Arthur Pita’s The Mother at Southbank Centre

Posted: July 2nd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Arthur Pita’s The Mother at Southbank Centre

Arthur Pita, The Mother, Queen Elizabeth Hall, June 20

Natalia Osipova in The Mother
Natalia Osipova in The Mother (photo: Anastasia Tikhonova)

Gerry Fox’s documentary about Natalia Osipova, Force of Nature Natalia, was originally conceived as a promotional film about Arthur Pita’s new work for Osipova and Jonathan Goddard, The Mother, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Story of a Mother. Fox started filming in 2018, and soon realised it would be a shame to limit the scope of the film to one work among many that Osipova was rehearsing or performing concurrently with Pita’s rehearsals. Force of Nature Natalia thus looks at a year in the life of Osipova as a dancer while spreading its biopic scope to her youthful background in gymnastics and ballet. Clips of those early years of burgeoning talent and promise, both in class and on stage with the Bolshoi, are enthralling, while a rehearsal with Natalia Makarova of La Bayadère at the Royal Ballet and a tantalisingly short extract from a performance of Giselle with Carlos Acosta are proof of her extraordinary ability to find the drama within classical ballet technique. Ballet developed its dynamism and virtuosity around an upright axis — its origin is in seventeenth-century court etiquette — and within its highly codified language the dramatic expression for an artist as gifted as Osipova arises out of the technique. Fox transitions from this stage of the ballerina’s fêted career to her desire to branch out into contemporary dance by filming her dancing body as it negotiates the work of choreographers Ivan Perez, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, and Jason Kittleberger. But in a contemporary dance setting it’s as if Osipova’s emotional compass has been reset and is missing its true north. In charting the course from Giselle to The Mother, Fox unwittingly shows that no contemporary choreographer has yet managed to mine Osipova’s rich seam of expressivity in the way the ballets of Marius Petipa or Jules Perrot have done. Of those choreographers she has worked with, Pita’s predilection for narrative would seem to favour Osipova’s ability to inhabit a character on stage. Pita claims his form of narrative dance theatre is ‘worlds away’ from Osipova’s famous classical roles and that ‘Natalia is a very instinctive performer’. Both statements are true but it is Osipova’s technical prowess that frames that instinct. For her to express the drama of Pita’s narrative in a contemporary vocabulary she has to create a maelstrom of movement — as she does memorably at the very beginning of The Mother when she realizes her child has died, which she recapitulates at the end when she crosses the lake of tears (shades of Swan Lake) — but in between these moments her body is in motion but not moved. Apart from a Russian folk dance with Goddard, she seems in a constant state of transition between leaving her classical world and entering the contemporary one, and what we see too often are the vestiges of the former — her elevation, flexible extensions and exquisite articulation — without the evidence of the latter. 

Andersen’s tale follows the mother as she chases after Death to retrieve her child, bargaining along the way with a number of anthropomorphic spirits — the faceless Babushka, the Rose Gardner, the Ferryman, the White-Haired Witch and the Lover — who test her resolve by setting her monstrous tasks that emphasize the supernatural and psychic nature of her quest. Pita has Goddard play all these roles in an array of costumes — designed by Yann Seabra, aided by costume supervisor Giulia Scrimeri and made by Hania Kosewicz — but his quirky sense of humour morphs the supernatural nature of the original tale into camp extravagance that is at odds with Goddard’s dour muscularity. Andersen’s Rose Briar thus becomes Goddard the Rose Gardner in a long black dress and high heels snipping stems in her flower stall. So on the one hand you have Osipova as the harrowed mother dealing with the death of her child and on the other Goddard’s profusion of partners whose interaction revels in the comedic rather than in the psychological trajectory of mourning symbolised by the spirits. If Pita is using The Mother — not to mention Osipova’s reputation — as a sly send-up of the classical pas de deux, he is also trivialising Andersen’s dark tale. Seabra’s revolving set adds its own drole fairground mechanics to the mix while David Plater’s lighting and haze, especially as seen through the set’s opening doors, is profusely melodramatic. Frank Moon and David Price are the multi-instrumental two-piece band on either side of the stage who anchor a work that is otherwise in danger of shipwreck. 

