Ian Abbott on Outdoor performances in 2021: Part 1

Posted: February 16th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Coverage, Festival | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Outdoor performances in 2021: Part 1
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Kristina and Sadé Alleyne in Bonded (photo: Luke Witcomb)

Due to the interrupted possibilities of seeing indoor work across 2021, I will focus predominantly in this two-part review on work presented in England’s green and pleasant land, the great outdoors. When the UK government released their four-stage roadmap for loosening Covid restrictions in February 2021, stage three approved the return of outdoor performances as of May 17, allowing audiences once again to see live work in person. Norwich and Norfolk Festival were fresh out of the blocks, running from May 17 to 30, stating that the ‘2021 edition of the arts festival will be a one-off adaptation, with programme and presentation designed especially for Covid times.’ To celebrate the first festival of the 2021 outdoor arts season I ventured to Norwich to see the premieres of three new dance works by Alleyne Dance, Requardt and Rosenberg and Far From The Norm.

Future Cargo by (Frauke) Requardt and (David) Rosenberg was originally planned and advertised to premiere at Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (GDIF) in 2020, but instead landed in Chapelfield Gardens in mid-May on a rainy Norwich evening at 6pm for around 100 audience members. This is how it describes itself: “A truck arrives in Silvertown from a distant planet. As the sides roll up, an unstoppable series of events are set into motion. This contemporary sci-fi dance show reveals a world where the normal rules don’t apply. This extraordinary new outdoor production takes audiences into a surreal visual and aural experience enhanced with 360-degree sound on personal headsets.” 

Future Cargo is actually a cross between the conveyor belt challenge on the Generation Game and a space crematorium — all set on the back of an articulated lorry with bespoke shipping container and treadmills a plenty — as four skin-tight, silver morph-suited performers parade and attempt to escape the inevitable furnace of death. The opening twenty minutes see the chrome morphs ice skate in slow-motion as they continuously adopt multiple mannequin stretches and choreographic poses in both solo and duet encounters before the gradual inclusion of props designed to pique our visual interest in the treadmill conceit: tennis racquets, plants, a very long bench, a water cooler, a bowling ball and ten pins, wigs, combs and dodgems. There is also a truck driver who spends most of their time in the cab before climbing on to the top of the container towards the end only to switch places with one of the silver bodies. 

Having seen all of Requardt &Rosenberg’s four previous works — Electric HotelMotor ShowThe Roof, and DeadClub — they share a clear aesthetic, and a production prowess (courtesy of set and costume designer Hannah Clark and lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth) in which we are connected to the spoken words and music via a set of headphones with a binaural sound design and composition by Ben and Max Ringham. All have a similar thematic field that is being ploughed, but each one is dressed in different clothes. 

If you think of Future Cargo as season five of Requardt and Rosenberg rather than as an individual isolated work, then things begin to make a little more sense; we’re deep into the narrative arc where distance, proximity and intimacy have all been repurposed. Setting aside the awkward season two that was Motor Show, the new(ish) feature for this season is that there’s treadmills and a shipping container in play. I say the shipping container is new, but Rosenberg has another creative partnership with Glenn Neath called Darkfield where together they have produced three 20-minute works in customised shipping containers that audiences enter; they’re pitch black and the work is experienced through sound, scent and haptic encounters.

Throughout May I was also watching the three seasons of Dark (a German language sci-fi series commissioned by Netflix and created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese) which explores the existential implications of time in 33-year cycles, intergenerational time travel and its effect on human nature. It’s all about loops, black holes, repeated lives and making decisions which might or might not impact what happens to us in the future. Dark definitely had an impact on my reading of Future Cargo and the synchrony that exists between the two works; they fed and enhanced each other. When I was watching these chromed bodies disappear off stage left on the truck and heard a whoosh in the soundtrack leading us to believe that the bodies are being flamed, I was also seeing the burnt eyes and burst eardrums on the characters from Dark.

The visual field of Future Cargo is highly controlled and very limited; as an audience experience it’s akin to watching TV. You’re fixed in a single position, watching something play out in front of you at some distance; there’s very rarely more than one thing to watch at once and the majority of it plays out in front of you in a narrow rectangle of constantly evolving moving shapes. Future Cargo is visual dopamine, designed for Instagram likes and contains short-form choreographed nuggets that are perfect for the Tik Tok TV generation.

Good Youtes Walk (commissioned by GDIF) by Far From The Norm was presented in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral and self-describes as a “chaotic and frenzied Hip Hop dance theatre work” that “explores how divided we are as a nation. Due to the recent surge of global events including the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement heightening, now more than ever we are a nation divided. It unravels how the youth of today are reclaiming their future and want to address the divide by creating unity and empathy that transcends race, class, gender and geography.”

In June, when Glastonbury 2021 was a screen-based encounter due to the restrictions on numbers of people who could gather, Kano performed a “career-defining” 35-minute set at Worthy Farm that was joyous, complex and political, demonstrating an artist at the top of their game. Good Youtes Walk Amongst Evil is a song by Kano (released in 2019) and the first lyric is: “We’re doing this for the money”.

