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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mette Edvardsen in Music for Lectures at Fest en Fest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Alina Cojocaru in Alina at Sadler’s Wells

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

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

Alina Cojocaru
Alina Cojocaru (photo: Moran Norman)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Bluebeard at Sadler’s Wells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ian Abbott on H2Dance’s Fest en Fest at Laban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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. 


Ballet Icons Gala at London Coliseum

Posted: February 5th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Gala | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ballet Icons Gala at London Coliseum

Ballet Icons Gala, London Coliseum, January 26

Ballet Icons Gala
Lucía Lacarra and Matthew Golding in Finding Light (photo © Anne-Sophie Bonnet)

The Ballet Icons Gala, presented by Ensemble Productions at the London Coliseum, is celebrating its fifteenth year; for lovers of dance, it is an annual feast for the senses with thirteen works and twenty-six dancers to savour. The gala is founded on the symbiotic nature of ballet icons; choreography, whether classical or contemporary, becomes iconic through performance, and dancers become iconic through their interpretation. When La Scala Ballet’s Principal, Nicoletta Manni, displays her innate musicality by matching the technical perfection of her fouettés in the coda of the Don Quixote pas de deux with the galloping rhythm provided by the ENB Philharmonic under Valery Ovsyanikov, it is memorable; the marriage of choreography and music is at the heart of classical ballet, and the pure sensation of Manni’s artistry is worth the ticket. The surprise is that this doesn’t happen more often; despite the company pedigree on display, the interpreters of the classical ballet extracts tend to be underwhelming. Timur Askerov and Ekaterina Kondaurova are both principals of the Mariinsky Theatre, but their star quality is missing in Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique. The Royal Ballet field Yasmine Naghdi and Marcelino Sambé in the second act pas de deux from Giselle but from the moment Naghdi enters the game is lost. Against a gaudy backdrop that removes any sense of the uncanny, Giselle’s appearance is more macabre than ethereal. Naghdi’s steps are accented into the ground and when Sambé bounces on for his solo he has seemingly forgotten his repentance and is determined to thrill the audience. In Don Quixote, Manni is partnered by the youthfully gallant Julian MacKay, but the gallantry is not present in the way he attacks his steps; when virtuosity conveys visible effort over refinement, ballet loses its classicism. And when the refinement is more a stylistic trait than the culmination of technique, as in the performance of the final act pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty by Bolshoi principals Ekaterina Krysanova and Artem Ovcharenko, emotion is effectively excised from the motion. It is only in the final pas de deux from Le Corsaire by Iana Salenko and Daniil Simkin — both currently principals of Staatsballett Berlin — that the sparks worthy of a gala begin to fly. Simkin flirts with excess — perhaps it is this flirtation that makes his presence so fascinating — but his seemingly effortless virtuosity leaves traces of perfection. Salenko is well matched in energy and technical ease — her fouettés are so centred she finds it hard to stop — and the pair bring the performance to a climactic end. 

While all the dancers in the Ballet Icons Gala are classically trained, some of the works are either neo-classical or contemporary. In Balanchine’s Diamonds pas de deux from Jewels, Alyona Kovalyova and Xander Parish pay elegant homage to the Russian tradition in which they — and Balanchine — were trained, while the extract from Alberto Alonso’s Carmen sees Maria Alexandrova replace fire with guile, leaving her fiery partner Vladislav Lantratov as José without a flame. One of the great exponents of classical ballet, Natalia Osipova, finds herself in an ambivalent dynamic with Jason Kittelberger in the world première of his Once with. Set to piano studies by Jean Sibelius, the duet sees them in a ‘physical conversation devoid of language miscommunication’. Kittelberger is clearly at home with the movement he creates on himself, but Osipova is still adapting to a physical communication that seems to hold her back from fully expressing herself. La Scala’s Vittoria Valerio and Claudio Coviello do not hold back from Angelin Preljocaj’s intoxicating language in the brief duet from Le Parc that makes the adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 even more achingly beautiful, but the world première of Giuseppe Picone’s Elegie that he dances with Luisa Ieluzzi, shows how seductive language can so easily become self-indulgent. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s duet from Frida, performed by Dutch National Ballet’s Maia Makhateli and James Stout, struggles for context in this gala setting, all the more so because the relationship between Frida and Diego Rivera seems undercooked, while the duet from Akram Khan’s Dust is danced with such passion and conviction by English National Ballet’s Erina Takahashi and James Streeter that its wartime context, signified in Jocelyn Pook’s haunting score, is entirely subsumed. But it’s the audience’s lavish applause for Edwaard Liang’s Finding Light that suggests the interpretation by Lucía Lacarra and Matthew Golding of the dynamic shapes and intimate undulations of Liang’s choreographic relationship is so complete that we are witness to how an icon is created.


