Eduardo Fukushima / Eleanor Sikorski: Dance Umbrella

Posted: October 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Eduardo Fukushima / Eleanor Sikorski: Dance Umbrella

Eduardo Fukushima’s Crooked Man and Eleanor Sikorski’s Big hands, big heart, Dance Umbrella, Siobhan Davies Studio, October 26

Eduardo Fukushima in Crooked Body (photo ©RolexBart Michiels)

Eduardo Fukushima in Crooked Man (photo ©RolexBart Michiels)

Great artists are those who can transform their weaknesses into strengths. I don’t know what Eduardo Fukushima has had to deal with in his life, but his artistry reveals he has challenged his demons and won. Short and stocky in stature with an expansive and sympathetic personality, he stands motionless against the end wall dressed in a black pants and high-collared jacket watching the audience arrive. His eyes seem to take in each person. The second-floor studio of Siobhan Davies Studio is divided into three as if for a fashion show, with a broad performance corridor down the middle stretching from one wall to the other with benches and floor cushions either side for the audience.

There is a blackout with a blinding distraction of sound and when the lights come up again Fukushima is standing in the same place, in the same pose, in the same high-waisted black pants but bare chested. This sleight of hand, this piece of magic by Fukushima and stage director, Hideki Matsuka, marks the beginning of Fukushima’s pilgrimage that sees him traveling tirelessly down this corridor of experience towards the light. It is as if we are witnessing the struggle in his head, the fevered hallucinations that work their way through his body, the body of the Crooked Man.

At first Fukushima doesn’t seem to move but there is an almost imperceptible struggle going on that is tightening his arms behind his back, pulling his shoulders back and leaving his chin jutting out like someone being tied to a stake. His face is imperturbable, noble, his body vulnerable. Then his shoulders relax, his arms come to his side and he stumbles forward as if untied to embody a series of images that will develop in the course of the work into a fully modulated study of a man whose suffering is his gift; it is all he has. His reward for offering this gift is his redemption.

Fukushima builds his images through distorted poses like crossed turned-in feet, in the way he walks at times on the knuckles of his toes, hands that are taut and tensed as they stutter out their message, an unexpected shudder that shakes his entire frame like a fever, his fluttering eyelids and his mouth opening and closing in dumb astonishment. There are certain leitmotifs: the sudden release to a back bend, the violent rotation of his upper body and undulation of his hips that test his precarious equilibrium on the floor and an occasional kneeling as if in reverence or proud defiance. Images of a bullfighter and a pugilist pass briefly before our eyes only to be deconstructed in the constant procession of nightmarish forms and shapes that keep pace with the relentless beat of Tom Monteiro’s score. In this masterful depiction of feverish states of mind, Goya comes to mind, and like Goya Fukushima sublimates his journey into something beautiful; terror becomes pathos, grotesque distortion becomes wholeness, suffering becomes compassion. He reaches the far wall and stands facing it. His shoulders list very slowly to one side as the illumination round him increases. From stillness he is suddenly drawn back up the corridor, feet scuttling and arms raised as if pulled involuntarily to his starting point where he stands purified. He has managed to transport us there, too. Sublime.

Eleanor Sikorski (photo: Clare Sikorska)

Eleanor Sikorski (photo: Clare Sikorska)

