Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Posted: February 28th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL at Hackney Showroom

Sweetshop Revolution, BEAUTiFUL, Hackney Showroom, February 23


Sandra Klimek, Tania Dimbelolo, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Flora Grant in BEAUTiFUL (photo: Dominic Farlam)

While London’s Fashion Week plies the city with young, attractive women advertising clothes as expressions of sexuality and style, five attractive young women costumed by Cristiano Casimiro and lit by Andy Hamer dance their sexuality in style in Sally Marie’s new full-length work, BEAUTiFUL, at Hackney Showroom.

Described as ‘an exploration of love and sexuality from a female perspective’, it is immediately evident from Hollie Dorman’s opening cabaret number — five showgirls in shiny costumes exuding sensuality — that this is a young female perspective. Marie has chosen her five dancers (Tania Dimbelolo, Flora Grant, Pauline Raineri, Natacha Kierbel and Sandra Klimek) from a lengthy selection process in which she auditioned 775 young women and given her subject, she was evidently looking for young women capable not so much of exploring love and sexuality but of scrutinizing them closely on their own terms. It takes a certain uncompromising stance to present such a perspective that is not watered down by stereotypes. Marie bestowed this stance on the initial title, BEAUTiFUK, which proved unpalatable to the marketing departments of touring venues but which nevertheless endures in the conception of the work (evidently you can dance it but you can’t say it). In such a process, the dancers need courage and self-confidence to reveal what they are not used to revealing in front of an audience. We are not talking about nudity so much as states of mind in which there is no room to hide behind a ‘character’ because the character and the person are one and the same. And if some of Casimiro’s costumes cover the body in a voluptuous white confection that has its own sense of fantasy, others cover them in transparent net over stylish underwear that seems like a constant state of undress.

The voice of BEAUTiFUL is in the form of text but the heartbeat is the sensuality of the dancing, especially where each of the performers has a moment of unadulterated self-expression. The intensity of their respective appropriation of movement and the variety of its forms suggests they each contributed to the choreography. Diembolo reaches deep to marry seamlessly choreography and a sense of self; Raineri lets her body undulate in Andy Pink’s aural air currents like a siren in a state of exquisite pain; Grant is inhabited by laughter and caprice; Kierbel is drunk on desire, and Klimek is the wise and worldly one with Sapphic propensities. These moments, however, contrast with a more generalized, even clichéd approach to sexuality in the ensemble sections.

The texts, we are led to believe, originate with the cast and suggest with wry frankness how each of the five women relate to the subject. The standing microphone becomes a confidante to which the intimate details are entrusted but a microphone cannot keep a secret (on one or two occasions, however, the secrets do remain with the microphone because either the musical overlay is too pronounced or the delivery too unclear). At the beginning Klimek establishes a short tally of anecdotes about each of the performers: one of the women likes baking chocolate cakes, one finds it hard to come, one loves climbing mountains, one’s a virgin and one may be in love with her best friend. It’s true the texts become more explicit but this opening gambit is less like a plunge into their lives than a paddle and it’s hardly a devastating shot over the bows of current objectification.

If Marie’s avowed purpose in BEAUTiFUL is ‘slicing through the tissued layer of elusive truths and false assumptions by which many of us live’, there has to be a sharp instrument with which to detach what is false from what is true — the choreographic equivalents, for example, of satire or wit. There are glimpses of it in the choir of sweet voices and angelic poses that frame both graphic sexual imagery and lyrics, and in Grant’s chaste delivery of a scatological fragment about anal sex. However, without these kinds of deliberate juxtapositions of raw imagery and nonchalance that take the gaze of the audience into unfamiliar territory, the voice of BEAUTiFUL is engulfed in its heartbeat, the sensual pleasure of dance. And because dance is expressed through the body, Marie is perhaps closer to her stated purpose of generating ‘outrageous pleasure’ than she is of inspiring ‘insight’ and provoking ‘debate’. But without the latter, the stereotypes she wants to fracture remain intact.

