Threads Dance Company: (confines)

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.

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Colin, Simon & I: Because We Care

The partnership of Colin and Simon is a compelling one. Dissonant, aggressive, intellectual, caring and playful: the dichotomies which these two performers create forms an interesting and layered work, an experience for audiences to step into, reflect upon and revisit.

“Because We Care” is a collaboration between Colin Poole (UK) and Simon Ellis (NZ), two independent solo artists. This work was developed to scrutinise the male friendship, exemplifying the process of connecting and trusting another human being. After an initial collaboration in 2007, their partnership “Colin, Simon and I” formed. This work is the next in an ongoing conversation about life and the development of this relationship.

The slapping of flip flops, squeaking chairs, and weighted glances charge this work from the beginning. For the next hour, the space feels loaded, pushed and probed. Colin and Simon manage to navigate the outer reaches of their own limits, systematically challenging ours, walking the fine line between care and aggression, but always with a sense of play. These dancers set up then desecrate boundaries, a tug-o-war of attentiveness and disregard. The wave-like structure of the phrases drifting between one point and it’s polar opposite in moments.

Implicit messages pepper the work: power struggles, compliance, joy and connection in moving forward, yet all retain a very personal and intuitive cohesiveness.  

Colin and Simon aimed to create space for interpretation in this work, and to this end, they were successful. The questions that arise from seemingly simple situations, eg manipulating a child-sized cloth doll with everything from hands to teeth, are as diverse as the audience members, however never fail to stimulate a reaction. In fact, the audience in this work is an acknowledged third person: witnessing, reacting to, and creating a platform for these performers to butt against. It’s not the virtuosity of movement that is the compelling factor in this work, it’s the limit these performers are willing to take within their own skin, physically and emotionally.

I appreciate the sense of exploration and vulnerability in this work. Two dancers of lesser honesty could not have commanded so much emotional investment, and I greatly look forward to the potential for another instalment.



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Rambert Season of New Choreography

All good things must come to an end, and in the case of the latest edition of Rambert Dance Company's Season of New Choreography, it was Jonathan Goddard's and Gemma Nixon's time with Rambert, as they look to their futures as a choreographers and dancers with and beyond New Movement Collective.

Looking to Rambert's future too, and specifically its future home in Southwark, the Season of New Choreography has appropriately relocated to the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hall, past showcases having been held at The Place and Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio. The current format, generously supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, presented four pieces, this time by Dane Hurst, Mbulelo Ndabeni, Patricia Okenwa and Jonathan Goddard & Gemma Nixon. It was an oddity about this programme that several of the pieces were evocative of others, whether deliberately or unintentionally.

Dane Hurst first came to my attention in 2010's The Place Prize, where he made far more of an impression as a dancer than as a choreographer, but 'The Window' shows that he has clearly been developing as a choreographer, with this as his most accomplished work yet. 'The Window' looks back to the apartheid laws of South Africa's 1948 Group Areas Act, exploring how one particular household might have been affected. The piece opens inocuously, with Angela Towler recreating scenes from Sylvie Guillem's 'Bye' by Mats Ek, reclining by a floor lamp. As more and more women fill the stage, their sense of cabin fever heightens, however the energy shifts when three men arrive, seeking somewhere to dance, and someone to dance with. Towards the end, the piece turns sinister, and the violent and disturbing scenes are perhaps in too much contrast with the rest of the piece. It's Hurst's strongest work yet, with adventurous choreography, but the story could have been heightened if it was reduced in length.

Mbulelo Ndabeni's Face Up, a duet with Miguel Altunaga, was an enjoyable duet about the boundaries in a relationship between two men, in a part-dance, part-fight context. There's something compelling about watching two men dance together, and although Face Up didn't say much, it was entertaining to watch.

The night ended with Patricia Okenwa's Viriditas, a piece which seemed to celebrate womenhood and ritual, however from its Isadora Duncan intentions, it seemed evocative of both Rite of Spring and perhaps the outtakes of Apres-midi d'un faun. Continuing the Faun references, Okenwa's choreography was very stylised and deliberate, shedding the dynamism of the evening's earlier performances. There were some great performances nonetheless, if slightly hampered by the little polystyrene balls underfoot, for example during the mad scene.

The best - and most exciting - piece of the evening was easily Jonathan Goddard's and Gemma Nixon's Heist, a quartet including Eryck Brahmania and Estela Merlos. It opened on Goddard moving distractedly, with Nixon mirroring him upstage, a device which they repeated throughout the piece. Although they used a slightly mechanical style of choreography, the dancing was extremely fluid, highlighted by Paul Green's beautifully dramatic lighting design. The most striking aspect of the work was the tight connection between the dancers, enabling them to mirror each other regardless of where each was on the Queen Elizabeth Hall's large stage.

Let's hope that Heist indicates a bright future for Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon: the contemporary dance world needs more works like this!


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Mark Bruce Company: Made In Heaven

When most people think of dance theatre, they probably think of the likes of family-friendly dance theatre such as Matthew Bourne or Jasmin Vardimon. Possibly even the experimental dance theatre which Laban students and graduates seem to excel at - yet none of this even comes close to the worlds created by Mark Bruce, whose Made In Heaven seems to allude heavily to both David Lynch and to Hal Hartley.

