The Most Incredible Thing

It's been a year since The Most Incredible Thing originally premiered at Sadler's Wells, and the current incarnation strives to be a more audience-friendly version than the original, with new scenes, reworked scenes, and half the number of intervals. The result is that it's more of a spectacle, and much easier to follow. But is that really what the piece needed?

The Most Incredible Thing is a spectacle, first and foremost. Featuring a soundtrack by the Pet Shop Boys, it could hardly be anything else, and the lavish, constantly-shifting sets designed by Katrina Lindsay are elaborate to the point of detracting from the storytelling - complete with smoke and (multiple) mirrors.

The story is taken from the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale of the same name, about a grim, soulless country where the king announces a competition offering half his kingdom and his daughter's hand in marriage to the man who can present him with The Most Incredible Thing.

In Javier De Frutos's version, the story takes place in an unidentified Eastern Bloc country where workers are drones, terrorised by Ivan Putrov's menacing overlord, and where only Clemmie Sveaas (the Princess) and Aaron Sillis (Leonardo) dream of being free: one of the best-loved scenes is of Sveaas dancing in her room to the Pet Shop Boys' song 'Baby', with their faces projected on the walls.

Last year, there had been mild criticism of the competition's presenter; this has now been turned into a dancing role, with mixed results, due to its reliance on faux-mime. The competition too has been changed; rather than witnessing several of the hapless contestants, with the judges becoming increasingly inebriated, the focus is now on the candidates' silhouettes behind a screen, which offers more scope for creativity and props, but at the cost of several of the jokes, such as "but it's still a towel!" (This was to a man who had claimed he could turn a towel into a swan by towel-origami).

Originally, the strongest section of the show was the middle section showing the clock's wonders, however the meaning of each wonder was obscure to some - no doubt as our world is already so full of wonders, we've lost sight of the original wonders of the world around us. The explanation of each wonder is now telegraphed to us - Adam, the first wonder, appears wearing blue swimming trunks with 'ADAM' written across the back; Eve, as half of the second wonder, has 'EVE' written across the front of her bikini. Whereas before, dancers would hold large ears and a nose for the senses section, they now hold up signs saying 'NOSE' and 'EAR'. Each of the Seven Deadly Sins wears a number on his/her back, the name of his/her sin on its front, and a beehive on top. And Aaron Sillis has become a participant in each scene, observing and sometimes joining in. While the reworking of this section may have made it easier to understand, much of the fine choreography of this section has been lost.

Despite these unsettling changes - including Aaron Sillis's nerdy glasses, and Ivan Putrov's less virtuosic role - The Most Incredible Thing is still a highly entertaining show, and a great introduction to dance for those watching dance for the first time. There are excellent performances from Aaron Sillis, Clemmie Sveaas and Ivan Putrov and strong performances from the ensemble, especially Yuyu Rau, Diarmaid O'Meara and Edd Mitton. And yet The Incredible Thing could be so much more; the choreography tries too hard to be tame and easy to follow at the expense of potentially being extraordinary.


Add a comment

Weekly Roundup: 26 March

This is a week with several must-see performances, especially ENB's Beyond Ballets Russes programme - Faun(e) and Rite of Spring are absolutely amazing. As is Royal Ballet's Edward Watson, who stars as Romeo in the final performance of Romeo & Juliet on Saturday. And The Most Incredible Thing is finally back - while not the best dance show you'll see, it's definitely the best dance spectacle on at present - enjoy!


English National Ballet
's Beyond Ballets Russes Programme 1: 27 March
London Coliseum
Tickets & details:

English National Ballet are presenting two programmes featuring a mixture of works premiered by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, reworkings of Ballet Russes's pieces, and works inspired by them. The first programme features a brand new interpretation of Firebird, with costumes by David Bamber, David Dawson's breathtaking Faun(e), and a very different interpretation of Kenneth MacMillan's Rite of Spring. There are various ticket offers around: do what you can to see this programme!

The second programme runs from 28 March to 1 April, and includes Balanchine's Apollo, Serge Lifar's Suite en Blanc, and a reworking of Nijinsky's Jeux.

Pet Shop Boys & Javier De Frutos - The Most Incredible Thing: to 7 April
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

This is the return of last year's successful production, which managed to pack out Sadler's Wells on a nightly basis with bemused Pet Shop Boys fans. It's more of a dazzling spectacle than a dazzling dance show, although we're very excited to hear that Aaron Sillis, Ivan Putrov and Yuyu Rau are returning, while Diarmaid O'Meara ( (recently seen in Ballet Ireland, and in two of our past festivals) will be joining the cast for the first time.

Javier De Frutos's choreography is very tame and family-friendly (in an interview, he explained that he'd been instructed to make "family-friendly" choreography. His response was: "what family?"); the middle section is by far the best, although Clemmie Sveaas dancing to an old Pet Shop Boys song will stay with you for a long time!

Royal Ballet's Romeo & Juliet: 31 March
Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

The Royal Ballet's production of the doomed lovers of Verona finally comes to an end, having witnessed the demise of a number of star partnerships over the past few months. The final performance, with Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin in the leading roles, features many of Royal Ballet's best-loved male dancers - as though we needed many other reasons to attend! Expect beautiful duets, great storytelling, and some unforgettable death scenes.

Also On

New Dance Commissions: 29 - 31 March
Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

Continuing ROH2's ongoing support of emerging talented choreographers, this programme celebrates the completion of Freddie Opoku-Addaie's, Laïla Diallo's and Sarah Dowling's two years on ROH2’s Choreographic Associate Scheme with new works commissioned by ROH2. Laïla Diallo, a former dancer with Wayne McGregor's Random Dance, will explore the themes of migration and transience accompanied by live music. Sarah Dowling, whose work has spanned cinema and theatre, has given her work a science-fiction edge, while Freddie Opoku-Addaie, recent Place Prize Finalist, delves into his memories of being surrounded by the daily routine of craft artists. Regardless of the subject matters, it'll be interesting to see the work of these three choreographers and how they've grown as a result of the scheme.

Cloud Dance Festival Corner

Platform AD: 29 & 30 March (performance on 28 March has been cancelled)
St Paul's Church, Covent Garden

You'd be forgiven for not knowing that this platform is back, so little publicity has it sought. AD Dance Company presents Memento, which was premiered on 16 March, while all-male company Udifydance, with a new lineup and a new outlook, present 'And When We Move....', about how we're all affected by social media. CODA Dance presents 'You remind me of someone I once knew', a moving portrayal of perspectives of grief after a mother’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Other performances are by Replica Dance Company and Gary Clarke in collaboration with all-male youth dance company Edge FWD.

Add a comment

DV8 Disappoint

Did DV8’s verbatim production of Can we talk about this? have to be monotonous? Was it contempt for the audience which drove them to relentlessly lambast us with noise and superfluous motion, or was it because of the subject matter? Does Lloyd Newson, to paraphrase, consider himself ‘morally superior’ to us?

If I sound provoked and angry, then perhaps Lloyd Newson has achieved precisely what he set out to do. Can we talk about this? is a passionate polemic about multiculturalism, the dangers inherent in ‘submissively’ allowing rights to freedom of speech to be eroded and about the brutal atrocities that have been committed either as a supposed defence against criticism of Islam by extremists or within some Muslim communities while exercising some interpretations of Sharia law.

Just because DV8 are employing verbatim theatre techniques, in that all the words spoken in the production were reproduced word for word from ‘real-life’ sources, doesn’t mean they are all true. Verbatim doesn’t mean Gospel. Repeatedly we are told that Muslim women can’t divorce their husbands. This is true but Muslim women can dissolve their marriages, although they will probably have to return all their wedding gifts to their ex-husband. Unjust obviously but this knowledge does nuance the bigotry argument; amongst the barrage of facts and chilling statistics this was mentioned, once, briefly as a riposte.

The above example is perhaps trivial, although I don’t consider women’s rights trivial, when compared to some of the atrocities including domestic abuse, rape, murder, assassination and terrorism presented in the production and I don’t mean to denigrate its subject matter in any way. What has really fired me up, however, is how Lloyd Newson has taken this opportunity for DV8 and for the debate as a whole and not created a masterpiece.

There was beautiful dancing in the production. But so what? If I want to see beautiful movement for beautiful movement’s sake then I will go and see NDT2, or some ballet or any number of fantastic abstract contemporary dance companies. What I want from ‘Physical Theatre’, what I want from DV8, world-renowned masters of the genre, is movement which adds to the production. Movement which deepens arguments, which enlightens me to motivation and emotion. I want movement which reveals the inner world of the characters and illustrates it corporeally. I want to be surprised, shocked, fascinated and moved myself. I also want a chance to watch it, for it to speak for itself.

