Cloud Dance Friends

Posted: December 21st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Dance Friends

Cloud Dance Friends, New Diorama Theatre, November 29  

Miranda MacLetten and Daniel Whiley in John Ross's Blink (photo: Chris Jackson)

Miranda MacLetten and Daniel Whiley in John Ross’s Blink (photo: Chris Jackson)

Chantal Guevara’s birthday celebration this year includes, before the chocolate cake, a performance at the New Diorama Theatre by Cloud Dance Festival alumni and friends; it is the kind of event for dancers and choreographers to try out new work in as relaxed an atmosphere as any public performance can be.

Elise Nuding, who opens the evening with a first performance of her I, object, bravely juxtaposes linguistics and wordplay with choreography. She writes, ‘This little nugget emerged during a particularly frustrating period of article writing, as I grappled with the slipperiness of words and their implications.’ The struggle is apparent both in her semantic parsing and in her accumulative gestures. As she arrives at each breakthrough in her argument, Nuding takes off a layer of clothes; by the end she has only got to the level of underwear, which suggests this slippery little battle has not yet reached its logical conclusion. Nevertheless I, object reveals a sophisticated aesthetic at work that, depending on what Nuding does with it, makes this nugget either ‘a small lump of gold’ or ‘a valuable idea or fact.’

I am not sure why Mike Williams titles his work 4’33 after the famous John Cage piece of music and makes it last 8 minutes. Why not call it 8’? Besides, a dance in the spirit of Cage’s 4’33 would have no movement but there is plenty in Williams’ angular, long-limbed plasticity though (at least in this evening’s performance) there is a lack of pliable technique to get the most out of it. Cage’s 4’33 contains a world of ideas — his love of silence, the withdrawal of music from the score, his delight in incidental sounds — but Williams’ dance, for all its movement, lacks this kind of philosophical integrity; he points in the right direction but doesn’t embody what he wants to convey and his final gesture for silence underlies the self-conscious conceit of the whole.

Jason Mabana’s Hidden, a duet for himself and Jacob O’Connell, is driven by a tactile quality, part ferocious, part gentle, that describes ‘the ambiguity of a relationship between two conflicted and dominant people.’ Mabana’s choreography carries its imagery with great strength and poetry like a smooth, rich baritone in a youthful body. There is both a singing quality to Mabana and O’Connell’s movement and a silence in the way they dance that leaves our visual and visceral senses free to enjoy the movement without unwanted punctuation. Hidden achieves what it sets out to do with a purity and sincerity that are refreshing.

Humanah Productions’ Egress starts off with a pile of bodies from which the one underneath slithers out with great difficulty to stand but collapses from its independence and returns to the heap. It is a metaphor of growth and departure in the form of a game, one of many ludic adventures in the work that lead the performers to set out on their own paths without forsaking their social cohesion. The games take the form of a structured improvisation but despite the energy of the performers and the inspired live music Egress never really evolves beyond that initial phase of innocent play.

I saw Anna-Lise Marie Hearn’s Our Physical Intentions at the Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform at the Galvanizers Union pub not long ago where the intimacy of the setting enhanced the intimacy of the thought processes that weave their way through the work and where the intensity of Eleanor Mackinder, in particular, was palpable. It was as if we were watching a conversation between three people in the same room. Even though the stage at the New Diorama is not exactly large, the dancers appear isolated in space. Perhaps there is something else at work: the nature of Our Physical Intentions is an ‘exploration of how our thoughts directly determine and influence our emotions’ but on a seemingly subcutaneous level. The costumes (by Inês Neto dos Santos) resemble the patchwork system of the body’s nervous system and the three performers (Mackinder, Laura Boulter and Lydia Costello) are as much a ‘cognitive pattern’ of thoughts, emotions and reactions as they are flesh and blood. Danced stories have traditionally read from the outside to the inner emotions whereas Hearn turns the process inside out: you follow the process to arrive at a story. In a larger space, however, the internal processes (Mackinder’s intense expression, for example) are less easy to read, distancing them from the story on which they are based.

Yukiko Masui’s Unbox is an ‘investigation into cross-genre movements which aim to be unidentified as a dance genre’ in which she is ‘searching for a place that people cannot put me in a category as a dancer or a person.’ Indeed all we see of her at first is the fingers of one hand playing in a circle of down-light, and when she steps into the light we see a heavily clothed and hooded figure with the physical mien of a young man. She moves in a macho, feline way, mixing contemporary and street dance with androgynous strength and sensitivity though by the time she develops her beautiful, spiral movements the female is in the ascendant. Having expressed so succinctly in dance form the strength and ambiguity of her presence, the conclusion of Unbox appears to contradict the latter part of Masui’s goal: she makes a point of categorizing her identity by letting down her hair and removing layers of clothing. The mystery has evaporated.

