New Dance Commissions at the Linbury Studio Theatre

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on New Dance Commissions at the Linbury Studio Theatre
Linbury Studio Commissions
Sarah Dowling, Freddie Opoku-Addaie and Laïla Diallo (photo: ©pip)

I think Southern Railways is taxing evening shows in London. The last cheap online train ticket leaving London is for the 21:47, so I booked it hoping the New Dance Commissions at the Linbury Studio Theatre on March 29 would be short enough that I could sneak out right at the end and still catch the train. The price of the next two trains goes up by £10 and with these advance off peak tickets, if you miss a train and come across a surly collector at the barrier, you are sent to the ticket counter where you have to pay for a new ticket at the full price of £25.  When I arrive at the Linbury and ask when the performance will finish, I realise if I am going to catch that 21:47 I will miss Freddie Opoku-Addaie’s new work, so I decide to take the risk and take a later train. What is the point of going to see new work and leaving before the end? I convince myself it is worth the extra £25 (otherwise the sudden shock of having to pay £25 on top of what you have already paid has a strong chance of ruining the evening).

When not in London, I am looking after my mother on the south coast and the television in the house is quite often on for long tracts of time. I moved up into the attic because the volume on the TV is quite high even though my mother can hear the cat flap open and close three rooms away. In the attic I am insulated against the antiques game commentary and the other three antiques knock-off programs during the day, not to mention the cooking programs and the endless news. So Sarah Dowling’s Remote strikes a nerve and I am in turn agreeing with the proposition (that the remote makes us remote) and railing against its manifestation on stage. Yes, it’s all so false, illusionary, reality-deprived, crass nonsense. Much as I want the dancers to smash the TVs, these sets are too cleverly designed (by Tim Adnitt and Becs Andrews) as lighting sources and sound consoles to destroy them, and besides there are 2 more performances. I spend too much time wondering why the costumes are like that to enjoy the movement, as if the costumes have a narrative that the movement does not support, or the movement is so successfully disembodied and emotionally estranged that the costumes are a distraction. And then after the duets it all stops, as if my mother had turned off the remote mid-program in time for dinner.

Laïla Diallo is beautiful. I saw her in Montreal in Sense of Self with Mélanie Demers where she wears a black gorilla head for some of the time, but I much prefer seeing her as she is here, a fellow traveler in her latest work, Hold Everything Dear. The themes of migration and the dislocation of travel are so beautifully captured from the first moment.  The way the dancers cross the stage and leave a different pattern of strewn persons and baggage is as if in a dream (another quality of constant travel). And remember that Guy Hoare is lighting it, so it looks exactly like it is supposed to. Everyone is in transit, even the musicians, which is why Jules Maxwell, the pianist and music director, can never sit at his keyboard. The music is just right, a gypsy flavour, with an air of traveling, moving, never quite belonging. And then the walking transforms into dance, beautifully evocative solos of looseness and freedom. I am reading Andrew Graham-Dixon’s biography of Caravaggio (whom Guy Hoare may well have helped to light his subjects in an earlier existence). Caravaggio’s central figures are beautifully lit, while the secondary figures fade into the blackness, features barely visible, yet present. Look at The Calling of Saint Matthew and the second version of his St. Matthew and the Angel for examples. Similarly, Laïla’s solo fades from light into dusk, yet you see it all, because what is essential can be seen, moving. At one point the strikingly rich voice of Gabi Froden cuts through the shadows, the voice as a beacon in the dark, leading you, encouraging you. Solo dances just drift into being in the crossing patterns. Theo Clinkard (whose colours and costumes are an integral part of the beauty of the piece) and Helka Kaski dance with equal fluidity and sinuousness. I remember the stillness of Laïla standing on a pier, looking out over the water. How many times have you been there, dreaming, feeling the breeze on a summer evening? Then imperceptibly I am watching a duet with Laïla and Theo and I say to myself no, that’s not supposed to happen here, there’s a link missing. Time stops drifting and even the fluidity of the duet cannot bring back the dreamlike passing of time. It feels like a later part of the project has been stitched on to the earlier mosaic, a few pages missing in between. Perhaps it will find its own place in the fullness of the work that will be developed during a residency at Bath ICIA in May. I have confidence Laïla can do it.

Now I am in risk territory, because I am staying to watch Freddie’s piece, Absent Made Present, and know I may have to cough up the £25, but I am prepared. And when the stage reveals the harmony of the vertical white cords with weights of clay I say yes, I’m glad I stayed. Katherine Morling’s (or is it James Button’s?) set hangs there and is beautiful to watch in its poise, lit by David W. Kidd. Dancers (they are playing about at this time and haven’t yet shown their stuff) change the equilibrium of the finely balanced clay weights, lob them in from the wings to be caught with panache in the janitor’s bucket. The stage is divided into three zones, right, left and centre. Centre is surrounded on three sides by the white cords. So the left and right side have delicate cords on one side and heavy black velvet wings at the back and sides. It is in these awkward physical spaces that the best parts are happening, where the dark velvet wings prove almost overpowering. The dance spreads through the cords and over the middle section, and this is fluid, funny (Freddie has a great sense of humour, a smile that is always there), intricate and breathtaking (especially for the dancers as they knock each other over with grace and precision, with no roughness, no loss of gentleness). There is so much action with the clay weights (spattered on the ground, demarking the supine dancers, unbalancing the cords, tying them up, untying them again), that they should have a curtain call at the end. They might have had a curtain call, but I have to leave quickly to catch my train. I walk over Waterloo Bridge, take the Clapham Junction train, make my connection and wait with some apprehension for the ticket collector to make his rounds. The misgivings of having to pay £25 return. When he arrives I show him my ticket and say I am sorry I missed my earlier train. He must have been at the Linbury too and is full of calm and light and he says, oh don’t worry about that.