Ian Abbott on Impermanence Presents…

Posted: February 6th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Ian Abbott on Impermanence Presents…

Impermanence Presents…at Bristol Old Vic, January 2019

Jane Mason in Night Flying (photo: Benjamin J Borley)

Impermanence Presents… is the result of a meeting between Tom Morris and Impermanence Dance; a season of curated works (five in a row from the 15-19 January followed by one each in February, March and April) presented in the newly refurbished Weston Studio by Impermanence Dance. The season is completed (on April 25) with Impermanence’s latest iteration of BAAL on the main stage; Bristol may have a new addition for small scale and experimental dance presentation adding value to the programming at Wardrobe Theatre and Trinity Arts.

Consider for a moment Pink Suits, Figs in Wigs, Jane Mason, Laila Diallo, Crystal Zillwood, and Tom Thom: what they have in common is quiet, intimate technique combined with virtuosic movements laced with shocking, live art pop and big cabaret bombast. If you whisk these artists, their voices and sensibilities in a performance cauldron you would come out with something very close to an Impermanence show; the presentation of these artists demonstrates both a dissection and curation of Impermanence’s own DNA. I will focus on the two full-length works I saw in the first week; Night Flying by Jane Mason with David Williams and Solo For Two by Jean Abreu.

Jane Mason and The Choreography of Things™ is an anchor to which Mason returns after employing this performance mode in her previous works Singer(string, tape, stage weights, sewing machine), Life Forces (slides, cardboard tubes, projectors) and now Night Flying. Jane Mason and The Choreography of Things™ is one of two operating modes: Jane doing and Jane dancing. It is a rare skill to be able to sustain attention while demonstrating an alternative function of everyday objects, but she succeeds in unfolding a mirrored Jacob’s Ladder, scattering galaxies of fine-grained sand or revealing a reflective blanket/satellite. She imbues these objects with a sense of importance and handles them with a care and delicacy that reflects her as a choreographer and performer.

As we enter the studio we see all the composite parts (wigs, fan, guitar) laid out on the floor, to be revealed over the succeeding 70 minutes. We know what is coming but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying as the objects slowly make their way onto the stage through the bodies of the two performers. Night Flying self-defines as: ‘Drawing on ideas related to deep time, the night sky and landscapes of being, Jane Mason and her long-time collaborator David Williams explore a constellation of associations related to memory, change, wonder, scale and materiality’s imagination.’ It’s a choreography for the small hours, a choreography for the darkest part of the night, for the 4:07am in you when the streets and cities and landscapes are stilling, when the world has evacuated the day, when you are yet to meet the sunrise. 

The idea of choreography as a constellation or way of mapping the work is in play; there are clearly defined episodes when Mason and Williams orate themselves and their own histories, amplify their physicality when bedecked in cheap wigs, playing guitar or revelling in imitated bodies. While the ‘glue’ between these episodes isn’t always immediately clear, they exist together rather like planets in a bigger galaxy. 

The presence of Williams as performer and as co-creator alters the tone in comparison to Mason’s previous works but he slips into her orbit and complements the intensity and energy. Williams is a chameleon with significant solo moments as an end of the pier comedian/local radio DJ/bingo caller with exquisite rapid-fire, deadpan, witty wordplay; a gentle, sand-blowing floor sculptor or as lead dancer in his accurate skewering of the false curtain call modesty of European modern dance theatre with repeated bows, thumbs up and the humble chest touch. Together they fit.

As Mason describes the tale of her grandfather as author of an aviation manual on how to fly in low visibility, there is a neat parallel in how people may respond to the work. There are times when some may be unclear on what is going on and why certain things are happening but Mason and Williams are our deep space guides, inviting us and acknowledging us with a rich and considered visual terrain matched with an elegant deployment of language. Night Flying offers us a portal into significance and insignificance; it’s crafted with intimacy and delivered with poise. It’s everything and nothing. We are together and we are alone.