Premieres are strange things; they are the first public outing of a work on a date that is often determined by a presenter. Good Youtes Walk was simply not ready to be out in the world. At 40 minutes long it was flabby, had over-stretched ideas outstaying their welcome, energies that sagged between choreographed sections and if you compare the reality of what it claims to be versus reality, it felt thin and flimsy. 

Set on a static lump of a structure that looked like a decaying building (designed by Ryan Dawson Laight), the five dancers attempted to deliver a series of episodic scenes, interspersed with tightly choreographed norm dancing that flips boomer perception of the good/bad binary of what the  “youth” are up to on the street; they tried to goof around and aim their water pistols at political satire with a Boris Johnson-esque character, cheap props, wigs (by costume maker, Kingsley Hall), fishing rods with fake money as bait, superhero masks and inept police officer chases. The FFTN dancers (Amanda Pefkou, Hayleigh Sellors, Jordan Douglas, Shangomola Edunjobi and Ezra Owen) are incredible dancers. They’re not trained clowns, actors and comedians, so why would you attempt to make a work of this length with a limited creation and rehearsal period, asking the dancers to try and deliver all of these other skills on top?  

We know that since the Conservative party came to power in 2010 the real-term spending to youth services has been cut by over 70% in less than a decade; we know that there are so few public spaces designed for teenagers and we know that if you were born after the year 2000 you have only known an England that is suffering the effects of a financial crash, over a decade of Conservative rule and now a pandemic. Young people have only known this state; this is their norm.

I’m unsure whether Good Youtes Walk is Far From The Norm embodying and wholly owning the opening lyric from Kano; after all, a company has a duty of care to those it employs, people need to be paid and which company is going to turn down a sizeable commission in these pandemic times? After the premiere, I don’t know if there was any more time spent re-working it before further dates in the summer, but I cannot say the same for Good Youtes Walk that I did for Far From The Norm’s full-length BLKDOG I saw at Warwick Arts Centre in February 2020: that I’d be happy to meet that work again at a later date to see how it had settled. I’ll share some new thoughts on BLKDOG in the second part of this review.

Bonded by Alleyne Dance was an absolute highlight of 2021; it warrants a much larger tour in 2022 and beyond and demonstrates a rare trinity of conceptual simplicity, refined craft and expert delivery. The work self-describes as “an outdoor production that explores the construct of human dependency, especially that of siblings — and how time and external conditions can affect the synergetic connection. Performed by twin sisters, Kristina and Sadé Alleyne, the work takes the audience through a transitional journey of inter-and-independency through abstract dance narrative.” 

Our thirst for human touch has been foregrounded since March 2020 and although Bonded isn’t a COVID work, it was made during these times. Whilst the use of “synergetic” and “inter-and-independency” in the marketing copy may lead us to believe this is a slightly dry and academic performance, it is anything but. 

At a shade under 30 minutes, we’re introduced to Kristina and Sadé who are alone on either side of a revolving, 8-metre long, narrow, transparent corridor; they encounter this physical barrier (designed by Emanuele Salamanca) which restricts their ability to touch and be together. They begin to mirror movements on either side of it — lighting up our mirror neurons that are enhanced by their visual similarity as twins — until the corridor begins to rotate which forces them to move, inhabiting a space that the other was just in, but the body is no longer there. The corridor and choreography begin to transform and transform again in many and unexpected ways offering encounters on alternate levels, new restrictions to overcome and eventually leading to them being reunited. All of these moments of being apart and facing restrictions before finally coming together were empathetically landing because that had been the lived reality for so many of us before May 2021. 

Kristina and Sadé are exceptional performers who describe the Alleyne Dance style as “blending West-African, Caribbean, Kathak, Hip Hop and Circus Skills within a contemporary dance context” and over the past decade they’ve worked for a suite of international choreographers including Wim Vandekeybus, Akram Khan, Gregory Maqoma, Alessandra Seutin and Boy Blue. However, what is remarkable is that Bonded is the first outdoor performance they’ve created and performed as Alleyne Dance (they were commissioned by 2Faced Dance Company to create Power in 2019). For an outdoor work to be so well crafted, that demonstrates an understanding of how story beats are released to sustain an audience’s attention and how they combine with a structure and score that enhances the conceptual understanding is a massive achievement and heralds an exciting arrival onto the outdoor arts circuit.

Reflections on other work from the great outdoors across in 2021 will continue in part 2.

Ian Abbott: Dance On Screen (And Other Spaces) In Lockdown

Posted: August 30th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Coverage | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott: Dance On Screen (And Other Spaces) In Lockdown

Dance on Screen (and other spaces) in Lockdown, August 16 2020

Dance on Screen
Onyemachi Ejimofor in Lanre Malaolu’s The Circle

It’s been three months since my previous article examined a range of work which wasn’t really made for screen; it was stage work that was filmed — with various levels of technical ability — ported and presented in March, April and May as the world swirled, the UK was in full COVID lockdown, and eyes were glued to screens.

