Viviana Durante Company in Isadora Now at the Barbican

Posted: March 12th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Viviana Durante Company in Isadora Now at the Barbican

Viviana Durante Company, Isadora Now: A Triple Bill at the Barbican, February 27

Isadora Duncan
Viviana Durante in Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan (photo: Foteini Christofilopoulu)

Viviana Durante Company’s triple bill, Isadora Now, sets out to explore the impact of Isadora Duncan on dance. The program by the all-female ensemble is part of the Barbican’s 2020 season Inside Out, which ‘will showcase the work of artists who have found pioneering ways to articulate their innermost thoughts, feelings and desires…’ As Durante writes in the program, ‘Isadora Duncan was a pioneer of modern dance, an outsider who spurned the conventions and gendered roles of classical ballet and insisted on a woman’s right to express herself physically on her own terms.’ When Duncan performed in St. Petersburg in 1904, her freedom of movement presented a revelatory contrast to the classical works of the Imperial Ballet’s principal ballet master and choreographer, Marius Petipa. After almost forty years in this position, Petipa was coming to the end of his career, and in this creative interregnum a young Mikhail Fokine was searching for a new choreographic form. In Duncan’s dancing he believed he had found the plasticity he sought, and set about adapting it for his early works, most noticeably in Chopiniana (later renamed Les Sylphides). A seventeen-year-old Frederick Ashton saw Duncan dance in 1921 and was similarly struck by her expressiveness, returning to see her night after night. Fifty-five years later he set down his memories in his Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, which he created on Lynn Seymour. Marie Rambert, who had also been overwhelmed by Duncan’s dancing, is said to have cried when she saw Seymour perform the work because the experience was so close to what she remembered. 

Memory is at the heart of Isadora Now, with a difference: nobody involved in the project has ever seen Duncan dance. The first piece on the program — Dance of the Furies from Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice that Duncan had choreographed as a solo in 1911 — is a reconstruction by Barbara Kane for five dancers. Kane has devoted her life to studying Duncan’s style of dance which has been handed down through generations of Duncan dancers and teachers, though the genealogy of this staging is not explained in the program. As interesting as it is formally, what is missing is an understanding of how Duncan’s spirit might have informed the steps; it is in the nature of historical reconstruction that we shall never know. 

Durante is on firmer ground with Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes, in that both Seymour and Durante have been steeped in the Royal Ballet’s Ashton style and repertoire, and both have been recognised as the most gifted dramatic dancers of their respective generations. There are two grainy films of Seymour dancing the work that nevertheless offer an opportunity to see how she embodied what Ashton created on her. Durante was coached in the role by Camille Andriot rather than by Seymour but unless you saw her performance on the opening night you would have missed her interpretation on subsequent evenings due to injury. Her role is taken by Begoña Cao, a former principal dancer with English National Ballet, and although her extensive credits do not include works by Ashton, she gives an inspired interpretation of the work to the piano accompaniment of Anna Geniushene. 

Five Brahms Waltzes forms a bridge in the program between Duncan and the present. It’s a span of over a hundred years in which the emancipation of women has become a political reality in many, but not all parts of the world. Having written in 1903 that ‘she [the dancer of the future] shall dance the freedom of woman’, what kind of presence would Duncan have if she were alive today, and in the context of Isadora Now, what kind of dance would she embody? Durante leaves the answer to her co-producer, Farooq Chaudhry, who defers instead to his creative contacts. Chaudhry is the long-time producer and co-founder of Akram Khan Company and is also International Creative Producer for the Chinese choreographer, Yang Liping. Joy Alpuerto Ritter, his choice to choreograph the final work of the evening, has been a dancer and rehearsal director for Khan since 2013 and her composer/musician on this occasion is cellist, Lih Qun Wong, who has worked with Yang Liping. The Chaudhry network further co-opts the culmination of Isadora Now by employing a raft of creatives from both companies. Ritter’s work, Unda, fails to emerge ‘on its own terms’ from this chauvinistic influence, while her deference to Duncan’s style maintains a historical distance from a contemporary evaluation of Isadora now. 

