Emerge Festival, Week 2, The Space, November 19

Posted: December 5th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Emerge Festival, Week 2, The Space, November 19

Emerge Festival, Week 2, The Space, November 15-19

Joe Garbett and Jessica Haener in No. Company at Emerge Festival

Joe Garbett and Jessica Haener in No. Company at Emerge Festival

The appeal, not to mention the importance, of a festival like Emerge that presents new and experimental work by new and experimental choreographers, is the possibility of a work appearing on the program that stands out, that leaves a palpable trace or sensation. It doesn’t mean the work is ready to tour nationally or internationally but simply that it ushers in the possibility of new developments in choreography. Such innovations don’t necessarily require lots of money but they do need to be seen.

On each week of its two-week run, Emerge’s curator, Adam Towndrow of C12 Dance Theatre, has produced a single program of five works that is performed five times, and there is no connection between the works apart from their intrinsic interest. The little miracle happened in the second week. Most of the works involve a single choreographer but Joe Garbett coordinated eight (Jacob Bray, Daisy Farris, Chloe Mead, Joel O’donoghue, Hannah Parsons, Hannah Rotchell, Thea Stanton and Cornelia Voglmayr) in the work he conceived and directed, No.Company. It’s all about collaboration that keeps the collaborators out of the room, a choreographic form like remote surgery with the haptic feedback coming from the performers. It’s an interesting creative paradigm; choreographic ideas sent by text message — anything from a suggestion, to word play, to a precise instruction — from each of the choreographers and translated by the two interpreters, Garbett and Jessica Haener, into formal phrases. Garbett says the process of interpreting the texts and directing the finished work took three studio days.

‘Finished work’ might be an overstatement; with its fluid, interpretative basis, No.Company has the quality of an improvisation — albeit within restrictions — with the refreshing continuity of a spontaneous conversation replete with asides, pauses, connecting gestures and phrases. I saw it twice and the second time it had matured but not substantively changed. Garbett and Haener are relaxed together, freely and informally engaged in the moment without any indication they know what’s coming up next. Neither do we; the nature of the collaboration is eight unrelated subjects with eight unrelated soundtracks joined together to form a single discursive performance. But because Garbett and Haener are so engaging and the work so full of suggestion, we as an audience can draw our own conclusions like a directorial line. Paul Klee once described his doodles as taking his pencil for a walk; No. Company takes the body for a walk, and in its expressive articulation — even the pastel colours of their clothes help legibility — I have a sense of reading the choreography as it is written in space. Garbett’s governing idea is about the process of creation, but the result is that the eight creators and two translators, through some special alchemy, have created an intriguingly coherent work.

Also on the program is a reworking of Pomodoro by Alice Weber. It is a more powerful work than when I first saw it at Blue Cloud Scratch but Weber understandably skirts round the full horror of the experience that prompted it. It is a dark meditation on the vulnerability of the human body to trauma. Using the fragility of tomatoes as a metaphor is a stroke of genius but the potential menace of her conception is susceptible to psychological escape valves that leave the audience unsuspecting and the work unfulfilled. Weber shared the solo with Merritt Millman but even by detaching herself from the work through another interpreter, she maintains a safe distance from the subject.

The last time I saw a work by Rhiannon Brace (Baby), she was celebrating the birth of her son, Dylan; in The Last Dance On Earth she has jumped to the other end of the spectrum with the depiction a family living out its final day. Drawn from a reading of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, we meet the three generations of family sitting listening to the radio announcing the end of the world. Jay Jeyakumar has changed from a teddy-bear father in Baby to a stunned and confused one, but Mary Cox is still the smiling grandmother whose memories transform her movements into optimism. Brace herself is the mother, and Marta Polak the daughter who takes with her all the longing and pluck in her body. It’s a finely drawn characterisation that lifts the miniature work to a level of poignant urgency.