It’s five months since lockdown was announced in the UK; this is a significant moment as culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced that indoor performances with socially distanced audiences would be permitted in England from this (August 15) weekend; outdoor performances have been permitted in England since July 11 — again, with socially distanced audiences.  However, these measures are set against a reality where many theatres (Sadler’s Wells, Birmingham Hippodrome, Wales Millennium Centre, Bristol Old Vic, Southbank Centre, Theatre Royal Plymouth and Horsecross Arts) have announced mass redundancies and some, like Southampton’s Nuffield Theatres and Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre, having to close permanently. This time, rather than stage shunted work, I’ve been looking at work that has been specifically made and presented by UK-based artists/organisations for screen, Zoom, ears or other digital worlds.

Mele Broomes was commissioned by The Scotsman to create a short video performance as part of its programme The Scotsman SessionsMobile Thoughts, published on July 22, is a slither under six minutes, and charts some of her response to lockdown from March-July 2020. Dealing with restriction of movement, restriction of emotional space and the societal restrictions put on Black bodies, it is a lo-fi claustrophobic choreographic capture of how it feels to be a Black womxn existing in the predominantly White space of contemporary dance. Self-filmed on a phone, the simple edits, repetition of tracks and the context of domestic spaces, Black Lives Matter protests and wider Glasgow is an effective demonstration of the constant tiredness and battles to be heard that Black communities face in the UK dance scene. In the end credits we see the question ‘What Is Your Reparation?’ alongside the text ‘It’s time to make space. Be Humble. No need to be crowned and congratulated for basic duty of care. It’s time for reclamation. Manifestations of love and solidarity.’ These questions should be asked and answered by Glasgow, the UK and the contemporary dance community.

The Fringe of Colour (founded and directed by Jess Brough) also commissioned Broomes to create the three-minute short film A Service in Committing to Love Manifestations of Love and Solidarity #2 as part of week three of their new online arts festival, Fringe of Colour Films, happening in the Edinburgh Fringe time slot; it’s a new platform screening four programmes of films over four weeks (each selection has seven days) built on the back of their valuable work in 2018 and 2019 creating databases of shows by artists of colour and a free-ticket scheme providing people of colour with tickets to attend shows by performers of colour at the Edinburgh Fringe and beyond. 

Performed and directed by Broomes — who was also responsible for the incredible music composition — there’s colour, crescendo, food and echoes of Janelle Monae; with Tao-Anas Le Thanh responsible for the editing, we see a development and refinement of the physical-glitch style  of editing from Mobile Thoughts as Mele, in a pink ruched dress, is sat at a table, eating in what looks like a tower before the film cuts to a flickering stuttered body entering and re-entering moments of pleasure. If these combined nine minutes are the first in a longer series of digital Manifestations of Love and Solidarity, then even more exquisite things await.

Fringe of Colour Films also commissioned A.T. (@JournalduPole) to create Bloom and presented the work in week 3 (15-21 Aug) as well; this exquisite five-and-a-half minute film, set to the 1958 recording Summertime performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, was filmed in Nairobi and self-defines as ‘a queer African pole dancer’s surreal adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and inspired by Ballet Black’s A Dream Within a Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ It fits that description so well; the film and A.T.’s performance are both soothing and hold magic. With almost constant movement and rotation around the pole their athletic prowess and strength is blended with such finesse I’m left thinking not of those prissy White ballerina jewellery boxes but how we might create some A.T. merchandise. How can we manufacture a jewellery box with a miniature A.T. spinning on a pole with Summertime chiming out when you open it? Filmed in portrait, it is bookended by an extreme close up of an anthurium (a flower that is both male and female) which speaks with subtlety and intelligence to the politics, stigma and subversion in play at the intersections of African bodies, queerness and perceptions of pole dance both within the dance community and society as a whole.

During this period Lanre Malaolu has also written, choreographed and directed two films. The Conversation (a 12-minute film originally presented by BFI via their social media channels in late May) is available now via BFI Player, Amazon Prime Video and Curzon Home Cinema as part of the UK film anthology, The Uncertain Kingdom, and The Circle (published and presented by The Guardian in mid-July as part of their World News topics) available now via their website. 

The Conversation  self describes as ‘Exploring the conversation black people face when communicating their racial experience to white partners through a dynamic fusion of dance and dialogue.’ It depicts the everyday reality and repetition of racist microagressions that Black people encounter from White people (hair touching, tracksuit wearing tension, BLM ally virtue signalling and bag clutching knuckles on public transport) alongside the trauma of having to hear the ‘not all White people’ mantra and other excuses for racism from those we’re in relationships with. 

Central to the film is a ten-minute section shot in one complete tracking sequence which is bookended by two scenes in a restaurant; set in a disused industrial warehouse with distressed walls and exposed ironwork we see the bodily reactions and lung-knotting sound of Tyrone (Onyemachi Ejimofor) struggling to breathe as he repeatedly encounters a chorus of fixed smiling Karens. With krump the predominant choreographic language puncturing the screen, it’s mixed with emotions and a facial theatricality placed on top of his hyper expressive body, this is a choreography of the breath and lungs and almost looks like reverse CPR. Ejimofor finds a powerful metaphor in his attempt to repel the tiredness and suffocation brought on by the consistent draining encounters with White people. 

