Alleyne Dance, A Night’s Game

Posted: April 2nd, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Alleyne Dance, A Night’s Game

Alleyne Dance, A Night’s Game, Rich Mix, February 18, 2022

Kristina and Sadé Alleyne in A Night’s Game (photo: @ Sarah Hickson)

A couple of weeks before seeing Alleyne Dance in A Night’s Game at Rich Mix I saw an exhibition of photographs at David Zwirner Gallery by the late Roy DeCarava, a New York-based African American artist whose monochrome prints recorded predominantly the lives of people and the neighbourhoods of his native Harlem in the 1940s and 50s. What struck me about the prints, quite apart from his empathy for his subjects, was that DeCarava appeared to calibrate his register of shades between black and white from the darker end of the scale, from the colour of the skin he was photographing. Being a master printer, he was able to bring out the colour of his subjects in relation to their socio-economic and physical environment. 

Seeing the Alleyne sisters so soon after was to rekindle DeCarava’s vision in performance; for a start, A Night’s Game is conceived in shades of black and white that reach towards the darker end of the scale, and it employs an additional register of sound —an eclectic array ranging from ambient sources to Ólafur Arnalds — that serves as the aural site in which the work is set. The work begins in total darkness intensified first by the sound of whispering and then by rhythmic body percussion; as Salvatore Scollo’s lighting levels gradually rise we see and hear a seated Sadé Alleyne beating out something between a syncopated slave rhythm and ritual self-flagellation. It is a tour de force she expresses in unsparing shades of fear: she lies back in pain, looks around in apprehension and thrusts her pelvis forward in a taught bow-like gesture of vulnerability that lasts just long enough to register before snapping back into a frenzied muscular argument. She stops to gain her breath then starts again with a doubling down of frustration until she seems to surrender to the weight of her hands and arms in despair. Like DeCarava’s vision, we experience not only the visual registers in A Night’s Game but feel their psychological counterpart. 

The program note informs us that A Night’s Game is ‘inspired by real-life stories of imprisonment, escape and fighting for freedom. It reflects the turmoil and strife that comes with the prospect of incarceration.’ All art is political, and A Night’s Game is no exception, but its political message is presented as it were from within; rather than a statement of opinion it is one of vicarious experience that demands an end to entrapment and puts the audience on jury duty. It’s un uncomfortable position to be in, all the more so because Sadé draws you into her testimony with such conviction. Like a trial, all the evidence of A Night’s Game — gathered in verbal interviews and presented in physical form — is collected for the benefit of the audience on behalf of those who endure systemic social and racial injustice. What Sadé and her twin sister Kristina invoke in these untold histories is the implicit link between incarceration, racial discrimination and social inequality. As Eric Williams wrote in Capitalism and Slavery, ‘slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.’ A Night’s Game is putting history itself on trial. 

When Kristina first arrives on stage there is some reprieve but not much — or perhaps we are just hoping there would be — for she soon takes over where Sadé left off until the two join forces; in the language of bodies, their close communication both entangles and supports them to the point of exhaustion. They scuffle, throw chairs to each other and find kinship in a dreamlike duet that in its synchronicity and adversity indicates a form of bargaining, like writing on the ground with their bodies. This constant advocacy on behalf of those who face the loss of freedom or who have already lost it — the ‘bodies of evidence’ — rises to a climax of rage and indignation in the form of exhaustive solos that not even the final dimming of the lights can lessen. It is worth mentioning that Kristina is almost five months pregnant but there is never a sense that she is holding herself back; to do so would be to compromise the dual thrust from which A Night’s Game derives its singular integrity and force. 

A Night’s Game is one of four shows that comprise Shipbuilding, a performance festival from Certain Blacks that has been created in response to the UK’s societal climate. 