There is no better antidote to Fukushima’s Crooked Man than Eleanor Sikorski’s free-spirited Big hands, big heart, but it comes before not after. Sikorski herself, dressed all in red to match her lipstick ushers us in to the first floor studio, escorting certain individuals into place like stage props. In the middle of the space is a collection of large red inflatable latex toys including a sofa, a lilo, a dragon, some skittles and a large beach ball. Once we are all in place Sikorski launches herself with total abandon on to the inflated toys and lands sprawled on the floor on the other side. She remains there for a moment; nobody seems to want to see if she is alright. She gets up when the the pulsing music starts, and begins to pulse herself, jumps like a firecracker, does a brief highland dance and skip-hops towards her toys. She picks up the beach ball and launches it through her legs. The musical pulse slows and Sikorski winds down with it until it stops. She lies down on the lilo to catch her breath in silence. We wait; car headlights criss-cross the walls and ceiling. Scarves are coming off as the heat in the room rises, knee joints creak as weight is transferred. Oblivious, Sikorski remains supine. On a whistle she jumps up and gives the lilo to a group of four to hold. ‘Just hold it’, she explains. ‘Are you allergic to latex?’ she asks, followed by ‘Is it possible to buy a ship on the Internet?’ ‘I don’t think so’, ventures one (what half-hearted performers we are). Sikorski hands another group the latex dragon. ‘Feel the bass’, she urges, ‘just feel the bass.’ Since there is no music, it seems an odd command. She invites another member of the audience to sit in the armchair and hands out the remaining skittles. The pounding bass notes begin and shake the floor, us and the latex toys. We are feeling the bass. Seeing we are occupied, Sikorski leaves the room while we stand vibrating with amused (or bemused) expectation. Both Sikorski and Fukushima have big hearts, expressed in such contrasting ways. Great programming.



Dan Watson’s Jacket Dance

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dan Watson’s Jacket Dance

Dan Watson’s Jacket Dance, Founders’ Studio, The Place, October 12

Dan Watson in a jacket (photo: Brian Archer)

Dan Watson in a jacket (photo: Brian Archer)


This year there was a big heart beating at Dance Umbrella, epitomized not only in such works at Gunilla Heilborn’s This Is Not A Love Story and Robyn Orlin’s Beauty Remained For Just A Moment Then Returned Gently To Her Starting Position, but in a rather special Fringe element curated by Bellyflop Magazine. This is Heart with a capital H, accompanied by a printed program (only £5) in which the collaborative artist-led team produced a delightfully informative and refreshing approach to dance. What caught my attention was Flora Wellesley-Wesley’s article on Ridiculous Dancing, a name that summoned up a David and Goliath challenge to the neuroscientific-banks-of-research approach to choreography prevalent in some of our more serious (and well-funded) dance establishments; Ridiculous Dancing, it seems to promise, takes the ‘&’ out of R&D.

As an advocate of Ridiculous Dancing and the choreographer of Jacket Dance, Dan Watson explains to Wellesley-Wesley, ‘I genuinely enjoy watching people who feel compelled to express themselves in the moment: these spontaneous little personal dances that have nothing to do with rightness or composition and everything to do with humanity and physicalising internal states, whether that be a reaction to music or the moment itself….You can see the person more than the movement. The movement is a vehicle to see the humanity.’

There is an intimate scale in Watson’s approach, so it is appropriate that Jacket Dance is performed in the Founders’ Studio, a large living room with the audience packed in at one end and a floor-to-ceiling muslin backdrop at the other — what traveling players might once have set up in the village square. Watson and fellow dancer Matthew Winston are warming up as we enter. The signal to start is the donning of their jackets that hang on either side of the room.

Jacket Dance comprises a handful of scenes in a single fifteen-minute act, a ludic exploration of impulsive dance that favours exultation over technique. As Watson further explains: ‘Jacket Dance is a lot to do with joy: kids dancing to their favourite music, drunk old men dancing for each others’ enjoyment, comedians — both alternative and more traditional — provoking laughter in their audiences.’

Watson starts to riff on a shuffle and Winston picks it up and adds to it. They alternate, playing off each other like a Vaudeville team before establishing a single rhythm that one of them then muddles up. Part two develops individual sequences quite independently of each other, short dance phrases with interlinking shuffles and silly walks until Watson limps away with the choreographic equivalent of a throwaway line. Watson and Winston each wear their character like a mask: Winston’s is over-concentrated effort, while Watson’s is more abandoned though there is an underlying sense of fun in both. They watch each other and surreptitiously copy each other but for the most part they sense the space between them with the eyes of the body.

