Joanna Young and Karol Cysewski

Posted: October 21st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Joanna Young and Karol Cysewski

 Army of Me by Joanna Young and Wonders of the Universe by Karol Cysewski, Borough Theatre, Abergavenny, September 18

Double bill of Joanna Young and Karol Cysewski

Kirsty Arnold in Joanna Young’s Army of Me (photo Iain Payne)

The power of theatre is not only in the images we see in front of us but in what memories they inspire; the two are inextricably linked. The image of Kirsty Arnold standing barefoot in her printed cotton dress in the corner of the stage, slightly in the shadows as if not quite daring to come out, is just the beginning of a delicate journey — ‘distorted echoes in a world made of small pieces’— that choreographer Joanna Young weaves, that Arnold traces, that John Collingswood illumines and that Filipe Sousa’s sensitive soundscape evokes. It is the stuff of memory made manifest in all its clarity of detail. Through the phenomenon of recall, Young places us in the life of a young woman at a moment of intense significance, a shift in maturity perhaps, or a pique of rebellion.

The space in which Arnold stands so pensively is itself the suggestion of a room, in which she stands at a window looking up at the birds flying overhead, thinking perhaps of her future. Collingswood’s lighting projects three shadows of her on the back wall, one progressively taller than the next, like a chart of imagined growth. She crosses her arms in silence then places her hands on her hips looking up. A winsome young girl with red hair, beautifully self-contained and playful, she kneels, shaking her head, then lies stretched out on the floor. Getting up, she shakes her head again, with an arm gesture of dismissal. She is anticipating what we can now hear, the sound of feet crunching up a gravel path, up wooden steps, approaching or walking around. Sousa’s score includes recordings of footsteps by Brychan Tudor, one of Young’s inspirations along with Amy Cutler’s visual art. Arnold moves out of the light into silhouette, but Collingswood finds her, defines her in a wash of light. It is as if we are watching her as she plays in her own room; she pauses, then slides playfully to the side, skipping across the floor, independent, on the verge of experience, arms raised defiantly, running, turning like a dervish, not wishing to surrender her freedom; there’s that dismissive gesture again. Her figure moves into silhouette then back to the light, a little helpless, brushing away the distractions, faster and faster, in her journey of awakening. The steps are getting louder, closer. She runs across the room, suspended in time like the tolling church bells we hear. Her toes play, she kneels, bends forward, prays, but with a sense of an impending closure. In the darkening room she contemplates her hands until they disappear.

Gwyn Emberton, Karol Cysewski and Drew Hawkins in Wonders of the Universe (photo John Collingswood)

Gwyn Emberton, Karol Cysewski and Drew Hawkins in Wonders of the Universe (photo John Collingswood)

Karol Cysewski’s Wonders of the Universe is another kettle of (prehistoric) fish, an exploratory look at the origins of the universe through the agency not of NASA but of three comic crustacea in jackets and jeans (cleverly designed by Neil Davies) whose sexual proclivities at this stage of creation are openly acknowledged. John Collingswood lights and clouds the murky depths of the universe and ocean in which the three performers (Cysewski, Gwyn Emberton and Drew Hawkins) take evolution for a spin with a suitably elemental sound score by Sian Orgon. Cysewski is clearly having fun, but he is careful to moderate the cartoon-like characterization by harnessing the awe and excitement of Brian Cox’s commentary from his series Wonders of the Universe (the starting point of the work). Cox’s theories lend context to the choreography and at the same time Cysewski’s choreographic treatment reduces those vast theories to a more manageable size. The mouthpiece of Cox’s voice is Cysewski’s midriff, manipulated into blind lips by his fellow anthropods and through these lips pass some of the great evolutionary theories of our time which the trio then plays out: the Big Bang as a writhing form that is suddenly zapped and Emberton demonstrates the survival of the fittest by knocking his fellows on the head, a favour they return as they dance in solo or pairs: gametes and zygotes in a primeval mating ritual with attendant cluckings and horn-like siren calls.

In this grand scheme of evolutionary fervour there is suddenly an amoebic fart, an infinitesimal bang with a bad smell. The trio looks at each other accusingly. Cox is silent on the subject but Orgon is clearly having a ball with a techno riff on farts, snores and whistles.

Our evolutionary trio rushes forward from the oceans across the growling African plains to the point at which they stand on the Borough Theatre stage this evening — thousands of generations later — illustrating their miraculous journey. The midriff oracle speaks again; we hear the wonderment in Cox’s voice as he describes the stars evolving and dying, time unfolding and how nothing lasts forever. It’s a ‘majestic story’ and a lot to ponder, but the cheers and applause at the end signal an engagement by the audience not only in the science but in the dance. It’s a heady mixture.

TaikaBox: Beyond the Body

Posted: January 2nd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on TaikaBox: Beyond the Body

TaikaBox: Beyond the Body, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, November 28

photo: Michal Iwanowski

photo: Michal Iwanowski

Taika is a Finnish word for magic. So TaikaBox is a magic box, which is the nature of a theatre. In the evening’s program there is a quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ In the context of Taikabox, that could describe an evening at the theatre. There is also a quote from Bruce Lee: ‘The intangible represents the real power of the universe – it is the seed of the tangible.’ If we substitute ‘theatre’ for ‘universe’, we arrive at the same proposition: what we see on stage (the tangible) is our human response to what is invisible (intangible), but we can only express this if we are spiritual beings to begin with.