40 minutes in, I had calculated that about 15% of the choreography actually came close to doing any of the above. By the end of the arduous 80-minute production, this had risen to 20%. That’s 16 minutes' worth, or 1 in every 5 out of a show which contained constant movement, the majority of which was based on a movement vocabulary of endlessly repeating gestures with the same staccato rhythm as the words in the constant endless speech which over-scored the piece. I left with a headache.

In DV8's 1992 work Strange Fish, Lloyd Newson’s choreography portrayed solidarity, desire, loneliness, heartache, disappointment and joy. The choreography both advanced the plot and revealed aspects of the characters. A conflicted character was revealed through a hula-hoop which was used both to seduce and to act as a chaste force field. It enabled lascivious dancing but also represented commitment. In Can we talk about this?, one of the highlights was listening to the words of former Labour MP Ann Cryer in a fascinating exposition on forced marriage and how she fought to get it debated in parliament while she was variously perched in a contact / Acro Yoga duet on a male actor while drinking a cup of tea. Oh, how we laughed when she left the saucer on his head. In the words of Frantic Assembly, ‘Don’t make somebody become a table or a chair that then gets sat on – this is not physical theatre, it is demeaning’. It can be argued that this movement sequence represented the cushy life of those in Westminster and their detachment from ‘reality’ and that it provided some welcome light-hearted relief from the rest of the work. It was also cheap and obvious.

Perhaps I’m missing the genius in the work. I will agree that it can be theatrically powerful to take the inflamed and hyperbolic words of someone who is clearly devoted to their cause, and to portray that in a sober and measured tone. Not ‘colouring’ the words to highlight their significance in case the audience is missing the point. However, do this for 80 minutes while you rail against the supposedly unchallenged subordination of ‘British’ culture to the sanctity of all ideas ‘multicultural’, and you end up sounding overly worthy, more Fahrenheit 9/11 than An Inconvenient Truth.

There were opportunities for brilliance throughout the piece. A dance theatre portrayal of a scantily-clad Aayan Hirsi Ali, screen-writer of Submission the film which led to its director Theo Van Gogh’s (yes a distant relative) assassination, of the famous scene where lines from the Koran are inscribed on a woman’s body but also made to look like bruises resulting from domestic violence was one of those opportunities. It was good but it should have been devastating.

Add a comment

Learning Through Art

The 'Burka Banksy' is how the female graffiti artist in Kabul is dubbed, in an article I found in a magazine left by a recycling-minded fellow South West Trains passenger. Shamsia Hassani sprays depictions of Muslim women, highlighting their oppression and position in modern society. She works in secret for fear of her safety, but still commits to making herself and her convictions in her own beliefs heard through her art. She is also a professor of Fine Art at Kabul University, and wants the modern style of her work to highlight the archaic views that Afghan women face.

I came across this article during the same week that I saw DV8's current work 'Can We Talk About This?', Lloyd Newson's latest politically-charged piece of dance theatre which tackles the subject of Islamic extremism and the stories of individuals who have fallen victim to the extreme and brutal actions of those with fundamental beliefs. Whether or not I enjoyed the work is not particularly relevant here. What matters is that I learned something, I was educated.

I learned in a way that I've not been able to from news bulletins, newspaper articles and documentaries on the subject. Although I have been aware and concerned about the escalating awfulness that is happening throughout the world in the name of religion, I’d not yet come across a way of accessing information and understanding that allowed real connection to the human element of the facts, figures and statistics. And for me, that’s what Newson’s DV8 provided.

I was never very good at nor interested in history at school. Dates tended to go in one ear and out the other, along with names of fortresses and of monarchs crowned and slain. That was until I began to study war poetry and literature in my A-Level English Lit. course. Through the writings of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon in their poetry, and Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Birdsong’, the inconsequential dates and faceless names suddenly became very real, very upsetting, and very relevant to my life.

Children’s author Michael Morpurgo, who wrote the hugely successful War Horse, writes from the point of view of the horse on the frontline in WW1. In an effort to bring history alive for readers for generations after these events, he uses this innovative way of storytelling to connect and make relevant these things which are so important and yet so easily ignored.

Another subject I was never particularly enthralled with in my younger years was Maths. I can’t say that much has changed since then, although watching Hamish McPherson and Martine Painter’s ‘Meeting Place’ at Resolution! 2012 encouraged me to take a tentative step towards finding an interest in numbers and scientific patterns. Hamish and Martine play with visually unfolding an algorithmic formula: a series of instructions, a mathematical way of describing a sequence, used in computing, the stock market and other such seemingly alien contexts. However, seeing these things embodied on a stage made me interested, and encouraged me to think on something I’d never have considered relevant to my life. And of course it is: this laptop is using algorithms as I type, and yours as you read.

I think that artists, whatever their medium, hold great responsibility to the subject matter that they choose, and the information that they present. Whether their audience are experts on the given topic, or novices, the power that an artist / writer / choreographer has to influence and educate their audience is huge, and should not be underestimated, least of all by the artist / writer / choreographer themselves. They’re then faced with the decision of how to relay the information. Should art be impartial? Should it advocate an opinion for its viewer to take or leave, or should it merely present a balanced view of the subject matter, so as to remain unbiased? I’m not sure, and there will be conflicting opinions on the artist’s right to persuade their audience of one thing or another. Art can reach people in a way that text books and news reports can’t, whether it be on the streets of Kabul, on the pages of a story book, or on the stage at The National. If it gets people talking, thinking, and interested in something they would otherwise have ignored, then surely that’s a triumph.

Add a comment

Jasmin Vardimon, Justitia

After the success of ‘7734’ last year, Israeli-born choreographer, director and performer Jasmin Vardimon brought her company back to Jerwood Dance House in Ipswich on Saturday evening to perform Justitia. Jasmin Vardimon’s performances  have always been based upon interesting, groundbreaking subjects which tug at your heart strings. Justitia is no exception.

Named after the Latin word for ‘Lady Justice’, this 2009 creation takes the audience on a journey that pits us as judge, jury and executioner in the case of ‘Seth Vs Mimi’.

Justitia grabs the audience’s attention from the start with movement from the typist at her desk on the smoke-filled revolving stage. The strong narrative was intriguing from the start and the performance began with the story of how Mimi met her husband Charlie.  A delicate and beautiful duet by the two included a Kazakh rug which eventually became Mimi’s wedding dress.

The masculine but humorous fight dance of Seth and Charlie flying around the stage performing jumps over a sofa had audience members roaring with laughter but glued to the exciting action that Vardimon had created, with help from the eclectic mix of music ranging from the haunting sounds of Yoko Ono to the electronic beats of Aphex Twin.   

The action then jumps forward to Charlie going out to buy beer to further fuel the shenanigans. When he returns home, he discovers Seth lying dead on the floor with the only witness and suspect, Mimi. The performance then abruptly switches tone as Vardimon makes you question whether Mimi might have done the unthinkable.

Mimi’s defence lawyer then takes you through the different sets, perspectives and scenarios that might have occurred. Each is more harrowing than the last, and eventually after a maze of intertwining tales, the performance finally unveils ‘the truth’.

This narrative expresses that one crazy adverse moment in time can lead to a lifetime of regret and guilt, and there were a few red and shocked faces for those of the audience members that weren’t expecting the nudity and scenes of a sexual nature.

Each individual performer was uniquely excellent. With dramatic knee movements, hip-hop freezes, breakdancing and energetic contemporary physical theatre, Justitia was both physically and mentally demanding on the audience and the performers. This was truly a performance that I didn’t want to end.

Add a comment

Frantic Assembly

Multithumb found errors on this page:

There was a problem loading image
There was a problem loading image
There was a problem loading image
There was a problem loading image
There was a problem loading image
There was a problem loading image

Read more ...

I was lucky enough to get a place on Frantic Assembly's latest series of physical theatre workshops. As a company they use a lot of dance in their productions to explore the subtext in the work they produce. They find their movement vocabulary for each production through task-based choreographic exercises. For example, one of the tasks from their production of 'Lovesong' was to recreate the way that you casually brush away a piece of fluff etc from a lover's clothing, mid-conversation, without interrupting the flow or them reacting to your having invaded their personal space. From this starting point an intimate duet developed that travelled through space and included lifts and weight-sharing. The end result was a highly physicalised yet gentle and tender duet that from an audience perspective demonstrated the loving nature and ease within the relationship of the characters. We also explored how changes in dynamic, use of focus or using unison movement etc changed the reading of the duet and therefore opened further choreographic potential from a very simple starting point.

