Hubert Essakow: IGNIS

Posted: March 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hubert Essakow: IGNIS

Hubert Essakow, IGNIS, The Print Room, February 11

Lukasz Przytarski, Jordi Calpe Serrats and Sara Kestelman in IGNIS (photo: Zadoc Nara)

Lukasz Przytarski, Jordi Calpe Serrats and Sara Kestelman in IGNIS (photo: Zadoc Nara)

Fire is the theme of Print Room Associate Artist and Choreographer Hubert Essakow’s new work, IGNIS, the second in a planned elemental trilogy that began with Flow, based on water. Ignis is a Latin word for fire but here fire is a metaphor for memories that have burned their way into both heart and mind.

The seating at The Print Room is intimate, arranged on three sides of the stage as if around a fireplace and Lee Newby’s polished steel back wall tilting slightly forward reflects the human forms on the shiny black stage as flickering embers. Within this heated landscape Essakow — with the help of dramaturg Laura Farnworth — succeeds in getting his cast to embody in those embers all the longing, desire and regret of a passionate life. It is a tall order, and something that dance alone is only partially equipped to handle but Essakow’s coup is to integrate the expressive power of actor Sara Kestelman (whose training in classical ballet still informs her quality of movement) with his three accomplished dancers (Noora Kela, Jordi Calpe Serrats and Lukasz Przytarski). She plays the older woman reflecting on her younger self (Kela) and her conflicted passions, sometimes watching the sporting of the youthful trio and sometimes participating; she sees everything, she notes everything and, more importantly, we read everything through her. Interestingly she doesn’t dominate the stage but like an alchemist transforms it.

Newby is also something of an alchemist because part of his polished steel wall transforms magically into a transparent screen with the help of Matthew Eagland’s lighting. IGNIS begins with the recumbent figure of Kela in light grey loose-fitting clothes reflected on both the floor and the back wall. Like someone licked by flames, she turns and twists the shimmering line of Jon Opstad’s score until she rises to a sitting position and stands looking at her image in the polished mirror. As she walks towards it Kestelman’s image appears through the screen gazing back at her fondly as if at a photograph. Kestelman fades to return seconds later with two young men at her side. Time dissolves in this mirage, and as Kela retreats from our focus Kestelman materialises on stage on the arms of her two youthful companions. In this way both cast and creative team unite in their evocation of time revisited, of remembered pleasure and pain. The four characters weave memories and past events in contrapuntal choreographic sequences in which the men have one phrase and the women another, followed by unison sections and phrases in canon that suggest the hesitation of selective memory (sitting, getting up, sitting again) and the sudden punctum when Kestelman claps her hands and the flood of memories comes to an abrupt end. “Here it almost ended…” she begins, a sculptural figure eloquently recalling a decisive moment in her life as the three dancers draw their arms slowly across their chests like the stretching of a bow. But the memories continue to play, small accelerating gestures of look and touch and rebuff that Essakow painstakingly builds into an intense physical argument. Kestelman watches raptly until the triangle resolves with the departure of Przytarski. Kela snaps at Serrats in a combative duet that finishes with the lovers lying together on the floor but Kestelman recalls the return of Przytarski and we see the tantalizing pull and push of her heart.

The two boys duel in solos and duets that Kestelman sees in reflection on the wall: reflections on reflections. “I know the scene can never be the same.” Her voice adds a further emotional element to the performance. Dancers are not used to flexing their vocal chords in the same way as the rest of their muscles and Kestelman’s voice has all the power of an athletic body. She also adapted or transposed her own poetry for IGNIS so there is a unity between mind and body whenever her voice emerges.

It is now the turn of the youthful trio to manipulate Kestelman as if she is no longer in control of her past: selective memory, or history re-writing itself. A touch sends a shiver through her; she tells Kela she failed to see the anguish to come. “Now I see him everywhere.” Serrats joins Przytarski in dancing with Kela; she moves from one to the other. Kestelman remains on the sidelines as they switch and battle, watching Kela in particular, but despite the passionate uncertainty of the time — or perhaps because of it — she has no regrets: “Charred and changed”, she affirms, “Burnt out embers flicker into life, a lick of flame, leaping from the ashes, sudden burst of fire, white hot, brilliant, bright, beautiful, alive. I am alive.”

She sits, then lies like Kela at the beginning, dancing with her arms, rolling gently one way then another, and arches her back to sit up. Przytarski lights a fire in a grill along the back of the stage, transforming the stage into line of flame. Bathed in the light, Kestelman conjures up the three youths who dance in response to the heat: her passion in all its complexity. The two boys help her to her feet but Kela remains on the ground looking up at her. There is a transferal of understanding from the one to the other as the fire burns low. Kestelman’s eyes brim with the clarity of memory but the eyes of the others are as if blinded for they cannot see into the future. Kela circles and leaves Kestelman forming a heart with her hands, potent symbol of her journey. As she stands reflected in the wall, the ghostlike trio appears briefly behind it and vanishes.

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.