Jean Abreu’s Solo For Two is a 60-minute trio featuring Abreu (as choreographer and performer), Rita Carpinteiro and a robot: ‘Two dancers, two sides of the same coin, caught in a struggle to find their place in the world. A little robot called Macheba both interacts and observes the dancers, mirroring and absorbing our human identities.’ Guy Cools is on dramaturg duty and Michele Panegrossi is the creative technologist behind Macheba, which seems to be less a robot than a remote-controlled vehicle with a few basic modifications: a pivoting birdie that could turn on/off and nod, a palm sized projector intermittently casting green/grey visual noise and a sizeable bluetooth speaker giving directional sound capabilities. While recognizing that the creation of sophisticated robotics is an expensive process, Macheba is nevertheless distinctly underwhelming as a device and in the way it is used choreographically.

Abreu and Carpinteiro are admirable performers executing their movements with fine levels of punch and nuance, but what they are delivering is a choreographic vocabulary and narrative that is familiar, unnecessary and stale; how the work self describes and its translation into my audience reality is poles apart. Broken into around eight sections there are duets (where Carpinteiro displays fine physical execution by climbing all over, in and around Abreu whilst not touching the floor (echoing James Cousins’ There We Have Been seven years ago), solos (full of stuttering beginnings) and a particular passage that left me in a minor rage:

Contemporary Dance enters (stage left). Contemporary Dance continues to role, slap and sweat itself on the floor moving earnestly to an inconsequential soundtrack. Eight minutes pass. Contemporary Dance is enjoying the solo. The ceiling of the newly refurbished Weston Studio has some architectural merit but having attended three nights this week I can confirm the angle and lack of lower back support in row B leaves a considerable ache and discomfort in my body each night (I shall not be returning to the Weston Studio to see any more dance whilst this seating is in place). Contemporary Dance continues. We are still in a haze-filled semi-darkness. The robot has not moved. 

Both Night Flying and Solo For Two are made by artists who have been choreographing their own work for more than 10 years and performing for nearly double that; I’m left asking questions around the currency of ideas, audience connectivity and how artists continue to develop and exercise their practice. 

I recognise there is some comfort in familiarity (this is how the majority of film franchises, ballet and Company Wayne McGregor work) by following the tried and tested methods, ideas and executions, but Solo For Two left me with a conceptual hollowness, smelling the funding bid tick boxes (hello robot) and a weary emotional dissatisfaction. It is littered with the tired clichés that some artists/venues/curators working across dance are attempting to dismantle, ensuring audiences are not frustrated but embraced. 

A triple bill started the week featuring a solo from Bristol-based Laila Diallo — who choreographically christened the studio — recycling material from two previous works in a 25-minute short offering, a mix of pedestrian movement, a marking of the time/space with lx tape and a delicious recurring choreographic balancing astride a chair revealing mixed with a broken ballet technique; as a keeper of time and movement Diallo is a study of concentrated movement. 

I won’t mention the indulgent waste that was Ways of the Blue by Bandi Meszerics; the only redeeming feature being a knitted cyan balaclava tentacle beard that he wore for six minutes, but I do want to mention Tom Thom. Bookending the night in their double block colour boiler suits, slow-ankle-tapping and totem-pole-shuffling in the foyer on our arrival, Tom Thom continue at the interval until their stage time as the final part of the night. With their super worn soft leather footwear (even the soles had been worn away through the 1000s of repetitions) we are treated to a 15-minute remix of slow dance approaches to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax that never quite lets us get to crescendo. They are a classic performance art-pop cabaret duo with an act that makes audiences visibly recoil and cover their eyes in reaction to the way in which their shuffle/hug/dance manifests. An act of physical virtuosity.