Several of Frantic's rehearsal workshop techniques follow structures like the one above in that specific pathways of movement are not set absolutely but it is the intention behind the movement that drives it. I.e. in the example above I was visualising the fluff and removing it instead of thinking that my hand was coming to my partner's shoulder and then spiralling away anti-clockwise through space. Once this intentionally pedestrian movement vocabulary has been generated (or assimilated from another source, e.g. boxing club warm-up movements in the case of 'Beautiful Burnout'), Frantic will then use strong compositional devices regarding pathways through space and the finding of movement and spatial connections between two or more different sequences to structure the dance as a whole. The combination of the highly stylised structure and yet very pedestrian or 'ordinary' movement combined with their gravity-defying lifts and often frenetic pace come together to produce their signature style which is both very exciting and accessible to audiences.

One of the real strengths about Frantic Assembly is the care and attention they place on the environment in the workshop room and, as they told us, it is the same in their company rehearsals. They have developed several warm-up games that they use to effectively develop unity and team work, co-ordination, musicality/working to complex counts and to enable creative and playful engagement with the various devising tasks they set. As they either develop their own games or have adapted existing games to suit their purposes every exercise works towards the aims they
have set for each particular session. No random games of zip-zap-boing just because 'that's what you do'.

One of the early lifting exercises I particularly enjoyed involved being lifted to arms' length above 5 people's heads. The lifters were arranged in an open-ended rectangle shape (horse-shoe) and were standing almost shoulder to shoulder and the liftee walked, and later ran, into the open-ended aspect before being gently lifted to arm's length by the 5, vertically, and then being lowered down. The liftee then joined the lifters, starting at position #a (see below), and all the lifters rotated around one position with the person originally at position #b leaving the horse-shoe and joining the queue of people being lifted. We had 20 people in the group overall and ran 2 sets of this exercise simultaneously and co-ordinated the timing of the lifts so that the group still worked as a whole and also that each group fed into the queues of the other group. Like a big lifting machine in a factory.

#a X X #b


I find it a liberating experience to be lifted. Trusting other people to support your weight, especially when you are being lifted to high places or are upside down or in any other precarious position, takes a lot of confidence but to know that the support is there for you and that you are safe and that you now have access to a new playing field of space is extremely exciting.

Therapeutic aspect aside it is also very useful to be able to use this type of movement when creating theatre as the spectacle and thrill of a gravity-defying lift conveys directly to an audience. Neil Bettles, the workshop leader, talked about the range of movement vocabulary involved in each Frantic piece and how the style of each production, while carrying similarities, is very different but that it is the lifts that people always talk about first. I think this is understandable as the lifts, even when not particularly acrobatic, provide strong standout moments that the audience can a) remember as an individual movement within a dance and b) provide a strong kinaesthetic thrill in that the audience feels, to some degree, the movement they are watching but within their own bodies.

I could write for days about my experience of Frantic Assembly so far and I know I will return to their concepts and ideas for a long time in my own work in the future. For anyone who hasn't seen them I can't recommend them enough. Get tickets to their shows, get on their mailing list and sign up for a workshop, persuade your school/college or University to bring them in for a residency, buy their book (the frantic assembly guide to devising theatre) and bring Frantic into your life. I promise I'm not on commission, I've just gained so much from my experience with them and loved every minute of it.

I have some exciting Frantic-related projects coming up soon including workshops I'm going to be leading in a school and for the RedTIE theatre company on the Isle of Wight (yes I am available for hire as workshop leader ;o) and something even bigger which I don't want to talk too much about just yet for fear of jinxing it, but watch this space!

Lewis x

Read more ... Read more ...

Add a comment

A D Dance Company: Memento

A D Dance Company, formerly known as Antique Dances, is one of London's small and emerging yet prolific neoclassical dance companies. While having performed at a number of platforms including Cloud Dance Festival, Resolution!, Edinburgh Festival and Glastonbury Festival, the works are predominantly created for churches and small venues such as the King's Head Theatre, and their latest work, Memento, was created in collaboration with the Docklands Sinfonia, with the full orchestra accompanying the piece's premiere at St Anne's Church in Limehouse, Docklands.

Memento is a work in six segments, reflecting each of the six movements created by composer Jeremy Holland-Smith, each inspired by "everyday images" which were printed in the accompanying programme along with an explanation of what each image represented to Holland-Smith. Angular Momentum was a photo of contrails over rooftops; Daydream is described as "a dreamlike fantasy... a feeling of being stagnant as the world rushes past"; Gaudeamus, derived from an 18th century drinking song, has a quasi-Baroque feel.

The opening movement, 'Angular Momentum', saw the company of dancers bathed in a red light, with the dancers appearing trapped in a very tight space, adapting their movements to take up as little space as possible. This changed in the next section, Daydream, with a languorously slow solo from Rachel Maybank. Brett Murray appeared to watch her in wonder, finally approaching to embrace her for a close duet. As dreams never go according to plan, Maybank was ousted by Emma Fisher, who led Murray in a more dramatic and passionate duet.

The changing speeds and moods of each section allowed choreographer Holly Noble to create distinct sections with differing themes, speeds and even movement vocabulary, with some sections more classical than others, and a wide variety of partnerwork between her seven dancers.

It's difficult not to compare Memento to A D Dance Company's previous works, especially as it lacks the polish and finesse of their previous work, FAWN - however this will no doubt change over subsequent performances. The company is unfunded, so of course budgets are very tight, but the existing costumes of tights and skimpy bra-tops for the women do not complement the work as well as could be achieved. There are some lovely sections in Memento, for example each of the men lifting Chandelle Allen in turn during Halcyon, but Holly Noble has become a victim of her own success, and set the bar a little too high with FAWN!

Memento will be performed again at Actor's Church in Covent Garden on 28 - 30 March as part of Platform AD; further details and tickets are available here:


Add a comment

Weekly Roundup: 19 March

March is finally coming to an end, as is the flurry of dance shows from the last few weeks, and you'd be forgiven for wanting to sit this week out. But for those of you who want to see a few shows this week, there's still quite a few things to choose from...


Royal Ballet, Romeo & Juliet: 21 - 24 March
Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

MacMillan's beloved adaptation of Romeo & Juliet continues, with performances from Steven McRae and Roberta Marquez on 21 March, Lauren Cuthbertson and Federico Bonelli on 22 March and Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin on 24 March. It's worth seeing all three performances for each cast's interpretations, and of course the myriad of changing additional characters. It's got plenty of storytelling and beautiful dancing - and of course humour and sadness.

English National Ballet: Beyond Ballets Russes: 22 March - 1 April
London Coliseum
Tickets & details:

The Ballets Russes tributes continue, with two new programmes reviving some of the Ballets Russes' most celebrated works. The first programme, which runs until 27 March, features MacMillan's Rite of Spring, Nijinsky's L’après-midi d’un faune - forget the version performed at Men In Motion!, David Dawson’s haunting Faun(e) and a new Firebird choreographed by young British choreographer George Williamson.

Also on

Performance Room: Jérôme Bel at Tate Modern: 22 March
Computers, tablets and smartphones everywhere

This is a new initiative which will see numerous artists performing alone, without a physical audience, yet watched by thousands live through YouTube. Bel's work is unpredictable and theatrical, with dance often trivialised or absent in his works - but the results are usually entertaining to watch. For more background information about Bel, read Sanjoy Roy's Step-By-Step guide:

Tavaziva Dance: 24 March
Bernie Grant Arts Centre
Tickets & details:

In case you missed Tavaziva Dance's performance at The Place last week, or if you'd love to see Sensual Africa again, you're in luck as they'll be performing for one night only in Seven Sisters. Bawren Tavaziva is renowned for his distinctive style of fusing African dance and contemporary dance, creating a powerful and dynamic movement language. In Sensual Africa, his youthful dancers perform his tribute to the Tumbuka and Chewa tribes which Tavaziva met during his travels in Malawi.

Cloud Dance Festival Corner

Rachel Birch-Lawson Triple Bill: 23 March
Chisenhale Dance Space
Tickets & details:

Project Mashed Potato (CDF Tabula Rasa, July '08) is no more, and Rachel Birch-Lawson returns with an exciting collection of new works, including the critically-acclaimed Frugal Feasts and a sound installation/performance.

Add a comment

Royal Ballet: Alice

How many of us actually remember the storyline of Alice in Wonderland? For that matter, how many of us even managed to reach the end of the book when we were small children? Familiarity with the storyline certainly helps when watching Christopher Wheeldon's adaptation, given how little sense Lewis Carroll's novel has to start off with. But first and foremost, the Royal Ballet's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a spectacle rather than a ballet: so much attention to detail has been lavished on the sets, costumes and digital artwork that the choreography appears meagre and uninspired by comparison. For people seeking a spectacle, this won't matter - but those seeking a spectacle with Great Dance will be left disappointed.

