Emerge Festival, Week 3

Posted: November 25th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Emerge Festival, Week 3

Emerge Festival, Week Three, The Space, November 17

Maëva Berthelot and Omar Gordon in Neus Gil Cortés' Left (photo: Patricio Forrester)

Maëva Berthelot and Omar Gordon in Neus Gil Cortés’ Left (photo: Patricio Forrester)

This is the third program of the three-week Emerge Festival curated by C-12 Dance Theatre at the intimate venue, The Space, on the Isle of Dogs. These small-scale festivals, like Cloud Dance Festival and Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform, give opportunities to young choreographers without any hierarchic selection process: it is a raw mixture of work from around the country that is never less than interesting and can include some gems. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the absence of female choreographers, but in the two programs I saw at Emerge, the majority of choreographers are women.

The only exception this evening is Dialect of War by Jean-Pierre Nyamangunda and Viviana Rocha of What Is Written Dance Company who join Sia Gbamoi to make a trio that starts off quite innocuously but grows in menace. Described as ‘the story of a warrior tribe whose lives are brutally disrupted’, the energy of disruption is carried in the choreography but the narrative of violence is carried in the presence of the dancers, most completely in Nyamangunda whose eyes convey both terror and pain. In Don McCullin’s war photographs it is the eyes of both victims and perpetrators that convey the ultimate darkness of the soul; the use of the face as an integral part of choreographic intent is no different.

Gemma Prangle’s Dance I made on my Bathroom Floor is about as far away from Dialect of War as a programmer could manage. Prangle starts behind a shower curtain in silhouette to the sound of running water and when she raises her arms above the curtain for a stylised soap dance the sound of lathering pervades the room. When she reaches outside the curtain for her towel we can see it is not there; it is a moment of expectation, a simple but effective piece of theatre. Prangle conceived the piece when she noticed how much time she spent dancing in her bathroom compared to the studio, but the attraction of such an idea is that she should be unaware of anyone watching. Who dances in their bathroom to an audience? By emerging from the shower (bone dry) and shielding her naked body with her arms, she acknowledges our presence. She then compounds the artifice by apologizing for leaving her towel in the audience and asking for the person sitting on it to throw it down before continuing her ablutions in all propriety. We are now effectively sitting in her bathroom and the inherent humour and absurdity of the idea has been flushed away.

Co_Motion Dance (choreographers Catherine Ibbotson and Amy Lovelock) present a quartet of women in FORCE, a highly energetic battle for power that relies on the strength and spatial precision of the performers. Some of the jumps also rely on split-second lighting cues for that are too demanding for the limited technical resources available and too much of a gimmick for the level of choreographic sophistication. The force of the work comes from the force of the performers: why contrive this brute physicality? Presumably to make it more interesting to watch, but I would argue that the construction and theatrical intent of the work have to be more interesting first.

The title of Tamsin Griffiths’ work, Duvet Cover, appears to follow a similarly domestic theme as Dance I made on my Bathroom Floor, but the duvet in question is a metaphor. It is the place of comfort, ‘an emotional home’ in a work that expresses the volatility of depression and bi-polar disorder. The piece begins with a film clip projected on to a white sheet showing Griffiths climbing into a giant duvet and relishing its warmth and comfort; the fuzziness of the image makes it look like an ultrasound image of a baby in a womb. At the moment the film ends Griffiths pushes from underneath the screen to lie supine on the stage. Her initial movements remain close to herself as she goes through the motions of adjusting drowsily to vertical and following the path of a hand that seems to have an agency of its own to a score that is dreamy if not hallucinatory. Griffiths’ entire body explodes into action as she follows a volatile narrative; there is no ‘why’ in these shifts of mood, these ‘phases of depression’ as they progress in a certain direction and then suddenly change course. Duvet Cover is a work that can be read on two distinct levels: one that doesn’t make sense and one that does. Griffiths is perhaps playing unconsciously on the ‘invisibility’ of depression and how that plays into misunderstanding about the nature of the disease. She controls her performance even when it seems most chaotic: she displays an effortless virtuosity in her ability to throw herself to the limits of her balance and return to equilibrium. Although she takes emotional risks, Griffiths is not challenged sufficiently in Duvet Cover to extend her range. Perhaps it is one of the challenges of working alone but one of the rewards is to see that raw honesty in a dynamic physical form.

The most complete work of the evening is Neus Gil Cortés’ Left, a duet for Maëva Berthelot and Omar Gordon (Cortés shares the role with Berthelot on subsequent evenings). It has a simple starting point: ‘When we are alone, all we have left is our thoughts…’ ‘All’ is the operative word, for in this fifteen-minute duet there is a great deal to inhabit our imagination and Cortés leaves open that vital gap between choreographic intent and audience reaction. Gordon, who has the dark lines of a character in an El Greco painting, is the manifestation of a relentless, demonic aspect of Berthelot’s psyche. Despite herself, Berthelot circles around him like a moth around a candle and when he finally dissolves into the darkness she is left eerily reliving his gestures. They are two but they are not two, and their partnership is mesmerisingly intense. As a choreographer, Cortés handles the frailty and domination with a freedom and depth of detail that anchor the work in a youthful maturity. She also proves her intuition as director in creating an enveloping sound score around the music of Philip Samartzis and Mica Levi, costumes that enhance the narrative and in managing to create magic from the available lighting resources.

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.