Knowbody II, Elixir Festival 2017

Posted: July 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Knowbody II, Elixir Festival 2017

Knowbody II, Elixir Festival, Sadler’s Wells, June 24

ELIXIR FESTIVAL at Sadler’s Wells, London, UK ; 22 June 2017 ; Credit : Johan Persson

Company of Elders in Shobana Jeyasingh’s Here (photo: Johan Persson)

Something interesting has happened to the bipartite formula for Sadler’s Wells’ Elixir dance festival celebrating lifelong creativity. Three year’s ago, the main stage performance Knowbody was clearly the headliner of the festival while the Extracts, based predominantly on community dance, were the supporting acts. This year the quality of Knowbody II has declined while the first evening of Extracts has shown a marked advance in mature amateur dance to a middle ground between community dance and the main stage. One of the reasons is that the current programming of Elixir has not reflected what has been happening in mature dance in the intervening three years, both in this country and in Europe. Despite Sadler’s Wells membership of the large-scale, EU funded co-operation project, Dance On, Pass On, Dream On (DOPODO), that nine dance institutions from eight countries have developed to address ageism in the dance sector and in society, this year’s Elixir has the same format, some of the same performers, and the same division between professional and amateur companies as before. While the inclusion of Berlin’s Dance On Ensemble (a professional company for the over-40s) and some amateur performances from Holland, Germany and Denmark in the Extracts are welcome, it is a shame that Charlotta Öfverholm’s company Jus de la Vie, a signatory of the DOPODO agreement, could not be included on the main stage event this year. Öfverholm’s presence alone would have countered the tiresome absurdity of Annie-B Parson’s The Road Awaits Us and the misplaced, if respectful inclusion of Robert Cohan’s Forest Revisited. And if Elixir is addressing ageism in dance, why are such artists as Wendy Houstoun and Liz Aggiss, who are battling on the same front, missing from the lineup for the second time? But there is a much larger question that Sadler’s Wells’ own flagship Company of Elders raises that remains to be resolved.

There is a fundamental but vitally important distinction between presenting age on stage and celebrating age on stage. To watch Ana Laguna and Yvan Auzely on the main stage in Mats Ek’s Axe is to celebrate the unique contribution of the mature performer, and the same is true of the performance by Holland Dance of Jérôme Meyer and Isabelle Chaffaud’s My tasteful life in the first program of Extracts. It is not the difference between amateur and professional that counts but the degree to which performers can project their maturity in all its richness and complexity. This doesn’t happen, however, in Shobana Jeyasingh’s Here, choreographed for Company of Elders as part of Knowbody II; it opens promisingly with a wash of crimson costumes in glorious light but descends quickly to a composition of seated dancers waving arms, and such is the design of the chairs and the way the dancers are seated that a comparison with wheelchairs is unavoidable. This is a display of age dressed in glorious costumes and lights where the individuality of the dancers is replaced, in formal terms, by the identity of the group. If someone of Jeyasingh’s creativity cannot make a work on Company of Elders that celebrates their age, there is a problem. Perhaps the makeup of the company means she has had to create on the abilities of the weaker members to the detriment of the expressivity of the stronger ones, but no work of value can ensue from this compromise and the notion of a flagship company for mature dance sinks with it. For all the advantages Company of Elders receives as the Sadler’s Wells resident performance group for the over-60s — working with renowned choreographers, a highly visible platform, touring and high production values — its qualities are no more developed than its counterparts in Brighton, Ipswich, East London and Greenwich (all of whom were presented next door in Extracts). It would seem the opportunities laid at Company of Elders’ feet are being exploited rather than fully realised. Auditions may be one way forward and a re-selection of current members according to ability. And if Sadler’s Wells wants Company of Elders to share the main stage with professional dancers, shouldn’t they, too, be paid?