The dance-storytelling of Alice is at its strongest in the opening scenes of Act 1, where we see Alice's family preparing for lunch with Alice and her sisters playing games, Lauren Cuthbertson's Alice flirting with Federico Bonelli's Jack, and Edward Watson's Lewis Carroll consoling and distracting her after Bonelli is fired by her mother. After Alice is tugged through the rabbit hole by a desperate Edward Watson, the visual aspects of the piece take over, and the choreography is mostly delegated to depicting Alice's journey, through bourées and arabesques, and to fleshing out the endless outlandish and vivid characters which she encounters over the next two hours.

And the length is another issue with Alice; this version of Alice was extended to provide the storyline with more cohesion and to increase its family-friendliness, however it should also have faced some ruthless editing to remove a number of scenes and reduce the length of others in order to tighten up the narrative - and not lose the attention of the children in the audience!

The funniest scene is probably Wheeldon's spoof of Sleeping Beauty's Rose Adagio, performed by Laura Morera as the terrifying Queen of Hearts, partnered by four very scared cards in fear for their lives - resulting in several undignified mishaps. The sad little hedgehogs were easily the best of the animals, running for their little lives to avoid being used for bowling with flamingos. Kristen McNally, clutching a meat cleaver, proved yet again that she is always a scene-stealer while other vividly memorable characters were Steven McRae's tap dancing Mad Hatter, Edward Watson's anxious White Rabbit - and, of course, Lauren Cuthbertson's delightful Alice.

There was too little variety in much of the choreography, not helped by the choreography being predominantly classical in style. Nevertheless, weak choreography aside, this is very much a 21st-century Alice, with impressive use of projection and sets to capture audiences' imagination. And don't go expecting the Alice of the childhood novel: Wheeldon's Alice is about the burgeoning relationship between Alice and Jack, and the Wonderland scenes are Alice's attempts to find and redeem him.


Add a comment

Protein: LOL (Lots of Love)



In a mad dash from person to person, the cast of Luca Silvestrini’s Protein (formerly Protein Dance) tackle love, loneliness and life online in LOL (Lots of Love). Racing through space to the buzzing, bleeping, chiming and clicking of Andy Pink’s techno-inspired score, six dancers whiz, dive and flit between one another as if physically enacting the high-speed connections of online networking.

We are bombarded with information as voices overlap, narratives swap and change, and images flicker past, projected on the screen behind. In one short section, three dancers perform an online conversation jabbing and jolting their bodies to the sounds of rattling computer keys, while in another the whole cast become mechanical doll-like avatars, tottering along on straight legs and waving with stiff stuttering arms.

There is a great deal of stand-up-style humour built into the work, such as one-liners dropped in by Sally Marie in her accurate portrayal of a barmy, desperate woman, exclaiming ‘I don’t mind if you’re a little bit disabled, you’ve probably got a lot of personality’. Equally, Kip Johnson’s charisma drives this work forwards with his casual harmless wit, bopping along with '80s moves in a club-style scene, as his comrades perform a slick hip routine.

However, despite the mirth of Marie and Johnson, it soon becomes clear that there is darkness behind the humour. In one scene between Johnson and Stuart Waters, the two meet in real life after, as Kip puts it, ‘having already met’ online. Yet, as Johnson innocently recounts to us the events of their meetings, Waters fearlessly shoves, clings to and leaps on Johnson, at one moment heart-stopping moment even springing up to stand on top of Johnson’s shoulders. But, despite the abuse and discomfort we begin to feel at watching this, Johnson passively and obliviously continues his story, unaware of the danger his online relationship is putting him in.

Indeed, as the work reaches the final few scenes and the dancers meet as a real-life couple, the harsh realities of the online world begins to hit home. As one man bursts into tears and another buttons his date, arms and all, into his white coat like a straitjacket, we begin to see that without the safety net of technology, real life has become a frightening and uncomfortable world.

Performed with charm, whit and personality, the success and poignancy of LOL is due to the extreme relevance it has to our lives today. Indeed, as Johnson cradles and clings to a web of wires, we begin to question what we are most attached to: real-life relationships or technology. Yet, it is not until after the show, when logging on to Facebook or Twitter, that the true impact of the work hits us and returning to our online worlds seems somehow different, if only briefly, in light of LOL.

Add a comment

Ivan Putrov, Men In Motion II



Ivan Putrov's first Men In Motion programme was a success for the wrong reasons. Ticket sales had been sluggish until the shock news of co-star Sergei Polunin's impromptu resignation from the Royal Ballet on 24th January, three days before the opening night, after which the remaining tickets sold rapidly in order to see what was being billed as potentially Polunin's last performance. Men In Motion was intended to be a showcase of male ballet dancers over the past century, and a showcase for Putrov's nascent skills as producer and choreographer - which might have worked better had several of his dancers, and therefore part of the programme, not been lost due to visa problems. Instead, audiences flocked to see Sergei Polunin, and were left awed by Daniel Proietto in Russell Maliphant's Afterlight.

The new Men In Motion programme was announced barely a month afterwards, and Putrov seems to have shifted his focus towards modern dance and only skimmed over seminal ballet roles. Polunin has been given star billing too, although the exciting news that he would be presenting a choreographed by himself was weakened somewhat by the news that his former colleague from the Royal Ballet, Valentino Zuchetti, was choreographing it for him.

The programme opened with Nijinsky's L'Après-midi d'un faune, and with Polunin in the iconic pose on top of a rock in front of an elaborate backdrop. L'Apres-midi d'un faune was Nijinsky's first attempt at choreography, and it could be compared to a work by a fledgling choreographer in an experimental phase: his tableau-based style, which sees his dancers slowly transitioning from one frieze to another with little movement in between, seems more at home in the world of physical theatre than in dance. Polunin portrays the faun's otherwordliness adequately, locked in a battle of wills with Elena Glurdjize's seductive nymph. In the final scene, Polunin, lying on top of Glurdjize's scarf, arches up in ecstasy: a more family-friendly adaptation of the piece's original ending.

The second work of the night was a solo originally created for a 2010 gala in Athens for Royal Danish Ballet's Tim Matiakis. It was choreographed by Jorma Elo, a fast-rising modern ballet choreographer who is highly sought after, but his works are sometime tepidly received. Round About Tim appeared to be a virtuosic yet quirky solo, a showcase for any male ballet dancer with interesting motifs as though to make it more than just another virtuosic role, for example numerous near-attacks by Matiakis's own hand.

Vestris, by Leonid Jacobson, is a piece which would benefit greatly from programme notes. The only information offered is that it was premiered at the International Ballet Competition in Moscow 1969; on the Sadler's Wells website, we're told that it was created specifically for Mikhail Baryshnikov and his unique talents. The solo appears to be more about enacting different characters and distinguishing between them than heavy dancing; Putrov plays the role well, demonstrating his acting range and his comic timing. In the opening scenes, we see him in a princelike role, welcoming guests, then abruptly turning into a Norse god, hurling thunderbolts at all and sundry. It's possible that he's enacting the Seven Ages of Man - but it's not clear where Norse gods fit into those.

The opening scene of Tim Rushton's Dying Swan resembles the results of a pillow fight in a disco, with an enormous heap of feathers dimly-lit by colourful lights. As the music starts, Andrew Bowman, bare-chested, throws the feathers into the air. This is a haunting solo, accentuated by the gracefulness of Bowman's dancing, as we see his arms moving as though trying to fly or trying to close. In other versions of Dying Swan, the Swan is portrayed as weakening and near death, but Bowman's Swan remains powerful and strong till the end, when we see him in a crucified pose.

Reprised from Men In Motion 1, the final piece of the first section was Narcisse by Kasian Goleizovsky, originally created for Vaslav Vasiliev. When it was performed in January, Polunin seemed to relish the high leaps and turns, as though reminding the Royal Ballet of what they had lost; Narcisse seemed to have lost a little of its impact over the last two months. Again, Polunin represents an otherwordly figure, dazzling us with his talents: leaping, turning, playing a flute, growing increasingly desperate until he is dazzled by his own reflection and weakens. Narcisse is a piece which reminds us of Polunin's extraordinary talent - and the potential for it to go to waste.

The first half of the programme seemed lightweight compared to the second half, with works by Russell Maliphant and Nacho Duato, and Sergei Polunin's new solo based on James Dean.