Marc Brew, For Now I Am

Posted: March 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Marc Brew, For Now I Am

Marc Brew, For Now I Am, Lilian Baylis Studio, March 10

Marc Brew in For Now I Am (photo: Susan Hay)

Marc Brew in For Now I Am (photo: Susan Hay)

There is not a wheelchair in sight. The setting of Marc Brew’s For Now I Am is prior to any suggestion of a wheelchair, when the idea of a wheelchair was just too optimistic. This is the morning Brew woke up in hospital following a car crash that left two of his friends dead and one still struggling for life in a ward above him. His body is draped in a white sheet and doctors are still analyzing his injuries. We see projected an image of clouds scudding across the sheet that become ominously darker until they are replaced by a white grid. A glaring scan runs from bottom to top and top to bottom; an X-ray of Brew’s spine is projected on to his supine form. The clinical tests and the body’s stillness are eerie; under the giant sheet on the Lilian Baylis stage is not an actor but the person who underwent that unimaginable experience. In the nineteen years since then Brew has travelled further than he ever expected as a dancer and along the way has sublimated those memories and experiences into a performance. This evening is the second part of a proposed trilogy that began with Remember When in 2008. The figure ‘eight’ in Chinese characters signifies ‘open’, so both the first and the second parts of the trilogy eight years later fall at propitious moments when Brew evidently feels open enough to talk about life before and after the accident. For Now I Am occupies the time immediately after, a time when the promise of the future was not clear, when his damaged and broken body was a battlefield of conflicting emotions. It is not hard to feel that the work is as much a memorial to his three fellow passengers as it is a memory for him. He points upwards not towards heaven but to the ward above where the only other survivor of the crash eventually succumbed to her injuries.

The production of For Now I Am constitutes an elaborate and rather beautiful metaphor for healing — ripples of water in both Jamie Wardrop’s projections and Claire McCue’s score — which Brew fills with an almost Butoh-like range of slow, precise and considered movements — part visualization and part exploration of his physical boundaries. The result of his spinal cord injury at C6/C7 was a paralysis from the chest down, and at first even the mobility of his hands and arms was affected. Such a simple task as placing each finger against the thumb was a mark of progress. The achievement of the staging is to draw us into this minute scale of attention that Brew experienced in the early days of rehabilitation. The silk sheet is pulled back to reveal first his head and shoulders; from underneath he brings out one arm and in Andy Hamer’s careful lighting we watch the smallest of movements, one finger at a time, take on a poignant significance. One can sense the achievement of clasping an elbow and raising it above his head or the frustration of beating his chest with his fists. The range of upper body movement grows; in lighter moments his arms and shoulders are eloquent as they converse with one another like the necks of two swans and in darker ones he transforms a symbol of prayer into a gun and grabs his head in despair. Gradually his body emerges like a chrysalis from its cocoon, a metaphor Brew understands only too well. His fingers walk up his vertebrae with the clinical calculation of a surgeon; we are watching the process of rebirth and regeneration after the operations to repair his spine. His shaven head atop his spare, muscular upper body seated on a sheet of white silk has connotations of a meditative practice, or simply of the willpower to overcome and ultimately to find the opportunity in his disability.

The title of the work is itself an indication of Brew’s acceptance of his condition and as a performer he is revealing his body for the first time to the gaze of the public as he once did involuntarily to the doctors and surgeons in hospital. For Now I Am is a performance of his acceptance. From his seated position he moves around the stage and around himself in a series of spirals, gathering in the silk sheet like a coiled throne until he arrives at a point of composure and self-control. What Brew does next is a transference in the dark of his seated body to one that is suspended upside down by his ankles and raised above the ground. It is a dramatic inversion, not only physically but conceptually. It may well be a clinical view of the broken body, an unsentimental acceptance of his material condition, but at the same time it is the one movement in the performance Brew has not had to fight with his extraordinary patience and courage to control.