Jane Mason, Nic Green & Hannah Sullivan

Posted: June 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Jane Mason, Nic Green & Hannah Sullivan

Jane Mason, Nic Green & Hannah Sullivan, The Point (June 5) and The Place (June 2) 

Jane Mason in Life Forces (photo: Magali Charrier)

Jane Mason in Life Forces (photo: Magali Charrier)

…”the manipulation of images in memory must always to some extent involve the psyche as a whole.” Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory

There have been three recent performances choreographed around and shot through with memory: Jane Mason’s Life Forces at The Point and Hannah Sullivan’s Echo Beach and Nic Green’s Fatherland in a double bill at The Place in collaboration with Battersea Arts Centre. All three women have woven memory around the presence of a father. In Sullivan’s case the starting point of Echo Beach is recollections of family life in which her father is the one who puts on the records; in Green’s case it is a father she met only once at the age of 16, and Mason delves into her father’s creativity through the discovery of his slide projector and archive of slides. Each work has, like memory itself, its clarity and obscurity, its fragility and solidity.

All three works are memorials, acts of remembering, but each takes on a very different form. Mason builds an intimate structure with elements her father would have used — paper straws, nails, a plumb line, a projector and two portable heaters — bringing them to life as the means of remembering like a memory room based on the ancient art of mnemonics. Devised with writer Phil Smith, whose onstage role is a father figure, Life Forces is a profound meditation on the roots and influences of creativity. It is a work that builds and maintains an intriguing dialogue between past and present, between the act of creating and what has already been created. And there is an element of Alice in Wonderland as the paper straws are first strewn across the stage and later grow into small columns and you feel the construction could go on forever. Mason has a quiet intensity about her that is the life force of the work, developing it element by element with concentrated deliberation, with Smith as a touchstone, an emotional base on whose shoulders she can climb with confidence.

Nic Green in Fatherland (photo:

Nic Green in Fatherland (photo: Oliver Rudkin)

For Green that emotional base is missing and hers is an assertive struggle to find herself in what remains. Fatherland is the most radical of the three works because of this desire to impose an impression that has already faded from memory. Through text, song and live music (and a tipple of malt), what she finds and celebrates in a ritualistic way is her paternal Scottish heritage — represented by the imposing onstage presence of drummer Alasdair Campbell and piper Edward Seamn — to which she bares herself as if to stamp it with her own identity. It is the uncompromising nature of this identity and the sheer force of Green’s character that gives Fatherland its stature. Dramaturg Deborah Richardson-Webb has evidently worked hard to keep Green’s expansive passion so succinctly on the stage without reducing its power.

Hannah Sullivan in Echo Beach (photo: Paul Samuel White)

Hannah Sullivan in Echo Beach (photo: Paul Samuel White)

Sullivan’s memory is festooned with white pennants like a tent at a village fête; some have phrases cut into them like, ‘You Are Your Years’. One of the records her father played at home was Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins that gives the work its name. Sullivan’s preoccupation is social dancing and she lays out what she calls her ‘dance collection’ that she has been gathering since 1999 and which she describes as ‘dancing like everyone I know.’ It is memory made up of keen observation — of seeing her parents dance in the living room, of her granddad teaching her to waltz, of friends dancing at a wedding or strangers dancing in a bar — and a lively sense of humour that transforms her collection into living snapshots. She moves and groves quietly, alternating her dances with talking about her collection and her memories. It is interesting to read that Dan Canham has provided Sullivan movement advice — not, I think, in terms of her dancing but for everything in between. There is a clarity of purpose Canham brings to his own work that keeps the fragility of Echo Beach together with minimal resources. Credit goes also to dramaturg Alice Tatton-Brown.

Memory is highly personal and essentially internal. What Life Forces, Echo Beach and Fatherland have in common is they externalize memory, transforming an intimate structure into a theatrical presentation. Mason is the only one to go a step further by placing the audience on the stage, seating them in front of her with the curtains drawn behind them as if inviting them into her father’s attic or workshop at night. Of course it limits the number of people who can see Life Forces at any one time, but through this means Mason effectively draws us into her memory. Fatherland is bold enough in its imagery to withstand the spatial conventions of a full stage but Echo Beach has a dilemma: Sullivan has created it on the scale of a living room that suggests a floor lamp, a sofa and a gramophone but the stage bathes the room in too much space, too much light and replaces the imaginary gramophone with Yas Clarke’s sound design. There is nothing amiss with these production values in themselves, but with them Sullivan’s memory room tends to lose its bearings.