Ian Abbott on Outdoor performances in 2021: Part 1

Posted: February 16th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Coverage, Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Outdoor performances in 2021: Part 1
Ian Abbott_Outdoor Festival_Alleyne
Kristina and Sadé Alleyne in Bonded (photo: Luke Witcomb)

Due to the interrupted possibilities of seeing indoor work across 2021, I will focus predominantly in this two-part review on work presented in England’s green and pleasant land, the great outdoors. When the UK government released their four-stage roadmap for loosening Covid restrictions in February 2021, stage three approved the return of outdoor performances as of May 17, allowing audiences once again to see live work in person. Norwich and Norfolk Festival were fresh out of the blocks, running from May 17 to 30, stating that the ‘2021 edition of the arts festival will be a one-off adaptation, with programme and presentation designed especially for Covid times.’ To celebrate the first festival of the 2021 outdoor arts season I ventured to Norwich to see the premieres of three new dance works by Alleyne Dance, Requardt and Rosenberg and Far From The Norm.

Future Cargo by (Frauke) Requardt and (David) Rosenberg was originally planned and advertised to premiere at Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF) in 2020, but instead landed in Chapelfield Gardens in mid-May on a rainy Norwich evening at 6pm for around 100 audience members. This is how it describes itself: “A truck arrives in Silvertown from a distant planet. As the sides roll up, an unstoppable series of events are set into motion. This contemporary sci-fi dance show reveals a world where the normal rules don’t apply. This extraordinary new outdoor production takes audiences into a surreal visual and aural experience enhanced with 360-degree sound on personal headsets.” 

Future Cargo is actually a cross between the conveyor belt challenge on the Generation Game and a space crematorium — all set on the back of an articulated lorry with bespoke shipping container and treadmills a plenty — as four skin-tight, silver morph-suited performers parade and attempt to escape the inevitable furnace of death. The opening twenty minutes see the chrome morphs ice skate in slow-motion as they continuously adopt multiple mannequin stretches and choreographic poses in both solo and duet encounters before the gradual inclusion of props designed to pique our visual interest in the treadmill conceit: tennis racquets, plants, a very long bench, a water cooler, a bowling ball and ten pins, wigs, combs and dodgems. There is also a truck driver who spends most of their time in the cab before climbing on to the top of the container towards the end only to switch places with one of the silver bodies. 

Having seen all of Requardt &Rosenberg’s four previous works — Electric HotelMotor ShowThe Roof, and DeadClub — they share a clear aesthetic, and a production prowess (courtesy of set and costume designer Hannah Clark and lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth) in which we are connected to the spoken words and music via a set of headphones with a binaural sound design and composition by Ben and Max Ringham. All have a similar thematic field that is being ploughed, but each one is dressed in different clothes. 

If you think of Future Cargo as season five of Requardt and Rosenberg rather than as an individual isolated work, then things begin to make a little more sense; we’re deep into the narrative arc where distance, proximity and intimacy have all been repurposed. Setting aside the awkward season two that was Motor Show, the new(ish) feature for this season is that there’s treadmills and a shipping container in play. I say the shipping container is new, but Rosenberg has another creative partnership with Glenn Neath called Darkfield where together they have produced three 20-minute works in customised shipping containers that audiences enter; they’re pitch black and the work is experienced through sound, scent and haptic encounters.

Throughout May I was also watching the three seasons of Dark (a German language sci-fi series commissioned by Netflix and created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese) which explores the existential implications of time in 33-year cycles, intergenerational time travel and its effect on human nature. It’s all about loops, black holes, repeated lives and making decisions which might or might not impact what happens to us in the future. Dark definitely had an impact on my reading of Future Cargo and the synchrony that exists between the two works; they fed and enhanced each other. When I was watching these chromed bodies disappear off stage left on the truck and heard a whoosh in the soundtrack leading us to believe that the bodies are being flamed, I was also seeing the burnt eyes and burst eardrums on the characters from Dark.

The visual field of Future Cargo is highly controlled and very limited; as an audience experience it’s akin to watching TV. You’re fixed in a single position, watching something play out in front of you at some distance; there’s very rarely more than one thing to watch at once and the majority of it plays out in front of you in a narrow rectangle of constantly evolving moving shapes. Future Cargo is visual dopamine, designed for Instagram likes and contains short-form choreographed nuggets that are perfect for the Tik Tok TV generation.

Good Youtes Walk (commissioned by GDIF) by Far From The Norm was presented in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral and self-describes as a “chaotic and frenzied Hip Hop dance theatre work” that “explores how divided we are as a nation. Due to the recent surge of global events including the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement heightening, now more than ever we are a nation divided. It unravels how the youth of today are reclaiming their future and want to address the divide by creating unity and empathy that transcends race, class, gender and geography.”

