Rubberbandance: Gravity of Center

Posted: May 21st, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Rubberbandance: Gravity of Center

Rubberbandance: Gravity of Center, Purcell Room, May 3

photo: Jocelyn Michel

photo: Jocelyn Michel

In his essay on the relationship between language and style, Writing Degree Zero, Roland Barthes makes the case that literary style, having its origin in the ‘biology and biography’ of the writer, is a profound transmutation of these two elements through the medium of language that can carry man ‘to the threshold of power and magic.’ What strikes me in this notion is that style, be it literary or choreographic, is not a category, nor is it a conscious application of rules; its value is in its transformative force. Without such a force, style is as arbitrary as the words or steps or gestures that happen to comprise it. In dance, as in other performing arts, style is multiplied by the number of creative inputs and in the case of collaboration between dance, music, lighting and set design, the confluence of styles has the potential to drill down to our very core.

Victor Quijada’s work is an interesting study of language and style. His ‘biography and biology’ bridges forms of street dance learned in the ciphers of Los Angeles and contemporary forms of classical ballet in the companies of Twyla Tharp, Elliott Feld and Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. One can see these dual origins in his steps, but he transforms them with his dark, passionate persona into a style that can equally delve into the sub-currents of his life or strike a vein of laughter and light, as it did in his recent work for Scottish Dance Theatre, Second Coming.

Gravity of Center is an altogether darker work — it has some of the bleakness of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road — that deals with the dynamics within a tight-knit group of five itinerant souls on the edge of survival: the tensions, jealousies, frustrations, violence, rejection and redemption. The style Quijada has created to express this is not simply illustrating a story; it is the story.

The narrative is contained within a small sphere of activity, perhaps an evening’s sortie; certainly most of it takes place in what appears to be night. A group that feels its way hesitantly across the stage is an image Quijada used in the opening of Second Coming, though there the narrative breaks up into fragments, whereas Gravity of Center keeps the action in a tight grip; it is almost claustrophobic, to which is added the seemingly inevitable smoke to make it all thicker still. Each of the five performers incorporates a single universal virtue or vice like characters in a contemporary morality play. Quijada is the patriarchal leader of the group; Elon Höglund is a grudging, brooding brother; Daniel Mayo is a gentler, more virtuous soul who is keen to prove himself, and Emmanuelle LêPhan is a free spirit, attractive and attracted, who is the cause of most of the tensions between the alpha males. Anne Plamondon is cast in the role of mother, healer and compassionate one whose patient efforts and wisdom keep the group alive. It is the interplay of these five characters that makes up the psychological drama in Gravity of Center.

Quijada likes to play with theatrical conventions. At the beginning it is the audience that is bathed in a blue light while the stage remains dark (lighting design and technical direction by Yan Lee Chan). Even the exit lights in the Purcell Room seem dimmed. The only indication of something happening on stage is the sound of squeaking shoes on the rubber floor to Jasper Gahunia’s desolate soundscape that seems to grow out of the Russian steppes and evolves into an eclectic sampling of musical forms from Stravinsky to Chopin to Piazzola. When the lights allow us a first glimpse of the figures rising from the floor, they look like a band of giant marauders but it is not long before the band splinters into micro conflicts. Quijada’s dancers take risks; although we know they are not going to walk off the stage and hurt themselves, they come perilously close to disabusing us of our certainty. It means split-second timing, and it keeps our attention (and the dancers’ attention) on the edge. It is a quality that infuses everything Quijada does and it heightens the sense of animality in Gravity of Center: the prowling, pushing, elbowing, and kicking out at the air; the cartwheeling backwards over each other, the scorpion kicks and the writhing around each other like serpents; the bullying, cajoling, and the constant searching for dominance and survival. At one point, as the dynamics of the group get out of hand once again, a voice behind me whispers, ”God, this is not going well.” Plamondon’s lyrical qualities are the antidote, the balm to the wounded souls, the compassion to the blind outbursts of rage. If there is any narrative within this volatile scenario, it is that Mayo’s character, the runt of the group, is ready to prove himself. Plamondon senses he is better off alone (or he comes to the same conclusion), and with her blessing and a little pushing, he disappears over the edge of the stage for a period of time only to be ‘found’ later by Plamondon’s maternal, sensory instincts. The core of the work is a series of tactical exits and menacing entrances, solos, duets, trios (notably between Höglund, LêPhan and Quijada), quartets and unison quintets focusing on the constantly looping dynamics of the group. Quijada’s challenge here is to find a conclusion. There are a couple of blackouts and an edging toward a point of no arrival, but in a sense these are five characters in search of an ending; it arrives by the theatrical convention of the lights going down (for the third time) rather than by any sense of finality. In fact there is a very real sense that the action continues through the night and into the following morning.

As such, Gravity of Center constitutes less a narrative than an essay. Second Coming coalesced into a spark; this one bubbles in the background, waiting to draw those gestures and signs and symbols into a coherence that has a life of its own rather than describing how it is going to get there. It is a style in search of its true form.

