HeadSpaceDance: Three & Four Quarters

Posted: September 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on HeadSpaceDance: Three & Four Quarters

HeadSpaceDance, Three and Four Quarters, Linbury Studio Theatre, September 11

There is a story of JMW Turner on varnishing day at the Royal Academy. In 1832, when Constable exhibited his painting, Opening of Waterloo Bridge, it was placed next to a seascape of Turner’s – a grey picture, beautiful in its own watery way, but with no positive color in any part of it. Constable’s Waterloo, by contrast, seemed as if painted with liquid gold and silver, and Turner came several times into the room while Constable was heightening with vermillion and lake the decorations of flags of the city barges. Turner stood beside him, looking from the Waterloo to his own picture, and at last brought his palette from another room. Putting a round daub of red lead, somewhat bigger than a shilling, on his grey sea, he then went away without saying a word. The intensity of the red lead, made more vivid by the coolness of his picture, caused even the vermilion and lake of Constable to look weak. ‘He has been here,’ said Constable to his colleagues after Turner had left ‘and fired a gun.’

I will come back to this.

HeadSpaceDance’s debut evening of premières, Three & Four Quarters, at the Linbury Studio Theatre, opens with Javier de Frutos’ Studies in M, with what appears to be three of the four cygnets from Swan Lake danced to the first movement of Bach’s concerto for oboe and violin which is repeated three times as the dancers regroup and embellish their disintegrating links. Christopher Akrill, Charlotte Broom and Clemmie Sveaas appear to know each other well; their performing history suggests it and there is a harmony and ease in their styles, a complicity rather than a familiarity. There is even a similarity in appearance, though this is possibly the softening effect of Fabrice Serafino’s androgynous nightdresses with tendril-like tassels and grey socks they each wear. The choreography also seems at ease, but this is the illusion of a performance that is timed and spaced to perfection; to repair the delicately absentminded breaching of their choreographic patterns is only an artful step away, a slight realignment of an errant arm or head. The structure of the trio follows Bach’s musical precision, though De Frutos takes advantage of the trio’s subtle, subversive humour and their quiet dramatic presence to keep them at times on the music’s lyrical path and at others insouciantly off it. At the end only Sveaas is left on stage, focusing intently on her movement phrases until Bach stops and she is left somewhere between the silence and the ticking of a clock. She walks half-way off, hesitates, then creeps quietly through the door at the back. There is applause, but no bows; the evening is programed as one work in several acts.

Akrill and Sveaas reappear from that same door carrying a roll of white, padded material that they unroll on the floor like a giant duvet. This is the bedroom setting of Didy Veldman’s insomniac In the skin I’m in 1, the first of his triptych of autobiographical portraits of each of the dancers. Veldman writes in his notes that in working with the dancers, he had set them a task of writing down their thoughts for five minutes. ‘This text was so interesting that it became the basis for what we’ve created together.’ Broom is recapping her to do list: teabags, phone Carole, tap: thoughts that punctuate this delightful watercolour sketch. The music, Alexander Balanescu’s Aria, is a perfect choice for Broom’s sleepless solo in which she uses the duvet as her stage, rolling in it, jumping on it, hiding her head under it, shuffling across it and pulling at a corner with her teeth. The advantage of watching from the balcony is that you can see the beautiful patterns she makes with the duvet. Broom has a childlike, playful quality that is infectious. Towards the end, as she throws herself again and again on the piled up duvet, she is laughing, and so are we. She suddenly remembers something she has to do, gathers up the duvet and drags it off.

Set to Satie’s Gymnopedies No. 3, Akrill’s portrait, In the skin I’m in 2, starts with watery images in a more outdoor, autumnal setting. Veldman accentuates Akrill’s long legs and arms, suggesting insecurity in his uncertain equilibrium. He has a secret that he wants to let out but can’t; he makes mistakes, but shrugs his shoulders or hides his head under his top. Like Broom’s portrait, it is dreamlike, punctuated not by verbal reminders but by some beautifully lyrical acrobatics, and at the end it is the element of air that prevails: inflating a plastic bag of nuts he has just finished, Akrill carefully ties it up. I think he is going to burst it, but instead he lies down next to it on the floor and blows it gently towards the wings.

For those who have not shuffled out to the bar, the interval is a continuation of the relaxed relationship the dancers have created with the audience and gives a sense of their ownership of the stage. Sveaas warms up while Broom brings in a chair and sweeps the stage; they chat, Sveaas puts down a centre mark and checks it with Akrill who has just arrived as if he is about to leave, in smart shirt and trousers with a backpack over his shoulder. There is some lighting focus, a consultation about a bump in the floor, and the three rehearse some moves. All is made clear after the interval with Luca Silvestrina’s After the Interval, ‘a piece about dance and dancers’ that makes a performance out of the dancers’ preparations. It starts ironically at the end with a parody of bows and works backwards, shining a light on rehearsals, the process of marking, the difficulty of talking through moves, the frustrations and contradictions of too many corrections, snatches of biography from an imaginary question-and-answer session and a run-through in the studio of a Brahms Intermezzo that is beautiful and beautifully danced (in relaxed studio mode, we are led to believe, without anybody watching). It is fun, it is light, it is cleverly put together but it is essentially introspective and as self-referencing as the previous works. We are getting to over three quarters of the way through the evening, and the introduction to the company has barely changed gear. Sveaas is still to come with her Veldman portrait, In the skin I’m in 3, set to another piece by Alexander Balanescu, Empty House Space. The pace increases, as this is more energetic than the other two portraits, more intense and serious, a balancing act between sunshine and shadow in the form of long horizontal bars of light across the stage. It is a fighting solo, with agitated arms and elbows and frenetic hands and fingers, Sveaas’ body falling and recovering, with both weight and a sense of being lost in space. The lighting (by Simon Bennison throughout the program) works closely with the choreography, removing one bar of light at a time until Sveaas (happily) walks off along the one remaining.

Broom then opens the door at the back of the stage and steps in, holding the door for Akrill to follow; light pours in and the colours of Broom’s skirt and blouse blast the stage with energy, light and emotion at the beginning of this extract from Light Beings, by Mats Ek. The music is the Andante Festivo by Jean Sibelius, a festive piece to which Ek adds an acutely colourful variety of gestures and steps that seem to overpower it to the point of mockery. There is a moment in this short piece when the dancers leave the stage for Sibelius to regain his composure, but when they return with shaking heads and hands and Akrill’s drunken, swaggering gait, the dancing once again puts an arm around Sibelius and leads him to the bar. Akrill’s extraordinary jeté with his supporting foot suspended in Broom’s hands is a climax of Ek’s daring and outrageously imaginative choreography.

Introductions finally over, this was the keynote moment, like Turner’s daub of red lead, that illuminates everything that has gone before, as if we have been watching the slow growth of a pale stem that suddenly opens in a glorious, pleated apricot and turquoise bloom and the vein of humour coursing through the evening finally bursts out in Ek’s broad, uplifting, joyous laugh. It is brilliant programming, and if the triumph of the evening’s dancing belongs to the company’s founders, Akrill and Broom, it could not have happened without the supporting role of Sveaas. All three (finally) take a (proper) bow and receive a well-deserved ovation.