In John Ross’s work, Blink — a single chapter previewing a longer work — the symbolic and the expressive are both present in the gestural body. Loosely based on a short novel by Mitch Albom, ‘The five people you meet in heaven’, Blink follows the sensory trail of Eddie (Daniel Whiley) who, having just died and before entering heaven, meets five important people from specific periods in his life. This episode involves his wife (Miranda MacLetten). I have already written about Whiley’s ability — in Sally Marie’s I loved you and I loved you — to plumb the depths of a movement to present us with the clarity of the imperceptible. In Blink Ross works with this ability, exploring the form and substance of a man whose memory is so far detached from the living as to borrow from a spectral world. At one point MacLetten calls his name, which sends a shudder of recognition through Whiley and brings out tears of distant recollection. His body is the material of this dematerialization, a duality Ross expresses in and out of light, seen and not seen. The intriguing power of Blink is the way Ross brings together these contradictions to make visible a relationship that MacLetten remembers all too well but Whiley only senses through his faltering gestures: his nose nuzzling her shoulder, his dancing with her on her toes as if he has no weight or motion of his own or in his tremulous singing an old, shared song. Ross is adept at creating these kind of in-between experiences, between life and death, between remembrance and loss with a subtlety and sensitivity that both MacLetten and Whiley embody so convincingly and that composer Greg Haines nurtures with a haunting, other-worldly solo piano score. Blink may be a fragment, but it contains the promise of something substantial.

I can’t help sensing Estela Merlos is slaying some of her demons in her solo, UKOK, so fiercely provocative is it. Merlos has a lot of fire in the flash of her eyes but there is also a poetic flow in the powerful dislocation of space her movement provokes. While she writes that the work is ‘inspired by the alliance of women with nature in nomadic culture’, Merlos clearly identifies viscerally with the ‘intuition and vigilance of the feminine figure’: she transforms it into a force that surges through her body to the extremities of her splayed fingers and stamping feet with total conviction. It is a fitting conclusion to an evening that celebrates Chantal Guevara’s love of and determination to promote the rich seam of independent dance.


Sweetshop Revolution: I loved you & I loved you

Posted: July 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sweetshop Revolution: I loved you & I loved you

Sweetshop Revolution, I loved you & I loved you, The Place, July 30

Faith Prendergast, Daniel Whiley and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke in Sally Marie's I loved you & I loved you (photo: ©Danilo Moroni)

Faith Prendergast, Daniel Whiley and Karl Fargerlund-Brekke in I loved you & I loved you (photo: ©Danilo Moroni)

I had already fallen in love with the title, the story of Welsh composer Morfydd Owen and the publicity image by Danilo Moroni of Faith Prendergast, Karl Fargerlund-Brekke and Daniel Whiley that heralded the new work by Sally Marie but having had the opportunity last night to see its work-in-progress form as part of Fringe at The Place, I can say I loved you & I loved you goes beyond my expectations. Let me count the ways.

The way Prendergast anticipates the first note of music with a subtle turn of her head after which she inhabits the music and the music inhabits her as if she is the composer (which she is). The way she moves and the way her eyes make her movement an entire story with the emotional breadth of a tragic life. I loved you & I loved you is a dark work about a beautiful and gifted composer who at 26 died mysteriously on a kitchen table at the hands of her husband, Ernest Jones, but Prendergast brings out the simple joy and beauty embedded in the music (played by Brian Ellsbury) that keeps the light from dying.

The way Daniel Whiley (as Ernest Jones) matches Prendergast in sensitivity. Whiley has a powerful physique matched by an intelligence and humility that remind me of Paul White. Like Prendergast he illustrates his story through his eyes and head while his body shapes the emotions. Initially he shares Prendergast cheerfully enough with his rival for her affections, Fargerlund-Brekke, but gradually reveals a streak of menace. His solo of bare-chested, breathy exertions shows a contorted, analytical soul who is soon consumed by the sexual theories (as a psychoanalyst Jones was a close associate of Freud) that he demonstrates in a self-absorbed, rhythmical anal dance.

The way Fargerlund-Brekke (as Elliot Crawshay-Williams, ‘the man she longed to love’) plays a half-hearted game of tennis with Whiley in the garden as he smiles his way through his coy, self-deprecatory story that he delivers with more conviction than his serve and pisses off his opponent no end. He is a gentle romantic unaware of his rival’s morbid preoccupation with theories of control. His role in the work’s story is cursory at this point, but in the three weeks before Edinburgh Marie promises to bring it to the significance it holds in the title.

The way soprano Ellen Williams colours the music and the way Ellsbury plays Owen’s works on the upright piano (he is the first pianist to record Owen’s solo piano works). And the way Owen herself phrases her music with both strength and gentleness.

And finally the way Marie has entered into this story with her entire creative being and has not only drawn the elements together in a poignant dance theatre production but has filled it with a love of and admiration for her subject. That’s why the photograph, the title, the story and the performance have a creative unity that doesn’t lie. This is a gem.

I loved you & I loved you is co-produced with Coreo Cymru and Chapter in association with Galeri, Caernarfon and National Theatre Wales and supported by both Arts Council England and Wales