Cloud Dance Festival | Lewis Wheeler
I'm a first year student on Birkbeck College's Foundation Degree in Contemporary Dance Performance. I have previously studied dance at Coventry University and the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance although for a variety of reasons I didn't finish the programmes. Now, nearly 10 years after first starting professional dance training, I know how much dance is part of my identity and that I would far rather be rolling around the floor than scrabbling to climb a stressful money-orientated career ladder.
The opening performance of the third semifinal of The Place Prize was Nina Kov’s Copter, a trio for one human, Kov, and two radio-controlled helicopters. The Copter was tantalisingly present onstage as the audience filed in; like the best of poetic metaphors, its presence suggested that unusual and enlightening interplays between its flight and Kov’s human movement would be explored. While Copter explored various spatial relationships between The Copter and Kov, there was a lack of correlation between the other qualities of their movement. Where direct similarities and contrasts were present, the composition did not highlight these, leaving a less than picture.
Multiple thematic ideas were referenced including helicopter gun-ship attacks, surveillance and drones, but mostly the piece focussed on Kov playing with a childlike fascination with the anthropomorphised toy. While The Copter was expertly puppeteered by Jack Bishop to display a greater range of emotion than indeed Kov herself did, little to no time was spent exploring why this had come about. The lifting of the rotor blade and the final spinning phrase could have been very poignant but only if the previous 20 minutes had been more provocative.
Neil Paris’s The Devil’s Mischief opened with a vision of Mordor in peaked cones across the stage. According to Paris's original proposal, this duet, danced superbly by Carly Best and Sarah Lewis, explored the ambiguous, codependent relationship between humanity and the devil, however there was little evidence of this beyond red lighting and the Mordor-like set design.
The piece started as a disquieting yet tender duet, with tension so palpable that even the merest intention of one dancer to move was felt by the other. Unfortunately, while still being interesting from a movement perspective, the piece gradually dulled from this promising beginning. The intriguing and complex non-linear narrative, which had been delicately developed during the opening sequence, was initially impeded by the proscriptive vocals and then further maligned by the gradual revealing of the letters on the cones. Whereas on a micro scale the work was richly textured and complex, on a macro scale it strayed from concept to conceit.
The standout work of the evening was bgroup’s A Short-Lived Alteration Of An Existing Situation, choreographed by Ben Wright in collaboration with his dancers Sam Denton and Lise Manavit. The piece extensively explored its drily-stated theme through multiple changes to its movement content and dynamics, each change serving to build upon, enrich and develop the dancers’ relationship within the duet. Dry ice, stark lighting and industrial clanking and clanging noises within the soundscape invoked a heady, underground, Gotham City-inspired atmosphere and the absence of text-based elements allowed more room for the audience’s own imaginative response.
The programming of the evening became progressively more pure dance-oriented, culminating in Darren Ellis’s Revolver. This was danced with an ice-coolness by Hannah Kidd and Joanna Wenger to live music by The Turbulent Eddies, including Darren Ellis himself on guitar. Visually reminiscent of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, although without the Beethoven, the piece combined endless robotic cyclical movements with live music and flashing lights. As with the dispassionate and relentless violence in Kubrick’s film, this piece felt like Ellis was trying to perform a similar act on the audience through dance while also evoking Rosas' early works, especially Rosas & Ictus. With such strong cultural references, it was hard to appreciate Revolver in its own right: as a potential remake of Rosas & Ictus it was gripping and ambitious, however as a work exploring dancers ‘moving constantly in a clockwise direction’, it wasn't a rewarding audience experience.
Overall, the evening’s performances were stimulating enough to firmly hold attention all the way through, but for the most part weren’t satisfying enough to come away thinking what a great night at the theatre it had been. Deservedly, bgroup came top of the night’s audience poll, but unfortunately just missed garnering a high enough score to take them through to the Place Prize Finals on that basis.
Students from Hackney Musical Development Trust's (HMDT) I Can Sing! Performing Arts School performed a specially-adapted dance version of Julian Joseph's jazz opera 'Shadowball' and the follow-on production of 'The Brown Bomber Dance suite' as part of the London 2012 celebrations. Both projects involved the school students learning about the history of racial integration in baseball (Shadowball) and the historic 1936 and 1938 boxing matches between German Max Schmeling and African-American Joe Louis (The Brown Bomber).
