Dance Umbrella 2019: Out of the System Mixed Bill at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Posted: December 27th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2019: Out of the System Mixed Bill at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

Dance Umbrella 2019: Out of the System – Mixed Bill at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, October 22

Out of the System, Jonzi-D, Aeroplane Man
Jonzi-D in Aeroplane Man (photo: Chris Nash)

Out of the System is a guest-programmed section of Dance Umbrella; for the past three years it has been curated with characteristic flair by Freddie Opoku-Addaie who described it in 2017 as ‘the presence of diverse dance cultures within vocational and non-vocational structures outside the regular framework of dance presentation’. Two years later Out of the System has worked its way into the system with the Big Pink Vogue Ball at Shoreditch Town Hall and a mixed bill at, and presented in partnership with, Bernie Grant Arts Centre. With five artists over four works, the mixed bill consists of small-scale works with large-scale themes of identity and racial politics that Opoku-Addaie characterises in public transport terms (influenced by his commute on a No. 26 Routemaster bus between Waterloo Station and Hackney Wick) as telling ‘complex journeys that are routed in the shared struggle, continuous stop/start but dealt with a crafted overview of human fortitude.’

Theo TJ Lowe (THÉO INART) has worked with Hofesh Schechter and Akram Khan, among others, and this shows in his compelling presence on stage in his solo, Fragility in Man – Part 1. He makes his entrance through the doors of the theatre on to the stage that resembles a bare waiting room with three chairs; ill at ease, he takes a seat like a patient waiting to be examined or, more ominously, a suspect about to be interrogated. There is something simmering or explosive in his succession of halting gestures and periods of stillness that respond to human commands, the barking of dogs or the cocking of a gun. The trauma of past violence extends out from behind his eyes to land somewhere on a vertical plane between us, like a two-way mirror; he shines a light on the audience but sees only his own reflection. Even behind a superhero mask he cannot hide his vulnerability because he is turned inside out; when he exits through the same doors he entered, he leaves behind him the fragile landscape of his being. 

Like Lowe, Becky Namgauds turns herself into an exhibit, Exhibit F, tracing figures back and forth across the stage with her swirling, naked torso and long hair like a brush gradually filling in the paper with lines and colour. She is not so much building up a figure — the space is not like paper and releases the image as soon as it has passed — so much as laying down her emotional ground in repetitive patterns. What is exhibited and what is not is the constant issue in Exhibit F in which costume, movement and Michael Mannion’s lighting are fluid factors. Namgaud’s work, according to the program, deals with ‘recurring themes of feminism, femicide and the environment.’ There is no object in Exhibit F; it is its own constantly transforming subject. 

Breaking the solo format, Ffion Campbell-Davies enters at the start of Beyond Words, vocalising high on the shoulders of Tyrone Isaac-Stuart while he blows a cool saxophone below. Beyond Words questions the framework of a colonial approach to black dance through ‘a journey between two people communicating matters of the heart’. Beginning as a procession, it disintegrates to the sound of machinery into images of physical oppression and struggle that lead to questions of self-worth and respect. Campbell-Davies and Isaac-Stuart confront a broad canvas of history and social significance, from ancestry and tribal affinity to the idea of home, with a sense of residual frustration. At the end, perched once again on Isaac-Stuart’s shoulders, Campbell-Davies asks the audience, ‘Who are you standing on?’ It’s a question, ironically, that Opoku-Addaie’s curation over the last three years has set out to answer. 

Jonzi-D’s Aeroplane Man, created in 1999 ‘but sadly still resonating today’, is founded on a similar frustration but ends in a more measured affirmation. His finely-honed parable of identity and cultural politics pulls no punches and makes its point in keen satire and brilliant mimicry. Born and bred in the East End of London, he is both pilot and passenger traveling in his Adidas trainers to search for his ‘own country’ at the unceremonious urging of one of his white colleagues. His air miles take him from Grenada (‘my mother’s land, not my motherland’), to Jamaica, the Bronx and Zululand, but wherever he lands he finds he is not quite genuine enough. With the running refrain of ‘Call up Mr. Aeroplane Man, Yeah Man, Yeah Man’, he returns to London to discover ‘this brown frame has found his name.’ 

Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Posted: November 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Dance Umbrella 2017, Out of the System, Rich Mix, October 16

Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay (photo: Pari Naderi)

In another creative twist in the development of Dance Umbrella under the artistic direction of Emma Gladstone, Out of the System is a mini festival within the festival curated by guest programmer, Freddie Opoku-Addaie. He describes the title as a metaphor for the presence of diverse dance cultures within vocational and non-vocational structures outside the regular framework of dance presentation — not to mention the inclusion of bands Yaaba Funk & DJ Kweku Aacht, and Kioko who perform on successive evenings. It is also, like the Shoreditch Takeover, a crossover between dance curation and building management; this one involves four distinct works by artists from five countries in three different spaces within Rich Mix over two nights (which is a shame, as I miss Alesandra Seutin’s Across The Souvenir). Both here and at the Town Hall the programs weave together loose associations with what we might consider to be dance and turn them into a wealth of experience that can change that perception profoundly. There is a sense of open-ended raw material here, even if the works are finished: La Macana’s Ven seems to arise directly out of the audience; Sello Pesa’s After Tears throws time out of the window, and the improvisational energy of Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay wants to break out of the confines of the stage and take over the entire floor.

I had seen Ven two years ago at Costa Contemporánea in Andalucia, and it is one of those works that can bury itself in the recesses of your memory and come out again unchanged. The intricate timing of the interaction between Caterina Varela and Alexis Fernández is breathtaking but it is also polished: it has to be. They are like two circus performers who eschew trapeze and ropes for the instruments of their own bodies; they climb on each other, jump on each other, lift each other, balance and counterbalance in a defiant flow of impossibility that resolves through the strength and sensitivity of their well-honed skills. Against such precision, the couple’s apparent nonchalance is matched by the delightfully offbeat songs of Einstuerzende Neubauten.

Sello Pesa’s After Tears undoes all preconceptions. Described as an investigation of ‘the mourning process and the strategies people use in order to cope with death’, it’s like a private ritual to which the Soweto-born Pesa has invited us. He makes no pretense of a performance as he practices yoga on a red rug at the entrance to the third-floor space; we aren’t sure if this is part of the work, so we watch until we are ushered through the door to pick up a folding chair and wait behind a curved shoreline of red tape. In his own time Pesa moves his rug into the space with a pair of boots, a couple of crates of beer and a transistor radio playing a local station as the central focus and sole source of sound. Pesa gives an eerie sense we aren’t in the same room and yet his trance-like presence is all-pervasive. He rolls himself up in the rug and lies like the deceased, but then wears the rug around his shoulders and his head like an enigmatic, animated spiritual guide before bludgeoning it with fists and boots to mark his resolve. He seems to span both the realms of the living and the dead so as to come to grips with the inner conflict of the ‘South African tradition of returning a person’s spirit to its rightful destination’. Utterly compelling, After Tears returns dance to its ritual roots, revealing new dimensions in both movement and performance.

There is little doubt, however, about the performative nature of the collaboration between Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay. Whatever inner resources well up from within their minds and bodies are fully expressed in energetic and sensual form. The collaboration between an American contemporary dancer with Southern Baptist genes and a British flamenco dancer with roots in Jamaica and Ghana is just the beginning; what they share goes beyond their recent origins to ‘explore the connections between who they believe themselves to be, and the unconscious parts that make up who they are’. As they play off each other’s physical styles and sartorial taste, their individuality merges with an infectious sense of delight at the connections made — a body percussion sequence with guitarist Guillermo Guillén borders on the ecstatic — and like old friends they can complete each other’s rhythmic phrases. But there’s more here; we tend to think of flamenco as a Spanish phenomenon with Moorish origins, but recent research suggests a link, through the rhythmic musical structures, to the Spanish slave trade with the New World. In Clay, images of flamenco merge with South American religious iconography as Thomas adorns Graves as a participant in a Holy Week procession and wheels her across the stage. The two women finish playfully to Guillén’s accompaniment, like two sisters from the distant past revelling in their common roots.

I first heard Opoku-Addaie before I saw him, in a performance of Silence Speaks Volumes at BDE 2010 where his blood-curdling roar from the behind the audience announced his entrance. His voice has again preceded the choreographic action, this time not his own but of his own choosing. May the experiment continue.

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.

New Dance Commissions at the Linbury Studio Theatre

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on New Dance Commissions at the Linbury Studio Theatre
Linbury Studio Commissions
Sarah Dowling, Freddie Opoku-Addaie and Laïla Diallo (photo: ©pip)

I think Southern Railways is taxing evening shows in London. The last cheap online train ticket leaving London is for the 21:47, so I booked it hoping the New Dance Commissions at the Linbury Studio Theatre on March 29 would be short enough that I could sneak out right at the end and still catch the train. The price of the next two trains goes up by £10 and with these advance off peak tickets, if you miss a train and come across a surly collector at the barrier, you are sent to the ticket counter where you have to pay for a new ticket at the full price of £25.  When I arrive at the Linbury and ask when the performance will finish, I realise if I am going to catch that 21:47 I will miss Freddie Opoku-Addaie’s new work, so I decide to take the risk and take a later train. What is the point of going to see new work and leaving before the end? I convince myself it is worth the extra £25 (otherwise the sudden shock of having to pay £25 on top of what you have already paid has a strong chance of ruining the evening).

