Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle

Posted: May 10th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle

Liz Aggiss, Slap and Tickle, Universal Hall, Findhorn, May 7

Liz Aggiss in Slap and Tickle (photo: Joe Murray)

Liz Aggiss in Slap and Tickle (photo: Joe Murray)

Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, make anarchy and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you ALIVE.” – Sid Vicious

Liz Aggiss was forged in the cauldron of punk and her new feminist soup, Slap and Tickle, riffs on pishy old women, yummy mummies and flagrantly tosses collapsed floors and sexual taboos out the window. ‘Tis one of the finest crafted and hilarious hours I’ve spent in a theatre.

To witness lizaggiss (the performance persona and brand) in motion is to behold an artist in complete command of her visual world. She nudges the fourth wall, gives it the glad eye, but there’s always the hint that she could demolish it if she wanted. However, it’s also a space where I feel safe as she demonstrates consideration by building the audience’s hardiness to material that some might consider a little saucy. Mining childhood songs, witty word play and music hall standards, there are enough recognisable tropes to keep us comfortable. Through the presentation of her body and what it can do, has done and might do with us watching, it enabled me to consider my own body, the stories it holds and how we look at others. Are you sitting comfortably? You shouldn’t be.

Make them laugh, make them cry, and back to laughter. What do people go to the theatre for? An emotional exercise. I am a servant of the people. I have never forgotten that.” – Mary Pickford

Slap and Tickle is a machine gun of visual joy; no sketch, sequence or quip outstays its welcome, and mixed in with the frippery and froth are some puncturing sentences which aren’t just close to the knuckle; they’re brushing your elbow with a cheese grater. “Are there any wet women in the house tonight?” she asks with her comedic timing and technique honed during her early 80s stints in cabaret and working men’s clubs; it’s a lean, slick and impressive performance (on only its second public outing) that doesn’t let go of your eyeballs or earballs throughout.

I recognised compositional echoes from her previous stage work, The English Channel: a single microphone, a box of props, and the use of multiple costumes and her body to conceal a wunderkammer of curiosities that are revealed as the performance progresses. There’s oodles of jerky early-modernist hand gestures (in reference to a series of pioneering female inter-war choreographers) mixed with rhythmic beat-filled speech; it’s a little bit rude, a little bit anarchic and actively resists neat definition but the narrative is universal and should be celebrated: Women and their Bodies.

If I want to define myself, I first have to say, ‘I am a woman’; all other assertions will arise from this basic truth. A man never begins by positing himself as an individual of a certain sex: that he is a man is obvious.” – Simone de Beauvoir

Slap and Tickle is presented in Findhorn as part of Rise 2016, a three-day festival of contemporary dance and performance sensitively programmed by Karl Jay-Lewin. First on the same evening’s bill are Eleanor Sikorski and Flora Wellesley Wesley, aka Nora, who present a double bill of duets by Jonathan Burrows/Matteo Fargion and Liz Aggiss. It is the first time that Bloody Nora is programmed on the same night as Slap and Tickle and it is fascinating to see the tone, scenography, language and ribaldry of Aggiss channelled through two younger female bodies. It looks like an Aggiss, spits expletives like an Aggiss and smells like an Aggiss — yet the solo body has been split and removed from the mother ship. Now we have two distilled red Aggi imps morphing their bodies, accentuating our gaze and letting us linger in the land of the uncomfortable before they “fuck you’ed” into the distance.

There are tens of millions of female bodies and minds in the world that are aged 62 and over yet in our culture they’re almost invisible. Liz Aggiss resists that invisibility and in doing so has created over the past decade a body of live, film and other work that would benefit from the focus of a festival, symposium or conference to see how the works sit alongside the wider UK ecology.

Slap and Tickle is dance/comedy/art (delete as appropriate) that makes the audience snort, howl and cackle with laughter. It’s a rich and visual collage of womanhood and even though Aggiss actively embraces the maverick tag, she’s exploring and presenting a world that every woman can relate to. Let’s have a party.