Two x Two by Russell Maliphant is a duet for Dana Fouras and Jesse Kovarsky (originally performed by the sublime Daniel Proietto) in which both are lost in their own worlds, beginning with slow deliberate poise as they lift and lower their arms, then picking up speed, with their bodies shifting more until their movements become more expansive, using the movement of their whole bodies while standing, kneeling, leaning over as they continue to swing their arms. It's a compelling work, emphasised by the hypnotic effect of the dancers, along with dim lighting and atmospheric music.

James Dean, choreographed by Valentino Zucchetti for Sergei Polunin, is the main draw of the evening, and the opening scene doesn't disappoint, with Polunin slouched in a chair, wearing Dean's trademark jeans and white tshirt, and a dark jacket which he drapes over the back of a chair to represent his father.

Through a dizzyingly virtuosic solo, Polunin portrays an anguished, troubled adolescent, remonstrating with his father without success. There are nice little devices - Polunin jumps while his thumbs are hooked in his pockets; occasional glimpses of the James Dean we all know and love. The solo is over-melodramatic, but Polunin's dancing is so very fine as he tries to reason with his father before running off, to his death.

Both the contemporary dance and ballet worlds were shocked in August 2010 when it was announced that Nacho Duato would be leaving the contemporary dance world and moving to Russia to lead the Mihailovsky Ballet. Remanso is one of his best-loved works, but distinctively contemporary in style, and we could see Putrov struggling slightly, lacking the requisite fluidity of the other two dancers. Remanso, a work for three men, is absolutely beautiful to watch; Duato doesn't need to display men as butch or virtuosic, but instead allows them to be graceful yet strong, for example Putrov reaching across a screen in repose. The by-play between the dancers is entertaining, particularly the way that they use each other to assist in their movement, whether it's Putrov climbing up Clyde Archer's leg, or later using his Achilles tendons as a springboard. There's also the unforgettable sight of Putrov dancing with a rose in his mouth. The beauty of Remanso is in how Duato makes his dancers move, and you don't want the piece to end.

One reason to watch mixed bills is to learn about different choreographers and their works; this programme clearly tells us to watch as much Nacho Duato, Tim Rushton and Russell Maliphant as possible. And given that Ivan Putrov seems to have taken Sergei Polunin under his wing, how long will it be till the next Men In Motion, and what roles will Polunin tackle in future programmes? We can only wait and see.

Add a comment

Wanting and wishing

Multithumb found errors on this page:

There was a problem loading image
There was a problem loading image

My first performance on my dance degree course is fast approaching (2 weeks today!), and last night at Uni we started to work on the structure of the piece which has developed from the improvisation exercises we have been working on in our choreography module.

I've always had a fairly conflicted opinion of improvisation tasks. When I first began my training at Coventry, we had a weekly lecture on improvisation for the entire year working from early solo tasks and culminating in a giant Contact Improvisation Jam at the end of the year with all 3 year groups involved (and chocolate being thrown in too, I seem to remember!).

I was very uncomfortable with the improvisation process for a long time. I can find it very difficult to move beyond my inhibitions when I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing and although the classes were very well structured it took me a long time to get past this. However, as I became more familiar with the process I started to enjoy the tasks more and when we moved onto working in Contact Improvisation I couldn't get enough of it.

Restarting my dance training now (a good few years later), a lot of my inhibitions have returned. In one workshop, based on Isadora Duncan's work, I just froze completely at the point where we were set the most 'free' to run around and play with the silk scarves. I have since made a resolution to just 'go with it completely' in any situation like that and to see what comes of it. I know that from the outside looking in on improvisation that the audience isn't judgemental and that it is the people who most fully engage with the improvisation score that become the most watchable. The confronting your fears by attacking them approach.

Back at Coventry I did, however, very much believe that improvisation was a tool that was invaluable in a workshop environment but that wasn't particularly interesting as a performance tool. I remember watching a piece of improvised music and dance but not being particularly engaged by it. Although at that time, and also currently but this is starting to change, my tastes in dance lean more towards the dance theatre genre and I like expression, narrative forms and character.

Since studying choreology at Birkbeck, however, I feel like my eyes have been opened to how dance itself communicates. Previously my reading of a piece was certainly affected by the movement content but I would have struggled to explain why and the more abstract it was the less I would engage with it generally. Now my brain is more capable of interpreting the movement content itself i.e. the arm is moving continuously and then there is an impulse in its rhythm - why is that happening, how does that affect the piece overall? When I watched Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! recently, despite being an avid fan of his work normally, I was disappointed in what I perceived as a lack of 'dance' in the piece (as opposed to mimed sequences). I know that he himself says that he is not the choreographer to look to for dance for dance's sake and I wouldn't want to judge his work on that basis, it just didn't reflect what I was looking for at the time.

The piece that we are creating for our performance (Friday March 23rd @ The Place Read more ...) is based on an improvisational structure and is very much pure dance. As I said before this type of work wouldn't normally engage me but with my now more open mind and more sophisticated viewing of dance I am able to see the opportunities in this type of work. Last night we were set the improvisation score and we danced it for 45 minutes continuously. Incredibly it only felt like 10 - 15 minutes and our course tutor and course co-ordinator watched the whole thing and they also said that it was so engaging that they didn't notice the time passing either. The parameters of the score mean that frequently encounters happen between us as dancers and we have a logic to follow that makes our actions affect the other dancer. Either one of us will have to move away from the other person or, as we can only travel parallel to the audience across the stage we can become trapped in between two other dancers. The variety of ways these encounters can play out are incredibly rich and as we have the option of being very stubborn and imposing our will upon the other dancers the dramatic tension can reach very high levels. It is the various natures of these encounters and our solo journeys that inspired our tutor, Eva Recacha, to name the piece Wanting and wishing.

As a choreography student the piece is especially useful because we get to be both performer and director of the work. If while performing I feel that the piece could do with a radical change at any particular moment I can introduce a completely different dynamic. Alternatively I can blend in with other actions already happening in the space and develop those. Very quickly our group become just as focussed on the listening as on the performing and it was this blend that kept the piece interesting and prevented it from becoming self-indulgent because we always kept in mind the perspective of the outsider and how engaging what was happening was.

I had been thinking recently that one of the main reasons for the use of solo work and improvisation techniques in choreography workshops was simply because it is easier to work with a group this way. I'm glad that I've decided to stop being so cynical, trust my teachers and to fully embrace the tasks as I can see now how rich this practice is. I think the piece of advice we received that helped me make the most sense of it was that improvising isn't about not knowing what you're doing - instead it is to know exactly what you are doing in the moment but to be completely open minded about what you are going to do next.

Next week I'm going to be writing about the 4 workshops with Frantic Assembly that I'll have just completed. They're such an interesting company and I can't wait to share with you what we've been up to.

Lewis x

Add a comment

Interview with Rhiannon Faith O'Brien

It's late on a Friday night and I'm sitting at a makeshift bar in an East London space, 4th Floor Studios, which has just seen an evening of Bohemian fun and frolics courtesy of Rhiannon Faith:Dancing Theatre. This up-and-coming company has performed two well-received works at The Place’s Resolution! in 2010 and 2011 with 'Love Kills' and 'Love my Bones', and now they have given us another fantastic piece to remember with 'Golden Bohemian'.  

Rhiannon Faith O'Brien, Artistic Director talks to me about her dance background, being a De Montfort University graduate, what was behind the Golden Bohemian and much much more.

Tell me about your dance background.

It all started when I was 16, I was in a college which was full of experimentation and interdisciplinary work, and we were introduced to cool dance groups from the start. We met people like Franko B, and the physical theatre company Earthfall came to the college. To start with I didn't think of myself as dancer, I had done a bit of training but I guess I thought of myself an actor. Throughout the course my teacher was really encouraging and said that I really had natural ability as a dancer and it went from there. There was a lot of input and various creative companies were sharing our space. Then when I went to university it was the same ethos, the same kind of course and it helped carry that understanding of contemporary work. It was all very new, very experimental and it really allowed my imagination to go anywhere it wanted.

At University I had much the same experience. I had excellent dance and drama teachers who taught me about practitioners who I might not have otherwise seen. The course engaged me with different types of work, for example European dance theatre and the contemporary scene. Some of it I liked, some of it I didn't, and from there I formed opinions of what it was that I wanted to do myself as a practitioner. I always wanted to have the opportunity to create my own work and university helped me with that. I did my MA in contemporary dance theatre practice, and I was very lucky to have very inspirational people who guided me. I found who I was and it made me the best that I could possibly be.

Who are the practitioners that you’re interested in? Who or what are your inspirations?