Avant Garde Dance, Fagin’s Twist

Posted: May 30th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Avant Garde Dance, Fagin’s Twist

Avant Garde Dance in Fagin's Twist (photo: Rachel Cherry)

Avant Garde Dance in Fagin’s Twist (photo: Rachel Cherry)

But struggling with these better feelings was pride — the vice of the lowest and most debased creatures no less than of the high and self-assured.” – Charles Dickens

Avant Garde Dance (AG) has been going “against the grain” for the last 15 years under the auspices of artistic director, Tony Adigun. Having seen more than a dozen of their outdoor and indoor works, commissioned them to work on large-scale performances integrating community casts of 100 people, to working with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on the iconic performance Vesalii Icones by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, I awaited with curiosity the skewing of a Dickens classic.

Fagin’s Twist, co-produced by The Place, is AG’s largest tour to date with over 40 performances across 2016 and substantial support from Arts Council England and other co-commissioning partners. Working with the writer Maxwell Golden and dramaturg Adam Peck, the audience is presented with a simple storyboard narrative that focuses on Fagin (Joshua James Smith) forging in the workhouse, his adventures in the lair and his ultimate undoing by young master Twist.

Opening with the full company (8 dancers) rotating, snaking and snapping whilst passing a mid-size white hat box between them exposes an early weakness as the ability to blend prop handling and movement restricts them and doesn’t allow them the anatomical freedom to focus or execute with the required conviction. Slipping between theatre, hip hop styles and contemporary dance we’re introduced to a krumping Bill Sykes (Dani Harris-Walters), a breaking Artful Dodger (Aaron Nuttall) and a contemporary Nancy (Lisa Hood). Stylistically these fit their character traits — in the first act the jittery physical vocabulary and nimble b-boy flourishes of Nuttall add a depth of character as he breaks the fourth wall with a set of welcome narrations which aid the re-telling. Smith has also a certain dash about him, like a fencer darting across the stage with able command of both body and voice. With the five leads including Oliver Twist (Jemima Brown) mic’ed up we unfortunately see a lacklustre physicality seeping into the vocal performances; a lack of conviction in both body and voice, and an inconsistency across the two acts (this is the 12th performance on tour) caused my interest to wane.

The first act is a series of establishing speeches twinned with tutting and hip hop routines delving into Fagin, his gradual acceptance by Sykes, their joint escape, finding the lair and the introduction of Oliver. With a second act full of stage choreography for exposition purposes, the character definition breaks down and we are left with 8 moving bodies who’ve seemingly forgotten their original intentions and emotional relationships with each other. With a recurring motif of a low-crouched, puppet-armed jump that hints at A Clockwork Orange, the pack often comes together before splitting off into duets and trios that fall very close to “hip hop as mime” territory. There’s a fine line between showing a story and keeping the audience on the outside and telling a story and pulling us in.

When I first read ‘On the Road,’ it helped me figure out how to live against the grain. Now I wonder how to be subversive when the subversive has become mainstream.” – Tony D’souza

I see a number of biographical echoes where you could replace Fagin with Adigun; having started life outside the system he recruits a merry band of accomplices who begin to scratch a living together. Success comes slowly as he is embraced by others, but responsibility weighs heavy for the health of the unit whilst younger and hungrier insiders begin to splinter as he takes his eye off his pocket watch. However, after 15 years can you continually go against the grain? Pushing doors open for others takes a lot of energy and being swallowed by the mainstream that is slowly de-teething and sanding the edges that made them want you in the first place is a tricky position for Adigun to hold. Akram Khan serves as a warning/inspiration.

Fagin’s Twist offers an entertaining night out for those new to dance theatre who might be a little Dickens curious and there’s a slick production mask scaffolding the work. Jackie Shemesh’s lighting design casts elongated shadows, hiding faces and bodies in the half-light whilst Yann Seabra’s set offers nooks, levels and holes for the dancers to weave and scuttle about in.

However, if it’s going to sing loud in the autumn tour and emerge as a signature work, then some dramaturgical repairs are in order to build bonds with the audience so we can begin to care rather than watching blunt fireworks; dancers should fill and execute their characters whilst injecting a consistent musicality into their performances and Adigun needs to bring some abrasion and grit back into his choreography.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller

Tara D’Arquian, Quests

Posted: March 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tara D’Arquian, Quests

Tara D’Arquian, Quests, Borough Hall, Greenwich Dance, February 18

Anne-Gaëlle Thiriot and Marc Stevenson in Tara D'Arquian's Quests (photo: Alicia Clarke)