With Anna MacDonald as director of photography (often circling the performers as an echo of the repeated microaggressions) and music from Jan Brzezinski (also the composer on The Circle and his theatrical work Elephant in the Room), there is a cohesion between the visual, choreographic and sound worlds that ensures The Conversation hits the social commentary button square in the eye. Although the movement sequences become a little literal towards the end as Ejimofor gets knotted up in a White web of Karen and he pushes through and tries to extract himself, there is a neat cyclical payoff at the end that artfully demonstrates these encounters are not one-offs.

There has been some experimentation with form and format by independent artists. Two works supported by the Siobhan Davies Dance WebRes 2020 microcommissions were marikiscrycrycry (Malik Nashad Sharpe) presenting a reflective visual and audio Mood Board for a work that doesn’t currently have a future in a heightened moment where they are trying to imagine a future for themselves. Wheras Nikhil Vyas’s Dances For PowerPoint uses Microsoft PowerPoint as a playful site to investigate digital choreographic possibilities resulting in a digital flick book.

In May Justine Reeve wrote, performed and released two new episodes via Spotify of Smacks of Naff, a satirical audio documentary examining the known and unacknowledged issues in contemporary dance. In an act of uncanny choreographic premonition/synergy, one of Reeves’ characters mentions they have started on the greatest and most amazing project ever known in the dance world, a ridiculous lockdown idea of a corps de ballet doing a ballet dance in their bath tubs. Just two months later Corey Baker Dance releases Swan Lake Bath Ballet as part of the BBC Culture in Quarantine commissioning process.

Dadderrs the Lockdown Telly Show — created and performed by Frauke Requardt and Daniel Oliver (commissioned and produced by The Place) and filmed and edited by Susanne Dietz — reimagines the intimate and dysfunctional activities of their live show Dadderrs, adapting it over 11 short (8 to10-minute) episodes which were available for a month from mid-July to mid-August. Filmed in their own home during lockdown, it’s a psychological portrait, at times awkward, that blurs the fine line between their relationship and their creative output, sowing a seed of what a performance art Big Brother might be.

Ffion Campbell-Davies has been using Instagram as a platform to publish and archive a series of evocative vignettes, visual experiments using filters and krump and miniature concept films which utilise her skills and talents to multiply and kaleid herself across music production, writing, voice and dance. As part of his 365 Day Dance Challenge, B-Boy Si Rawlinson has also been using Instagram to publish daily micro films using breaking throughout 2020 and during lockdown he has been mixing it with new skills in masking and illusion to duplicate and make himself disappear to delightful effect.

Meanwhile in a fringe-free August in Edinburgh, ZOO Venues have put together an exemplary six-day dance, theatre and performance programme featuring new durational and live-streamed work, archived recordings of audience favourites, adaptations and digital interpretations of international work alongside new digital work all via their channel ZOO TV. 

With at least six different works each day — and available to catch up for seven days afterwards — I have been enamoured by EweTube, an infinite eco-opera by Graeme Leak. With four hours live-streamed for six consecutive days, this multi-camera visual mixed with hypnotic audio is wholesome ASMR at its finest. Set deep in the Stirlingshire countryside we are witness to the actions and movements of sheep running, rabbits munching and birds twitching as they trigger the musical traps (i.e. guitar strings placed on a bird feeder, so when the birds land and eat they create improvisatory scores) that Leak has set to create a land and animal symphony like no other. 

Sat quite happily at the opposite end of the wholesome ASMR spectrum but just as satisfying as work of art is untitled [circuit breaker] by CHILLIDXDDY x Bootlicker; a brutal binaural video filmed in negative that builds, flickers and rumbles through you slowly revealing five balaclava-faced bodies cut together with explicit stills that interrogate the restlessness of social isolation. 

Inevitably there has been the mandatory Sadler’s Wells co-commission attempt and fail, this time with Artangel for film director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast and Under The Skin) who created Strasbourg 1518. It self-describes as Inspired by a powerful involuntary mania which took hold of citizens in the city of Strasbourg just over 500 years ago, Strasbourg 1518 is a collaboration in isolation with some of the greatest dancers working today.’ It is a sadly inept attempt at a film, at a showcase of dancers’ ability and at a way of communicating any semblance of emotion. It also bears some wider scrutiny in terms of possible conceptual magpieism. After more than two years in development, New Zealand-based Borderline Arts Ensemble announced the premiere of their contemporary dance work Strasbourg 1518  at the New Zealand International Arts Festival in March utilising the same historic source material to present it in a stage version. 

The aesthetic, presentation and format of the two works are entirely different but ideas seem to travel swiftly in the digital world and those with greater resources and a larger platform are often seen as pioneers when in reality they are standing on the shoulders of others. We see IP and conceptual plagiarism happening a lot in the fashion/design world where independent makers coming up with new and innovative designs that gain some traction in their community discover their ideas have been brazenly lifted and ported to a larger brand. ASOS and boohoo have been called out on this multiple times and I hope we aren’t witnessing similar behaviour in the dance world.