The premise of the story is simple: an isolated island prison, a prison break, a brutal murder. But the story which unfolds is so much more vivid and strange than that.... not least due to the striking imagery and staging which transforms Made In Heaven into so much more than just a work of dance theatre.

Made In Heaven's strengths lie in its visuals and theatrics - which are so compelling that the dance sequences, very Hartleyesque in their randomness and spontaneity, are less interesting by comparison and halt what little there is of a storyline. Nonetheless, there are some beautiful dance sequences, especially for Cree Barnett Williams and Eleanor Duval, the piece's protagonist, with evocative and expressive duets.

One of Made In Heaven's more bizarre - if that is possible - devices is to cast Rick Bland in multiple roles, from a blind sheriff to what appears to be a blind sheriff cross-dressing as a soon-to-be-blinded nun.  

It's hard to write about Made In Heaven without enthusing about the dramatics of each scene in turn; suffice to say that the combination of the stage and lighting design effectively transform the atmospheric setting of Wilton's Music Hall into a claustrophobic stormy island, while the staging works so naturally with the split stage of Wilton's that it's easy to assume it was created with such a stage in mind - for example, the upper stage forming a shoreline alongside the billowing blue cloth manipulated by the dancers to create waves: sometimes with a mermaid shifting underneath, or with a fully-articulated shark gliding above.

Don't be deceived by the inocuous trailer for Made In Heaven: you can be certain that you won't see anything else like this for a long time to come, and "dance theatre" doesn't start to describe the experience that is Mark Bruce's storytelling.


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Dance 1:1

Dance 1:1 (Dance 1st on the 1st) marks a significant event for the Accidental Festival, produced by students from the Central School of Speech and Drama: dance had never been included in the festival’s programme before 2012, and the night was a success for all those involved. Dance 1:1 presented works by five emerging and upcoming London-based choreographers of relatively new dance companies, providing a solid platform for these aspiring artists to further develop their exciting careers.

NineBOBNote opened the evening, presenting As Yet Unknown as a piece inspired by the exploration of the power of female sexuality and the seduction of freedom of choice. The trio were mesmerising and extremely charismatic, forming a dance theatre company under the direction of Lyndsey Allan. Fusing spoken word, seemingly genuine laughter – from both the performers and the enthusiastic audience – and bare flesh, the performers were inspiring in their embrace of the female body and the mysteries of the female allure. Real life and personal experience were drawn upon, encouraging the audience to connect with the issues addressed through the creation of a work which was both entertaining and engaging.

SAAD Dance presented an original piece of dance, Think Outside, choreographed by Marc Saad, focusing on man in his many states in relation to the constant media bombardment of the twentieth century. Whilst the movement quality was organic and intense, the piece in its entirety became all too predictable. To convey oneself through movement as a fresh and unaffected being of the elements surrounding our worlds is a huge challenge, and whilst Saad’s movement itself was unique, the concept behind the performance was unfortunately lost.

Similarly, dt.Ellipsis presented It Started with a Riff, which set out to investigate the work of famous duos such as Morecambe and Wise, The 2 Ronnies and Laurel and Hardy, but it appeared to be more of a stage school effort than a thoughtprovoking analysis of the relationships of famous duos. Whilst the concept lent itself to much anticipation of dt.Ellipses's piece and its inspiration of silent films and slapstick comedy, the final product suggested that much development was needed to reach the goal of the performers.

Following the interval was Wise Man by Charlie Dixon Dance Company, presenting an animalistic view of the power and skill of dancers. The intensity of the company was constantly present in their performance and interactions with each other, embodying an extremely energetic and intricate style of strength and endurance. Dixon’s artistic direction places an emphasis on highly technical and explosive bodily movement, with each dancer undertaking a personal test of skill and attack, set to carry the company on a long and successful journey into the future. Whilst the movement was aesthetically pleasing, it remained innovative and varying, rather than resorting to familiar movement phrases which are seen so regularly.

Closing the programme was Emco Dance, a company comprised of second-year Laban students. The focus and dedication of the dancers was commendable, questioning the physical deconstruction of the human body and the emotional, physical and mental elements which we consist of. Intimate duets were performed with conviction and were captivating, linking trust, power and the art of performance in an impressive piece. Considering the dancers are only halfway through their vocational training, it was rewarding to view Emco alongside four professional dance companies, each bringing an important dance message to their performances. Powerful collisions and a testosterone-inspired section showcased the five male dancers, demonstrating their strength and flexibility. The women, meanwhile, were united in their display of the passion which drives the young performer and the unique skills they must have to fulfil this.

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CODA Dance

In the gorgeous underground surroundings of the The Hub at the Roundhouse, the lights came up on two dancers sitting with their knees up before tipping into a fetal position and slowly moving in a clockwork motion.

CODA Dance was formed in 2010 by London-based choreographer Nikki Watson, a graduate of Roehampton University. Since their formation they have performed at Platform AD and Resolution! at The Place.

