Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna

Posted: July 18th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna

Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna, Bernie Grant Centre, July 7

Ieva Kuniskis, Charlie Cooper Ford and Helen Aschauer in Gone To Get Milk (photo: D. Matvejevas)

That Chantal Guevara managed to pull this festival together in such a short time is a testament to her untiring entrepreneurship. A lacuna is a gap, but rather than being a gap, Cloud Dance Festival: Lacuna is filling one, making a generous opportunity for lesser known choreographers to show their work to the public: nineteen different works by seventeen choreographers over three days. There was no particular theme, no recognizable curatorial intervention: after a three-year hiatus, re-creating the opportunity was itself the catalyst for a strong roster of artists. Bernie Grant Centre was Guevara’s partner in this project and it proved well suited to the festival. Hopefully both will return in mid November for a joint venture, so watch the CDF space.

I was only able to see the last day — one of the hotter days of the year and the day Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon — but clearly Guevara has touched a vibrant nerve in contemporary dance presenting. The quality is uneven but rarely uninteresting. Ieva Kuniskis’s Gone to Get Milk has a strong theatrical value, a sense of humour, and a sense of the absurd. It starts with Helen Aschauer stumbling down from the stalls with an armful of oranges and spilling them on the stage. Because the lighting is still low, she bumps into a figure (Kuniskis) seated at a table before ricocheting off into the wings to pee (the sound of which is amplified into the auditorium, thanks to Peter Humphrey). She returns with a light bulb for the socket suspended above the table and reaches up to screw it in. The reaching morphs into images snatched in poetic concentration from an oppressive daily routine: hanging from an overhead hand rail, washing a floor and painting it, putting a restraining hand over her mouth and pulling out the side wall of her cheek with her finger. Charlie Cooper Ford enters with a milk pail, takes a chair and picks up an orange. Aschauer keeps an eye on him while she takes down her hair. Ford has a neat, small chopping action that suggests food preparation. He drops the orange and measures the room like the servant in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Kuniskis, who has been sitting quietly in the shadows, begins to stir while Ford has a conversation with himself and draws his frame into a Charlie Chaplin figure, pulling on his forelock and stuffing an orange under his chin, ready to waltz. Kuniskis in her peasant dress pulls up her socks (a repeated gesture with both women) and sets up a circular hand and torso movement until the bell rings and she seems to be anticipating hara kiri when Aschauer puts a hand on her wrist to stop her. Ford lightens up the atmosphere by initiating Pass the Orange…. and so it goes on until it reaches the end, which is back at the beginning. The lighting by Mikkel Svak is lovely and the eclectic music provides an aural framework while the visual one is less cohesive. The dreamlike, floating figures of Chagall come to mind: Gone to Get Milk has a multitude of colourful images that almost, but not quite, coalesce in the three dimensions of the theatre. A painting, which is still, can nevertheless move in our imagination; a piece of dance theatre that moves can yet remain relatively still. It is an interesting paradox.

I had seen Joseph Toonga’s work Picture Perfect? early in 2011 at East London Dance when he won that year’s Blueprint Bursary. I had thought then that he was not at ease in his style, which set out to cross the boundaries between hip hop and contemporary. Whatever he has been doing in the intervening two years, Toonga has bridged that gap: Moments, Past has a language of its own that is both mature and confident. He has also assembled an impressive group of dancers, all from London Contemporary Dance School.

When dance works, it doesn’t really matter what the program note says. Moments, Past has fine shapes, dynamic groupings, and a pervasive enthusiasm even if it is not a particularly extrovert work. Choreographed for five dancers to Jocelyn Pook’s Bleeding Soles, the material is divided into a number of solos, duos, trios and ensembles linked stylistically by willowy backbends, lunges, and slides along the floor. Toonga himself is quick, and expressive and Kenny Wing Tao Ho complements him with his explosive precision. Ishaan de Banya, Daniel Baker and Poh Hian Chia complete the lively quintet in what is a refreshingly mature work in a youthful form. Later in the program Toonga presents a short duet, Ours, for Wing Tao Ho and Lucia Txokarro, that is popping meets contemporary dance (a favourite theme Toonga’s) in the guise of boy meets girl. It is in the nature of a relationship to change us as we share, borrow and adapt each others’ thoughts and ideas, which is what the two dancers do in choreographic phrases. Only towards the end do they touch, but soon after it comes all too suddenly to an end.

The challenge for B-Hybrid’s Brian Gillespie is in using music that already has such a strong identity: Cinematic Orchestra’s To Build a Home with Patrick Watson’s hauntingly honeyed voice. Structuring the dance as a series of tableaux illustrating the lyrics (the work is called Foundations) sets apart what we see on stage from what we hear. Although Eloise Sheldon finds the sinuous, ethereal quality of the music in her first solo, and Jumar Aben gets close in his, Foundations loses sight of the music and thus fails to complement it.