Shadowball playfully mixed iconic baseball action: pitching, batting and sliding into jazz style dance phrases which were performed with panache to the accompanying swinging music played by the Julian Joseph Sextet. The dancers (who were from four years 5 & 6 classes from two neighbouring schools) displayed an excellent sense of musicality and phrasing in their dancing which united the complexity of the narrative, the sport and the dancing around its underlying theme of its historical context and the popular jazz music of the time.
Poignantly, the death of Josh Gibson ("the black Babe Ruth") was alluded to: a dancer held his body stiffly in a cross shape and was lifted above the others' heads. Behind the pallbearers carrying his body across the stage was a funeral procession who turned 360 degrees on every second step. Performed solemnly and with full conviction, it was a very moving 'dance funeral' sequence.
The piece ended in an upbeat mode with both teams returning with overtones of West Side Story's Jets and Sharks as they played at psyching each other out dance-style before a big finale which wouldn't have looked out of place in an MGM musical.
This dance suite version of 'Shadowball' was fun, poignant and joyful to watch, and the fact that it stemmed from a great educational project made it even more satisfying. I'd definitely like to see the full opera version revival please.
The Brown Bomber dance suite was a superb piece of dance theatre. The dancers embodied a multitude of characters epitomising the time of the second boxing match between Schmeling and Louis. The boxers' training camps with their attendant fans and young pretenders, the managers and coaches were all brought exquisitely to life through well-developed characterisation and well-chosen dance styling. Adding another layer of vivacity to the piece were the no-expense-spared costumes; it was like watching a dance version of the Bugsy Malone film.
Professional dancers Jason Poullard and Bless Klepcharek performed the roles of the two main boxers, bringing a balletic grace to the boxing; their fluidity and agility brought more of a Muhammad Ali style to the boxers which was slightly incongruous considering that they were playing heavyweight champions, but their considerable technique, precision and turning ability worked very well to portray the skill of the boxers presented through dance.
Sheron Wray's choreography created a complex, layered piece with simultaneous events happening on the stage that worked pictorially overall and rewarded you wherever you chose to focus. The clever set added to the piece by dividing the stage with rope barriers to create two boxing rings then one, which added a further sense of design to the stage without robbing the space for the dance action. The performers coped admirably with a set malfunction, showing skills in improvisation well in keeping with the accompanying jazz sextet.
Memories of this work will stay with me for a long time and having never participated in a standing ovation previously, I am so glad that I put down my notebook and stood up for this fantastic dance work. Congratulations to all.
The Brown Bomber will next be performed at the South Bank Centre on 15 July as part of the Cultural Olympiad; further details and tickets are available via this link: ticketing.southbankcentre.co.uk/find/dance-performance/tickets/julian-joseph-the-brown-bomber-65758
Threads Dance Company created a spectacular world of dark storytelling, visceral tableaux and powerful bionic dancing. The passages of Tahar Ben Jelloun's novel 'This Blinding Absence of Light', read by Paul Fuller, set us in a dark underworld of loneliness with its melancholic existential contemplations on survival.
Blinding flashes of light revealed the dancers in various striking tableaux before highlighting them against the back wall in a fast-edited film trailer style. Elizabeth Peck's uninhibited use of stillness throughout the piece added a strong dimension to the work as did the various amounts of movement, light and speech in each section.
The dancers themselves were like some strange bionic corrupted ballerinas. They combined exhilaratingly high extensions with a careful nuance of execution and an almost Amazonian sense of strength throughout their bodies. It was only when the number of high legs reached Balanchine quantities did I tire of this aspect of the choreography. The straps and loops built into the costume worked powerfully when suggestive of bondage. Unfortunately in the final section we saw too clearly how easily they were attached so it was impossible to suspend disbelief and share the dancer's bewilderment as she broke through them.
The choreography was extremely audience-friendly in terms of its use of patterns and repetition, much easier to buy into than a tornado of ever-changing ideas. With its exciting and unusual movement vocabulary and the sheer athleticism the dancers had to employ to move in and out of the floor so often, it was never less than engaging. In an early section, there was too much unison for a while which diminished the work slightly, and also the music at the last big section become too upbeat and pop-like given the content of the work. Overall these things were not enough to detract me from feeling like I had been totally immersed within this preternatural world.