In June, when Glastonbury 2021 was a screen-based encounter due to the restrictions on numbers of people who could gather, Kano performed a “career-defining” 35-minute set at Worthy Farm that was joyous, complex and political, demonstrating an artist at the top of their game. Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil is a song by Kano (released in 2019) and the first lyric is: “We’re doing this for the money”.

Premieres are strange things; they are the first public outing of a work on a date that is often determined by a presenter. Good Youtes Walk was simply not ready to be out in the world. At 40 minutes long it was flabby, had over-stretched ideas outstaying their welcome, energies that sagged between choreographed sections and if you compare the reality of what it claims to be versus reality, it felt thin and flimsy. 

Set on a static lump of a structure that looked like a decaying building (designed by Ryan Dawson Laight), the five dancers attempted to deliver a series of episodic scenes, interspersed with tightly choreographed norm dancing that flips boomer perception of the good/bad binary of what the  “youth” are up to on the street; they tried to goof around and aim their water pistols at political satire with a Boris Johnson-esque character, cheap props, wigs (by costume maker, Kingsley Hall), fishing rods with fake money as bait, superhero masks and inept police officer chases. The FFTN dancers (Amanda Pefkou, Hayleigh Sellors, Jordan Douglas, Shangomola Edunjobi and Ezra Owen) are incredible dancers. They’re not trained clowns, actors and comedians, so why would you attempt to make a work of this length with a limited creation and rehearsal period, asking the dancers to try and deliver all of these other skills on top?  

We know that since the Conservative party came to power in 2010 the real-term spending to youth services has been cut by over 70% in less than a decade; we know that there are so few public spaces designed for teenagers and we know that if you were born after the year 2000 you have only known an England that is suffering the effects of a financial crash, over a decade of Conservative rule and now a pandemic. Young people have only known this state; this is their norm.

I’m unsure whether Good Youtes Walk is Far From The Norm embodying and wholly owning the opening lyric from Kano; after all, a company has a duty of care to those it employs, people need to be paid and which company is going to turn down a sizeable commission in these pandemic times? After the premiere, I don’t know if there was any more time spent re-working it before further dates in the summer, but I cannot say the same for Good Youtes Walk that I did for Far From The Norm’s full-length BLKDOG I saw at Warwick Arts Centre in February 2020: that I’d be happy to meet that work again at a later date to see how it had settled. I’ll share some new thoughts on BLKDOG in the second part of this review.

Bonded by Alleyne Dance was an absolute highlight of 2021; it warrants a much larger tour in 2022 and beyond and demonstrates a rare trinity of conceptual simplicity, refined craft and expert delivery. The work self-describes as “an outdoor production that explores the construct of human dependency, especially that of siblings — and how time and external conditions can affect the synergetic connection. Performed by twin sisters, Kristina and Sadé Alleyne, the work takes the audience through a transitional journey of inter-and-independency through abstract dance narrative.” 

Our thirst for human touch has been foregrounded since March 2020 and although Bonded isn’t a COVID work, it was made during these times. Whilst the use of “synergetic” and “inter-and-independency” in the marketing copy may lead us to believe this is a slightly dry and academic performance, it is anything but. 

At a shade under 30 minutes, we’re introduced to Kristina and Sadé who are alone on either side of a revolving, 8-metre long, narrow, transparent corridor; they encounter this physical barrier (designed by Emanuele Salamanca) which restricts their ability to touch and be together. They begin to mirror movements on either side of it — lighting up our mirror neurons that are enhanced by their visual similarity as twins — until the corridor begins to rotate which forces them to move, inhabiting a space that the other was just in, but the body is no longer there. The corridor and choreography begin to transform and transform again in many and unexpected ways offering encounters on alternate levels, new restrictions to overcome and eventually leading to them being reunited. All of these moments of being apart and facing restrictions before finally coming together were empathetically landing because that had been the lived reality for so many of us before May 2021. 