While there has been some innovation on screen/in ears from independent dance artists in how to re-present dance, choreography and the concepts behind their work, it feels like theatre/performance has moved more swiftly and has been more successful in adopting alternative formats to keep audiences engaged with original content and stories. However, what needs acknowledging is that for some communities and artists it is almost impossible to conceive new formats and deliver innovative work because of societal inequalities, systemic racism and ableist structures that are still in place in the fabric of the UK dance commissioning and presenting infrastructure. Those who do have the space to dream and forge new things often do not acknowledge the privilege within which they exist and create.

Darkfield Radio’s Double is an immersive binaural audio experience for two people in the same room which questions perception, appearance and reality. Smoking Gun by Fast Familiar built a web-based app that only eight audience members could enter between 6 and 6.30pm to interrogate information, evidence, whistle blowers and government data cover-ups before we collectively had to decide to publish our findings to the press. Outside The March (based in Canada) created the brilliant and witty Ministry of Mundane Mysteries where they called me on the phone every day of a week for 15 minutes to help solve a mundane mystery that I had set them when signing up for a ticket. Selective Memory by Todd Simmons used Zoom polls in a live DJ set mixed with Choose Your Own Adventure book as we the audience chose the records from Simmons’ collection and he, in-turn, shared the entertaining, heartbreaking and deeply personal stories that reside within each piece of vinyl.

It’s also worth noting for historical purposes that the first live performance — framed as an outdoor variety show set in the beautiful gardens of Kings Weston House on August 1 — was presented by Impermanence Dance Theatre. It was a sunbaked two hours compered by Tom Marshman and filled with 20- to 30-minute sets by the incredible poet Vanessa Kisuule, who had written a new work in response to Colston’s statue being toppled into the Bristol dock, singer/guitarist Andy Balcon with a voice so gruff he should be singing the titles to Peaky Blinders, alongside a rusty dance duet full of touch, lifts and over-emoting music from Kennedy Muntanga and Olivia Grassot. Roseanna and Josh finished off proceedings with a hybrid formal/social partner dance turn set to the dulcet tones of Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again. It was well managed, clearly communicated in advance (with maps and instructions), COVID safe event; masks and hand sanitisation were available at multiple points alongside a one-way walk system (swiftly ignored by the audience). I did indeed meet dance again outdoors, but it is hard to imagine when an artist, company or theatre will be able to present work inside a theatre again. That meeting still feels a long way off.

Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Posted: October 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Requardt & Rosenberg, DeadClub™

Frauke Requardt & David Rosenberg’s DeadClub™, The Place, September 15

Requardt & Rosenberg’s DeadClub™ (photo: Manuel Vason)

The last time I saw a collaboration between Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg was at night in a freezing carpark on a deserted site near the Brighton Marina in 2012. The scope of Motor Show was to rein in the forces of an outdoor venue through a binaural technology that brought the action to the space between your ears; the scale was visually heroic and aurally intimate. In their fourth and most recent collaboration, DeadClub, they have assembled a similarly scaled performance in which the heroic resides in notions of memory and dream, and the intimate in the way the auditorium of The Place has been shrunk and transformed, thanks to Hannah Clark, to a raised gaming table within David Price’s auditory den. In keeping with a theme of random processes, we are each issued a raffle ticket that corresponds to our numbered, standing-only place around the perimeter of the table/stage. It’s a unique perspective from which to see the show, not only looking up at the performers but looking across at other members of the audience. We may have arrived with a friend, but our relationships have been shuffled in the DeadClub pack.

This kind of attention to detail brings the audience together as part of the show; we are not simply spectators but collectively share in the staged experience. In each place there’s a black and white party hat to match the decor, but putting it on is optional. At intervals, a spotlight scans the inside of the four sides of the square like a ball flying round a roulette wheel to stop in front of a randomly picked person (how randomly I’m not sure, as it never stopped in front of an empty space and on one occasion picked out Requardt herself for a cameo response). The highlighted person is either asked a question or becomes the focus of a particular dance. There are a lot of sleight-of-hand appearances and disappearances of the five performers emerging through trapdoors as if from an underworld and descending back into the depths like contortionist dolls; ‘severed arms’ and ‘stuffed crows’ drop on to the stage, small-scale plaster figures suddenly arrive out of the dark and appear to speak, while microphone stands and pianos rise up from below and once played descend again with all the logic of an arbitrary event. It is a phantasmagoria of the inexplicable and the absurd that borrows as much from Sigmund Freud as it does from neuro-psychological concepts about the function of remembering which, according to current models, serve to make sense of our present, aid in our socialization and help us to imagine the future.

It is this last function that fascinates Requardt and Rosenberg. Memories are not straightforward images from the past but composite mental reconstructions that we adapt to our present and future projections. As Dr. Denis McKeown, a senior lecturer in cognitive psychology at the University of Leeds, writes in the program notes, “Memories are like dreams. They are an internal world played upon by an internal consciousness, often outside our awareness.” Indeed, the visual vocabulary of DeadClub makes the analogy with dreams overt by gesturing not only to Surrealism but to film, a medium akin to remembering not so much because of its possibility of flashback but because of the malleability of its internal procedures. Like the moving image, Requardt and Rosenberg’s imagination is a fluid element that has the possibility of flying of its own volition but when it comes into contact with so many overtly theatrical effects held together with tape, screws and hinges, and magnified by our proximity to the stage, its wings are clipped. The sheer complexity of the staging is staggering but it draws our attention for the wrong reason: the theatricality is just too clunky, making DeadClub appear to be a raft of dream-like concepts trapped in the wrong medium.

