Cloud Dance Festival | Anna Pearce
Having studied at the University of Chichester & University of York, Toronto; Anna has worked in the dance field for a number of years, as a performer, choreographer and teacher.
After a period of working full time for StopGAP Dance Company, Anna has returned to freelance work, exploring as many avenues as possible that the dance world has to offer; including this new writing venture with Cloud Dance Festival!
I last saw Hofesh Shechter Company in 2009 in The Choreographer's Cut at The Roundhouse, and the defiant yet gentle opening image of 'Uprising' has stayed with me since then. What I'd forgotten was how the volume of percussion and intensity of movement engulfs your whole being, and compels you to want to move with the seven animalistic creatures sweeping across the stage.
Shechter has created an original movement language, which, now with the hindsight of a few years having passed, one can see how this has filtered in to so much of today's other choreographic works. This programme of performances at Sadler's Wells which includes the 2009 all-female work 'The Art of Not Looking Back' presented its audiences with the opportunity to revisit Shechter's work from his triumphant early days.
In 'Uprising', the dancers move in a way that is so stylised yet so free, with their seemingly casual demeanour and costume sitting comfortably, but never lazily, within the pounding soundscore: an element of performance which is integral to the staging of Shechter's work. After well-placed moments of softer sound, or silence and stillness, the bass returns, and seems to radiate organically in the seven male dancers' bodies.
And still, 'Uprising' does so much more than just demonstrate this use of the physical facility. There are moments of tenderness, humanity, and of humour as the dancers stand in a circle and exchange macho back-slaps which escalate into a scuffle and then a fight. The perpetual shifting makes for compulsive viewing, although perhaps due to the way Shechter's movement style and vocabulary has been adopted by so many, some moments become predictable. The earnest waving of a red flag to end the piece refers back to the subject matter, and is met by a very enthused audience.
'The Art Of Not Looking Back' is certainly a development in theatricality for the Hofesh Shechter Company. The combination of gentle but commanding voiceover, blinding lights, pitch black darkness and blood curdling, ear-shattering screams which morph into scats all give this second work of the night a compelling, indiscernible energy. The staging is almost filmic, and is constantly fragmented, meaning it's hard to settle into and be engulfed by it in the same way as with Uprising.
This is summed up by the voiceover, at one stage noting 'violent, but in a very very quiet way'. The violence is often sourced in the soundscore, juxtaposed with simultaneous moments of quiet, calm hypotonic movement. The departure of this work from 'Uprising' is recognisable in many different ways, notably in the all-female cast and the breaking down of movement sequences to reveal a more personal experience of the performers. Whilst the impact of the work is strong, and it is satisfying to experience a change of pace and approach, had it not been programmed alongside 'Uprising' it may not have held its own.
That said, the 'rewind' effect is wonderful, as are the silhouettes of the seven female dancers' balletic forms and staccato changing arms. The vocal references to 'mother' draw out the femininity in the movement, as earlier passages are revisited and repeated.
Notable moments include Winifred Burnett-Smith's staggering solo out of the sillouetted formation, and a startling stillness accompanied by the carefully pronounced words, "I don't forgive you".
The 'rewind' idea returns as shadowy figures of both casts of dancers rush through sketched movements of memories from the two pieces, encouraging the audience to 'look back'. A brightly-lit empty stage allows the audience a moment to process and to really hear the swelling sound scape. And then to applaud just as rapturously as before: Shechter has certainly mastered the art of pleasing a crowd.
The rhythmic, musical, unison movement performed by Rubberbandance's five dancers in the opening of 'Gravity of Center' very much sets up what is to come. They creep and shift throughout the stage as a tight unit, gazing intensly out beyond the audience, and in one moment, Daniel Mayo plunges off the edge of the stage, to be hauled back by the others.
The dim lighting, smoky haze, earnest faces and intent of movement all contribute to the stage at the Purcell Room feeling saturated with drama which borders on overkill. Relationships within the quintet begin to be established, but are never absolutely clear. Jasper Gahunia's score is a triumph; beginning with soft classical strings and building to more electronic, bass fueled, ever-changing rhythms that drive the movement content. And what incredible movement content it is. Victor Quijada has truly suceeded in creating a hybrid movement language of "the spontaneity, fearlessness and risk-taking of his younger years in hip-hop culture and the refinement and choreographic maturity of the ballet and contemporary works he immersed himself in as a professional dancer". The cast of five are masters of their craft and exectute the dynamic, spiralling, ruggedly beautiful movement vocabulary with effortless skill.