WatkinsDance presented 'forget-me-not', a tribute from Anna Watkins to her late mother which, while choreographically seemed composed of many disjointed ideas, was performed by an accomplished company of dancers.
Verve, the postgraduate performance company of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, performed a mixed bill, including work by Lea Anderson, Akram Khan and New Adentures Choreograper Award winner James Cousins, to a packed house at The Place. This is a company of technically strong dancers who share a common strength and solidity in their physicality which the various works showed off to full advantage.
First up was Let Go by Milan Kozanek, which was billed as being formed from 'hidden impulses in the body that create the outward visible movements' and that the material was created by the dancers allowing their bodies to fall and collapse while moving with stones in their hands. This sounded like an interesting premise for a dance work, and the piece certainly began promisingly with the dancers dramatically exploding across the stage and then forming various clusters and groupings while moving across the floor in a strange alien almost centipede-like fashion. It was like watching a David Attenborough documentary of an insect life form, especially as the work invited an anthropomorphistic reading as the 'centipedes' formed various social groupings, seemingly mated and fought, while outsiders circled warily and large groups curled up comfortably together on the floor.
From this powerful beginning with well-developed and non-human movement vocabulary, an evolution occurred and very quickly all the dancers were walking upright and the piece changed into a display of standard contemporary technique style choreography and, worst of all, employed several times the awful contemporary dance cliché of all the dancers rushing towards one corner of the stage and staring outwards for prolonged periods of time, anticipation building, before dispersing with nothing of note actually happening. I actually had to check the programme to see whether the company had moved onto the next piece of the evening as this section seemingly bore no relationship to the far more interesting section that had happened previously.
The second piece was my first chance to see James Cousins' choreography. I was slightly apprehensive that all the promotion he has received would make it more disappointing if I didn't like his work, but rewardingly that proved not to be a problem. Dark in the Afternoon was a forceful, muscular duet which used a tribal, ritualistic movement vocabulary to explore a complex, dysfunctional relationship between its dancers. Cousins' eye for detail was apparent with as much attention having been paid to the rhythm of the movement, particularly with contrasting 'impacts' and 'impulses' and to the postioning of the body in space, as to the actual shapes the dancers were making. The phrasing and musicality built into the choreography was extremely strong and this was danced beautifully, although somewhat hyper-technically. The piece was supposed to be about a difficulty to communicate on an emotional level between the dancers, and there was a definite disconnection between them although I felt at times this was because they were pushing the performance of the material as far as they could, rather than because of the work's theme. Perhaps this was one of their 'preoccupations' but I would have liked to have seen them perform with more depth to their characterisation, more heart and less technical showing off.
The premise of For Dear Life by Jordan Massarella was the one I found most interesting in the programme, billed as a celebration of a state of mind of magical thinking: a belief that if you hope for something enough, or perform the right actions, a seemingly unavoidable event can be averted; unless you learn to accept change you will always suffer. Unfortunately, the choreography was relatively clunky and literal. The majority of the stage was quite dark and there was broad strip of bright light downstage. Most of the dancers spent the majority of their time searching about in the dark while one in particular had grasped the benefit of being in the strip of light and was repeatedly drawn back to it. The movement itself started off relatively conventional and safe but soon became a lot more interesting. Tom Tindall particularly stood out: his performance was very expressive and melancholy whereas the majority of the dancers were moving wonderfully but not emotionally.
The ending of the piece was the most interesting with the majority of the dancers having been "enlightened" in the downstage strip of light except for Tindall. While the other dancers had had their burdens lifted from them, he was left in dark throes of writhing and performed some incredible transitions into and out of the floor. At the end of the piece, he managed to reach the other dancers and was pulled into an embrace with one: had he reached a redemption of sorts? Perhaps he had just accepted his fate. The idea for this piece has a lot of potential but would benefit from more of the positive thinking being danced rather than mimed (the negative emotions were expressed powerfully through movement), and for more subtlety to be applied to its staging.