The one technical asset that mediates between the ideas and the scenic elements is the lighting by Chahine Yavroyan for he can use his palette to smooth physical edges, focus on the essential action or reduce the stage to total darkness. His use of light allies the stage to the cinema: he allows the fluid traces of ideas in Valentina Formenti’s songs of death, in Neil Callaghan’s ghostly presence and in the solos by Jordan Ajadi and Owen Ridley-Demonik to exist apart from the substantive woodwork and machinery underneath them so as to express their intrinsic aural, dramatic and rhythmic poetry. These are the overriding successes of DeadClub, but outside these contemplative moments, even Yavroyan cannot avoid the theatrical framework becoming the centre of preoccupation.

Noé Soulier, Frauke Requardt, Freddie Opoku-Addaie: Existential ballet and popcorn

Posted: June 29th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Noé Soulier, Frauke Requardt, Freddie Opoku-Addaie: Existential ballet and popcorn

Noé Soulier, Freddie Opoku-Addaie and Frauke Requardt: Mixed Bill, Lilian Baylis Studio, May 29

What else to expect from a dancer trained at the Paris Conservatoire, a graduate of PARTS (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) in Brussels, with a master’s in Philosophy from the Sorbonne but an existential guide to ballet?

Noé Soulier wanders on stage in practice clothes and explains what he is about to do. The piece is called Le Royaume des Ombres (The Kingdom of the Shades), commonly associated with the most famous scene in the ballet La Bayadère, but Soulier plays on the meaning for his proposal: what is generally unseen in the ballet lexicon, divided into five experiments. “In the first, I took all the ballet steps I could find and I put them in alphabetical order, from arabesque to waltz. The second sequence is based on a distinction you can make in ballet between preparation steps and the steps these preparations allow you to do, like jumps or pirouettes. The next sequence is based on the same principle, but I applied it to an existing variation, Solor’s from La Bayadère. And then I took the same variation and changed the order of the steps. For the last sequence, I took excerpts from all the ballets of the 19th century that I could find and put them in chronological order, men’s roles and women’s roles mixed with some fabulous creatures.”

His technique is clean and precise; it has to be to carry this off. It may be conceptual work, but his body is working hard. There is no musical accompaniment that corresponds to Soulier’s balletic lexicon, so we feel as much in the lecture hall as in the theatre, and the silence heightens our attention. In between sequences he allows his ideas to sink into our consciousness, saying nothing but wandering to the side to take a drink of water. He evidently enjoys being provocative, combining a haughty intellectual rigour with a mischievous sense of humour. He goes through the sequence of preparation steps like a dancer meticulously preparing a variation, stopping at just the place where the step is about to happen. One preparation then morphs incongruously into another. He adjusts his shoe elastics: every detail is intensified in this calm dissection of the classical vocabulary. For the Solor variation, and the concise synopsis of both male and female roles in all the 19th century ballets, Soulier nonchalantly sings the tunes under his breath, dancing with such panache that we believe in the absurdity of what he is doing.

His second piece, D’un pays lointain (From another land) involves a similarly subversive approach, but his focus is the language of 19th century ballet mime. Soulier uses four dancers from the Ballet de l’Opéra du Rhin: Vera Kvarcakova, Sandra Ehrensperger, Alexandre Van Hoorde and Stéphanie Madec. If they are listed in order of appearance, the first is Kvarcakova, who demonstrates close to a hundred phrases of mime in alphabetical order from angry, afraid, baby, beautiful, to why, wicked, woman, you, without explanation or context, then again with recorded explanations. The purpose of ballet mime is of course to avoid speech, but Soulier is interested in this interaction.

Hearing this vocabulary one is inescapably drawn into the nature of the stories and fairy tales from which they derive their meaning, as if from another land. While the individual words are known today, the worldview and social context are of another era and mindset. Death by bow and arrow is a case in point. Soulier now goes a step further: Alexandre Van Hoorde joins Kvarcakova and a male voice is added to the recorded explanations, Van Hoorde following the male voice, Kvarcakova continuing to follow the female voice. Soulier also changes the order of the phrases for each voice, so there are two ‘conversations’ that sometimes overlap or comically contradict each other: ‘come, go away’. After a brief pause, the process starts again with increasing complexity: a trio, (Ehrensperger), then a quartet (Madec), with the addition of respective recorded voices. Soulier thus constructs consecutive words and phrases along the animated line of dancers, like a sentence on a page: ‘welcome, baby, I beg you, to love’ with the delicious irony between the mimed ‘baby’ and the contemporary meaning of the spoken word. Soulier now filters this vocabulary of conversation into snippets of recognizable, historical mime from Sleeping Beauty, though still with the recorded explanation: ‘Why did you forget me?.. She will grow up to be beautiful and graceful, but she will prick her finger and die… The princess will indeed prick her finger with a spindle but instead of dying she will fall into a deep slumber that will last a hundred years at the end of which a prince will come to awaken her.’ In the context of Soulier’s cerebral treatment so far, seeing and hearing this suggests the delightful absurdity of classical mime itself.

