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.