The comedic talents of the dancers were brought to the fore in Lea Anderson's (formerly artistic director of the now sadly disbanded Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs) Dynamo. Describing this piece in a single sentence, the programme stated that Dynamo is 'a syncopated engine assembled by nine constructivist components in a tripartite of accelerating machinations'. The dry tone belied the humour that Anderson found in using the dancers as components in machine-style combinations. Each dancer was dressed differently in colourfully-checked A-line dresses which called to mind hippies and 'flowers in your hair' while they danced as small cogs in a much larger machine.
The choreography worked best when the individual movement of the dancers, even when performing the same actions, was incorporated. There will always be an incongruity between different bodies attempting to do the same thing at the same time, and the choreography riffed on this to great effect. In the third 'machine', the music took on a driving beat, almost like pop or dance music but not that cheesy, and the overall effect was similar to watching an interesting music video: think along the lines of Kylie's 'Can't get you outta my head' when they are wearing the red plastic hoods/visors. Especially enjoyable was when the piece took on a fashion catwalk tone and the dancers started manipulating and controlling each other like dolls; this was heightened by the dancers’ exaggerated frozen facial expressions, almost grimacing but in a funny rather than menacing way. The cohesion in its composition and the way the piece thoroughly explored its premise showed how masterful Anderson is of her craft.
Vertical Road by Akram Khan is an incredible piece of dance theatre drawing on inspiration from Sufi culture - think Islamic purification of the body, mysticism and whirling dervishes. This piece was extremely well-suited to the company as the movement language was full of strength, power and the force of gravity which matched the dancers' muscular style. The choreography interlaced many layers of complex movement patterns, intricate and rapidly-changing groupings and formations and also very strong characterisation. This piece and Anderson's Dynamo seemed to show almost a different company from the first three pieces of the evening as the performance standard and commitment to the artistic themes of the work drove the pieces, rather than the dancers moving through them while displaying their ability and facility. Like Cousins' Dark in the afternoon, the movement had a strong ritualistic, almost tribal, quality but in using the full company of dancers, Khan was able to create a whole theatrical world out of this material. We saw the dancers progress from their earthbound existences which culminated in an incredible solo by Eshe Blake-Bandele where she began to reach her ascendance towards God. The intensity with which she danced provided the most kinaesthetic experience of the evening: I can still feel the memory of the energy she transmitted to the audience as she pulsed and whirled, pounded and sweated.
I was blown away by this work and will certainly aim to see this piece and Dynamo again when Verve return to London on the 12th of June at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the ROH, as should you.
Noé Soulier's Le Royaume des Ombres (The Kingdom of Shades) was a very analytical, almost clinical look at 19th century ballet. Dressed in a loose grey tshirt and tiny blue shorts, he looked more like he was in the rehearsal studio rather than on-stage but this suited well his experiments with balletic movement material. The first of these experiments involved taking the movement vocabulary of ballet i.e. allongé, arabesque, balancé and performing these actions in alphabetical order. As there was no musical accompanient to Soulier's work, we could hear through his breathing how much effort was being exerted to perform these actions, particularly as they lacked their natural preparation steps which would have been especially useful to aid his take off in the various jetés. Next, he performed simply the preparation steps which, somewhat surprisingly, seemed to contain a lot more movement and travel than the previous sequence. Whereas the previous movement had been spatial and structural, now suddenly Soulier was darting around the stage. Pas de bourrés and glissades without their attendant pirouettes and jetés were particularly amusing to watch, and it showed the original material for what it really was: a series of impressive tricks. Further exploring these ideas, Soulier went on to rearrange solos from, amongst others, La Bayadère, Giselle and Swan Lake, performing both male, female and 'fantastic mystical being' roles and splicing up the material into an original arrangement.
Without music or any prevalent sense of aesthetic design overall, this felt quite soulless to me. It was perhaps interesting to see that it takes more than just putting balletic movement material in a sequence in order to make it expressive, but it's not really very enlightening. What was interesting, however, was to see how close to his process Soulier had taken us, and how vulnerable he seemed on stage. His frequent trips to his water bottle and the period he spent talking and marking through the next sequences he was going to perform while trying to catch his breath highlighted how disguised the natural requirements of the human body are in dance and in particular in ballet. I felt quite uncomfortable when Soulier was trying to talk but was barely able to as he could hardly breathe and yet you could see the weight of the audience's expectation upon him to perform for us. I did suspect that this was a highly-orchestrated interlude, as although he didn't appear suitably recovered from his previous exertions, he proceeded to move upstage and suddenly exploded into his most virtuosic and expansive grand allegro dancing of the performance. Perhaps it was all an illustration of his point but as anyone watching who has dance experience will recognise, the suffering and the pushing of the body is a very real part of dance and Soulier bravely exposed this to the audience whereas many dancers would prefer to conceal it.