In the next sequence, Soulier removes any trace of context, and focuses on abstraction by giving his quartet a series of random phrases, which creates a line of semaphoric choreography, on top of which we hear the odd explanatory term: mother, to die, to kiss, to speak, afraid, to listen, there, to imprison, to die, to give, why? The quartet is reduced to a duet, in which the two speak the mime themselves, then Van Hoorde is left alone: ‘Protect me, come! Thank you, go away! To kill, two, go away, to protect.’ He continues in silence to the end, performing two gestures at the same time with increasing intensity, the movements taking on an individuated life of their own, beyond any recognizable meaning: an existential fate.

For those who enjoy Soulier’s subversive and thought-provoking treatment of dance, he will be back in London with his Idéographie, a discourse about the relation between thought and movement, at Dance Umbrella later this year.

While the house lights are still up after the intermission, Freddie Opoku-Addaie enters with a microphone as if he is a stagehand with a last-minute task before the show; except that Opoku-Addaie is too recognizable and too brightly clad in his red shoes and suspenders (thanks to designs by Justin Arienti) to be mistaken for a stagehand. His hair rises in front into a permanent exclamation mark, so even with his deadpan expression, you know that something unexpected is about to happen. Then Frauke Requardt enters pushing a popcorn stand, placing it downstage right. Opoku-Addaie opens the perspex hood and inserts the microphone. Then the fun begins.

Peter Hall has written that children at play have a concentration – and thus a belief – which is absolute. The only sin is to break the concentration by not believing – by not playing. Fidelity Project, commissioned for last year’s Place prize, has the air of an inspired improvisation, and neither Opoku-Addaie nor Requardt can be accused of lacking concentration and belief in what they are doing from the moment they arrive on stage; that is what is so attractive about their performance. Much of Opoku-Addaie’s work consists of game-playing and risk-taking with a large dose of cunning. Out of the blue, Requardt delivers a backhander to him, but he parries in lightning speed. She turns to hit him again, but he ducks. A tentative embrace leads quickly into a sequence where Requardt pushes Opoku-Addaie’s head down, spins him around and lifts him out of the way, placing him on the floor where he remains in shape while she wanders off to turn on the popcorn machine. There is no story to speak of in Fidelity Project, but fidelity is about trust and the work is all about the trust between these two quite dissimilar artists that is incredibly strong and precise. They perform a dance equivalent of the game of rock-paper-scissors, involving a similar skill in one partner being able to predict the moves of the other in order to gain the advantage. It is difficult to know if the sequences are choreographed or not but there is such split-second timing in some of their antics that the point is moot. It is the kind of precision that gives a thrill and hilarity to the performance. They take movement where you least expect it to go, as when Requardt grabs on to Opoku-Addaie’s wide open mouth to counterbalance his backbend to the floor. Their interaction never develops into a closeness of emotion, but remains a constant testing of these two characters who reveal the freedom with each other to perform intimately, yet with a constant deadpan distance, demonstrating the sheer pleasure of being together. And they are equally matched; she doesn’t pull punches, and he is respectful of her force. At one point she throws him, and he rolls in pain, screeching like a wounded animal, while she goes to serve the popcorn. A moment later they get back together again, and she throws him a second time, with identical results. She turns to the back wall, and when he reaches her he pins her against it above his head. She seems to be trying to strangle him from up there. He lets her down, they kiss, and she blows out her stored popcorn, rubbing his nose: the gestures of two lovers who have developed their own language and intolerance. She points to something; he looks, then she serves him a left hook. Opoku-Addaie is out for the count, as is the popcorn machine, and then the lights. Like two contestants in a tournament, Opoku-Addaie and Requardt take their bows, though there are no winners. Nevertheless, Requardt raises a triumphant arm.

Requardt & Rosenberg: Motor Show — Listening in on the lives of others

Posted: May 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Requardt & Rosenberg: Motor Show — Listening in on the lives of others

Motor Show, co-directed by Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg, at the Brighton Festival, May 12. 

There is something vaguely perverse about sitting outside for an hour near the seafront on a cold, windy night listening in through our headphones on the conversations of young couples out for an adventurous night in their parked cars. What business is it of ours, all 250 of us, huddled together in our parkas, coats, wooly hats and assorted rugs and cushions on this derelict building site at Black Rock participating in a version of The Lives of Others for a cast of beaten-up cars, a couple of caravans and ten dancers with assorted headdresses?

Frauke Requardt and David Rosenberg, co-directors of Motor Show, first joined forces to create Electric Hotel in 2010, which pioneered their use of binaural sound technology to juxtapose a distant image with an intimate sound score. It also branded their artistic taste as slightly twisted and surreal with dark overtones. Motor Show is the follow up, with a week’s run at this year’s Brighton Festival before transferring to derelict building sites at the festivals of Norwich, Greenwich+Docklands and Stockton (see Links page for details). One of the themes of Requardt and Rosenberg’s collaborative work is to transfer the audience from the traditional auditorium to a disused or unfamiliar setting of the urban environment (the performances are presented by Without Walls). Black Rock, with its backdrop of the Brighton Marina car park, is one such area. The disadvantage of such spaces is that they can be numbingly cold.