The next section explores contact in the context of Ridiculous Dancing: Winston and Watson fall against each other, embrace, and shake down. Watson picks Winston up, loses interest and drops him. The dropping and the getting up are treated as movement not story, so there are no recriminations. They judder together, jump like beans, and riff on silly walks until Watson knocks Winston down. Punch and Judy? No matter, they are up and shaking again until they both fall as flailing angels in the snow. A brief musical interlude follows, in which the two men alternate, one playing itsy-bitsy spider on his fingers while the other sings. The songs have an unselfconscious rawness — not to mention breathlessness — about them that goes hand in hand with the movement. In the coda the gloves come off in a dance of one-upmanship that adds the element of extreme to Ridiculous Dancing in some knee-crashing landings until both men are ready to drop, which they do, tracing angels in the snow again. Winding down further, they walk round the room to face each other as at the beginning. The only way to stop is to take off their jackets. Naturally.






Wendy Houstoun: 50 Acts

Posted: November 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Wendy Houstoun: 50 Acts

Wendy Houston: 50 Acts, Dance Umbrella, Platform Theatre, UAL Central Saint Martins, October 14

Wendy Houstoun in 50 Acts. Photo: Chris Nash

‘This is the beginning. This is Act 1. This is the bit where the lights go down and this is the bit where I turn around and walk to the back.’ Thus begins Wendy Houstoun’s 50 Acts; there is no artifice, just a slight inflection of her voice, but her delivery absorbs all our attention, drawing us inescapably into her world. This is one of the shorter of the fifty acts, some as brief as a stage direction and none longer than a Chopin Prelude. Collectively they contain tightly packed layers of poetry (Houstoun’s own), music clips, recorded interviews, political speeches, telephone messages, psychic consultation, health and safety regulations, and archival film that Houstoun (with lighting designer/production manager, Nigel Edwards) converts through the miracle of transubstantiation into a potent theatrical form exploring two of her bêtes noires: dangerous thinking around the issue of age and idiotic marketing speak.

In As You Like It, Shakespeare wrote ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.’ Like Shakespeare, Houstoun uses the stage, and her presence on it, as an analogy for life (‘how dare you take up centre stage when you are clearly middle aged…’) but concentrates her fifty acts on the latter ages (and some other irritations). ‘I am looking for a way to play this part where age doesn’t make any difference.’ She does, convincingly, because she is such a brilliant performer.

Act 2 introduces us to Houstoun’s aphorisms, which appear as scrolling text on the screen behind her – almost too fast to read let alone write down, so I can’t really comment, but based on the quality of Houstoun’s live delivery, these aphorisms deserve more generous treatment. A book, perhaps? Dance Umbrella printed mugs and tee shirts? Ironically all I remember is ‘Time and space died yesterday.’ Act 3 is a triumphant yes yes yes, and Act 4 a defiant no no no. Act 5 is an affirmative yes to the human race and a sardonic yes to the rat race, in which silent film footage of crowds running in the streets haunts Houstoun who dashes about the stage to avoid them to the accompaniment of one of Chopin’s nimble Preludes. In Act 6 she feels her pulse.

Chopin and Shakespeare are both big influences here. In Act 9 Houstoun recites a prologue in Shakespearean rhyming couplets: ‘…advancing time, which lazy thinking calls decline’ with a searing reference to old age as ‘sadfucks past their bloom…clogging up time’s waiting room.’ It also contains the first of many failed magic tricks to make herself disappear (‘the absence there for all to see.’). Like a consummate clown, she can get away with making people laugh at serious issues, even matters of life and death.

