Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play

Posted: November 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play

Candoco Dance Company: Three Acts of a Play, Laban Theatre, October 17.

Annie Hanauer and cast in Set and Reset/Reset. Photo: Hugo Glendenning

Programming is everything in a triple bill; it can be an uneasy alliance of repertoire and new work, an indigestible three-course meal, or it can be like three acts of a play, an analogy Candoco Dance Company adopted for its most recent triple bill. Two of the acts are welcome re-stagings — Trisha Brown’s Set Reset/Reset and Wendy Houstoun’s Imperfect Storm — and the third is a new duet for Mirjam Gurtner and Dan Daw, Studies for C, by Javier de Frutos.

I saw Set and Reset/Reset last year in the company’s Turning Twenty program and thought it suited the company beautifully. It still does. Robert Rauschenberg’s design floats above the stage, though it seems there is a little less floating than before. Even though there is a structure to the choreography, the dancers seem to walk or run on as the spirit takes them, joining in Laurie Anderson’s musical procession that strolls down the west coast of California with its bells, assorted sirens and vocal improvisations in a spirit of carefree timelessness. There is a seductive dynamic of improvisation in the dance, too, a freedom of movement in which the dancers bump into each other and ricochet off each other with singular unconcern. The wings are of diaphanous material so we see what is going on off stage as well as on, a spatial continuum that Brown clearly enjoys and which is enhanced by Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting. The dancers are quite at ease, partly because the choreography is at ease and partly because the dancers have contributed to some of the choreography in the creative re-setting process. ‘Go with the flow’ seems to be the philosophical underpinning of the work, with its random connections, playful exits and entrances and a lightness that comes from Brown’s joy in exploring the air. As might be expected, there is no purposeful ending; the music fades away into the distance and the dance continues until we can no longer see it.

Dan Daw and Mirjam Gurtner in Studies for C. photo: Hugo Glendenning

Studies for C is pure magic. The setting suggests a domestic hearth with a carpet and two chairs, drawn in to an intimate space by de Frutos’ own lighting and haze, but the context suggests a wrestling ring with Daw and Gurtner fully masked and wearing leather jackets covered in painted phrases like ‘Better to Die’, and ‘The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks’. The inspiration is more Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real than Becket’s Waiting for Godot, but the songs by Lila Downs take us definitively to Mexico. In this rich juxtaposition of influences, Daw and Gurtner converse or argue with mute passion in their carpeted ring, giving a rich reading of the characters. The effect of the masks pushes the physical element to a stifling pitch of psychological intensity. Gurtner is mad, and flies across the floor. Daw is upset and stands truculently with his hands on hips. They are a couple that feels trapped by their familiarity, and struggles in vain to break free. The masks add an insectile quality to the characters and the inclusion of the song of La Cucaracha suggests two cucarachas down on their luck going through their death throes, legs in the air, trembling on the edge of extinction. They crawl over each other, Daw pulling at Gurtner’s mask. She kicks him, he howls and after a semblance of compassionate support, the two retreat to their respective corners to the lament, Yunu Yucu Ninu. Gurtner starts to take off her mask as the lights go down. Will she break free? We never see her face.

Victoria Malin in Imperfect Storm. photo: Hugo Glendenning

Annie Hanauer takes the microphone at the beginning of Wendy Houstoun’s Imperfect Storm, surrounded by her group of actors. ‘Tonight we were going to do The Tempest, by Shakespeare. William Shakespeare. But we found it a little wordy.’ Deciding to act it without the text, the only way to get people on and off the stage is to use the stage directions, she explains, and to use lighting (by Chahine Yavroyan) to create a series of tableaux, like paintings layered with costumes. Enter Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio; enter Ferdinand and Gonzalo; enter Prospero; enter Boatswain. Miranda’s already at the microphone. John Avery created just the right music, and Nicola Fitchett found just the right ruffs, hats and other assorted costumes and props. Each character picks a vestige of costume from the overturned costume rack. Sound of storm and lashing rain. Daw puts on his Boatswain’s hat, while others are quaking from the storm, pitched and tossed across the stage. Alonso pulls in a string of lights and drapes then around the shipwrecked group. Victoria Malin begins to recite snatches of Prospero’s lines, which devolve into a commentary on the progress of the play (‘we got trapped in this corner…by lighting’) as three characters fight with two wooden swords and a coat hanger. Malin continues with a brilliant monologue on the courage to stay… while all the characters leave. She then describes the stages of a storm that Daw illustrates in an extended solo, dancing in the spotlight. It is wonderful, from feeling the wind in his face (stage 1) to leaves rustling (stage 2) to whole trees in motion (stage 5) and widespread structural damage (stage 7) by which time Daw is running around in a circle jumping and flapping his arms. Alonso and Miranda enter and Daw is carried off, exhausted.