Cloud Dance Sundays 2

Posted: August 9th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Dance Sundays 2

Cloud Dance Sundays 2, Lion & Unicorn, July 14


As the opening work of this second iteration of Cloud Dance Sundays, B-Hybrid Dance reprises Foundations, which I had seen at the Cloud Dance Festival two weeks before. The shortcoming I noted then is just as stark here: a static reading of the lyrics that leaves the music for the most part stranded. The brief solos of Eloise Sheldon and Jumar Aben show that choreographer Brian Gillespie is not insensitive to the musical inspiration, but such a literal interpretation of the lyrics ‘I climbed a tree to see the world’ as a dancer climbing the backs of her colleagues or of ‘I held on as tightly as you held on to me’ as the line of dancers linking arms over shoulders limits Gillespie to a one-dimensional response to the musical line.

Julia Pond is only four generations removed from the first teachers Isadora Duncan formed at her school; before dancing three works to the music of Schubert and Chopin, Pond gives a short introduction to Duncan’s legacy. It must be difficult to give life to the work of a dancer who was active at the beginning of the last century, but there is a freshness and freedom in Pond’s interpretation. The rhythm of each dance is in the feet while the beauty is in the upper body and Pond must have a powerful pair of lungs to keep her breathing so controlled and calm throughout the exertion. If the beautiful photograph by Arnold Genthe of an ecstatic Duncan with her head and arms raised is any indication, all that is missing in Pond’s performance is the abandon and longing that I imagine arose as much from Duncan’s lifestyle as from her dance style. There is a similar reserve in Pond’s own choreography, Take/Give, in which she sports enticingly with yards of flowing white cloth. Despite the voluptuous nature of the imagery and of the voice of Leonard Cohen (Take This Waltz), our connection to Pond keeps its distance on the edge of emotion. Perhaps Duncan’s art was so radical in its time that we still expect to be seduced by it, but like the value of money 100 years ago, it takes a lot more now to match it.

There is very little historical about Nina von der Werth, a recent graduate of London Contemporary Dance School, who is clearly influenced by reality television and conceptual dance. Francesco appears on screen to introduce the work that is based on his recent heartache. His commentary on losing his partner, to whom he refers as ‘my little yellow fairy’, takes on the nature of the performance and he is so plaintive and over the top (to a piano accompaniment of Someone Like You) that the audience is not sure whether to laugh or to get out their hankies. The real Francesco appears on stage and Tori, who plays his late love interest, appears in a flurry of yellow feathers to a live recording of (yes) Coldplay’s Yellow. This is already the climax of the work and there is not very much else to say though the duet continues to wild applause (from Coldplay’s performance) and some rather clunky partnering on stage until the departing Tori looks back at Francesco’s despair with calculated pleasure and runs off. Perhaps it should be Francesco who sweeps up the feathers instead of the stagehand. Either way, the feathers do not cooperate with the broom and have to be picked up one by one.

A wooden stool is placed on stage and Johnny Autin steps up to turn slowly, like a revolving mug shot, to a hypnotic violin track (Cajon by Daniel Waples and Flavio Lopez). There is a certain defiance in his strong rounded features. Taksim Square is a work in progress that refers to and is inspired by ‘the recent Turkish protests against Prime Minister Erdogan’s government and the violent clashes with the riot police in Ankara and Istanbul.’ Autin passes his hand across his face, then examines his hand in detail. From these small gestures, he builds up an intense physical portrait of repression that courses through his entire body. At one point he takes off his t-shirt to create a brutish, faceless choreography of the muscles of his back. His mime is clear and his articulation is imbued by a violence that is never far below the surface. Another musical track (the dance inside by Ceccal) accompanies his lightning gestures — a ferocious, internal struggle for sanity — in a square of light like a cell. His arms rise again in a fist, then an open hand, trembling; he suddenly and violently slaps his face, looking ready to explode; his eyes trust no one Once out of his square, facing unseen opponents, his entire body is shaking, answering gesture for gesture with a full-out body language. At the extremes of physical endurance, he nevertheless expresses a calm that reflects his unbowed, unrepentant core to the end. A remarkable performance.