Paola Napolitano’s work on mental health, SELphOBiA, has far-reaching ideas that have not yet developed a coherent choreographic language to convey them, nor a setting in which to frame them. How do you convey emotional fragility through a body and mind that are strong and healthy? Napolitano’s imagery stays too much on the surface to convey the psychological depths she wants to explore. A straight jacket can point to a condition but does not in itself convey it, and Napolitano’s use of a broken mirror as a metaphor is similarly too literal; we should be looking through it rather than at it. I am reminded of those harrowing photographs by Richard Avedon of his sister and other inmates in a mental asylum: we see them through his lens and at the same time we feel the his emotional connection. In the theatre we are in effect behind the lens and it is only the physical language of the performer that can create that connection. No easy task, but there is more to unlock here.

By contrast, in Amy Foskett’s Through The Cottongrass the choreographic language dominates the narrative. Inspired by the beloved Swedish fairy tale, Princess Cottongrass, Foskett has created an episodic duet with Katherine Whale that picks up on the companionship of the princess and the elk in their magical journey through the forest. Of course in a theatre you can’t go very far, so the various stages of the duet rely for their effect on the quality of physical connection between the two dancers. Their duets create an ever more urgent but always precise and eloquent dynamic that is a pleasure to watch but the narrative basis of the work is only crudely tacked on to either end. The tale is certainly suitable for translation into dance but that, perhaps, is another project.

Just a final word to signal the heroic efforts of Edmund Sutton on the lighting desk and of Charlotte Tuckwood for her cameo performances in preparing the stage for each work.

C-12 Dance Theatre: Emerge

Posted: November 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on C-12 Dance Theatre: Emerge

C-12 Dance Theatre, Emerge, The Space, November 24.

 A show full of super heroes, a sofa and some pretty angry women.

There is not a lot of space in The Space on The Isle of Dogs. It occupies what was once St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, built in 1856 for the Scottish shipyard workers employed on the building of Brunel’s The Great Eastern. The features of the chapel have been maintained, with the stubby ionic columns of the vaulted apse framing the thinly raised stage and the nave continuing the stage at floor level with room for about fifty chairs at one end. There are no wings but the two doors at the back of the stage and the aisle entrance to the auditorium are the principal entrances and exits for the performers. Had those Scottish shipyard workers seen the performance of C-12 Dance Theatre, they might have thought they had died and gone to heaven.

Before the performance begins, Adam Towndrow, artistic producer of C-12 and the initiator of Emerge, welcomes everyone and gives a breakdown of the evening: three works by three choreographers: one by C-12’s artistic director, Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, and two by emerging choreographers James Williams and Miranda Mac Letten. On stage for the first piece, James Williams’ In New Light, are a drum kit played by Williams’ sister Janette and a bass guitar played by Andrew Willshire. The only prop is a medium-sized black sofa, like a soft brick, on the auditorium floor.

Ana Dias and James Williams in In New Light photo: Chantal Guevara

A single drum beat rings out in the dark like a call to arms. As the thunderous beat continues, a very lazy strobe illuminates the sofa and two men (Williams and Willshire) sitting either side of it like guardians in the night. Enter Ana Dias as a glowing apparition down the aisle. She quickly sheds any illusion of a spectre by jumping up on the sofa, her huge shadow projected on to the side wall. She turns towards us with protective arm gestures, standing as if on the prow of a ship while the sofa is turned beneath her. Over the course of In New Light the sofa becomes in effect a third performer that is upended, turned and overturned in counterbalance to the equilibrium of its human occupants. The roots of Williams’ inspiration derive from parkour, or freerunning, but he reduces the limits of his environment to this sofa and the stage. Because the dance involves a man and a woman, there is also an inherent tension in the narrative and it is the combination of the freerunning and the narrative with the physical prowess of the two performers that is intoxicating: two performers sliding into spaces with the speed and precision of acrobats yet with a warmth of feeling that is rooted in the living room rather than the ring. Intensely physical, In New Light is conceived on an intensely personal scale, in which all the creative elements link together into one dynamic, multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