You Remind Me of Someone I Once Knew is the fourth piece from CODA Dance and tells the story of a daughter dealing her mother’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The linear performance depicts the stages of grief: for example denial, anger and bargaining, from different characters' perspectives.

The CODA dancers Kimberly Collins and Georgia-Leigh Godfrey presented a caring and moving portrayal of their characters. Standout moments included the use of different directions, the contact work in the duets, and the combination of fast moments followed by intimate moments. A really lovely scene involved one dancer tracing the footsteps of the other while she was moving on the floor.

Perhaps in telling us the theme of the story prior to the performance performance, I expected a clearer narrative to unfold, and I found myself looking for the five stages of grief. There were sections of the piece which could have been explored more but this could have been down to it only being 15 minutes long.  

In conclusion, the dancers have a very strong connection and the choreography is beautiful: CODA Dance is definitely a company to watch!

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What To See: June

The summer and the Olympics are in sight, which means three things: the Greenwich & Docklands International Festival is back, there's a month-long celebration of Pina Bausch's lesser-known works, and a gradual drying up of all the dance shows which have left many exhausted in their wake (including myself). The vocational dance schools's graduate shows also start this month, a great opportunity to keep an eye out for future talent.

2Faced Dance Company's In The Dust: 14 June
The Albany, Deptford
Tickets & details:

2Faced Dance Company is one of the leading all-male contemporary dance companies, fusing contemporary dance with breakdancing to create powerful and daring performances. In The Dust is a triple bill featuring works by Tom Dale, Freddie Opoku-Addaie and 2Faced Artistic Director Tamsin Fitzgerald - if you haven't seen them yet, this is your chance to make up for it.

In Good Company: 23 June
The Place
Tickets & details:

In Good Company showcases the choreographic talents of five of Hofesh Shechter's dancers, including two CDF alumni, James Finnemore and Sam Coren. Given how impressive Finnemore's solo Patriot was, we're hoping for good things.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch — World Cities 2012: 6 June - 9 July
Sadler's Wells:
Barbican Centre:

As part of the 2012 celebrations, Sadler's Wells and the Barbican are presenting month-long season of international co-productions of works created by Tanztheater Wuppertal, inspired by their residencies at specific global cities at the cities' invitation. While any opportunity to see Pina Bausch's works is very welcome, be warned that the average running time of each work is around 3.5 hours (1 interval).

All of the works are sold out, but keep your eyes out for returns.

6 & 7 June 2012
Viktor (Rome): Sadler's Wells

9 & 10 June 2012
Nur Du (Only You) (Los Angeles): Barbican

12 & 13 June 2012
...Como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si... (Santiago de Chile): Sadler's Wells

15 & 16 June 2012
Ten Chi (Saitama): Barbican

18 & 19 June 2012
Der Fensterputzer (The Window Washer) (Hong Kong: Sadler's Wells

21 & 22 June 2012
Bamboo Blues (Kolkata): Barbican

24 & 25 June 2012
Nefés (Istanbul): Sadler's Wells

28 & 29 June 2012
Água (São Paulo): Barbican

1 & 2 July 2012
Palermo Palermo (Palermo): Sadler's Wells

8 & 9 July 2012
Wiesenland (Budapest): Sadler's Wells

Greenwich & Docklands International Festival: 21 - 30 June
Various locations
Further details:

The annual festival of free outdoor theatre, dance and street arts returns with several exciting dance performances. These will include:

StopGAP: Spun Productions
24 June, 1pm & 4.15pm
Monument Gardens, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Wanna be a celebrity? Get yourself on Spun TV! Full of surprises and subversive humour, Spun Productions follows the rise and fall of a celebrity wannabe.

C-12 Dance Theatre, Trolleys
30 June, 1.30pm & 3.05pm. Canary Riverside

A street ballet for supermarket trolleys: five shopping trolleys randomly appear at Canary Riverside. Two meet and fall in love. One grapples fo find a friend. Part street dance, part ballet, part acrobatic spectacle, Trolleys is a high-octane, intensely physical and humorous outdoor performance – on wheels. Choreographed by Shaun Parker.

Company Chameleon, Push
30 June, 2.40pm & 4.05pm.
Wren Landing

Physically challenging yet sensitive, Push continues a conversation that began in childhood between dance artists Anthony Missen and Kevin Edward Turner. This powerful and engaging duet looks at the stances we take as we relate to one another, how at times we push and at others we yield.

Tilted Productions – Maresa Von Stockert, Seasaw
30 June, 1pm & 3.40pm.
Cabot Square to Canary Riverside.

Inspired by the relationship between humans and water, SEASAW cleverly combines a trail of contemporary dance, performance art and physical theatre vignettes with water, humour, and outstanding performances from Tilted’s cast of eight dancers.

Graduate Shows

Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance: 13 June
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

The RSB&CD website has not been updated to include this performance, but like all graduate shows, it will feature a mixture of student choreography with works by well-known choreographers. The standard is surprisingly good.

LC3: 22 June
Rich Mix
Tickets & details:

LC3 is the London Contemporary Dance School's third-year performance group, featuring the best student choreography and performances from its graduating year. There will be performances of works by Richard Alston, Rick Nodine and Janice Garrett alongside student choreography - this is a great chance to have a sneak preview of the dancers and choreographers who will be making impressive names for themselves over the next few years!