Continuing with the 19th century ballet theme, D'un pays lointain (From Another Land) was a fascinatingly playful exploration of balletic mime from this period in ballet history. Opening with a sequence of theatrical gestures with the more literal mime being relatively easy to interpret and some gestures which could have 'meant' anything as far as I was concerned, this quickly become a very detailed conversation between two dancers. When the voice over started, the more abstract gestures became understandable; gestures became literal and by seeing similar gestures together, we could begin to see how the vocabulary of this form worked. Through clever juxtaposition of dancers and voiceover, we saw how the same gesture could could have multiple related meanings either with synonyms i.e. damn, condemn and imprison or in a visual sense, much like the grammar of sign language, with swan and fly having the same mimed action. To a cascading soundscape of words, complex compositional pictures were built as the number of dancers accumulated. Poetic rhythmic patterns like the 'rounds' of Frère Jacques became visible, the statuesque structure of the dancers' bodies built pictures like photographs and the multiple streams of action became so complex at one point that it felt like watching multiple TV news channels simultaneously. This piece was very entertaining and showed how interesting pantomime can be when it it is deployed creatively rather than to communicate plot that would either take too long or be too open to varying interpretations through dance.
The absolute highlight of the evening was Fidelity Project, choreographed and performed by Frauke Requardt and Freddie Opoku-Addaie, which was originally commissioned for The Place Prize in 2010. This was a complex piece which moved with lightning speed from gentle, tender embraces to shockingly explosive violence. Requardt is the type of dancer who you can't take your eyes off when she is onstage. Her sharp features framed by a Sassoon-style bob and obvious strength in her body belie a readily accessible emotional vulnerability in performance. Opoku-Addaie moved fluidly between tenderness, 'lost boy' and writhing agony and the combination of the two created an enigmatic and beautiful duet.
The pink popcorn vending stall provided a cheerful set and sensory overload as the smell of the popping corn filled the auditorium. Its explosive action and the moreish desire it inspired provided the perfect metaphor for the relationship between the dancers and the reason they kept returning to each other despite the consequences of their partnering.
This was a great triple bill of threee very different works, and if it hadn't been for the detachment I felt because of the clinical analysis of the first piece, it would have been a 4 star evening.
In the world of the TV gameshow, it is normally only the contestant whose luck is out: the audience is entertained whether the participants are winning or losing. Unfortunately, Company Chameleon decided to turn this truism on its head.
The production had a lot to commend it: both Anthony Missen's and Kevin Edward Turner's performances were fully committed and energetic, with characterisation that was well-sustained throughout. Turner's character was the epitome of smarmy, cocksure, audience-manipulating presenter workhorse (think Vernon Kay meets Keith Lemon), and he rarely fell below 95% Dale Winton intensity while in 'on air' mode. His highly-detailed and well-nuanced performance was engaging and was the pulse of the show. Missen's contestant was performed with conviction but lacked the complexity and depth of the presenter's character, and unfortunately something about his focus just didn't seem to connect with the audience.
The dance highlights were the duets where any type of physical contact was involved, no matter how lightly. When working in this form, Missen and Turner were more adventurous with how they pushed their largely pedestrian movement vocabulary. Orientation, rhythm and gravity were played with, and the dancers came 'off-centre' frequently, which was more visually exciting than the majority of the unpartnered movement.