It is easy to get caught up in watching Houstoun perform (the content of the piece) and not realise how carefully 50 Acts is constructed (the form). In her program note, Houstoun writes candidly that she has been trying to make this piece for some time. ‘Somehow the form meets the content in a way I have not achieved before (I have to thank Matteo Fargion for that).’ I have seen 50 Acts three times and each time it is slightly different, but this time I would concur with an audience member I overheard: ‘She absolutely nailed it.’ The form of each act — and of the whole — consists of a complex layering of meaning: sound effects, music, projected text and props reinforce Houstoun’s own finely-tuned speech. The advantage is that whereas she can only speak one word or phrase at a time, this vertical layering adds to her expressive palette like a painter applying impasto. Consider the broadcast, in the final acts, of platitudinous politicians defending austerity measures. The speech is overlaid with off-stage screams, the chiming of Big Ben, a spliced parliamentary chorus of Here! Here! and Peggy Lee singing Where or When? while Houstoun sits quietly waiting in the shadows of her final acts. The cumulative effect is such disillusion that it might come with a health warning were it not for Houstoun’s brand of dark humour.

50 Acts takes a break from the question of ageing to let off steam on another topic: ‘The world of questionnaires, idiotic marketing speak and non-stop initiative drivel has been driving us mad for some time so I am happy to get a little of this irritation out of my system.’ Houstoun dons a hard hat and an ANSI Class 2 safety vest, and cries, Heads! while samples of health and safety regulations like Do not carry loose objects scroll down the screen. She is subject to various assassination attempts from gunshots throughout the piece — one of the hazards of the job — and regularly checks her vital signs: putting a microphone to her heart on one occasion we hear a thumping beat; she puts it to her head and we hear an ambulance siren. Houstoun is not beyond making fun of herself to make a comment about our mental well-being.

After the half-time interval, in which we remain in our seats watching Houstoun taking a breather, an alarm like a school bell sounds. Houstoun brings on a music stand with a score, a wooden stool with a pile of vinyl records and a hammer. We hear an interview in which two women are talking about our need to breathe more deeply and to use time as tendrils that we can pull out as a way of foreseeing the future. Houstoun is busy unraveling a cassette tape. There’s a drum roll followed by another Chopin Prelude. Houstoun stands with her eyes on the score, a hammer raised in her right hand and a vinyl record resting on the stool in the other. On an emphatic chord in the music she smashes the record with the hammer and prepares another, hitting the accents in the music (and the records) with perfect timing until the Prelude – and the pile of records – is finished. This is perhaps what she means by ‘getting a little of this irritation out of my system.’ She returns to the cassette tape, feeding its tendrils through her fingers like a medium looking into the future. ‘I’m getting a cross; it’s in the south: a southern cross…I’m getting a pension….no, no, I’m not getting a pension…I’m getting labels, labeled…I’m just getting the odd word now: tainted, cradle, grave, burden, tax…We’re in a dance hall, a palace of wasted steps…We’re doing the dance of the daft, the half-light limbo, the dead leg mambo, the go-and-get-pissed…All the steps are disappearing, one by one.’ Another, rather mournful Chopin Prelude now, and over the top Houstoun plays the end of a telephone message on her cassette player: Cheers then, lots of love which she rewinds and plays over and over again while bleached family photographs display on the screen. It is an act that has the poignancy of autobiography.

We are on to end-of-life questionnaires on the screen: Did you find your life experience a) satisfactory or b) unsatisfactory? Your opinions are important to us. Another abortive disappearing trick leads to the sound of a woman sobbing overlaid by a voice saying, ‘Preview’. Houston tries one last time to disappear — in vain — before delivering a Shakespearean epilogue imagining the visible specks of dust floating in the spotlights are living entities from beyond who may ‘tell us things we need to learn.’ She places her microphone in the air and manages to pick up scraps of speech and thoughts, not always welcome. This is where the political speech on austerity begins, and Houstoun sits it out under a light at the back, doing a seated soft-shoe shuffle. Acts 47 and 48 flow into one another as the clock ticks inexorably. By Act 49 she is still seated as if in a waiting room. There is a drum roll, but no action. We reach Act 50. Houstoun is gently nodding. On the screen a series of suggestions on how to finish the act scrolls down the screen (more slowly, as time has taken a break). I could sidle off into the shadows…sing a gently lullaby so everyone feels cared for…rage against the dying of the light…like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore…recite a poem. No, that would be too wordy. Lights out. It is the performance of a lifetime.