This brings us to the starting point of choreographer Tania Råmon and designer John Collingswood’s Beyond the Body: the nature of spirituality itself, or what makes a human being. As anyone who reads the company blog will realise, the creative process includes a veritable smorgasbord of inputs, from Kabbalistic mysticism, Qigong, Carnival and running to meditation, states of consciousness and the use of neurological perceptions. We don’t see any of this, of course, but some of it nevertheless finds expression — perhaps a little too literally at times — on stage. As we walk into the auditorium there are five dancers dressed in beautifully designed, loose clothing (by Neil Davies) seated in the lotus position on a white stage. The two musicians are just visible in the wings and there is a perfume of incense in the air. This is no ordinary performance; it is an arresting — and perhaps even uncomfortable — image for those expecting an evening of dance, but it underlines the inside-out nature of Beyond the Body: it is concerned less with formal questions of performance than it is with exploring what produces the formal solutions.

It is when the dancers move that the magic begins, as it is the movement that triggers the painting of light that Collingswood has developed into a visual dance language. A projection of light falls on Daisy Natale as she sits in meditation, then on Karol Cysewski and the other three in turn. The arms of the dancers then set their torsos in motion, and the projection of light expands with them like a painted aura as they rise and move until the light around each dancer merges into that of the others like splashed white paint and the entire stage seems to respond to each and every movement providing a beautifully diffused illumination. Collingswood is clearly in his element here, experimenting with light as an extension of the moving body. During the performance, he uses his imagination and technical wizardry to conjure up energy fields, transform the stage into clouds, trace the flight of a single gull until its path fills the space, and link smoke or ink-inspired patterns and shadows to the movement of the dancers. It is the lighting that closes the gap between technology and dance, but which at times has a tendency, because of its novelty, to attract attention to itself: the images of smoke are beautiful in themselves but tend to overpower the stage action and when a mandala is projected down on to the dancers its spiritual significance is reduced to an illustrative pattern. We are on the borderline of digital art and stage dance; it seems with a little further push in this direction, there will be no dancer but a projected kinesthetic image. Interestingly, one section of Beyond the Body is a choreographic essay of Collingswood’s lighting imagery to live music (by Eyebrow, comprising Paul Wigens on drums, percussion and electronics and Pete Judge on trumpet and electronics).

So what about the dancers? That Råmon has been able to harmonise a diverse group in such a short time is not simply the fortuitous outcome of an audition process. Råmon has built into the creative process a seven-week preparatory period for the dancers prior to the production period in order, as she writes in the program, ‘to improve (the dancers’) physical potential in the creative process and to reduce the risk of injury.’ Apart from working as a choreographer, Råmon is a consultant in dance science and a cranio-sacral therapist, both of which inform this caring and holistic approach to resolving the challenge of bringing freelance dancers together for a short burst of creativity, and it shows. Each dancer brings his or her exceptional qualities to the stage, but the harmony of their interaction in Råmon’s choreography is tangible.

Since Beyond the Body is an investigation into what makes us human, there is not so much a narrative as a series of episodes based on the qualities of each dancer. Karol Cysewski is The Wanderer, Tilly Webber The Seeker, Noora Kela The Shaman, Daisy Natale The Runner, and Hal Smith is The Creator. From the opening, breathing calm, each dances out his or her respective qualities enhanced by Collingswood’s visual design. The dancers are centred, concentrated, focusing on internal process rather than out into the audience. Noora Kela dances a duet with her disembodied shadow projected on to a filmed forest backdrop (by Collingswood and Bill Mitchell) that reminds me of David Hockney’s giant screen experiments; it is as if we are in the forest, and Kela performs on the forest floor stepping carefully through the leaves as the light filters through the branches. During her dance, the other four enter at each of the four corners of the stage, hemming her in: overtones of the Chosen One, but she is left alone in the darkening forest, rolling over to start a second solo that is angular and seems to stretch in all directions. There is a lightness and clarity to her dancing, which is a pleasure to watch.

In the next episode, Natale is followed on stage by a shadow of smoke, or a projected ink pattern that seems tied to her feet. Natale has a lovely fluidity of movement and ecstatic poses. Cysewski follows, projecting less of The Wanderer here and more of an enforcer, prone to sudden spurts of movement — almost violent —that appear to control Natale. Smith embodies the calmness and majesty of the Creator as he sits in meditation alone, eyes closed, with very slow arm gestures. Drops of light fall on him and flow away. He moves through the state of calmness to intense trembling when the drops of light increase exponentially as if energy is emanating from his core being. The quartet arrives like a chorus from which Webber detaches herself, dancing expressively with softness rather than angularity. She melts to the ground in fourth position, then stands, turns and sways, generating ripples of light that become the projected mandala. She walks around the rim of the mandala, then to the centre where she starts an energetic finale to drum accompaniment. Natale joins in with swirling arms, then Cysewski and Kela. Smith walks to the centre with one hand on top of the other as if holding something precious. Once inside the mandala, however, the movement phrases owe more to disco than to the esoteric. Smoke is projected, the mandala turns as the dancers pump up the energy, expanding, jumping and turning in a visually rich painting of light and movement before the dancers finally come to rest as the ripples of light expand in the silence and the dark.

There is clearly more than meets the eye in Beyond the Body; the creators and dancers have entered this inside-out creativity and produced a work that opens up new ground. It is based on the dancers — their spiritual and physical wellbeing — rather than on building up a formal performance. It is thus a work about the process, and if on the way it becomes a tad self-conscious there is also at times a powerful symbiosis between concept, movement and lighting that makes the creative journey rich and fruitful.