Another feature of this edition of Elixir that compromises its value is the presence of so many young dancers on the main stage program. Pascal Merighi, who choreographed a solo for Dominique Mercy at the last Elixir has for this one created a duet for Mercy and his daughter, Thusnelda. Why? In Forest Revisited, some of the dancers who once performed Robert Cohan’s Forest (Kenneth Tharp, Anne Donnelly, Linda Gibbs, and Christopher Bannerman, joined by a younger Paul Liburd) are seen teaching it to a new generation. Is Elixir becoming an intergenerational festival? Artistic director Alastair Spalding describes Elixir as ‘an evening featuring choreography created and danced by older artists’ while his programmers seem to be doing something else. What Extracts has confirmed, however, is that works for mature dancers are gaining in quality and interest; hopefully we won’t have to wait another three years for the next edition of Elixir festival to see mature dancers in a new category of work that is currently coming of age.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Ahnen

Posted: April 30th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Ahnen

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Ahnen, Sadler’s Wells, April 25

Dominique Mercy, Lutz Förster, Michael Strecker in Ahnen (photo: Laszlo Szito)

Dominique Mercy, Lutz Förster, Michael Strecker in Ahnen (photo: Laszlo Szito)

Pina Bausch once said in an interview, “Don’t try to understand me. Pay attention to the piece and then you’ll know.” At two hours and 30 minutes, some critics have found it difficult to pay attention to Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch’s Ahnen and resolve the issue by suggesting the work would be improved by editing (which means shortening). When asked what he was trying to say in a work he had just played, Beethoven apparently simply played it again. With digital recording technology we can listen to music over and over again whenever we wish and come to ‘understand’ it in the way Beethoven meant, but this is not the case with dance. In one viewing one cannot possibly understand the complex layering of fragments that constitute Ahnen; but you can pay attention. In the same way we cannot possibly understand the complexity of daily life but we can pay attention to what is going on around us. We can notice how people walk in the street, how they hold themselves, how they look, how they sit at a café table sipping coffee, what they are eating and what dietary trend they might be following; how people argue amongst themselves, how violence can seep into a conversation and how gestures speak volumes. How old age has its serenity and its loneliness and how desperately funny some situations are. How unconnected events carry on in the background while something else is happening right in front of us and yet in the visual plane, like a photograph, they are connected. How we think, how fear can dominate our thinking, how memories hold us in their powerful gaze, how the erotic can manifest so suggestively or be suppressed, how rituals can inform our way of life, how the actions of others can appear to start and end without warning as we pass by. How we victimise others in our thoughts and imagine ways of dealing with them; how appearances can be deceptive; how we might hide our true feelings; how music affects our perception, how landscape affects our mood. How newspaper images can appear surreal in the context of our viewing. Bausch is an acute observer of human life and she trained her company to observe. Each of her works is the sublimation into a theatrical form of months of observation by the entire company, of choreographic ideas, of questions and responses, of images, of musical suggestions, possible set designs and endless editing. And yet what may have started as personal observations or reflections has a universal value. If we pay attention we may even see ourselves.

Bausch once said, “Each person in the audience is part of the piece in a way; you bring your own experience, your own fantasy, your own feeling in response to what you see. There is something happening inside. You only understand it if you just let that happen; it’s not something you can do with your intellect.”