Kristina and Sadé are exceptional performers who describe the Alleyne Dance style as “blending West-African, Caribbean, Kathak, Hip Hop and Circus Skills within a contemporary dance context” and over the past decade they’ve worked for a suite of international choreographers including Wim Vandekeybus, Akram Khan, Gregory Maqoma, Alessandra Seutin and Boy Blue. However, what is remarkable is that Bonded is the first outdoor performance they’ve created and performed as Alleyne Dance (they were commissioned by 2Faced Dance Company to create Power in 2019). For an outdoor work to be so well crafted, that demonstrates an understanding of how story beats are released to sustain an audience’s attention and how they combine with a structure and score that enhances the conceptual understanding is a massive achievement and heralds an exciting arrival onto the outdoor arts circuit.

Reflections on other work from the great outdoors across in 2021 will continue in part 2.


Ian Abbott: Still Locked Down…Still Dancing

Posted: December 14th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Dance on Screen | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott: Still Locked Down…Still Dancing

Still Locked Down…Still Dancing, December 3, 2020

Still from dance on screen (Re)United
A still from (Re)United

The time it takes for a dance work to simmer, manifest and make its way out to the public can take anywhere from six months, to a year-and-a-half to five years plus; it usually depends on a number of factors including access to resources, levels of existing privilege and what platforms or partners are needed for distribution. 

The speed at which we have seen works microwaved, packaged and distributed in the last nine months is somewhat akin to the current dialogue around the production, regulation and distribution of the new COVID vaccines in the UK. We’ve seen processes that have previously taken 10 years or more accelerated at an unprecedented pace demonstrating that things can be done if barriers are removed.

In a timeline of response, the dance works (and other art forms) that we’re seeing this autumn are actually an articulation of thinking from those first three or four months of the first UK lockdown and its effect on artists. Such works could be viewed as re-presenting an emotional digest of that time, foregrounding those feelings and bringing them into a sharp relief or understood as a shedding, a letting-go and removal of those feelings from their systems.  

Premiered by Serendipity on October 26 during Black History Month as part of their Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF21) preview, (Re)United is a short interactive film by Alleyne Dance that was available online for three days via a newly-built website from Mukund Lakshman.

Directed by Marc Antoine, the film was inspired by the real-life separation of Mo Farrah from his twin brother Hassan; they were torn apart at the outbreak of war in Djibouti during their childhood. With Sir Mo Farrar’s recent appearance on the ITV reality show I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in November, a larger audience is now aware of the story. In the film, identical twin sisters Kristina and Sadé Alleyne have interpreted the anxiety of separation alongside the familial bonds of hope, love and connection.

In a nice touch, the interactivity in (Re)United fits the thematic driver of the work; after a short two-minute sequence in which we see the faces and isolated body parts of Kristina and Sadé in extreme close up, documenting their intimacy, their bonds, their tender huggings with each other, we have to choose. In a moment of split-screen forking, will we choose Kristina or Sadé? Which twin do we watch? Which do we leave behind? We are suddenly responsible for their fracturing and disconnection. After clicking on one of them, a technically beautiful and seamless window scroll triggers this fracture and reveals our choice of solo twin alone in a derelict empty room in a cottage, where for the next seven minutes they dance in moments of frustration, collapse and strength; it’s an entire three-act narrative arc in a tiny slither of time. After seeing one twin, we get the chance to watch the other; time is re-wound to the point of separation to see how the other dealt physically with the separation over the course of another seven-minute film. 

Recognising the very real differences in internet speeds and video latency, there are at least four quality options depending on the viewer’s broadband connection, but in the highest quality settings (Re)United is lush; it has an incredible colour palette and is full of signature Alleyne Dance exquisite sequences that fill the screen for 20 minutes.

Because of the uncertainty of both COVID and Brexit that we are still experiencing, the notion of reunification has the ability to connect to audiences and reads in multiple ways; the coming together of families again for Christmas after so many months apart, a longing ode and love letter to live dance and the desire to see it live with other bodies again or an antidote to the UK’s relationship with the EU three and half years after the referendum vote and with the transition period less than a month away. 

In terms of concept, production and execution (Re)United is a step above many of the plethora of short dance films that have been released during the last eight months and is testament to the work of director Marc Antoine, Alleyne Dance and their producer Grace Okereke.

In a glorious 20-minute hug of aural intimacy, Quanimacy, a binaural sound work created by disabled artist and choreographer Claire Cunningham, is an asymmetric conversation and reflection on their relationship with their crutches, the queering of their body and the concept of queer animacy.