For a recent interview with Marc Brew, click here

An interview with Marc Brew

Posted: March 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Interview | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on An interview with Marc Brew

An interview with Marc Brew

Marc Brew (photo: Andy Ross)

Marc Brew (photo: Andy Ross)

How does a dancer in the formative stages of his performing career deal with an accident that leaves him paralysed from the chest down? Marc Brew had trained at Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School in Melbourne, then at the Australian Ballet School where he performed as an extra in Australian Ballet productions. His first professional engagement at the age of 18 was with P.A.C.T. Ballet in South Africa but it was there that he was involved in a car accident in which three of his friends were killed. Waking up in hospital with a white sheet over his body he learned that his spinal chord injury at C6/C7 meant he would never again have the use of his legs. “At first I was in denial. I thought, just get me back to Australia and into the gym again and I will be fine,” he laughs. Initially he was not able to move his hands but a lot of muscle strength came back to his shoulders and arms. Rehabilitation proved to be a whole identity shift. “I had to reassess what a dancer was. For me a dancer had to be on his legs, turned out in the hips. I had to stop looking in the mirror.” Brew had a lot of friends who wanted to get him back into a studio. In class one day a couple of dancers in New York came across a young woman who rolled into the studio in her wheelchair. “They jumped on her,” laughs Brew, “and told her all about me.” This was Kitty Lunn, whose career had been similarly interrupted after breaking her back in a fall. As she later wrote, “What I learned was that the dancer inside me didn’t know or care that I was using a wheelchair, she just wanted to keep dancing.” This was the kind of encouragement Brew needed and he travelled to New York to work with her and the company she founded, Infinity Dance. “I had to find a way to translate and adapt my former technique to my present body,” he recalls. “A year after the accident I was still thinking what my legs and feet would be doing.” However, the chair work, floor work and contact improvisation he worked on led him down the path of contemporary dance. Since then Brew has been dancing, choreographing, teaching and speaking around the world.

Brew had always been encouraged to choreograph since his school days. Within two years of his accident he was back in a studio creating and teaching and he hasn’t stopped. “I feel I have come full circle in regard to my practice. Before my accident I set work from my own body but after it my work was more task based. Now I am going back to generating my own material. I teach it to dancers and see what they do with it; then I direct it to bring it all together…My disability has helped inform the way I work…It was strange to work recently with Scottish Ballet. Instead of giving directions for the legs, I would give them upper body directions and let them sort out what they would have to do with their feet… All my ballet training is still there. It’s in my arms. Line, placement and shapes are still there. I just have to find new ways of exploring movement.”

In 2008 Brew created Remember When, the first work of a planned trilogy and at Sadler’s Wells in March he will present the second part, For Now, I Am. Introducing the personal pronoun into the latter title suggests a change in his attitude towards his disability. “I have reached a point of acceptance, which for me means being whole. I love my body as it is now. This is the first time in 18 years that I am showing my body, allowing people to explore it as if it were being examined on the hospital table. I am giving permission to everyone to explore.” Brew started the creative process wanting to explore the notion of being broken. He analysed his body by looking once again in the mirror, coming to terms with being both broken and becoming whole. Through Jamie Wardrop’s video projections, Andy Hamer’s lighting design and Claire McCue’s musical score he uses the analogy of water as an element of ritual cleansing. He also uses X-rays and scans to map his accident, finding a new freedom in working through those painful memories. “With rehearsal director Ruth Mills, I am able to talk about it now. I feel I am moving through it, like a chrysalis being born…Acquiring a disability is different from being born with a disability. Before the accident I was Marc and I still am. I am comfortable with having a disability; I claim ownership over it… Disability creates different possibilities. I hope other people see it in the same way. That’s what I find difficult, how other people view disability…It’s great that Sadler’s Wells is supporting my work and finding ways of communicating the human condition to the audience.”

What about the third part of the trilogy? Brew smiles. “I have some ideas. Maybe the last performance will be my funeral.” More laughs. “You’ve got to have a sense of humour.”

For Now, I Am is at Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler’s Wells on Thursday 10 and Friday 11 March before embarking on a national tour. The evening is a dual presentation of movement and words, illuminating distinctive artistic practice, entitled Dance & Dialogue. On Thursday 10 March, renowned percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and Marc Brew compare creating, performing, and collaborating in their respective art forms. On Friday 11 March, Alistair Spalding, Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive, will be in conversation with Marc Brew on creating dance that reflects life experience.