Like a beautiful photographic image, Ahnen, like all of Bausch’s works, is wrapped in a seductive visual package; each small element — costumes (by Marion Cito) and props (from café tables to sewing machines to a full size walrus) — and the overall design that Peter Pabst makes into a single set like a frame through which we see the characters but which is also an integral part of the action. The stage is a forest of cacti, some giant some smaller, some like caricatures of silent semaphore and others, like the one dead centre, light-heartedly phallic. According to Sarah Crompton’s interview with Pabst in the program, there was a lot of fun in the making of this set. ‘The inspiration was “just a photograph of a landscape full of cactus which I thought was nice. Somehow Pina liked it too.”’ To make the model Pabst ‘went to the café where Bausch bought cakes each day and asked for a piping bag, which he filled with soft plaster and piped his cactus — all 60 of them.’ Once the production company had made them stage size, Pabst found the solution for the needles: an old factory on the outskirts of Wuppertal where they made brooms with nylon bristles. Helped by ‘everyone in the theatre’ to fix the needles in time for the opening, Pabst then blasted each spike with the heat of a paint stripper to make it less regular. “I started a third career as a hairdresser to cactus…It was very silly and very funny.” It is worth remembering this ludic creativity so as not to approach a work like Ahnen with too much seriousness. It is a notion that Christiana Morganti touches on: ‘I really don’t have anything to say; I just wanted to show you how I look…Actually I don’t give a shit. Actually I do give a shit but it doesn’t matter, right?’

Bausch again: “Dancers ask me always ‘What are we going to do; what will it be in the end?’ I can never answer this, because the thing is I don’t know too what it’s going to be. And somehow it happens. I just make the way it happens.”

There is a poignant sense of looking back in Ahnen, a respectful nostalgia that the music conveys, that Julie Anne Stanzak embodies so hauntingly with a love heart painted on her face looking wistfully at her past as she tries to rub clean her slate; that the great wind machine suggests as it blows newspapers across the stage while a stoic Jean Laurent Sasportes in American Indian headdress guards his ancestral ground; that is enshrined in Ditta Miranda Jasjfi making offerings to the egos of the house and the squirrels and touched with humour as Dominique Mercy, wrapped in a deckchair, sings L’Amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle from Carmen while Lutz Förster next to him translates it phrase by phrase to an impassive Michael Strecker replete with Manchurian whiskers and elongated eyes. There is an added poignancy to this nostalgia: Ahnen shows the company dealing with its own past while living fully in the present.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge

Posted: April 20th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Auf dem Gebirge, Sadler’s Wells, May 17

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Aug dem Gebirge (photo: Karl-Heinz Krauskopf)

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch in Auf dem Gebirge (photo: Karl-Heinz Krauskopf)

What a pleasure to see Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal again at Sadler’s Wells; quite apart from the stimulation of Bausch’s scintillating and dark imagination it is the quality of performance that is so refreshing. Dominique Mercy and Lutz Förster’s soft shoe duet in the second half of Auf dem Gebirge is brilliant in its shabby simplicity, in its evocation of master and servant, of old friends, of two clowns or tramps, all in one. Michael Strecker’s, fleshy, disfigured presence doesn’t miss a menacing beat throughout and Ditta Miranda Jasjfi’s tearful stand interrupted by the audience piling out to the bar in the intermission is theatrical presence on a stoic scale. The entire company is as note perfect as a fine symphony orchestra and they perform without their conductor. They reveal themselves in all their simplicity and complexity; that is what Bausch wanted of them. It occurred to me that for each member of the company the performance of Bausch’s works since her death must be a form of re-living her constant enquiry and coaxing (however hard that might have been) that are at the heart of each work. In her obituary of Bausch in 2009, Deborah Jowitt mourned for the company as ‘a particular, intimate extension of her own body and creative mind.’ Fortunately, like a family that has survived the departure of a parent, her company is still performing in her spirit.

Another aspect of a Bausch performance is the completeness of the elements. The music is never simply an accompaniment but a calibrated tuning of the drama through Bausch’s long collaboration with Matthias Burkert and Andreas Eisenschneider; Auf dem Gebirge’s score comprises a crackly recording of Billy Holiday’s powerful Strange Fruit, a symphonic anthem by Mendelssohn, rock and roll, songs sung by the dancers and a brass band playing on stage. And then there are the settings, the visual frame of the dramas. In an interview with set designer Peter Pabst in the program, Sarah Crompton reveals the way he worked with Bausch: ‘Pabst would spend time in rehearsals as Bausch asked the dancers questions and they responded. As he watched, ideas and images would come into his mind, and he would begin to place drawings and photographs on the large table where Bausch sat. “If she didn’t say anything, I would just take it away and try something else because apparently it was not good enough. I would never try to push anything — it had to be so good that she would react.” Pabst describes Auf dem Gebirge as a ‘collection of images which are created by the dancers on stage, so I don’t think I made a model.’ He found himself thinking of a ploughed field. “It was a period where Pina was interested in reducing dance. She liked the idea of having really difficult ground — grass in 1980, carnations in Nelken, and this” — ‘this’ being a stage with a slight rake covered in 10 cubic metres (or 2 tons) of soil.