Nigel Charnock: Haunted by the Future

Posted: October 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Nigel Charnock: Haunted by the Future

Nigel Charnock: Haunted by the Future*, Dance Umbrella, Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins, October 13

photo: Tomer Applebaum

*Note: this performance replaces Ivo Dimchev’s Lili Handel which has been cancelled due to personal circumstances.

I am sorry to have missed Dimchev, but the opportunity to see Nigel Charnock’s last completed work in a festival dedicated to his memory is a ‘consummation devoutly to be wish’d’ both for Dance Umbrella and the audience. Haunted by the Future is about a consummation that is no longer devoutly to be wish’d – far from it – and it is nevertheless consummated with that abundant, overflowing energy and passion we know from Charnock’s own abundant, overflowing energy and passion. The universe will never be the same now he is out there.

But here in the relative pinpoint of a Platform Theatre, Talia Paz and Mike Winter dig into Charnock’s material with rubber gloves and claws to deliver this orphaned work in the presence of a doting, devoted public with such channeled energy that it might be impossible to ever replay it. Winter clearly has the harder task as Charnock wrote himself into the part. He is second generation but there is no doubt he is his father’s son. Paz, who also produced Haunted by the Future, is in a league of her own, free to embrace the work with her heart, her intelligence, her richness of expression, and a second position extension that has more meaning than anything ever seen on the stage at Covent Garden.

The uncompromising symmetry (of another dimension entirely to Beth Gill’s Electric Midwife) of the opening sequence where Winter drags Paz on to the stage struggling in a voluminous sack and the ending where Paz stuffs Winter into the same sack and drags him off is too premonitory to pass over. Is this the future Charnock was haunted by? It suggests the two characters are twin aspects of Charnock’s own persona: the love and hate, the fighting and making love, the need to be held and the need to stand alone, the need for understanding and the need to tell the world to fuck off; the desire to go back as much as the desire to go forward, in control and out of control, hurt and consoling, blindly passionate and searingly honest. Poignant, funny and hysterical by turns, it is the extraordinary performance by Paz and Winter that brings all these contrary aspects into one articulate, warm, flesh-and-blood whole that makes us realize how much we shall miss Charnock’s brand of no-holds-barred theatre now he is no longer on our stage.

There is his eclectic range of recorded music, from the chaotic mix of the opening five minutes to the sublime voice of Kathleen Ferrier — to which Paz dances a lovely flowing solo — via the nostalgia of Fred Astaire, Edith Piaf, Barbara Streisand, the whistling Ronnie Ronalde, a klezmer band and the soulful James Brown; the bare stage but for a few props, like the large sack, a rolled-up duvet that doubles as a flaccid dildo, a couple of chairs, clouds of ever-dispersing smoke; a disco ball emitting rays of sparkle in the opening sequence (lighting by Shahar Bareket); for each contestant in the matrimonial ring a bottle of water, a towel and a megaphone with which they harangue each other across the stage; the action running off into the audience, the screaming, the rants and the touching ballroom-to-crawling duets of a sexual, combative, face-slapping, bum-rubbing, hand-swinging relationship; and throughout Charnock’s irreverent, impish, to-hell-with-you sense of humour.

Haunted by the Future is a fitting tribute to Charnock, in his own hand. Who else could have done it better? One might almost say he was there, egging on Paz and Winter to their limits, which they surpassed. There are no half measures in Nigel Charnock; there never were and there never will be. Wherever he is.