Anne-Gaëlle Thiriot and Marc Stevenson in Tara D’Arquian’s Quests (photo: Alicia Clarke)

One can’t help but admire the scale of Tara D’Arquian’s Quests, not only its physical embrace (taking over most of The Borough Hall at Greenwich Dance) and its musical scope (thanks to Bruno Humberto and Philippe Lenzini), but its philosophical sweep. The second part of a trilogy which began with In Situ and is yet to be completed, Quests ‘explores the conflict of identity in contemporary society’ though D’Arquian immediately qualifies this by adding, ‘The conflict…opposes humans’ longing to define themselves to the indefinable character of the self.’ It’s a philosophical argument that borrows from Nietzche’s Three Metamorphoses as a filter through which to approach the issue of identity, but if it structures the thinking behind Quests, it is the ambition and imagination of D’Arquian’s dance theatre that clothes it.

The narrative is a ‘fictitious story of a stage director slowly falling into madness after the loss of his wife whilst creating the first piece of the In Situ trilogy.’ This reference to the previous work is where Quests begins in Greenwich Dance’s Minor Hall that Yann Seabra has refurbished as a rose-coloured lounge of an ocean liner. When the audience wanders in to take a seat the performers are already in place, fixed in time, caught in mid-movement at their tables or sitting in their chairs. A bar serves drinks, the noise of chatter and laughter rises around these transfixed characters and a curious little boy walks over to each one to see if they are real. It’s an intriguing start. The playwright (Humberto) and his wife (Typhaine Delaup) are seated at a table on a raised dais in the centre of the room looking into each other’s eyes. The stage is set up for a cabaret show and musicians (Lenzini on guitar, D’Arquian on bass) start to assemble. From their static poses Anne-Gaëlle Thiriot and Marc Stevenson come to life and slowly make their way to the stage. The band starts up and Thiriot delivers a ballad in a rich French voice while dropping flowers distractedly from a bowl. Delaup suddenly jumps up from the table and rushes from the room. Quests has begun in real time. Three veiled beauties waft into the room like muses to inspire Humberto while Ottillie Parfitt as his producer arrives dripping with disdain and drops an envelope of money on the table to get the writer out of his depression and into finishing the new work.

Quests is, like Francois Truffaut’s film Day for Night, a play about the making of a play. In this promenade format, D’Arquian pulls apart the story to put it back together again, sets us loose to explore aspects of the narrative and gives us enigmatic clues along the way that only deepen the mystery. We shuffle through Stevenson’s room, a suicidal bathroom, a noxious vision of Eden in the lobby where Humberto chases his spirited wife out of the theatre into a taxi and back, on through a passage with a pram spattered in blood, a room where one of the muses plays piano and bodies lie under a dinner table of dirty dishes, up the stairs with walls pasted with notes and envelopes, and finally into the main hall where the two aspects of the story collide in symbolism of epic proportions.

Paradoxically the means by which D’Arquian achieves all this are flimsy; it is theatre-by-the-seat-of-your-pants in which the richness of its soaring imagination is in conflict with the naivety of its materials. The struggle of this latter part of Quests is how to make our imagination surmount the means. The contrast in scale between the performers — extended to a cast of almost 30 — and the giant muslin tent that covers most of the Hall is redolent of a religious ceremony and the plainsong chant (and Geneviève Giron’s bright white light) raises the ritual theatre to a contemplative level. But the dispersed action in this large space lacks sufficient tension to keep our focus from wandering to the manipulation of the fabric. There are episodes that overcome this, as when two performers desperately try to communicate while their handlers at opposite corners let them out slowly towards each other on the end of ropes. When Humberto raises his voice, the ropes are let go and the two fall into an embrace. Or when Humberto is playing the white piano like a crazed genius and the three muses interrupt him; while two drag him away a third seamlessly takes over playing his score. But it is the setting of the final duet with Stevenson and Thiriot that gets close to bringing all the elements together and to suggesting the scale D’Arquian has in mind. Using the muslin as a screen for projecting images of In Situ, placing the extended chorus singing a ritual chant behind the (now seated) audience, summoning the author and the producer to resolve the story (the play is a huge success but Humberto is leaving to start a band), and introducing a funeral procession with a coffin outlined in rope, the choreography is a catalyst of resolution in its contrast of sinuous and angular, torso and extremities, and distance and contact. All that remains is a grand anthem of a song while an electric fan in the background sends those mountains of script floating into the air.