Unfortunately, thematically, Gameshow was not cohesive. It had too much going on and it ignored the areas which could have been very interesting while over-developing (and over-indulging) its duller aspects. It was also too long, far too long. Gameshow was billed as an interrogation of our mass-media culture and also a parody of the extreme degree to which 'celebrity' culture has pushed aspirational living. At the same time, Company Chameleon state that they believe that dance theatre is a vital method for social change. Although many links between these three aims can be found, in this production they sat together uncomfortably. What started promisingly as a witty absurdist questioning of the status quo morphed into a melodrama where the shallow existence of the presenter character was revealed, but with an excess of mournful sympathy. Did Company Chameleon want this Machiavellian character to have his cake and eat it? The contestant, affable Dave, eventually became empowered enough to sabotage the Gameshow and become independent of his puppet master. Nevertheless, I found it strange that he had got to this position seemingly as a result of his experiences on the show, rather than in spite of them. Plaudits to Company Chameleon for not going down the obvious high-handed preachy route but it did leave me wondering, what end-point had they reached with this subject? Play along because the get-rich-quick self-humiliating "reality" TV show culture will eventually make you happy? Or perhaps the clue was in Dave's final challenge, getting people to say they loved him even though "you don't have to mean it though". Perhaps Dave eventually just believed his own hype.
More confusing, however, were the adverts and the strange political references dropped on to the piece like F-bombs in front of your grandmother. Although the pay-per-view TV advert of a boxing match where Osama Bin Laden broke George Bush's neck, or the extremely crass suicide joke, or even the reference to flying Libyan Airways and the Lockerbie bombing were possibly conceptually interesting, in that real life was desperately trying to be heard amongst the cacophony of 'reality' TV and yet was having absolutely zero impact, it was just very disjointed and bizarre.
Despite cramming in all of the above, the piece didn't seem to have anything further to offer in terms of the development of its themes during the final 30 of its 70 long minutes. It lost its way when it became more of a drama about two well-acted, but in the end rather dull characters, and the promise of its witty cultural interrogation fizzled out.
Exploring masculinity and brotherhood through parallels between the worlds of dance and boxing, Emio Greco ¦ PC's choreography is highly textured and exploding with sinewy tension. As the audience drifts into the theatre, two performers are seated in the corners of the boxing ring which forms the set, casually chainsmoking and each absorbed in his own thoughts. As the iconic sound of the boxing-bell rings, two mascots in Mickey-Mouse-proportioned monkey masks begin a menacing, nervous energy-fuelled pantomime of boxing which is both amusing and unsettling. Their comic display highlights the theatre of boxing: this is more of a WWF performance than an honest sporting enterprise and the opening section is the first of many variations on this theme.
The ever-present form of the boxing duel takes on the significance and complexity of the ballet pas de deux. Through it, we see the men preparing themselves, tendu exercises are executed with attack, precision and repetition before quivering legs belie the men's emotional state. The fighting itself is drawn in various guises: psychological standoffs, contemporary movement vocabulary danced at each other (which often looks more aggressive than the actual punches thrown) and more instantly-recognisable boxing and wrestling which is variously performed naturalistically and at times more stylised or 'danced'. When time is slowed down, it becomes apparent how many similarities there are between the pure dance values of repetition, rhythm and technical movement and the structure of the spectacle of boxing. Before the "Pauze", the men are either preparing themselves, psyching each other out or fighting in various ways. The two mascots ditch their masks and fight wearing full-face balaclavas, becoming both 'no man' and 'every man'. They continue to gradually strip off through progressive rounds and their fighting becomes harder, more personal and real. Eventually they ditch their trousers to reveal leggings, one boxer in contour-revealing black and the other in sparkly gold. The laughter this provokes is natural but slightly stilted. We have been watching men being very masculine and aggressive but we are in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's Southbank, watching contemporary dance. is it really such a surprise to us that men can be both 'macho' and violent and also effeminate?
Because of the new costume, we can no longer read the boxing at face value. With the traditional archetype of masculinity subverted the relationship between the men as they duel becomes more complex. Now that visually the idea of gay has been introduced each wrestle becomes an embrace; the proximity of the sweaty half naked bodies is more homoerotic. Through a hilariously camp cheesy mimed French love song, this dimension of the relationships is pushed until, as the bell rings, the men start to passionately kiss. More laughter from the audience ensues which is largely borne from the comedic timing, but even in my reading of the work as a gay man, there is still something unusual and striking about the sight of two men kissing in this testosterone-fuelled arena.
Each time the bell rings the mood changes and we are variously shown men showing off, developing their physicality, intimidating each other, fighting, flirting and being sexual. All very stereotypically manly, all very instinctual or 'animal'. Where are the higher brain functions of these men? Language, culture and complex thought are lacking. Are Emio Greco ¦ PC simply being selective about the aspects of masculinity that they are exploring in Double Points: Rocco or is it that this is what they believe are the most masculine of personal traits?