There is evidently a narrative that begins to build around relationships that form, although the details and intention of this are never fully apparent. There are suggestions of tenderness, gradually increasing violence and moments of macho altercation. Having been drawn in and impressed from the off, as the piece continues, one wonders if things may have peaked too soon: there is a sense of a feature length ballet about this work, with constant action but little shift in movement quality, and movement that is 'acted'. There are so many moments where the performers' earnest faces appear desperate to speak, or to communicate something, but they remain dumbstruck, and whatever it was remains unsaid. Sudden moments of silence and two complete blackouts suggest a change or a shift will happen, but the work continues in its established vein.
What keeps the attention is the incredible physicality of the performers, notably Anne Plamondon's extraordinarily articulating legs and feet. Key actions are revisited a number of times as Quijada's movement language is further established, and any number of the different duet combinations could have stood alone as individual pieces.
'Gravity of Center' is so rich in content that it's simultaneously overwhelming and diluted. Having seen Quijada's recent work for Scottish Dance Theatre, this was surprising as 'Second Coming' for SDT was so rooted in concept with movement content working harmoniously out of this.
The closing sequences of 'Gravity of Center' begin to feel more satisfying as there's more dynamic change, and the space is sculpted by UV lighting and a solitary bulb which references the opening of the work becoming a pulsating floodlight which the dancers are drawn mothlike towards. Such stimulating images, the root of which still remains unclear.
In his 'Brief Introduction to the Shaolin Martial Arts' in the 'Sutra' programme, Meir Shahar suggests the appealing notion that through their Shaolin martial arts training, the monks are not training their bodies for battle (being Buddhist and therefore inherently non-violent), but rather "cultivating their minds for spiritual awakening".
The movement content in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's 'Sutra' is undeniably impressive, but there is sadly little evidence of anything deeper than incredible physicality. The presence of twenty-one Shaolin monks and Antony Gormley's sixteen large wooden boxes on the Sadler's Wells stage is, however, truly a spectacle unlike any other that's been seen for a long time.
The opening of the work sets up a relationship between Ali Thabet and the youngest of the monks, seemingly pondering deeply over a miniature version of the structure of boxes. The nature of their connection isn't completely clear, but there is a sense of Thabet playing 'puppet master' with the small boxes, dicatating what happens on a larger scale onstage, which continues throughout the work.
With his incredible skill and undeniable cute-factor, the young boy monk has the audience captivated from the start, and is responsible for many of the gently comedic moments sprinkled within 'Sutra'.
Another element of this is Ali Thabet's innate 'non-Shaolin-ness', as he moves through moments of confrontation with individuals and groups of monks, sometimes clumsily and occasionally with real skill.
The piece moves through costume changes from the traditional to more modern suits, as the monks move 'wearing' the boxes and walk in a charming, Chaplin-esque way that carves the space, followed by criss-crossing pathways of incredible tricks to the soundtrack of the monks' shouts and cries.
There is no shortage of striking imagery and heartstoppingly slick moments, and Cherkaoui excels in choreographing the space through frenetic moments and times of stillness, juxtaposing the Shaolin elements of calmness and aggression in equal measure.
Although the monks' movement does not lend itself readily to musicality, Szymon Brzoska's beautifully-performed score keeps a constant connection to the visual action as the energies build and ebb together.
Towards the closing of the work there is a sense of reconcilliation, or conclusion, though quite from what has never been abundantly clear.
Recently cited in the Metro as one of the 'Top 5 in Demand Dance-Makers' (metro.co.uk/2013/02/21/dance-makers-in-demand-3507010/), and currently working on projects with English National Opera and the West End's 'Privates On Parade', as well as being a Place Prize semifinalist in both 2008 and 2012, it's safe to say there was a great deal of anticipation and even hype around Ben Wright's latest offering from his own company, bgroup.