Beth Gill’s Electric Midwife: Lost in translation

Posted: October 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Beth Gill’s Electric Midwife: Lost in translation

Beth Gill, Electric Midwife, Platform Theatre, Central St Martins, October 9

Perhaps I am not sitting in the right place – not directly in the centre and too close to the front – or perhaps the theatre is just too wide, but for some reason Beth Gill’s Electric Midwife, presented by Dance Umbrella at the Platform Theatre of Central Saint Martins, is not translating well. In a work so totally committed to the mirror symmetry of six performers in two trios, the question of viewpoint is crucial, because if the symmetry is not evident, there is little else to appreciate. Where symmetry is often valued in a context of non-symmetry – the country house in its parkland, a corps de ballet in a narrative setting – Gill explores symmetry as the sole choreographic underpinning of Electric Midwife, relying on its visual aspect above all others. Gill, it seems, has always found it interesting to present her work in a visual art capacity.

The piece opens as the audience arrives, with the two trios of dancers against the wall on either side of the bare stage, matching their poses in mirror image. There are two taped, black tramlines, the width of a chair, running up the middle of the stage from front to back. The dancers, all women, are in practice clothes; there has been no attempt to create a symmetry of identical body shapes and there is some disparity in the amplitude of their respective movements. One dancer starts a movement, which is mirrored by her counterpart on the other side of the stage, though the stage is just too wide for me to see both at the same time. My viewpoint improves as the dancers approach the tramlines. Essentially, one trio is choreographed, and the other acts as its mirror image. When the dancers are in eye contact, there is a good chance their mirror symmetry is effective in both space and time, but when they are not, the beatless score by Jon Moniaci is not particularly helpful. Perhaps part of the choreographic process is to work out a telepathic sensory system between the dancers so they can initiate movements at the same time. Generally the timing is maintained remarkably well, though the errors are all the more evident and prove a needless distraction.

There are formations that remind me of the columned, sculptured entrance to a Baroque building, and at other times there are references to Michaelangelo’s ideally proportioned man in his circle, and shapes based on the first position in ballet. Patterns repeat, and there are a periods of stillness, but because there is no emotional force in the movement, these static forms have no life; the stillness has nothing to retain. Towards the end there is a promising increase in the dynamics of the work, as if Gill wants to bring off a final, juicy variation before the return to stillness at the end. Her symmetry begins to get a workout as the dancers have their first contact with each other, like a planar intersection, with a seated couple falling through the open legs of a standing couple. There is a feeling of a development here, but instead the music stops soon after and the dancers make their slow, symmetrical way off stage in a rose light.

Electric Midwife could fall into the meditative experience if it wasn’t for the intellect working so hard to perceive and appreciate the symmetry. The sound score by Jon Moniaci is certainly meditative and Madeline Best’s lighting reminds me in its opening gradations of a monochrome Rothko canvas. Interestingly, the lighting is the one element that forms variations on the symmetrical theme. At one point the overhead lights create intersecting circles on the stage, with the shadows of the dancers cast on them at asymmetrical angles. At another point the front lights project the shadows of the dancers on to the back wall, warping the floor symmetry out of alignment. The meditative aspect seemed to pick up in the latter part of the work, with the use of different mudras. A dramatic pose by one couple had something of a Bharatnatyam influence and the two girls ringing out ceremonial cloths into the bowls of water is perhaps another reference to Eastern meditative practice.

Dance includes the intellectual body, the physical body and the emotional body. At most Electric Midwife includes the intellectual and the physical, for there is little trace of the emotional (I don’t mean crying, laughing, fear and joy, but simply the emotional body which conveys the sense of dance). Without the emotional body there’s a kind of lethargy in the movement, like balloons with insufficient air. Electric Midwife is predominantly physical and intellectual, so the dancers don’t have much to do apart from being in precisely the right shape at the right time to retain the symmetry of the piece. It is essentially static. What is missing is the dynamic interaction of patterns, shapes and forms.

What a surprise, then, to see the video monitor in the bar area an evening or so later, showing a clip of Electric Midwife on a narrow stage seen through a single lens. Suddenly the patterns and their interactions make sense. It is like looking through a kaleidoscope as the dancers merge and disperse, form and reform in almost mechanical precision. Even without looking at the screen from directly in front, I could appreciate the patterns. Gill has made symmetry a guiding idea in Electric Midwife, but she has not, as the performance showed, overcome its visual limitations. But film, with its single, shared viewpoint, seems to resolve them very effectively.