During the last year of my degree I went to Belgium and I took part in some workshops. De Keersmaeker was a big inspiration, I loved the energy with the dancers, the gestural movement and the way she created the choreography.
I learned a lot about Pina Bausch in European Studies and we learned about emotive choreography, about the narratives, how the dancers can speak so much with their bodies. I love how they can have an impact on the emotions of an audience through storytelling. She's always been a very powerful person for me.

Where the idea for the piece come from?

In the last couple of years I’ve been working with dancers who  are completely dedicated to everything that I have done, so the idea for this piece came from just working with all of my dancers.  Whatever I have asked of them, they have given me 100% but they are also doing it for free. The reason they're with me is because we're like a family. We give each other so much, new ideas and encouragement, we are living through this scene at the moment where it is really hard for them, and it’s hard for me as a choreographer.

We put some work on at The Place and the reviews were really cool. You get lucky and you can get gigs where can put your work on, thats really great. Other times you’re asked to change your creative outlook to suit a certain environment and that’s not something I’m cool with.  I want to do what I have the capacity to do and the dancers, they can do everything. Seeing how they were kind of fed up with society, how it was treating them, how hard it is for them just made me push into this idea that they are great. There are so many artists that are around here that are so good at what they do, visual artists, live musicians, actors, dancers. They live this life non-stop.

The dancers learn their skills but a lot of time don't have the opportunities to use them. We thought “fuck it, let’s make our own opportunity. Let’s make our own scene” and that’s where this piece came from.

We wanted a renaissance of art, a kind of revolution of thinking that gave people passion, love and happiness. We’ve been rehearsing since November, the dancers have worked really hard to get this together. I only see them once a week because thats all I could afford space-wise. The dancers should be doing this full time, I should be doing this full time and that’s what we are working towards. That’s the journey we are taking together. Let's make an uprising while we’re doing it.

Talk me though your choreographic process for the piece.

I know the dancers very well, I asked them to tell me about how they feel. It’s very autobiographical from the dancers point of view. In our rehearsals I create test space work, I do rep with them and we work with a narrative.

We've always worked with a theme in hand to bring ideas from. For this piece we chose to look at the transition from the golden age of the 1920s to where we are today, and explore the similarities. People in the next decade will look back and they could say “yeah, there was something really cool happening then”.

The narrative came from the characters that we started with in the first act. We worked with our knowledge of them and created movement there. The piece starts with a lot of  very gestural and pedestrian movement then moves into something more as they progress through the piece. It's movement that really works to the music that was happening in the space. The live music and the dancers’ energy combine, and we looked at how that made them feel, particularly outside of rehearsals, and that was brought into the dance.

A lot of the creation of the movement came from that passion. It was really important for me during auditions to get people that we knew were into this idea of creating a bohemian scene. I wanted dancers and actors that really liked this type of music. I wanted the passion of the dance and music to come out in the piece when we worked with the live bands and I wanted the dancers and actors to transform. I felt like if they really liked the music it would make the whole process easier.

So what’s next?

I would love for this to become quite a regular thing. Looking at different spaces, working with different bands. Although for me it's really about the dance, it’s also recognising that a lot of the artists here are from very different genres of performance. We’re completely merging into this scene, it's not just dance, it's the art, it's the live bands, it's the actors. The uprising can't happen in a night, and what is the uprising?

It’s about people and artists getting together and saying “yeah, we can do this and we want people to join us and to be with us”. So maybe the future is to have similar nights, working with different narratives, a different theme each time we do it. Then I can start a different journey with the dancers. I just want to put it around as much as we can in London and get people to join us. This is our first event and it has gone pretty well. It was also completely self-funded, so funding is something we would look into for the future. With funding we could look into different spaces, bigger spaces, bigger audiences and add more detail. We have to learn from what has happened in the space tonight and make it even better and bigger. It’s happening.


Add a comment

Weekly Roundup: 12 March

We hope that ALL of you managed to see NDT2 last week - or at least, those of you either in London or within travelling distance of London. After last week's highs of NDT2 and Alina Cojocaru in Royal Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, everything else fades a bit by comparison, so we'll just tell you what's on this week and you can decide for yourself.

What's On

Ivan Putrov's Men In Motion: 13 - 15 March
Sadler's Wells
Tickets & details:

It's barely a month and a half since Ivan Putrov's original showcase for male dancers, and already it's back, with more emphasis placed on the renegade Sergei Polunin. Polunin, who has been rapidly burning bridges since his impromptu resignation from the Royal Ballet, and who has seemingly been channelling James Dean in recent interviews to stimulate more interest in this programme, will be performing a solo which is not choreographed by himself, as publicised, but choreographed by Royal Ballet's Valentino Zucchetti about James Dean.

While Russell Maliphant's Afterlight was the undisputed highlight of the last programme, it remains to be seen if Nacho Duato's Remanso will similarly overshadow the rest of this programme.

Tavaziva Dance: 13 & 14 March
The Place
Tickets & details:

Bawren Tavaziva's youthful company returns with a new work, Sensual Africa, a tribute to the Malawi tribes which Tavaziva met on a recent visit. His signature style is extremely dynamic fusion of African and contemporary dance - expect this show to sell out quickly!

Protein: LOL (Lots of Love): 16 & 17 March
The Place
Tickets & details:

Protein's LOL has been piling up the awards over the past year, and their return to The Place is an opportunity to either revisit it or see why it has received such high praise. It's a comical theatrical work about the world of Facebook, online dating and more, and very very funny.

Royal Ballet: Alice: 17 March - 16 April
Royal Opera House
Tickets & details:

Who has forgotten all the media interest in the Royal Opera House's "sensational" new ballet (Alice) and opera (Anna Nicole) of last spring? Alice, the Royal Ballet's first new full-length ballet for 16 years, created by Christopher Wheeldon, was a huge success and much-loved by the audiences, if less so by the critics who pointed out that elaborate effects and costumes aside, it's not exactly the best work they've performed. So with that in mind, go and see this for a thoroughly enjoyable performance with some outlandish costumes and great cameo appearances!


Add a comment

I feel the fear…

These recent months have seen me make the decision to venture away from the safety of a full-time salaried position with a dance company, and into the freelance dance world.  And, when you put it like that, one might wonder why. Why plunge yourself into doubt, worry and financial uncertainty? Why place yourself as a small fish in an extremely large pond, a pond full of incredibly talented and driven fellow artists, who all want the same thing as you do?

A phrase that has recurred in my mind many times during this period of transition has been ‘Do something every day that scares you’. Now, I’m not opposed to taking on scary challenges; I have skydived (or have I skydove!?) from 14,000 feet, I have travelled to some fairly unsettling destinations, and, I’m proud to say, I can bravely place a cup over a spider of considerable size. I think, though, it is the things that require you to put yourself out there, to allow others to judge you and to admit that you desperately want something that causes a different, and very real kind of fear. A fear of what it is I am unsure. Perhaps it is of rejection, perhaps of embarrassment, or of failure.

A choreographer recently repeated to me some advice he’d been given; that dance, improvisation and creativity requires the ‘willingness to appear foolish’. And I think that’s the key to it. That if you go into things with your eyes wide open, willing to appear foolish, then the act of simply doing, of giving something a go, whatever the result, becomes a triumph in itself. I have certainly found this to be true in my experiences of this wonderful world of freelancing. Through seeking opportunities to volunteer, join company classes, wear crazy headgear, introduce myself to people; to just do things, I have found great satisfaction and fulfillment. Without the concern that these things may be unpaid, or that no one is giving me a constant pat on the back and telling me I’m great, I can allow myself to enjoy things as they happen, and not to continually worry about where something’s leading, or having to justify what I’m doing.

I learnt recently of something that the Chinese refer to as ‘Dangerous Opportunities’. They’re moments that test our actions and responses to certain situations, difficult situations, that enter our lives unexpectedly. It is how we deal with these situations that are the things that define us, and carve our path through life. Surely these moments are to be embraced, even exploited, as much as possible to make the best of the opportunity that they provide.

So, I will continue in this life of unexpected opportunity and requirement to appear foolish. Because, beyond and above the financial worries, and the (more than occasional) self - doubt, it is rich, it is exciting, and I’m glad to be one more fish in this huge and incredible pond. Bring on the freelance fear.

Add a comment

Scottish Dance Theatre


Captivating, playful and sincere, Scottish Dance Theatre explores the primal and compelling desires of our existence in their 2012 Spring Tour. With refreshing honesty, the ten company members speak to us not as dancers but as people, telling their stories of love, identity and oppression in a varied and lively new programme of work.  

