Swan Lake II: Dark Waters & This Moment Now

Posted: December 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Swan Lake II: Dark Waters & This Moment Now

Paniclab, Swan Lake II: Dark Waters & Sylvia Rimat, This Moment Now, Chelsea Theatre, November 25

Jordan Lennie on his island of feathers in Swan Lake II: Dark Waters (photo: Nicola Canavan)

Jordan Lennie on his island of feathers in Swan Lake II: Dark Waters (photo: Nicola Canavan)

This is a Swan Lake that is perhaps closer to the Imperial Russian court and Siegfried’s hunting party than you might think but admittedly miles from the choreography of Petipa and Ivanov. When you hear Tchaikovsky’s overture you might be forgiven for thinking director Joseph Mercier is taking cheap shots at a classic ballet but this is more like a surreal 55-minute preface to Swan Lake: what is happening at home in the nest while Odette fights for her freedom against the demonic control of Von Rothbart in the royal palace. Presumably her mate is unaware of her true identity.

As we enter the auditorium we see an island of white feathers on the stage with its sole occupant, Odette’s cob (Jordan Lennie) lying naked on his feather bed brooding languidly on the eggs while awaiting her return. It is a startling homoerotic opening image that joins a long history of erotic swan associations. Hanging from a rope above him is the body of another swan, the collateral damage, perhaps, of the royal hunting party. The stark beauty of Rachel Good’s set is like the swan itself: elegant on the surface with all the workings hidden underneath. Lennie is a tidy, industrious mate who keeps his feathers pristine and buries his domestic appliances out of sight in the soil beneath the feathers: an electric hob, a frying pan, a spatula, a dressing tent, a mobile phone and an old pair of tights.

One of the characteristics of Joseph Mercier’s work is that he presents performers on stage without any distinction between self and character: in Swan Lake II: Dark Waters Lennie is a swan keeping the nest eggs warm but when he is sexually roused he signals climax by crushing an egg in his hand, when hungry he eats one raw, rustles up an omelette or peels a chocolate egg and eats it while watching the audience watching him. There is no slipping in and out of character for it is all undifferentiated Lennie.

Despite Mercier’s description of the work as an ‘estranged ode’ there are moments when he has his tongue firmly in his cheek — his use of Dusty Springfield singing I just don’t know what to do is one — but there is something deeply creative and satisfying in his imagination and the work provides Lennie with moments of extraordinarily beautiful imagery. There is a brief quote from The Dying Swan, a more extended one from Nijinsky’s Faun in which Lennie finds comfort among the wings of the dead swan (to the Springfield track), but the overpowering image is the naked swan staggering blindfolded on pointe among the feathers of his nest screaming for Odette. Mercier might well be expressing aspects of his own psyche but I can’t help feeling he is also touching on aspects of Tchaikovsky himself. Swan Lake II: Dark Waters lives up to its name, swimming from one emotion to another — from sensuality to loss, from frailty to strength, from the clarity of laughter to the loneliness of self-reflection — lapping ever closer to the edge of madness. Lennie’s performance shines but this is an inspired team effort: Good’s set, Ziggy Jacobs-Wyburn’s lighting, Dinah Mullen’s sound design, Lennie’s choreography and Mercier’s direction.

Sylvia Rimat with drummer Chris Langton in This Moment Now

Sylvia Rimat with drummer Chris Langton in This Moment Now

Swan Lake II: Dark Waters is part of Chelsea Theatre’s season of contemporary performance, Sacred. It is the kind of programming that challenges and demands an investment of time, which is the subject of Sylvia Rimat’s This Moment Now that opens the evening. Rimat is as caught up in her subject as Mercier is in his but its nature — the elusive concept of time — demands a more analytical if playful approach. Rimat in her delivery is as precise as the metronomes set ticking at the beginning of her performance though these stand no comparison to the notion of atomic time to which she introduces us from outside the theatre via skype at the beginning of the show. She writes that the work is inspired by conversations with three eminent professors but it is her way of research to start with the highbrow and then find lowbrow, ludic ways to express her findings. She expresses time through spoken text, demonstrates it palpably through the beat of drummer Chris Langton and slows down the performance itself by serving tea half way through. We experience vicariously the present moment of a live cockerel on stage (thanks to the skillful stewardship of stage manager Alasair Jones) and watch filmed interviews with the elderly Eileen Ashmore (who also dances up a storm) and the young sisters Lola and Marlina Steinhauser Somers (clearly influenced but not prompted by dramaturg Tanya Steinhauser). Despite the arcane nature of the science Rimat keeps all her explanations within the framework of performance. It is what might be termed performative science: time is the subject but Rimat’s intelligent stagecraft makes it the unassuming star.


Resolution! 2013: PanicLab, Ji-Eun Lee, B-Hybrid Dance

Posted: January 31st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Resolution! 2013: PanicLab, Ji-Eun Lee, B-Hybrid Dance

Resolution! 2013: The Place, January 11

PanicLab: Throb: A Cardiovascular Romance

A curtained cubicle in hospital green with a single pillow and a basin of water is not the kind of setting that immediately comes to mind for a work with the provocative title, Throb: A Cardiovascular Romance, but choreographer Joseph Mercier juxtaposes sexual and clinical connotations in this meditation on the proximity of love and care, life and death, light and darkness.

