Tara D’Arquian, Quests

Posted: March 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tara D’Arquian, Quests

Tara D’Arquian, Quests, Borough Hall, Greenwich Dance, February 18

Anne-Gaëlle Thiriot and Marc Stevenson in Tara D'Arquian's Quests (photo: Alicia Clarke)

Anne-Gaëlle Thiriot and Marc Stevenson in Tara D’Arquian’s Quests (photo: Alicia Clarke)

One can’t help but admire the scale of Tara D’Arquian’s Quests, not only its physical embrace (taking over most of The Borough Hall at Greenwich Dance) and its musical scope (thanks to Bruno Humberto and Philippe Lenzini), but its philosophical sweep. The second part of a trilogy which began with In Situ and is yet to be completed, Quests ‘explores the conflict of identity in contemporary society’ though D’Arquian immediately qualifies this by adding, ‘The conflict…opposes humans’ longing to define themselves to the indefinable character of the self.’ It’s a philosophical argument that borrows from Nietzche’s Three Metamorphoses as a filter through which to approach the issue of identity, but if it structures the thinking behind Quests, it is the ambition and imagination of D’Arquian’s dance theatre that clothes it.

The narrative is a ‘fictitious story of a stage director slowly falling into madness after the loss of his wife whilst creating the first piece of the In Situ trilogy.’ This reference to the previous work is where Quests begins in Greenwich Dance’s Minor Hall that Yann Seabra has refurbished as a rose-coloured lounge of an ocean liner. When the audience wanders in to take a seat the performers are already in place, fixed in time, caught in mid-movement at their tables or sitting in their chairs. A bar serves drinks, the noise of chatter and laughter rises around these transfixed characters and a curious little boy walks over to each one to see if they are real. It’s an intriguing start. The playwright (Humberto) and his wife (Typhaine Delaup) are seated at a table on a raised dais in the centre of the room looking into each other’s eyes. The stage is set up for a cabaret show and musicians (Lenzini on guitar, D’Arquian on bass) start to assemble. From their static poses Anne-Gaëlle Thiriot and Marc Stevenson come to life and slowly make their way to the stage. The band starts up and Thiriot delivers a ballad in a rich French voice while dropping flowers distractedly from a bowl. Delaup suddenly jumps up from the table and rushes from the room. Quests has begun in real time. Three veiled beauties waft into the room like muses to inspire Humberto while Ottillie Parfitt as his producer arrives dripping with disdain and drops an envelope of money on the table to get the writer out of his depression and into finishing the new work.

Quests is, like Francois Truffaut’s film Day for Night, a play about the making of a play. In this promenade format, D’Arquian pulls apart the story to put it back together again, sets us loose to explore aspects of the narrative and gives us enigmatic clues along the way that only deepen the mystery. We shuffle through Stevenson’s room, a suicidal bathroom, a noxious vision of Eden in the lobby where Humberto chases his spirited wife out of the theatre into a taxi and back, on through a passage with a pram spattered in blood, a room where one of the muses plays piano and bodies lie under a dinner table of dirty dishes, up the stairs with walls pasted with notes and envelopes, and finally into the main hall where the two aspects of the story collide in symbolism of epic proportions.

Paradoxically the means by which D’Arquian achieves all this are flimsy; it is theatre-by-the-seat-of-your-pants in which the richness of its soaring imagination is in conflict with the naivety of its materials. The struggle of this latter part of Quests is how to make our imagination surmount the means. The contrast in scale between the performers — extended to a cast of almost 30 — and the giant muslin tent that covers most of the Hall is redolent of a religious ceremony and the plainsong chant (and Geneviève Giron’s bright white light) raises the ritual theatre to a contemplative level. But the dispersed action in this large space lacks sufficient tension to keep our focus from wandering to the manipulation of the fabric. There are episodes that overcome this, as when two performers desperately try to communicate while their handlers at opposite corners let them out slowly towards each other on the end of ropes. When Humberto raises his voice, the ropes are let go and the two fall into an embrace. Or when Humberto is playing the white piano like a crazed genius and the three muses interrupt him; while two drag him away a third seamlessly takes over playing his score. But it is the setting of the final duet with Stevenson and Thiriot that gets close to bringing all the elements together and to suggesting the scale D’Arquian has in mind. Using the muslin as a screen for projecting images of In Situ, placing the extended chorus singing a ritual chant behind the (now seated) audience, summoning the author and the producer to resolve the story (the play is a huge success but Humberto is leaving to start a band), and introducing a funeral procession with a coffin outlined in rope, the choreography is a catalyst of resolution in its contrast of sinuous and angular, torso and extremities, and distance and contact. All that remains is a grand anthem of a song while an electric fan in the background sends those mountains of script floating into the air.