The first half of the evening displays works from emerging choreographers within and outside of the company. One solo, entitled My Sweet Little Fur by Idan Cohen, unearths the beast inside us. With an agile, eloquent performance, Jori Kerremans trembles like an excited dog, cocks his leg, and stalks his prey, as he battles against the rebellious animal within.

Human connection - love, lust, loneliness and rejection - tied together the other two works of this half. Opening with a thrusting beat, Nicole Guarino’s duet A Touch of Red explores the antithesis to domestic bliss when love has become somewhat one-sided. The two performers Joan Clevillé and Solène Weinachter shift and falter about the stage, brushing past one another and slipping away from kisses. Weinachter becomes desperate, grabbing Clevillé’s arm to place around her, straddling him and playing of games of falling. But Clevillé is indifferent; he slouches, stands lifeless and gazes off into the distance. At times he pushes her away, but when she falls he can’t help but catch her and it is at these moments there is a sense of hope, as we desire for them stay close.

But while Weinachter appears needy and Clevillé apathetic, these are more than two dimensional gender stereotypes and we begin to ponder the truth behind the situation. Were they ever equally in love? Is there something more going on in Weinachter’s head? Or, is there someone else involved? Indeed, while A Touch of Red has the potential to be a straightforward piece about love and rejection there is more to it than that. We feel tension, unease and hope, and through the sincerity of their performance we begin to see how their story speaks so vividly to our lives.

Likewise, in Clevillé’s own piece Love Games, the mysteries of human connection come under scrutiny. This time Clevillé takes a slightly more abstract approach, employing live vocals, playground games and a rug containing cornflakes, a knight’s helmet and newspapers, which soon becomes a refuge for the lonely. As dancers swap and change between partners the somewhat random choices of love become apparent, one dancer offering out two hands for another to pick from, deciding their fate from thereon in.

Clevillé mocks the ridiculous nature of our desperation to find love, demoting her dancers to schoolchildren running after one another as if playing chase. Poking fun at love’s silliness, an intimate duet is interrupted by the man blowing a raspberry into his partner’s tummy, and as the piece reaches its close, dancers become burly rugby players diving on one another to take down the competition. Clevillé’s quintet, like Guarino’s, has an honesty and familiarity that is uplifting; Clevillé’s witty and provocative vigour energising this common human narrative.  

The final, much longer work of the evening takes the company on a bizarre, dreamlike journey, uncovering the more sinister and troubling side of human nature. Pavlova’s Dogs, choreographed by Rachel Lopez de la Nieta, overlaps themes, styles and images, in a complex whirlwind voyage where things seem to go from mad to pure bonkers.

Two men narrate the work, one a scientific lecturer and the other, an anarchic storyteller. The two other men are entertainers and stage hands. Dressed as hairy blue bunnies, they give a camp flashy dance to Flanagan and Allen’s ‘Run Rabbit Run’ and come on to top up the women’s lipstick. Finally, the four women, dressed like Victorian schoolgirls, become the puppets of the show, giving a straight performance, dancing on cue and generally doing as they are told.
As the story develops, however, a realisation dawns and the seemingly desperate elements begin to link. The storyteller’s random plot seems to be controlling the women, like mechanical dolls, who hop backwards as the narrator describes ‘gypsy-like backwards dancing’ and fall on cue. However, no sooner has this become apparent than the narrator begins to carelessly insult the women in his story as dirty, vein, ugly and chubby, unearthing a narrative of female oppression and abuse.  

Much like their inspiration for the piece, Pavlova’s Dog comes across like a psychology experiment gone wrong. As one scientist goes off the rails and another constantly chastises him, with comical and realistic frustration, all around is thrown into chaos. As the piece reaches its final conclusion, the force of the two controlling men takes over and the women and bunnies are left rolling and shifting aimlessly across the floor as the two men passionately kiss in a moment of Freudian-tinted desire.

Performed with conviction and intensity, Pavlova’s Dogs explores a complex, otherworldly narrative and makes it both relatable and bizarrely fascinating. Scottish Dance Theatre’s 2012 Spring Tour takes on the challenge of exploring the human condition and succeeds unquestioningly. In the post-show discussion, Artistic Director Janet Smith received a standing ovation for the work she has done throughout her career and particularly with this company, as she prepares for her move to Northern Contemporary Dance School. Let’s just hope under new direction Scottish Dance Theatre will continue to produce such uplifting, inspiring contemporary dance.     

Add a comment

Nederlands Dans Theater 2

It's hard to write about NDT2 without gushing. Very hard. A large part of the feverish excitement about their performances is due to their rarity, with NDT2 only visiting London every five years, guaranteeing that audiences will never have the chance to tire of them. Another appeal of both NDT2 and its parent company Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) is the full theatrical package which they present; elaborate sets, lighting and costumes are integral to each piece, with an almost cinematic feel. But the main reason NDT2 commands such popularity is their prodigiously talented dancers, none of whom are over 25 years old, and the dynamic choreography which shows them off at their best. The current programme - only three of the eight pieces performed on their current UK tour - are an interesting reflection on the company's past, present and future, with works by previous Artistic Director Jirí Kylián, current Artistic Director Paul Lightfoot with his partner Sol Léon, and new associate choreographer Alexander Ekman.

There's a story in Paul Lightfoot's and Sol Léon's Passe-Partout, but it's enigmatic. It opens with a woman moving slowly in a pool of light, her movement hampered by her long heavy skirt which pools at her feet. In contrast with her motion, a male dancer joins her onstage for a high-paced solo. Initially, Passe-Partout is reminiscent of Wayne McGregor's style, but it's only a passing reminder: while both styles are speedy to the extreme, NDT2's is rooted in ballet which gives the dancers their elegance. Different personalities appear onstage throughout the piece, the most memorable being David Ledger and Marne van Opstal as the grey-suited men, performing much of Passe-Partout's more dynamic choreography. Jianhui Wang provided much of the piece's humour, from his comical initial appearance, rapidly waddling downstage then back again, and his progressive descent into madness. And abruptly, the piece ends far too soon, while the audience is still captivated by the different characters onstage and wanting to see much much more.

Gods and Dogs was created by Jirí Kylián in 2008, and like much of Kylián's work, is a celebration of the body and how it can move. There is a strong sense of theatricality - one man standing towards the rear of the stage, transfixed by the back of his hand, other dancers silently howling, a man "tormented by a Persistent Jazz Hand"  - these add extra dimensions to the dancers, letting the audience feel that each dancer has a story to tell in their successive solos. At the core of Gods and Dogs is a rich dialogue between two dancers, in which both are very much equals; throughout the entire piece, all of the partnerwork is unconventional, never conforming to our expectations, so we see a woman turning a man by his cheek, only for him to spin around and fall to the ground. Sometimes there is a sense of the dancers as temple acolytes; perhaps the howling dancers are penitents. And as for that projection of a dog overhead... ?

It's rare to find dancers whose solo performances can captivate the entire full house of Sadler's Wells, and those are usually in the range of Akram Khan and Daniel Proietto in Russell Maliphant's Afterlight. And we can add NDT2's dancers to that list: the whole audience was spellbound during the closing solos of Gods and Dogs.

From the start, Alexander Ekman's Cacti is quirky, with the stage somehow resembling a boot camp or sweat shop, with each dancer on his or her own platform of varying height. At regular intervals, the dancers freeze in various poses, some awkward or embarrassing, drawing chuckles from the audience. Dancers walking between the blocks mimic Walk Like An Egyptian moves, while the choreography continues to raise chuckles without even trying to be funny. And then the cacti are brought out, one for each dancer. Spenser Theberge's and Alexander Ekman's voiceover says "It is post-modern. It is pro-cacti", and later talks about the deification of cacti. And then you realise that the voiceover is a dialogue between the two dancers onstage, a deftly humorous insight into what dancers think when they're dancing.

Cacti is a somewhat unbalanced piece, but its humour and madcap style are certainly welcome after the intensity of Passe-Partout and Gods and Dogs. And it's a choreographic breath of fresh air, still technically challenging enough to stretch the dancers while also crazy enough to delight the audiences, with images they won't forget for a while, whether it's cacti placed on various body parts, including heads, or the cat screeching as it sails onto the stage from high above.  

During the show, it's all too easy to think that this is as close to perfection as you'll find, and a feast for the senses with the elaborate sets, lighting, costumes and beautiful music. While there are hints of other choreographers during the evening - Wayne McGregor is ever-present, and there are echoes of William Forsythe's own brand of the crazies in Passe-Partout and Cacti - the choreography is sublime to watch, as are these amazingly talented youngsters. As I said, it's hard to write about NDT2 without gushing. Very hard indeed.