Auf dem Gebirge (or to give it its full name, Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört, which translates as On the Mountain a Cry Was Heard) is stark, both in its burnt earth landscape with felled fir trees and smoke and in its choreographic imagery. The title refers to Herod’s murder of the innocents (Hannah Weibye nails it precisely) but even without this knowledge it is Bausch’s imagination — by definition outside the realm of rational dissection — that allows us the freedom to respond to her work in our own way. If we laugh — and there are moments of parody and surreal imagery in the darkness — cry, are outraged or annoyed, we will not be unmoved.

This is perhaps because Bausch shares her work with her dancers; she does not direct them to illustrate her observations (as a painter might direct his or her own imagination on to the canvas) but allows them to respond to her questioning. An idea in her head might appear on stage diffracted through a dancer’s own sensibility even if it remains anchored to her original stimulus. The resulting images, edited scrupulously by Bausch, do not form a linear narrative but are imbued with a time and place, many times and places, or the same time and place repeatedly. She deals in the perception of vertical time on stage — the intensity of fragments of time —while we in the audience might be concerned with horizontal time, looking for the links between those moments. In this sense her work is filmic, moving forwards, backwards and sideways, up and down to capture a form for her imagination. Perhaps Pabst’s style of working with Bausch is similar to the way the dancers worked with her. If they responded in a way that caught her imagination she could work with it. If not, it didn’t appear. It says a lot that these dancers were raised to always strive to bring out their full potential for Bausch; she was the choreographer but also, as she insisted, part of the audience. Now she is gone, they can strive only to perform these works to the best of their ability. It raises questions for the future, but for now we are fortunate to be able to see them at work.

From Thursday until Sunday this week the company will be performing another work from the 1980s: Ahnen. Treat yourself to a ticket if you can.


Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Palermo Palermo

Posted: July 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Palermo Palermo

Andrey Berezin as the boxer drag queen in Palermo Palermo (photo: Laurent Philippe)

It’s the wall. It’s the long-limbed elegant women in high heels and colourful printed summer dresses picking their way over the rubble and dust with handsome men in white shirts and black trousers attendant on their every whim (and there are many) carrying café tables and chairs like a corps of waiters. It’s the church bells and the power of black in the languid streets. It’s the figure of a boxer turned drag queen with a bloody eye who comperes the event from his dressing room just this side of a passageway between stage and wings. It’s the ripe tomatoes, and the sensuous hint of skin beneath the dresses. It’s the promise of spring when the cherry blossoms descend but may not last forever and the cycle of a feather blown across the stage and caught precisely in its fall. It’s the proud, dazzling machismo dancing in the streets. It’s the light of day flooding the scene, the glimpses in the sunlight of a life lived fully in the streets, passions flaunted and hung out to dry, and the shadows of taunts and twisted arms, drugs and jealousy (even the violence is funny and beautiful). It’s a (not so mangy) dog sniffing among the rubble to find his own picnic: movement of a very different kind. It’s the music: no formally-dressed classical choice, but songs of the street, love songs, songs of the people, of the heart, but it’s also Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto played by six pianists on six upright pianos side by side. It’s the irrational, the irascible, the overflowing of passionate argument like wine spilled from a glass and as unresolved as a revolver pointed at any number of human targets and never fired. It’s the rubbish pitched in the street with such beguiling charm by a cohort of dancers. It’s the beauty of every gesture, the refinement of every passion, the joie de vivre of every smile. It’s the arms, especially of the women, loose and long and supple, winding like tendrils around head and hair and body. What is it like to drown? What is the feeling of being buried? What is it like to be shaken from your passion by an earthquake?