The anticipation transferred onto the smoke-filled, red-lit stage at The Place, as two men in white lab coats surveyed the audience, then asked one woman ("you in the orange top") to join them onstage.
Positioned in front of a projector, a sequence of words flash up across her torso ('horny', 'inhaling', 'frequently hungry', 'spiritual', 'a lover', 'a liar') as four carefully-articulating bodies shift towards her. As a quintet, they move through the blank space, shifting weight and relationships to a soundtrack of heavy breathing and not much else.
There are sinister attempts to strangle, kiss and paw at the woman in the orange top - who is, in fact, dancer Allison Ahl. The group surges around Ahl as their pivotal point, and an absorbing tension builds as she is playfully thrown, deftly caught, and tickled.
A mechanical soundtrack serves as a well-placed accompaniment to these seemingly intentionally fragmented sequences that move expertly in and out of structured moments of unison. Focus shifts occasionally to others, and an angst-ridden Robert Clarke shouts from the floor before stripping off from the waist down, perhaps a step further than necessary in this otherwise cleverly subtle composition.
The dancers continue to shift in Wright's signature effortless movement style through many mini-climaxes, a pattern which is consistent throughout the work, lacking in a sense of constant building.
A continuous spiralling leads the four to gradually leave Ahl centre stage in a soft spotlight, gradually turning, arms aloft, to the heartwarming sounds of Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World'.
Exposing something very human within his performers is where Wright's direction excels, and 'two of us' (a duet for Lise Manavit and Michael Barnes, originally commissioned for the 2012 Place Prize) is a great example of this.
A contorting, pulsating, caressing Barnes is joined in the soft centre stage spotlight by Manavit's ever-powerful grace. As they intertwine in and out of each other's space, the large expansive material is interspersed with small, well-placed isolations. The two dancers magnetise closer and closer, and pianist Jon Byrne breaks the silence which had engulfed them until now.
The bare brightly-lit stage plays host to unashamedly beautiful choreography, and it's as if we're witnessing two people's private connection, until they filter away and the stage refills with red-lit smoke. The concluding section of 'Just As We Are' is 'all of us': originally 'This Moment is Your Life' for the 2008 Place Prize.
Still in his lab coat, and along with the rest of the cast and a 70's twist, Robert Clarke commandingly explains the experiment that is about to happen, to address the 'self - centred individualism' that makes people not want to risk appearing foolish. All five performers call for fifteen volunteers (again the word is explained), all of whom are given 70's attire and taught disco moves on a loop. The glitter ball, costumes, disco curtain, charisma of all on stage, and disco glasses given to the audience all work fantastically to create an infectious, raucous atmosphere that reminds us that dance is, and should be fun.
In 'Just As We Are', bgroup have achieved a brilliant equilibrium between insightful, challenging choreography, and accessing and entertaining our basic human nature. And of course, to quote one audience member, 'Life is so much better through disco glasses'.
I think it's safe to say that I am, at the best of times, extremely gullible. And I know this. But in 'Second Coming', the opening of Scottish Dance Theatre's double bill, they truly had me, and I'm fairly sure everyone around me, hook, line and sinker.
From a bare stage, house lights still up, with dancers milling around in warmup mode, we were told that there was a water leak and a consequent electrical fire backstage the previous evening. That they'd only been able to enter the space an hour previously and to allow the technicians time to set up, the dancers would simply demonstrate raw movement material from the choreographic process.
The dancers take to the stage, filtering in and out, deftly executing swift and everchanging movement sequences, creating a relaxed and intimate environment.
We're then told of a dancer being injured the previous night, and an exchange begins between technicians, setting up standing lights and shouting over the dancers; only now (despite the brilliant acting skills of Scottish Dance Theatre's technical team!) did I start to smell a rat. With a lighting state now in place, all eight performers move through a pulsating unison phrase, with solos and trios breaking out and becoming skilled and slick moments of confrontation or unity.
There is a delightful tension throughout this work, fuelled by the scratched, fragmented soundscore working against the everfluid movement material.