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Weekly Roundup: 4 June

This week, it's all about Pina Bausch. In fact, the same could be said about this month... but that's for a separate post.

Pina Bausch: Viktor (Rome) - 6 & 7 June
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details (returns only):
Duration: 3 hours 30 mins (1 interval)

The season of Pina Bausch's World Cities 2012, featuring works inspired by residencies in 10 cities around the world opens with Viktor, a co-production with Teatro Argentina. It is accompanied by a combination of symphonic music, folk tunes and music composed for social dancing - from the Middle Ages to the Jazz Age, and is a humorous exploration of human pain and neurosis.

Pina Bausch: Nur Du (Los Angeles) - 9 & 10 June
Barbican Centre
Tickets & details (returns only):
Duration: 3 hours 20 mins (1 interval)

Nur Du is a theatrical collage of fragmentary scenes with movement and speech accompanied by pop recordings from the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s while musing over the Californian obsession with perfect bodies and the dancers are constantly scrutinising their own bodies - being either pleased or appalled by what they see.

Colin, Simon & I: 8 June
The Place
Tickets & details:

Because We Care is about two men testing the bonds and limits of relationships. It asks what draws them together, what unites them and what forces them apart. It is a dance that challenges their commitment, a soundtrack that speaks of loss, a film touched by laughter and a stage set with objects no one should take for granted.

Threads & Watkins Dance: 8 June
Rich Mix
Tickets & details:

Threads, shortlisted for our last festival, presents an updated version of (confines), a brooding piece exam-ining real and perceived barriers. Choreographed by Elizabeth Peck in collaboration with dance lighting designer Anthony Hateley, (confines) is a visually powerful work which explores the notion of confinement and that one can be imprisoned by their own perception of self.

Forget-me-not is a tribute by choreographer Anna Watkins to her late mother, telling the emotive story of Anna's journey both through and after the death of a remarkable and intelligent woman.

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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.

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Royal Ballet: Prince of the Pagodas

In one of her final decisions as Director of the Royal Ballet, Dame Monica Mason has revived Kenneth MacMillan's 1989 work "The Prince of the Pagodas". A reworking of John Cranko's original piece to a commissioned Benjamin Britten score, it tells the tale of Belle Rose, the youngest daughter of the Emperor of a mysterious land. After her jealous older sister, Belle Épine, discovers her father's plan to leave most of his kingdom to Belle Rose, she transforms her sister's Prince into a Salamander and banishes him to the Kingdom of the Flying Frogs (seriously). The Emperor tries to marry Belle Épine off to a collection of Kings from far off lands, but when they see Belle Rose they ignore Belle Épine, prompting her to steal her father's throne and hold court with her entourage of baboons (again, seriously). Belle Rose travels to rescue her Prince and in the process grows into a confident woman, brave enough to return and confront her sister and recover the Empire for her father. The happy couple end up getting married, officiated by a mischievous Fool (who seemingly moonlights as a Priest), and live happily ever after, albeit in a most peculiar setting.

At the heart of it, Pagodas is about Belle Rose's journey. Originally choreographed for Darcey Bussell, it was a big role to fill, but Marianela Nuñez did just that, giving a graceful yet powerful performance as the young heroine. One of the top ballerinas in the country, her musicality is second-to-none, and it is needed for Britten's Gamelan-influenced score. Stepping delicately across the irregular rhythms, Nuñez is as impressive with floating posé arabesques as she is leaping across the stage (one grand jeté in particular had so much height it garnered a gasp from me).

As the Prince, Nehemiah Kish gave arguably his best performance yet at the Royal Opera House. His portrayal of the transfigured Prince made for a bittersweet second act, the final image of Belle Rose comforting the poor creature being particularly memorable.

The jealous sister, Belle Épine, was played by the inimitable Tamara Rojo. Milking the role for all its worth, she strutted around the stage, flirted with both Kings and baboons, and attacked the choreography with vigour. Unfortunately, Belle Épine's role has been cut down significantly  in this revival, leaving her with little to do outside of Act I.

Supporting roles were all admirably danced. Of particular note was Alexander Campbell as the interfering Fool and all four suitors: Bennet Gartside, Valeri Hristov, Steven McRae and Ricardo Cervera. With shockingly exaggerated characters, they offered welcome light relief to the first act, but then turned sinister (and, for some reason, bald) for the second act while tormenting Belle Rose in the Other World. Credit must also go to the superb design team, although I was less enamoured with some of the costumes. Although effective whilst dancing, the sisters' half-skirts seemed rather unladylike and the Kings' costumes seemed very dated. And why were the baboons the best-dressed characters of all?

Pagodas is not a perfect work, in fact it is far from it. There are many components that I would happily cut or alter: the swarm of baboons in the first act and the Courtiers in Act III immediately spring to mind for making their acts feel slightly laboured. Contrasting this, however, are some stunning pas de deux sections between Belle Rose and her Prince in each act (featuring some devilish lifts and promenades) and clever segments for all three main characters with the suitors (requiring a very trusting Belle Épine being thrown from King to King). I would argue that these more than make up for the weaker sections, although others may disagree.