Mette Edvardsen: Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine

Posted: October 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mette Edvardsen: Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine

Mette Edvardsen: Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, Central Islington Library, October 9

Mette Edvardsen

Mette Edvardsen (photo: Ida Ramberg)

In Ray Bradbury’s book, Farenheit 451, firemen do not put out fires; they start them in order to rid society of books, which are considered subversive because they carry insidious thoughts and ideas that may run counter to authority (451° farenheit is the temperature, Bradbury believed, at which book paper burns). Learning from books is like an infectious virus that transforms the victim into a carrier. In our present society, health authorities marshal their forces at this time of year to eradicate flu by offering immunisation jabs. In Bradbury’s world the social health authorities were trying to stamp out books. Any that were found were burned, and owners prosecuted. Of course there were defiant readers who hid their books, but one of the most effective ways — one that went under the fire brigades’ radar — was to commit the books to memory. Mette Edvardsen started a group that does just that, and Dance Umbrella had the good sense to invite her to perform in the Central Islington Library.

As a former dancer, Edvardsen realised there are parallels between the way books are memorised and the way dance is passed on. You can’t destroy a dance because it lives in the muscle memory of a dancer, who can then pass it on to another. The act of reading to somebody else is also similar to a performance, and in the same way a dance takes on something of the life and character of the dancer, the book is subject to the mind of the person memorising it. For her Dance Umbrella project, Edvardsen gathered a wonderful group of readers to give a series of readings from memory of selected books, be it a story or a collection of poems. You reserve a time and when you arrive at the library your reader is waiting for you. ‘So you have come to read me,’ said Edvardsen. She was, for this performance, Natsume Soseki’s I am a Cat, a satirical view of the human condition through feline eyes. We search for an empty corner of the library with a couple of comfortable chairs, and settle in like a couple of cats on a sunny afternoon ready for a nap, but only time falls asleep. When Edvardsen begins to perform her book, she sets aside her own identity for the voice of the author. It is as if Soseki himself is present.

Edvardsen’s first language is Norwegian, but her English is faultless. I am a Cat is a translation into English from the original Japanese, so the ideas of Soseki have taken a circuitous route to Edvardsen’s memory. However, the images she passes on through the spoken word are clear, colourful and full of satirical humour. I was so taken with the experience that I booked the last available spot for Michael Donaghy’s Collected Poems read by Rosemary Lee. Lee knew Donaghy, who died in 2004, so there is another very personal connection that colours her performance. She says she can hear Donaghy’s inflections and rhythms as she recites. Lee has chosen the poems in no particular order, taken from the three volumes of Donaghy’s collected poems. She reads a poem twice to allow it to sink in, but if you don’t want her to repeat it, that’s fine, and if you want her to go back to one you particularly like, that is fine too. It’s a performance like no other, a discovery of a beautiful state of mind in a transmission of life to life. Donaghy’s life, Lee’s life, and now mine.

Seeing a performance in a theatre, of course, should be just like this. Any dance performance is in effect the transmission of an idea or ideas from the choreographer to the audience through the medium of dance. The transmission also requires, on behalf of the audience, the conscious desire to receive, and not simply to be entertained. It is, after all, a performance not a production (with all the overtones and undertones of a product to be sold, to be marketed, to be consumed). Edvardsen’s project has returned to the very core of dance.

Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion: One Flute Note

Posted: October 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion: One Flute Note

Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion, One Flute Note, Studio Theatre, UAL: Central Saint Martins, October 5

‘There is nothing to say, and I am saying it.’ This is the opening statement of John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing and in Jonathan Burrows’ and Matteo Fargion’s One Flute Note presented by Dance Umbrella last night at the suitably pared-down Studio Theatre in Central Saint Martin’s there is an echo: there is nothing to do, and I am doing it.