Earthquake or psychological release, the breezeblock wall that fills the entire proscenium collapses in what must be one of the most dramatic openings of any dance theatre work. The beautiful Julie Shanahan stumbles over the rubble gesturing wildly while the sultry voice of Billy Holiday sings Why don’t you do right? Two men run in and lie Shanahan down. ”Pick me up.” “Damiano! Take my hand! No not like that! Hug me!” She pushes him away. Another man brings her a bag of earth that she tips over herself: burial, self-effacement, the promise of spring. “Bring me a chair!” (He does). “Take my hand!” “Fernando!” “Go!” (He does). Both men return with a bag of overripe tomatoes from the market. “Throw them at my face!” (They miss) “In my face, I said, in my face!” she screams. “Hug me. Take my hand”, but she pulls her hand away. “Take me off!” (They do). The tomatoes slide to the floor from her stained and clinging dress. She is smiling. Church bells ring and men are scrambling over the ruins as they begin to clean up.

While bodies are laid out and other victims reenact their escape, an elegant Jorge Puerta Armenta in a cross between a priestly red garment and butler’s tails brings in a table with wine and glasses. He rings a glass like an angelus bell and the victims rise again and walk off over the rubble: faith, resurrection, communion. The church bells ring for a full ten minutes; we are soaked in the cultural dominance of the Catholic faith.

If the mayor of Palermo asks you to create a work about his city and you insist on including the pervasive mafia and the drug trade, how do you do it? Dominique Mercy walks past a girl and stops, without turning round to face her. The girl kicks him up the backside twice, and he drops two packets of white powder on the floor. Not enough. She kicks him again, and Mercy reaches for another packet from his inside pocket and drops it. Not enough. Another kick, another packet, this time from inside his shirt. Two more kicks and two more packets from his right sock, then two more from his left sock. We all laugh, but the point is made.

Supported by her four sons, a widow dressed in black makes her way over the rubble towards a man. Stopping in front of him, she takes a bottle of water from one of her sons, opens it between her thighs and holding it there pisses the water on to the floor, waggling the end up and down with a bob and a hitch to finish. Keeping her eyes on the man, she gives the bottle to her son and the four men escort their mother back over the rubble.

Journalist, raconteur, cinematographer, choreographer; Pina Bausch is all these things, and her dancers are as much her material as they are the source of her information and imagery. During the initial, preparatory visit to Palermo Bausch and her dancers scraped away the superficial to discover the deeper urban strata, to develop an archaeology of the culture and mores, to collect impressions and sketches from daily life and to relate chance encounters. Bausch would then assimilate and sort these impressions by asking questions. Dominique Mercy, a dancer with the company for over 35 years and co-artistic director since Bausch’s death three years ago, explains the process to Sarah Crompton in the program: “What was important for Pina was to have our reactions and our impressions as soon as possible. It was sometimes a bit difficult for us because sometimes we thought we needed time to get more sensation and flavor from the place. But for her it was important to be confronted with things straightway.’ She would ask ‘complicated questions, or simple ones. And then we tried to respond with a little scene or with words. When she wanted movements out of the questions she would say so very clearly.’ It is this idiosyncratic questioning that is the catalyst for Bausch’s choreographic process and it is the answers that form its raw material. The answers are then filtered and distilled through the bodies and voices of her dancers on to the living stage, so by the time the work is complete, the initial reality of a scene may be four or five times removed. Palermo Palermo lasts two hours and twenty minutes, so there has been an enormous amount of distillation and filtering that gives the work not only a cubist – rather than surreal – quality, but its rapid transitions from one scene to the next, the torrent of impressions and images, the juxtaposed viewing angles and multi-faceted approach give it a distinctly cinematic flow. Bausch has this unerring ability to focus our attention on the smallest details as much as on the movement of the entire stage.