There is much in Pagodas to divide opinion: the score, the story, the corps sections and more. However, the performances bring this piece alive and the chance to see Marianela Nuñez and Tamara Rojo dance on the same stage is worth the ticket price alone. It has been 16 years since The Prince of the Pagodas last graced the Royal Opera House stage and I, for one, am glad it is back. Judging by the rapturous applause throughout the auditorium, I may not be alone.

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Noé Soulier / Frauke Requardt & Freddie Opoku-Addaie

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.

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Danza Contemporánea de Cuba

In a discussion at The Place last autumn, Akram Khan mentioned how terrifying and intimidating the Sadler's Wells audiences can be, especially on press night. Maybe Danza Contemporánea de Cuba felt some of this intimidation last night, as certainly the triple bill appeared to be performed by two separate yet identical companies: one which performed the first two works, and a second which relished every moment of the final piece, which it performed to perfection.

The opening piece Sombrisa was choreographed by one of 2012's most ubiquitous choreographers, Itzik Galili, using Cuba's twin passions of dancing and boxing as its premise. Unfortunately, the boxing motif only extended to each of the dancers wearing boxing gloves, and was not explored further. The handicap of the gloves led to interesting challenges during the partnerwork, which were the more watchable parts of Sombrisa, along with the occasional flying somersault. Unfortunately for an opening piece, Sombrisa exposed the company's flaws rather too quickly, and left them exposed for the duration of the piece: either Sombrisa needed more rehearsal time, or the dancers are each too individual to conform to tight timing and choreography in this work.

The company, or at least seven male dancers, gave a more cohesive performance in Kenneth Kvarnström's Carmen?!, a somewhat excruciating take on the classic story, but without any Carmens in sight, or, as with Sombrisa, without much conviction in their performances. The choreography owed much to the Trocks, relying on gags to entertain the audience in a heavily theatrical piece.

The reward for the dancers was the final piece of the evening, Mambo 3XXI, which received multiple award nominations after its London performances in 2010, and the cast's performances were so transformed, it was hard to recognise them as the dancers who had gone through the motions of two-thirds of the programme. And in Mambo 3XXI, we could finally see why this company had received such praise in their last visit: it is high-powered, exciting and dynamic, with tight performances which show off the company at its best. The dancers visibly enjoyed this piece far more, which fuelled the audience's excitement, resulting in rapturous applause.

Perhaps Danza Contemporánea de Cuba set the bar too high with their last tour, and chose to be too experimental for this tour. A triple bill of works like Mambo 3XXI would have resulted in an amazing night of dance, instead of the awkward performances and disappointing choreography of the rest of the programme. Let's hope they track down their mojo for the remaining performances and manage to thrill London audiences all over again before they leave.


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Weekly Roundup: 28 May

For those of us who don't get paid till the end of the month, this is a cruel week with several weeks' worth of exciting shows to see - but that's what credit cards and overdrafts are for, after all.


Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3D - 28 May
Various Odeon cinemas
Tickets & details:

Matthew Bourne's best-loved classic Swan Lake is also on tour, having departed Curzon cinemas and is now available for viewing at several Odeon cinemas. This is a thoroughly modern Swan Lake, with the Black Swan in very fetching black leathers, virile male swans, and 3D effects. Richard Winsor and Dominic North are the lead roles as The Swan and The Prince respectively.

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba: 29 May - 1 June
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

Danza Contemporánea de Cuba is Cuba's premier contemporary dance company, and this will be only their second visit to London, following the huge success and excitement of their 2010 visit. They will be performing a triple bill featuring the premiere of Itzik Galili's latest work (a mere two weeks after the unveiling of his recent creation for Rambert), Kenneth Kvarnström’s playful Carmen?!, and the award-winning Mambo 3XXI, choreographed by George Céspedes.

Mark Bruce: Made In Heaven - 31 May - 2 June
Wilton's Music Hall
Tickets & details:

Wilton's is possibly London's best-loved music hall, and it's definitely one of the most atmospheric venues, although it is more commonly home to musical theatre. This will be a rare opportunity to see dance performed there, making this a potentially very special show.

Merging ancient themes with the dystopia of contemporary life, Mark Bruce creates a surreal world ruled by a blinded cop and a malicious virgin, where a prairie girl dreams of other lives, and a chain-gang
dances on the edge of an inferno.

With music ranging from Debussy and Leadbelly to Queens of the Stone Age, this dark, sometimes comic piece interrogates the very idea of heaven.

Rambert Dance Company: New Choreography - 31 May
Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre
Tickets & details:

Following on from last October's presentation of new choreography from several of Rambert's dancers, here is a new edition with works by Dane Hurst, Mbuelo Ndabeni, Patricia Okenwa and Jonathan Goddard & Gemma Nixon. Entirely worth seeing just for Goddard's and Nixon's latest collaboration, however there's another even more compelling reason to attend: this will be Goddard's final performance with Rambert.