The charade of disastrous occurances continues and we're told that "the choreographer was fired - it got ugly". The charming sincerity with which Joan Cleville delivers this information is hilarious. He begins to demonstrate his solo ("the best till last"), and is increasingly interrupted by the wrong music, and by Jori Kerremans and Nicole Guarino. The solo becomes a duet, which becomes a trio, a slapstick, comedic, manipulative struggle for the limelight. These performers are masters of their craft, and maintain the intimate connection to each other and the audience, with a sense of constant communication throughout.
With nothing ever quite concluding, Matthew Robinson enters for a rant about choreographers' fixation with breaking down the fourth wall: "is this trying to be conceptual?!" he pleads, and is soothed and dragged ("cue the sappy music!") and once again manipulated throughout the space.
In 'Second Coming', choreographer Victor Quijada has succeeded in creating a sensitively selfaware and captivating work with incredibly-exectuted movement, sporadic violence, charming humour and satisfying unity sprinkled pleasingly throughout.
Jo Strømgren's 'Winter, Again' offers a juxtaposition to the previous work, whilst still utilising Scottish Dance Theatre's dancers' impeccable skill impeccably well. Through a screen of dirtied white paper panels, they appear and disappear, performing brilliantly overegged balletic parody movement. These surreal characters are seen mourning the loss of a number of dead birds, creeping surreptitiously with guns, wringing and clasping hands and discovering equally loving and threatening relationships.
With spine-tingling proficiency, Natalie Trewinnard enters with bandaged and bloodied eyes, whilst Maria Hayday, spoon in hand, seeks her next victim whose eyes to add to her small tin box.
Alongside the cleverly accomplished humour of 'Winter, Again', there is a bleak and somewhat sinister feeling to the work, as a voiceover narrates the meaning of winter - "hides the guilty" - and Natalie Trewinnard covers hers hands in the blood that has been relentlessly dripping into a tin bucket downstage left.
Shifting unison work, a dead deer being dragged through the space, and fleeting nudity are woven through the movement of this piece, working cohesively to create an environment that seems happy to remain somewhat unexplained, satisfyingly so.
In front of a quieter (but solid and supportive) audience than I've recently experienced at Resolution!, the night got underway with Company Ben Abbes' 'White Room'.
Presenting promising ideas on paper, this piece for five dancers dressed all in white seemed somewhat detached from such concepts as death, fear and loneliness which are mentioned in the programme notes. Instead, the choreography concerned itself more with carefully placed, all-too-familiar movement which unfortunately did not connect to its subject matter or audience.
Throughout the piece, sudden changes in lighting state serve to provide more structure to the space, as did the introduction of seemingly personal props such as a box of belongings, and a small hooded jumper. The piece ended after a duet between choreographer Cat Ben Abbes and dancer Daniel Kovacs, somewhat surprising the audience with the abruptness with which it finished.
More surprises were in store in the form of Tamar Daly & Nicolette Corcoran's charming and well-crafted 'Decode This'. In a fusion of vocals (spoken, sung and looped brilliantly) and quirky, shifting, twitching movements, they explore morse code, texting and love through coded messages.
Reminiscent at times of Protein's 'LOL (Lots of Love)' the piece had these two engaging performers embodying emoticons and telling simple but compelling tales of the text they received after 'last night' (winking smiley ;-) )
Amongst Kristina Hjelm's simple but effective linear lighting in the form of a large 'x', exchanges of glances between performers suggest there is an element of improvisation or chance to the movement together with the sound. No code needed: it works.
Four dancers take to the smoke-filled stage for the night's final work, Kaonashi's 'FADE'. A sequin-clad Katerina Toumpa moves to the beat that is to be a constant throughout the piece, the movement gradually building and devouring the space, watched by the three other exaggerated characters, fantastically made-up by Rebecca Jane Peebles.
Fast footwork and pulsating torsos take the four performers across the space, catching moments of unison and some of the personal journeys driven by the music.
Duets and interactions are frequent and aggressive, well executed by all; the piece succeeds in creating an environment, although it makes no attempt to explain it, nor does it apologise for the bizarre, as a penguin on an iceberg crosses the stage. And well it shouldn't, the bizarre is brilliant.