Based on Mercier’s personal experience, Throb: A Cardiovascular Romance is a celebration of a significant event in a commonplace, clinical environment: a carer guides his terminally ill patient through the final stage of his life. It is ‘dedicated to Erin Mercier and many others.’ Throb refers both to the relationship that develops between the carer (Mercier) and his patient (Tim CJ Chew), and to Chew’s heart which is suspended in a jar with a breathing red light that he keeps close to him at all times. As the supine Chew restlessly changes position, Mercier swiftly places the pillow under his head, the two tracing Escher-like patterns on the floor. As Chew’s movements are driven by discomfort, Mercier’s are always tender and solicitous, feeling Chew’s forehead and stroking his temple. As their intimacy grows, Mercier rests Chew’s head on his lap instead of on the pillow and they exchange looks, smiles and sotto voce conversation. The fragile cardiovascular meter glows intermittently, beats and fades, mirrored in the growing pliancy and languor of Chew’s body. We hear the sound of a dog barking but there is no danger in this quiet room. Chew takes off his clothes and Mercier bathes him with a flannel and (one hopes) warm water in the basin. There is a sense of a Pietà in the attitude of the two bodies, the one supporting and the other pliant in decline, though the powerful physical bond is contrasted with the banal sound of the weather forecast on the hospital TV (sound design by Dinah Mullen). Mercier helps Chew on with his clothes and lays down next to him. Their intimacy is highlighted with a kiss before Chew gets weaker and needs to be supported in his efforts to move around. The sounds of a game of billiards and teeth cleaning impinge on the quiet and then a music box plays. As Mercier moves Chew to a new position, Chew no longer has the strength to move his jar; it is now Mercier who holds his friend’s life in his hands. Chew motions to Mercier for his jar, which Mercier places in front of him. It is still faintly alight and beating, but not for long.

Ji-Eun Lee: Play. Back. Again. Then.

From a hospital cubicle we move into an abstract space delineated at its four corners by two dilapidated metal-framed, plastic-seated chairs stacked on top of one another, and a couple of roles of packing tape stuck or looped on to the upturned legs. It is an unsettling image of decay or abandon, yet when Ji-Eun Lee appears on stage as if by accident it is transformed into one of strange beauty and mystery. Lee is tall and thin with a serene, commanding expression that imbues every movement she makes with stillness and purpose. She is aware of her audience, confides in them and draws them inexorably into her intent.

She walks in cradling what appear to be three large oranges; one falls to the ground and she picks it up apologetically, only to drop another and so it goes on until she scoops them up into her skirt and sways across the stage like an exaggeratedly pregnant woman. The oranges are made of soft clay and she places each one carefully on the floor in a diagonal to one of the chairs, stepping back with exaggerated precision, one foot length at a time, crouching lower with each step, like a lioness about to pounce. She returns to her clay oranges and shapes one into a primitive human figure. She takes her time, time that is constantly slowing down to a ritual stillness. She concentrates on modeling each one in turn, working her fine fingers into the flesh of each, three incarnate forms. She steps back from her work and stretches her blouse over her head, looking at us as if through a shaman’s mask. She then marks out an arena by using each chair as a corner and pulling the clear tape from one corner to the next and on round three times. She climbs into her ring and places one clay figure on a chair at the back, and one on each of the front chairs. She now adds another level of meaning by marking out on the stage three small taped squares with an opening on one side with their openings facing each other. She hurries a little with the finishing of the third (the only inkling of an external constraint — the musical line — impinging on her ritual). She places each clay figure in its respective taped enclosure and surveys her work, regarding them each in turn. She responds to each with semaphoric arm signals, increasing the intricacy until she breaks into a beautiful whirlwind phrase of dance that seems to come out of nowhere, a rising storm that breaks and then reverts to stillness as suddenly as it starts. She collapses in front of one of her creations and looks at it with a private intensity, spreading her fingers, investing life into the figure. She frees it, placing it just outside its taped enclosure, and considers carefully. She looks at us to signal her desire to place herself in the enclosure. Having done so, she changes her mind: unlike her clay figures, she has the power to decide her own destiny. She looks at the figures, looks at us and makes her final move: out of the enclosure, out of the taped ring and off the stage. Play. Back. Again. Then is a breath of fresh air in which Lee has created a work of haunting beauty even as she questions her role as creator.

B-Hybrid Dance: Independently Dependent

An element of minimalism has pervaded the first two pieces. Mercier builds up his simple tale in broad pale green strokes with skin tones, while Lee’s work is more akin to calligraphy. Both are quiet and focused, but the final offering on the program, Brian Gillespie’s Independently Dependent, is neither one nor — more importantly — the other. There is no lack of movement among the six dancers but a serious lack of intent. Perhaps the program note threw me: ‘Independently Dependent…explores a girl’s transition as she is swooped from the comfort of childhood and engulfed by a system where independence and dependency go hand in hand. The pressures placed on this youth permits few things to pass into growth.’ The description on The Place’s website does nothing to alleviate the confusion: ‘A bitter-sweet performance in response to a following where innocence is stripped, imagination restrained, and simple play is modernised and materialised. Place in our code-ridden society conflicts with blissful childhood.’ With two such convoluted briefs it is no surprise the resulting choreography passes by without any apparent grasp of its own scenario. What is left is movement that is energetically inarticulate.