When not in London, I am looking after my mother on the south coast and the television in the house is quite often on for long tracts of time. I moved up into the attic because the volume on the TV is quite high even though my mother can hear the cat flap open and close three rooms away. In the attic I am insulated against the antiques game commentary and the other three antiques knock-off programs during the day, not to mention the cooking programs and the endless news. So Sarah Dowling’s Remote strikes a nerve and I am in turn agreeing with the proposition (that the remote makes us remote) and railing against its manifestation on stage. Yes, it’s all so false, illusionary, reality-deprived, crass nonsense. Much as I want the dancers to smash the TVs, these sets are too cleverly designed (by Tim Adnitt and Becs Andrews) as lighting sources and sound consoles to destroy them, and besides there are 2 more performances. I spend too much time wondering why the costumes are like that to enjoy the movement, as if the costumes have a narrative that the movement does not support, or the movement is so successfully disembodied and emotionally estranged that the costumes are a distraction. And then after the duets it all stops, as if my mother had turned off the remote mid-program in time for dinner.

Laïla Diallo is beautiful. I saw her in Montreal in Sense of Self with Mélanie Demers where she wears a black gorilla head for some of the time, but I much prefer seeing her as she is here, a fellow traveler in her latest work, Hold Everything Dear. The themes of migration and the dislocation of travel are so beautifully captured from the first moment.  The way the dancers cross the stage and leave a different pattern of strewn persons and baggage is as if in a dream (another quality of constant travel). And remember that Guy Hoare is lighting it, so it looks exactly like it is supposed to. Everyone is in transit, even the musicians, which is why Jules Maxwell, the pianist and music director, can never sit at his keyboard. The music is just right, a gypsy flavour, with an air of traveling, moving, never quite belonging. And then the walking transforms into dance, beautifully evocative solos of looseness and freedom. I am reading Andrew Graham-Dixon’s biography of Caravaggio (whom Guy Hoare may well have helped to light his subjects in an earlier existence). Caravaggio’s central figures are beautifully lit, while the secondary figures fade into the blackness, features barely visible, yet present. Look at The Calling of Saint Matthew and the second version of his St. Matthew and the Angel for examples. Similarly, Laïla’s solo fades from light into dusk, yet you see it all, because what is essential can be seen, moving. At one point the strikingly rich voice of Gabi Froden cuts through the shadows, the voice as a beacon in the dark, leading you, encouraging you. Solo dances just drift into being in the crossing patterns. Theo Clinkard (whose colours and costumes are an integral part of the beauty of the piece) and Helka Kaski dance with equal fluidity and sinuousness. I remember the stillness of Laïla standing on a pier, looking out over the water. How many times have you been there, dreaming, feeling the breeze on a summer evening? Then imperceptibly I am watching a duet with Laïla and Theo and I say to myself no, that’s not supposed to happen here, there’s a link missing. Time stops drifting and even the fluidity of the duet cannot bring back the dreamlike passing of time. It feels like a later part of the project has been stitched on to the earlier mosaic, a few pages missing in between. Perhaps it will find its own place in the fullness of the work that will be developed during a residency at Bath ICIA in May. I have confidence Laïla can do it.

Now I am in risk territory, because I am staying to watch Freddie’s piece, Absent Made Present, and know I may have to cough up the £25, but I am prepared. And when the stage reveals the harmony of the vertical white cords with weights of clay I say yes, I’m glad I stayed. Katherine Morling’s (or is it James Button’s?) set hangs there and is beautiful to watch in its poise, lit by David W. Kidd. Dancers (they are playing about at this time and haven’t yet shown their stuff) change the equilibrium of the finely balanced clay weights, lob them in from the wings to be caught with panache in the janitor’s bucket. The stage is divided into three zones, right, left and centre. Centre is surrounded on three sides by the white cords. So the left and right side have delicate cords on one side and heavy black velvet wings at the back and sides. It is in these awkward physical spaces that the best parts are happening, where the dark velvet wings prove almost overpowering. The dance spreads through the cords and over the middle section, and this is fluid, funny (Freddie has a great sense of humour, a smile that is always there), intricate and breathtaking (especially for the dancers as they knock each other over with grace and precision, with no roughness, no loss of gentleness). There is so much action with the clay weights (spattered on the ground, demarking the supine dancers, unbalancing the cords, tying them up, untying them again), that they should have a curtain call at the end. They might have had a curtain call, but I have to leave quickly to catch my train. I walk over Waterloo Bridge, take the Clapham Junction train, make my connection and wait with some apprehension for the ticket collector to make his rounds. The misgivings of having to pay £25 return. When he arrives I show him my ticket and say I am sorry I missed my earlier train. He must have been at the Linbury too and is full of calm and light and he says, oh don’t worry about that.