New Adventures: Early Adventures - 31 May - 2 June
Richmond Theatre
Tickets & details:

If you missed Early Adventures at Sadler's Wells - which wasn't hard, given how enthusiastically tickets were selling - you have another chance to see them, as they travel south of the river for a short visit before resuming their tour. This triple bill features three of Matthew Bourne's earliest works, and are rich with comedy, wit and satire - and an unbelievably compelling hedgehog. We loved it.

Royal Ballet: Prince of the Pagodas - 2 - 29 June
Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

Dame Monica Mason's final year at the Royal Ballet is finally drawing to a close, and one of the final full-length ballets is this revival of Kenneth MacMillan's "fairytale narrative" exploring eastern lands and themes. Tamara Rojo and Marianela Nuñez are in the lead roles - this will be one of the few remaining opportunities to watch Rojo dancing for the Royal Ballet.

Special Mentions

Flawless & ENB - 1 & 2 June
HMV Hammersmith Apollo
Tickets & details:

If you ever wondered what the results of fusing streetdance and classical ballet would look like - and if you abstained from watching Streetdance 3D on principle, then you need wait no longer, as the collaboration of English National Ballet and Flawless has finally arrived!

Accidental Festival

The Accidental Festival is a scheme which offers The Roundhouse to 21 young producers from the Central School of Speech and Drama, allowing them to create an arts festival entirely of their devising. Our picks from their 3-day schedule are as follows:

1 June, 5pm: Cando2
Tickets & details:

Cando2, Candoco Dance Company's youth dance company, performs two works, including 'Long Way Home', choreographed by Cloud Dance Festival veteran Sarah Blanc.

1 June, 7pm: Dance 1:1
Tickets & details:

This is a quadruple-bill of contemporary dance, featuring the physically astounding Charlie Dixon Dance Company, while SAAD dance is definitely a company to watch.

3 June, 2pm: Coda Dance
Tickets & details:

Coda Dance perform their work "You Remind Me of Someone I Once Knew" which explores the suffering of MS and the impact it has on others. It's a powerful and physical work, and definitely worth watching.

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Company Chameleon: Gameshow

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.

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Emio Greco ¦ PC


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.

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Early Adventures

It's been quite a week of Matthew Bourne revivals, with the release of his much-loved Swan Lake in 3D, followed swiftly by the London performances of the retrospective of his earliest works. Not only is Early Adventures a fascinating glimpse into Bourne's formative years as a choreographer, but it also helps to put his later works into perspective - and if that wasn't enough, it's also a brilliantly entertaining night out!

Four works were presented (if you count Town and Country as separate pieces, by virtue of the interval dividing them) dating from the earliest days of Adventures in Motion Pictures: Spitfire was created in 1988, The Infernal Galop (sic) in 1989, and Town & Country in 1991; Swan Lake was not created until 1995, following the successes of Nutcracker! and Highland Fling. There was a comparatively small cast for this production, allowing each of the cast members to stand out, with particularly memorable and enjoyable performances from Mikah Smillie, Kerry Biggin, Drew McOnie and Chris Marney.

Spitfire was a very lighthearted comic work with four men posturing in old-fashioned sportswear, each trying to outdo the others. Each of the solos were exaggerated, drawing out extra laughs, with Chris Marney's solo a cariacature of classical ballet - and uncannily reminiscent of his later role in Dorian Gray.

Town opened with Land of Hope and Glory, set in a hotel lobby with Joe Walkling and Kerry Biggin accompanying on ukelele - Kerry serenading one of the male guests, who later pulled out some embroidery from his bag, and looked affronted when caught with it by Chris Marney. The latter half of Town was apparently a condensed retelling of the classic film Brief Encounter: two couples meet at a train station, and we saw their relationship develop through riding scooters, cinemas and picnics; the couples' eventual parting was contrasted by the happy relationship between their initial waiters.

Country is to be credited for the most lovable characters in a dance show: the fox, rabbit and hedgehog puppets - who will surely get standing ovations of their own before the week is out! And it's always impressive when a small puppet on the side of a stage can captivate an entire audience of around 1500 people.

Country presented an Olde Worlde Englande, opening with English Country Garden, milkmaids and men in smocks. The backdrop of fields was reminiscent of David Hockney, with sound effects of lambs bleating, insects buzzing, horses neighing... and other animals making their animal noises. The cast performed a myriad of roles, making the piece somewhat evocative of Downton Abbey.

Country showed that Bourne is at his best when his work is more theatrical; it was harder to follow the less theatrical, less comical dance sequences - except for an outstanding anguished night-time solo by Marney.

The Infernal Galop was a return to Bourne's more recognisable style, with very precise partnering and characterisation, however with less comedy. Set in an idealised Paris, Galop was perfectly staged and nuanced, covering dancing sailors, pissoir flirting, a hookup frustrated by an overenthusiastic choir, a luscious mermaid and an extremely dignified can-can.

While the works demonstrate Bourne's comedic genius, his attention to every gesture and his silent movie approach, it is interesting to see Bourne exploring both dance theatre and pure dance in these early works - and what a different place the dance world would be if he had chosen the latter.