Scottish Dance Theatre: Second Coming & Winter, Again

Posted: March 25th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scottish Dance Theatre: Second Coming & Winter, Again

Scottish Dance Theatre, Double Bill, The Place, March 8.

Lewis Wilkins and Eve Ganneau in Second Coming. Photo Maria Falconer

Lewis Wilkins and Eve Ganneau in Second Coming. Photo Maria Falconer

Joan Clevillé draws me so convincingly into his subterfuge that I can forgive Victor Quijada for the beginning of his Second Coming; I had checked the running time of the show and had booked a train that would give me just enough time between the end of the performance and the departure from Victoria station. When Clevillé, who is rehearsal director of the company as well as a dancer, announces that there will be a delay to the start of the show — he has an excellent command of English but his searching for a word and his roving accentuation underlines the hesitation and insecurity of his explanations — I feel my comfort zone shrink rapidly. Luckily I am sitting next to Chantal Guevara who surreptitiously checks online and reassured me that this is in fact the beginning of the show (but don’t tell anyone). It’s a forewarning that we will be kept in a constant state of unpreparedness throughout the evening as there is no clear demarcation between true and false, belief and non-belief. Even the score by Jasper Gahunia erases boundaries, seamlessly interpolating turntable riffs into classical music and vice versa. Quijada and Gahunia are clearly on the same wavelength.

Twenty minutes into the show, Clevillé admits to the dramatic subterfuge, and starts another, but we are now attuned: the choreographer has been fired. It is a harmless, self-deprecating put-down of choreographers as macho control freaks with anger management issues, but, as Clevillé states modestly, there is still some amazing dancing to come and he saves the best for last: his own solo. What follows is much more, for although it starts (after a false start) with his slow, deliberate, finger-tracing solo to a phrase of a Bach prelude, it develops with Mozartian richness into a confrontational duet with Jori Kerremans on a spirited phrase of Paganini, and then into a trio with Nicole Guarino on a phrase from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No 13 (Emma Jones’ must have been dancing along to get the cues so perfectly). It is as if Quijada has arranged an epic breaking battle for these three composers who then join forces to play variations on their respective themes and by the end we are all laughing and cheering so loudly because Quijada, Gahunia, the three dancers and Jones have it all down so perfectly.

Matthew Robinson cuts through the applause (he has to wait a while) to deliver his critique of this ‘performance-non-performance thing’ as ‘overworked pseudo-intellectual rubbish’, but he has to continue his defiant monologue in defense of dancers while being dragged slowly by his collar around the stage.

Quijada has reached the summit but there is no lessening of quality as the ensemble descends the mountainside climbing through and under each other in a grouping that leaves behind the opening images of birds and street gangs, flocks and individuals, suspicion and tension as it slips freely to the point of dispersal. Only Eve Ganneau and Lewis Wilkins are left to deliver a duet that is as magical as it is off balance, as heartfelt as it is artfully constructed and which ends on a mysterious note of inversion.

It is rare to find a company with such a diverse range of qualities and a delight to see choreography that brings out those qualities to perfection. We are doubly fortunate this evening for it happens twice.

SDT in Jo Stromgren's Winter, Again.

Lewis Wilkins, Giulia Montalbano, Julian Juárez, Jori Kerremans, Joan Clevillé, Nicole Guarino and Eve Ganneau in Jo Stromgren’s Winter, Again.

Jo Strømgren is as much a theatre director as a choreographer; in his Winter, Again he brings together both drama and dance in a fluent form that integrates visual imagery and choreography so well that the dancers could well be speaking. Strømgren’s text is the cold and bitter emotion of a selection of songs from Schubert’s Winterreise (played by fellow Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes and sung by Ian Bostridge) though he can never take quite seriously the high romanticism of Wilhelm Müller’s verse. Instead he mischievously juxtaposes Schubert’s music with the bloodthirsty, churlish actions of an isolated hunting community dressed in shades of ghostly white (by Bregje van Balen) that lives its daily fight for survival with as little emotion as the winter itself. Echoes of Ibsen and Chekhov abound in the chilling screams, pistol shots, dead birds and other furry carcasses but Strømgren has us laughing helplessly from the beginning with his brand of dark, irreverent humour. Not even the fate of a young girl (Natalie Trewinnard) who spends the entire performance searching for her eyeballs that the pigtailed beauty Maria Hayday finds in a tin and mindlessly drops in the snow can prompt a sense of sympathy. Trewinnard finally finds her eyes and pops them back in, but her focal adjustment is so masterfully funny — and Strømgren’s dramatic sense so seasoned — that her subsequent suicide by pistol shot that brings the performance to an end is less of an emotional charge than a dramatic full stop.

This program is the parting gift of former artistic director Janet Smith. Fleur Darkin is in the seat now. In the evening’s program she writes that ‘contemporary dance is a form that lives by destroying its past’ and yet both of this evening’s remarkable works make creative use of the past to find new forms rather than destroying it. Scottish Dance Theatre is, in its present form, a gifted company and while it has such a rich repertoire may the only kind of destruction under discussion be creative destruction. And long may it last.