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.


A preview of Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act at The Playground Theatre

Posted: January 21st, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Preview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A preview of Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act at The Playground Theatre

A preview of Christian Holder’s Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act, January 17

Naomi Sorkin
Naomi Sorkin (photo: Gail Hadani)

Unfortunately, due to Naomi Sorkin tripping over her cat and breaking her wrist two days before the opening, the run of Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act has been postponed until September.

The creative path to Christian Holder’s Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act, which opens at The Playground Theatre on January 23 and runs until February 15, is a reflection of the forces that shaped the life of its eponymous central figure. Rubinstein was born in Russia of wealthy Jewish parents who died when she was young, so she was brought up by an aunt in St. Petersburg. Determined to make a career on the stage, she created a scandal by appearing as Salomé in the play of Oscar Wilde, but her powerful stage presence and erotically charged mime attracted the attention of Serge Diaghilev. Invited to join his Ballets Russes, Rubinstein worked with choreographer Mikhail Fokine and costume designer Léon Bakst to create the roles of Cléopâtre, and later Zobeide in Scheherezade for the first two Diaghilev seasons in Paris. She fell out with Diaghilev soon after, but she remained in Paris, using her wealth to start and maintain her own company. She continued her association with Fokine and Bakst in commissioning Le Martyre de saint Sébastien from Claude Debussy (with text by Gabriele D’Annunzio) and Boléro from Maurice Ravel. Later she produced Ravel’s La Valse, which Diaghilev had commissioned but rejected. In World War I she served the Red Cross in France (wearing an outfit designed by Bakst!) and on the advice of her lover, Lord Moyne, she moved to London in 1939 where she worked for the British Legion. After the war, she returned to Paris and retired to Vence where she lived as a recluse until she died in 1960.

Three years later, a young Christian Holder won a scholarship to study with Martha Graham in New York. Born in Trinidad and raised in England, Holder was supposed to return to London after his studies but his talent was spotted by Robert Joffrey who invited him to join his company, where he was to become one of its iconic dancers. Soon after Holder joined Joffrey Ballet, Naomi Sorkin, born of Russian Jewish parents in Chicago, joined American Ballet Theatre where she ascended through the ranks to become a principal dancer known for her lyricism and dramatic expression. The founder and editor of Dance Magazine, the late Bill Como, once suggested to her that she would be perfect in the role of Ida Rubinstein. In the 80s Sorkin left New York for London after Lynne Seymour encouraged her to join Lindsay Kemp’s company; she created the ballerina in his Nijinsky and played Hermia in his Midsummer Night’s Dream. She has lived in London ever since. 

After leaving Joffrey Ballet, Holder remained in New York as dancer, choreographer and costume designer before returning to London ten years ago where he renewed his friendship with Sorkin. Finally, sixty years after Rubinstein’s death, they are able to combine their talents and experience to vindicate Como’s intuition; Holder has written the book and Sorkin embodies the legendary diva.

The theatrical device of Ida Rubinstein: The Final Act is deceptively simple. A reporter, Edward Clément, (Adam Clayton-Smith) interviews Rubinstein in the last year of her life despite the efforts of her personal assistant Soretto (Kathryn Worth) to protect her privacy. Clément’s research mixed with his natural charm evokes in Rubinstein a flood of memories and reflections that transform her spirits and allow us to enter vicariously her historical and artistic milieu. Woven into these memories are the figures of Gabriele D’Annunzio (Marco Gambino), her lover Romaine Brooks (Kathryn Worth), and the composer Maurice Ravel (pianist Darren Berry). Diaghilev’s disembodied voice-over can be heard with one of Matthew Ferguson’s video projections and we hear Lord Moyne through his love letters to Rubinstein. 

As the interview becomes more intimate, Rubinstein asks Clément: “Do you believe in destiny?” It’s a question that threads as surely through Rubinstein’s life as through the peripatetic process of the production; it also provides the catalyst of the play’s dramatic dénouement.  

I saw a run-through in a studio at the end of a heavy week of rehearsals but Sorkin’s interpretation of Rubinstein, abetted by her cast, shines through. What Holder has done is to allow dance and theatre to release a dynamic sense of Rubinstein’s life from the historical facts of her biography. All that remain to be completed are the colours and textures that David Roger’s sets and costumes, Charles and Patricia Lester’s textiles and Charles Morgan Jones’ lighting will provide when the production at The Playground Theatre opens on Thursday.