For Bourne's legacy is significant: while celebrating his 25 years in dance, his influence can largely be seen in musical theatre choreography, with Drew McOnie becoming a very sought-after choreographer, while Sasha Regan's all-male musicals at Union Theatre (and beyond) can surely be seen as a direct descendant of Bourne's works.

Despite some of the works being a little unbalanced, and occasionally obscure, Early Adventures is a fantastic feelgood show, and if you haven't watched dance before, there's no better place to start!


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Rambert Dance Company

For the last few years, Rambert Dance Company's springtime visits to Sadler's Wells have been one of the highlights of the dance calendar, with a somewhat more exciting programme than that offered in the autumn season: last spring brought us the performances of Paul Taylor's Roses, and Tim Rushton's Monolith; the spring before saw the revival premiere of Siobhan Davies's award-winning Art of Touch. So given Rambert's track record, this programme should have been a surefire success, yet somehow it didn't quite hit the spot.

On the day of the opening performance, Rambert were preparing a time capsule for their new home, and asking people on Twitter and Facebook to share their memories of Rambert for inclusion. For me, Art of Touch was the piece which made me fall in love with Rambert, back in 2010. And while it was easily the most accomplished and polished work of the evening, it was also the one which suffered the most from its setting: it's a piece which is best suited to intimate performances, and to close proximity to the dancers; some of the magic is somehow lost when viewed from a distance.

Baroque music is often used in contemporary dance, but rarely used to such an effect as in Davies's Art of Touch, with complementary costumes and set, with walls of burnished bronze. The choreography was an intricate interpretation of the score, with very fine performances from each dancer, however the piece didn't really develop or progress throughout its somewhat lengthy duration.

While its parts were individually striking, especially Angela Towler's duets and solos, the dancers seemed somehow prevented from domineering the stage the way they should, perhaps due to the lighting, and also due to the small movements in much of the choreography which don't project well. Given the beauty of the work and of the dancers' performances, this was a shame - and a good reason to see this show again at a later date.

The opening piece of the evening was SUB by Itzik Galili, following on from the brightly-coloured high energy of Galili's A Linha Curva. SUB was the complete opposite: a moody restrained work for seven male dancers. It opened with playful tussling, leading to sinuous  solos. The tone of the work remained delicate and graceful throughout, an appropriate contrast with the all-powerful "boy bands" of contemporary dance, reminding us that male dancers don't always need to be showing off their strength. At times, SUB seemed to retain some of the spirit of Mark Baldwin's Seven For A Secret, Never To Be Told, with the dancers resembling schoolboys playing games and mock-fighting.

SUB started off with huge promise and swiftly plateaued, however it finally found its stride towards the end, when all of the dancers were in frieze on stage, with one of them at performing a solo at a time. SUB is a piece you want to love, but there's some little thing missing: perhaps it's more cohesion.

The second premiere of the evening was Mark Baldwin's What Wild Ecstasy, a reworking of Nijinsky's Apres-midi d'un faun, which was also performed. 2012 has been a very Faun-filled year so far, from Sergei Polunin's deplorable performance in Ivan Putrov's Men In Motion, to English National Ballet's somewhat bland but far better performance - and now with Dane Hurst as the Faun, surely the ideal choice for an animalistic otherworldy creature. Rambert's dancers are renowned for imbuing their roles with personality, and so Hurst's Faun, Pieter Symond's Nymph and the accompanying nymphs were far more vivid and engaging than in previous performances.

Henrietta Horn's Cardoon Club had been mentioned several times prior to the performance, and perhaps aptly, for Mark Baldwin's What Wild Ecstasy could be seen as a natural successor to Cardoon Club's eccentricity. With three enormous wasps hovering overhead, Rambert's dancers were in a myriad of bad-taste clubbing outfits, creating the imagery of a Faun and Nymph. Using the percussion and the wildness of the music and repetition, it seemed evocative of something primeval, with scenes suggestive of ritual coupling and/or partnering. And at the last minute, What Wild Ecstasy reworked the closing scene of Faun.... with lots of little yellow balls tumbling from above. Oh yes.

While the majority of the works in this programme are not the finest works we've seen performed by Rambert, the performances from the dancers were breathtaking, with Jonathan Goddard's performances standing out in each piece. Given the vast repertoire of the company, and the wide repertoire they tour each season, a few disappointments are perhaps to be expected - but for the dancers' sakes, we hope their upcoming seasons are filled with many works far more worthy of them.

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Weekly Roundup: 21 May

Following on from last week's release of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3D at selected cinemas, the celebrations of Matthew Bourne's 25 years continues with the return of a triple bill of his earliest works, performed by some of his best-loved dancers including Drew McOnie. Later in the week, Company Chameleon offers something a little different for Friday evening....

New Adventure's Early Adventures: 21 - 26 May
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

Having accumulated rave reviews and countless praise since its recent premiere in Bath, Early Adventures finally arrives in London for a one-week run at Sadler's Wells. This triple bill presents three of Matthew Bourne's earliest works from the days of Adventures in Motion Pictures, including 'Town & Country' which gave Bourne and AMP their first Olivier Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement In Dance in 1992. Dancers include Drew McOnie, Christopher Marney, Kerry Biggin, Mikah Smillie and Dominic North.