Leila McMillan, Family Portrait

Posted: July 22nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Leila McMillan, Family Portrait

Leila McMillan, Family Portrait, The Borough Hall, Greenwich Dance, June 12

Family Portait (photo: Manuel Vasquez)

Family Portait (photo: Manuel Vasquez)

“What moves me is the actor who can move me, if only for an instant. True theatre is a balance between truth and poetry. “ Ariane Mnouchkine

If, like me, you hadn’t heard of the contemporary dance technique of Flying Low and Passing Through, you can look online for founder David Zambrano to get a full account of what he teaches. Briefly, he discovered over the course of rehabilitation for his injured feet how to use the floor to develop the dynamics of the rest of his body. Once he had regained the strength in his feet, Zambrano developed his technique that his friends jokingly referred to as Flying Low. Passing Through is a further development of his technique through improvisation. Choreographer Leila McMillan teaches the technique and has based her new work on its principles, though Family Portrait is perhaps less a demonstration of the technique as it is a framework for the improvisational play of one-upmanship that McMillan and the cast have developed.

It is hard to imagine a more heterogeneous family than this one: Faith Prendergast, Karl Fagerlund Brekke, Karolina Kraczkowska, Monsur Ali, Martha Passakopoulou, Typhaine Delaup and Danilo Caruso. McMillan clearly relishes the diversity of the performers, not only of their characters but of their physical attributes — most noticeably the disparity in sizes between Brekke and Prendergast. What unites them is a wicked sense of humour that Paolo Fiorentini has brought out in his costumes topped with a selection of rakish hats that make these children chic and colourful on top of their natural exuberance. The set by I. Carlos is enclosed on three sides by banks of seating in The Borough Hall at Greenwich Dance, a stage emptied of furniture except for guitarist Domenico Angarano’s seat and musical equipment in one corner. Ben Pacey and Emerald Faerie light the stage to the intimate scale of the family with a selection of floor lamps and hanging chandeliers created by Faerie herself.

Silence descends on the room, a long silence in the dark broken by the creaking hinges of a metal door and the sound of scampering feet. The siblings emerge from the shadows in a tight group with what seems like trepidation but each is already wondering how best to upstage the others. This is no collection of shrinking violets; the stage is their frame and they make a point of presenting their best face to each of the three sides of the auditorium as if posing for a photographer. Each successive pose becomes a little more complicated, elongated and manipulated as the improvisation develops according to the machinations of each character. Delaup soon emerges as a provocateur, always smiling even while she is obstructing someone from the frame or throwing herself into it. Kraczkowska is the eccentric, duly unconcerned with all that is going on around her but managing to take centre stage whenever possible. There is something of the clown in her that permeates the flying low and passing through, giving it a character that is all her own.

Angarano’s guitar accompaniment enters into the sense of fun, plucking notes and playing riffs on the behaviour of the family, colouring it as well as taking it on a journey. In a sense he wills the dancers to continue without directing them.

The opening section is quite slow and subtle as the performers attune to each other’s movement tics and traits but the improvisation soon starts to open up as Prendergast and Passakopoulou drag Delaup out the frame and the subsequent groupings become more hilarious and bizarre: Brekke is upturned, the hats are passed around, Kraczkowska removes Prendergast by her overalls as if she is a carrier bag and there are headlocks and tripping over each other in the clambering for position. The Japanese have a saying that the nail that sticks up is always beaten down, and Brekke seems to suffer from the truth of this as he is cuddled, straddled and bent over to the height of his siblings. He subsequently uses his height to disguise himself as a lampstand until Kraczkowska tries to lift him into the light socket. Passakopoulou presents the lining of her jacket as a bullfighter’s cape, Kraczowska delivers a breathtaking improvisation in the middle of the bustle and then everyone is running. Angarano gets swept to his feet and enters into the rhythmic swirl as the children fly around the room. The hustling and scurrying reaches a climax when Brekke throws himself to the ground in what appears to be a series of fits. The mood changes to one of inward contemplation and the more extrovert siblings begin to tire. Ali and Caruso, like late developers, start to emerge into the light but nothing, it seems, will tire Kraczkowska’s imagination and drive; she makes wings of Passakopoulou’s shirt, picks up Prendergast again and tries to plug her into one of the lamps and finally puts on all the hats, framing herself between two lampstands as the others withdraw to watch the remnants of their family portrait. The lamps dim, Angarano resolves the music beautifully and all is quiet again.

For those who missed it in performance, there is a showing of Family Portrait on film on July 31

On December 3 Leila McMillan is curating a Wild Card evening at the Lilian Baylis