 

For a darker view of Slap and Tickle, see a review from the Brighton Festival by Nicholas Minns


KnowBody, Elixir Festival 2014

Posted: September 22nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on KnowBody, Elixir Festival 2014

KnowBody, Elixir Festival, Sadler’s Wells, September 12

Mats Ek and Ana Laguna in Memory (photo: Stephanie Berger)

Mats Ek and Ana Laguna in Memory (photo: Stephanie Berger)

The image on the front of the program (above) is of Mats Ek and his wife Ana Laguna in a duet called Memory. It is a fitting image, not only because Ek and Laguna in that fleeting moment express all the joy and sensuality of their lived experience, but almost the entire evening — the opening salvo of Sadler’s Wells Elixir Festival — is about memory, the kind of memory that dancers call body, or muscle memory. Dancers don’t simply learn steps like facts to repeat them on stage; they embody them on both a physical and emotional level through the mechanism of repetition and the stimulus is often, but not always, music. The body and mind of a dancer thus constitute a treasury of memories that can, as the Elixir Festival proved convincingly, offer up their remarkable wealth or even be coaxed out of a state of voluntary hibernation.

Matteo Fargion and Jonathan Burrows do just that in The Elders Project, weaving remembered movement phrases of a select group of retired dancers into a droll, intelligent, touching collage of their dancing lives. Kenneth Tharp, Geraldine Morris, Linda Gibbs, Brian Bertscher, Anne Donnelly, Christopher Bannerman, Lizie Saunderson, Betsy Gregory and Namron provide a unique glimpse into what once was, but more interestingly, what still is and could be again. There is a palpable emotional response from the audience who are either reliving past memories or are simply drawn into the delightful euphoria of the work, or both.

Mats Ek is one of the early champions of mining the expressive quality of mature dancers, and with his extensive experience in theatre and dance he has developed a mastery for choreographing theatre. His first duet with Laguna, Potato, is a reminder that a simple idea — sharing a bag of potatoes — can be heightened into something universal by the corresponding depth of experience of the dancers performing it. Ek’s work is not overly concerned with technique, but more with ‘a lyrical approach which conveys through movement the underlying emotions and feelings rather than just the narrative detail.’ His pared-down and often idiosyncratic vocabulary draws in the spectator through its unpretentious, ludic sense of reality.

To watch Dominique Mercy in the solo, That Paper Boy, created on him by Pascal Merighi is to be transported to a state of physical and emotional weightlessness, nowhere more so than in the section he dances to the Reckoning Song by Asaf Avidan (‘one day baby we’ll be old, think about all the stories that we could have told…’). With fourty years of performing with Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, he can elicit the same kind of attention whether he stands still (as he does at the beginning), dances, recites an existential text on silence and death, or scans himself with a neon light. As with Ek and Laguna, his every stance or gesture, however small or transitory, is filled with both genial abandon and infallible conviction; his physical and emotional intelligence leaves no room for half measures.

In an evening that celebrates the value of maturity, Hofesh Shechter chooses to restage part of an existing work, In Your Rooms, by replacing younger dancers with older ones (Sadler’s Wells own Company of Elders). According to the program notes, this is an adaptation ‘to suit the bodies and life stories of this older group of dancers’ but in the overpowering music and claustrophobic choreography there is more a sense of oppression than setting free. Perhaps that is what Shechter wants, but it sets his choreographic vision above the potential of his dancers.

Jane Hackett, the creative producer and guiding spirit behind the Elixir Festival, invited the Chilean company, Generación del Ayer, to perform at the Elixir Festival after seeing them in their hometown of Santiago. Unique on this evening’s roster, this is an artist’s collective founded in 1996 specifically to allow professional dancers to continue their artistic life cycle beyond what is culturally accepted. Lo Que Me Dio El Agua (what the water tells me) is choreographed by Sonia Uribe as a tribute to the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and is inspired by her painting Las dos Fridas (The Two Fridas). Both Uribe and Carmen Aros perform with a passion and pride commensurate with their inspiration, but the ritual stylization of the work sets it apart from the predominantly European aesthetic in which it is presented.

The evening finishes with another duet, Memory, from Ek and Laguna that reminds us yet again of the huge gap that exists in current dance repertoire where youthful athleticism trumps the art of age. Ek and Laguna dispel this myth with a poignant refusal to take leave, a gentle kicking against the dying of the light that is candid, playful and yes, timeless.


Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion: One Flute Note

Posted: October 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion: One Flute Note

Jonathan Burrows & Matteo Fargion, One Flute Note, Studio Theatre, UAL: Central Saint Martins, October 5

‘There is nothing to say, and I am saying it.’ This is the opening statement of John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing and in Jonathan Burrows’ and Matteo Fargion’s One Flute Note presented by Dance Umbrella last night at the suitably pared-down Studio Theatre in Central Saint Martin’s there is an echo: there is nothing to do, and I am doing it.

I recently was introduced to John Cage’s ideas after hearing Richard Bernas’s radio program, Beyond Silence, celebrating the centenary of Cage’s birth. I hadn’t realised the vigour and humanity of Cage’s discourse on music, sound and life. I feel Burrows is a similar voice in dance, and in Fargion he has found a co-creator to give form to their ideas. As Burrows writes in his book, A Choreographer’s Handbook, ‘Collaboration is about choosing the right people to work with, and then trusting them. You don’t, however, have to agree about everything. Collaboration is sometimes about finding the right way to disagree.’ Anyone who knows the book will recognise the balanced form of his axiomatic advice, and Burrows’ fruitful collaboration with Fargion since they met in 1989 is proof of the validity of this particular axiom. They have been creating duets together since 2002: Both Sitting Duet (2002), The Quiet Dance (2005), Speaking Dance (2006), Cheap Lecture (2009), The Cow Piece (2009) and Counting to One Hundred (2011). Dance Umbrella is presenting a mini-retrospective of five of them.

This is the first performance of One Flute Note, and evidently there are some (permitted) errors that one can sense only from the occasional lapses into self-conscious smiles. Burrows and Fargion are so comfortable with each other on stage; seeing them in the bar afterwards, it is as if drinking a cold beer is as natural as the performance on stage: no makeup to remove, no costumes to change out of, no barrier between performer and audience. This naturalness is encapsulated in one of the maxims for ‘beginnings’ in the Handbook: ‘we walk on as though we were walking into Matteo’s kitchen.’ Another is that ‘we walk on in a formal way that is unexpectedly informal.’ The simplicity of these two statements belies the complexity of what we have been watching for the past thirty minutes. Burrows and Fargion play predictability against unpredictability, the expected against the unexpected, action against stillness, silence against non-silence, narrative against abstract, and absurdity against a sense of normal. In the intersection between these opposing ideas they find the space for both tension and its release in laughter.

The program notes underline the importance to Burrows and Fargion of the structure of Lecture on Nothing, proposing that One Flute Note is ‘at once a homage to and questioning of a way of thinking that has underpinned so much dance and performance in the last 30 years.’ Presumably this is the continuing decoupling of dance from the classical form and the corresponding embrace of everyday movement in dance vocabulary. It is also the liberation of thinking about dance that allows endless permutations. There is certainly a sense of freedom in One Flute Note, somewhere between a Peter Cook sketch and a rigorously intellectual approach to dance performance. It involves amongst other elements a surreal array of sound inputs that vary from the one flute note to the sound of 45 choirs, two versions of a chair dance (one without and one with the chairs), and a constant disequilibrium that is kept in play within an absurdly rational structure.

That structure is a paradox of Cage’s lecture: his ‘way of thinking’ liberates, while the form in which it is delivered is carefully constructed. ‘This is a composed talk for I am making it just as I make a piece of music. It is like a glass of milk. We need the glass and we need the milk.’ It is the first time I am seeing a duet by Burrows and Fargion, and I find it liberating. At the same time it is clear that One Flute Note is highly organised and heavily cued; the sound engineer is in effect a third performer. There is no room for improvisation or chance occurrences, nor is there any notion of dissociating the movement from the score, which is one of the central ideas of Cage’s partnership with Merce Cunningham. Burrows and Fargion are forging their own path of questioning and coming up with their own ‘handmade and human-scale’ answers. One Flute Note owes something to John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing, something to Lee Scratch Perry’s Bucky Skank (it’s in the Handbook if you want to know why) and a lot to the intellectual rigour and integrity that Burrows and Fargion bring to their work.

At the end of his radio program, Richard Bernas says that after a performance by Cage his mind and ears are ‘refreshed, more at ease, more balanced, more alert to the world than when it started.’ I feel the same after watching One Flute Note. It is as if Burrows and Fargion have fashioned a way of performing that is a metaphor for living with more freedom within the conflicted confines of our daily lives.