Whether or not you love Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, this is a rare opportunity to return to Matthew Bourne's earliest days and see how his distinctive style evolved.

Company Chameleon: 25 May
The Place
Tickets & details:

Promising "a show packed full of fearless dancing, spoken word and film", Company Chameleon's latest work Gameshow depicts the world of extreme game shows and desperate contestants. Company Chameleon have established a reputation for beautiful choreography and physically impressive performances, so this should be a rewarding treat for the end of this week.

Cloud Dance Festival Corner

Vera Tussing: 22 & 23 May
The Place
Tickets & details:

Vera Tussing, a frequent collaborator with Albert Quesada and past Place Prize semifinalist, is currently one of The Place's Work Place artists, and You Aint Heard Nothing Yet (Edit) is "a detailed, playful movement piece that focuses not just on movement, but on the movement of sound, and how the two combine to convey narrative and emotion. Edit is created by three performers and several collaborators, among them a sound engineer and a sound effect (foley) artist."

Riccardo Buscarini: 23 May
Italian Cultural Institute
Tickets & details:

Riccardo Buscarini, a finalist from the last Place Prize, performs Cameo, his Place Prize work, and Segments, a conceptual work based around non-verbal communication.

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Arcaladanza: 'Clouds'

Aracaladanza, the critically-acclaimed Madrid-based dance company, brought their touring performance of Clouds, known in Spanish as Nubes, to Jerwood Dance House in Ipswich this week.

Co-commissioned by Dance East and Sadler’s Wells, Clouds is a family show inspired by the works of the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte directed by award-winning Argentinean choreographer Enrique Cabrera. It forms one third of a trilogy of pieces taking influence from visual artists El Bosco, Magritte and Miró.

The performance was a surreal and energetic display of contemporary dance bursting with quirky imagery, the narrative playing out like a symmetrical dream. The piece began with box-shaped miniature houses piled up in the centre of the stage. Lit up in unison, they were individually taken off the stage by dancers dressed in over-sized jackets. One lonely house remained in the spotlight until a small fluffy cloud appeared. The black backdrop fell and the performance began.

Aracaladanza danced with a multitude of clouds, ranging in size, shape and texture. The clouds weren’t limited to physical props: animated depictions were also projected onto the cloth at the rear of the stage. The excitement of the performance gradually built with costumes, characters and the tactile props becoming more bizarre, exuberant and inspiring as the piece progressed. A mixture of contemporary dance, contact and circus were on display to the attendees.

Clouds treated the audience to a combination of both video and live performance in the same time and space. Duets and group dances were filled with comedy, and some solo pieces displayed a Martha Graham influence.

Highlights included a group of faceless men in suits, dancing in an simplistic manner juxtaposed to a chaotic and playful theme tune, mischievous use of dancers’ shadows and the illusion of plastic rain falling upon the stage.

Despite the energetic pace and creative theme, Clouds left me feeling like the performance was playing it safe overall. I felt that the surreal theme could have been pushed more, and that in trying to appeal to all ages Aracaladanza’s show lacked an edge from an adult’s perspective. That said, overall, Clouds is a wonderful offering of family entertainment and the young audience soaked in every minute of the unusual fun. I recommend you go to the next viewing, it will brighten your day.

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Pierre Rigal: Game Over

I hate football. The hype, the overpaid players, the celebrity culture.  The beautiful game? You can keep it. So imagine my surprise when a fifty-five (not ninety) minute dance work managed to capture my attention and retain it for (most of) the duration.  This was Pierre Rigal’s Game Over, or Arrêts de Jeu, a French dance theatre production supported by the UK French Institute.  

Rigal, himself, performs in the piece alongside two fellow Frenchmen, Benoit Canteteau and Itamar Glucksmann, with female presence from tomboy Eléna Borghese.  It’s kick-off and we’re plunged into complete darkness.  As silence fills the air, the senses are temporarily gone and one can’t help but feel uneasy.  Thankfully, we’re quickly reunited with civilisation through the medium of technology on the count of eight ultra-bright rectangles which are suspended from the ceiling.  Well, not exactly.  With the stage still in black-out, it’s the four performers who are moving them, two in each hand, and to the crackle of audio commentary (à la Française with English subtitles) these begin to project the game in question.   

As oafish men, the performers lounge about in front of the telly to catch the match, and oafish men on the pitch too, re-enacting laddish behaviour – pointing, swearing, grimacing, larking about – settling disputes with referee with very little contact with the ball. A somewhat accurate depiction perhaps? Either way, their mannerisms and interaction with each other, are well-timed and believable and have the audience in stitches.  

Rigal deploys the use of slow motion, just like the action replays on screen, to hone in on how the players work together as a sports team. This second-by-second analysis keeps us, the audience, very much in the heart of the action although, having said that, there are moments of uncertainty, for me at least, and gaps form in my understanding of the narrative. Yes, I had read the rather lengthy programme notes prior to the performance and this did indeed help contextualise the piece somewhat – we’re in 1982 apparently, the year of the France vs. West Germany game – but Game Over still functions without this background knowledge. Why, it converted this non-believer, didn’t it?

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