Commissioned by The Place and hosted on their website from October 15 to November 13, it was presented as part of Splayed Festival, a suite of artists energised by queerness as an approach to creativity curated by Amy Bell.

Having Cunningham’s Glaswegian burr nestle in my ears alongside the voice and theories of scholar, rabbi, and activist for disability Prof. Julia Watts Belser is a delight. Quanimacy invites an attention, offers a place to sit in these conjured worlds in comfort whilst providing shifts of perspective on how Cunningham and Belser relate to their crutches and wheelchair.

The tiny personal revelations and historic symmetries of Fatima Whitbread and how she was ridiculed by the media and school friends because ‘she looked like a man’ but also revered for that same strength in javelin throwing drew parallels to how Claire felt about their body. As the use of their crutches slowly made them stronger it ‘took them further away from the feminine as that was what they thought they were supposed to be’; it’s these analogies, these moments of micro and macro testimony that create the architectural strength of Quanimacy.

The words are supported by the musical arrangements of Matthias Herrmann and the dramaturgical care of Luke Pell, whilst a transcript of the entire work (beautifully designed by Bethany Wells) is also available. They all offer an emotional scaffold which helps to achieve that narrative clarity and personal intimacy which are the satisfying threads and reoccurring hallmarks of Cunningham’s works.

Whilst (Re)United and Quanimacy were available for extended periods of time, Something Smashing was a live Zoom event presented by Citymoves during DanceLive2020 on October 15. Something Smashing is – usually – a live performance platform for dancers and musicians to encounter, improvise and experiment with each other’s practice. This iteration at DanceLive was the first time that they’d presented it online and was curated by Skye Reynolds (due to her ongoing and strong relationship with Citymoves) and performed/devised with fellow co-curators Tess Letham, Graeme Wilson and Something Smashing regular Mike Parr-Burman.

With over 40 folks digitally gathered, our event chair, Citymoves’ Hayley Durward, started us off. For the next 60 minutes we saw three 12-15-minute home-based improvisatory sets from dancers Reynolds and Letham and musicians Parr-Burman and Graeme Wilson culminating in a Q&A. 

The idea of watching an improvisatory anything over Zoom is usually enough to make me want to gnaw a pebble-dashed chalkboard, but the Something Smashing team has been putting on regular events across Edinburgh for a number of years so their improvising and communication muscles are taut and well honed. I was intrigued to see how it translated online.

From each of the performers there was a consideration of the frame of the screen and what parts of their body/instrument we could see during each set; as we have collectively been existing in Zoom boxes for the last nine months it was nice to see some creativity in scale, proximity and perspective in a close up strangled guitar head, floating midriffs and claw hands coming from the top of the screen alongside moving and handling the camera mid-set to re-orient our view. What was appreciated is that Tess and Skye not only changed costume in between each set, but moved to a different part of their house; this palette cleanse ensured that the possibility of boredom from a static visual plane was removed and demonstrated an awareness of how the audience was receiving Something Smashing.

The highlight was set three as we had both musicians in play and both dancers, but this time two new boxes appeared in the Zoom room; Reynolds and Letham had introduced an additional camera into their space, so now we saw their movement from a dual perspective. Six boxes and multiple things to choose. This was a feast. If I wanted to watch Parr-Burman play his guitar with a battery-operated whisk I could, if I wanted to see Letham open a bottle of wine from the fridge I could, and if I wanted to see Reynolds rolling citrus fruits around her kitchen I could. 

Technically there was no latency, so we could see how sounds were responding to bodies or bodies were responding to sounds. However it was tuning into different rooms with their different energies and architectural restrictions that really sustained my interest. What the Something Smashing team has demonstrated is that as a live event it works online; the live presence is translated into a digital event and we’re able to relish those instant compositions in their homes from our living rooms. 

The commonality between each of the works is that these are artists who are already deep within their own groove; they have a clearly established practice and are able to articulate the what and the why of their outputs. Having this confidence and depth has enabled them to move into new formats and new territories with an ease that many others haven’t been able to navigate. Their conceptual rigour and exploration of themes which are already familiar has enabled them to port an idea that is firmly rooted in their wider and established practice. Each work is an absolute delight.