Add a comment

Rhiannon Faith: dancingtheatre, Golden Bohemian



From the moment that I arrived in the the 4th floor studio rooms,it felt like I had stepped back in time and walked straight into a 1920's bohemian uprising. Actors and actresses met me at the door and were stationed on each level of the stairs until I reached the main venue. Once inside I noticed the amazing artwork by Merlyn Griffiths and 10 Artists/10 Pubs adorned upon the walls. There was a stall selling 1920s memorabilia and many actors dressed in 1920s Sophie Harris outfits mingling with audience members and introducing themselves and telling us to “Make ourselves comfy”. Within seconds I had decided that this was going to be no ordinary performance.  

I have wanted to see this company for a long time, mainly because the company's Resolution! performances in 2010 with 'Love My Bones' and 2011 with ‘Love Kills’ received outstanding reviews. I knew I was in for a treat.

With a main room and a bar both decorated in a bohemian set design by Tom Spindler and Rachel Gittins, I made myself at home. Soon after, members of the audience were ushered into the main room by the actresses and the bohemian festivities began.

The night saw up-and-coming bands Indigo Earth, Adore and Horrorshow collaborate with Rhiannon Faith's De Keersmaeker and Bausch-inspired choreography; each band took us closer and closer to mischief and anarchy.

The most stand-out moments of the performance included a beautifully-executed and choreographed solo to the haunting tune Wise Man by Indigo Earth, so beautiful it sent shivers down my spine and put a smile on my face; also, an energetic and intricate contact duet to the rock songs of Horrorshow which dazzled the audience with intricate and death-defying lifts.  

At times the performance lost momentum due to the breaks in the dancing which left us enjoying the live music a little too often, but the content and the atmosphere brought us back to the bohemian fun once the dancing had resumed.

I felt a small taint of sadness when this performance ended as I knew that we had just witnessed something special. It’s only later I found out that this performance had been put together on only 20 hours of rehearsal.

You should keep an eye on Rhiannon Faith:Dancingtheatre as I am hoping for big things from this company. They certainly deserve it.  

Add a comment

BalletBoyz: The Talent

The BalletBoyz originally became a sensation in 1999 thanks to a Channel 4 documentary which followed them in their post-Royal Ballet lives, leading to their creation of George Piper Dances, which is best known these days as BalletBoyz. Ten years later, they decided to seek out their next generation of dancers, with a widely-publicised audition process, selecting untrained dancers and a whole new repertoire to show off contemporary dance's answer to boy bands. In 2011, the current lineup and repertoire was launched, and this is the second year of touring for The Talent - and the sold-out performances go to show what a huge success they've become.

The first piece of the night was Torsion, originally created by Russell Maliphant for Michael Nunn and William Trevitt in 2002, and adapted seamlessly for six dancers. Torsion starts dramatically, with a single dancer moving powerfully in a dimly-lit square of light. As the section progresses, other dancers are revealed briefly in their own squares of light before fading to black. Sometimes the dancers are synchronised, sometimes they're in their own world.

Torsion appears to be a declaration of the dancers' masculinity: much of the work is a series of feats of strength. Many of the duets are in the form of brief encounters which resemble trust games as the dancers shift their weight and fall against each other, even carry each other on their shoulders, or carry their partner and aim him at the audience like a gun. Occasional solos demonstrate the dancers' range, ability and technique; one astounding solo sees Miguel Esteves pirouetting around the stage again and again on his knees - but due to the dim lighting, it's hard to see who he is.  

In comparison to the high testosterone of Torsion, Alpha by Paul Roberts is a sweet fluid work whose whimsy was matched by Keaton Henson's singer-songwriter accompaniment. There are many things to love about Alpha, from the haunting acoustic music to the lovely movements by the dancers in group sections alongside solos. It's not as overtly masculine as Torsion but still physically demanding and challenging while reminding of us what to appreciate most in contemporary dance. As a friend said afterwards, "it's like falling in love slowly".

The showpiece of the evening was Jarek Cemerek's Void, the result of a choreographic search by Nunn and Trevitt in 2010. Void's edgy urban feel was established from the start with a video projection of youths in hoodies wandering around an inner-city landscape. Once the dancers appear onstage, their stance is confrontational, performing aggressive solos; while the dancers performed with a sense of teamwork in Torsion and Alpha, the dancers appear disconnected and isolated from each other yet remaining perfectly in sync. When the fight scene arrives, it's carried out with lifts, cartwheels and lunges; at one point, there are BalletBoyz flying all over the stage!

The Talent is an excellent showcase of the dancers' abilities through a diverse range of works, presenting the company as very slick and self-confident and full of promise for the future ahead. Let's see what they do next.... !

Add a comment

Ballet Black: New Season

Ballet Black celebrated their ten-year anniversary last year, and their new season shows them to be full of confidence and promise for the years to come. Originally founded in 2001 to address the absence of roles for black and Asian dancers, Ballet Black, led by Artistic Director Cassa Pancho, has always been creative in its choice of choreographers, frequently commissioning works from choreographers who wouldn't ordinarily be associated with ballet, including Bawren Tavaziva of Tavaziva Dance (2007), Shobana Jeyasingh (2008) and Henri Oguike (2010). Much of the excitement for the New Season was due to the premieres of new works by Jonathan Watkins (Royal Ballet), Jonathan Goddard (Rambert Dance Company), Martin Lawrance (Richard Alston Dance Company) and Christopher Hampson (soon-to-be Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet), proving how versatile and talented this small company is. And while most ballet companies use minimal lighting design, Ballet Black's lighting designer David Plater has designed very creative and evocative lighting designs for each work, enhancing the enjoyment of each - we hope Plater receives the recognition he deserves for his great designs!

The opening work was a disconnected duet by Jonathan Watkins, one of the promising choreographers to emerge from within the ranks of the Royal Ballet. It opened with a solo by Sarah Kundi with languorous phrasing and gestures, at times suggestive of a wind-up doll. The dissonant movement was continued by Jazmon Voss and influenced the relationship between the two: the most interesting moments in Together Alone were the interactions between the two, and the use of little gestures to accentuate the tension between them. The music and choreography were beautifully synchronised: as Alex Baranowski's music stepped up, so did Voss's role; later, the spikiness of the choreography was picked up in the cello's pizzicato. Together Alone seemed to remind us of how far ballet can be stretched, with its jerkily modern yet balletic style.

Jonathan Goddard's solo had originally been created to be performed by either a male or female dancer, exploring movement within deep-water trenches, and for the premiere, it was performed by Ballet Black's second-year apprentice, Kanika Carr. Running Silent gripped you from the start as you watched Carr travel from one side of the stage to the other, the haze creating an otherworldly or underwater feel. Carr resembled a nymph in her movement and with her flimsy dress, although as the piece progressed, an underlying madness could be sensed.

Martin Lawrance's Captured was the final piece of the first section, and by far the most impressive of the three, opening with a passionate dimly-lit duet, accompanied by a beautiful string quartet by Shostakovich. As two more dancers joined them onstage, the piece defined itself by the shifting dynamics between the interchanging couples.

Martin Lawrance's choreography is about people, and about allowing their vivid personalities to shine through, in the way that they move, and in Captured, in the way that they look at each other, and in their gestures, for example a fast-paced duet between Cira Robinson and Joseph Poulton, with Robinson flinging her hand in the air at the end. Towards the end, there was a solo by new apprentice Joseph Poulton, as though he was introducing himself to the audience: we look forward to seeing much more from him!

The final piece of the evening was the much-anticipated Storyville by Christopher Hampson, described as "Manon in the Mississippi", narrating the rise and decline of Nola, a lost young girl who arrives in New Orleans in 1915 but whose success as a showgirl and relationship with The Lover is overshadowed by her nemesis, Lulu and Mack. Cira Robinson is a captivating heroine from the opening scene, with her Little Red Riding Hood appearance, wearing a red dress and with a red bow in her hair, and accompanied by a little doll version of herself.

We were introduced to Storyville and the characters by Kanika Carr carrying storyboards with art deco writing, which later returned to shift the story along by a year. Each segment of Storyville is almost too brief, while the accompanying music by Kurt Weill is evocative of the period, and builds momentum and atmosphere, while also narrating specific scenes. And there are some wonderful scenes in Storyville, for example Nola and Mack's increasingly sinister duets, and the touching emotional duets between Nola and her Lover. Joseph Poulton's drunken scene was memorable, if not quite as debauched as the Drunken Lescaut scenes in Manon! If anything, Christopher Hampson's Storyville exceeded expectations, and the music, story and dancing will stay with you long afterwards.

Add a comment