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.