After a mesmerising solo from Chris Rook, moving fluidly and in staccato seemingly simultaneously, the piece ends on a somewhat thoughtful, melancholy note, a sadness perhaps at the end of what has been one big trip. And the penguin gets a bow...
The night of Tuesday 15th January at Resolution! 2013 opened with Chris Pavia's Captured by the Dark, a fitting title for this eerily-staged duet between dancers Hannah Sampson and Tomos Young (both of Stopgap Dance Company, as is Pavia).
A relationship is instantly set up between these two performers, the intensity of Young's gaze highlighted by Sampson covering her own eyes. There are human touches and subtle nuances of weariness or urgency that give a sense of real connection between the performers: a satisfying extra layer to the sometimes quite stark movement material.
Young’s physicality is eternally watchable, and with Sampson’s fluidity and natural energy, the two meet in some occasionally tentative, but often tender moments of contact and interaction. Such moments are highlighted to great effect by Sarah Gilmartin’s lighting design.
In an unexpected shift in energy fuelled by Dougal Irvine’s engulfing score, the work becomes somewhat cartoonesque. The two dancers do well to fill the stage, and there is a constant sense of there being more than just the two of them in the space.
In a circular structure, the piece calms once more, referencing earlier movement, now in a (quite possibly deliberate) unrelenting way. The final image is strong and memorable, an apt punctuation to this intriguing and carefully thought out piece by Pavia.
The shadowy visuals, sudden changes and stormy soundtrack are all themes which continue into the second piece of the night. Tom Bowes' Brute presents a quartet, satisfyingly united in their various black garments and boots, gradually dispersing from the downstage left spotlight.
The dancers twitch and pull together and apart, through some almost stilted exchanges and some moments of real connection in unison. A recurring theme of hands reaching and plucking at the air relates perhaps to the sense of ‘decision and discovery’ detailed in the programme note, although there are times when this, and the periodic upward focus become affected and unexplained.
The piece is at its strongest when all four dancers move individually, but in close quarters and with real conviction. ‘Brute’ seems to end just as swiftly as it began, with a sense of things being left unseen or unsaid.
Mazzilli Dance Theatre’s For How Much begins (though we didn’t know it initially) with the audience being accosted by a comical, yet slightly unnerving and manic gentleman in the foyer during the interval. He ushers the already intrigued audience back into the auditorium where the stage holds eight performers, a pianist at his piano, and piles and piles of clothing.
The one male and six female dancers surround the man we first met in the foyer, and from this tumbling flock of bodies, troubled solos break out and return as the momentum builds to a fighting energy with satisfyingly messy exchanges of weight. Andy Higgs’ accompaniment to this, both live and recorded, is beautiful.
The juxtaposition of the comical and the sinister running side by side throughout this work is used to great effect, particularly in a colourful ‘family portrait’ moment, where fixed grins become manic and a dancers begin to paw at each other with increasing urgency.
The piece moves on at a pleasing pace, and is at its strongest in moments of suggestion relating to the themes of human trafficking and forced labour. One solitary dancer is burdened with piles of garments, and a fluid and feminine quintet displays further sensitive choreography by Annarita Mazzilli.
As the work draws to a close, the title ‘For How Much?’, is clearly referenced, as gradually every performer moves through the space with handfuls of coins: shaking, dropping, scrabbling, spinning, stealing, donating, caressing and rolling them until the one solitary dancer remains, still and alone.
I left feeling inexplicably haunted by this last piece; and with an overall sense of satisfaction from my first outing to this year’s Resolution! platform… I look forward to the next!
The Space in Westferry provided an intimate, up-close and somewhat cosy setting for this triple bill of work by C-12 Dance Theatre’s established and emerging choreographers.
James Williams’s ‘In New Light’ opened the programme, demonstrating slick, fluid, well-rehearsed movement material performed on, over, around and underneath a black sofa. A duet for Williams and Ana Dias, ‘In New Light’ starts with a bang (a very loud bang, from live musician Janette Williams’s drumkit), and gradually builds from dimly lit, thoughtfully placed gestural motifs, into an accomplished partnership of the two performers.
There is a serene and nonchalant energy as Dias and Williams deftly shift and tip the sofa to create surprising and pleasing moments that are revisited but constantly developed and further explored throughout the work.