For all its apparent chaos, Imperfect Storm is a sophisticated work with beautiful writing (Houstoun takes sophistication and writing to another level in her 50 Acts). Houstoun allows the dancers to be themselves on stage while playing a failed amateur drama group without hamming it up. What comes across is a work that seems built up from an acute observation of what the dancers can do, and with their creative cooperation: a work that is not imposed on them, but grows out of them.

We have arrived at the finale, the end. Hanauer muses on how best to achieve the ending since everyone has already left and there are no more stage directions. Perhaps the lights fade slowly to black, or the lights could go off one by one, or there could be hundreds of candles we could blow out, or someone with a torch and the battery runs down. Or perhaps…

And as she continues to muse, the lights go suddenly and convincingly to blackout.

Trisha Brown at the Brighton Festival: The unbearable lightness of seeing

Posted: May 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Trisha Brown at the Brighton Festival: The unbearable lightness of seeing

Trisha Brown Dance Company in the Concert Hall, Brighton Dome, as part of the Brighton Festival, May 9, 2012

At one end of the foyer a pre-show event has been scheduled amidst the clink of glasses and chatter of the bar. Tamara Riewe, a dancer with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, steps on to the tiny stage with the reverence of someone about to perform a ceremony. The bar chatter subsides as the first chords of Grateful Dead’s country rock track Uncle John’s Band focus the attention. Riewe begins a 1971 work based on a simple accumulation structure: add a movement and return to the one before. It is a work Trisha Brown created for herself. One wonders if Riewe’s body is like Brown’s, but it is not important. What is important is where the movement comes from, and for Riewe to find that place in her own mind and body.

Accumulation starts with a single hand gesture, adds the other hand, a hip twist, a shading of the head, a rise on to half point, a lift of the leg to the side, a step to the back, a return to the front, a bending of the elbows like an Egyptian mudra. It is a piece of pure motion and concentration, a dynamic of one movement phrase inducing the next, and the next influencing not only forward but back until the whole thing is alive and breathing like a living entity. After four minutes and fourty-three seconds, Riewe draws the song and her movement to a close, her lyrical finger tracing a line towards the opposite hand as if she is turning off the switch.

In the main auditorium, the curtain opens to a black backdrop and one overhead arc lamp. Leah Morrison’s back is towards us as she begins If you couldn’t see me (1994), another of Brown’s own solos. We are expecting Morrison to turn towards us, but she doesn’t; we are behind her, and remain in that relationship throughout the dance. She works slowly across the stage in fluid shapes and transitions. One remarkable quality of the Trisha Brown dancers is that they are so well balanced there is rarely – if ever – any hesitation or instability. If you couldn’t see me is one of a group of works on the program that come from the same creative phase of ‘back to basics’ – as Sanjoy Roy writes in the program – that sees Brown ‘deliberately toning down the physical dynamics, simplifying the composition, and for the first time gently allowing personal imagery and emotion to suffuse the atmosphere…’ Robert Rauschenberg’s deep reverberating sound seems to encourage this, and Spencer Brown’s lighting wraps the movement in its warmth and space. Morrison eventually returns to her starting point, repeating the initial theme in ever-shorter sequences until the momentum just winds down.

Brown is a visual artist as well as a choreographer, and one of her black-and-white sketches on the backdrop sets the scale for a relatively recent work, Les Yeux et l’âme (2011) to music from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera, Pygmalion. In her formative years, Brown had a particularly proprietary attitude to creating dances: “I didn’t want to be marshaled in a certain direction by music. You know: music makes you dance. That’s cheating!” This attitude led her to experiment with dance as a pure expression of itself, and it is the fruits of those years of movement research and experimentation that we see here in a particularly fresh relationship with a score, as if both music and choreography develop from the same source; the dance breathes within the music and the light. Jennifer Tipton’s superb design and Elizabeth Cannon’s neutral, flowing costumes enhance it further. Brown has a particular affinity for France, and it may be fancy but there is something quintessentially French on stage here, a luminous marriage of Molière’s wit, Rameau’s courtly music, and the intellectual curiosity of Sartre.