Box office is also pretty rudimentary: a rusty iron gate with a padlock behind which stands a guy with a fistful of pre-booked tickets. If you want to know how to dress for the event, take a tip from the box office staff. You can also buy a ticket on the night if you thrust a £10 note through the grill ‒ if there are any tickets left. This is, ironically, a hot event. If you come by car, there is a parking lot next to the site, and if you come by bike, you can leave it just inside the entrance, and there’s no need to lock it. There are no programs, no drinks, no ice creams and no crisps; just the obligatory pair of earphones. Only the hardiest of arctic spectators would want to check in their coats, but it’s a moot point as there are no facilities. The construction site toilets are stacked against one of the dilapidated barriers that form the enclosure of this festival site. The only good thing is that the sightlines are a lot better in this banked seating than at the Dome and you don’t have to turn off your mobile phone because nobody can hear it anyway. In the absence of printed programs, there could have been a giant billboard with the information, just so the dancers and production staff can be officially acknowledged by name. The stage is concrete, which is why the dancers don’t jump very much, but it’s great for the cars. This is theatre in the raw for a ferociously clad audience. Or it might be just a creative excuse for catching a cold.

There is an amusing conceit at the beginning of the binaural soundscape: we hear the expectant chattering of a warm and cosy theatre crowd before the lights go down, as at the beginning of a BBC 3 live concert broadcast. There is no chattering in this audience apart from our teeth.

The concept of listening in to intimate conversations in a parked car a hundred yards away is closely associated with espionage, except that in Motor Show there isn’t any dialogue to listen to. Is there an aural equivalent to voyeurism? The promotional material talks of a young couple in a car arguing and planning a world for each other, but this is a stretch too far for the imagination. All we hear is the ambient sound inside the car: engine, ignition switch, handbrake, the opening and closing of a door, a bottle opening, a foamy drink being poured and swallowed, giggling, music playing. The sound quality is such that we are inside the car, but we are ‒ literally and metaphorically ‒ left out in the cold when it comes to following any thread of conversation that might suggest what is happening.

Nor is it easy to extract information from the action, but then again, surrealism is not given to easy interpretation. A prologue sung by a woman in a feathered headdress (headdresses have a certain significance in Requardt and Rosenberg’s work) suggests the work’s dark undertone: “My lightning flashes across the sky; you’re only young but you’re gonna die.” We hear the plastic coat squeaking as the woman moves. Way over in the background a figure is dancing up a storm in the dust, a tiny figure on a huge stage. I have never seen such a small figure on such a vast stage attract so much attention. “Satan’s gonna get you.” The site’s crazed telephone booth buzzes with the sound of an industrial-size electrical short. The light goes out. “Hells bells, hells bells.”

We hear a metal gate opening and a car starts up. It’s real, and approaches us from behind the corrugated fence that forms a backdrop and comes to a halt. We see a man in the driver’s seat and a girl next to him, like figures in a fish tank. He cracks open a bottle and pours a drink, winds down the window and places the bottle on the roof. Good place to keep it cool on a night like this. Getting comfortable, the CD player comes to life. Another car approaches and stops as if lining up at a drive-in cinema. This second couple repeats the same bottle-opening-drinking-CD sequence. The girls in the two cars get out and dance against the side of their respective cars. A third car drives up and the entire sequence is repeated. The three girls in bare legs and summer frocks must be cold and dying to get back into their cars, which they do. A bottle falls off one car roof and breaks. The first two cars reverse to behind the corrugated fence, but the couple in the third car is busy snogging by the sounds of it. Later on there is some interesting thematic choreography for these drivers and passengers, entering and exiting the car windows with acrobatic abandon, but for the most part the cars (there are as many cars as there are dancers) outperform the dancers.

While the three couples in cars form a recurrent theme in Motor Show, the linear scenario seems to begin with a man in a stretch Volvo enticing a schoolgirl into the back seat. She accepts, but eventually gets away, survives being blown up in the boot of an abandoned car and is finally redeemed. We see her at the end through the window of a big caravan that only she can unlock, dancing contentedly. The Volvo man, after staggering around in a state of mental and physical disintegration, endures a final self-inflicted punishment in his underwear groveling on the cold, hard ground. There is also a parallel universe of a gang of violent car bashers with rubber truncheons driving a battered Jaguar and an eccentric shaman who lives in a small but transformative caravan that he pulls himself on to the site.

I am glad I went. Requardt and Rosenberg clearly have an impressive level of imagination to work on this kind of epic scale, marshaling a complex array of resources. Comparing the two projects, Electric Hotel had a unity of set and concept that was essentially contained and complete, whereas the unity of Motor Show is more dispersed, perhaps too much. It is a work of exploration rather than of discovery; the promise is still there; the courage and imagination are still there, but the theatrical experience is frustratingly incomplete. With these two works under their belt, who knows what Requardt and Rosenberg will come up with next, but whatever it is will be worth watching – as long as there is an item in the production budget for heated seats.