The live drums are accompanied by Andrew Willshire on bass guitar, which is made the focus of the work as the dancers become still. Willshire’s melancholic chords serve to bring about a shift in energy in the piece, and give way to a simple exchange and first suggestion of real human connection between the two dancers. Building on this, the movement relationship becomes playful towards the end of the piece, developing the work and changing the feeling of the space in a way that enriched the precision of the movement in a way that had not been demonstrated earlier on in the work.
After a short break, the evening moved on to the second guest choreographer of the evening, Miranda Mac Letten’s ‘The Endeavour To Be Super’. This was a playful, engaging work that explores its four characters’ feelings of being behind the mask of a super hero, and then exposed as themselves.
Letten demonstrates insightful use of stock cartoon super hero movements, and all four of the creeping, tip-toeing performers made good use of their proximity to the audience in the intimate performance space.
Comedic sequences of a phone ringing, and the dancers covertly shifting around the set, comprising of two wallpapered panels with framed Batman prints on, gave a sense of a plot thickening, although it is never quite clear what that plot might be.
The light-hearted, mischievous exchanges between the four dancers continue, and build into very genuine struggles and scuffles, supported by the familiar ‘BANG’, ‘ZAP’, ‘WHAM’ cartoon signs; it is humorous and enjoyable. The humour begins to dissipate towards the end, as John Ross reacts physically to Camila Guiterrez dropping sheets of cartoon words, and a more sinister tone is suggested, just as the piece ends, leaving Ross lying defeated on the floor, with a sense that there may be something here to be continued.
The final piece of the night was an extract from ‘Scorned’ by C-12’s Artistic Director Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster, featuring ‘four fierce, powerful and disgruntled women’. Through a series of lyrical unison phrases, and detail in trembling hands and tightly wound facial expressions, the audience are witness to their collective and individual angst.
These four very individual bodies (two in white slip dresses, two in black) are perhaps not used as effectively as possible, but as a group they are powerful. Moments of note include skilful use of a large white sheet, entwining each dancer at a time, shifting, lifting and carrying them through a series of dynamic and unexpected exchanges.
The movement material constantly responds to the soundtrack of rich strings, harpsichord and electric guitar, at times in a way which can seem over the top or forced. The more engaging sections are of defiant unison, with echoes of vocabulary from strong women such as Martha Graham.
With a five-night run at The Space, there is every reason to see this varied and engaging evening of work.
One of the great things about the performance space in the Robin Howard Dance Theatre at The Place is the proximity of the audience to the performers and their experiences on stage. As Charlotte Vincent’s cast of ten (five men, four women and one child) present their smiling selves to their audience in the opening of Motherland, the smiles connected and felt infectious, many in the audience smiling back at them.
The opening moves into a sequence which recurs four more times before the work is over: a female performer slugs a bloodlike substance from a wine bottle against the stark white backdrop, lifts her skirts, and hovers over it. Diagonally opposite her, another woman collapses in a heap, all to the gentle sounds of musician Scott Smith at the piano.
As with this recurring scene, marking a passing of time perhaps, suggestion is everything in this work. There are comical suggestions, as when dancer Robert Clark unzips his trousers to pull out a banana, and enthusiastically eat it; there are more profound suggestions, as young performer Leah Yeger asks a seductively standing Patrycja Kujawska, ‘why are you doing that?’.
The young Yeger’s presence in the work serves to encourage the audience to see things through younger eyes: moments when she sees something she is perhaps not supposed to, or is beckoned away by another performer highlight further what it is that we are watching.
Vincent utilises her varied cast wonderfully, and the partnering we see in a slow-motion fight sequence (between two men, between two women, between a man and a woman, with an old couple dancing and a child watching) is a testimony to her trademark strong partnering material. And yet nothing was forced, or over the top, or gratuitous. There was almost a sense of containment of these clearly very accomplished performers; if anything, they were perhaps held back in terms of movement to allow a more human side to radiate through. An example of this is Greig Cooke’s idiosyncratic solo, which recurred many times, in many forms, shifting forwards and backwards, where he is joined by two men in a show of raw, shouting masculinity, and later it becomes a tender male / female duet.