This portrayal of the complexity of men's relationships was danced clearly and intelligently. The virtuosic technical dance feats performed emphasised the alpha male status of these men because of rather than despite the ballet slippers they wore. The occasional frailties visible in the struggle to find and hold clean balances, although never missed, served to deepen the characterisation of the performances. I recognised a lot of myself in the themes explored but not the whole of me. While this was a powerfully detailed and thorough exploration of the more testosterone-fuelled aspects of masculinity, if the idea was to look at the whole of what it is to be a man and to develop relationships with other men, then it was somewhat shallow in its scope. It was an exciting and dramatic piece of dance theatre nonetheless and if you are fortunate enough to be in the Netherlands this year they are touring widely in June, August, November and December.
Zombie Aporia, meaning 'living dead logical contradiction', is the latest work by Brussels-based American choreographer Daniel Linehan. Through the performance of eight short works with enigmatic titles including 'Before now and after' and 'Called nothingsomething', Linehan states his aim is to 'create hybrids, to unite contradictory terms, to merge contrasting rhythms in order to create unusual performative monsters.' Nevertheless, at times I was left wondering what had actually been created through the work or whether this was the performance equivalent of an essay on poststructuralism.
Running through the separate pieces is the unifying theme of distorting and manipulating a key performance aspect to demonstrate how one thing that is perhaps usually considered in isolation is actually wholly dependent on something else for its existence. In the most succesful piece 'Cool', with the sung lyrics being a response to 'Anarchy in the UK' by the Sex Pistols, Salka Ardal Rosengren stands facing the audience with Thibault Lac next to her with his hands around her neck. As she begins to sing, Lac starts to physically manipulate her vocal chords which, naturally, affects the sound of her voice. As the piece develops, the manipulations become greater in force and scope; at times, Rosengren is being swung through whole back swings. At its most comic moment, she is laid across Lac's back while he moves vigorously up and down through a cat stretch and she accordingly bounces on his back, all while still singing.
'Cool' could not have made it any clearer that the sound of the voice is dependent on the movement of the body but its strength lay in that by questioning and experimenting with this concept it added multiple layers to the piece. The distortions in the sound affected the meaning I interpreted of the lyrics themselves which in turn affected the way I interpreted the choreography overall. This piece provided 'spinetingly' moments whereas unfortunately some of the other works, which were all variations on this theme, didn't stimulate me from a choreographic perspective: instead they seemed to be a display of compositional exercises resulting from what would be valid studio exploration but which didn't have the same value in performance.
Although it had very little movement content, 'Before now and after' was the most emotionally engaging work of the evening. The three dancers stood stage right in an intimate tableau. The words Linehan whispered directly to Lac were repeated almost instantly by Lac himself but projected out to the audience while his gaze swept across us. The words themselves played with meaning by changing tense through the sentences and moved through themes including life, family, pain, sex and consciousness while Linehan's and Lac's facial expressions were variously in sympathy with what they were saying and at times contrary. The combination of the work's physical simplicity and subtle dynamic variations combined with its dramatic themes was intriguing. Who were these characters? Was the relish with which Lac spoke his lines genuine or was it a result of Linehan's verbal puppeteering? Was Rosengren's eyes-closed character passively receiving the world around her, or was she another driving pulse of the work but inaudible to us? Of all the works, this is the one which made me want to perform it myself as it felt quietly epic and fleshed out.
Overall, the evening left me with many questions about what I had seen. Was it an evening of choreography or compositional exercises and their logical outcomes? Why, when the themes of the spoken and sung content of the work were variously philosophical and emotional, was I being led to analyse the structure and form of what constituted their production and performance?
As I pondered the show on my way home, with every thought providing a contrary question much in the same way as the structure of each of the pieces, I started to think about the philosophical implications of what I had seen, in that my experience of the tangible reality life must naturally affect my understanding of its abstract aspects. Linehan's choreography showed acutely the fallacy of Cartesian seperation of mind and body, and this I believe is an important point of view which was useful to be reminded of.
You will enjoy this show if you have ever questioned what is the nature of performance or you are interested in understanding the components of choreography.
We cannot yet confirm dates for our next festival/s.