The idea of Ceyda Tanc’s Volta is potent: a walking prison dance for six women. ‘In Turkish prisons, to turn your back on your fellow inmate during a walking exercise is a sign of great disrespect. How do we convey this disrespect in everyday life, and how do people react to it?’ There is certainly a lot of walking, and the women keep a hawk-like eye on each other but Tanc has either abstracted the choreography to the point where the meaning is obscured or fallen prey to using dance forms that do not belong in this setting. There is an effective section of grounded, folk-inspired phrases but then the three subsequent duets were seemingly unrelated. I was not sure either if all the dancers were convinced of what they were doing. In a section where all six women are moving in unison, their look is fierce but the look does not come out of the body; it appears superficial. In the end, there seems to be too much walking, and not enough energy coursing through the body to make the walking tell the story Tanc set out to express.

When I first saw John Ross’s Man Down, it was on the tiny Lion & Unicorn stage. It came across as a tight interior landscape, and the space exaggerated the claustrophobic tension within the minds of the two protagonists. On a bigger stage the clarity of the gestures is the same, but the larger space has a tendency to thin down the intensity. However, it is the kind of work that rewards in the re-seeing, for there are so many details — like the officer who stabs himself with the pen that wrote the letter — that make up this passionate panegyric to a fallen solider. Ross performed a preview of another work, Woolfpack the previous evening, which I unfortunately missed.

Ballet slippers in this contemporary environment grab attention, and not necessarily for the right reason. Classical form is already embodied in the dancer’s body; there is no need to flag it with a plethora of classical clichés like bourrées, jetés, arabesques, and promenades. Raymond Chai’s Unbroken Silence may be about strong attraction and rejection, but the classical quotations feel out of place and tend to emasculate the emotion. Both Melanie Lopez and Oliver Freeston are trained in classical dance and if Chai were to choreograph on them without recourse to a single ballet cliché, the classical form would still be visible — especially with Nic Holdridge’s lovely lighting — and he would be free to concentrate on the emotional expression at the heart of the work.

Ella Mesma’s EvoL begins with its most powerful image in which she stands in a small square of light as if rooted to the spot or tied to an imaginary pole in a contradictory pose on the slippery side of yes. Her hand slides up her chest to form a fist under her chin, or traces her body curves up to her neck. ‘Yes!’ she screams, again and again, writhing beyond a point of control, her hand at her throat, ecstatic, while her other hand travels up from the stomach to take displace it. EvoL (LovE spelled backwards) is a solo on the serious theme of grey rape, ‘referring to the myth that sexual assault can sometimes be an accident.’ From that opening image, it is clear that Mesma has the form and the passion to tackle the theme, but as soon as she leaves that small square of light the concentration of energy dissipates with dance moves that meander further away from that initial statement. Nothing quite comes up to that level of communication until at the end, lying in the light, in pain, she says, ‘Yes’, then ‘No, no, no, yes… I said no.’ All the uncertainty and brutality can be found in the beginning and the end. The middle is the grey area.



C-12 Dance Theatre: Emerge

Posted: November 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on C-12 Dance Theatre: Emerge

C-12 Dance Theatre, Emerge, The Space, November 24.

 A show full of super heroes, a sofa and some pretty angry women.

There is not a lot of space in The Space on The Isle of Dogs. It occupies what was once St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, built in 1856 for the Scottish shipyard workers employed on the building of Brunel’s The Great Eastern. The features of the chapel have been maintained, with the stubby ionic columns of the vaulted apse framing the thinly raised stage and the nave continuing the stage at floor level with room for about fifty chairs at one end. There are no wings but the two doors at the back of the stage and the aisle entrance to the auditorium are the principal entrances and exits for the performers. Had those Scottish shipyard workers seen the performance of C-12 Dance Theatre, they might have thought they had died and gone to heaven.

Before the performance begins, Adam Towndrow, artistic producer of C-12 and the initiator of Emerge, welcomes everyone and gives a breakdown of the evening: three works by three choreographers: one by C-12’s artistic director, Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, and two by emerging choreographers James Williams and Miranda Mac Letten. On stage for the first piece, James Williams’ In New Light, are a drum kit played by Williams’ sister Janette and a bass guitar played by Andrew Willshire. The only prop is a medium-sized black sofa, like a soft brick, on the auditorium floor.

Ana Dias and James Williams in In New Light photo: Chantal Guevara

A single drum beat rings out in the dark like a call to arms. As the thunderous beat continues, a very lazy strobe illuminates the sofa and two men (Williams and Willshire) sitting either side of it like guardians in the night. Enter Ana Dias as a glowing apparition down the aisle. She quickly sheds any illusion of a spectre by jumping up on the sofa, her huge shadow projected on to the side wall. She turns towards us with protective arm gestures, standing as if on the prow of a ship while the sofa is turned beneath her. Over the course of In New Light the sofa becomes in effect a third performer that is upended, turned and overturned in counterbalance to the equilibrium of its human occupants. The roots of Williams’ inspiration derive from parkour, or freerunning, but he reduces the limits of his environment to this sofa and the stage. Because the dance involves a man and a woman, there is also an inherent tension in the narrative and it is the combination of the freerunning and the narrative with the physical prowess of the two performers that is intoxicating: two performers sliding into spaces with the speed and precision of acrobats yet with a warmth of feeling that is rooted in the living room rather than the ring. Intensely physical, In New Light is conceived on an intensely personal scale, in which all the creative elements link together into one dynamic, multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

