Dance Umbrella 2019: The Future Bursts In at the Linbury Theatre

Posted: November 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2019: The Future Bursts In at the Linbury Theatre

Dance Umbrella 2019, The Future Bursts In, The Linbury Theatre, October 25 

Amala Dianor, Pansum Kin and Souleyman Ladji Koné in Somewhere in the Middle of Infinity (photo: Valérie Frossard)

The title of this Dance Umbrella evening at the Linbury Theatre, The Future Bursts In, is adapted from Alexander Bland’s Observer review of Merce Cunningham’s first performance in London in 1964. He wrote, ‘Merce Cunningham and his company have burst on the British scene like a bomb…Here is heart-warming proof that it is an art with a future, opening up ranges of possibilities which stretch out of sight; it ought to be celebrated with champagne in every dancing academy in the land.’

Over fifty years later neither Cunningham nor his musical collaborator and life partner, John Cage, are still with us, but their legacy continues through the Merce Cunningham Trust. It is not only Cunningham’s works but the technique he developed and taught that are revered for the very reasons Bland identified. But history moves on and the future continues to burst in, not necessarily through a single figure or a monolithic technique but with fresh approaches to dance practice and to training. 

Amala Dianor is a Senegalese dancer currently based in Angers. Somewhere in the Middle of Infinity, is a beautifully crafted trio for performers whose techniques are grounded in hip hop but borrow from classical and contemporary dance. Theirs is a collaborative venture in which the three dancers — Dianor, Pansum Kin and Souleyman Ladji Koné — have come together to make a conversation of their diverse techniques. After calmly taking stock of the audience, they turn their focus inward, gently teasing out each other’s ability, admonishing each other and competing with each other’s vocabulary; it’s as if we are watching them through a window. We see their silent gestures and feel their choreographic affinity; we hear the tracks they choose from a score by Awir Leon but the music is for their own delectation, not ours. The pleasure is in seeing their ability to find effortless equilibrium and poise in their shared virtuosity. It is not so much the future bursting in as the dance diaspora reuniting with vestiges of the past to enhance the present. 

Celebrating Cunningham’s legacy involves the more ticklish problem of looking back without the living presence of the man himself, who died in 2009. CCN Ballet de Lorraine presents two works to mark the centenary of Cunningham’s birth, a new commission by Petter Jacobsson and Thomas Caley, For Four Walls, based on a lost work of 1944, and a recreation of Sounddance from 1975. Jacobsson is the artistic director of CCN Ballet de Lorraine and Caley is its coordinator of research; both men worked closely with Cunningham as dancers in the 90s.

Members of CCN Ballet de Lorraine in For Four Walls (photo: Laurent Philippe)

All that still exists of Cunningham’s Four Walls — it had only one performance — is the piano score by John Cage, played here on stage by Vanessa Wagner. Jacobsson writes that ‘we choreographed For Four Walls not as a re-enactment of the original, but as a place that allows for our history with Cunningham to be reflected in it.’ The idea of reflection becomes an opening conceit as we see nine dancers transformed into a full company by floor-to-ceiling mirrored panels. When the full contingent of 23 dancers subsequently fills the stage, swelling the ensemble to the size of an opera chorus in a crowded studio, the conceit loses its effect. As an exercise in spatial awareness and choreographic prestidigitation, it is awe-inspiring but any sense of reflection on ‘our history with Cunningham’ is effectively curbed. 

After a short pause in which we watch the mirrors — and our own reflection in them — disappear behind the stage to be replaced by Mark Lancaster’s delightful flourish of a curtain with its tent-like opening, ten of the dancers return for Sounddance. Despite the pedigree of recreation by Meg Harper (from the original cast) and Thomas Caley, some of the classical rigidity Cunningham had encountered at the Paris Opera in 1975 and wanted to jettison in the creation of Sounddance seems to have crept in, either from the dancers’ exhaustion or a technical legacy of upper-body tension; they seem to be doing the movement rather than letting it happen, while entrances and exits are more circumspect than explosive.

In the same review, Bland imagined Diaghilev would have loved Cunningham for ‘talking in the language of today’. But what does ‘the language of today’ mean in a performance archive that is 44 years old? And wasn’t this the question Cunningham wanted to pre-empt as part of his legacy by planning the closure of his company and school after his death?

Nudity in dance: 40 years on

Posted: August 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Coverage | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Nudity in dance: 40 years on

Benjamin Asriel, left, and Burr Johnson in “Fort Blossom revisited.” (photo: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times)

Benjamin Asriel, left, and Burr Johnson in “Fort Blossom revisited.” (photo: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times)

After reading Alastair Macaulay’s New York Times article Nakedness in Dance, Taken to Extremes, I came across a review of Glen Tetley’s Mutations written in 1970 by Alexander Bland, that husband and wife team of Nigel Gosling and Maude Lloyd who wrote about dance like proud and devoted parents, never sparing in praise but never letting any perceived impropriety or imperfection pass unnoticed. The review comes from a collection called Observer of the Dance 1958-1982, published by Dance Books ( This was the final, fruitful period in Gosling’s life when he was both art and dance critic for The Observer.

