Company of Elders, Mixed Bill at Lilian Baylis Studio

Posted: July 7th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company of Elders, Mixed Bill at Lilian Baylis Studio

Company of Elders, Mixed Bill, Lilian Baylis Studio, July 6

Company of Elders

Sadler’s Wells publicity photograph for Company of Elders (photo: Matt Austin)

The program of this mixed bill by Company of Elders is made up of three short works interspersed with three films, two from the Sadler’s Wells Learning and Engagement team about the company and one featuring the 2016 video portrait by Jonathan Burrows, Matteo Fargion and Hugo Glendinning, of Betsy Field and Mary O’Mahony, both dancers in the company. What emerge from the first two films are two major themes in Company of Elders, social and artistic. This mixed bill shows unequivocally the social underpinning of the group of seventeen dancers who Sadler’s Wells describe rather patronizingly as ‘demonstrating the power of lifelong creativity and proving it is never too late to start dancing.’ What the program affirms less convincingly is the artistic vision that comes with the creation of works by numerous choreographers over the past 29 years. This year Seeta Patel, Adrienne Hart and Dickson Mbi still only scratch the surface of the artistic capability in these dancers. Is Sadler’s Wells using these choreographers to advertise ‘the power of lifelong creativity’ in their flagship over-60’s company or does it wish to see the company develop its artistic potential? What parameters dictate that all seventeen dancers have to appear on stage in each work, for example? When Field and O’Mahony appear in their filmed portrait, they are given the freedom to establish their identity within a proscribed frame, sitting at a table, and with a minimum of gestural means. What comes across is an artistic endeavor that highlights the two performers in a way the three stage performances do not. Patel, Hart and Mbi introduce short solos and duets to differentiate dancers from the crowd and some highlighting is achieved, either through text or gesture, but the group as social entity is what each performance seems to endorse. It is a shame, as the group will always be limited in its physical reach by what the weaker performers can do, just as in a younger company. The general effect of this kind of choreography as social organization is a romantic, stereotypical vision of what being older means: waving arms in a tight group is one of the tropes that turn up again and again. And why (except for Patel’s work) keep these seventeen individuals in brightly coloured t-shirts like children at a summer camp? Is it not possible to allow each performer to suggest a costume they treasure and work it into a performance? The resemblance of one performance to another suggests a ceiling of artistic decisions that governs Company of Elders. In what strata of society will you find such conformity among seventeen individuals? Only where it is imposed from the outside.

There are attempts in this mixed bill to break up this conformity. Patel in her Fragments, Not Forgotten finds inspiration in potent individual memories and uses a variety of groupings and a differentiation of gesture to indicate a more organic approach. In her A Tentative Place of Holding Hart unites the goals of Company of Elders with the inspiration of Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ ‘reversible destiny’; she uses more intimate gestures, gets the dancers off the ground in partnering lifts and a hopping step, and finishes with a plucky group challenge to the audience. Mbi in his Abyss separates the men and has them popping in slow motion and stamping out rhythms while he coaxes the women to develop the power of their arms in a semi-circular gestural dance that borders on wild. You begin to see possibilities opening up. A newcomer to the company, Monica Duck, clearly has rhythm in her bones. Mbi knows it and let’s us enjoy her movement, but Duck too quickly withdraws into the surrounding group as if such natural ebullience is frowned upon.

The employment of choreographers to create work on Company of Elders and to present that work on stage shifts its purpose in a parallel direction to its social benefits. The current mixed bill pushes the envelope of community dance closer towards the goal of artistic expression. If Sadler’s Wells is proud of their flagship company — and they should be — it is time to withhold the empty rhetoric of its Learning and Engagement team, stop patting itself on the back for presenting Company of Elders as bodies in a social ageing experiment and work towards bringing out the expressiveness of age as an artistic virtue. They might even consider paying them as artists.

Neon Dance, Empathy

Posted: February 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Neon Dance, Empathy

Neon Dance, Empathy, The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, February 13

Neon Dance in Empathy (screen shot from filmmaker Tom Schumann)

Neon Dance in Empathy (screen shot from filmmaker Tom Schumann)

“The story is a machine for empathy. In contrast to logic or reason, a story is about emotion that gets staged over a sequence of dramatic moments, so you empathize with the characters without really thinking about it too much.” – Ira Glass

Empathy is a work that I have already danced with a little. I invited the artistic director of Neon Dance, Adrienne Hart, and dancer Annapaola Leso to Bournemouth in 2014 for two research residencies, saw snatches of a duet at Tony Adigun’s The Factory during Dance Umbrella in late 2015 and viewed the video series released in the run-up to the première of Empathy in 2016. This ensured a proximity to the ideas and flavours prior to stepping into the theatre and this exposure influenced my receipt of the work and not necessarily in a way I was expecting. Being closer to Empathy I felt partially blunted, encountered less discovery on the evening and it made me question whether I want my pre-information appetite dry, whetted or drowned.

Hart and her creative co-conspirators in sound (composers Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen, Shahzad Ismaily and Gyda Valtysdottir) and design (Numen and Ana Rajcevic) have deftly woven a seamless environment that sits equally between the choreographic, sonic and scenographic. Letting the performance grow over two years has imbued it with a depth and rigour that is missing in many works that are constrained by a 3-to-4 week rehearsal process. With five human performers and an insentient laser feeding our eyes, Empathy executes Hart’s aim of asking us to think about this state of being through an elaborate, dense and stimulating world. With a tight choreographic palette of amorphous floor-dwelling bodies, melting into each other and the floor, I found it hard to like and yet easy to admire – but the work is still resonating.

Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men.”– Theodor Adorno

Hierarchies are consistently present: human vs. human and human vs. laser; the invisibility of power is enhanced through the (wo)man/machine battles. The behaviour of the laser oscillated between playfulness and brutality; ambushing movement and suffocating extensions whilst framing the dancers with an incisive clarity. I couldn’t help but project emotional narratives on these duets and at those moments I’m looking at the empathy spectrum and deciding who should I side with? The lasers acted as a metronome, carving the stage, dictating the pace and in its more flighty moments slowing down my perception of the dancers.

There were resonances for me on the tender spectrum; when Annapaola stepped slowly towards the laser wall and waited with the tips of her hairs brushing the edge of the light as her breath settled suggesting a possibility to move through and beyond. There was emotional dissonance too; Carys Staton (a glacial technician) during her glitching laser tunnel duet failed to connect as it narrowed, slowly constricting her space — I felt nothing. This spectrum of emotional attachment to and between the performers was a large part of the success of the work; however, there were two late arrivals into this cast who weren’t present throughout the making period and were (re)presenting movement that had been generated and embodied by other bodies and this lack of investment was telling.

“Empathy is the faculty to resonate with the feelings of others. When we meet someone who is joyful, we smile. When we witness someone in pain, we suffer in resonance with his or her suffering.” – Matthieu Ricard

Rajcevic’s costume pieces enhanced the notion of empathy; mouth pieces and masks disguised areas of the body that are usually used to convey emotion challenging the dancers to present alternatively through their bodies. The arm extensions worn by Annapaola affected her movement quality, masked the hands and helped attune her to her surroundings and other bodies in her orbit.

Hart is playing the long game and her extended practice and approach to collaboration, inquiry and audience ensures Empathy remains with you long after you’ve left the theatre. She’s an architect, commentator and conductor of an orchestra of empathy, with human instruments revelling in her excavations.