An elegant Japanese woman brings a chair on to the stage and sits at a café table. Palermo is a café society, so she is one of many taking an espresso in the morning overlooking the street, but we do not see the others for this is a close-up shot of a ritual divorce to the plucked strings of the koto. The woman removes her wedding ring and ceremoniously swallows it with a sip of coffee, then repeats with the engagement ring. A single espresso is all it takes.

The sonorous voice and powerful persona of Christiana Morganti with her wonderful monologue on the spaghetti that is hers and hers alone, effectively eliminates any other stage detail.

At other times the lens pulls back, revealing the entire scope of Peter Pabst’s inspired design. The collapsing wall at the beginning is an obvious and dramatic example, but later a line of girls do handstands against the back wall in their tee shirts and underwear, a colorful line of symmetry and grace, except for the one who can’t manage upside down at all. It is a delightful moment of pure farce. At another point the cast bombard the same wall with apples, extrapolating the dynamics of the body to that of projectiles.

If there is one overriding theme in Palermo Palermo, it is love: self-love, the need for love, the expression of love, the love of food and power. There is also an erotic charge in many of the scenes, heightened by the beauty of the dancers and the costumes. The statement in the program that costume designer Marion Cito ‘persistently explores the delicate balance between elegance and the everyday, and ensures that the company’s appearance remains colourful and sensuously rich’ is an understatement. The costumes clothe the body in a way that undresses it as much as dresses it. At the beginning of the second act, Regina Advento has a blue ball that she launches into the air from the lap of her red dress in which she catches it again as she runs, like a childrens’ game. The contrasted colours against her dark skin are already beautiful, but how free and erotic is the image as her dress rises into the air as she launches the ball. Advento then ups the erotic ante by changing into a tight-fitting black dress under her red one, hopping through this convoluted procedure with grace and knowing expertise.

Another woman takes out a pair of underpants from a plastic carrier bag and puts them on under her skirt then shakes a bottle of carbonated water and looks coyly at the audience as she twists the top. We can hear the fizz in the silence.

Waving a coloured boa, Andrey Berezin paces affectedly in his corner dressed in a fox stole, black trunks and high heels, while in the cleared space the dancers compete with one another in couples with total abandon, one idiosyncratic movement phrase at a time, replacing their competitor with the touch of a hand. The dresses move beautifully around the dancers, heightening the intensity and the men are on fire, especially Rainer Behr.

There are also elements of pure violence as when Berezin enters from his dressing room in a red silk boxing gown, sitting down to cut a piece of flesh from his forearm and cook it on the upturned iron. He eats it, and does it again. The audience is stirring uneasily. “C’est déguelasse,” I hear behind me. Shanahan in a stocking mask with a gun in her hand sits on the floor and points at whomever she wishes.

One can sense the end. The images and stories of Palermo give way to two processions, as if a travelling troupe is packing up after the show and rolling out. Cherry trees in blossom descend from the sky, slowly, beautifully. The stagehands take them down and undo the ropes that attach them. Two lines of dancers with an apple on their head gently sway towards us, arm in arm, to the sound of a village band playing Verdi. They exit and reappear crossing the stage from left to right in pairs, in a measured, repeated hopping phrase to a rousing finale of bagpipes. Red sand is cascading in streams against the sky. Once the procession has passed, a man tells the story of the fox and the geese. The fox has been fooled into allowing the geese to pray before he eats them. There is nothing he can do but wait until the geese are finished praying.  Ga, ga, ga, ga, ga. It is a story without end.

As we absorb the intricate layers of images and sounds, colours and senses, ideas and absurdities, we discover not so much Palermo but Bausch herself in all her mysterious, brilliant complexity.