If you didn’t miss Accumulation in the foyer, there is a gentle progression from that work to the end of Les Yeux et l’âme that prepares us for Foray Forêt (1990), the most demanding in terms of our concentration. There is a lovely quote on the Trisha Brown website: “If I’m beginning to sound like a bricklayer with a sense of humour, you’re beginning to understand my work.” Her bricks are sequences of movement that she uses to build a greater structure with infinite patience and attention, and her sense of humour is above all a subtle one, more akin to playfulness. With this in mind, you can enter into the spirit of Foray Forêt; without it, all that slowness and silence can become tedious. As in any forest, there is a lot of silence here and it can be deafening.

The silence is broken by a reminder of our urban setting: the sound of a marching brass band, far away at first, and growing louder as it approaches. We never see it; it is a spectral band: we only sense its proximity by the volume of its sound, as if it just happened to be marching around outside the theatre when somebody opened the stage door during the performance. The music seems to make no impression on the dancers, who could be playing in a walled garden during Mardi Gras, oblivious of the noise in the streets outside. Their game has the spontaneity of improvisation even if the movement sequences are now ‘fixed’ in the work. This is the measure of the dancers’ skill. They are so much in the moment doing what comes naturally that they lack any sense of self-consciousness.

Some of Brown’s dances could be danced without a proscenium, but this work makes conscious, playful use of the on-off duality of the stage. Stage and wings in effect form a continuum for the movement, whether it is visible or not. A girl dances close to the wings and tips off balance. An arm appears from the wing to support her, half on, half off stage. Later, while Megan Madorin dances her enigmatic solo, disembodied hands and heads appear around the wings as if kept at bay by the quiet authority of her dance.

Brown may spend a year preparing a work, creating sequences of movement with her dancers, then editing them down, whittling away at the material until the result is exactly what she is looking for. The work is thus rich in memory and experience. Coming to these works for the first time from a hectic outside environment is a challenge for an audience, but there is something so relentlessly pure about Brown’s approach to choreography that makes that challenge soothing and hugely rewarding.

In For M.G.: The Movie a man (Patrick Ferreri) stands with his back to us throughout the work, motionless. His presence is real but the work is a journey of memories surrounding him, images moving in and out of focus and view, as if in a dream. Both Trisha Brown and Spencer Brown worked on the highly evocative setting of light and haze. In the opening sequence, Tara Lorenzen repeats a figure of eight running pattern, jumping as she approaches the front of the stage, buoyant, confident, as if in a trance. We hear some disembodied piano music in slow waltz time, but now the composer, Alvin Curran, introduces us to his ‘sonic tableaux of old-fashioned lawn mowers, the Nantucket Light Ship, mobs of crows, John Cage’s inimitable voice, tin cans being kicked in a deconsecrated Venetian church.’ Such is the complex nature of memory. Lorenzen is still running intently. A boy appears and lifts her across the stage and disappears. Running seems to be a metaphor for brain activity in search of meaning. She runs up and down the stage, mowing swathes of an imaginary lawn (Curran’s lawnmower?) without leaving a trace and in another sequence kicks Curran’s Venetian tin cans as she turns a corner. Two boys run in and she runs off, then back in; disappears and returns, forwards and backwards: run and rewind. Dream is memory beyond time and space. There is a haunting moment when Lorenzen’s face, at the back of the stage, appears and disappears, appears and disappears in the haze. Dancers are bumping into each other and gently bouncing off; a girl lies half on the stage, half in the wings; a boy rolls slowly to the centre where a girl walks over him: all dream-like events without accent or narrative. Lorenzen repeats her opening jumping figure of eight. Imperceptibly a girl has entered on the opposite side, followed by another. They move as slowly as the return of the piano waltz, now synthesized. Riewe, the girl at centre stage, descends slowly, inexorably to the ground then rises again. There is an outburst of movement, a buzzing fly in the sonic tableau. Riewe dances an extended solo beautifully, as if unfolding her own internal processes. The other girl is kneeling in mourning. The fly ceases buzzing; the piano is being tuned; the girls are now on their backs, inert, withdrawn into impermanence. The man has not moved. He reminds us of Leah Morrison’s position at the beginning of If you couldn’t see me. The cycle is complete.

Watching Brown’s choreography is to clear away accretions of traditional form, like cleaning layers of lacquer from an old painting to reveal the freshness and immediacy of the original. But there is something in Brown’s creative evolution that is relevant to other forms of dance: a return to spontaneity and genuineness. It is not a question of the forms she creates or the processes to arrive at them. These are, after all, deeply personal. It is more her ability – and the ability of her dancers – to seize a moment in motion and to keep that moment ever present. No more approximations. How refreshing.