John Ross in The Endeavour to be Super photo: Chantal Guevara

The aerial buzz descends, and the weight of the chapel reasserts itself as we watch the change of scenery for Miranda Mac Letten’s The Endeavour to be Super. Exit drum kit, bass guitar, amps and sofa; enter Marty Stevens’ and Mac Letten’s coat stand, black telephone on a side table and two screens (as in room dividers) with scraps of Batman memorabilia stuck on with childlike enthusiasm. Mac Letten is a C-12 performer (though not in this work) and the founder of her own company, Kerfuffle Dance, of which three of the dancers in the piece are members: John Ross, Camila Gutierrez and Esther Vivienne. The fourth is Chris Rook. Three of them have graduated from London Contemporary Dance School and one (Gutierrez) is in her third year. Together they have a lot of drive and a lot of fun, with the more experienced Rook as rehearsal director for this work, ‘a comical, high-energy performance based on the human psyche’s need to believe in something bigger than oneself.’ It’s a tall order, but the idea is based less on Nietzsche than on Bob Kane’s Batman as translated into the camp 1960’s television series. Not that The Endeavour to be Super is camp; from Ross’s first entrance as Batman at home hesitating to pick up the phone and petulantly flipping his cloak when he misses the call, or Gutierrez as Batgirl trying to recharge her batteries – and her libido – by massaging her nipples, it never intends to be serious. What comes across is a romp of egos and alter egos, dastardly subterfuges (Rook in dastardly good form) and disguises that deliver the comedy and high energy while going light on the bigger picture. Perhaps that is the fault of an over-ambitious program note, but what Mac Letten does develop is the comical gap between our aspirations and our actions. Kane’s Batman developed his aspirations before he donned his disguise; this quartet of masked raiders starts with the disguise and work backwards to discover indecision and confusion, which lead to catfights (Gutierrez and Vivienne pull out all the stops) and a delightful, simulated scrap between Batman and Batgirl in which the inflicted damage is recorded in true comic strip style on cue cards reading (among many others)Bam! Biff! Wham! and Pow! It is all too much for this Batman, whose aspirations are left dazed and confused, but the infectious vitality, fun and bravado of the choreography and of the performers remain.

Miranda Mac Letten in Scorned photo: Chantal Guevara

After the intermission (for which we are ushered outside), we return to find two figures standing on stage enveloped ominously in a white sheet. A row of candles burns in the back of the apse, creating an almost monastic environment (the design sensitively conceived by Tomoe Uchikubo and lit beautifully by Mikkel Svak). Two women dressed in black (Alice Gaspari and Cindy Claes) enter and free the two figures (Miranda Mac Letten and Alicia Pattyson) from their mute captivity and clothe them in long silk dresses. Scorned is an extract from a new work by Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, but if the backstory is unknown the emotion of the work is very quickly apparent. Scorned takes its cue from the phrase ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ from William Congreve’s Restoration play, The Mourning Bride, and there is indeed a sense of jilted love on the eve of a wedding that threads through the work. It could also very well be a reworking of the mad scene from Giselle choreographed for a quartet of women with very different bodies and different training but united in their emotional response to unseen events, and it is how each one express it — in their eyes, in their gestures, in the way they hurl themselves through space — that draws us inexorably into their suffering and draws the work tightly together. There is something about Claes’ krumping vocabulary that tenses the space around her like an expressionist drawing, and there is in Gaspari’s lyrical, classical line a sculptural quality that expands her space. Mac Letten’s white dress and Pre-Raphaelite look is as icily cold as her madness is raging and Pattyson’s gently quality is rendered vulnerable rather than fearsome by high emotion. Add to the play of qualities the total involvement of the women and Foster-Deakin’s choreography extending the expression dynamically in all directions, it is all the space can do to contain it. There are some beautiful images: the muted sheet is stretched into a symbol of taut emotion, a catapult for Mac Letten and has undertones of a nunnery; crisped hands erasing a stain on the floor, Claes’ hand at her throat fighting for her life: images from the edge of sanity. And then the dawn seems to break and the wildness calmed. Congreve’s play has another famous line: ‘Music has charms to soothe a savage breast’, and this is exactly what Kerry Muzzey’s Where There’s A Will does. Pattyson resolves her doubts and fears, is helped by Gaspari into a white wedding dress and ascends the aisle towards the exit, but Mac Letten’s fury has not yet abated; she cannot bring herself to meet her groom. Claes leaves her in Pre-Raphaelite dishevelment lying on her wedding gown like Ophelia at the edge of a watery grave.