There is wildly, comically-celebrated simulated sex, there is a trio of screaming female rock musicians in their underwear, there is an uplifting ensemble sequence revelling in the fertility of the Earth. There are moments of true ridiculousness, one being Janusz Orlik in a little black dress and stilettos, gyrating and screaming out graphic pop song lyrics, and moments of real human tenderness, as we hear Benita Oakley, the eldest member of the cast, tell her story of being a young, unmarried mother. The live–voiced (by performer Aurora Lubus) ‘baby sounds’ which accompany this should not work, but somehow do: it is absorbing and emotive.
These tender moments that draw you in are rife throughout Motherland, and too often the very functional transitions into the following scene took something away from the momentum, and otherwise real cohesion, of the work.
The subject of gender and particularly of femininity is gently, comically, but very definitely highlighted. It is interesting though that the five male performers are never outwardly aggressive, dominating, or intimidating towards the women; any idea such as this is simply implied, or suggested. It is suggested through sequences such as when musicians Alexandru Catona and Scott Smith stand either side of Patrycja Kujawska shouting, calling for ‘a virgin and a whore’, a woman ‘in control, but not too controlling’, ‘mother material, but not a single mother’.
The issues that Motherland explores are all issues we are aware of, all things that we are aware we ought to change. Not needing to give us any new information, what it does do is gently nudge these ideas and stories to the forefront of our minds. In an entertaining, emotive, albeit rather long two hours, it gives them a human face, it highlights how ridiculous things have become. And through astute casting, and giving only just enough away, it successfully, quietly questions the effect that all this has on our future generations.
The curtain at Sadlers Wells opens on Russell Maliphant's opening night of The Rodin Project to reveal a set sumptuously dressed in flowing white linen, warmly lit, to the enchanting sound of Alexander Zekke's strings.
The opening serves as a good indication of what is to come, as we are gradually introduced to Maliphant's six dancers in a tumble of fluid limbs and ever-changing levels and planes. The loin cloth-like costumes and clear definition of male / female gender roles suggest a celebration of the human form, as of course does much of Rodin's sculptural work, and these dancers' bodies serve them well. Pedestrian, carefully-placed exchanges build to become emotive duets, including one of note between Tommy Franzén and Jennifer White. The execution of the movement is languidly engaging, and through a steady flow of gradually-building energy and sound, the audience are invited to observe, not bombarded or harassed in any way.
In the programme, Maliphant discusses how the process involved in this project has been an ongoing one, and the dancers' continuing exploration of their subject matter is evident. Throughout the work there is a sense of introspection, of the performers describing something unseen.
As the energy continues to build, but the light, soft quality - a result of the floor also being linen-clad - remains, the work started to become a little self-indulgent. That being said, as the (at times contrived) relationship between sound and movement continued to develop, and momentum built, the first half ended, inexplicably and abruptly, leaving the audience wanting more.
And more we were granted, as the second act revealed the set now stripped bare, a stark playground of slanting platforms and walls, the undulating use of which gave a sense of there being many more performers than just the six.
With the dancers now in sportswear, the movement material became more abstract, isolated, animalistic and almost tribal; the influence of popping and locking styles within the choreography, specialities of dancers Dickson Mbi and Franzén, becoming increasingly evident.
In this somewhat disjointed second act, we see a mixture of short female solos, rare but well-placed unison, and a pensive and beautiful duet on a wall by Franzén and Mbi.
In another scene, the female soloists, Staton and White, are nude, bringing a sense of vulnerability and subtle provocation to the work. These moments, demonstrating yet more lighting triumphs by Michael Hulls are satisfyingly non-gratuitous.
There were more than a couple of moments which seemed to bring about a conclusion to the piece, but on it went, building in vigour, including a strobing section reminiscent of a sportswear advert, and gradually, increasingly acknowledging the audience with a more outward focus.
The sliding minor chords of the soundscape form an absorbing cohesion with the sliding sinuous bodies that we see, and the work ends with a sense of satisfaction. The earth did not move, but an absorbing ninety minutes were spent watching six incredible performers do what they do best.
We cannot yet confirm dates for our next festival/s.