Gosling must have liked dogs, as elsewhere in the book he compares the academic critic to a good retriever with the qualities of perseverance, concentration, patience and reliability, whereas the journalist critic is ‘like a hunting dog, alert, active, wide-ranging, with a good nose and a strong voice; he may follow some false scents, but he should keep our interest riveted on the chase…’

Which brings me back to the two articles. Both answer Macaulay’s opening question, ‘How do you react to the look of the naked body on stage?’ and go on to discuss the nature and merits of the work under review. That Macaulay’s subject attracted more attention than his regular reviews is notable, though he is writing about dance in New York, where Anna Halprin’s 1965 Parades and Changes was banned for twenty years for its nudity. One aspect of his article is that acceptance of nudity on the stage has moved to a concentration on genitalia, the ‘dark patch’ that Bland wrote about 42 years ago. It seems a slow progress indeed, especially compared to the development of nudity in the European theatre. What Bland came across in Mutations was for him a revelation, something to be celebrated, whereas Macaulay’s celebration is more tentative, as if revealing a secret.

However, my purpose is not to attempt an in-depth analysis of the approach of two critics to nudity in dance, but simply to offer a preamble to Alexander Bland’s delightful review that I reprint here in full with the permission of the publisher, David Leonard.

Mutations, Nederlands Dans Theater, Sadler’s Wells

Let’s face it fully and frontally, we are in the autumn of modesty. Fig leaves flutter down all around, scattered by the wind of change. Thirty years ago Ninette de Valois was showing the formidable founder of the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Lilian Baylis, the backcloth for a new ballet. It was promptly censored on the grounds that the stomach of a female statue depicted on it was too large. ‘But it’s no bigger than my own,’ protested de Valois untruthfully. ‘Ah, my dear, but you have had an operation,’ replied Miss Baylis.

What would she have said last week? In her own theatre, in Mutations, a new ballet by Glen Tetley (with films by Hans van Manen), four young men and one young girl of the Netherlands Dans Theater dance naked for minutes in full spotlight, not to mention long film sequences in which one of the performers appeared enormously magnified and slow-motioned as if to prove that he was every inch a genitalman.

It has been widely reported that the effect was perfectly unremarkable and indeed irrelevant. Certainly dancers’ slim bodies suggest Bosch’s ‘Terrestrial Paradise’ rather than a Rubens orgy. But I must make an embarrassing confession. In the nudity field I am an outsider, a freak, perhaps even a ghoul which haunts the law courts where learned men fulminate on sex and censorship. Not only am I likely to be depraved; I probably am depraved already, for I find the spectacle of beautiful naked bodies exciting. Their introduction in this ballet induced a glow of added interest which it was painfully easy to analyse.

I comforted myself afterwards by reflecting that respectable authorities in other fields have admitted similar sensations. Lord Clark has even written that all good nude painting and sculpture is sexually stimulating. Sex assumes many disguises. On the stage we readily admit arousal by crafty costumes, lighting or posture, and I tried hard to think that the lack of all disguise was no more sinful than they. Exactly what is contributed – or lost – by the final fall of brassiere or jock-strap varies a great deal. Apart from the fact that some naked people look more naked than others, nudity can obviously be employed either innocently (as it was here) or for hard-core sensuality. The simple shock of seeing it on the stage at all comes largely from the surprise of finding it out of normal context. In my sheltered life it is still usually confined to bath or bed, but the probable spread of its use in the theatre will soon, alas, deaden its impact. What will be left will be more visual than psychological. From the formal point of view the costumed figure presents an image with a single focal-point – the head. By adding a dark patch in the centre of the image a second visual accent is introduced, and this is something choreographers will have to take into account.

These minor questions apart, nudity is used in this ballet as a stimulating but serious ingredient which completely justifies itself artistically. The scene is a kind of arena (by Nadine Baylis) into which white-clad figures gradually fight their way. Once arrived, the mood changes. A nude figure appears dancing on film, and this is followed by a nice trio for girls, a typical Tetley wrestling match, and some all-in applications of red paint suggesting violence. A couple dance, clad and unclad on screen and stage, to gently variegated electronic sounds by Stockhausen; more join in and the film triplicates, until some mysterious figures in transparent suits sweep the action off stage, leaving the couple – naked and strangely vulnerable – alone as the lights fade.

It is not perhaps the most completely successful ballet in the repertoire – the start is slow and the films not very imaginative – but it is sincere, shapely, rich in those plastic movements in which Tetley excels and works up to a fine climax. It was never trivial or titillating and was extremely well danced by the finely trained and good-looking company.     8.11.70