John Ross in The Endeavour to be Super photo: Chantal Guevara

The aerial buzz descends, and the weight of the chapel reasserts itself as we watch the change of scenery for Miranda Mac Letten’s The Endeavour to be Super. Exit drum kit, bass guitar, amps and sofa; enter Marty Stevens’ and Mac Letten’s coat stand, black telephone on a side table and two screens (as in room dividers) with scraps of Batman memorabilia stuck on with childlike enthusiasm. Mac Letten is a C-12 performer (though not in this work) and the founder of her own company, Kerfuffle Dance, of which three of the dancers in the piece are members: John Ross, Camila Gutierrez and Esther Vivienne. The fourth is Chris Rook. Three of them have graduated from London Contemporary Dance School and one (Gutierrez) is in her third year. Together they have a lot of drive and a lot of fun, with the more experienced Rook as rehearsal director for this work, ‘a comical, high-energy performance based on the human psyche’s need to believe in something bigger than oneself.’ It’s a tall order, but the idea is based less on Nietzsche than on Bob Kane’s Batman as translated into the camp 1960’s television series. Not that The Endeavour to be Super is camp; from Ross’s first entrance as Batman at home hesitating to pick up the phone and petulantly flipping his cloak when he misses the call, or Gutierrez as Batgirl trying to recharge her batteries – and her libido – by massaging her nipples, it never intends to be serious. What comes across is a romp of egos and alter egos, dastardly subterfuges (Rook in dastardly good form) and disguises that deliver the comedy and high energy while going light on the bigger picture. Perhaps that is the fault of an over-ambitious program note, but what Mac Letten does develop is the comical gap between our aspirations and our actions. Kane’s Batman developed his aspirations before he donned his disguise; this quartet of masked raiders starts with the disguise and work backwards to discover indecision and confusion, which lead to catfights (Gutierrez and Vivienne pull out all the stops) and a delightful, simulated scrap between Batman and Batgirl in which the inflicted damage is recorded in true comic strip style on cue cards reading (among many others)Bam! Biff! Wham! and Pow! It is all too much for this Batman, whose aspirations are left dazed and confused, but the infectious vitality, fun and bravado of the choreography and of the performers remain.

Miranda Mac Letten in Scorned photo: Chantal Guevara

After the intermission (for which we are ushered outside), we return to find two figures standing on stage enveloped ominously in a white sheet. A row of candles burns in the back of the apse, creating an almost monastic environment (the design sensitively conceived by Tomoe Uchikubo and lit beautifully by Mikkel Svak). Two women dressed in black (Alice Gaspari and Cindy Claes) enter and free the two figures (Miranda Mac Letten and Alicia Pattyson) from their mute captivity and clothe them in long silk dresses. Scorned is an extract from a new work by Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, but if the backstory is unknown the emotion of the work is very quickly apparent. Scorned takes its cue from the phrase ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ from William Congreve’s Restoration play, The Mourning Bride, and there is indeed a sense of jilted love on the eve of a wedding that threads through the work. It could also very well be a reworking of the mad scene from Giselle choreographed for a quartet of women with very different bodies and different training but united in their emotional response to unseen events, and it is how each one express it — in their eyes, in their gestures, in the way they hurl themselves through space — that draws us inexorably into their suffering and draws the work tightly together. There is something about Claes’ krumping vocabulary that tenses the space around her like an expressionist drawing, and there is in Gaspari’s lyrical, classical line a sculptural quality that expands her space. Mac Letten’s white dress and Pre-Raphaelite look is as icily cold as her madness is raging and Pattyson’s gently quality is rendered vulnerable rather than fearsome by high emotion. Add to the play of qualities the total involvement of the women and Foster-Deakin’s choreography extending the expression dynamically in all directions, it is all the space can do to contain it. There are some beautiful images: the muted sheet is stretched into a symbol of taut emotion, a catapult for Mac Letten and has undertones of a nunnery; crisped hands erasing a stain on the floor, Claes’ hand at her throat fighting for her life: images from the edge of sanity. And then the dawn seems to break and the wildness calmed. Congreve’s play has another famous line: ‘Music has charms to soothe a savage breast’, and this is exactly what Kerry Muzzey’s Where There’s A Will does. Pattyson resolves her doubts and fears, is helped by Gaspari into a white wedding dress and ascends the aisle towards the exit, but Mac Letten’s fury has not yet abated; she cannot bring herself to meet her groom. Claes leaves her in Pre-Raphaelite dishevelment lying on her wedding gown like Ophelia at the edge of a watery grave.