Waierstall among several potted palm trees, scattered stage lights, electric fans and three microphones on stands. Fotis Nikolaou and Harry Koushos constitute the human element, the one moving low and stealthily around the stage, the other lighting him with a hand-held lamp but with very little to suggest any emotional relationship between the two. It is as if Waierstall is manipulating her elements — human, vegetable and mineral — to generate arresting images that derail our search for narrative and leave us finally to ponder the sound of the fans blowing the suspended microphones recording the swaying palm fronds: a storm of perception that ‘questions the relationship between man and the environment, ecology and theatre, archaeology and future utopia, the visible and invisible.’ There is clearly more in the description than is contained in this segment of Lightless, so it will be the Dusseldorf audience who benefit from its full evolution.

Konstantina Skalionta’s In the likeness of… is a compassionate observation of the complex relationship between mother and daughter. Ten minutes is not enough time to delve deeply into the relationship but Skalionta conveys her sentiments succinctly in a series of images that flow easily from one to the next. She is helped by Bea Bonafini’s fine red costume that embodies maternal love in the form of a womb and umbilical chord by which Typhaine Delaup emerges from under its voluminous folds. This is not a beatific vision of motherhood — Skalionta doesn’t shy away from the daughter’s struggle for independence and the cat fights — but it does celebrate it in a heartfelt way. She also links the work to her own childhood by singing a traditional Cypriot lullaby which is then taken up by Irma Vastakaite on violin. By the end the roles of mother and daughter seem to reverse but it is ultimately the umbilical chord that draws them together and erases any differentiation.

Alexander Michael’s Diluted Intentions is perhaps the first neo-classical dance inspired by grant applications. The set is a permutation of a chessboard with black and white squares on the floor and corresponding grid-like variations projected on the backdrop. The white squares on the floor turn out to be sheets of paper representing the grant application form whose wording appealed to Michael’s sense of humour, or to his sense of the absurd. Official documents can do that, but he appears to have navigated them well enough to be included on the platform. Diluted Intentions also refers to the nature of the creative process: ‘The artist, who claims to create a work that reflects society must embark on a creative process during which the artist, being open to intuitive choices, inevitably discovers new intentions during this process, resulting in Diluted Intentions.’ So while this is cerebrally a work about funding applications, the choreography explores a strategic game — something between chess and hop scotch — for four dancers, Julia Brendle, Rania Glymitsa, Dara Milanovic-Michael and Alexia Perdikakis, in which they watch each other intently before deciding on their next move. The footwork is fast and the lines long, but the gestures are what distinguish the work, especially in the extended improvisation by Brendle at the end.

Gestures are what bring the platform to a close in Happiness by Milena Ugren Koulas in which she performs with her husband, musician George Koulas. The program note relates the title to Aristotle’s philosophy of happiness, but looking at Ugren Koulas’ dance as language, happiness is a physical condition in which the body is a finely-tuned instrument of expressive power that the dancer can ‘play’ for the benefit of self and others. It is therefore fascinating to see the interplay between dancer and musician — Koulas on drums and singing — in which first one and then the other take the lead until they are both performing in rapturous harmony, a tour de force of gesture and percussion.

During the three days of the platform there are two parallel events at Dance House Lemesos. It is a studio and performance space set up in 2007 by five Cyprus-based dance companies with a common vision to create a structure that would allow dance art to develop on the island and also act as a portal for international collaborations and exchange. There are four performances staged in Dance House and the intimate, relaxed environment is ideal for them.

Take a marble torso of a young maiden from the archaeological museum and bring her alive with a piercing gaze, expressive limbs and a red bonnet and you have an idea of Aneesha Michael’s hauntingly serene presence. Her Quest is performed in a metaphorical landscape of a whitewashed block of four miniature steps and a small pile of talcum powder. The negotiation of these steps represent the obstacles Michael challenges with perilous equilibrium (she is not dissembling but presenting herself with problems of balance that she then resolves) and the powder that releases its particles and fragrance into the air as she passes with swirling patterns and fluid arm gestures is the transfiguration of her experience into mystical delight. Quest is a work whose qualities are invested in the performer; Michael is, as a colleague suggested, as much a medium as a dancer, channeling values that seem to come from somewhere beyond our mundane experience. Consciously or unconsciously we are all on this quest; Michael in her unornamented simplicity is showing us the way.

Another refreshing work in Petros KonnarisNude Tree that is the most honest expression of the nude body I have yet seen. In a round table series of introductions on the opening morning of the Platform, he says he dances without clothes because he simply loves to be naked and it is this enthusiasm and lack of artifice that makes his work so engaging. Through careful manipulation of his body — he maps his way around the floor, usually upside down, with his hands and feet like a cartographer’s calipers — he creates forms that reveal the body, particularly his back, in startling beauty and yes, there are similarities between his upturned torso and supporting arms to the trunk of a tree. The latter part of his work is more playful but could be interpreted as a statement of his choice to be naked. His pants and shirt lie on the floor and he sets out to superimpose his body on first the pants and then the shirt, without ever putting them on. Lying on his back he lifts the hems of his pants in his prehensile toes so they fall over the contours of his legs then joins them meticulously to his shirt. He finishes by defiantly screwing up both into a ball with his feet and walking off the stage into the sunlight outside.

Evie Demetriou was pregnant when she created the duet Double Days (a term that refers to the ‘workload of men and women who work to earn money, but also have responsibility for unpaid, domestic labour’) and it is the experience of motherhood that not only links the three women — Demetriou herself and performers Milena Ugren Koulas and Rania Gymitsa — but informs the creative process. Questions about the female body, about desire and sex after giving birth, about husbands (‘they are all beautiful….from a distance’) are all exposed through graphic demonstration, satirical text and Ugren Koulas as radio commentator fielding listeners’ accounts of sex in extraordinary places. Double Days is framed in a highly physical language that puts the female body into the role of commentator, heroine and victim but it clearly derives its significance from the context of feminist politics, albeit of a good-humoured, non-judgmental variety.

The final work of the parallel events is a work in progress by Harry Koushos, the time quality. It continues Koushos’ exploration of the visual and aural qualities of thin metal sheeting. In his MAN-OEVRES he uses the same metal sheeting to create a thunderous interlude that we hear from behind the stage, but here the dancer is only ten feet away. At the same time Koushos projects images on to the metal sheet, abstract when it is at rest and a series of buildings raining down when the sheet is in rapid motion. The dancer, tall and thin like Koushos himself, makes his elongated way around the stage on variations of all fours, followed by another dancer lighting him with a mobile stage light. Both sound and light have a harsh, apocalyptic quality that is not expressed to the same degree in the movement. As in MAN-OEUVRES, Koushos is searching for a complete scenographic expression in which the dancers play a visual role.