I recently was introduced to John Cage’s ideas after hearing Richard Bernas’s radio program, Beyond Silence, celebrating the centenary of Cage’s birth. I hadn’t realised the vigour and humanity of Cage’s discourse on music, sound and life. I feel Burrows is a similar voice in dance, and in Fargion he has found a co-creator to give form to their ideas. As Burrows writes in his book, A Choreographer’s Handbook, ‘Collaboration is about choosing the right people to work with, and then trusting them. You don’t, however, have to agree about everything. Collaboration is sometimes about finding the right way to disagree.’ Anyone who knows the book will recognise the balanced form of his axiomatic advice, and Burrows’ fruitful collaboration with Fargion since they met in 1989 is proof of the validity of this particular axiom. They have been creating duets together since 2002: Both Sitting Duet (2002), The Quiet Dance (2005), Speaking Dance (2006), Cheap Lecture (2009), The Cow Piece (2009) and Counting to One Hundred (2011). Dance Umbrella is presenting a mini-retrospective of five of them.

This is the first performance of One Flute Note, and evidently there are some (permitted) errors that one can sense only from the occasional lapses into self-conscious smiles. Burrows and Fargion are so comfortable with each other on stage; seeing them in the bar afterwards, it is as if drinking a cold beer is as natural as the performance on stage: no makeup to remove, no costumes to change out of, no barrier between performer and audience. This naturalness is encapsulated in one of the maxims for ‘beginnings’ in the Handbook: ‘we walk on as though we were walking into Matteo’s kitchen.’ Another is that ‘we walk on in a formal way that is unexpectedly informal.’ The simplicity of these two statements belies the complexity of what we have been watching for the past thirty minutes. Burrows and Fargion play predictability against unpredictability, the expected against the unexpected, action against stillness, silence against non-silence, narrative against abstract, and absurdity against a sense of normal. In the intersection between these opposing ideas they find the space for both tension and its release in laughter.

The program notes underline the importance to Burrows and Fargion of the structure of Lecture on Nothing, proposing that One Flute Note is ‘at once a homage to and questioning of a way of thinking that has underpinned so much dance and performance in the last 30 years.’ Presumably this is the continuing decoupling of dance from the classical form and the corresponding embrace of everyday movement in dance vocabulary. It is also the liberation of thinking about dance that allows endless permutations. There is certainly a sense of freedom in One Flute Note, somewhere between a Peter Cook sketch and a rigorously intellectual approach to dance performance. It involves amongst other elements a surreal array of sound inputs that vary from the one flute note to the sound of 45 choirs, two versions of a chair dance (one without and one with the chairs), and a constant disequilibrium that is kept in play within an absurdly rational structure.

That structure is a paradox of Cage’s lecture: his ‘way of thinking’ liberates, while the form in which it is delivered is carefully constructed. ‘This is a composed talk for I am making it just as I make a piece of music. It is like a glass of milk. We need the glass and we need the milk.’ It is the first time I am seeing a duet by Burrows and Fargion, and I find it liberating. At the same time it is clear that One Flute Note is highly organised and heavily cued; the sound engineer is in effect a third performer. There is no room for improvisation or chance occurrences, nor is there any notion of dissociating the movement from the score, which is one of the central ideas of Cage’s partnership with Merce Cunningham. Burrows and Fargion are forging their own path of questioning and coming up with their own ‘handmade and human-scale’ answers. One Flute Note owes something to John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing, something to Lee Scratch Perry’s Bucky Skank (it’s in the Handbook if you want to know why) and a lot to the intellectual rigour and integrity that Burrows and Fargion bring to their work.

At the end of his radio program, Richard Bernas says that after a performance by Cage his mind and ears are ‘refreshed, more at ease, more balanced, more alert to the world than when it started.’ I feel the same after watching One Flute Note. It is as if Burrows and Fargion have fashioned a way of performing that is a metaphor for living with more freedom within the conflicted confines of our daily lives.